Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

The death of boredom, the doom of creativity, and the fall of Western Civilization.

Do you know what America’s problem is?

No, it’s not the economy. It’s not even the politicians. No, it’s something worse.

It’s your iPhone/Android. And your iPad. And your Kindle. And every other gadget that’s keeping you from getting bored. According to Scott Adams, America’s problem isn’t the economy: it’s that we don’t get bored, anymore. As a result, we just don’t have the time to be creative, to innovate, or the mind numbing boredom that inspires creation and innovation.

That’s right. I just said that boredom inspires creativity. If I ever write something that sounds more like Orwellian doublespeak, I’ll buy the first person to point it out lunch. (Offer good for one time only…)

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Adams–who you know better by his syndicated comic “Dilbert” and his protagonist’s perpetually upturned tie–argues that creativity has taken a beating due to the perpetuation of gadgets and gizmos that allows us to keep ourselves constantly occupied. He harks back to another day (one that I remember), when kids made guns out of sticks, monsters out of decapitated Barbies, and spent hours outside. On bicycles. Playing.

We didn’t have many toys by modern standards. But I discovered that if you have a blob of clay and some Lincoln Logs, you can make your own toy rifle. You can use those same materials to create a FrankenBarbie doll with body-image issues and a G.I. Joe that looks like an angry starfish with snow shoes. I’d take turns shooting at both of them, sometimes using the Lincoln Log rifle and sometimes the handgun that I whittled out of a block of wood. I blame society for all of that.

When I wasn’t making something inappropriate out of nothing, I would stare out the window into the frosty tundra and watch birds freeze to death in midflight. In the summers I rode my bike for hours every day, imagining fantastic worlds in which ice cream was free and farm dogs didn’t attack kids on bicycles just because biting is fun.

Weird.

And yet, maybe not so much. I remember those days myself. I grew up on on five acres on a plateau just east of the Rockies (and by “just east” I mean, I was two miles down a dirt road from the first slopes). I spent summers making forts from fallen branches  and winters making sled trails through the gullies and ravines that ran behind the house. There was stream just large enough to encourage beavers, and I spent entire afternoons watching to see the dam builders show their head above the water, just for a few seconds.  My first Nintendo didn’t make a showing in the house until I was old enough to take drivers ed, and by then I had far more interesting things to spend my time on, namely, girls.

In short, I had a lot of time to be bored.

Today, however, I am constantly carrying my phone, a device that’s powerful enough to be a computer,  a jukebox of thousands of songs, a high quality camera or camcorder, or, in a pinch, act as a phone. My biggest worry is not what it can do, but that the battery will run out. It can do everything.

That’s the problem, says Adams (not the battery, but that it can do everything). We always have something to do.

Lately I’ve started worrying that I’m not getting enough boredom in my life. If I’m watching TV, I can fast-forward through commercials. If I’m standing in line at the store, I can check email or play “Angry Birds.” When I run on the treadmill, I listen to my iPod while reading the closed captions on the TV. I’ve eliminated boredom from my life.

But why is that a problem? What does it look like when we don’t have time to be bored? Downtime, if you will.

What might such a world, a world lacking in sufficient boredom look like?

For starters, you might see people acting more dogmatic than usual. If you don’t have the option of thinking creatively, the easiest path is to adopt the default position of your political party, religion or culture. Yup, we see that.

You might see more movies that seem derivative or are sequels. Check.

You might see more reality shows and fewer scripted shows. Right.

You might see the best-seller lists dominated by fiction “factories” in which ghostwriters churn out familiar-feeling work under the brands of famous authors. Got it.

You might see the economy flat-line for lack of industry-changing innovation. Uh-oh.

You might see the headlines start to repeat, like the movie “Groundhog Day,” with nothing but the names changed. We’re there.

You might find that bloggers are spending most of their energy writing about other bloggers. OK, maybe I do that. Shut up.

You might find that people seem almost incapable of even understanding new ideas. Yes.

Bloggers writing about other bloggers? Ouch! Guilty, as charged.

But to the point– Well, he has made the point. We’re so busy surfing, Facebooking, downloading, uploading, and, heck, maybe even reading [gasp!] that maybe there isn’t enough free time, as in free time for our brains, to wonder, day-dream, and, yes, create.

Reminds me of something I once read that Albert Einstein said: “Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Hmmm…

Do you take time to be bored?

I know I don’t. But I’m going to try it. I’m going to find an hour, and I’m going to turn it off. The iPod, the phone, the laptop, the tv, and the myriad of other devices. All of it. And just be bored.

Maybe I will go for a hike while I am bored. I hear it’s quiet out there. Maybe I can get my kids to come, and, as we hike,  I can tell them what it was like “back in the day” before boredom died and creativity still flourished in those quiet moments when we had nothing else to do.

Go read Scott Adams’ full column “The Heady Thrill of Having Nothing to Do.” It’s witty, insightful, and fun, and, really, an interesting perspective on what why we less time on our devices and more time in our own heads.

[WSJ]

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Big Brother: not just the government, anymore.

As sure “as the day follows night,” Apple has been sued for its iPhone location tracking.

Whether the suit survives a summary judgment motion is another question.

Continue reading

Own an Android? An iPhone? Google & Apple may be tracking you.

Scarier than the government: Is Steve Jobs the real "big brother" that is watching you?

In fact, no maybe about it. They are.

It’s scary to think, but there it is, in the Wall Street Journal:

Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people’s locations via their cellphones. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services—expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

In the case of Google, according to new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, an HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier.

Google declined to comment on the findings.

via Apple, Google Send Cellphone Location – WSJ.com.

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Atlas Shrugged coming to a theater near you. Not a minute too soon.

More than fifty years after Ayn Rand argued that government could tear an economy apart by trying to “do good,” her hallmark novel Atlas Shrugged is coming to at theater near you.

Some think it’s not a minute too soon.

“Being conversant in Ayn Rand’s classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement,” writes Stephen Moore in the Wall Street Journal about working in public policy at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation. “If only “Atlas” were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I’m confident that we’d get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.”

Written with fewer pages than the Affordable Healthcare for America Act, the novel is more readable and perhaps more prescient. And, because the book has finally, fifty years after publication in 1957, been produced in cinematic format (i.e. a movie), politicians may not have any excuse not to catch the main points.

Points such as:

The stimulus programs of the last couple years were created on the premise the government spending will produce economic growth. Where does that money come from? Two places: the government can print it or the government can borrow it. The first risks inflation and the second has to be paid eventually, ostensibly by tax dollars. Tax dollars are dollars taken out of the economy.

Enter Frederic Bastiat and “That which is seen, and that which is not seen.” Sure it’s great if the government puts money into the economy, but it is not without effect. It is spent, which creates products, services, and boosts the economy. That is what is seen. On the other (invisible) hand, what is unseen is that the money isn’t used by those who produced it. It has to come from somewhere else-a taxpayer, who will not be able to spend the money. It is taken from them, by force, and redistributed to whomever the government decides needs it more than the original producer. Further, by taking the money from the taxpayer, we decrease his incentive to produce, and spend, more.

If economics has taught us nothing, it has shown that the market is better at picking winners than the government. Putting government bureaucrats and pandering politicians in charge of picking winners just does not work.  (See also: Adam Smith) (Unless you own G.E. stock…)

Which leads to the next point:

The counterintuitive part, at least for you guys who graduated near the top of your classes at very prestigious law schools and made a lot of money in litigation or bond-counsel work or whatever but have not spent a lot of time selling hotdogs or landscaping or painting houses, is this: Profits are evidence of the creation of social value, not deductions from the sum of the common good. Washington totally flubbed that one during the health-care debate. Enormous profits come from the creation of enormous social value. Exxon, for instance. Americans may not have cozy feelings toward Big Oil, but given a choice between free gas for a year from the local Exxon station or lunch with a bigfoot politician, most Americans would just pick up a Slim Jim on their way to fill up on gratis high-test and motor on down the road and take a rain check on the coq au vin with Senator Snout.

Thanks, Mr. Williamson. Some more points:

  • Put lipstick on a pig, (or a law), and it’s still a pig. Call it Affordable Care, but it’s just semantics–a bad law is still a bad law.

For the uninitiated, the moral of the [Atlas Shrugged] is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises — that in most cases they themselves created — by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

And that’s just to start.

In one of my favorite parts, quoted by Moore in his WSJ review, John Galt, as government bureaucrats plead for his help to save the economy, calls for the abolition of the income tax:

Galt: “You want me to be Economic Dictator?”

Mr. Thompson: “Yes!”

“And you’ll obey any order I give?”

“Implicitly!”

“Then start by abolishing all income taxes.”

“Oh no!” screamed Mr. Thompson, leaping to his feet. “We couldn’t do that . . . How would we pay government employees?”

“Fire your government employees.”

Oh, no!”

Comments Moore:

Abolishing the income tax. Now that really would be a genuine economic stimulus. But Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Washington want to do the opposite: to raise the income tax “for purposes of fairness” as Barack Obama puts it.

The book, and the movie, too, if reports are to be trusted, bear an uncanny resemblance to our times. It was written, after all, to take place in “the day after tomorrow.”

About the Movie

Synopsis of the film from the film’s site:

Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) runs Taggart Transcontinental, the largest remaining railroad company in America, with intelligence, courage and integrity, despite the systematic disappearance of her best and most competent workers.

She is drawn to industrialist Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler), one of the few men whose genius and commitment to his own ideas match her own. Rearden’s super-strength metal alloy, Rearden Metal, holds the promise that innovation can overcome the slide into anarchy.

Using the untested Rearden Metal, they rebuild the critical Taggart rail line in Colorado and pave the way for oil titan Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel) to feed the flame of a new American Renaissance.

Hope rises again, when Dagny and Rearden discover the design of a revolutionary motor based on static electricity – in an abandoned engine factory – more proof to the sinister theory that the “men of the mind” (thinkers, industrialists, scientists, artists, and other innovators) are “on strike” and vanishing from society.

From the Foundry:

The film covers Part I of the three-part novel, condensed into just 102 minutes. (Parts II and III are to follow in sequels, the producers say.) The scenes that are included give a good sense of the book’s beginning, though it is too short to allow much development of the characters and their relationships. The foundational plot mystery of successful businesspeople going missing one after another is cleverly established, and the strong performance of Grant Bowler as Rearden supplies backbone.

Fans of the book will find some enjoyable, if brief, nods to rich portions of the book that were left out, including the back story of main characters Dagny Taggart and Francisco d’Anconia. Keep an eye out for that famous cigarette with the dollar sign on it.

According to Ron Rodgers of Rocky Mountain Pictures, the film will come to Utah at the end of April or the beginning of May at Megaplex and/or Cinemark Theaters.

IT’S ABOUT TIME: U.S. News Encourages Law Schools To ‘Fess Up on Employment Rates – Law Blog – WSJ

NEWTON - MAY 22:  Law students take part in Bo...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The rest of the legal world, and the legions of recent law grads that are unemployed and underemployed, already know this: law schools lie.

Not directly, mind you. They just fudge the numbers. Now, finally, U.S. News, the leading source for the all important law school rankings, will  “encourage” law schools to come clean on the real numbers.

It appears that the magazine is going to take a closer look at law schools’ real success at landing jobs for graduates in ranking schools. On Thursday, Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, noted in this blog post that the magazine will alter how it calculates employment rates in its rankings to more accurately capture the “current state of legal employment.”

And it’s about time they did.

How big a problem is it? Or rather, how big a problem is it getting to be? Check out this graph by Paul Caron and posted by Bill Henderson and Andrew Morriss at Legal Profession Blog:

See how the increase in schools not reporting starts to spike in 2010? I’d speculate that’s because it’s getting harder for schools to prove to applicants that they can count on a job right after graduation, this all while increasing tuition. There are just too many disgruntled lawyers out there. (I recently participated in mock interviews at my alma mater, and every single student noted dramatically higher tuition over the previous year and fears about their ability to pay).

Why aren’t law schools reporting the numbers? Because they lack the incentive. They’re focused on getting highly qualified students, the people who are paying tuition, not on making sure they send out highly employed lawyers. The ABA checks on bar passage rates, not on employment rates.

Hear it from Henderson and Morriss:

We would like to suggest to our colleagues in the legal academy that we are approaching an endgame.  Here is the reality:  prospective students are not being given an accurate picture of their future employment prospects.  Why? Because we are all focused on filling next year’s class with as many high credential students as possible, thereby protecting our school’s place in the pecking order.  Our focus is so shockingly narrow that, from the outside looking in, it appears that our intent is to deceive incoming students.  Brian Kelly’s letter to the deans essentially makes that point–law schools fall short on candor and ethical behavior.

A stinging indictment, but all too correct. Think it’ll make a difference, though? Will the law schools listen when their rankings take a hit from a change in the calculus?

I have a proposal to shift the incentive back to the law schools: start requiring them to assist in in the financing of their student’s legal education. I don’t mean scholarships or grants–I mean financing. Make them borrow the money, and make students borrow the money–if that’s what a student is going to do–from the law school.

The result? Rather than force students to go out and get education loans to pay upfront–from the government, from banks, from their parents– requiring law schools to carry the loans would have the students pay them back to the schools. Suddenly, the school has a very real interest in making sure they are finding jobs, not taking on more students than they can help to employment, are gearing their education towards employment, and are vested in the employment prospects of their students.

A little radical, you say? Maybe so. But right now, the cards are all in the law schools’ hands, and they aren’t playing fair.  It’s time for  them to come clean on  law students’ prospects upon graduation.

via U.S. News Encourages Law Schools To ‘Fess Up on Employment Rates – Law Blog – WSJ.