How Innovation Works

And Why It Flourishes in Freedom

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A very good book on an important topic, innovation, from Matt Ridley. A Brit, but I don't hold that against him.

Approximately the first two-thirds of the book is wide-ranging history, and darn good story-telling. Chapter by chapter: how energy was harnessed to do useful work and provide reliable heat and light; how our health was improved; transportation; food production; "low tech" items, like our numbering system; communication and computing; and prehistoric innovation.

Back when I taught computer stuff, I wish I'd had Ridley's great sketch of "who invented the computer". Answer: nobody, really. Or lots of people, over decades and even centuries.

And he could have (but didn't) put in a plug for my favorite unsung area of innovation: packaging technology. There must be a bunch of pretty good stories of how hard-working techies put together metal, plastics, cardboard, paper, ink, tape, glue; all molded, folded and perforated to fine tolerances. In often attractive eye-grabbing arrangements. Simply to be easily ripped open, unscrewed, cut, or pulled apart, to get at whatever's inside. Not to mention that the packages need to be strong and safe enough to endure transportation from here to there to there to there… winding up at your domicile without spilling the goods.

I wouldn't have the slightest idea how to do that. And yet it happens, and nobody thinks it's a big deal. (Well, it's not the biggest deal. Still.)

Ridley devotes the last third of his text to pull out some general lessons about innovation. He notes that there's usually no lightbulb going off, no quantum leaps. It often happens by accident (see: Post-Its). Often involves combinations of ideas from unexpected sources, lots of trial and error. It's less likely to happen in large companies, which tend to be bureaucratic and sclerotic. (Exception: when a company sets up a blue-sky "skunk works" division that's given a green light to pursue out-there ideas.)

Finally, Ridley discusses fakes and frauds: he's got a good section on Theranos, summarizing the Carreyrou book (if you haven't read it, you should). And then there are the enemies of innovation: entrenched special interests, modern-day Luddites, etc. (Ridley should have, but didn't, give a shout out to Virginia Postrel's The Future and its Enemies.) And there are disturbing signs that America could be losing its innovative mojo as a whole. Are we destined to be out-innovated by others? (I'm tending pessimistic today, so: probably.)

Last Modified 2024-01-23 2:06 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2020-08-30 Update

Mr. Ramirez illustrates our first item below:

[The USPS Is Really Important]

In our weekly table, the betting-market probability gap between Trump and Biden shrunk by a whopping 5.3 percentage points over the week of the Republican National Convention.

No, I'm not sure what's going on there. But Trump also expanded his Google phony-hit lead over Biden, from a 1.66-fold advantage to a 3.85-fold advantage!

Typical new hit (from Vanity Fair): Donald Trump’s Own Sister Thinks He’s a Complete Phony.

“It’s the phoniness of it all. It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel,” [Maryanne Trump Barry] says to [Mary Trump] in one of the exchanges. Deploring “what they’re doing with kids at the border,” Barry appears appalled by her brother’s behavior in office. “His goddamned tweet and lying, oh my God,” she said. “I’m talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit.”

Holy shit, indeed. Makes me wonder what my sister would say about me in a surreptitiously-recorded conversation. But not for long, because I'm sure she likes me, and has forgiven all that stuff in our childhood.

On to our current standings:

Candidate WinProb Change
Donald Trump 44.6% +2.9% 6,780,000 +4,190,000
Joe Biden 53.0% -2.4% 1,760,000 +200,000
Jo Jorgensen 0.0% unch 23,200 -200
Howie Hawkins 0.0% unch 18,600 +3,600

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • On to that USPS thing alluded to by Mr. Ramirez above: WSJ editorialists consider The Phony Post Office War.

    House Democrats on Saturday returned to Washington to continue their political theater over the non-scandal of the U.S. Postal Service and the election. Speaker Nancy Pelosi whooped through a bill handing the post office $25 billion in the name of getting a trustworthy result on Nov. 3.

    Even by Washington standards, this is a joke. New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified last week that the post office has enough money to deliver mail-in ballots, and his operation can’t possibly spend $25 billion that quickly in any case. Democrats voted for so much money as a bailout for the letter-carriers union that endorsed Joe Biden this month.

    They want the money with no reform strings attached, though the Postal Service has lost $78 billion since 2007. The post office has been taking out underutilized equipment for years, but last week Mr. DeJoy suspended those efforts through the election after Democratic protests. He also said the post office will prioritize ballots over other kinds of first-class mail.

    As I've said before: an organization that can lose $78 billion can sure as heck lose your ballot.

  • And Ilya Shapiro and James Knight of Cato have some suggestions for Election Regulation during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

    The ongoing pandemic has necessitated dramatic changes to nearly every aspect of American life. The ways we work, shop, eat, and socialize have been radically restructured to protect our own health and that of our communities. This November, that radical restructuring will extend to the way we vote. Changes to our voting systems to safeguard public health, such as by allowing mail‐​in voting, are sorely needed, particularly if fears of another COVID-19 wave in the fall come true. At the same time, hastily switching from in‐​person voting to more‐anonymized systems with which the states lack experience creates the potential for chaos, errors, and decreased electoral legitimacy in the eyes of voters. With little more than two months until the election, states must finalize decisions on what they are doing and communicate those plans to their citizens and the country as a whole.

    A sober look at the prospects and possible pitfalls. Blessedly non-partisan. It's difficult to believe that at least some, probably many, states won't foul things up and give election losers plenty of excuses to gripe about the legitimacy of the results. Russian meddling? Hah, just wait until they see how badly we can do on our own.

  • In what may become a perennial Pun Salad department, "Kamala's Annoying Verbal Tics", Ann Althouse provides: "Kamala Harris has this revealing verbal tic, where she simply repeats herself over and over when she cannot construct a logical argument.". She's quoting a perceptive commenter at her site.

    "One example was her 'It was a debate!' non-explanation of her maligning of Joe Biden's character. Same when she said 'it's a movement' and 'they're not going to stop, they're not going to stop' over and over again."

    The tweet demonstrating the latter:

    Ann also links to a clip we've linked to before, demonstrating Kamala's propensity to laugh inappropriately, a non-verbal tic.

  • A video history lesson from Reason, wondering Can the Republican Party Survive Trump?

    Donald Trump, who four short years ago was viewed by many GOP operatives as an erratic outsider, has just been re-nominated as the Republican Party's standard-bearer. But whether he wins or loses, can a party without any guiding principles survive?

    How do old political parties die, and how are new ones born?

    Imagine a political party that has lost its ideological coherence and is torn apart by various warring factions. Then an outsider and celebrity candidate emerges with no fealty to the party's policy agenda and with no previous political experience. He goes on to connect with voters and retake the White House.

    That's exactly what happened in 1848, when the Whigs backed Zachary Taylor.

    Maybe once the GOP has self-immolated, the Whigs could come back!

  • If Trump loses in November, there's always Nikki Haley in the wings. So, predictably, the knives are out, as described by Jordan Davidson at the Federalist: Democrats Attack Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley Over Her Given Name.

    Democrats attacked former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday, accusing her of changing her name from “Nimrata” to avoid racial discrimination. These racist allegations were levied against Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, after she spoke at the Republican National Convention on Monday night, declaring that “America is not a racist country.”

    South Asians for Biden was the first group to target Haley, claiming that she probably felt “compelled to change her name to ‘Nikki'” because the Republican Party is racist. The hashtag #PhonyNikki accompanied the tweet along with #BidenHarris2020.

    Only problem is that "Nikki" is her actual middle name.

    [Amazon Link]
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    You'd really think that Democrats would think twice about accusing a Person of Color of trying to "pass" as white. Might remind folks about their party's (um) checkered past on race.

    I looked at a previous attempt by a prominent Democrat to accuse Nikki of "passing" back in 2011.

  • And in our evergreen "Factcheckers Lie" department, here's David Harsanyi at National Review: Joe Biden & Abortion: 'Factcheckers' Keep Lying about His Position.

    Joe Biden supports the right of unlimited abortion, funded by the taxpayers, up until the moment of birth.

    It’s a position that remains exceptionally unpopular with the majority of voters, so “factcheckers” have been super busy during this Republican National Convention trying to confuse the issue. Ramesh Ponnuru has already debunked abortion “factchecks” from the Washington Post and New York Times.

    The Post was back at it tonight, taking exception with Sister Deirdre Byrne’s contention that a Biden-Harris ticket supports “the horrors of late-term abortion and infanticide”:

    Biden does not support “late-term abortion and infanticide.” He supports abortion rights and says he would codify in statute the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade and related precedents, which generally limit abortions to the first 20 to 24 weeks of gestation.

    None of the above conflicts with Byrne’s contention. For one thing, the words “generally limit” do a lot of heavy lifting. The Post notes that only “1 percent” of abortions “happen after the fetus reaches the point of viability.” What the Post avoids saying is that more than 8,000 viable fetuses, and probably more than 10,000 on the cusp of viability, are aborted every year. The killing of thousands of tiny human beings — whether it is “codified” by law; or whether it is allowed by emotional health exemptions; or whether reporters find “experts” to tell us it’s okay — is properly described as infanticide.

    It might be a good issue for Republicans to pursue. The rarity of a particularly abhorrent "procedure" is a red herring.

Last Modified 2024-06-03 5:59 AM EDT