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“Choatic Storage”

Yves Smith’s takedown of Emma Roller’s piece on Amazon warehouse being the new factories made note of the fact that Amazon doesn’t strategize about where to store products in its vast facilities. Instead, the company just places items to be picked in a space that is available, scanning their identifying barcode and making note of the location in the electronic system that tells pickers where to get whatever items the folks at home have ordered. This so-called “chaotic storage” means that items that were one location might be placed another when they are restocked. I hadn’t known about the practice this before this morning, and I found it somewhat surprising. Amazon is incredibly controlling over so many aspects of its business, from pricing and terms with vendors to the hours its employees work, so to just plop merchandise into vacant spots in their warehouses doesn’t seem in line with the rest of their strategy. Unless, that is, you consider as a means of consolidating control over labor.

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Categories: Notes.

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“as if”

Occasionally, I act like I can understand more about quantum physics than I do, and I read recaps in Nature like this one. They sometimes contain wonderful explanatory clauses. Like this:

Quantum networks encode information in quantum bits, or qubits, which can occupy multiple states simultaneously as if they were living separate histories in parallel universes at the same time.

That’s a big “as if.” Does it really help anyone actually understand any of the complexities of what goes on at the quantum level? No, likely, not at all. But it does tap into a certain scifi fancifulness about the makeup of reality, and enables readers to lay down a veneer of understanding on top of an opaque process, and walk about as if they had two legs to stand on.

Categories: Asides.

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Another Solecism

I’ve always had a problem with pleaded. When I read it, it makes me cringe; instead, I wish the writer had just written pled, which, to my ear, sounds natural, and may or may not have been the way that my family and peers would have spoken when I was growing up—these things are hard to recall, and my recollections are probably more down-home than what I actually lived. Anyway, pleaded.

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Categories: Notes.

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Another Tale of Tax Cuts Not Delivering

The associations are screaming, not only because the industry is sinking deeper into a quagmire, but because the Value Added Tax for restaurants is going up again. In 2001, it was 19.6%, same as for most sectors. Then President Chirac, while running for reelection, promised to lower it. A promise that shattered on the floor of reality. He’d been blocked by the European Council’s fight against cross-border “tax dumping.” But President Sarkozy managed to arm-twist the Council into agreeing. And on July 1, 2009, the VAT was cut to 5.5%.

Enormous hoopla. It impacted the entire hospitality sector – hotels, restaurants, and cafés – the fourth largest sector in France with at the time 185,000 businesses. It was a grand bargain: restaurant owners committed to passing on the rate cut by lowering prices. That would stimulate consumption, which would create 20,000 jobs per year, for two years. Hallelujah.

Alas, since 2000, the sector had already been creating on average 15,000 jobs per year, with the exception of 2008-2009. So the ballyhooed 40,000 jobs over a two-year period would be a net gain of 10,000 jobs. The commitment to lower prices by 11.8% on average concerned only 12 products, such as coffee, bottled water, the daily special, etc., and each restaurant could lower prices on only seven of them. At best, it might have worked out to an overall cut in prices of 3% – not exactly a magnet to draw additional customers to the table.

But few restaurants lowered any prices. They swallowed with gusto the additional margin as profit. The hoped-for traffic didn’t materialize. Nor did the jobs. Wages didn’t go up either, as hoped. About a fifth of the employees in the sector were considered “working poor,” the highest of any sector. That failure of a tax cut to achieve anything at all turned into a toxic stew of mockery, scandal, and higher budget deficits.

As the Eurozone debt crisis spread its tentacles from the periphery to the core, and as France was sliding deeper into its budget quandary, raising the VAT in the restaurant sector suddenly became a solution. Hence, effective January 1, 2012, under a painfully grinning President Sarkozy who’d lose his job five months later, the VAT was jacked up from 5.5% to 7%. Since then, the tentacles have grabbed France, and its budget debacle has gotten worse. So President Hollande and his government found another solution: raise the restaurant VAT to 10%, effective January 1, 2014.

Via Testosterone Pit.

Categories: Notes.

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Privileges of Kitchen Leisure

Like many of my yuppie peers, I like to cook, and I marry this enjoyment with a historical curiosity: is the way I flip omelets, in my great grandma’s old and heavy skillet, the way that it’s always been done? What is the etymology of julienne, and how has the technique it names evolved? How long have the wealthy in Europe used forks, and when did their use become more generalized? These and other things, I wonder, besides the most efficient way to mince garlic and reduce an onion to minuscule particles.

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Categories: Notes.

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Coastal Habitats

Because I would like to see the world less ravaged, I’m pleased by the study, recently written up in Nature, that investigated the sort of protections that natural habitats like oyster reefs, marshlands, and dunes lend coastal areas. The authors quantified risks for different scenarios of sea level rise for the United States, and then measured, by generalizing the protection each gives, what is gained by preserving existing habitats—and, perhaps, restoring them for the sake of enriching resilience.

But that’s wishful thinking. Because, while the study measured impacts in terms of population and property values, the arbiter of what to do will be, as it usually is, the dollar. This is apparent even in the underlying methodological aspirations of the study’s authors. One states, “It really is going to get to the point where we’ll be able to put dollar values on what we gain from restoring natural habitats.”

Which makes cents of things, in its cold way. And so may actually spur authorities and the elite to action in “high-value” places where loads of money will be washed out to sea (and scores of people displaced), but the places that do not count for much in dollar terms—the Delta, for instance, or basically anywhere outside of the rich inlets of California, New York, and Florida—will be left to the rising tides.

Those not worth much will have to hope for cheap ways of saving themselves.

Categories: Notes.

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Gun Control

Some of the “radical” responses to this most recent shooting grate our more human sensibilities. “Guns” are touted as having become a “fetish object”; there are calls that we need to promote “justice,” not the control of guns—specific, state-delineated efforts to define and control the “gun problem” are said to be “liberal.” We don’t need to decrease the supply of guns, we need to deal with the demand for them!

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Categories: Notes.

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In Your Backyard Pool

“We’ve never gone into surveillance for sake of surveillance unless there is criminal activity afoot,” McDaniel told The Daily. “Just to see what you’re doing in your backyard pool - we don’t care.”

From an article on the increasing use of drones in the US, which paid special attention to the problem of putting weapons on them. They’d not be using guns (at first), but they’d be fitted out with tear gas and rubber bullets, for use above the border.

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Book Burning

Fernando Báez has a fixation with books. This comes through in the introduction to A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, his account of the ways books have been destroyed throughout the globe, when he relates an anecdote from his childhood about a flood that destroyed the library in his town, the “object of his curiousity.” “Sometimes, on the nights that followed, I dreamt Stevenson’s Treasure Island sank, while one of Shakespeare’s plays floated,” he writes, continuing, “I never got over that terrible experience.”

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Categories: Notes.

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John Lanchester Writes on Marx

Last month, or the one before that, John Lanchester did a podcast on Marx for the London Review of Books. Presumably this is an effort to generate a bit of buzz for Lanchester’s new novel, Capital. From the title of the new novel alone, we can assume that there’s not a little that Lanchester owes old, dead Karl. LRB ran the piece, and it really is execrable: self-contradicting and riddled with glaring errors. I’m not sure how this happened: there are a lot of commentators on Marx who could say something intelligent about his work and legacy, maybe even go so far as to speculate on what method he would take today. This is not that. It is just bad.

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Categories: Notes.

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