Biologist Miguel Ordenana found a photo of a mountain lion captured by a camera trap set up in Griffith Park in Hollywood. Since then, National Geographic wildlife photographer Steve Winter has spent a year waiting for the perfect shot of the animal:
After a three-decade career as a writer, editor and corporate executive, John Owens decided to become a New York City public-school teacher — a bad teacher:
Despite what we read in the press about the “the powerful teachers’ union,” each school’s principal has a great deal of power in the form of a U — unsatisfactory — rating. To a veteran, tenured teacher, a U means stalled raises. For a new teacher, a U is death. You’re out of the System.
Right off the bat, I don’t think he understands how unions work and what the complaint against them is. They exist to protect their current membership — and leadership — not hungry, new recruits.
Anyway, it’s pretty clear what the problem at his South Bronx school was:
With the remaining half-dozen hardcore kids, nothing made them put their phones down and do something resembling schoolwork. I assigned seats, reassigned seats and re-reassigned seats. But with these uncontrollable older kids in the class, it was tough to control the others. And sometimes, the parents were an even bigger problem.
“Please sign the original and keep the copy,” the assistant principal said one afternoon, handing me a manila folder. Inside was a letter from Ms. P to me.
It concerned parent-teacher night. I had stressed to the parents who showed up how important it is for the students to behave, to be quiet and focus on their work. I told them how I had observed a class in a wealthy school district, and how the kids just came in, sat down and got to work.
“They don’t waste time on discipline, so those students get much more instructional time,” I told the parents. “Those kids aren’t smarter. I think the kids here are smarter. But our kids waste teaching time. Please, stress to your children how important it is to behave in class.”
Dear Mr. Owens:
We are giving you this letter to file for your failure to show cultural sensitivity… One parent, in particular, complained about your insensitive remarks comparing students from our school with those of Chappaqua with what she perceived as a racial subtext, i.e. that our students — predominantly African American and Hispanic — do not do as well academically as the predominantly Caucasian students in the suburbs. The parent felt offended and disturbed by your remarks….
It didn’t matter that I never mentioned race or Chappaqua (a place I’ve never been); I was officially a bad teacher.
When he tried to keep the class after school, he was reprimanded by the principal.
Another point he reiterates in a recent interview is that the data driving the process is worthless:
We have to understand that the numbers that we’ve been looking at—that most of them are meaningless. And made up. And bogus. They are. We are not using scientific research. We’re using data. I had to put in 2,000 points of data a week for my kids. Everything from attendance to homework. But I also had to put in things like self-determination. I mean, what is self-determination? I don’t know, but it can really help boost your grade if you have it. It was just so that the administration could prove whatever they wanted to prove. They didn’t want to prove that the kids were learning, they wanted to prove that they were passing. And then that they would graduate.
[Ed. note: According to Owens, Ms. P, his principal, and the school's assistant principal were eventually removed from their positions for alleged involvement in a scheme to falsify student records.]
Lant Pritchett makes a similar point about education in “developing” countries:
I think, well, one of the conjectures I put in the book is that it persists partly by camouflage. It pretends to be something it’s not and then can project enough of the camouflage that it maintains its legitimacy. So, sociologists of organization have a term called “isomorphic mimicry”, which is adapted from evolution where some species of snakes look poisonous but aren’t, but get the survival value of looking poisonous. So, one of the things that’s happened is by this pressure to expand schooling and by the governments’ desire to control that socialization process, they have created all the appearances of schools that provide education but without actually doing it. But have at the same time not produced the information that would make it clear that they weren’t doing it. So they produce enrollment statistics, numbers of buildings, numbers of toilets, numbers of textbooks, numbers of everything. But have, you know, all of which can project the image that there’s a functional system and providing real learning there. But they don’t provide metrics of learning or incentives for learning or feedback on learning or accountability for learning at all. And so persist in this kind of, you know, what I’ve called elsewhere a technique of persistent failure. If you came and said, “How could I fail and yet have never have anybody hold me accountable to failure?” you would design something very much like many of the current education systems.
The US has never ranked at the top of international education tests, Gregory Ferenstein notes, yet has been the dominant economic and innovative force in the world the entire time:
The reason for the apparent disconnect is because schools don’t prepare students for the real world, so broad educational attainment will have a weak correlation with economic power. Research has consistently shown that on nearly every measure of education (instructional hours, class-size, enrollment, college preparation), what students learn in school does not translate into later life success. The United States has an abundance of the factors that likely do matter: access to the best immigrants, economic opportunity, and the best research facilities.
In a massive review of research, the Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute for Education Sciences, could not find any evidence that college preparation actually prepared students for college. The only effective tools were (sadly) non-classroom-based strategies, such as teaching students how to fill out financial aid forms.
Students’ time in college isn’t much better. Researchers Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa concluded in Academically Adrift that most students float through college without learning much in the way of critical thinking.
“Indeed, the students in our study who reported studying alone five or fewer hours per week nevertheless had an average cumulative GPA of 3.16,” they write, “given such a widespread lack of academic rigor, about a third of students failed to demonstrate significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing ability (as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment) during their four years of college.”
These facts should not come as a shock. When I taught college, it was commonly known among the professors that incoming high schoolers were not prepared with the requisite critical-thinking skills for our classes. Now as a writer in the private sector, I don’t expect incoming employees to have been prepared in their college classes. Determination, raw intelligence, and creativity are the measures of a successful college student and employee — none of those factors are learned in school.
I’ve mentioned Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics before:
- Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
- Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
- The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.
Recently Andrew Sparrow of The Guardian linked to my post while discussing the British Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
It seems difficult to even have a bird watching society or cycling club, let alone a church or book club that doesn’t eventually end up spending its resources on pushing the ideological goals of Progressivism. If you can’t think of an example of such leftward drift at all stop reading now to compare Henry Ford to the Ford Foundation.
The most promising explanation, Burja suggests, relies on James A. Donald’s model of leftism as Phariseeism:
He uses the word Pharisee to mean a person who reckons that since he is holier than you, you should obey him. If this is an effective strategy you will see competitions among them to be holier than each other. He proposes this holier than thou spiral as a rough fit for what we know about how American Progressivism evolved from American Protestantism. The carriers of Puritan descended memeplexes where becoming holier and holier until they became holier than Jesus. This requires either claiming the same title for yourself or demoting him from the position of Son of God. They chose the latter, giving him the new title of Chief Community Organizer and having done so where free to demonstrate holiness by advocating violently freeing slaves, outlawing alcohol and rebuking St. Paul’s advice on marriage. After a short trip along this branch, the only way to escalate is a smooth transition from being Unitarian to being holier than that fictional god person in general. Welcome to liberal secular humanism.
If you aren’t very good at bird watching, or programming, or painting, or cycling gaining status by signalling holiness via progressive causes and initiating a local instance of such a spiral seems a good strategy. If so, it is likely one our social brain evolved for, it could easily be sensed and enacted without our conscious mind even noticing we are doing so. This is a plausible reason why this could sooner or later corrupt all institutions, it just takes a small push, under the right conditions that come about, sooner or later, for the ball to start rolling.
The Boston bomb squad’s defining day wasn’t what they trained for:
Several years after 9/11, I conducted training with a military bomb unit charged with guarding Washington, DC. Our final exam was a nightmare scenario—a homemade nuke at the Super Bowl. Our job was to defuse it while the fans were still in the stands, there being no way to quickly and safely clear out 80,000 people. That scenario made two fundamental assumptions that are no longer valid: that there would be one large device and that we would find it before it detonated.
Boston showed that there’s another threat, one that looks a lot different. “We used to train for one box in a doorway. We went into a slower and less aggressive mode, meticulous, surgical. Now we’re transitioning to a high-speed attack, more maneuverable gear, no bomb suit until the situation has stabilized,” Gutzmer says. “We’re not looking for one bomber who places a device and leaves. We’re looking for an active bomber with multiple bombs, and we need to attack fast.”
A post-Boston final exam will soon look a lot different. Instead of a nuke at the Super Bowl, how about this: Six small bombs have already detonated, and now your job is to find seven more—among thousands of bags—while the bomber hides among a crowd of the fleeing, responding, wounded, and dead. Meanwhile the entire city overwhelms your backup with false alarms. Welcome to the new era of bomb work.
(Hat tip to Bruce Schneier.)
Tear gas canisters were fired through the windows in an attempt to subdue the 59-year-old, who lived in the east of the capital, Reykjavik.
When this failed he was shot after firing at police entering the building. Between 15 and 20 officers took part.
Back-up was provided by special forces.
The tear gas was used when the man, who has not been named, failed to respond to police attempts to contact him and continued shooting.
When they entered the apartment, two members of the special forces were injured by shotgun fire — one in the face, the other in the hand.
Iceland’s police, like the English bobbies of old, don’t carry guns. Only their “special forces” do. Oh, and they’re called the Viking Squad.
I love how the only explanation for their low crime rate is their equality, and not, say, the fact that everyone knows everyone else and is rather closely related — even more so than in Japan, I’d guess.
(Hat tip to Reason‘s Hit & Run.)
John Derbyshire was not the least bit surprised or puzzled to read about the Knockout Game:
In the first place, scrappy young men are anyway inclined to that sort of thing. In 1960s pre-Beatles Liverpool where I was a schoolteacher, the fad was for “nutting.” There is a certain way of throwing your upper body forward and down so that your forehead impacts the bridge of the counterparty’s nose, causing sudden intense pain, a gush of blood from the nostrils, and momentary loss of consciousness.
(Do not try this at home. There’s a trick to it that needs practice.) There was nothing racial in it, although Liverpool, an old seaport, was considerably diverse: Most nuttings were white-on-white.
In the second place, in Western multiracial societies, whites are the wimps. Every other race asserts itself, lobbies, agitates, makes demands, and is given quotas, preferences, and privileges. Only whites cringe, defer, and grovel. It is natural to feel contempt for people who are so ashamed of their ancestors and of their own existence.
And in the third place, blacks in the generality hate nonblacks. Why would they not? Everything in the dominant culture encourages them to. [...] You’d be mad, too.
You should train yourself to thrive on stress:
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I read Dune, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction classic — and it didn’t really work for me. If you haven’t read it, it could be described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones. In fact, it was one of the major influences on Star Wars — it features a desert planet, smugglers, a quasi-religious order with limited mind-control powers, etc. — but the tone is so very, very different. And it lacks Wookiees. Like Game of Thrones, it features treacherous feudal “houses” vying for power. Sounds wonderful. So, why didn’t it work for me? Well, any speculative fiction treads the fine line between credible and fantastic, and too many of the elements struck me as not-so-credible and weird.
A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows.
First and foremost, the plot revolves around the most valuable planet in the Empire, the inhospitable desert planet of Arrakis, known as Dune, that is the source of the spice, melange, which is an addictive drug that extends life and — wait for it — grants its users enough prescience to see safe paths through space-time, allowing Navigators of the Spacing Guild to guide their craft between the stars. That didn’t work for me. Then I found it too on the nose that the scarce substance needed for all transportation and commerce comes from under the ground of the desert inhabited by primitive nomads speaking Arabic. Literally. In that respect, Orson Scott Card finds the 1965 book eerily prescient, as the quasi-Muslim Fremen of Arrakis launch a jihad to drive out foreign powers and use their control of the spice as their strongest weapon.
Science fiction often invokes the rule of cool to mix atavistic weapons with high-tech — usually with some explanation. For instance, the Jedi knights of Star Wars can plausibly use glowing, buzzing swords because their magical Force powers allow them to use their lightsabers to parry incoming blaster bolts. In Herbert’s Dune universe, the Holtzman shield stops any fast-moving object, rendering guns ineffective and bringing blades back into fashion.
In shield fighting, one moves fast on defense, slow on attack. Attack has the sole purpose of tricking the opponent into a misstep, setting him up for the attack sinister. The shield turns the fast blow, admits the slow kindjal!
So far, so good, but then Herbert introduces lasguns, which produce a nuclear explosion if they hit a shield. Everyone uses shields, and no one uses lasguns, because of this. I don’t think that’s how things would play out. On Arrakis, shields go unused because they attract the planet’s giant sandworms, which will swallow spice-mining vehicles whole. Not a bad image, but wouldn’t anyone immediately conclude that they should use small shield generators as decoys? (And how does a skyscraper-sized “worm” travel through sand, anyway?) Further, I found it… odd that the jet-powered flying craft of the Dune universe are described as ornithopters. More central to the setting though is that it takes place long after the Butlerian Jihad, the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots.
Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.
This allows Herbert’s story to be about people, but, when I first read it, it struck me as preposterous: “You can have my Sega Genesis and my Mac SE/30 when you pry them from my cold, dead hands, Skynet!” Now, as an adult, seeing what modern technology does to kids — and adults — I’m not so smugly technophilic. There are tradeoffs. When Herbert wrote the book, jihad was a relatively esoteric term — but what I didn’t realize when I first read the book was that Butlerian referred to a real person, Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon, an early warning of the dangers of new technologies advancing faster than their masters:
Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.
I had assumed Butler was fictional — even though his wasn’t the third name in a list. One consequence of this computer-free setting is that humans have been trained to perform in a computer-like manner. These are the Mentats. Now, the closest thing we currently have to a human trained to perform in a computer-like manner is a computer programmer — ideally one who has also mastered the method of loci and mental arithmetic — but the Mentats of Dune don’t seem the least bit geeky, just very, very good at all kinds of analysis. They’re not Asperger-y; they’re supermen. They’re not without flaws, but their flaws are human flaws.
The other hyper-trained humans are the Bene Gesserit “witches” — members of a quasi-religious order loosely modeled on the Jesuits — who have mastered other, softer skills. Most famous of these skills is the voice — that is, the Jedi mind trick — followed by their skills in acute observation and truthsaying — which are extremely useful skills to master to manipulate political affairs. And that’s just what they do, operating slowly and surely on an almost geological time-scale. Over generations they steer aristocratic bloodlines toward producing the Kwisatz Haderach, and they seed primitive planets with useful superstitions. (Useful to the Bene Gesserit, that is.) That all worked for me.
The Bene Gesserit also master prana bindu, a kind of yoga or t’ai-chi, with even more martial applications. It’s one thing when 15-year-old Paul Atreides, trained by the greatest fighters of his homeworld, can beat a grown Fremen warrior in a knife-fight. It’s another when his mother, unarmed, can disarm the tribe’s greatest warrior with her weirding way of fighting and leave him feeling impotent. It seems neither plausible nor fitting that the Bene Gesserit would master hand-to-hand combat — even if an important element of mastery the enemy is mastering yourself:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Things get far weirder than the weirding way, though. We find that the Bene Gesserit can consciously control not only their nervous and muscular systems, but they can metabolize poisons into safe compounds. Further, they can access the Other Memory — the combined racial memories of all her female ancestors.
The last hyper-trained humans are the aforementioned spice-eating Navigators of the Spacing Guild. The original novel doesn’t reveal much about their abilities.
The Times Literary Supplement dug up this old list — from 1898 — of the hundred best novels:
- Don Quixote – 1604 – Miguel de Cervantes
- The Holy War – 1682 – John Bunyan
- Gil Blas – 1715 – Alain René le Sage
- Robinson Crusoe – 1719 – Daniel Defoe
- Gulliver’s Travels – 1726 – Jonathan Swift
- Roderick Random – 1748 – Tobias Smollett
- Clarissa – 1749 – Samuel Richardson
- Tom Jones – 1749 – Henry Fielding
- Candide – 1756 – Françoise de Voltaire
- Rasselas – 1759 – Samuel Johnson
- The Castle of Otranto – 1764 – Horace Walpole
- The Vicar of Wakefield – 1766 – Oliver Goldsmith
- The Old English Baron – 1777 – Clara Reeve
- Evelina – 1778 – Fanny Burney
- Vathek – 1787 – William Beckford
- The Mysteries of Udolpho – 1794 – Ann Radcliffe
- Caleb Williams – 1794 – William Godwin
- The Wild Irish Girl – 1806 – Lady Morgan
- Corinne – 1810 – Madame de Stael
- The Scottish Chiefs – 1810 – Jane Porter
- The Absentee – 1812 – Maria Edgeworth
- Pride and Prejudice – 1813 – Jane Austen
- Headlong Hall – 1816 – Thomas Love Peacock
- Frankenstein – 1818 – Mary Shelley
- Marriage – 1818 – Susan Ferrier
- The Ayrshire Legatees – 1820 – John Galt
- Valerius – 1821 – John Gibson Lockhart
- Wilhelm Meister – 1821 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Kenilworth – 1821 – Sir Walter Scott
- Bracebridge Hall – 1822 – Washington Irving
- The Epicurean – 1822 – Thomas Moore
- The Adventures of Hajji Baba – 1824 – James Morier (“usually reckoned his best”)
- The Betrothed – 1825 – Alessandro Manzoni
- Lichtenstein – 1826 – Wilhelm Hauff
- The Last of the Mohicans – 1826 – Fenimore Cooper
- The Collegians – 1828 – Gerald Griffin
- The Autobiography of Mansie Wauch – 1828 – David M. Moir
- Richelieu – 1829 – G. P. R. James (the “first and best” novel by the “doyen of historical novelists”)
- Tom Cringle’s Log – 1833 – Michael Scott
- Mr. Midshipman Easy – 1834 – Frederick Marryat
- Le Père Goriot – 1835 – Honoré de Balzac
- Rory O’More – 1836 – Samuel Lover (another first novel, inspired by one of the author’s own ballads)
- Jack Brag – 1837 – Theodore Hook
- Fardorougha the Miser – 1839 – William Carleton (“a grim study of avarice and Catholic family life. Critics consider it the author’s finest achievement”)
- Valentine Vox – 1840 – Henry Cockton (yet another first novel)
- Old St. Paul’s – 1841 – Harrison Ainsworth
- Ten Thousand a Year – 1841 – Samuel Warren (“immensely successful”)
- Susan Hopley – 1841 – Catherine Crowe (“the story of a resourceful servant who solves a mysterious crime”)
- Charles O’Malley – 1841 – Charles Lever
- The Last of the Barons – 1843 – Bulwer Lytton
- Consuelo – 1844 – George Sand
- Amy Herbert – 1844 – Elizabeth Sewell
- Adventures of Mr. Ledbury – 1844 – Elizabeth Sewell
- Sybil – 1845 – Lord Beaconsfield (a. k. a. Benjamin Disraeli)
- The Three Musketeers – 1845 – Alexandre Dumas
- The Wandering Jew – 1845 – Eugène Sue
- Emilia Wyndham – 1846 – Anne Marsh
- The Romance of War – 1846 – James Grant (“the narrative of the 92nd Highlanders’ contribution from the Peninsular campaign to Waterloo”)
- Vanity Fair – 1847 – W. M. Thackeray
- Jane Eyre – 1847 – Charlotte Brontë
- Wuthering Heights – 1847 – Emily Brontë
- The Vale of Cedars – 1848 – Grace Aguilar
- David Copperfield – 1849 – Charles Dickens
- The Maiden and Married Life of Mary Powell – 1850 – Anne Manning (“written in a pastiche seventeenth-century style and printed with the old-fashioned typography and page layout for which there was a vogue at the period . . .”)
- The Scarlet Letter – 1850 – Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Frank Fairleigh – 1850 – Francis Smedley (“Smedley specialised in fiction that is hearty and active, with a strong line in boisterous college escapades and adventurous esquestrian exploits”)
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin – 1851 – H. B. Stowe
- The Wide Wide World – 1851 – Susan Warner (Elizabeth Wetherell)
- Nathalie – 1851 – Julia Kavanagh
- Ruth – 1853 – Elizabeth Gaskell
- The Lamplighter – 1854 – Maria Susanna Cummins
- Dr. Antonio – 1855 – Giovanni Ruffini
- Westward Ho! – 1855 – Charles Kingsley
- Debit and Credit (Soll und Haben) – 1855 – Gustav Freytag
- Tom Brown’s School-Days – 1856 – Thomas Hughes
- Barchester Towers – 1857 – Anthony Trollope
- John Halifax, Gentleman – 1857 – Dinah Mulock (a. k. a. Dinah Craik; “the best-known Victorian fable of Smilesian self-improvement”)
- Ekkehard – 1857 – Viktor von Scheffel
- Elsie Venner – 1859 – O. W. Holmes
- The Woman in White – 1860 – Wilkie Collins
- The Cloister and the Hearth – 1861 – Charles Reade
- Ravenshoe – 1861 – Henry Kingsley (“There is much confusion in the plot to do with changelings and frustrated inheritance” in this successful novel by Charles Kingsley’s younger brother, the “black sheep” of a “highly respectable” family)
- Fathers and Sons – 1861 – Ivan Turgenieff
- Silas Marner – 1861 – George Eliot
- Les Misérables – 1862 – Victor Hugo
- Salammbô – 1862 – Gustave Flaubert
- Salem Chapel – 1862 – Margaret Oliphant
- The Channings – 1862 – Ellen Wood (a. k. a. Mrs Henry Wood)
- Lost and Saved – 1863 – The Hon. Mrs. Norton
- The Schönberg-Cotta Family – 1863 – Elizabeth Charles
- Uncle Silas – 1864 – Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
- Barbara’s History – 1864 – Amelia B. Edwards (“Confusingly for bibliographers, she was related to Matilda Betham-Edwards and possibly to Annie Edward(e)s . . .”)
- Sweet Anne Page – 1868 – Mortimer Collins
- Crime and Punishment – 1868 – Feodor Dostoieffsky
- Fromont Junior – 1874 – Alphonse Daudet
- Marmorne – 1877 – P. G. Hamerton (“written under the pseudonym Adolphus Segrave”)
- Black but Comely – 1879 – G. J. Whyte-Melville
- The Master of Ballantrae – 1889 – R. L. Stevenson
- Reuben Sachs – 1889 – Amy Levy
- News from Nowhere – 1891 – William Morris
What stands out to many people is how few of those novels are recognizable today. What stands out to me is how many of those novels are bad genre fiction — bad, but influential.
I’m not surprised that 62% of Target’s shoppers also visit Amazon, but I am surprised that more Target shoppers visit Wal-Mart. I thought there was an invisible cultural line between Target and Wal-Mart. If you shop at Target, you don’t shop at Wal-Mart — unless you’re that one weird Target shopper who also needs ammo.
Target’s Internet sales are puny—less than 2% of its $73 billion in total sales last year. By comparison, Amazon’s North America sales rose 30% last year to $35 billion, most of it in categories of goods that Target also sells. Meanwhile, traffic to Target’s stores, as evidenced by its overall transaction count, has fallen for three straight quarters.
In an effort to catch up, Target this year is spending about as much of its $2.3 billion U.S. capital budget on improving its technology, developing mobile apps and modernizing its supply chain as it is on opening and remodeling stores. Next year, the company will spend more on those investments than on stores, an acknowledgment that future growth will increasingly depend on digital sales.
Adding food helped Target get more everyday trips and better match what Wal-Mart stores offered, and the Red Card, which offers discounts, now accounts for more than 20% of purchases and is growing ahead of expectations. The Canada push had a rocky start with fewer repeat shoppers than expected, and Target now expects profits will take longer to come.
“It was a very aggressive agenda, and it has stretched us and tested us,” Mr. Steinhafel said.
Like other retailers that have confronted the Amazon threat, Target sees its physical stores as an asset that the strictly online retailer doesn’t have. For instance, Target is trying to boost sales of baby equipment by adding employees to aid customers, something Target has tested in Chicago and is rolling out to more markets. The company is also putting in so-called beauty concierges to push cosmetics, and it is expanding these to 300 stores by year’s end.
Both moves appear to be aimed at boosting sales for two profitable categories that have migrated to the web, Kantar Retail’s Leon Nicholas said.
Some of Target’s responses fall short of Amazon, which could make it hard to stem the loss of customers. Its subscription service only covers baby supplies, far fewer than Amazon’s Subscribe & Save, which also offers deeper discounts based on how many items are in a scheduled order. Target does plan to expand its subscriptions to offer limited selections of coffee, personal care products, paper towels and toilet paper by the end of the year.
Target also is letting its customers retrieve online orders at any one of its 1,800 U.S. stores starting this holiday season, much like Amazon’s package pickup program at lockers in 7-Eleven convenience stores. But having in-store pickups is something other brick-and-mortar retailers have been doing for years and some, like Wal-Mart and Home Depot Inc., have carved out space in their stores. Target has dedicated space for pickups in only a handful of locations.
Increasing specialization has led us away from becoming polymaths and instead toward becoming monopaths:
It means a person with a narrow mind, a one-track brain, a bore, a super-specialist, an expert with no other interests — in other words, the role-model of choice in the Western world.
Ever since the beginning of the industrial era, we have known both the benefits and the drawbacks of dividing jobs into ever smaller and more tedious ones. Riches must be balanced against boredom and misery. But as long as a boring job retains an element of physicality, one can find a rhythm, entering a ‘flow’ state wherein time passes easily and the hard labour is followed by a sense of accomplishment. In Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur (1962) there is a marvellous description of Neal Cassady working like a demon, changing tyres in a tyre shop and finding himself uplifted rather than diminished by the work. Industrialism tends toward monopathy because of the growth of divided labour, but it is only when the physical element is removed that the real problems begin. When the body remains still and the mind is forced to do something repetitive, the human inside us rebels.
The average job now is done by someone who is stationary in front of some kind of screen. Someone who has just one overriding interest is tunnel-visioned, a bore, but also a specialist, an expert. Welcome to the monopathic world, a place where only the single-minded can thrive.
In the warming-up days of a Frontier campaign, John Masters says, the rules and regulations governing their actions were irksome in the extreme:
The troubled area was delimited and called the ‘proscribed area.’ Outside the prescribed area we might not take any action at all until shot at. Inside it we might not fire at any band of less than ten men unless they were (a) armed and (b) off a path. These were dangerous conditions in a country where arms can be concealed close to flowing clothes, and where paths are tracks invisible from a hundred yards. One day in this war, after a minor shooting affray, my company caught a young Pathan wandering along a goat track that led away from the recent fight. He was admiring the scenery and looked very innocent, but he had a rifle tucked inside his robes. We inspected him closely and found four empty places in his otherwise full cartridge belt, and the chamber and barrel of his rifle were dirty. Had had not had time to clean it. It was a moral and legal certainty that he had taken part in the fight and my subadar, a bloodthirsty little man named Naule, wanted to shoot him on the spot — or rather, after a small exercise in legalism. He urged me to let the young man go and, when he was a hundred yards off, fire a bullet past his ear. He would jump for cover off the goat track and would then be off a path, armed, and in a proscribed area — in brief, lawful game. I was sorry that I had to say no to this suggestion, and I still don’t know why I did. I was here to kill Pathan and look after my company, and this would have been a step towards both aims. But I sent the prisoner back under guard to the adjutant at battalion headquarters, who in turn would pass him on to the Political Agent for further questioning.
That evening I heard the sequel. The adjutant ordered the armourers to inspect his rifle again. Under pretence of examining it they took the weapon in a vice and secretly bent the barrel a fraction of an inch, not enough to notice but enough to cause an explosion and perhaps blow the young man’s hand off next time he fired. They did this because they knew the young man would shortly be delivered to the politicals and, like all soldiers, they were not sure which side the politicals were on.