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October 5, 2011

The world, too complicated to encompass
Posted by Patrick at 10:29 PM * 355 comments

[Photos to come—posting in the interest of timeliness.]

Teresa and I just got back from today’s Occupy Wall Street event, a march from Foley Square down to the “occupation” at Liberty Square. We were accompanied by our current house guests, the Two Steves, Brust and Gould. (On Friday we will all pile into a rented car and drive to Martha’s Vineyard, where we’ll be teaching our annual writing workshop along with fellow instructors Jim Macdonald, Debra Doyle, Elizabeth Bear, and Sherwood Smith.)

It was an impressive event. Signs and sentiments ranged from mild-mannered demands like “Tax Wall Street” to hardcore observations like “No War But Class War.” (As I observed to BrustSteve, who was raised by Trotskyist union organizers, “I’ve been a moderate liberal for much of my life, but you know something, there really is a class war going on, and the other son-of-a-bitches shot first.”) The NYPD did a fine job of making sure everyone who persisted in marching all the way to Liberty Square was made as miserable as possible, because you know, if demonstrating one’s dissatisfaction with this screwed-up world were easy, who knows what might happen? Best to discipline and punish everyone involved. We escaped the semi-kettling when Teresa shamed a cop into letting her past the fence behind which they’d channelled the demonstraters. Then we walked down to Liberty Square itself, paralleling the main demo but not fenced in along with it. My guess is that “Liberty Square”—actually a privately owned open space called “Zuccotti Park”—is named in nostalgia for a time when Americans didn’t automatically accept that police get to define when and where “free speech” may be exercised.

Escaping on the R train from Rector Street, we got home to discover that Steve Jobs died. And that my Twitter feed is full of people wanting to wag their finger in my face for caring too much, in the wrong way.

He was complicit in many of the sins I just got home from marching against. He gamed the inequities between labor in the First World and labor in the Third. He was probably a lot of people’s boss-from-hell.

He also made a world in which people like me and Teresa—computer users since 1988, when we got our first Mac SE—are technologists rather than passive victims of someone else’s vision of technology. Selfish though it may be, I have to acknowledge that this means a very great deal to us.

The world is complicated. Late capitalism sucks. Our systems don’t work. Our futures are controlled by people who don’t give a crap for anything we care about.

Steven Jobs cared about something. Without him, our lives would have been different, and probably worse. We’ll miss him. Anyone who wants to take this as the occasion to wag a reproving finger is invited—not entirely cordially—to comprehensively plobz the frap off. You may quote me, in this life or the next.

Comments on The world, too complicated to encompass:
#1 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 10:44 PM:

Amen to paragraph #5. I never had an interest in programming, just being a power user. That's all the PC users would brag about. i do not give a shit, I want to use the programs, push them to their limits and not have a platform that fights me at every turn. Which PCs did.

We'll miss the guy. I hope his company doesn't fold;

#2 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 10:45 PM:

wow. that's the first time I've been moderated. wow.

#3 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 10:55 PM:

Would SKZB like anything from the Manhattan branch of the last actually-Hungarian pastry shop in NYC? sadly the Yorkville packing house is currently rebuilding after a fire.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 10:57 PM:
"We escaped the semi-kettling when Teresa shamed a cop into letting her past the fence behind which they’d channelled the demonstrators."
I did not shame the officer into letting us past the barricades. I bullyragged the sucker, and his superior, too. My gradually rising pitch and volume was not an appeal to their pity.
#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 10:58 PM:

Paula, what happened? None of us moderated you.

#6 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 10:59 PM:

Thank you, TNH, I now have a new word.

#7 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 11:02 PM:

Teresa shamed a cop

I can well believe that.

#8 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 11:06 PM:

Anyone who wants to take this as the occasion to wag a reproving finger is invited—not entirely cordially—to comprehensively plobz the frap off. You may quote me, in this life or the next.

Thanks for that, mate. Seriously. Captured just what I was thinking tonight.

#9 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 11:17 PM:

TNH #5: Paula accidentally used a common comment-spam trope. And see? She is released!

#10 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 11:21 PM:

"I did not shame the officer into letting us past the barricades. I bullyragged the sucker, and his superior, too."



Steve Jobs, I could live with. Corporate exploiter? Sure, but at least he built things. It's possible to write a eulogy for the man and bring up some useful accomplishments, some things worth remembering.

The ones I'm really angry with are the Ray Nardellis and the Lloyd Blankfeins. People who made their immense fortunes purely by destroying others.

You can argue about the impact of people like Jobs, or Gates, or Buffett, and lots of people are going to. So long as everybody remembers that other lot, so long as nobody lets the real evil bastards off the hook for the sake of nabbing one of the halfway-evil ones.

#12 ::: Allen Varney ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2011, 11:57 PM:

mjfgates #10: Ray Nardelli? The composer, manager of Colgate University's Digital Media Group? Huh what?

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:00 AM:

Home Despot. And some other corporation, but my brain isn't producing the name.

#14 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:02 AM:

Well said all around.

The finger wagging and tut-tutting on Boing Boing's comment threads is thick enough to plug up a goose.

#15 ::: Colleen Lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:04 AM:

Great post, Patrick.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:07 AM:

The Home Depot guy:

He was also the Chrysler Guy, and a General Electric Guy. Wikipedia notes: 'CNBC named Nardelli as one of the "Worst American CEOs of All Time"'

#17 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:37 AM:

#4: So, how do you do it, whatever name it goes by, Teresa? What are the strategies to make people in a position of power over one back down rather than escalate in ugly ways?

#19 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 01:15 AM:

Without him, our lives would have been different, and probably worse.

There. Yes.

I didn't read the comments there, but BoingBoing actually made me cry with a goddamned format, mostly via flashbacks to places in my soul I'd forgotten to name. That is an aesthetic wonder.

I started my writing career, such as it is, on a secondhand Mac Plus passed along to me by Anthony Peckham. Yeah, that one. I'm grateful to both those fellows, in a barbed-baroque, durian-flavored, high-fat and high-surf fashion.

Wow. Here we all are.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 01:26 AM:

Without him, our lives would probably have been visually poorer as well. Remember the explosion of fonts when the Mac came out? Remember what MacPaint did to everyone's fridge door for a few years?

I suppose, in some ways, Jobs has some responsibility even for Comic Sans. But, circling back to civil rights, we don't really have a freedom until we can be a damn fool with it.

#21 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 01:44 AM:

A big Thank You to everyone for being there at Occupy Wall Street. The rest of the country is getting its chance to participate now, but it was the NY movement that started the ball rolling. And I've seen what the NYPD can do against demonstrations; you guys have my admiration for getting it going and keeping it going in the face of their opposition.

As a child from a family of Communists, Socialists, and self-made millionaires1, 2, and a Progressive for most of my life, I agree completely with your comment about the class war. And it would be so much easier to deal with if it were an honest-to-Cthulhu shooting war, but hey, you go to war with the weapons you've got to fight the battles you're in.

As sad as the death of Steve Jobs is, his nature and legacy are much more pleasant subjects than the recent deeds of the Evil Oligarchy. I met Jobs and Wosniak once, in the mid-seventies when they demonstrated the Apple 1 at a meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club at Stanford. Jobs seemed pretty intense to me, especially as I thought at the time that the Apple 1 was not powerful enough to be a useful computer and so was not worth the intensity.

Over the next few years I worked with the technologies that they put into the Lisa and the Macintosh, so when they were released I was a lot more sympathetic to their strategies. Since then I've owned 7 Macintosh desktops and laptops, as well as numerous iPods, and an iPhone, and I've very carefully watched how Jobs has used the advance of power and functionality to aid his main goal: producing computers which are intended to be used by people who are not technologists, as tools to get their work and play done. This goal is one of the reasons I became involved with personal computing in the 70s, and why I continued to work with computers of that class and the software that runs on them. It's been inspiring to watch how Jobs and his associates have grown these technologies to the point where they can be used as part of life's routine by average users, and as part of dealing with life's more special challenges by not-so average users3.

Many people have talked and written about Steve Jobs' eager grasp of the methods of marketing and capitalism, and his use of closed systems to increase his products' sales and profits. But I see all of the dealing and conniving and pursuit of profit as ways to bring to the market the tools that he envisioned as the basis for a widespread and long-term application of computers to the daily problems of large numbers of people. And I think that attaining this objective, and leaving behind an organization that will continue to follow his path for some time to come, is quite a bit of success for any one human lifetime, and certainly worthy of admiration.

1. Back when a million dollars was serious money.

2. My family is large; it contains multitudes.

3. Since the late 1980's I've had a vision of a handheld computer that could effectively amplify the intelligence and memory of a user, whether to give people with special needs a boost up to more effectively live in the wider world or to give average people the tools to overcome some of the obstacles placed in their paths by the upper classes4; the iPod Touch/iPhone is that computer.

4. One of the nastier tactics in the Class War is the way in which lower class people are pushed and persuaded to not use their money effectively; there are a number of apps for iPhones that make it easy to search for needed products and services at the best prices, and to budget money and find the best ways to pay for needed purchases so as to avoid usurious loans and gouging fees.

#22 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 02:15 AM:

Abi @20, remember that early Macs shipped with a mock-worthy font too.

#23 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 02:24 AM:

Anyone who wants to take this as the occasion to wag a reproving finger is invited—not entirely cordially—to comprehensively plobz the frap off. You may quote me, in this life or the next.

Thank you. Life is not a binary switch. It is possible to contain outrage and dismay at the current state of this country and the police actions on Wall Street and grieve at Jobs's passing. In the same moment, even.

#24 ::: Arthur D. ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 02:30 AM:

Avram @18, thanks for the link. Perhaps, out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, we'll find one or more of the crazy ones, to move and change the world like Steve Jobs did.

#25 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 06:22 AM:

Avram @22

Designed by Jordin Kare's sister.

It doesn't look so bad, but it would be a dreadfully easy font to misuse. You can say the same about Comic Sans.

My own experience of Apple is very limited, but there was a while when the Mac was almost the iconic image for a personal computer, everything but the keyboard in one box. I bought a Mac Classic about ten years ago, second hand, partly because that image is so strong.

It was, once, a commonplace cartoon image. The little computer with arms and legs. At first, it resembled the Commodore PET, another all-in-one design, and then it shifted to the general look of the Apple Mac. The screen became its face. It was friendly and coherent. And the early Macintosh had a shape which fitted that use.

Steve Jobs might one day be regarded as the Isambard Kingdom Brunel of the digital age.

#26 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 07:32 AM:

Per #10: Steve Jobs, I could live with. Corporate exploiter? Sure, but at least he built things. It's possible to write a eulogy for the man and bring up some useful accomplishments, some things worth remembering.


See also: Henry Ford. (Or Walt Disney.) Reasonable people don't build gigantic corporations that make stuff eerily unlike anything anyone else produces; it takes an un-reasonable man to revolutionize an industry, and they're not comfortable people to work with.

The poor labour conditions in Apple's contractors' factories are a side-effect of early 21st century globalized capitalist outsourcing; they're reprehensible, but we're not going to see that imbalance fixed until we allow unrestricted free movement of labour across national borders along with free movement of capital, and holding any one company responsible for what is essentially an emergent side-effect of global politics (dictated by the aggregate weight of corporatist lobbying) is unfair. (Although that's not to say that we shouldn't lean on them to do better, where we can exert leverage.)

On the other side of the balance, Jobs single-mindedly pushed to make better stuff -- stuff that is more useful to human beings. Something that the rest of the personal computer/consumer electronics industry doesn't really understand, and which puts to shame the like of the corporate investment bankers whose only goal is to grab as much money as possible.

The final word belongs to him: "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me ... Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful ... that's what matters to me."

#27 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 07:55 AM:

XKCD today. As usual, don't miss the rollover text.

#28 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 08:13 AM:

Let's remember too that Mr. Jobs did stuff outside Apple.

NeXT computers: I have fond memories of nights in the computer lab among those black cubes running Unix and a strange non-Xwindows GUI. True, that computing technology went the way of the dodo mostly, but it existed and was for the time a good system. (And you could argue it inspired Mac OSX)

Pixar: Without Jobs, Pixar would be a footnote in computer animation history for their initial demos with the animated desk lamps. With Jobs' involvement? Well, you've seen how that history played out.

People use the word "visionary" to describe someone who has a singular Vision that they pursue and get other people to follow. While I guess that works, we then need another word for someone like Jobs who had Visions, plural, and got people to pursue multiple of them again and again.

#29 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 08:36 AM:

I'm not an Apple person, and my criticisms (and acknowledgments of his genius, both of which are very strong) are elsewhere.

In respect of Mr. Jobs, however, I have made a contribution to The Lustgarten Foundation, and urge others to do so, as well. (I lost my father and a friend to pancreatic cancer, and it's nasty. Eliminating or curing it would be a major plus for the world, in my opinion.)

#30 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 08:46 AM:

And it's not an XKCD day; that's a special release.

See also Abstruse Goose.

#31 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 09:12 AM:

Love this post... brings to light the dichotomy of the modern capitalist system, where the great whales who create (Jobs) are counterbalanced by the suckerfish who feed off those creators (Goldman et. al).

Re: class warfare, or any warfare, for that matter -- always make sure the drummer knows it was they who shot first.

#32 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 09:25 AM:

I've always known that space as Liberty Plaza, and I like that name better because it attaches it to one of the streets that forms a boundary.

From Widipedia: Zuccotti Park, formerly called Liberty Plaza Park, is a 33,000-square-foot (3,100 m2) privately-owned publicly-accessible park in Lower Manhattan in New York City. The park, which is owned by Brookfield Office Properties, was renamed after John Zuccotti, its chairman, after renovations in 2006. It is located between Broadway, Trinity Place, Liberty Street and Cedar Street. The park's northwest corner is across the street from the World Trade Center site.

#33 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 10:03 AM:

@28: Visions

Ebenezer Blackadder (the Nicest Man in London) is chatting affably with a Spirit (Brian Blessed) who mistakenly came to change EB's ways, then stayed for a nice drop of furniture polish.
Blackadder: So, how do you persuade people to change their ways?
Spirit: Oh, I talk to them, show them visions...
Blackadder: Visions?
Spirit: Oh, aye. We used to use black and white line art, but the visions are much more effective!

#34 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 10:47 AM:

Arthur, #24: Well, here are some for you.

(Summary: the Chicago Board of Trade has hung signs in its windows proclaiming "We are the 1%".)

Charlie, #26: Or until we penalize corporations for outsourcing labor and reward them for creating jobs at home.

#35 ::: Jon Lennox ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 10:55 AM:

PurpleGirl@33: and indeed, the fact that Liberty Plaza was renamed after a rich CEO is nicely symbolic of everything the protests are about.

#36 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 11:19 AM:

Now that's bizarre. I tried to Google "bullyragged", and got a Server error. When I attempted to email a message to, I got a delivery failure. Attempting other "[word] definition" searches produced "Server Error" as well. Searches for "[word}" worked okay.

#37 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 11:36 AM:

Somewhere in my G+ feed, someone who I otherwise have a lot of time for is going 'meh, he's not that special, blah, improved others' innovation, blah, not worthy of this massive outpouring of grief...'.

So I've been thinking, all day, hmm, is that true, am I over-reacting? I'm pretty sure I'm not. Really that special. Perhaps the single person outside my immediate family with the most impact on my quality of life over the last twenty year.

Fun Flickr search of the day: sort a search on 'apple store' by most recent.

#38 ::: pedantic Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 11:42 AM:

Kip W @ 33... If I remember correctly, the Spirit was played by Robby Coltrane, but that being said, it was a hilarious spoof of Dickens's tale.

"I trust Christmas brings to you its traditional mix of good food and violent stomach cramp."

#39 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 11:59 AM:

Everything I've ever written for publication was written on a Mac. Thank you, Steve Jobs.

#40 ::: Douglas Triggs ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:01 PM:

Daniel Martin @ 28... MacOSX isn't just inspired by NeXTStep, it's a direct descendant -- just ask anyone who's done any Mac programming. It's no coincidence that every class in Cocoa starts with "NS"... The NS stands for NeXTStep.

#41 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:02 PM:

Lee @34: Charlie, #26: Or until we penalize corporations for outsourcing labor and reward them for creating jobs at home.

Who is this "we" you speak of?

(While I agree with your proposed cure, I don't think it's going to happen any time this side of a profound change in the identity of our lords and masters in office ...)

#42 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:17 PM:

Allison @37: As a not-Apple-fan, I would be lying if I said I adored the man the way many people seem to have done. I would ALSO be lying if I claimed that I didn't realize Steve Jobs was a genius in three areas: design, sales, and grokking the zeitgeist. Sure, there are lots of ways in which Apple products are similar to things that came before, but that's because constantly inventing new things is impossible. He made major strides in the desktop UI and practically created the post-cassette-Walkman mobile device industry. Yes, he's special, just not the saint that many Apple fans seem to think he was.

Feel free to quote me, if necessary, when discussing the subject with your G+ person, and make sure s/he understands that I've excoriated Jobs in the past (and recently, elsewhere online) for his company's policies (which I'm NOT getting into here, TYVM).

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:41 PM:

Patrick, thou hast said it.

TNH #5: Excellent.

#44 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:41 PM:

Some pretty nasty rotten things can be said of Steve Jobs, and some of them are true.
But none of them are exceptional regarding a Titan of Industry.
The good and wonderful things which can be said, and very many of them are true, are uniquely his.

My current #2 internet meme is that "The smart phone is the first second generation personal computer." It took Steve Jobs to *FINALLY* get us past the square zero desktop metaphor of 19-freaking-68. A desperately needed advance which perhaps no one else could have caused.

#47 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 12:49 PM:

The post-cassette mobile audio device industry is a perfect example, in fact. There was a flourishing mini-ecosystem going on; lots of people liked portable CD players (but they're big, and skip if not treated very carefully), and people *still use* MiniDisk, which had a lot of merits as a low-cost recording system as well as for playback. And there were already products on the market that stored the music digitally, including ones that had a smaller size, more storage space, and were cheaper than the iPod and were more flexible.

But the iPod did fewer things but ever so well. And that's the secret; over and over again, taking a good idea, abandoning cruft, and polishing the best bits till they were shinier than shiny.

I do hope Apple can carry on doing that.

#48 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 03:04 PM:

Thanks for going down to help occupy Wall Street on behalf of those of us who live too far away.

#49 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 03:37 PM:

Charlie #26:

Yeah, I think anyone who has a big impact on the world, for good or ill or both, is going to fit the Shaw quote, and be an unreasonable person.

#50 ::: Affenschmidt ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 04:59 PM:

One of these days I want to have a special case made for an Apple computer that pays tribute to Glaswegian architecture.

It would be a Charles Rennie Macintosh.

#51 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 06:34 PM:

Alison Scott @ #46, to my mind the more ingenious part of the iPod system was the iTunes store. It allowed the end user to find all the content (well, except that of those artists who didn't want to play) in one place. It meant no more hunting among 4 or 5 different download sites (with possible malware embedded) to get a copy of "Volunteers" by Airplane (which should be the theme for Occupy Wall Street, sez Will Bunch of Attytood; I agree), for what seemed like a nominal fee of $0.99.

#52 ::: Linda Hafemeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 06:42 PM:

The iPod didn't touch me, and I had a little history with the Mac way back, but what I found revolutionary was the app concept on the iPhone.

Instead of trying to load up the machine with every possible feature built according to how the company (*cough* Microsoft *cough*) thought you should use them, the iPhone gave you only the baseline, critical functions. There was a calendar, a contact list, a browser, a camera, a map, etc., and you could get by with just those if you had to. But then they got/allowed developers to offer you apps to add bells & whistles to those functions. Each developer could offer an app with a *different* set of bells & whistles at a low enough (even free!) cost that you could try a variety until you found one that made lists or grouped contacts or whatever in just the way you like.

As I see it, there were at least 4 notable impacts: a) Users get functions that best suit them without having to deal with everything that doesn't; b) opportunity for thousands of programmers working at their dining room table or in their garage; c) created an entirely new business model where a business like Apple could be simultaneously tightly integrated control freaks while opening their (figurative) doors far wider than MS and their ilk, not incidentally making a ton of money off the intersection of the two in the form of the App Store; and d) strictly guessing here, but I suspect that the need for the apps to be small yet powerful has brought back some tighter coding practices that tended to fall by the wayside as memory got cheaper.

I know rants about how Apple manages the apps & App Store could fill volumes, but the fact remains that, like iTunes, the business concept was as visionary as the gadgets. And as someone who watched a lot of good programmers lose their corporate jobs to supposedly cheaper off-shore labor, I like to think that Jobs got a kick out of revitalizing the business-in-the-garage model that got him started.

#53 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 06:45 PM:

A really good, long, thoughtful appreciation of Steve Jobs by British comedian / actor / tech-wonk Stephen Fry:

#54 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 06:58 PM:

Good post, Patrick, thank you. And thanks to you (plural), guests, and all who are participating in OWS. The escalation and presence of the union members in particular is heartening in the face of the condescension and just plain nastiness of the media.

#55 ::: Linda Hafemeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 07:02 PM:

@51: Hmm, I don't mean to imply there's an easy equivalence between corporate job vs dining table, but considering the time (post dot-com bust, mid off-shoring surge), I can't help but think the App Store was a shot in the arm for programmers. Hope that makes better sense.

#56 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 07:04 PM:

Stefan Jones @14:

If you think BoingBoing was bad, steer clear of Crooked Timber, unless you like your goose stuffing academic flavored. Got into it with one of the, "But what about the exploited Chinese workers?" guys, who was going on like Jobs personally kept a dozen coolies in his garage.

As if arguing with academics on the Internet about what impact Steve Jobs had on the world wasn't irony enough for you, there's the Westboro Baptist folk, one of whim tweeted (from her iPhone, no less) about how they were gearing up to picket his funeral.

It is indeed a complicated old world.

#57 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 07:23 PM:

An articulate post that rings true. Steve Jobs being gone means we have one less creative genius in the world who invents things that change the way we live for the better.

Going by accounts I remember from several biographers, Jobs didn't lead a blameless life. His company, Apple, has been susceptible to the same side effects of Big Capitalism that make me permanently leery about Big Capitalism as an ethically-tolerable mechanism for distribution of goods and services.

But none of that changes the fact that Steve Jobs changed the world for the better in his life. His passing leaves a hole in the world.

##Occupy Wall Street: Air, air! The 1% in the colleges may wake the rest of us up to force the 99% in news media and government to change their way of thinking. Maybe even a few CEOs.

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 07:40 PM:

No matter what you think about Apple, or about Steve Jobs personally, the fact remains that he made a difference. That's not a bad epitaph.

#59 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 07:47 PM:

The shopoping/office development where I do security has an Apple store, so we had a local TV news van out there this morning about 7AM to use it as a backdrop for a piece on Jobs' death.

While they were shooting, an Apple customer came up and laid flowers down beside the door of the store. Yeah, serendipity.

Then ensued some discussion between me and the other security officers on whether the property's management would want us to remove the flowers from the sidewalk. (Why, yes, management does sometimes have a stick up its butt. Why do you ask?) Final consensus on the issue was that leaving the flowers was probably okay, but if anyone left candles, we should probably remove those.

After the flowers were left, several passersby got out their cell phones to take flowers of the proto-shrine. More discussion among the security personnel, whether to ask people to not take photos. (Our property spent millions and millions of dollars to make the place photogenic, and then put a "no photography" policy in place. This puzzles me, to say the least.) My take: "Day Shift comes on duty in less than an hour. Photos? What photos? I don't see anyone taking any photos."

#60 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 10:00 PM:

yes, Steve Jobs made stuff, made good stuff. I keep telling this to the jeweler i work for at our local Renaissance festival (he also has a store in Winter Park) when he despairs that he has done this his whole life.

You make pretty things, they make people happy. You make a sufficient living to have a house in a beautiful place, and etc. (His house in KC was taken in a city take that put a Home Depot and a Costco in midtown, near where I live now. The money they paid him bought him 1.5 acres on the side of a mountain where he built a house.)

That one makes things that people enjoy, whether technology, or books to read, or jewelry, or etc., that is the best thing. That is what people remember.

#61 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 10:48 PM:

Occupy Portland (Oregon) kicked off at noon today. The initial gathering and march went smoothly. The police estimated the crowd at 4,000 to 5,000. My coworkers said it took 25 minutes to pass our office. (I had nipped out to join the march myself.) I was amused at how an event like this has a sea of upthrust hands holding phones, but that didn't stop me from taking some pictures with my iPhone. Oh, how I do enjoy marching down the middle of a city street with thousands of people bellowing: Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!

The organizers decided not to get a permit, but they did publish the route, and the police stopped traffic on all the cross streets, and generally acted as ushers. The protesters have set up camp in two small parks, and the city agreed to that but asked that they move on Friday as the Portland Marathon has permits to use those parks this weekend.

There was a small fuss yesterday, because some fool in Canada sent a fax to the Portland Police department, claiming to be from Occupy Portland, saying they were going to be disruptive. Unfortunately, the police department tweeted a JPG of the fax before realizing it was bogus. Despite the clarification about the fax, a few news stories are still quoting it.

#62 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 10:58 PM:

Linkmeister @ 50: "Volunteers" would be a great theme song but this is my suggestion: "Ignoreland" by R.E.M. Aside from the appropriateness and the rockitude, there's historical resonance.

#63 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2011, 11:20 PM:

You know, I've scoffed for years at descriptions of our current economic system as "late capitalism" - I figured it was nowhere close - but now, I think it may be closer to the truth.

Re Jobs, I feel a bit impatient with some of the hagiographers for acting as though he was all about doing good. People don't become billionaires incidentally; they mean to. That said, he went about it a hell of a lot better than the average 109-aire.

#64 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 12:48 AM:

Chris Quinones @ 60:

acting as though he was all about doing good

While there are a lot of fanboys saying things like that, I've seen many comments similar to mine, to the effect that he was driven by a vision of how the world should be, but that in the main that vision has produced a lot of good for the world. That doesn't mean he was all about doing good, but that he was all about making his vision real. The rest of us are probably very lucky that his vision was as benign as it was; some other visionaries in the past have decidedly not left the world better than it was before.

#65 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 01:15 AM:

Something Scott McCloud said on G+ seems appropriate: "I just feel it better suits a man's accomplishments to properly name them, rather than just sending everyone to Heaven or Hell as soon as they hit the floor."

#66 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 04:17 AM:

When I woke that Mon 4am I knew from nothing but had had all these really Real dreams, like good omens cause they were Memories of Some Place Truer than this ShadowFakery. I seriously haven't really dreamt much, or meaningful, for over a decade (heavy drug addictions will do that). And had no idea of what had been happening lately with that occupy stuff, having been stayin away mediamatrix n isolated.

So knew nothing when I woke, just that ozone afterlinger of Heavy Magic, or maybe it was just a dream...still, in a store heard a voice say Apple, new, I've always dug computers I woulda checked regardless. But Steve, these last ten, he been gettin all kindsa Shiny, Elvish almost, like he mighta walked with some of the Original Heavies and some of their magic rubbed off, ua know? might even BE one.

Let me explain. If you read up on those days when the idea for personal computers came about, or just sort of absorb info over time like me, and maybe fool around a bit programming them, and drop some good acid once or twice in your life, you get this whole new feel for what these things really could mean...

and then if you follow the stories back, well, they all lead to that same time and place all our current hopes were inflamed: that once sunny valley, relit! again for a season, a vast glowing amidst the Darkness - the Curse, the Confusion - that for so long now has lain upon our fair land.

THEY say (and you know the sort of things that THEY say) that something happened - that for a short time there was some sort of Scene - a Conclave - a Symposium - a Meeting of Minds there. WAY smaller, MUCH shorter lasting and FAR heavier than most ever heard or imagined -- some sort of epicentric event, ripples spreading out. I have no direct or even really secondhand knowledge here, just bits and pieces, Peter Fonda drops a line in The Limey (WOW thats what my dream felt like, hot DAMN see [1] below), an old POPi usenet post there (fantastic writing . Sorta overall impression that just about all that is Good and True and Righteous in This darkland run by whowhats, springs from that time and place (in this world, in this generation).

The Music! The Drugs! The Sex! This, even the yokels could appreciate, and begin to wonder at the justofications given for impoundment of Joy and Magic, once they showed up and trampled the whole place.

(who has stolen the moon and sun? where have they taken our stars?)

Steve, inveterate Trickster - his roots right when and where the Two True Tools of Liberation, chemical and technological, intertwined their

He was no TechnoVisionary. He was the One Who Walks Between Worlds, maybe: who could grok the vision and plot how to (oh so painfully slowly) get the yokels to begin to see it. (flunked their finals btw, the two nonsense clues vs Quality)

I mean, had he Really turned dark towards the end?

Like c'mon, literally every feature of DynaBook -
except its very Heart! - the Matter of Mind!

Would he really promise us a bicycle for the mind and instead deliver a trolleycar around a 500,000-booth amusement park?

Me, I think he was running double. For one there's all these like, Hints: the suspiciously accurate timeline, all the 9 16s, the pkd/raw refs...

Those guys back then, the heads, they could play Deep. Look up Mr Macintosh sometime.

Who knows?

"OK Bill, you got the Deuce. You run the Mega-corp That Does Everything in The Most Retarded Way Possible, to deeply ingrain in people the desire for Righteous Design."

- "aww, do I gotta? Why can't I make the Righteous Design stuff? And why do i gotta be such a *schlub*?"

"Steve got the Ace. C'mon, we discussed all of this beforehand, remember? Everyone has a burden to bear. Before it's all over Steve faces more danger than almost any of us. He might end up the most hated man ever in Phase x-1, which didn't work out well last time. Anyhow, 'VALIS' [winks - in the background we hear lots of giggling, sniggering and catcalls] we're going to be calling you SIRI at's why..."

[1]Terry Valentine: Did you ever dream about a place you never really recall being to before? A place that maybe only exists in your imagination? Some place far away, half remembered when you wake up. When you were there, though, you knew the language. You knew your way around. *That* was the sixties.
Terry Valentine: No. It wasn't that either. It was just '66 and early '67. That's all there was.

#67 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 05:06 AM:

Lisa in #17, no such People.

[walk, calm and slow, crowd following at a slight distance behind. Stop maybe 8 feet from first policeman blocking the way]

One Explanation,


One Declaration,


and Three Questions



I, a human, have been breaking an old rule.

That rule is: treat those beneath you [indicate ground]
as you would be treated by those above you [indicate sku]

I have ruled those beneath me [indicate] by Force, Fraud, and Fear. I have made them cattle.

That those above me [up] have done the same to me should therefore be no surprise.

But it ends here.


I, a human, hereby REJECT and DISPERSE any claim of right or ability of any Invisible Entity, Without Body, be it Invented or Perceived, Real or Imagined:

to compel me or to forbid me

Let me no longer say: my hands are tied, for look: they are not!

[brandish, flamboyant, it's probably ok to be a little campy at this point.
RESOLEMNIZE. Look Officer plainly in the eye.]

and you, Officer, either agree with me or not. So:






I mean we all been us on a bad trip for a while (language and thinking: the Original Psychedelic), could a HUMAN microphone talk us all down again?

#68 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 05:08 AM:

Thanks, Steve.

#69 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 05:48 AM:

On Wednesday, our trivia team memorialized him. Our weekly team name: iSad.

So far, the onion has my favorite tribute, and the one that most encapsulates my feelings about Jobs:

Last American Who Knew What the Fuck He Was Doing Dies.

#70 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 06:37 AM:

Kip W @33: I wondered if maybe the first draft was:
"We used to use diagrams, but visions are much more effective!"

#71 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 08:51 AM:

Heu, did the sys eat my posts or did I get modded? They were here before...

#72 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 09:07 AM:

cliff, I can't do your comments justice, but a friend who's rather younger than I am said, "Your generation had magic [psychedelics] and YOU THREW IT AWAY?"

Meanwhile, Occupy Philadelphia.

I've been wondering what was going to happen with all the people who "did everything right" and lost out. They're conscientious hard-working people, which I think means they can be quite a powerful force, but on the other hand, they're temperamentally inclined to follow rules, and the rules have betrayed them. I think we're going to find out.

#73 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 09:38 AM:


Two out of two moderators looking at your comments, and the fact that you've never commented here before, said, "what?"

Which usually means, "unpublish". 99 times out of 100, when someone posts at that length with no posting history, it's a driveby, spam, or both.

Since you've come back, I'll publish the comments again. Could you maybe give me some kind of an...I don't know...artist's statement on what you meant by the longer of them? I think it would work better with some context for the mundanes.

(Also, hi, welcome to Making Light. Have you lurked here before?)

#74 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 10:25 AM:

Lurk much, posted a few times before, same email.

PKD talked of black iron prison. There has always been a curse on the land. He has this one story...RAW did as well.

Did the Beatles just make some nice tunes?

Ponder this: Steve didn't distort, he could slightly un-distort. How hexed do they have us all, that delivering a well-made product that does what it says, and wasn't designed by idiots to fuck with your so special it's magic?

There is no 1% in charge, they work for the same 0% company store that claims to own all our souls.

The 0%, they're 'just' in our heads, our heads are just much larger than we realize.

Like some dudes claiming they bought us all, heres the receipt: they're only as real as you let them be. I can't say it any plainer than the 1 2 3 post: WHO compels? Show yourselves!

Here, Hicks maybe says it better: "It's just a ride."

#75 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 10:56 AM:

Other post eaten:

Counter-culture+engineer synergy created all of this: tcp ip, personal computers, web (what, you thought The Man would conceive of and hand us an Internet?)

And all of it was seen in a flash, 40 years ago, lookup Alan Kay's Dynabook.

Some crucial pieces still missing.

On Monday, some Hints were dropped, I mean, surely folk here have read PKD big heavystuff, final 3. And RAW's parallel exp?

Anyways, attempts to comprehend appreciated.

#76 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 11:16 AM:

In Neal Stephenson's Anathem terms, there were two forms of magic, one worked on records.

Computers matter because they let you manipulate info.

If I control your info, I control your records of the past (didn't that street go downhill?).

If you control your own and learn how to, you can travel the Directed Acyclic Graph.

If your whole head is in the,cloud, they can DarkCity you any time they want.

In short: this may be the real deal. Sounda crazy, I know. But the battles, they are battles between gangs of magicians, in a sense, to define reality. We all are magicians, just more or less asleep.

Keep your eye on the ball and remember! It's just a ride.

#77 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 11:21 AM:

And one more: In Neal Stephenson's Anathem terms, there were two forms of magic, one worked on records.

Computers matter because they let you manipulate info.

If I control your info, I control your records of the past (didn't that street go downhill?).

If you control your own and learn how to, you can travel the Directed Acyclic Graph.

If your whole head is in the,cloud, they can DarkCity you any time they want.

In short: this may be the real deal. Sounda crazy, I know. But the battles, they are battles between gangs of magicians, in a sense, to define reality. We all are magicians, just more or less asleep.

Keep your eye on the ball and remember! It's just a ride.

#78 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 11:38 AM:

cliff @73:

Like some dudes claiming they bought us all, heres the receipt: they're only as real as you let them be. I can't say it any plainer than the 1 2 3 post: WHO compels? Show yourselves!

They're wearing blue and carrying badges and guns, cliff. They put people in jail.

Behind those guys, they're wearing suits and holding fountain pens, and hiring lawyers and funding politicians, and what they get for that money is power.

Now, we could let it all go and live on sunlight and air and pure unadulterated freedom, but the kids gotta eat something and put something on their feet, and it's not such a bad thing if they get to learn to read, too. And winter's coming, with the snow and the rain, and a roof over the head's a nice thing on a cold day. And we're too numerous and too densely settled to grow the food we eat and build the things we use all on our own.

The 0%, if it is what I think you mean, comes from those needs. We have a society because life is better for the vulnerable when we do. And that means that we make bargains and compromises with each other. And over time those bargains and compromises, they skew toward one group more than another, and if we don't have a pushback or a counterbalance then we get where we are now.

But I don't need to re-prove the existence and benefit of society to you, not typing on a computer I didn't make from silicon I mined myself, sitting on a chair I didn't forge of primal steel and vinyl, wearing clothing I neither spun nor wove, communicating over wires I didn't lay and satellites I didn't launch to whatever utopian paradise you're sitting in to read this.

There is a reality here, and we have to deal with it, no matter how messy and awkward and un-idealistic that is.

#79 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 12:17 PM:

wow you so miss my point. I come in peace!

just trying to prompt some ponderings, not telling noone what to do or believe, and no, the 0% is literally 0 and just in our heads. Monster in the closet. There is noone behind the curtain.

I grew up in Amsterdam, so much realer than here. Every year here it gets worse, and people truly are in confusion and under a curse so to speak. I'd just like to see this place maybe start to consider heading back in your direction, yknow? That would be miracle enough. Sheesh.

For the Inner Eye though: ponder 66.

#80 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 12:26 PM:

There is a 'reality' here, and defining it has *always* been fought out by magicians: media, politicians, artists, pranksters, sf writers and people like Steve. A powerful wizard, one of *ours*, has passed. Are you reading me a little clearer?

#81 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 12:38 PM:

cliff, I grew up around a lot of people (mostly male) who talked like you. All our troubles are in our heads. Question everything. We could be truly free if we just stopped being so obsessed with the material world. It's all an illusion. Be here now. Be now here.

And I noticed, after a while, that somewhere in the household, there was always someone (almost always female) who still had to figure out how to get dinner on the table and keep the lights on. There will have been someone like that in Amsterdam too, when you were growing up. If you grew up without nutritional deficiencies and went to school enough to be functionally literate, that person is why.

So now I am that person, because real human beings who can't support themselves are dependent on me. They need me to feed them, and they need me to do the actual, practical work to create a world in which they can live and thrive when they're grown.

And I think back to those tired, bemused women from my childhood, and I wonder how they didn't thwack those guys over the head with a wooden spoon. Because you ask a question like "who compels?" and you think all the monsters are in our heads and in our closets, and do you know what I hear?

I hear someone who hasn't done a hand's turn of real work, or dealt with the Man when the Man doesn't want to hear clever, quizzical riddles but just wants the rent money now.

There are mysteries, and unanswerable questions, but they don't sound like yours. They acknowledge the realities of the world, and lead us deeper into dealing with them. Yours just deny what I know to be true.

Pay your freight if you want my attention. Give me a true riddle, a mystery with a gift in the heart of it. You haven't yet.

#82 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 12:39 PM:

77 is closer. You can observe. But your oysters don't contain any pearls.

#83 ::: xaaronx ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 12:47 PM:

cliff, I think I might know some of what you mean, but your posts are exceedingly hard to parse. And from what I can make out that may be partly on purpose.

I understand that if you grew up in Amsterdam, English is probably not your first language, but it would get your point across better if you could write a bit more plainly. As it is, your posts read to me like Peter Berger run through a Dr. Bronner's soap translator.

This is not meant as an attack; I would just really like to be sure I understand what you mean.

#84 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 01:12 PM:

I thought I'd post, some, well metaphors some here - smart, well-read ppl - would get. 2 posts, the long is coded.

Which at least Nancy understood.

And any one here can read 66, a tongue in cheek, butmaybenot, reply to 17.

That was all, I have posted herew before, seldom, but often read. Always admire your glittering intelligencr.

Then you pull the posts. Then you ask for explanation of long post. Then I give some.

Not to argue or offend. Just to explain a point of view as asked. Yr reaction seriously surprised me, wow, from you of all people here. It's just some story.

I come in peace and so I go. Toodles for now.

#85 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 01:32 PM:

I think the problem, cliff, is that it's not just "some story" we're enacting here. It's messy, grubby reality, the kind of reality that leads to real pain and grief. We need good solid tools for dealing with it.

Sometimes those tools are practical, pragmatic ones: advice, suggestions, links, facts. Sometimes they're mysteries and riddles that lead us deeper into the places where our strength and our wisdom lie, so we come out energized and re-focused.

What you brought to the party looked like the latter, but it doesn't pass the test. I've dealt with mysteries before, enough to know which ones bear some weight, and which ones evaporate. Yours, when I did you the courtesy to take you seriously and lean on them, collapsed entirely.

This happens every couple of years on Making Light. Someone comes by and says enigmatic things that turn out to be hollow at heart. It's a form of dominance game: power through obfuscation, with a side of "if you were smart you'd understand that I am being wise." You're right in the pattern.

What you need to understand is that there are enough people here who know the fool's gold from the true. The first one of them unpublished your comments, because they didn't pass the test. I let them back in because you came back, and to see if you had a true gift for us. You didn't, and now you're flouncing.

If you want to be a part of this community, come in and speak to us in plain terms, as an equal. Leave the word salad behind. If you're wise, we'll see it, and respect you for it. If you're just a regular bloke when you speak prose, well, that's OK too. Ordinary people can be extraordinarily delightful.

#86 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 01:49 PM:

Well (and gently) explained, abi. It crystallized why dealing with this mindset is so frustrating - it's the grasshopper throwing rainbows at the ants.

#87 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 01:51 PM:

And, for all his rainbows, Steve Jobs was far beyond a grasshopper.

#88 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 02:01 PM:

I took cliff to be saying that there's a lot of illusion about our social arrangements even though they have tremendous inertia, not that everything is an illusion and useful work is irrelevant. On the other hand, there isn't a a lot of of focus to what he said.

The synthesis is that Steve Jobs used psychedelics and went on to doing major work rather than burning out.

I don't know if this is a matter of where he started from, or a matter of luck.

**open quote**

“He is said to have visited the Kainchi ashram in Kumaon Hills in Uttar Pradesh, and wanted to meet Neem Karoli Baba. Unfortunately by the time they arrived Baba had died and people were trying to profit from his popularity.

Jobs came to an important realization:

“Great ideas without actions suddenly seemed empty. We weren't going to find a place where we could go for a month to be enlightened. It was one the first times that I started to realize that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and [guru] Neem Karoli Baba put together." Michael Moritz’s "The Little Kingdom"

**close quote**

Now, this could be coincidence that he got that sort of inspiration, or maybe the fact that he dropped out of college because the tuition was depleting his parents' savings, which I'd call evidence that he started out as a somewhat grounded person.

The thing is, he didn't continue to do the same things he might have otherwise done ("after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water")-- something was propelling him.

P.S. I tried to use blockquote, but I couldn't get it to handle a quote that had multiple paragraphs.

#89 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 02:06 PM:

Socrates got his reputation for asking awkward thought-provoking questions by using very plain language, and demanding clarification of their statements from the people he was grilling, including the unpacking of metaphors. It's something to keep in mind if you want to get people to think over what their assumptions about the world are. I'm just sayin'.

Semirelatedly, abi @ 78, Xanthippe supposedly got a rep as a shrew because she had to take up the slack Socrates left at home with all the hanging out and palavering (also for not liking Alcibiades, which to me just suggests that unlike half Athens, she had his number early on). See also Bronson Alcott, whose wife ended up taking paid work (very unusually for the times) beacuse he was unable to settle down to regular work, what will all the important philosophizing he did, although I think comparing Bronson Alcott to Socrates is not to Alcott's advantage.

#90 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 02:11 PM:

You're right I was trying to impress or entangle maybe, feeling entangled myself. And I apologise.

Ive gone a bit mental maybe recently, plagued by uncanny/intentional looking (to me) signs, dates, names. I think I need some sleep and distance, thanks for your words, they helped to pull me back from some void.

#91 ::: LinD ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 02:18 PM:

Cliff, it's not that we can't handle metaphors. Metaphors can mean so very many things, depending on the mental patterns of the person generating them. From my perspective, I have no "map" of your mental patterns to be able to easily or accurately translate your metaphors.

#92 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 02:38 PM:

You're right I was trying to impress or entangle maybe, feeling entangled myself. And I apologise.

Ive gone a bit mental maybe recently, plagued by uncanny/intentional looking (to me) signs, dates, names. I think I need some sleep and distance, thanks for your words, they helped to pull me back from some void.

And yes, you get your eyes opened once, so you can see, then you work.

Ill return saner.

#93 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 04:01 PM:

fidelio @ 86... Socrates got his reputation for asking awkward thought-provoking questions

He was shown to be quite awkward, if not downright nerdy, in "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr".

#94 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 05:35 PM:


Over the years I've spent a fair amount of time trying to parse the writings and speech of philosophers, scientists, politicians, and marketers, and I've found that the practice has developed in me a finely-attuned bullshit detector. It's even allowed me at times to distinguish between bullshit meant to baffle the reader and bullshit that the author actually believes. Note also that I was born in 1946, and lived in Boston in the mid 1960's and California in the early 1970's: I've heard a lot of the psychedelic and magic rhetoric from all kinds of people.

Also, I've used psychedelics, and known many other people who did. IME they are helpful to those who have a direction to be going in already, but not so much to those who are seeking a direction ab initio. Psychedelics can make things clearer for you, but they can't give you a vision that isn't grounded in your own being.

And finally, I've met Steve Jobs, and worked for many years on the hardware and software of personal computers, so I have what I would consider a reasonably objective view of his vision and attainments.

Which is all prelude to saying that I think that Steve Jobs had a clear and strong vision of where he thought personal computing should go in order to best benefit its users, and he both fulfilled the first part of his vision and built an organization which has some chance of continuing to extend that vision into the future. And I feel sure he knew he couldn't predict precisely how that vision should be extended, so he tried to instill his successors with the goals rather than the milestones of the journey he wanted them to continue for him.

#95 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 05:59 PM:

Indeed an interesting few days. I'm glad P&TNH and houseguests didn't get caught up in the mass arrests. I'm also sickened that this stuff is going on. 9/11 hurt this country badly, but not in the way many anticipated and that few will acknowledge.

I had been wondering what the heck Zuccotti Park was. Yeah, Liberty Park was a much better name.

Late Stage Capitalism. It makes me wonder what comes next, and also makes me feel the need to point out that what we have now is NOT capitalism. It's a brand of fascism where the gloves haven't quite come off yet.

I try to remain hopeful that we can still have positive change without the waste of blood and souls that accompanied the early labor movement.

Re: Steve Jobs, he sure did build a company that makes stuff that many think is great, and he re-instilled competition into a market that sorely needed it. But what greater good did he do with his money? Certainly not much while alive, and I'm interested to see what his will looks like. He'll be missed, and I really hope that he determined to build a lasting legacy for himself.

#96 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 06:11 PM:

I was going to respond to Cliff with a patter song from Ruddigore...

But I decided it didn't really matter.

#97 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 06:37 PM:

Larry Brennan @95 -- I would say that the way computers are used now is very different from what it was because of Jobs' direction; that the smart-phone revolution will have implications that we are only beginning to see; and that this is on the whole a greater good than most people who head up large corporations manage to do.

#98 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 07:00 PM:

All the talk of Apple and the problems of capitalism reminds me of this article about the collapse of the Habitat furniture chain, which stuck in my mind a few months ago mainly for this remarkable quote:

As a member of the latter [the British middle class], I've been a Habitat customer, not always satisfied, for decades: sometimes its spotlit shops have seemed too hot, its young staff too cool and dozy, its range of merchandise too fixed and flimsy ("Shabitat" is an enduring nickname). But Habitat, as Dixon says, has always been "an organisation based on a lot of intangibles: emotion, taste, snobbishness, aspiration. Paying more than an object is worth is really what Habitat is about."

Which neatly summarises how I used to feel on the odd occasions I wandered round my local Habitat. Yes, that thing there's quite nice, but why is it three times the highest price I could conceive of paying for it? Why is this shop trying so hard to be cool? Do they think I'm an idiot? And apparently they did. There's a lot to criticize Apple for, but the company never gave off any hint of this distinctive these-idiots-will-pay-whatever-we-ask-hurr-hurr-hurr contempt. Strong branding and customer loyalty, but there actually was something behind the brand; they weren't just polishing a pile of crap and whistling in the dark.

#99 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 07:27 PM:

I've owned one Mac in my life. A used powerbook, purchased from a family friend who had bought it for her son, who died before he had a chance to use it.

I got a fair amount of use out of it, but eventually gave it to a co-worker. My other systems were PCs, and I didn't want to deal with file transfer / format issues.

But while I never got the Mac bug, I still respect the hell out of the brand for turning my once-avowed-technophobe sister into a rabid Mac user.

User mind you. No a cultist or gadget freak. She is practically attached to her Mac laptop. It's stained with paint (she's a mural artist) and well worn.

I have a seventy-something aunt in the same boat. She and her husband are not techie folks, but every five years or so they get the latest Mac.

#100 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 08:15 PM:

PNH,TNH, hats off to you and friends who faced the cops and so on, like I never could. Thanks.
BTW, I am a minidisc user and wish to smack whoever decided to let them not be in style in the US.

#101 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 09:12 PM:

FWIW, the first time I used Excel it was on a Mac. About 1989 or 1990. That was at work - our then-manager was an Apple fan.

#102 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 10:52 PM:

#95: I'm pretty sure that the system for distribution of goods and services in the United States is still better characterized by the term "capitalism" than by the term "fascism." The racist and nationalist memes that characterize a fascist state are alive, here, in the political discourse of people who would like us to succumb to fascism. But the accompanying threats that characterize a fascist state -- government seizure of wealth and rule by military law -- seem to have receded since the departure of Bush and Cheney.

I'd be happy if OWS inspires people to explore what the implications of "late stage capitalism" might be, if that's what we're in. Can we can draw a historical line pre and post-Reagan?

In the 20th Century, the defining rebuttal to criticism of U.S. capitalism was that no other large-scale economic system had a better track record in providing goods and services for as large a population as we did.

If the 20th Century was the "middle stage" of U.S. capitalism, it had its United Fruit Companies. But it also had a national government capable of reflecting a more powerful economic conscience than our current government seems to be able to do. Some people might argue that the only conscience that government ever reflected was the conscience of the White middle class toward its own members.

But it seems to me that was better than what we have now.

#103 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 03:21 AM:

Lenny @102

Fascism and Capitalism are related. The Fascist movements in Europe tended to be backed by people at the top of the Capitalist pile, partly because they were against Communism. Maybe the proper term for the current US state of the State is Corporatist rather that Capitalist, and that could lead into Fascism.

#104 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 03:48 AM:

Actually, the proper term for the US's economic system is indeed capitalism, a system dominated by owners of large amounts of capital. It's just that the capitalists have largely succeeded in making people think the term has something to do with free markets.

#105 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 08:41 AM:

Dave Bell @ 103:
Fascism and Capitalism are related. The Fascist movements in Europe tended to be backed by people at the top of the Capitalist pile, partly because they were against Communism.

Historical, the European Fascist movements tended to be (moderately) anti-capitalist, at least rhetorically. Capitalism was seen as promoting internationalism and bourgeois cosmopolitanism, giving foreign and international corporations (including banks) too much influence over national affairs, and diluting patriotism and loyalty to the nation. Fascist movements did support private property, of course, but wanted to rein in commercial and corporate independence and bring it more under the control of the State.

#106 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 10:37 AM:

Does anyone else think it is hilarious that Sony Pictures, a subdivision of the same Sony that hated Apple so much that they tried to make it impossible to use a Minidisc with a Mac by not writing Mac software for it for years (I have a world-class Portable Minidisc player/recorder here that gathers dust because the licensee couldn't get permission to do digital in and out on a portable player for that reason), is now trying to get the rights to a film about the life of Steve Jobs?

#107 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 12:36 PM:

Fascism can be seen as a breakdown pattern for capitalism, when regulatory capture goes beyond just the immediate benefit of corporations, and starts to control overall policy, even the law.

I'm not so sure we're not seeing "government seizure of wealth" either -- sure, the rich folks don't have to worry, but otherwise, forfeiture has been big business for decades.

The fallout of the mortgage bubble isn't technically government seizure, but has certainly lost a lot of people their property -- frequently contra various laws which were supposed to protect them.

#108 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 01:15 PM:

#107: The entities seizing the forfeited mortgages are banks owned by private individuals, not the government. I hope this isn't confused with the other point I was trying to make -- that the electoral system seems to have broken down to the point where votes are sometimes bought through contributions by those private individuals, resulting in the appointment of bureaucratic figureheads in government who are sympathetic to the financial cartels. In fascism, as it's commonly defined and has been played out in the world, government appointment and atrocious appropriation of government power are the levers by which members of the government assert power that includes control of willing corporations, who serve as their agents.

I think the U.S was closer to falling under this pattern of bureaucratic dominance and appropriation of wealth under Bush and Cheney. Subtract the aggressive/sociopathic government officials, and you expose the underlying framework of private sector plutocrats -- who drive the corruption of public values for their own personal gain.

#109 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 01:59 PM:

What about the idea that fascism includes an effort to purify the body politic according to emotional/mythic standards?

I'd like to distinguish between "we're making everything different and better!" and "we're in charge because we're in charge". I think it's a reasonable distinction, or at least a legitimate continuum, but I may be missing something.

#110 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 02:02 PM:

Lenny Bailes @ 102: "I'm pretty sure that the system for distribution of goods and services in the United States is still better characterized by the term "capitalism" than by the term "fascism." ... But the accompanying threats that characterize a fascist state -- government seizure of wealth and rule by military law -- seem to have receded since the departure of Bush and Cheney."

Fascism is not, I think, distinguished as much by the domination of industry by the state as it is by their fusion into a single institution. Which direction you approach from is less important.

#111 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 02:05 PM:

Sometimes I feel like the class war already happened, and we lost.

#112 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 03:10 PM:

Fascism is not, I think, distinguished as much by the domination of industry by the state as it is by their fusion into a single institution. Which direction you approach from is less important.

I think it may be important to distinguish between seeing economic problems in the U.S. as problems caused by power-hungry politicians or as problems caused by the increasing dominance of large corporations. We have both, but if we're looking for a lever to change things, we want to apply pressure against the point where we can most effectively oppose crushing inertia.

We probably need to reform the electoral campaign process to have a chance of electing dedicated public servants who can reassert the government's ability to curb predatory corporations. But with the change in the rules that govern political campaign contributions, it will now be harder than ever to fight corporate opposition to political reform.

The question is what tools do we have available to us to induce change in public policy *and* in corporate practices in the private sector. If the name of the game is now who can out-bankroll the other side in electing political candidates, then we may need to change the name of the game.

The 99% may or may not be able to organize and out-bankroll the 1%. But what the OWS people are doing is showing with their courage and their heartfelt protests that the game, itself, is a bad game that ought to be changed.

#113 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 04:10 PM:

Peter Erwin #105 - perhaps it would be better to say that fascism was more anti-free market, rather than anti-capitalist. The (specific section of capitalists) got their guaranteed labour and markets, the employee and petite bourgeoisie got their jobs and wages without all the potential hassle of losing work due to international competition.

There is a long history of people of all social levels being against 'free' markets because of their socially and culturally disruptive effects.

#114 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 04:34 PM:

thanks all for earlier understanding.

I am no muddle-headed mystic. I've worked with computers since Wndows 1. I know cops and guns are real.

But when across the west, we're,all being told: whoops, youre broke, no ones blamed, time to cut the safety feels like a Stage 1 of some transition plan. I'm not the only one who thinks this is hinky: London riots, OWS, etc.

The US political system is too far gone. And it *is* a hex they have on the people, when two billionaire brothers can create a movement dedicated to destroying its own safety net.

How do you teach people to think right? One idea was, start early and give them the tools: dynabook.

The net is another: communication outside the media matrix.

The endpoint of the current struggle, I think, really can't just be some concessions and adjustments. We really *do* need that cop to question just Who or What he works for. We need to bring things back to a human level.

Yes, that will take time and effort and missteps.

OWS' methods, the General Assembly thing, may point a way: collective intelligence. Not slogans, positions, votes, but: what's the problem? What's the next step? How do we solve it?

I feel - maybe I'm wrong - that some larger struggle has been joined, that certain long-running threads are coming together, and that the tools certain people foresaw 40 years ago - see John Markoff's Dormouse - will play a big role.

They have their magic, eg television, and magicians eg Rove. And we have some righteous ppl on our side.

In a larger, symbolic sense, sure: Im not living in some LOTR.

But if you think a slightly better politics is the answer, just some adjustments and fines, I disagree.

#115 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 04:57 PM:

whoops, meant Windows 3.0, any case 90ish.

#116 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 06:04 PM:

I highly recommend reading Alan Kay's 1972 paper, btw. It's a quick read and a truly nice vision. (And the iPad's resemblance is uncanny, as many have noted.)

Kay is a seminal figure in computer history, more recently involved in the One Laptop Per Child project with Negroponte.

#117 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 08:46 PM:

cliff 114: Now you're talking sense.

#118 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 10:05 PM:

cliff @114 -- You remind me of another person in another venue, who I thought for a while was a muddle-headed mystic and proved himself to be one of the more interesting and exciting people to talk with. When I try too hard to condense my thoughts, I get people failing to understand what I'm saying, too.

Getting that cop to question who's giving the orders -- that's a belling-the-cat moment. I admire those who succeed. I'm basically scared of cops-in-the-abstract, and frequently like cops-as-individuals when I can actually talk with them. I think talking with them as individuals is more likely to help changes than talking with them en masse, rather like most groups.

#119 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2011, 11:32 PM:

Tom - yes, I think it's all about people talking to people.

Especially here in the States, what TV is very good at is conveying a sense that 'most people' think X. So that across the land, many are sitting there watching the news and thinking "Am I crazy? This just doesn't make sense...but noone else is saying that." And so ppl feel increasingly isolated - and are more vulnerable to simplistic explanations and scapegoating.

OWS dispells that, especially in person I'd imagine. We are the 99% is a brilliant slogan - they've been pitting us against each other for too long.

When I say "they", I don't mean some uber-conspiracy. Outlooks and goals among interest groups and classes align over time. And groups and organizations develop their 'own' goals.

That said, bubbles > bailouts > austerity feels planned (See Krugman on "Confronting The Malefactors").

Money is magic, fictional - just colored paper - but mostly usefully so. Look at the 29 crash - it's not like the crops all failed and the factory machines broke and we ran out of steel: it was just some numbers on a wall in, well, Wall Street, and suddenly everyone (well, 99%) was poor.

Incidentally, I think Steve Jobs' death affects so many because his products seem to 'make sense', in an increasingly illogical world. Again, I think he didn't have a 'Reality Distortion Field' as so many say, nor was he a visionary in technology. His talent - one of them - was to un-distort and free people a bit from the "normal" view - e.g., computers are hard, they crash often, software is buggy. It's a sort of head-shaking moment, to look back a few years and say "they had me believing that?"

Yeah, and they have us beleiving a lot more too. It's all stuff we humans came up with, that has its uses, but either has been corrupted or is obsolete in some sense.

I remember when, as a kid, I would ask things like "if everyone thinks wars are bad, why do we still have them?" - those answers about how it's complicated, and I'd understand when I was older...well, you get taught "how it got this way", and you "understand" that it's "complicated" (as in this post's title). But the child's basic point - that it makes no sense - stands: it makes no sense.

With Bruce in 94 I think there is a goal for personal computing, which Steve has been central in walking us partway towards. His stuff made sense, and un-hexed us a little.

#120 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 02:17 AM:

One of the things I've been thinking is that the reason Jobs wanted so much control over the operating system and the app store is that his basic goal was to make tools. There's a level on which it's important that the tools used to make tools are reliable. And it's certainly been the case that the tools made by Microsoft are not as reliable as one might want. The Apple environment is a good one for getting certain kinds of work done; other environments work better for other jobs. And trying to make all the environments play by the same rules seems -- less than intelligent? There's more here, I think, than I can say tonight, but I wanted to put that idea out.

#121 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 05:40 AM:

Tom @120

I know what you're getting at. If what you want to do is in the OS Toolset, it's a fairly trivial job to make the controls. I can think of several examples, built around OpenGL, where something such as saving a file brings up standard Windows processes, taking into account all the user preferences on colour scheme for a legible menu, but the program otherwise completely ignores those choices.

And there's some of the same problem on a Mac.

Some programmers must have very peculiar colour vision, if what they pick, and lock into the UI, looks usable to them.

#122 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 08:05 AM:

I haven't read the book, but The Leaderless Revolution looks promising.

This review has more detail, but misses a chilling detail about the Milgram experiments. It says that the subjects were told they didn't have responsibility.

I've seen some video, and they asked whether they had responsibility and were told they didn't, and then they administered shocks.

I don't have this sorted out to my satisfaction, but there's something perverse about a culture where it's plausible to people to ask an authority whether they have responsibility for following dubious orders, get told 'no', and then believe the authority. I don't know what proportion of subjects in the experiment asked whether they had responsibility.

#123 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 09:25 AM:

#116 ::: cliff:

Thanks for the link, both for the prescience in it and for the emphasis on natural methods of learning.

#124 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 11:29 AM:

Bruce Cohen @21:

Since the late 1980's I've had a vision of a handheld computer that could effectively amplify the intelligence and memory of a user, whether to give people with special needs a boost up to more effectively live in the wider world or to give average people the tools to overcome some of the obstacles placed in their paths by the upper classes4; the iPod Touch/iPhone is that computer.

This, this, a thousand times this. The handheld calendar and listmaking and mapping apps, and the alarms, praise Ghu the alarms, on my iPod Touch make it an adaptive device for my just-diagnosed, long-suspected ADD. And the fact that I can play Plants vs. Zombies on it and carry an 8,000-song music library on it makes it attractive enough that I WILL carry it around and use all its helpful functions, UNLIKE a tedious paper day-planner. My life has changed for the better since I got it. Worth every penny.

#125 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 12:06 PM:

Nancy - yes, whether they asked or were told, they believed. Surely just to ask shows you're lost.

Milgram and the Stanford Prison Experiment - it still shocks me how few people have heard of these, let alone feel an urgency of 'getting to the bottom' of the sickness they expose, of how deeply we internalise the 'authority' (of force/fear, not the natural leadership of respect) concept. This thing really is the root, isn't it?

There are no easy answers, but there sure are some vital and urgent questions.

#126 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 12:55 PM:

On the Tech side, I belueve Siri will end up being far more sigificant a revolution than anything prior, although its true functionality may be a few iterations away.

I've been thinking about the needless complexity and frustration, especially for non-geeks, of existing interfaces for a while, and wrote something about it two years ago other techies might appreciate (Bruce?). (No new ideas under the sun etc., and my idea was in retrospect limited, conceived more as a tool of subversion of hopelessly corrupted systems) See

#127 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 02:09 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 122: Chip Kidd's second novel, The Learners, includes a take on the Milgram experiments that I hadn't seen before: what did it mean to the experimental subjects to look back on what they had done?

If one is moved to read this book, I recommend starting with the previous one, The Cheese Monkeys, as it introduces the characters. Also, because it's a good novel, and an introductory design class.

#128 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 02:17 PM:

Cliff @114: it's fairly obvious what's going on -- it's the application of the shock doctrine at home. For forty years our diplomats and economists and bankers have been applying it overseas; but they've run out of profitable small countries to use it on, so the inevitable corollary is that it's time to apply it to the last remaining reservoirs of serious untapped value -- the USA and the EU.

Read Chomsky for the analysis of the propaganda tools and Klein for the analysis of the asset-stripping program and it's all there in black and white.

What's not obvious is what happens next, once the monster finishes swallowing its own tail ...

#129 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 03:09 PM:

Charlie - yes, I've read Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent, and know in outline Klein's Shock Doctrine.

The "endgame" implied by the latest round of bubbles, bailouts, austerity - a new feudalism? a Brazil of 0.1% in gated compounds, guards with submachines, 1% serving them, the rest of us in poverty? It all seems not only far-fetched but pointless...are there really people who believe that living like that is the goal?

...well, yes, apparently. Those at the top of pile are the sickest of us all. You don't have to take Eyes Wide Shut literally to recognize their goals are no longer human.

I'd like to get your take on OWS / the May 15th movement...

#130 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 03:16 PM:

@ 128

Charlie Stross nails it in one.

Shock Doctrine + Disaster Capitalism.

Old Capitalism was created by the resources provided with the 'discovery' of the New World and the consquent global colonial imperiums. Their conflicts were over control of those resources.

Am looking yet again at Fernand Braudel's three-volume Civilisation Matérielle, Economie et Capitalisme, XVe-XVIIIe.

A quotation here:

"Braudel argued that capitalists have typically been monopolists and not, as is usually assumed, entrepreneurs operating in competitive markets. He argued that capitalists did not specialize and did not use free markets. He thus diverged from both liberal (Adam Smith) and Marxian interpretations. In Braudel's view, under capitalism the state has served as a guarantor of monopolists rather than as the protector of competition usually portrayed. He asserted that capitalists have had power and cunning on their side as they have arrayed themselves against the majority of the population.[9]"

So, once these EviLe Doers swallow up the last of the pixelated fantasy wealth of the U.S. and the E.U. they've been driving round and round the globe at ever accelerating rates, creating ever accelerating cycles of boom and bust -- sometimes, I swear a whole cycle can be less than 24 hours, judging by the breathless media economic-market announcers -- what do you think they will do next? Go next?

Love, C.

#131 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 06:09 PM:

Cliff #129 - I suspect there are more people who have that as their goal than are actually capable of making it to that goal. But at the same time, many more of that sort of people don't have any goal beyond maximum wealth for themselves, as soon as possible. The fact that their methods are leading to a form of neo-feudalism is entirely besides the point.

What happens next depends on a lot of variables, but possible futures include - the triumph of the neo-feudalists just as climate change and resource depletion cause irreversible damage to what they ultimately have to depend on to survive. Or, we the people organise to fight back against them, up to and including revolutionary wars, see the last 250 years for textbook examples of how to fight the opressors. Or, there are just enough different factions within the top classes and enough push back from the rest of us that a lot of the problems are taken seriously and we step back from such centralisation and dangerous society and change things for the better.

Here in the UK, the current government has already damaged the higher education sector in such a way that poorer people will be disadvantaged, are in the process of handing over the NHS to their friends in private healthcare companies, and are handing over schools to ideologues and nutters. Moreover, they are also planning to change voting registration so that you have to opt in, using appropriate forms of ID. The excuse is that it will make voting less likely to fraud, but oddly enough nobody has any examples of our voting system being damaged due to fraudulent voting. What it will do is the same as in the USA, make another hurdle for people who wish to vote, thus harder for more non-establishment parties to get votes and thereby help ensure the dominance of the centre right through to the deeply insane right.

And what is so galling is that there seems to be no way to stop them.

#132 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 08:29 PM:

guthrie #131: Saw a bumper sticker today, to the effect of "Only when we have cut down the last tree, and polluted the last waters, will we learn that we cannot eat money".

I'd add another book to that reading list: Jared Diamond's Collapse. Easter Island isn't as far away as it used to be....

#133 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 08:43 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 128: "For forty years our diplomats and economists and bankers have been applying it overseas; but they've run out of profitable small countries to use it on, so the inevitable corollary is that it's time to apply it to the last remaining reservoirs of serious untapped value -- the USA and the EU."

QFT, with the addition that they've been quietly shock indoctrinating us since the oil crisis in the 70s.

cliff @ 129: "It all seems not only far-fetched but pointless...are there really people who believe that living like that is the goal?"

It doesn't come down to individual preferences, though. It's an emergent tendency--what's happening isn't the malevolent plan of any shadowy conspiracy but the collective outcome of thousands* of capitalists each scrabbling for advantage and profit. I'm sure many of them would prefer not to fling the world into ruin and chaos, but their bottom line is what it is, and they can't deviate from it without rapidly losing their preeminent position. It's a collective action problem.

#134 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2011, 10:12 PM:

heresiarch #133: I'd mostly agree, with one caveat: This is not some "collective Prisoner's Dilemma" where anyone could theoretically break out if they could just see past their profit. The damage to our law and our society has been accumulating for years, with a character resembling the development of cancer cells. That is, there have been a lot of attacks on various public goods, but some in particular form a critical path, where each step enables new attacks and/or weakens defenses.

Breaking loose of trading rules, and later of lending rules. Chipping away at electoral integrity. Trashing people's expectations of their government. Alienating the society of nations. Diverting infrastructure spending to the military. Many more.... Each step makes it easier for other structures to be damaged, and eventually, the malignancy is free to absorb all available resources.

#136 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 01:42 AM:

Cliff @129:

Your New Feudalism seems primed to emerge with the next inflationary tide... already a frightening majority of the vassals have lost the ability to be self-reliant, to function w/out the goods provided by the owners of productive land (and the purveyors of energy). Take away the buying power of the helpless, the Capitalist mirage... what happens next?

Irony: those lesser "evolved" minds, those Nascar-loving, tobacco spitting, deer hunting types we love to toss off as ignorant and backward-facing, will stand the best chance of survival.

#137 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 04:33 AM:

DanR @ 136:
Your New Feudalism seems primed to emerge with the next inflationary tide... already a frightening majority of the vassals have lost the ability to be self-reliant, to function w/out the goods provided by the owners of productive land (and the purveyors of energy).

Leaving aside the issue that deflation is probably a more serious risk than inflation in the near future -- the rest of this statement is a basic description of urban civilization everywhere, and has been for centuries.

#138 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 07:06 AM:

Peter @137: Ah, no.

Firstly, we've been in a deflationary spiral for a couple of decades now -- at least, within certain parts of the economy. Look at how much a desktop PC costs today and compare that with, say, an Apple II plus floppy disk drives and printer in 1982; or a cheap stereo or flat screen TV with their 1982 equivalents. Consumer electronics deflate by 5-20% per year. Ditto automobiles; on a per-feature basis, a modern automobile is vastly more efficient (both in gas mileage and maintenance requirements) and provides far more luxury trimmings than its equivalent of 20 or 40 years ago, adjusting for inflation. (There's a floor under automobile prices, imposed by the basic requirements of manufacturing a ton of metal and plastic and glass, but in general you get a lot more bang per inflation-adjusted buck.)

Basic food and clothing are also cheaper -- clothing because it's been outsourced to sweatshops in the developing world, food through factory farming and GM crops.

Some sectors have inflated. The housing bubble is the obvious example. Also, luxury goods -- the 0.5% at the top of the pile can afford $39,000 day packs, it appears, or $1.2M Bugattis, and gold/diamond encrusted iphones. (Their wealth won't buy them immunity from cancer or heart disease, so once the basics are covered the surplus can go on luxuries: that upgrade from economy to business class to bizjet on a long-haul flight, for example. Or bling.)

But overall I think we've been in a deflationary cycle disguised as inflation by a few small sectors of the economy.

Now we're in the stimulus/quantitative easing cycle; governments printing more money/issuing more bonds so they can pump the money into the businesses that got us into the crisis. Normally this would be hugely inflationary (see Weimar, circa 1927-29) but in the UK we're seeing inflation at around 5% at the factory gate, and a bit lower on the high street: that's nothing by 1980s standards, much less the 1970s.

Weirdly, the exchange rate between USD, EUR, GBP, JPY and the other significant currencies is holding roughly stable; +/- 10% fluctuations only, despite what we are assured is the biggest crisis since the near-collapse of the global banking system in 2008. This implies that everyone is printing money, more or less in lock-step.

UK GDP (per wikipedia) is a whisker under US $2.25Tn. The Bank of England just announced QE2, in which they're issuing an extra £75Bn. (There's around £35-40Bn in circulation in notes, by way of comparison.) Normally this would lead to inflation (low economic growth plus more money in circulation at constant velocity leads to goods costing disproportionately more), but if the speed at which money circulates in the economy is slowing (because folks are scared/depressed and therefore hoarding or not spending) that's not going to happen: the extra money will just end up in mattresses (or the offshore tax haven equivalent thereof).

The question is how to break this cycle?

The traditional answer is that if the real manufacturing economy picks up (hah!) then people will be spending more again -- if nothing else, factories buying raw materials, customers buying finished goods. Which means the velocity of money increases, and with quantitative easing in effect, there'll be an inflationary blip -- which can be reduced by shrinking the money supply slightly, as long as it's done with care not to induce a liquidity crisis. This needs to happen more or less worldwide, or else the currency of the first country to turn the corner back into growth is going to go through the roof, making it harder for them to export goods ...

But unfortunately the traditional answer doesn't work any more, because we now have a huge financial parasite sector battening on the manufacturing/service/commodities sectors. And at this point my sophomore economics understanding dries up and blows away on the breeze because I have no idea what to do about it (other than "nationalize the banks, impose a 110% marginal tax rate on bank employee bonuses, impose a 90% marginal income tax rate on those earning over $1M a year, and make trading in second order derivative financial instruments a criminal offense on a par with armed robbery").

#139 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 01:08 PM:

Does your city have this kind of relationship between the financial and other corporate industries and the city's tax-payer funded police department? Or does this happen only in NYC? This is a serious question.

Who Do the White Shirt Police Report to at Occupy Wall Street Protests?

From Counterpunch

"Financial Giants Put New York City Cops On Their Payroll" by PAM MARTENS

{ "If you’re a Wall Street behemoth, there are endless opportunities to privatize profits and socialize losses beyond collecting trillions of dollars in bailouts from taxpayers. One of the ingenious methods that has remained below the public’s radar was started by the Rudy Giuliani administration in New York City in 1998. It’s called the Paid Detail Unit and it allows the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street corporations, including those repeatedly charged with crimes, to order up a flank of New York’s finest with the ease of dialing the deli for a pastrami on rye.

The corporations pay an average of $37 an hour (no medical, no pension benefit, no overtime pay) for a member of the NYPD, with gun, handcuffs and the ability to arrest. The officer is indemnified by the taxpayer, not the corporation.

New York City gets a 10 percent administrative fee on top of the $37 per hour paid to the police. The City’s 2011 budget called for $1,184,000 in Paid Detail fees, meaning private corporations were paying wages of $11.8 million to police participating in the Paid Detail Unit. The program has more than doubled in revenue to the city since 2002." }

There is much more to this article.

Love, C.

#140 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 01:41 PM:

DanR @136:
Irony: those lesser "evolved" minds, those Nascar-loving, tobacco spitting, deer hunting types we love to toss off as ignorant and backward-facing...

Speak for yourself.

I spent some of my childhood among people who live scattered in the mountains in their houses and trailers, and walk the water line every day because the bears bite the hoses. The ones I know don't need much money and don't necessarily have jobs: they hunt and fish and garden; they pan gold and cut firewood. (Many of them also grow dope.)

Some of them are smart, and some of them are damn stupid, but none of them are lesser "evolved" minds. The ignorant ones are pig-ignorant, but their neighbors are as likely to be as well-informed as anyone in the city. The internet has come to the mountains, you see, and the cranky individualists are as likely to end up on the left as the right.

...will stand the best chance of survival.

The folk I worry about more (but do not toss off) are the small-town people, without the ornery self-sufficiency (in both mind and body) of the true country folk, but also without the habit of broad information access that many city dwellers have developed. They'll be hit, and hit hard, and they won't know what it was that hit them till long afterward.

I'd like to spare them that, as I would us all.

#141 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 02:00 PM:

Constance @139: yes, that kind of relationship happens elsewhere, and in countries other than the USA. See for example the revolving door between London Metropolitan Police and News International's editorial staff.

And then there's stuff like this.

#142 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 02:10 PM:

Constance @ 139

If I'm understanding the article correctly, this seems to be very common in my experience. When I was bartending, it was common enough to be remarkable when it DIDN'T happen to have the venue pay for police prsence when a party was over a certain size.

#143 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 02:12 PM:

heresiarch, 133: "It's an emergent tendency--what's happening isn't the malevolent plan of any shadowy conspiracy but the collective outcome of thousands* of capitalists each scrabbling for advantage and profit."

Normally I'd agree: conspiracy theories are mostly 'magical thinking', comforting oversimplifications. (Overarching ones, mind - conspiring itself is normal human behaviour, from clicques to cartels. Politics often has "multiple conspiracies contending in the night")

Yet the timing and alignment of the economic/financial events of, say, the last 10 years seems awfully convenient.

I can follow most of the explanations of how it all 'just happened', but I'm increasingly reminded of Douglas Adams' story of The Reason:

Couple that with the general sense I've had for ages that in the US (I was raised in Europe, now live US) ordinary people seem far more easily manipulated, and all the related 'maybe it's a feature' vibes (e.g. education sucking, "news" being a joke: more a way to stoke fear and outrage, Iraq dragging on, bubbles and crashes)...

...and when I follow UK news, hearing eg identical anti-BBC rhetoric there as anti-PBS here, say, and many other little signs that the same consulting firms are repackaging their product...

...and the coordinated timing across the west of: sorry, you're broke - in fact, deep in hock to us - 'fraid you'll have to dismantle this "society" thing you have...

...I'm feeling there's some planning behind it: more than the normal aligning of interests that happens in certain classes and groups.

Regardless, it's time to stop accepting the usual explanations of how it just happened, or it's our own fault, or it's all those left/right-wingers, group x y or z you should be mad at. With the notable exception of "the 1%" - it's close enough for now, anyway.

#144 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 02:20 PM:

Charlie Stross@138:

> Some sectors have inflated. The housing bubble is the obvious example.

And for an awful lot of people the ridiculous cost of housing wipes out any gain from the deflation in tech goodies and the cheapness of Sainburys Basics / Tesco Value food.

About 15 years ago someone on r.a.sf.f. I think, I forget who, said 'pay the rent, then buy the food'. Probably the best advice I ever got from the Internet. Stupidly high rents wreck everything else.

Personal wishlist: the return of proper secure tenancies and rent-control.

#145 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 02:39 PM:

Also note:

The monied class has always known whose interests the police (and the legal system) really represent when the crunch comes, even if many police themselves don't realise it yet.

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
- Anatole France

#146 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 02:43 PM:

Steve @144: rent-seeking is exactly the problem we face, and not just residential rent.

Consider the cost of the rush to monetize everything that can be patented -- around $3Tn to the global economy over the past decade.

Or consider the banking crisis as an emergent phenomenon of investors trying to find a safe haven for their capital that will repay them with rent (in this case, mortgage payments bundled in CDSs). And the subsequent insane fluctuations in commodity prices, that ensued when the previous investment vehicle of choice proved to be worthless crap.

Essentially our problem is that there's too much money in circulation that doesn't relate to underlying assets. And the owners of this money are using it to seek rent. Instability ensues.

(A wealth tax, or a brisk period of inflation combined with property taxes, may well be what it needs to get us out of this trap -- but it'd need to be global in scale, for the big capital will just flee to less regulated environs. Oh, and it needs to be carefully managed so that it hits the top 0.5% rather than the bottom 98%[*].)

[*] Those in the top 2% of incomes but outside the top 0.5% -- who are the true hyper-rich -- don't necessarily deserve impoverishment, but we do need to prevent them[**] from moving up to replace the current top tier.

[**] Yes, I am arguing for progressive taxation and a ceiling on income. Yes, this is godless socialism. Oh, and I'm a self-employed entrepreneur ...

#147 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 02:44 PM:

Charlie @ 138:

I confess that I'm a bit confused about what you're trying to say, at least in the first part of your comment. I have to assume that you know what inflation is, even though you partly seem to be arguing that it doesn't exist. Your argument, I gather, is that if you cherry-pick the right special industry, you can find prices that are actually deflating over time. While it's very interesting what's been going on in computers, they're not exactly the whole of the economy. Nor do I buy your argument that all the various government (and non-government) consumer price indices are comprehensively biased because they're all tracking luxury cars and housing bubles. I think they're a little more sophisticated than that. (Warning: 2nd link is a PDF.)

(Has the price of food actually decreased in the last few decades? I wouldn't be so sure. Some common food items from the US Dept of Labor CPI database -- prices for 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010 -- 1 lb. of white bread: $0.50, $0.69, $0.91, $1.36; fresh, whole chicken: $0.70, $0.88, $1.06, $1.27; 1 lb. of apples: $0.55, $0.60, $0.95, $1.14.)

Or else you're trying to suggest that inflation is, I don't know, illusory because the relative costs of some things have been declining. The latter is certainly true, and it's probably part of why low-level inflation (say, less than 5% per year) is not terribly annoying to most people, as long as their incomes keep pace: while a typical car costs more now than it did in in the past (e.g., the base price for a VW Beetle has gone from $1800 in 1970 to $19,000 in 2010), the cars become better. But this is hardly new, and it doesn't change the basic fact of inflation. (Note that the relative cost of clothing has probably been dropping since at least the 18th Century, when it first began to be manufactured in large amounts.)

DanR and I are both, I believe, talking about inflation as it is normally understood: the systematic increase in prices as measured in a standard currency.

Now, as for the question of what might happen in the near future:
Let me be a bit clearer: I understood DanR to be worrying about the specter of severe inflation, like that experienced by the US and Western Europe in the 1970s -- or, possibly, genuine hyperinflation a la Germany in the 1920s, Israel in the mid-1980s, or Zimbabwe in the late 2000s.

Now we're in the stimulus/quantitative easing cycle; governments printing more money/issuing more bonds so they can pump the money into the businesses that got us into the crisis. Normally this would be hugely inflationary (see Weimar, circa 1927-29)

"Normally" this doesn't lead to hyperinflation (see recoveries following just about all the post-WW2 US recessions), since (as you later note) governments and central banks tend to tighten the money supply once the recovery begins. The Weimar crisis, as I understand it, was really triggered by the demands for war reparations by the Allies and the French occupation of the Ruhr, along with the Weimar government's responses and the large debt built up financing WW1.

The reason I suggested that actual deflation, as seen during the 1930s, might be more likely (though I'm inclined to be cautiously optimistic that there won't be deflation) than severe or hyperinflation was threefold:
First, there are increasing pressures on the US government to reduce deficit spending, not increase it. Second, there are increasing pressures on European countries to do the same. Third, the other traditional way of jump-starting the economy out of recession -- and thus potentially inducing more inflation -- is by lowering interest rates. But the US government can't do that, because the Federal funds rate has been essentially 0% since the end of 2008, and the European Central Bank (not to mention the Deutsches Bundesbank, which is the largest central bank in the EU) is still dominated by the traditional German paranoia about triggering inflation. (Note that the ECB raised its interest rates in April 2011, and raised them again in July.) So the traditional mechanisms for boosting economic growth -- and thus possibly triggering strong inflation -- are weak or unavailable.

#148 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 04:14 PM:

Peter #147 ... the thing about inflation and deflation is that they aren't opposites -- they have some orthogonal effects. And looking at a headline percentage rate aggregating different fields together into a unitary, unidimensional number is not actually useful in decoding what's happening to the economy.

NB: if interest rates are at zero and you want to stimulate spending, just start taxing savings (in effect apply a negative interest rate on deposits).

Meanwhile, here's George Monbiot with something alarming ...

#149 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 07:10 PM:

Charlie @ 148:
... the thing about inflation and deflation is that they aren't opposites -- they have some orthogonal effects.

Could you unpack what you mean by that? By itself, it sounds a bit obscurantist and mystical.

If you have a well-defined commodity or service -- or a well-defined basket of them -- sold in a continuously existing currency, then inflation (an increase in price over time) and deflation (a decrease in price over time) must be opposites, unless you're redefining mathematics in some curious fashion. (Maybe you're defining one or both of those terms in some nonstandard fashion?)

And looking at a headline percentage rate aggregating different fields together into a unitary, unidimensional number is not actually useful in decoding what's happening to the economy.

Well, it's certainly more useful to look at the details; no argument there. (And the agencies that produce CPIs also produce lots of detailed breakdowns, if you look for them.) But I don't think that knowing, for example, the overall inflation rate in Germany in 1923 would tell you nothing useful about its economy at that point...

(Of course, part of the reason for aggregating different fields together is that people buy different kinds of things from different fields. Most people need to buy food, shelter, clothing, utilities, health care, and transportation, for example, and most of them also like to spend money on travel, entertainment, and even the occasional shiny electronic toy. So it makes a fair amount of sense to try to come up with some reasonable aggregate summary of what those prices are doing.)

#150 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 07:20 PM:

In most complex economies, there are some commodities going up in price and some going down in price. So looking at "inflation" or "deflation" is usually a question of what commodities you're choosing to count. In the case of hyperinflation as in Weimar Germany, just about everything went up in price, very rapidly.

Comparine inflationary/deflationary tendencies in relatively stable economies is an example of a confounded comparison (one that compares two things that are not defined in a similar-enough way): it looks as if it should mean something, but exactly what it means is very open to interpretation.

#151 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 07:26 PM:

Charlie @ 138:
Touching on some of your earlier claims about prices and estimates of inflation rates (now that I've gone and read up a little bit on Consumer Prices Indices)...

Changes in the quality of things like computers, consumer electronics, and cars is something that CPI statisticians are well aware of; it goes under the general rubric of "quality adjustment". This US CPI-related PDF that I linked to earlier discusses some of the general issues, and this New Zealand government page gives some more detailed examples of how the NZ government CPI statisticians handle computers and LCD TVs.

Did the recent housing bubble affected the standard calculations of inflation? Well, no, not directly. The US CPI hasn't used housing prices since 1983. Instead, it uses rents and rental equivalents (for a homeowner, this is the potential income they lose by not renting out their house or apartment). From the PDF: "During periods such as the recent real-estate boom, commentators observed the rapid runup in housing prices relative to the prices of other investments, and some may have been frustrated that this asset’s infla- tion did not immediately or directly affect the CPI, which is the most closely followed overall measure of inflation. The fact that the rise and fall of house prices will affect the CPI only indirectly, through rents, is not an indication of a flaw in BLS methodology, however; rather, it flows from the CPI’s objective of measuring changes in the cost of living."

(And I've seen an argument that the effect of the housing bubble on this methodology was to actually decrease the overall inflation rate, because so many people were shifting from renting to owning that rental occupancy rates fell and rental inflation went down.)

Basic food and clothing are also cheaper...

As for food: the mean inflation rate for food in the US was 5.2% for the period 1960-1983, and 3.1% for 1983-2008. These rates were almost identical to the inflation rates for all non-food items (5.1% and 3.2%). So food has not become cheaper in an absolute sense. (Source: this Congressional Research Service report [PDF])

Clothing prices, on the other hand, have gotten cheaper (actual mild deflation), though only since the mid-1990s; prior to that, they experienced inflation.

But overall I think we've been in a deflationary cycle disguised as inflation by a few small sectors of the economy.

It's pretty clearly the other way 'round: a few small sectors of the economy (e.g., computer equipment) have been experiencing genuine deflation in the last 15-20 years, but the overall (US) economy has been experiencing inflation since... well, since at least 1955.

I wonder if you might not be overestimating the importance of computer equipment, in and of itself, both in terms of the economy and in terms of what people buy. From here (PDF file), I find that the total value of computers, storage devices, and peripherals produced in the US in 2006 amounted to about $56 billion. That sounds like a lot; but it was barely 0.4% of the entire US economy. (Of course, the secondary effects of having computers, and of growing computer power, are enormous. But that's not what we're talking about.)

#152 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 08:52 PM:

Thanks to those who responded to my inquiry whether their cities also have a special relationship between the corporate entities and the local Police department.

In the meantime, speaking of inflationary - deflationary: I am the one in our household who handles the money, whether for rent, food, whatever. There is not one thing in our lives that costs less now than it did last year, and everything costs more.

A loaf of the dumbest, least nutritious bread in the supermarket now costs at least 3 dollars, and probably more like 4. At least here in NYC -- prices were lower on the Eastern Shore of Maryland last year -- but their sales tax in various areas has been increased since then.

The only financial in our lives that is less is how much we get paid for our work -- and that is even before stacking up that against the increase in price of everything else.

At the same time the banks are taking more and more of the money we do have in one way or another. The only solution to that is not using a bank -- but we get paid via checks all the time, and when not, by direct deposit. How do you handle that?

Love, C.

#153 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 09:43 PM:

Constance: what you want is a credit union. Detas vary with the state, but some of them are for geographical locations, and some are for affinity groups. As with banks, some of them are better thaothers, and the ones that are good are very opinionated and good for the depositor. They are owned by e depositors, so there's no great push to make huge profits. They're regulated heavily, so theyre restricted to the more boring banking products, mainly deposits, checking, and small loans. None of this investment banking stuff. Locally, (wa) there are a few huge credit unions that are more bank like, and will take anyone in Washington ( becu and Alaska spring to mind), sand smaller ones like the School Emoloyees credit union, which is one of the most opinionated, well run organizations I've heard of recently. (almost all of their employees can do every function in the office, and only 1%of the depositors have ever set foot in a branch).

#154 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 09:45 PM:

Sorry, I was a typing on the iPad, and hit post before really proofing.

#155 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2011, 10:14 PM:

Constance, it's not at all unusual around here for off-duty cops to moonlight as security guards. Many of them do so as a way to augment their income -- being low-level public employees, they're among the first to get shafted when budgets fall short. And the security firms like having them on the payroll, because they don't take much in the way of training. I'm not sure about companies being able to hire on-duty police, which sounds like what you were describing.

#156 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 03:29 AM:

I think I want Pixar to make the movie of the life of Steve Jobs.

The inflation/deflation thing is hard to calculate, as pricing has become fractal, as Charlie noted above. You can pay anything from $1 to $5000 for a hamburger in the US; clothing has a similar range; housing and transportation aren't much different.

We're seeing the same thing in cultural goods - the distribution of contribution options in Kickstarter, or Cory's free ebooks or pricy limited editions of the same work are in effect excuses to pay different prices for the same thing.

Technology is deflating a chunk of this, both directly, and indirectly through logistics, as well as enabling the fractalisation too.

#157 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 07:45 AM:

Peter #149: If you have a well-defined commodity or service -- or a well-defined basket of them -- sold in a continuously existing currency, then inflation (an increase in price over time) and deflation (a decrease in price over time) must be opposites, unless you're redefining mathematics in some curious fashion. (Maybe you're defining one or both of those terms in some nonstandard fashion?)

You're looking at price variation. I'm thinking about money supply, both circulating and total. During inflation prices rise, but so does the volume of money in circulation (and its velocity). During times of deflation it becomes expedient to "hoard" money; the velocity drops through the floor, prices go down, but there's also less available currency with which to buy goods.

What happened to electronics over the past 30 years is an example of price deflation -- things get cheaper. What happened in Japan during the 1990s was a different kind of deflation; interest rates at zero, banks not lending, people stuffing cash under their mattresses, less money circulating.

Peter #151: the total value of computers, storage devices, and peripherals produced in the US in 2006 amounted to about $56 billion.

That's because -- no offense -- the USA doesn't manufacture electronics any more. Want RAM? Go to Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. Want CPUs? Guess where Intel manufacture them. Looked on the underside of your new iPhone? It says "made in China". Want a US-made TV? Well, you can't have one because there aren't any manufacturers.

Electronics are a lot more than a $56Bn segment of the US economy ... it's just that they're not manufactured there so much any more.

#158 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 07:51 AM:

I should also add: during deflation, you still get to pay interest on any loans. And because the capital value of loans don't fall in step with prices and wages, the interest payments become disproportionately onerous. So sane people throw every cent they can grab at paying off their loans. Meanwhile, the lenders have an incentive to hoard capital (because the longer you wait, the more tangible stuff you can buy with it -- real estate, for example: buy one acre today, or five tomorrow?).

So money is sucked out of circulation and the velocity of financial transactions fall as a side-effect of deflation. And you get liquidity crunches (see also 2008) as another side-effect.

Inflation, in contrast, doesn't lead to a fire-hose of lending ...

#159 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 08:07 AM:

Charlie, @157 and @158

Deflation isn't necessarily about the quantity of money in existence, then. A government could be "printing money" but if it's not being used, if it isn't circulating, there can still be deflation.

Which suggests that putting money in the hands of the wealthy tends to be deflationary, because they don't need to spend it. On the other hand, the poor can't choose not to spend any extra money they might get. Which starts sounding like an "inflation is bad" justification for taking money from the poor to give to the rich. But the current problem is a lack of circulating money.

What annoys me about the reporting of the economy is that things such as rising energy costs are called "inflation", when there is plenty of evidence, peak oil and all, that there is an actual increase in value, though often hidden by speculative swings.

What puzzles me about a lot of this stuff is that so much of the profit in banking is coming from speculative trading, taking tiny percentages from very large numbers of huge speculative transactions. Where is the profit coming from?

Is it possible that the banks are creating money out of nowhere?

#160 ::: Springtime for Spacers ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 08:52 AM:

@144 Steve with a book quoted 'pay the rent, then buy the food'. Good advice but then there's the power to pay for. According to the news media in the UK this winter will again be early, cold and harsh. Fuel prices are rising: many of us face a choice between eating or warmth. I am dreading it.

#161 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 09:40 AM:

Dave Bell #159: Is it possible that the banks are creating money out of nowhere?

Yes... but it's fairy gold! Briefly: Investments get most of their value from the idea that somebody else is working to make sure the investor gets paid back -- doing the footwork, and taking the risk. This is roughly equivalent to the idea that the underlying deal is in good faith.

For the trading and housing bubbles, the offenders were essentially creating illusionary money, by presenting as valuta -- valid instruments -- investments that were not backed by good faith. The footwork hadn't been done, and the packagers/lenders had not done the due diligence that would have let them honestly assume the risks of default. Naturally, if the above had been generally known, the derivatives and loans would have been unsalable -- so their makers just lied, and presented glass as gems.

Because of the lies, those bits of paper had trading value -- and as they got passed around, the counterfeit value was exchanged for real money... leaving counterfeit and real value hopelessly intermingled in holdings around the world. The ultimate effect of that has been to make the dollar much less valuable -- indeed, less trustworthy as a currency. That in turn brings in Grisham's Law, as people start hanging on to whatever wealth they do see as trustworthy....

#162 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 11:34 AM:

David Bell #159 - Yes, the banks are creating money out of nowhere. See the work of Steeve Keen (linked to by Monbiot in the link in Charlies post in #148), and various ranters, reformists, kooks and well meaners since the 1920's.

Basically, the most obvious way to deal with the fact that debt has outrun the ability to pay it back is to destroy the debt. I can't honestly see what the problem is with doing this, especially if you re-regulate the financial sector in the process. The problem is that it ends up tying into the deep seated ideals many people have of the moralistic sort, i.e. "why let the gamblers off the hook?" and "don't reward them". Once again the intersection of morality and the market is fraught with problems.

#163 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 12:01 PM:

This isn't moonlighting. This is using the cops on the job, into overtime, that the tax payer pays for, not the corporations, and done at the corps' order request.

Moonlighting is a whole other thing. And it too creates severe problems, as we saw in New Orleans. Cops and military don't make good security guards. They beat, and even kill, and expect to be immune from any investigation or penalty.

Love, C.

#164 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 12:26 PM:

In the good old days* the great lords and magnates had liveried retainers, who worked for them in receipt of bed and board and clothing, or at least livery of house colours or emblems. One wonders how close to that we are now.

I did see a video a few months ago of an exercise done by some photographers in the City of London (home of many shy retiring rich folk and their offices), testing the right to photograph things in public. In most of the cases, the biggest obstacles were the security guards of the buildings they were photographing/ using as background. These guards ranged from apparent recent immigrant in standard cheap shirt and trousers, to well built men in sharp suites. Their attitude was generally "fuck off out of here you can't photograph this building or us this is all private", although usually phrased more felicitously. When it was pointed out that it legal to do so from the highway, in public etc, at least one lot fell to debating precisely which bit of the pavement was public and which wasn't, and it did indeed turn out that a surprising amount of pavement in central London is actually only partly public land.
Anyway, the city of London police officers, perhaps mindful of being filmed all the time, were a complete contrast, being good natured and upholding the photographers right to photograph things from the public highway, despite what stupid ideas the security guards had.

I don't know what the London metropolitan police reaction would have been like, but i do recall reading of the fact that in the 1920's they did indeed used to frequently have second jobs on the side and it was possible to hire them for work. Not to mention the disreputable practise of raising money by selling tickets to police balls and suchlike. This was all stopped by people like Trenchard, who wanted a professional police force capable of doing its job, and of course he was also mindful of the massive potential for corruption inherent in such concepts. So how on earth do you still allow it in the USA?

*I.e. the medieval period when everything was in order and there was a place for (almost) everyone, and the distribution of resources and wealth was not so different from the USA today as people might think.

#165 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 12:35 PM:

guthrie @ 162

Basically, the most obvious way to deal with the fact that debt has outrun the ability to pay it back is to destroy the debt. I can't honestly see what the problem is with doing this, especially if you re-regulate the financial sector in the process.

The basic problem is that the creditors wouldn't be happy with that. The really large debt problem is mortgages, and the creditors on mortgages are still overwhelmingly plain-vanilla bank savings.[1] "Everyone lose half your checking/savings/money market/CD value" is not a very popular policy idea.

1] I'm pretty certain that even with securitization, bank capital is still largely in mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, and most MBS's are held by depository banks.

#166 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 01:31 PM:

SamChevre @164: No -- the creditors are the creators of this mess -- they've sold exotic securities which could never perform as well as billed; gulled borrowers into mortgages that no sane person would ever have taken on (ARM, I'm lookin' at you); and used fraudulent records to avoid local taxes.

The problem lies in the fact that 1) the mortgages in the securities were not properly conveyed to the trust representing said firms -- which means the entity that sold the security can be required to repay the money to those firms; (2) the mortgaged properties have lost their value, representing a loss to the mortgagee as well as a loss to the securities based on it, and again the seller of the security can be required to make the buyer whole; and (3) during all the wheeling and dealing above most of the financial instutions issuing mortgages failed to register said mortgages with the proper legal authorities (County Title Offices) resulting in 'clouded' titles which title insurance companies will refuse to insure.

Frankly, the "too big too fail" entities should be required to clean up their own mess and eat the losses. The creditors were committing fraud -- frankly, making them take a haircut is too damn easy. I'd guillotine the lot, and confiscate their estates to repay those they defrauded.

#167 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 01:39 PM:

charlie 141:

This Mother Jones article and some previous ones by the same reporter describe a similar process happening in Louisiana, allowing BP to restrict press and envirnementalists' access to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

#168 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 01:53 PM:


I think it might be helpful to distinguish between monetary effects and changes in relative prices. For a given level of performance, consumer electronics have gotten cheaper relative to other products over the last 40+ years. That is, if you priced computers in terms of loaves of bread, or hours of labor for a plumber fixing a leak in your house, you would see a huge drop in how expensive the computers were relative to those other things. However, there has also been monetary inflation, which hasnt kept up with the fall in prices in electronics, but which makes the fall look less spectacular than it has actually been. And there has also been increasing wealth in the society, with a correspnding raising of the floor in many areas. For example, cars sold in 2011 include a lot of stuff not included in 1971, because both regulation (safety features, mileage, polution control) and market forces (reliability, driving comfort) have driven the bottom tier of car quality as of 1971 entirely out of the market.

#169 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 02:19 PM:

I watched 25th Hour again recently. Beautiful, sad, angry movie. As time passes, I increasingly see it as a prescient lament for the US. "There was this country founded on an ideal of freedom, once" - and I just heard its death-knell: 9/11.

What watching 25th hour reminds me of is that gut-punched, nightmare, unreal feeling. It never really went away for me.

These days especially, I think of the resonance between JFK and 9 11 - a moment of unreality, of Something Sick, Evil, dontthinkaboutit....

Here's the basic sequence of realizations I went through years ago re JFK, which I'm sure isn't original:

1) The official story of JFK's assassination makes no sense (blatantly so)

2) The conspiracy theories make no sense. Those who dive in, determined to find out "What's Really Going On," get lost in all the contradictory details, red herrings, false bottoms, debating "rival researchers" etc.

Some go a little crazy, confronted with the sheer scale of the Lie, perhaps nudged along that path by Dark Hints, pointers to the uncanny strewn about - It's a Satanic Cult! They're all Lizards! The earth was sold to the Greys!

Even those who come up with less involved, more "structural" explanations, e.g. Oliver Stone's Military-Industrial Complex or the "deeper" Yankee and Cowboy War of Carl Oglesby, still end up with something Not Very Helpful: so what? what now? (There is a valid response to that question: "don't stop digging after just one skeleton", I.e. "deep politics"/ "parapolitics" research)

(JFK, btw, was no Messiah or Golden King of The People or whathaveyou as far as I can tell, but he symbolized one for many people.)

3) The end result: people feeling sort of spooked, like there's some Dark Stuff going on (Mad Men conveyed this well) - but wanting to ignore it, because trying to figure it out gives headaches, and It seems so Big, so let's not think about it...well, THIS:

This, I came to believe, is not some side effect.

It's not a bug, it's a feature. It's *the* feature of JFK's assassination (+ blatantly bullshit coverup + million contradictory leads):

to frighten, confuse, to encourage self-lulling "back to sleep" (or "you can't change the world, just change yourself" for 'wiser' people) - and make those who question that particular lie, seem crazy.

But more importantly: to instill massive cognitive dissonance, "splitting" the mind through some emotional trauma, causing almost a PTSD type effect, not altogether dissimilar from the effects of serious childhood abuse: THIS, in retrospect, seems to me the "goal" of JFK.

Without going to the land of the 9/11 Truthers, the repeated (and repeated and repeated) showing of the towers getting hit, and of people fleeing the dustcloud, and then of the alternate angle - just this constant reliving, in more and more gruesome detail (jesus I had forgotten quite how bad they got till I wrote this, the jumping and all) --

Jesus, that was traumatic enough in itself. But to get the true Cognitive Dissonance effect of JFK, you need something more. And they provided:

- the "9 11 changed everything" refrain
- the sudden swift Patriot Act passage
- the drumbeats of fear
- Press Secretary Ari Fleischer (I kinda miss him now, at least he had the balls to out and out lie to my face) saying "we all have to be more careful what we say now" (re Bill Mahr's "maybe terrorists who fly their planes into building are less cowardly than soldiers who drop bombs from 10,000 ft")
- and let's not forget, Anthrax! Everywhere!
- and oh yeah, War and Death Forever

Looking back, to me, *that's* the PTSD-inducing aspect of events, the nightmareish quality: when they took over, shredded the bill of rights, spat in our faces, did their dark voodoo. There's some hinky stuff with the attacks themselves, sure (did we ever sort that futures thing?), but nothing big.

I understand on a visceral level the Truther reaction: the sense that, Something Here Does Not Add Up. Their response is a folly though, a distraction.

Klein, in Shock Doctrine, notes that this is what the powers gear for: lay some plans, then when something happens, hit you while you're still reeling (God only knows what REDACTED Acts they've got squirrelled away.)

...any case, does it strike anyone else that OWS, deeper, also is a response to 9/11? "You stole our country, give it back!"

I wasn't alive for JFK so can't imagine, but this thing: shit, I've felt gut-punched for a decade. Nightmare. Just when there seemed some light, whammo with the money, and Obama rips off the mask: fuck, just another reptoid.

OWS actually lightens my heart for the first time in ages. Engineered to withstand at least some of the usual tactics of distraction and co-option. Simple, direct, human.

(on review: the 2000 election is where it all started going off the rails for me, really, just not quite as big)

#170 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 02:37 PM:

Lori Coulson @165

I'm not going to be able to write a complete reply today, but one quick note: I'm not meaning "creditors" as "banks who issued mortgages", but as "people who deposited money in banks that issued mortgages".

#171 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 02:54 PM:

SamChevre @169: Aha, yes that does make a difference. I'm thinking "banksters" and you're concerned about their customers (so am I).

I think the customers will get hurt financially no matter how this situation shakes out.

#172 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 03:08 PM:

One thing that seems pretty clear is that "too big to fail" is a dangerous thing for any organization to be. If an organization has a de facto government guarantee in case things go sour, the de facto government guarantee should be written into law, and that should be accompanied by nationalization or very strict regulation and oversight.

The problem, which applies to both government guarantees (de facto or de jure) and private ones (CDS, for example), is that most of the time, they don't come due. So it's pretty easy to deceive both yourself and others about how big a risk you're taking.

A standard bit of rhetoric that comes out every time the government provides loan guarantees for some company is that they won't cost the government anything. (Or after the fact, that they didn't cost the government anything.) But this is bullshit. Your life insurance policy hasn't paid off in the last ten years, and yet, the insurance company rightly had to be paid to provide the insurance, because there was a chance that they'd have to cough up a bunch of money.

For some investment companies, you can get a strategy that Nassim Taleb describes as "picking up nickels in front of a steamroller." You have some nice consistent way to make money which, once in a great while, will rise up and wreck you when some extremely low-probability event happens. Even the people running that strategy may not know what risks they're running (very rare events are hard to know much about). They may also understand those risks, but understand that they get to keep their base pay and bonuses from every year the strategy works, and will simply lose their jobs and not get bonuses if their company stumbles and gets flattened by the steamroller. (Or, if they're politically connected, they'll still keep their jobs and get their bonuses thanks to a post-steamroller bailout from taxpayers.)

#173 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 03:52 PM:

One thing that seems pretty clear is that "too big to fail" is a dangerous thing for any organization to be. If an organization has a de facto government guarantee in case things go sour, the de facto government guarantee should be written into law, and that should be accompanied by nationalization or very strict regulation and oversight.

Yes, and the organization should be regulated as a public utility. There should be no case of a company under government protection, but outside government control.

The only alternative should be being broken up into smaller pieces (small enough to fail without damaging the economy) by decree.

#174 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2011, 07:37 PM:

"For some investment companies, you can get a strategy that Nassim Taleb describes as picking up nickels in front of a steamroller."

This is akin to a well-known gambler's fallacy, known as the Martingale strategy. The idea is that you can consistently win small amounts by making a series of even money bets, doubling your bets until you win. When you do, you're ahead the amount of your initial bet. And it works almost every time!

The problem is, every so often you won't have enough money left to double your last bet, and thus have to end the sequence before you win. And that time, you lose *big*. So big, that, in the typical house-biased gambling game, it more than makes up for all the times you won small.

*Unless* you can get someone else to bail you out when the martingale goes bad. Like, say, the government. Then, not only can you come out ahead, but you can congratulate yourself for your genius in bett-- er, investing.

And if you can convincingly blame your backer of last resort for wanting payment or regulated behavior from you for their protection, they might acquiesce to being a chump rather than be called a parasite.

#175 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 09:33 AM:

Re: inflation/deflation...

It seems like Peter Erwin & Charlie Stross have brought up a ton of salient points on this. My take is slightly less erudite, and might be oversimplified, but here's the way I see it:

1) The banking system, since the dropping of the gold standard, has taken on a certain aspect of a Ponzi scheme, i.e. the money, when tallied, is simply "not there."

2) Should a prolonged "run" on goods and/or money ever occur (due to uncertainty in the banking system, panic caused by a shortage of goods, energy, whatever) the government will be forced to unfold its FDIC branch, print money, etc., until people can hold in their hands that which they previously deposited with their local bankers. This influx of physical supply will decrease the value of the paper dollar.

3) At the end of the day, goods are worth the utility value of the goods themselves, while currency is worth only the value attributed to it by a complicit society. (To a certain extent the value of gold is also subjective, but its tradition is more time-honored, and gold is a limited resource.)

4) When the cards fall down (and I'm not saying it will happen in the near future, just that it will happen eventually) the owners of physical goods/assets will have real wealth, while the "99%" will find themselves holding useless paper.

abi @140:

I'm actually not as worried about the small-town folk here in the States as I am about the urban populace. It seems like the mountain-and-farm communities, which are more spread out and resource-rich, will have a more nimble approach to community organization once (or, if) the internet/electronic mode of communications are taken out of the equation.

I'm a staunch believer in self-reliance, a person's ability to work the land, or at least to know the land well enough to live off it should a disaster occur. The city centers will be most vulnerable in any one of the myriad scenarios that might occur in the next century: war, famine, plague, natural disasters, etc.

My opinion is that in the century ahead, we should be focused on stalling overpopulation, and/or preparing ourselves technologically for a mass geographical shift toward higher ground.

#176 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 09:40 AM:


Most of our pratical wealth is not in stuff, it's in knowledge and standing arrangements that work. Some mechanisms are fundamental to keeping those things intact--for example, money, contract law, continued functioning of utility kinds of services (roads, schools, power, medical system, phone/data), and safe streets. When those break down, they wreck the standing arrangements and make us all much poorer.

#177 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 09:46 AM:

Interesting aside: Will the Occupy Wall Street protests be coopted by the Blue side of the power elite?

The way it looks to me, this is basically what happened with the Tea Party, which I gather started as a more or less spontaneous reaction to the big bailouts, and was then more or less coopted by the Fox News / Murdoch / Koch types. And there is still a large thread of dangerous-to-the-powerful populism running through the movement, despite the fact that it has largely been taken over at the top.

I also enjoy seeing the protesters referred to as los indignados in the Spanish language press--drawing the parallel with protesters in the Arab world, as well as in Spain and Greece and Chile.

#178 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 10:06 AM:

DanR @ 175

1) The banking system, since the dropping of the gold standard, has taken on a certain aspect of a Ponzi scheme, i.e. the money, when tallied, is simply "not there."


This feature is a feature of fractional reserve banking, not a fiat currency; it was a problem in the early 1930's, and in the 1800's, in both of which cases the gold standard was in place.

#179 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 10:36 AM:

Sam Chevre @178:

Do you mean that for every dollar deposited into a bank, there exists a printed banknote representing that dollar?

Or just that the money is there in spirit?

#180 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 10:39 AM:

SamChevre @178: I note with interest that many people seem to get hung up on the difference between gold (a commodity metal from which is just so happens that fiat currency was once minted) and money (an indirection layer for barter transactions). It's a case of confusing what money tokens are made of with the underlying abstraction itself.

It seems to be commoner in the USA than the UK -- the latter country abandoned the gold standard in the 1920s IIRC, and has undergone a fundamental currency shift since then in any case.

#181 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 10:47 AM:

Do you mean that for every dollar deposited into a bank, there exists a printed banknote representing that dollar?

No. That's what "fractional reserve banking" means. Imagine a completely closed economy, and gold bars as the only currency. Joe has 100 bars, and puts them in the bank; the bank keeps 10 (10% reserve), and lends the rest to Jim, who buys a cow from Jack. Jack puts his 90 bars in the bank, the bank keeps 9, and lends 81 to Sam...and so on and so on. At the end of the process, the bank has 1000 bars in deposits, 100 bars on hand, and 900 dollars of loans.

Adding printed banknotes adds the feature that you can print more, but it doesn't change the dynamic that there are more deposits in the bank than cash in the town.

#182 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 10:59 AM:

... but it doesn't change the dynamic that there are more deposits in the bank than cash in the town.

Right. So what happens if everyone wants their deposits back at the same time?

#183 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 11:05 AM:

That's the key fragility of fractional reserve banking; it's a great system, but it has a catastrophic failure mode.

In the US, the problem was solved by having the FDIC/FSLIC system guarantee most plain-vanilla deposits. This works even under a gold standard if the guarantor (the government) is big enough relative to any bank. With paper currency, the government can commit to providing enough pieces of paper very credibly.

#184 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 11:21 AM:

In the US, the problem was solved by having the FDIC/FSLIC system guarantee most plain-vanilla deposits.

Okay, take it another step: what happens when the FDIC starts shelling out large amounts of money to compensate for bank failures?

a) the debtors' notes are turned over to the government.

b) the government begins re-negotiating/liquidating the loans

c) more money is printed

d) the value of a dollar is diluted in proportion with the money supply, leading to snowball inflation

e) all of the above

#185 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 12:23 PM:

DanR @182: "So what happens if everyone wants their deposits back at the same time?"

It's a run on the bank, as shown in It's a Wonderful Life.

#186 ::: Joseph M. ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 12:35 PM:

DanR@184: The FDIC's bank resolution process, however, doesn't only inject cash. As part of the process, the bank's assets (which were appropriated by the FDIC) are sold off to other institutions. So, if we were to create a list, it might look like this:
1. FDIC gives out cash to depositors (money supply up1)
2. FDIC takes on assets of failed bank (no change to money supply)
3. FDIC auctions assets to other institutions (money supply down)

Since the current U.S. reserve requirement is 10%2, the likelihood that the assets of bank are greater than the associated deposits is tiny, even in our current environment; this means that the money out in step 3 is going to be at least as high as the money in in step 1. Theoretically, an FDIC rescue could be deflationary; that would be hugely unlikely, though, as most banks wouldn't be in a position to require resolution if their assets were that strong.

Also, to generate inflation, the money has to be spent--but I can tell you that if my bank failed and I was given my deposits back by the FDIC, I would find another bank to stash them in; I certainly wouldn't spend it any faster than usual unless something else changed as well, in which case we can't blame the FDIC without figuring out what else is going on.

1: Okay, so technically this is only raising M0 and M1, while M2 and M3 remain the same. However, for this discussion, I'll allow it...
2: I can provide a quick overview of fractional reserve banking, if required, but I'd rather not unless it's requested.

#187 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 01:19 PM:

I certainly wouldn't spend it any faster than usual unless something else changed as well, in which case we can't blame the FDIC without figuring out what else is going on.

A run on the banks will probably be preceded by a catastrophe or perceived catastrophe, a reason people want money in hand... chances are they're looking to buy physical goods, food stock, gasoline, land, autos, tools, whatever it may be. I agree, the FDIC is not to blame in that scenario; however, by insuring the depositors it does not necessarily resolve the underlying problem -- the banks' dilution of actual wealth. If and when this occurs, the Ponzi scheme fails and the money value is reduced (I'm guessing to levels approximating the 10% held in reserve.)

#188 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 02:01 PM:

Reaching way back to Nancy's #125 et seq, re the Milgram experiments -- I looked into those for a talk I gave on disobedience in Tolkien's Middle-earth. I could FEEL the -- discomfort? fright? despair? tension? -- growing in the room as I spoke during that section. There's a pop-sci book on psychological experiments I referred to in the paper in which the author says that even though the experimental records are still sealed, she managed to talk with someone who went through it (and "killed" the other "subject"), and it totally woke him up about his willingness to blindly obey authority and made him question things far more carefully. Not a bad outcome for him, but there's no way you could really ethically put people through something like these experiences just to wake up their ability to question authority. (My paper's on

#189 ::: Joseph M. ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 02:46 PM:

First, I owe everyone an apology: in my previous post, I misrepresented reserve ratios; it is basically impossible for a bank resolution to be deflationary, as that would require the assets to be sold at >112% of value, and no bank would be wrapped up if its assets were valued thusly. I blame this on trying to write on my lunch break.

DanR@187: Well, unless you don't like the idea of banks in general, I'm not seeing your argument here. If something happens to the wider economy such that I will need to spend all my money, anything that the FDIC insures is already available to me to spend1, so the question of where I get my cash (FDIC or bank) doesn't make any difference to how soon I spend it.

This distinction is why I mentioned the different measures of money (M0, M1, M2 and M3) in my previous post: changing the amount of cash (M0) only creates inflation if that money is coming from the printing press. If I am only moving money from checking (M1) or savings (M2) accounts, those numbers will remain the same (since M1=M0+checking and M2=M1+savings=M0+checking+savings).

My reading of your 'dilution of wealth' is that you don't like fractional reserve banking. However, banks cannot loan more money than they have been given (remember, this method of banking was invented when all money was commodity money) by depositors. Indeed, bank loans are impossible without fractional reserve banking, as any loan will necessarily reduce cash-on-hand to less than the total of deposits. And while I will be among the first to say there are problems with the modern financial system, fractional reserve banking is not one of them.

1: Okay, so certificates of deposit and similar items with an early withdrawal penalty are also included in M2, and they wouldn't be immediately available. However, if those are large enough percentage of M2 to throw off these items, I'll eat my hat.

#190 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 02:53 PM:

This just in: Wall Street Journal circulation scam. Yet another piece of dirty News Corp underwear coming out in the wash. What makes this one different is that the WSJ, at the time they were ramping circulation figures in order to charge more for ads, was a subsidiary of Dow Jones.

If one component of the leviathan was corrupting its figures, what about the other?

In other news: an economics prof identifies systemic and increasing deviations from Benford's Law in corporate SEC filings.

I am putting this all together and seeing a picture that makes me wish I'd stuck my savings in gold bullion and baked beans.

#191 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 03:38 PM:

To add to the chorus of disaster-in-the-making, the City of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is filing for bankruptcy -- so does that mean they're going to default on their municipal bonds? And IF they do default, how many other cities and states will follow?

(Charlie Stross @190 -- my retirement funds are all in US Federal securities -- and I can't touch them for about 3 months, but gold, guns and food are looking mighty attractive...)

#192 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 03:39 PM:


A big concern, to me, is that the authorities who are supposed to be regulating banks and financial markets are not only thoroughly captured, they also have an overriding political imperative to keep the banks and financial companies from running into trouble serious enough that it might threaten their solvency. I'm pretty convinced at this point that the government's response to widespread document forgeries (aka robosigning) and failure to properly record changes of title as required by state laws is driven by a desire to avoid having a legal and political scandal that could drive more banks into insolvency and could further damage the secondary market for MBS. But the result of that is that widespread fraud, of the kind that would get you or me sent to jail for several years, will be retroactively legalized in these cases, because enforcing the laws against the powerful would be too disruptive and damaging. (Say, do I detect a pattern in recent governmental decisions here?)

One result of that is that systemically important companies and industries may very well be able to get away with all sorts of misbehavior, because theyre seen as too important to punish or fine. Even worse, though, how can anyone trust any official numbers or claims from those same companies or industries? What would be the conseqence of lying in those numbers? Hell, the US regulators have been quite willing to hide information (as with the secret bailouts and secret terms of various kinds of assistance to financial companies) or spin (as with the stress tests, which were plainly designed to reassure the public rather than to learn anything new) on their behalf.

And that makes it impossible to gauge how deep the rot goes. Are the big banks in the US reasonably stable now? Whose word would you accept on that question? How would you know if they were lying to you?

#193 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 04:03 PM:

Albatross, from what I'm reading most of the "too big to fail" banks are technically insolvent, and they and the Federal Reserve are tap-dancing frantically to hide it.

#194 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 04:29 PM:

Isn't it in The Reverse of the Medal that Jack Aubrey is tried for fraud and ends up in the stocks, for his part (mostly unwitting) is a stock fraud scheme?

Not that, of course, one would wish to suggest that the stocks be revived for such a use. Better to save it for the witting ones.

#195 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 04:48 PM:

"computer users since 1988, when we got our first Mac SE."

Pshaw. Newcomers. I still have, in its original box, my first computer, an Ohio Scientific Challenger 1P that I purchased in June of 1980. It was my second major purchase with my paper route income. It has 8K of RAM, 8K of ROM, 1K of video memory, runs on a 1MHz 6502 processor, and the instruction manual includes the system's schematics.

Actually, leafing through an issue of Popular Electronics or Creative Computing or Byte from 1980 is quite illuminating. I believe you will find only two contemporary companies therein. Ohio Scientific ran ads on the back cover of Byte for quite a few years. Data General? Altair? SWPC? All gone. Only the ads for the Apple ][ and perhaps Microsoft's Flight Simulator will ring any bells.

#196 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 04:56 PM:

Dave Howell @195:
Actually, leafing through an issue of Popular Electronics or Creative Computing or Byte from 1980 is quite illuminating.

You've just explained why, up in my attic, there are two boxes. One has an assortment of newspapers, news magazines, car magazines and computer magazines from when my son was born; the other from when my daughter was.

Should be entertaining reading when they get older.

#197 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 05:32 PM:

DanR #175: 4) When the cards fall down (and I'm not saying it will happen in the near future, just that it will happen eventually) the owners of physical goods/assets will have real wealth, while the "99%" will find themselves holding useless paper.

On the other hand, it's worth noting that an awful lot of physical goods -- even land -- do derive much of their value from current conditions -- including the existence of a working society around them! Even a working farm may be able to feed a family or few -- but if transport breaks down, trading with anyone but your neighbors becomes a problem, (Not to mention the drastic changes in farming without fuel for the machines!)

And then there's the issue of climactic changes wiping out farms -- if you can't get (enough) water to the fields, and/or keep (way too much) water off the fields, you're pretty screwed.

#198 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 07:08 PM:

We are going to look into credit unions here in NYC.

I'm serious about getting away from banks.

Love, C.

#199 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 07:10 PM:

DanR @175 - Are you suggesting that a gold standard is a good idea? By design, any currency backed by a commodity with limited supply will eventually drive catastrophic deflation at worst and severely limit growth at best. If there's a finite money supply, and there are more people and more stuff, currency becomes in short supply, prices drop, people stop spending money and turn to barter.

One of the great features of fiat money is that it can expand to accommodate growth, and if managed correctly can support a modest real inflation rate. The benefit of some inflation (think 3-8% per year) is that it reduces the likelihood of massive defaults should prices of real or fixed assets drop. The likelihood of being underwater in nominal dollars is reduced, so borrowers are less likely to walk away.

Mismanaged fiat money can, of course, be a disaster. It's not inevitable. That's why the financial sector should be tightly regulated.

BTW - there's one more data-driven observation that the finance industry, in their quest for ever-lower taxes like to ignore. A high marginal tax rate for top earners actually drives investment in actual capital goods because taxes paid on profits tomorrow are better than taxes paid on profits today.

#200 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 07:19 PM:

Oh, and at about 1:15 today, I was mildly delayed by a group of about 200 Occupy Seattle marchers proceeding down Eastlake Ave E. from UW towards downtown. They were very orderly, marching in the southbound traffic lane. A convoy of motor officers were maneuvering traffic around them via the center turn lane.

Drivers were waving encouragingly, but several protesters had "Don't Honk" signs as the cops have been handing out tickets to horn-blowing supporters.

I'm pleased to report that I did make it to my PT appointment in time. I hope the marchers made it to where they were going (Westlake Park?) without incident or arrests.

#201 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 10:31 PM:

Joseph M. @189:

It's not that I don't like the idea of banks in general (or even fractional reserve banking)... I just think 10% is a terrible dicey number, given the proliferation of the mega-banks and the relative speed of communication between depositors. Who knows; maybe there will never be a mass run on a mega-bank. But once the Fed printing presses get going, I'm not sure how you curb inflation. Could you unpack what you said about how the federal government auctioning off the assets of failed banks lowers the money supply more than printing paper dollars to pay off depositors increases it?

David Harmon @197:

Very true. They might be farming corn in northern Canada someday. Or harvesting seaweed in North Dakota.

Larry Brennan @199:

Re the gold standard - that's a difficult question. Maybe. Fiat currency, as you say, works quite well when economies are growing and when people have faith in their government.

#202 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 10:47 PM:

the issue of climactic changes wiping out farms

Well, if it wipes the farm out entirely, it's climactic for the farm at any rate!

#203 ::: Joseph M. ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 11:33 PM:

DanR@201: I'm not sure I would say that, in most cases, the sale of assets will decrease M2 more than the value of the resolved bank's deposits. However, in general, the two should be close, as the amount of lending the bank can do is directly tied to value of deposits it has.

And if your concern is inflation, that should be resolved by the very fact that the bank had to go into resolution: this comes up when loans start to go bad (as most bank assets are loans), which happens almost entirely when the collateral ends up worth less than the loan in question. This can only happen when the collateral in question is worth less than it was when the loan was issued--which is a clear case of deflation.

Lori@193: Where have you been reading that? I haven't seen that, and would like to check my information.

#204 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 11:59 PM:

I understand that they made a major investment which would have paid for itself if it had succeeded. It didn't, so they're out a lot more money than if they hadn't made the investment at all. So I don't think it's a sign of things to come, as much as a sign of a city that got some very bad financial advice.

#205 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 02:29 AM:

Charlie Stross @180: money (an indirection layer for barter transactions)

What do you think of David Graeber's claim (based on anthropology and archæology) that money was invented as a medium of accounting, not a way of facilitating barter?

#206 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 04:56 AM:

Avram @205: that's fascinating, and extremely plausible. (At least as much so as the orthodox "economic" model for the origin of money.) However, I think it's reasonable to maintain that today money is used as an indirection layer for barter. Even if that's not how it was invented.

#207 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 04:58 AM:

Both Schmidt and Eno realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive when the pressure was off. The Strategies were, then, a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking - to jog the mind.

Try turning it upside down.
- Oblique Strategies, fifth card

We Are The 5%

I'm a member of the world's top 5%, our Destiny Manifest, who consume 25% of the world's resources, which are taken from the 95% through force and fear and fraud.

And the best part?

None of it is My Fault. I just work here.

Me? I recycle, bike, vote Democrat, don't buy Nike. I get to blame guys like Cheney, who run things.

Cheney? He does his Clear-Eyed Grownup Realpolitik behind-the-scenes Dark Shit. He gets to make the Jack Nicholson speech from A Few Good Men and sneer at my coddled white liberal ass.

And both of us? Both of us can sleep at night, knowing that I'm The One Fighting the Important (me: Good; Cheney: Alas, Necessary) Fight, doing my best in a broken world.

Bull. Fucking. Shit.

You know how we *really* both can sleep at night, me and my buddy Cheney?

Because unlike most of the 95%, we ate alright today, and the food didn't run liquidly right out of us for lack of clean water, and we will be indoors, protected from the elements, when we lay our heads on our pillows.

Plausible Deniability is not a side effect. Cognitive Dissonance is not a bug.

#208 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 08:12 AM:

Charlie @206

You could be right. The reason why money emerged has little or nothing to do with how it's used now. And that raises the obvious question: why are economists so unwilling to alter their beliefs on the origin of money?

#209 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 08:45 AM:

Dan R--the gold standard in the US (and other countries) was ended for reasons which seemed good and sufficient at the time, after many years of intense debate. The gold standard seems to have made monetary management more rigid and invariant, when changing circumstances would suggest it should be modified instead.

It's possible to get rigid about monetary and financial policy without something like the gold standard; the Germans are notorious for their fixation on avoiding inflation, and we aren't much better about interest rates; there are those who argue that the fixation on low interest rates that marked Greenspan's tenure at the Federal Reserve has some strong negative effects on the economy currently; it was a reaction to the interest rate issues of the late 1970s and 1980s, which caused their own set of problems.

#210 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 08:52 AM:

Avram @205 and Charlie @206--given how long it took for small-denomination currency to show up on the scene, I think the accounting issues argument is well-worth careful consideration. The earliest currencies seem to have been most useful for people who were keeping track of things like taxes at the macro level, and large-scale traders. Of course it would have advantages of transport and ease of exchange for the latter as well, but shiny metal bits are a lot more stable than goods, espcially in long-term storage.

#211 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 09:33 AM:

Dave @208: I thought that was obvious?

Economists, like most of us, work for money. However, the people who pay them are typically large institutions or investors. It is deeply comforting to such people/institutions to receive feedback affirming the intrinsic value of their activities, which tend to be oriented towards acquiring money. So economists who deliver unpleasant counsel ("greed is not good") tend to be weeded out of the profession.

See also the correlation between studying Economics and greed.

#212 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 09:36 AM:


And yet, the most destructive stuff we do is not, as best I can see, benefitting me in any way. The 100K+ people who died in Iraq as an indirect result of our ill-advised and badly botched invasion and occupation dont help me consume more resources. Nor does the last decade of bombings, invasions, illegal wars, assassinations, torture chambers, secret prisons, etc. That stuff doesnt make money for me, it costs money. It makes money for some defense contractors--no doubt Xe and Halliburton and Lockheed are making money from those policies, but I'm only hearing that domestic spending must be cut, but that the endless war must continue on forever.

Most of the world's misery, particularly the kind involving poverty and lousy public services, is not caused by our prosperity. For me to have clean water and enough food and a relatively clean government and a functioning society doesnt require kids squatting in sewage in Haiti or being periodically bombed in Afghanistan or Gaza. Indeed, I think the notion that this is the tradeoff we face is one way the Cheneys and Feiths and Yoos and other wannabe players of the Great Game get us to go along. Sometimes the pleasant society of Omelas really does require the torture of some child in a basement somewhere, but a lot more often, someone who wants to torture children in basements (or work them to death in sweatshops) convinces everyone that they must be given a free hand with the occasional friendless child to protect the Omelasian way of life.

#213 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 09:47 AM:

Fall gnomes swarm my post
carry letters in a line
to their tower queen

#214 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 10:29 AM:

albatross@213: You've got me thinking about how to make the Crown of the Gnome Queen. Start by knitting an infundibulum in red woolen yarn, that goes all the way down to a point at one end. Felt it. Step three, get a crown...

#215 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 10:34 AM:

See what happened when Andrew Jackson took down the Bank of America and tried to get rid of currency all together: recall, this was also before the gold and silver strikes in California and other western states ....

There was no credit and a prolonged Economic panic and downturn. Not to mention his pet banks' corruption and incapacity, which was one of the reasons he went to war on Biddle's BOA. There was indeed corruption throughout the political, partly on that cause. But instead of getting rid of corruption we got party politics via the media and the Spoils System -- and a financial crash, particularly in the North. However, the interstate slave trade in the south contined to increase in briskness and volume. But for the south the enslaved were their money ....

Love, C.

#216 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 11:54 AM:

Constance @215--it's worth noting that a lot of Jackon's hostility to banking stemmed from the burdens suffered by an agricultural society (and often small-scale agrarian communities, even more so than the large planters, who at least had assets of significant value) in dealing with the merchantile sector of the American economy.

This would crop up again as an issue in the 1890s, with the Populists forming a focus for this cause. Farmers' cooperatives (which still exist today, and many of my deeply conservative rural relatives belong to them, which I find good for a laugh) were one of the results of this; they offered a valuable alternative to the local tyranny of store owners, who often sold good and equipment at greatly inflated costs. Credit unions were another result; they started in Germany as a resource in rural areas, which were neglected by banks, and spread from there; although credit unions in the US are not generally rural, they have the same intent behind them--providing banking services and credit to small customers who are often disadvantaged by large banks.

#217 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 11:57 AM:

Joseph M. @203:

Zerohedge and Firedoglake -- mostly about the foreclosure mess. According to some of the economic folks there, if the banks absolutely had to mark their current assets (specifically mortgages) to the REAL value of the properties, they would be insolvent.

This is why the major financial institutions are so opposed to cramdown or ANY relief for the underwater homeowners. It would mean the banks would have to eat the losses. And if said financial institution also sold MBS -- they're doubly screwed, because the investors who bought those are starting to file suit to get their money back as the securities are not performing as represented.

All the chickens are coming home to roost. And commercial real estate is having financial trouble too...

#218 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 01:39 PM:

Value, value, and value.... (I've read backward through #148 above, by hitting the up arrow key, no sophisticated grab content and have programmed display stuff, nope, it's the semi-nuanced as opposed to brute force method....)

o the value/worth of an item or category of items is NOT fixed!!!
a) In terms of labor hours to produce the item, different people have different skill levels/speed levels producing an item
b) There is the issue of "quality" or how much people care about it... If you need the screwdriver of a certain size -now- you tend to have a greater willingness to pay more for it, because you need it -now-, and you don't care if it will last past your immediate need, which means you might spend the same for an overpriced don't-care-how-long-it-lasts screwdriver that;s the least expensive of the ones at the place nearest to you which has screwdrivers.... if you have a longer timeframe you might be willing to wait, or spend some effort and time of your own (= cost, but not one of using your saved income...) to go looking for the screwdriver of the highest "quality" and durability you care about and buy it....
c) There is personal taste, preference, and need... people have get food inside them for survival. But what are some people's preferred favorite foodstuff, are deadly poisons to other people. "Cost" of food involves things like labor time, the cost/expense of that labor for planting, applying fertilizer and chemicals to dissuade weeds and plant-predators, a quotient that varies over time for yield, processing, transportation, packaging, distribution, etc. Cost of food depends on diet--there are some very inexpensive, nutritious foods that people pinching pennies who are savvy about nutrition, can live off very inexpensively. And then there is the world of the overpriced overprocessed marketing-driven food economy, full of cans and plastic and cardboard and high fructose corn syrup and mono-and di-glycerides and Yellow #1 and Red #5 and vanillin (related to Warfarin....) and transfats and processed starches....
d) There are the perceptions, faith, and magic aspects--why does the name "Van Gogh" make something worth so much more on a painting, or discovery that a painting's not authentic and is a forger's work, drop the perception of its value?
e) There is also faddism--tulip mania being the example used the most. Tulips flowers are pretty to look at, and people went into psychic competitions over who was willing to expend the greatest amount of assets because they liked pretty flowers, or other people were willing to spend -their- assets accumulating bulbs capable of producing pretty flowers....
f) There are some relatively stable metrics, in the sense that growing grain in a field, requires soil fertility, sunlight, water, and time. Lambs and beef there are metrics for the amount of feed and pasturage and time to get an animal to "market weight"
g) Setting labor hour rates, provides a basis for labor expense for products. Hourly labor rates differing, effect companies looking for the areas of lowest rates for initially siting factories, that are commensurate with an -apparent- inexpensive labor force, low utilities expenses and reliable power availabiliy, and low transportation costs to raw materials to the factories, and get finished products distributed.... Labor -quality- is a different issue. One of the factors which killed Commodore was that it moved production to a new factory in the Philippines, expecting that the costs would be lower, however, the workers were much less skilled and competent and producing computers which worked properly, than the factory where Commodore had previously operated....

o People often have fixed perceptions, growing up accepting what they see around them as "normal". Coinage and paper certificates which are markers of dollars, pounds, kronas, whatever, the populations have common general acceptance that the items have value to -other- people and that the other people will accept them at, er, face value.... the Weimar republic, the confidence/trust failed... "worthless paper" denoting that the population regards the "worthless paper" as "nobody wants this/is willing to use this as a trustworthy medium of exchange...."

Civilizations over time have used weights of metals, animals, slaves, salt and other mineral, tulip bulbs... as items for transaction exchange. Most of the items have some "intrinsic" value or use that people consider worthwhile, as an ornamental object (consider commemorative coins....), or food, or tool, to have value for the item itself. Valuing paper with a coinage value on it (as opposed to the copper in pennies, the gold and silver that once used to be in coins--coins originally were stanped as certifying their worth as the metal in them, and "debased: coinage, the metal in them was less than the face value of the coin was supposed to be... ) again involves faith and trust that other people will accept the paper as markers for trade and commerce, not only -now-, but going forward to beyond the blue event horizon....

Something I learned as a small child going to auctions was "things are worth what other peope are willing and able to pay for them." When ability and willing drop, the price drops. When two or more people with lots of liquid assets decide they Really Really Really want something and start bidding against one another, the price--the worth-- of an item can -soar-.

The bottom level of worth, is the time and labor and effort and overhead to produce and distribute it, on the production side, and the minimum price that the possessor will accept in selling it. Often the price drops below the production cost--because the item already exists. This leads to farmers destroying crops, bookstores cover-stripping books, and some people having literally torn down half of their houses, to cut taxes and expense associated with storage and preservation for items that are literally costing more than they;re worth--and preventing other items from selling at prices which are above their production costs....

o There are monopolist tactics--those who deliberately sell below cost making a bet that they will drive the competition out of existence and then can jack the price up to "all the market will bear" without anyone to undercut their profit margin....

o There are obsession and belief and constraints--pigmeat may be cheap and plentiful, but observant Moslems and Jews won't except under dire circumstances eat it. One of the early Babylon 5 episodes, a character had to obtain a particular plant item for a religious ceremony, and had to deal with the one person with the one item in that region of space, to get the item, to meet his religious requirements. Orthodox economics doesn';t deal with such constraints well....

#219 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 01:47 PM:


With Jackson it was purely personal. He signed a guarantee for a friend's promissory notes from a bank on a land deal and the friend wasn't able to repay. Thus this bank was on Jackson's a$$ for years about this debt.

No one could hate like Jackson. Or do scorched earth. Sherman had nothing on Jackson in that area.

Love, C.

#220 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 02:00 PM:

Constance @219--it was nearly always personal with Jackson. I don't think he could see things any other way for long.

The broad support (however ill-advised) for his fiscal policies came in large part from that agrarian vs. merchantile/industrial split. Of course, people found out fairly quickly that what had had immense emotional appeal was a rotten idea from a technical standpoint--not that that's ever happeed before or since!

#221 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 02:34 PM:

As I was biding at Miles Cross, minding my own business, a parade of horses came by in stately splendor. First there passed the black steeds, on which were mounted spam and fraud; then came by the brown, bearing both malice and spite. And then I spied the comments by Charlie Stross @211 and albatross @212, sitting proud and stern upon white horses.

I pulled them to the ground and held them fast. They became as serpents in my arms, cunning and sly. Still I clung to them, though I feared their bites. And then they were like lions, with the terrible beauty of the sun about them. Blinded and burned, still I did not let go.

And then they became themselves, and I wrapped them in my infundibulum and returned them to the mortal world.

And now you can read them, while I go check if any numbering needs cleaned up.

#222 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 03:27 PM:

Albatross, 212: mostly agree it's illusion, yet: we don't act. Fuller response later but it feels like an Abuser/Victim relation somehow: that if we actually dared Challenge the powers, then.... scaryscarydon'tthinkabout it!

See if you can find this clip: 2000 FL Vote Recount. James Baker is giving a press conferencs at some small airport. He ridicules the wording of FL law, which instructs examiners to look at each ballot carefully to "determine voter intent". He sneers something alongt the lines of "that's not the kinda nonsense law Texas would ever pass. Next"

...and this one journalist - a TV Journalist - had not only apparently Actually Looked Something Up - he now dares *corrects* Baker: Sir, I think you'll find, if you look it up, That texas law in fact does call for examining intent."

EVERYONE cringes...and then...well see if u can find it.

I increasingly suspect that the most significant "mind control" experiments of the sixties were openly demonstrated:
JFK (cover *blatantly* bogus, details crazymaking, public headached, everyone *spooked*), then: RFK MLK MX, Grand Finale: Kent State:

"THIS is how it works, Kids! Any Takers?"

I don't buy any of the 9/11 "Truther" movements stories or explanations.

But there's one detail that spooks me: this hypnotic, non-stop around the clock looping of the footage. This hammering in, and hammering in and hammering in of Trauma. It feels like a culture has this deep-rooted ptsd programming going on.)

Maybe Iraq helps serve that, as well.

#223 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 03:50 PM:

Re article Avram links to in 205, and money in general:

I suspect (and that article has some excellent prima facie evidence) that for 99% of people for 99% of history, money as an exchange medium wasn't necessary or desireable or any sort of useful idea, and that we only just recently, historically speaking, bought into the whole idea.

You help your neighbor shoring up his hut, he gifts you a beautiful shark-jaw, those Solomons have it rough what with Paul's foot and the retard son - _so everybody looks out for them a little_...

_That's_ the kind of ways relatively-sane regular humans have thought about Value when we know each other a bit.

We were pitched the usual "Imagine All the Wonderful Possibilities!" package for Money - with its usual omission of "...for Us!".

(If you're as programmed as me, even trying to *picture* functioning without money gives you the But We HAVE to Have Money Oh Noeses! heebie-jeebies - a dead on sign the usual Big Con mindfscking tools were deployed. )

Sure, *now*, now that many of us city dwellers are truly totally alienated from:
- the products of our labor
- nature, animal and plant kingdoms
- our own neighbors
- randomly rolled doctors
- don't even have a little vegetable patch
- etc.

...yeah, shit. Money is the only way to Know what something is Worth, y'know.

It's All part of this Delicious "But without wonderful Cereal, whatever would you eat for breakfast, Timmy? Doncha just *love* those fun-colored Fruit Loops, Timmy? You *like* Uncle Corpse, dontcha? You *neeeeed* Uncle Corpse, DONTcha Timmy" Total Programming Package(TM)

You know what? Thought experiment: If you dissolved PepsiCo overnight, X thousand people lose their job, right?


Forget the magic bits of paper for a second and keep it grounded in the physical. Hold all other variables stable: Keep providing those X thousand with the *exact same* basket of goods and services they were getting before.

Minus money: look at the actual, the physics, the molecules: nobody other than the X thousand themselves doing one jot more or less, or anything different at all, from before.

Subtract PepsiCo from the world, and the *only two things* that actually, physically change are

1) X thousand people are no longer engaged in transforming petrochemicals into plastic, to shape into haha this one always gets me *disposable* containers, filling those with a mixture of carbonated water and High Fructose Corn Syrup with a bit of coloring, flavoring and preservatives added, while some of the X thousand, the Marketing Dept, become pals with The Next Generation of Timmies and start teaching them about all the wonderful things that Uncle Corpse has in store for You!
2) The disappearance of all PepsiCo products from all store shelves worldwide.

...I'm not sure I'm seeing a downside here.

These people are now free to do something a bit more, you know, meaningful or fun or useful. Or they could spend a year walking across India or whatever: the notion that Everyone has to Stay Busy all the time is bogus, just further control levers.

"...and in other news, X thousand more humans freed from GloboCorpseInc! Go Humans go Gaia go Life!" is probably how I'd report it.

I have nothing against companies, or technology, or markets, or money as exchange. Big techogeek here. PepsiCo is a thought experiment about money, its uses and abuses. People - the human kind - should be free to do whatever they want and organize however they want.

I only oppose One (1) Lie, The Biggie: the Headless organization. No human steering it? No human accountable? Bogus. Fake. Con.

The publicly traded corporation makes this claim. They have had Personhood since forever, but cannot be jailed or executed for any actions. Recently, they finally got the right every Personhood should have: free speech! And as we all know Timmie, without unlimited political spend, free speech is just a sham!

The banking system makes this claim. Not your friendly neighborhood credit union run by people, mind. Those other bankers, the ones who've been mentioned in the news a lot lately. Funny thing, you never really get to *see* them, or hear their names - at least not on TV news. Weird huh. (if you're interested, check recent new-wing-size hospital donations, university chair endowments, who's sponsoring PBS Newsnight this week. The names are no secret). It's simply Never the bankers' fault! - that thought is too crude to even *whisper*, in "polite company". The bankers are Wise Men, doing a Tough Job, trying their best to guide a difficult, complex, epiphenomenal system. "Frankly, Tim, if you want to examine the roots of this crisis, it's the People's fault."

Just about every single actor in our forms of democracy can and often do make the claim ("it's noone's fault, really"). These are the guys you might have seen on TV recently, explaining how they tried to stop those naughty bankers, they really did, drats. We'll get 'em next time, Timmie!

Those three colllections of institution claim they have no human head. Their actions certainly have no human goals, and inhuman outcomes. They are the anti-life: and if they had useful work to contribute, they could offer it in human form.

In my world, either you rejoin humanity as human, or you continue to claim to Represent or Be Powerful Invisibles, and you make with the spooky voices from behind the curtain: in which case we'll ignore you.

#224 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 03:52 PM:

cliff, you're coming adrift again. Ground yourself, please.

#225 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 03:54 PM:

albatross @212: OIL.

All of W's venting about Saddam Hussein aside, it was oil that made Cheney and others hot to get into Iraq. The chance to secure Iraq's oil output primarily for the US was the principal cause and mover of that misbegotten expedition.

#226 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 03:58 PM:

The looping and endless replay of the 9/11 attacks seems consistent with how TV news sources normally behave--looping the top story with uninformed talking heads chattering about What It All Means when they can't even spell the names of the countries involved or do a back-of-the-envelope check of the claimed numbers, that seems like a common pattern. For example, how often did the Rodney King beating get shown on TV, or OJ's low speed car chase. 9/11 coverage was a more intense version of the same treatment.

This is broken--24 hour TV news stations, in particular, seem to me to be a force for evil in the world. But it doesnt suggest any coordinated attempt at manipulation, to me. The tone media coverage took on later creeped me the f--k out with its overt propaganda flavor, and there are pretty clear and well-documented bits of overt manipulation (like the pentagon military advisors scandal, and the effective subversion of the NYT and most other respectable media in the US as cheerleaders for the Iraq invasion). But I think most of the propaganda aspects of US MSM are emergent properties of the way the media is organized--corporate owners who dont want to shake up other parts of their business, dependence on advertisers and sources who will cut you off for saying the wrong stuff, groupthink among the fairly insular group of Washington and New York reporters, the way hammering a story into a familiar narrative is so much easier than saying anything new or different, ideological capture when the military, spies, financiers, and power brokers are much higher status than the reporters, in the reporters' own opinions, etc.

#227 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 04:01 PM:

Cliff @222--your list of deceptions should include The Gulf of Tonkin incident. It's not as obvious as the assassinations, and so it doesn't stick as clearly in many people's minds, especially if they were very young at the time or not yet born, but it deserves mention.

#228 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 04:01 PM:

fidelio, some of us DO remember what the Iraq misadventure was almost named:

Operation Iraqi Liberation

I'm sure the acronym makes the objective clear?

#229 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 04:03 PM:

The tower gnome's connected to the troll gnome
the troll gnome's connected to the spam gnome
the spam gnome's connected to the malware gnome
oh dear, the gnomes ate my post

#230 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 04:10 PM:

I need to talk to the other gnome wrangler when he gets back from his Livable Eden; the gnomes are getting grabby and I think we may want to recalibrate.

#231 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 06:10 PM:

cliff, #222: this hypnotic, non-stop around the clock looping of the footage. This hammering in, and hammering in and hammering in of Trauma. It feels like a culture has this deep-rooted ptsd programming going on.

Well, DUH. If you look back thru some of the older political threads, you'll find that this has been the consensus around here for quite some time.

There is an effective counter-measure: STOP WATCHING. Unfortunately, many of those who are most susceptible to the PTSD programming are also TV addicts.

and @223:
You know what? Thought experiment: If you dissolved PepsiCo overnight, X thousand people lose their job, right?... Wrong... These people are now free to do something a bit more, you know, meaningful or fun or useful. Or they could spend a year walking across India or whatever: the notion that Everyone has to Stay Busy all the time is bogus, just further control levers.

BZZT, thanks for playing. The notion that people need to STAY ALIVE AND HEALTHY is not bogus at all. It's really hard to do meaningful and fun and useful things when you're homeless and starving.

If this kind of quasi-mystical bullshit is the best you can come up with, you might want to deploy it somewhere that you can fool everyone else into thinking that you're the Smartest Guy In The Room.

#232 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 06:23 PM:

Abi @ 221 & albatross @ 229: *applause* Also, laughter for albatross' last line. Thank you for the grin that's been put on my face.

#233 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 06:40 PM:

fidelio #225: And it turns out that Afghanistan has lots of heavy metals (critical for manufacturing various high-tech items). The Scientific American article talks high-mindedly about the "Afghanistan government" benefiting, but the clear assumption is that it will be foreign companies coming in and mining the stuff.

#234 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 08:32 PM:

Lee @ 231

I really think you are mis-judging cliff's comment. He's assuming that Pepsi is useless--if you don't like that example, think of "tax/regulatory arbitrage", which is a non-trivial part of my job.

If everyone who is doing something useless stops, the quantity of useful stuff stays the same; the fact that "keeping doing something useless" is the only way to get the useful stuff you need is a misfeature of our current system.

#235 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 09:23 PM:

Regarding the foul effects of TV news being a conspiracy, vs. an emergent property of the system, and looping back around to one of the original subjects of this thread, Steve Jobs supposedly once said:

"When you're young, you look at television and think, There's a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that's not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That's a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It's the truth."

#236 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 09:55 PM:

Cliff at # 221: Minus money: look at the actual, the physics, the molecules: nobody other than the X thousand themselves doing one jot more or less, or anything different at all, from before.

You're only looking at the simple part of the physics, the conservation of mass and energy. Sure, stuff doesn't go away. But consider also entropy: the same stuff, but less well organized, makes us worse off.

#237 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 09:57 PM:

Jeremy Leader #235: Sorry, but Jobs was talking out of his ass on that one. This is the classic drug-pusher's conflation of immediate desire -- often induced by the pusher -- with what people want in the long term.

What people want from the news is real information about their world. What they're getting instead is whatever stimulus makes them twitch the way the broadcasters want. Claiming that this stimulus-response qualifies as "what they want", is like the soda manufacturers insisting that teenagers really want to get half their calories from sugar water.

#238 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 10:34 PM:

On a mildly grumpy note re: Pepsi and the usefulness thereof, as someone who self-medicates with caffeine and cannot function effectively without it, and for whom Pepsi and Coke are often the easiest way to get said caffeine in passing... There is, in fact, some utility there.

It may not be great art. But "tastes good and makes me able to focus" are, in fact, things which improve my life, and which I would be loath to give up.

#239 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2011, 10:37 PM:

Abi #230

I'll just leave the spam the gnomes catch in the pending queue rather than dumping it to the spam folder for the next few days, so you can see why those filters are in place.

#240 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 01:26 AM:

Jim @239:

I do run other blogs, and I do know the volume of spam we're seeing on Making Light. I wasn't talking about removing them all; I just wanted to chat about a few specific ones that were tending to cause people to be hung up.

#241 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 02:15 AM:

Gnome man, gnome man
To handle the spam
As the posts get writ to the screen
The thoughts so grand
The cramping hand
While esoterically
The gnome goes grabbing entries
Holding for review
There's a source of sorcery....

(to the tune of something by Jack Hardy, with first line punning on it, and the last line perturbed from the original... the Constitution explicitly specifies parody is NOT a copyright violation... )

#242 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 02:27 AM:

#222 ::: cliff :

I think the news kept rerunning 9/11 because it was the easiest way to grab attention. No deeper motive is required.

There may also have been an element of being afraid to appear to not care about The Most Important thing.

#223 ::: cliff :

In all the good things that would happen immediately if Pepsico evaporated-- you're leaving out the transitional costs. The people who are working for Pespico will need time to figure out some other way to earn a living, and may not have the resources to do it without being impoverished along the way.

Some of the employees have highly specific knowledge of how things are done at Pepsico-- they're experts on the machines or the bookkeeping or whatever. Even ignoring that the economy is currently very bad, they may not have the time left in their careers to get as good at another organization.

Losing Pepsico may be a net gain for the world (what do I care, I prefer Coke), but this doesn't mean it would be costless.

#243 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 07:50 AM:

I don't know about ML's spam load, but over on my blog I keep an eye on the size of the spam folder, which auto-empties after 30 days. For ages it was static at around 200 pink things; over the past 3 weeks it has climbed to just shy of 1000. The entire 400% uptick seems to be due to a botnet -- IP addresses vary, the attacks come in cycles, they're verbose word salad, and there's no name in the "Type your name here:" field -- that is specifically targeting blogs. They're drawing a 0% success rate on mine, but it's sufficiently automated that the bot herders can't be arsed telling the marks they rent their toy to that it's futile.

/me: is annoyed. (The deluge of huge word salad spams makes it very hard to spot the odd legit poster getting hung up by the gnomes.)

#244 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 07:59 AM:

David Harmon @ 233:

There's been some silly and regrettable attempts by the Pentagon to conjure up post-hoc justifications for stabilizing Afghanistan on the basis of the mineral finds. However, the first information about these finds did not become available until 2004, most of it wasn't discovered by geologists until 2006 and 2007, and the realization of the actual economic potential didn't emerge until 2009. (Original NY Times article here.)

(Not to mention the fact that it's Chinese and Russian mining companies which are most likely to profit from this.)

So the analogy with Iraq is not valid.

#245 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 08:52 AM:

Fade Manley @238:

Thank you for the comment about caffeine delivery systems. Colas have their problems, but are NOT entirely without benefits in the universe. Whether PepsiCo as an organization needs to exist in its current form or pursue all its current activities is a totally different argument.

I like a couple of regional, smaller cola producers (cane sugar! glass bottles! wonderful flavor!) but the price differential involved makes that a luxury compared to Pepsi or Coke, and I know it.

#246 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 10:18 AM:

It didn't occur to me until after I'd posted that the pleasure some people get from Pepsi products was being treated as entirely dispensable.

#247 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 12:14 PM:

cliff #223: The idea that telling a few thousand people they suddenly need to find a new way to feed themselves and their children, is not really hurting them, is elitist privilege at it's rankest.

#248 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 12:16 PM:

Re: "giving the people what they want"

The tricky thing about the conflict between immediate gratification and long-term interests/desires is avoiding solutions that sound like "you people aren't smart/mature/evolved/civilized enough to know what's best for you -- here, let me impose a solution on you." And I say this as someone who deeply believes that 90% of our social problems today come from an overbalance towards immediate gratification over long-term benefit.

I know that in my own life, I make much better long-term arrangements when I take the opportunity -- at a time when the gratification isn't immediately in front of me -- to set up structures that remove or displace the access to immediate gratification. That way, in the moment, it's more "work" to achieve the short-term gratification (and the "immediate" factor is removed or lessened) than to passively allow the long-term arrangements to stand. Of course, in my own life this tends to apply to things like "if I don't keep high-calorie snacks around the house, then I have to make a much more conscious and deliberate choice to eat them" or "if I pack my gym clothes before I go to bed, I'm less likely to decide to skip the workout the next morning."

But setting up conceptually similar structures in larger, multi-person social systems (to say nothing of societies and nations) requires a much greater ability to separate the functions of planner and beneficiary in one's mind -- especially when so often the planners and beneficiaries are not the same group of people. It also requires an ability to set up "sticky" decisions -- ones that can't be reversed and eroded on an easy whim. A stickiness that conversely makes it hard to establish the decisions in the first place.

I know I'm rambling rather badly here, but when I look at our current political situation, the thought that most often comes to mind is, "Why do so few people truly believe in the future of our country any more? Is everyone either so pessimistic about the future or so jealous of everyone else's well-being that they are unwilling to take any action that has anything other than an immediate personal benefit?" What does it mean to say that you're proud to be an X-ian if you're opposed to doing anything that benefits X at your own expense and believe that X should not be providing benefit to anyone?

Yeah, I'll stop rambling now.

#249 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 12:28 PM:

Heather @248: "Why do so few people truly believe in the future of our country any more?"

Belief in the indefinitely improving future is a strongly ideological stance that is pretty much unprecedented in history, anywhere on the planet, prior to 1700 (except within a highly specific religious eschatology).

If anything, you should find it surprising that so many people have, for so long, believed in a better future.

#250 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 12:35 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @248 Is everyone either so pessimistic about the future or so jealous of everyone else's well-being that they are unwilling to take any action that has anything other than an immediate personal benefit?

There was a subthread here in the past few months - couldn't tell you when or what the main topic was - that touched on the idea that sacrifice was for the little people, while the privileged get to continue going their own way. I think this plays a big role in what you say. I am willing to make some choices that do not have immediate personal benefit for the benefit of the country as a whole, and for the benefit of those who are worse off than I am. It's fine if my choices incidentally benefit those who are already better off than I am (see, "country as a whole") - but not if I've been manipulated to choose their benefit at my expense.

I have become deeply cynical that calls for shared sacrifice are the prelude to "You go first."

I do not like this attitude in myself. But I do not think it is out of step with reality.

#251 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 12:44 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 243: It sounds as if you need a spam filter for your spam filter...

HLN: I just overheard a couple of exchange students on the bus discussing the pssibility that OWS would eventually result in a Tahrir Square style uprising in the USA. While I'll admit to being unconvinced by their analysis, the fact that it's being discussed is testimony to...well, I'm not sure what exactly, but something.

While I'm posting, here's a further Jobs-related
story that may amuse the fluorosphere,

#252 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 01:29 PM:

Heather Rose Jones #248: But setting up conceptually similar structures in larger, multi-person social systems [...] requires a much greater ability to separate the functions of planner and beneficiary in one's mind -- especially when so often the planners and beneficiaries are not the same group of people. It also requires an ability to set up "sticky" decisions -- ones that can't be reversed and eroded on an easy whim.

The thing is, such structures generally don't get "set up" as new construction. They evolve over decades or centuries of negotiation. Like other complex social structures, they're organic, and much easier to destroy than to create.

#253 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 02:34 PM:

Nancy, #242 and David, #247: Exactly. The casual handwaving away of all the real-world real-people costs of such a thing is breathtakingly stupid. I suppose it's an example of "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs".

Heather, #248: I am convinced that a great deal of the problem arises from people who don't mind how badly off they are as long as somebody they don't like is worse off. Hence the resistance to things that would help them, because it would also help those despised Others.

#254 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 04:34 PM:

I suppose it's an example of "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs".

I recall once replying to that vacuous cliché with "Well, when the eggs are people the correct answer is 'you can't have an omelet'!"

#255 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 05:09 PM:

Xopher, I believe the correct answer is: "we're not making an omelette here -- we're re-arranging people's lives. Are you volunteering to beta-test the proposed changes?"

See also rabbi Hillel's statement of the Golden Rule: "do not do unto other people that which you would find repugnant if it were done unto you". (This is very different from the more common "do unto others as you would be done by", which while simpler contains a land mine assumption: what if they don't want the same things that you do?)

#256 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 05:30 PM:

Yes, Charlie, that would make the point about the changes being discussed. However, I also wanted to make the point that that cliché is stupid.

While I agree that Hillel's statement is vastly superior to the usual one, it doesn't actually avoid the landmine assumption. For example, the gay college student with the hot (straight) roommate who reasons "Well, I'd be delighted if my roommate hit on ME" passes muster even under Hillel's rule.

The trouble is that 'Do not to another that which, when analyzed from the other's point of view, is analogous to something you would find repugnant were it done to you' isn't really pithy. I've been looking for a better way to say that, but I think it may just be too complex a thought to boil down into a proverb.

Yes, I'm aware that there are people here who will take that as a challenge. Bring it on!

#257 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 05:31 PM:

#255 ::: Charlie Stross:

I think the two formulations of the Golden Rule are similar for people who take context into account, but the positive version is probably riskier for people who aren't careful about context.

#258 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 05:56 PM:

I think the simple version is "Do unto others as they would wish to be done by." Which is about respecting others' choices, IMO.

#259 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 06:19 PM:

praisegod barebones #251 Agreed - interesting that it's being discussed, but there's a fundamental difference between OWS and the protesters in all the manifestations of the Arab Spring. As far as I can tell, OWS doesn't want to replace our form of government, just the bozos who are part of it.

Honestly, the structural only change I'd like to see made is some nod towards proportional representation in the Senate (Wyoming does not deserve 2 senators, California deserves more than 2) and maybe a constitutional amendment stripping personhood from corporations, which is what it'll take given the current state of the Supreme Court. Oh, and campaign finance reform that works and sticks. And a pony.

#260 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 06:38 PM:

The trouble with "Do unto others as they would wish to be done by" is that some people don't have sufficient empathy to figure the "as they would wish" part out. The other two versions, imperfect though they be, are basic statements of the principle of empathy, useful whether or not the hearer actually feels empathy. (You don't like to be cheated or hurt? Then don't do that to other people; they don't like it, either.)

[I'm having trouble phrasing this. Am I making sense?]

#261 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 06:43 PM:

The other problems with "Do unto others as they would wish to be done by" are partly that it may be impossible either because you don't have the resources or you're dealing with more than one other and they have incompatible desires, and partly a lot of material that's being covered over at Dysfunctional Family Day.

#262 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 06:46 PM:

The other problem with the " they would wish" formulation is that it leaves one open to exploitation. "Well, that guy wants everyone to hand over their money, so I guess I have to." I want a formulation that's about avoiding doing icky stuff, like Hillel's, but that covers the analogic thing.

#263 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 07:49 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @246: It didn't occur to me until after I'd posted that the pleasure some people get from Pepsi products was being treated as entirely dispensable.

My goodness, yes.

And honestly, the more I think about this, the more it irks me. One can make a strong argument about various corporations causing more pain and distress to people than support and pleasure, if there's a way to make an accounting sheet for ephemeral sorts of happiness and unhappiness, all aside from issues like "and then these people need to find jobs to be able to feed their family", but to treat something which millions and millions of people quite voluntarily seek out and pay money for as meaningless? That's a paternalistic stance I can do without, thank you very much.

A lot of things are "useless" but for the pleasure they give us. (I knit terrible, lumpy scarves, most of which I never finish, and also live in a place where there's scarf-wearing weather maybe two weeks of the year. Those scarves contribute a lot less happiness to the world than the average delivery truck of Pepsi products.) I happen to think that pleasure is an important part of life. "Stop liking that thing you like, and instead like this thing which I believe is better for you" doesn't work any better for me as an adult than it did as a child.

#264 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 07:59 PM:

OT, but the "do unto others" question reminds me of that question that Freud couldn't answer and Chaucer could: What do women want?

#265 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 08:26 PM:

SamChevre #234: This, exactly. Thank you.

235: True, in part. Hence my "we are the 5%".

Our systems are built to diffuse responsibility until it disappears. I buy a "steak", and the treatment of those animals isn't my fault.

The ultimate way to disappear responsibility is the Headless Organization I described. *That* is the big lie on which all others now rest.

I offer no solutions. Just: first, see.

#266 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 09:14 PM:

I'm apparently being unclear, since so many misread me.

I'm drinking Dr Publix right now. I like it, and Dr Pepper.

Let's picture a better, less crazy, world in which I still get those.

One feature might be that I take my glass bottle to the store and fill it up from a tap. And they get deliveries of syrup they add carbonated water to.

So we already could provide Dr Pepper with far less pollution: turning petro into plastic, throwing plastic out, gas for delivering soda vs syrup.

Why don't we? One answer is that it's my fault. I like the convenience, I'm lazy. The "System", which I built, encourages this desire for instant gratification.

What's one essential feature of every single con game, as pointed out in the analysis elsewhere on this site? Make the mark (feel) complicit.

Undo the spell (in your head! first, see!), the lie, by bringing it back to a human, face to face level, is what I meant by 67 (which is like the PepsiCo example, garrr, *not* literal).

[re Golden Rule discussion: The meta-golden rule is: treat those beneath you as you would be treated by those above you.]

#267 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 10:08 PM:

cliff @266 - as an individual consumer, it's hard to change the system. As a group, it's possible to have a large impact.

So, when I buy a steak, I can choose one from the supermarket that's just your standard steak at, say $12/pound, or another from the supermarket that's certified grass fed and humanely handled at $19 a pound, or the organic one from the specialty shop that's almost $30 a pound. Unless lots of people opt for the pricier one, my own choice isn't going to do much but make me feel better.

On the significant impact side, I was chatting with the manager of our local, locally-owned supermarket and he said that they're buying 1/3 fewer bags than last year, and it's not because they're selling 1/3 less food. People around here are starting to re-train themselves into bringing their own bags to the store. They actually supported the plastic bag ban that got shot down by a corporate-backed initiative.

Re: soda distribution, there's a middle-ground - reusable plastic bottles. Germany has almost entirely switched over. You use less energy than hauling all that glass around, and generate less plastic waste. Of course, it took government intervention to make that happen, but in Germany not everyone thinks the government is inept or evil (which is surprising considering how they spent much of the 20th Century.)

#268 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 10:34 PM:

re 265: It's not that our systems are built to diffuse responsibility. It's that the very existence of larger-than-a-village social interaction and commerce makes diffusion inevitable.

#269 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 10:59 PM:

Charlie @249

Actually, I didn't mean a "better" future -- I was talking about any viable future at all. It sometimes feels like the world is living by the rule of "eat dessert first" because they don't expect to be around for the end of the meal.

#270 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2011, 11:04 PM:

268: Living more locally definitely helps.

But the publicly traded corporation is surely a prime example of a way to diffuse responsibility, where you cannot really hold any person responsible for its actions.

You end up with a machine, in a sense: the Corp's goal is profit for its shareholders. The executives gets chosen by the board who get voted in by the shareholders. Company X does some less-than-ideal things, but if they didn't they'd go broke and be replaced by company Y or Z: they need to stay competitive in a market where companies A, B, C etc. all do some unfortunate things.

(Apple under Jobs is a notable exception, not only for clear leadership, but also end-to-end vertical integration. Most Corps have disintegrated vertically and merged horizontally, which creates more of this "left hand not knowing right" diffusion.)

So it's nobody's fault, really; even if we did a poll and found out that the majority of humans don't want pollution and wars they would continue.

It's a massive mutual Prisoner's dilemma. But it's not altogether hopeless.

#271 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 02:52 AM:

Larry Brennan @ 259: well, that's one of several reasons why I didn't find the analysis convincing.

What I found interesting was not simply that it was being discussed on a bus, but that it was being discussed on a bus in Ankara, Turkey (which is where I live).

#272 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 03:38 AM:


I'm still waiting for the explanation of this...

These people are now free to do something a bit more, you know, meaningful or fun or useful. Or they could spend a year walking across India or whatever: the notion that Everyone has to Stay Busy all the time is bogus, just further control levers.

...that doesn't have me reaching for my wooden spoon.

Please, please at least tell me you are drinking that Dr Publix in a squat, wearing secondhand clothing, after doing some meaningful job without regard to the pay. Tell me you type your comments on seven year old donated computer.

That would still leave you being a jerk to the people with dependents and obligations for which they need money, but it would at least mean you weren't being a hypocrite, too.

First, see the real world. Then propose changes, and take account of the secondary as well as primary effects of those changes when you do so.

#273 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 04:56 AM:

abi, this is getting tiresome. SamChevre in 234 understands what I'm saying, it's pretty simple. Here, let me repeat some things:

I offer no solutions. Just: first, see.

Thought experiment.
PepsiCo is a thought experiment about money, its uses and abuses. People - the human kind - should be free to do whatever they want and organize however they want.

There are no easy answers, but there sure are some vital and urgent questions.

"But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting.”
― Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

#274 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 05:38 AM:

Cliff @266: your model for provision of soda drinks exists and has already been successfully monetized. Evidence: the SodaStream™ machine in my kitchen, and the empty CO2 cylinder I'm about to take in to the store to swap for a full refill. Alternatively, all the pubs in this entire freaking country have post-mix machines that dispense carbonated water and flavour mixers at the touch of a button.

You know what? It's still a minority pursuit. Works fine in the home, or in the bar, but if you're out shopping on a hot day there's no substitute for a refrigerated vending machine; even if you had the foresight to always take a bottle of home brew along, it gets warm/goes flat/you drink it sooner or later.

Your fellow hominids like convenience and you will have to take it from their cold dead hands if you expect them to give it up willingly.

#275 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 05:47 AM:

Computers _can_ be a bicycle for the mind, as Jobs said. Me and my friends grew up with ZX Spectrums, C64s, and the like. Most of us learned to code. It changes how you think a bit.

Alan Kay's vision was to let kids play with computers they could program themselves, from an early age. Again, his original paper is a pretty quick read, you can skim the technical details. He's no lightweight, look him up.

"For the person who understands code, the whole world reveals itself as a series of decisions made by planners and designers for how the rest of us should live. Not just computers, but everything from the way streets are organized in a town to the way election rules [are tilted] begin to look like what they are: sets of rules developed to promote certain outcomes."
-- Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, Douglas Rushkoff

-- Yes: this.

Being in such a rush for answers is part of the problem. OWS gets this right: the media keeps pushing for demands, positions, statements.

I have no solutions. I'm trying to get a clear view of the problem.

And sure, I'm a hypocrite. I repeat: I'm one of the 5%. Making the mark complicit is central to all cons.

#276 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 05:55 AM:

Charlie, you missed this part of 266:
"Why don't we? One answer is that it's my fault. I like the convenience, I'm lazy. The "System", which I built, encourages this desire for instant gratification."

I've explained myself enough for now.

#277 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 06:11 AM:


Don't talk down to me, or assume I don't understand what you're saying. Don't construct a special club of people who "get it" and hide behind them so you don't have to tackle the awkward details.

I get it. If you're the age you're acting, I got it before you were born. I'm decades beyond getting it, years into dealing with the fact that it doesn't give me any tools to deal with the reality that's right in front of us here in the world.

The systems of this world are constructed, not inevitable. And they're far from perfect; indeed, they're falling down. But they're already here, more solid than bricks and mortar, embedded in the momentum of all of our lives. They're the way we get our food and our housing and our clothing. If the whole mad mess stops completely, the way your thought experiments propose they do, we starve. And we may starve anyway, because (as I said) they're falling down.

The house is on fire, and you want to get your crayons and draw me a picture of someplace without walls so that they don't burn. It's very nice, but so what?

Don't lecture us about getting it again.

#278 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 06:23 AM:

Everything, except this:
"more solid than bricks and mortar"

And you're *still* suggesting I'm proposing action, like just abandoning the whole system. I'm not that stupid. You keep implying that I am, that I'm childish or woo woo. I find *that* condescending.

But discussing this has helped clarify my thinking, and has me rewording things, for which I thank you.

We're not enemies.

#279 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 06:30 AM:

"Making the mark complicit is central to all cons."

To put it more politely than I'd originally been inclined to, nonsense. What you describe is a feature of many cons, but there are lots of cons that are not based on it, or that don't make it central.

Consider, for instance, James Fallows' recent harrowing tale of his wife's Gmail account getting hacked to send out messages saying "I've been mugged in a foreign country and have lost everything; please wire me money." Lots of email accounts have been hacked to pull this con, and it's one that relies not on the victims' "complicity", but on their compassion.

The idea that a victim must necessarily be complicit in a con, and the associated phrase "You can't cheat an honest man," are things con artists say to shift blame off of themselves and onto the victim. They're in a sense cons in themselves, and ones that rely on the mark's self-doubts, not his complicity.

(Cons and their nature are a recurring theme in this forum, as regular readers know. See, for instance, this 2002 post from one of our gracious hosts, who also addresses this particular canard briefly at comment #36.)

#280 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 08:49 AM:

Weirdly, I think I agree with cliff, so let me articulate the point using a different example. I much prefer RC to Pepsi, but I'm not thinking the Pepsi was the point.

A big portion of my job is figuring out regulatory workarounds. (I work in an industry with one particularly counter-productive regulation, which everyone works around in ways variously confusing and expensive.) What I do, given the world we live in, is useful and important, and I find it interesting, and I make a decent living doing it.

In a sensible world, my job would not need doing. It's part of the "digging holes and filling them back up" sector, and there's a fair lot of jobs, at all skill levels, that are in that sector. If we got rid of those jobs, the people who have them would be very much worse off. (I was out of work half of the last 3 years: it was not pleasant.)

But I still maintain that sensible regulations, sensible tax laws, sensible copyright and patent laws, sensible medical claims processing would be a good thing, even though a lot of jobs that people depend on for a living depend on the current not-at-all-sensible laws.

I'm not sure how you get there from here, but I think cliff's point is a key one to keep in mind. The problem with eliminating the "digging holes and filling them back up" portion of the economy is NOT "will there be enough stuff to go around?": it's how we distribute the stuff.

#281 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 09:37 AM:


My real problem with your contributions to this thread is not so much the content of your comments as your mystery-religion approach. In effect, you seek to divide the commentariat into people who "get it" and people who don't. Furthermore, your comments assume that the former have a clear moral/intellectual advantage over the latter.

As I said waaaaay up there at 81, I'm all too familiar with that mindset. I don't buy either the mysteriousness of your mystery or the inherent value that grasping it imbues in a person.

Furthermore, as a moderator in this community, I'm powerfully allergic to rhetorical approaches which assert the commenter's superiority over others, particularly others in the conversation.

Really, truly, honestly: drop the entire theme of "do you get it?", along with the notion that your childlike/developer's* mindset is giving you some special insight to the world. State your piece plainly and stop trying to turn it into any kind of litmus test for the other people in this conversation.

We're not enemies. But you have some re-orientation to do before we're really allies, at least in this conversation.

* Really quit it with the dev superiority. Do you know what I do for a living? Do you want me to list the weaknesses of the developer mindset for you?

#282 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 10:05 AM:

Abi @ 281... the mysteriousness of your mystery

Now I want to pop in my DVD of "Mystery Men".
I mean, William H Macy. Ben Stiller, Jeaneane Garofalo, Wes Studi...

#283 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 10:23 AM:

From a decidedly outsider and undereducated (in these matters) perspective:

The root of "economics" is "oikos", household.

For me, and I suspect for others, the central economic question is "how do I provide food, shelter, health care and education for my family?"

That is not the only economic questions. But for me, it is a litmus test of sorts. Does a particular philosophy or proposal make it harder for a whole bunch of people to feed, house, doctor and educate their families? Then to hell with it. (I'm looking at you, for one, Herman Cain.)

Yes, there are a lot of other critical issues--sustainability, for one. But the household issue is primary.

I am currently in about the 70th percentile for household income in the US, which makes me pretty damned elite. But I have a lot of patients who are struggling just either side of the poverty line; I had some 'government cheese' years earlier; and like a lot of the middle class, I saw about a third of our retirement go up in smoke a few years ago. Chances of my staying healthy enough to work in my physically demanding job till I'm 75? Pretty slim. Prospects if I don't? Daunting. And if my husband were to become disabled or lose his job, our only source of health insurance and retirement benefits, we would be in deep shit.

#284 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 12:41 PM:

C. Wingate @ 268: "It's not that our systems are built to diffuse responsibility. It's that the very existence of larger-than-a-village social interaction and commerce makes diffusion inevitable."

That is very much a just-so story that conflates the particularities of our current economic system and the deep structures of the universe. Systems designed to maintain responsibility in large societies: religion, karma, honor codes, legal systems, so on. That we've become so dependent on market systems, which are very good at tracking and maximizing economic efficiency and diffusing everything else is partly, to be sure, because it is a system able to outcompete many others, but also assuredly because of some degree of historical contingency. Other worlds are possible.

#285 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 02:55 PM:

Dave Howell: Pshaw. Newcomers. I still have, in its original box, my first computer, an Ohio Scientific Challenger 1P that I purchased in June of 1980.

Oooh! You had MONEY! I drooled over the old OSI computers, but couldn't afford anything until I did a car delivery to a cargo ship radio operator over in Westport, which got me *just* enough cash to buy a Timex/Sinclair from an car dealer who had bought a bunch of them as incentives for car purchases and who subsequently realized that nobody wanted them. Wanna borrow it?

#286 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 02:56 PM:

The Arkandaughter and I just got back from the Occupy Little Rock march here in Arkansas.

It was one of the very best of all the many demonstrations I've ever attended. What it most reminded me of was the descriptions of the early anti-Vietnam War marches. It took me a long time to find any of the 'usual suspects'. I don't have a simple description of those who were there. It was a very mixed crowd, united only by being pissed off at business as usual.

I'd be willing to bet money it was the first time the vast majority of those folks had ever been to any sort of protest. I don't think they realized exactly how radical their desire to be treated as human beings is. I think that'll come with time, and this movement--which is what it is--has the legs to give them that time.

This was really great.

#287 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 03:30 PM:

John A @ #286, too few photos of Occupy Little Rock to find you and your daughter, I expect.

#288 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 04:25 PM:
The root of "economics" is "oikos", household.
So “Home Economics” has RAS syndrome as well as being euphemistic?
#289 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 04:35 PM:

Linkmeister @ 287: If I see one with us in it, I'll post the link. She's the little blond girl and I'm the guy in this t-shirt, a baseball cap, and reflective cop glasses. My sign said "Free-dom now!" (in two lines, with the hyphen--I miscalculated my space) and below it "No! To Stephens, Inc!". (They're the local bond daddies and media monopolists.)

#290 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 05:21 PM:

This comment really belongs on OT 164, but somehow it seems to me it fits here -- not sure why.

It appears that Rush Limbaugh, on whom fall many plagues, has decided to come out in favor of The Lord's Resistance Army, because it is something that President Obama is against. He thinks they are Christians. Words fail me.Indeed, the world is too complicated to encompass. But the moral status of The Lord's Resistance Army is not complicated at all. (Sorry, no links -- I'm too pissed off to remember how to do that.)

cliff, you don't like being condescended to? Then it behooves you to moderate your tone, which is grating on the nerves with condescension. Who are you addressing when you say, First see? Because it's arrogant as hell for you to assume that the folks you are conversing with are not seeing as clearly, and possibly more clearly, than you are. Or is that instructional phrase merely a rhetorical flourish, aimed at -- no one in particular? If it is that: well, I find it irritating. From Ram Dass I take "Be here now." You, not so much.

#291 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 06:04 PM:

Kevin @ #288, yes, though I knew it only as PNS ("PIN number syndrome"). The Dilbert version is "TTP" ("The TTP Project").

I'm guessing the Greek for "home economics" would be something like "oikounomekos oikoi" but someone more knowledgeable will likely correct me.

#292 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 07:20 PM:

Lizzy L @ 290... I take it that members of the Resistance Army aren't people who grew up watching "The Electric Company".

#293 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2011, 07:46 PM:

The New York Occupiers have taken over Times Square and the NYC Counter-Terrorism squad is on the scene.

#294 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 12:19 AM:

Linkmeister @ 287: We're in this video, walking away, right near the center of the video, starting at about 0:47 seconds in.

#295 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 01:04 AM:

The little translation widget on my Mac gives βασικά οικονομικά for "home economics" (and it gives économie ménagère as the French, so it sounds like it does recognize the phrase).

#296 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 01:21 AM:

John A @ #294, that's a nice pleasant street for marching.

#297 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 01:40 AM:

Hmmm. This could be interesting:

Occupy the Board Room

Find a pen-pal! Find a BFF! Dozens of executives and board members to choose from.

#298 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 04:19 AM:

Lizzy L @ 290: Shortly afterwards, he appears to have gone into a whufflepanic and cast the subject hastily aside for 'further research', as somebody slipped him the word that the LRA are in fact rat poison soaked in manticore piss according to everybody, liable no doubt shortly to include his sponsors.

I admit to having been cynical enough to suspect the whole announcement was made with an eye to getting one or more of the big theocons to autodarwinate, by saying something like this before their brains or their staff caught up with them. And I'm just the tiniest bit surprised that this was the only jobbie so flushed.

#299 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 06:47 AM:

Serge @292: the LRA are not a laughing matter. Per wikipedia, who if anything understate how vile they are:

The Lord's Resistance Army is a Christian religious and militant Terrorist group, which operates in northern Uganda and South Sudan.

The LRA was formed in 1987 and until about 2007 it was engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government. It is led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the "spokesperson" of God and a spirit medium, primarily of the Holy Spirit, which the group believe can represent itself in many manifestations.
The group is based on a number of different beliefs including local religious rituals, mysticism, traditional religion, Acholi nationalism and Christianity and claims to be establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments and local Acholi tradition.
The LRA is accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children and forcing children to participate in hostilities.

Emphasis on the "widespread human rights violations":

The bulk of the soldiers fighting for the LRA are children. According to Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Yoweri Museveni was the first to use child soldiers in this conflict. Since the LRA first started fighting in 1987 they may have forced well over 10,000 boys and girls into combat, often killing family, neighbors and school teachers in the process.

Many of these children were put on the front lines so the casualty rate for these children has been high. They have often used children to fight because they are easy to replace by raiding schools or villages.
#300 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 08:04 AM:

Charlie Stross @ 299... Shall we make a deal? You deal with the ghastly aspects of the modern world as you see fit, and I will deal with them as I see fit.

#301 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 08:37 AM:

Serge @300: Deal.

#302 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 09:32 AM:

Lizzie L @290 -- Don't know if the person had listened to Rush first, but I saw someone on another forum write an impassioned post in favor of the LRA (and against Obama's involvement, natch). She managed to quote the Wikipedia article Charlie linked to without noting a word of the criminal behavior therein, just cutting and pasting the LRA's self-styled positive motives. The desire to discredit Obama is just breathtaking sometimes, with all the tunnel vision and intellectual bankruptcy that accompany it.

#303 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 02:50 PM:

Debbie @ 302:

Indeed, the LRA is one of most morally corrupt organizations in the world today (and that is saying a great deal); it's unbelievable that anyone could be so clueless as to read the description of some of their nastier acts and still praise them. I'm not sure if it's the need to discredit Obama or the need to justify anyone who claims to be a devout Christian, battling the "godless".

#304 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 03:18 PM:

Bruce @ #303, I'm not sure if it's the need to discredit Obama or the need to justify anyone who claims to be a devout Christian, battling the "godless".

Can't it be both? After all, "he's a black man, a Democrat, and what about all those people who say he's secretly a Muslim? They can't all be wrong, can they?"

#305 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2011, 03:57 PM:

@ 304... You forgot the part about his not even being an American. He himself said he was from Krypton, remember?

#306 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 02:00 PM:

Annnnd my reading on the plane to CA was Charlie's The Atrocity Archive. In the first few pages one of the narrator's crazy geek roommates figures out how to make an omelet without breaking eggs (though not by my definition of an omelet, which requires some ingredient other than the egg itself).

I now feel very silly.

#307 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 02:19 PM:


But IIRC the omelet wasn't very edible, which begs the question why make it in the first place (because he can, is the answer in this case, I think).

After all, you could probably cook eggs by dropping them into H2SO4, or into LOX, but I doubt either would be edible.

#308 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 02:24 PM:

To go back to SamChevre @280 for a minute...I think you have your finger on something that many of us feel deeply but don't have much of a vocabulary to articulate.

I read somewhere, some time ago, that famines are (or were not then; wait for climate change to catch up with us) not so much a problem with the quantity of food available as with its distribution. In other words, the planet is producing enough calories for the humans it carries, but we're not good at getting them to the hungry. So the not-hungry waste them.

The feeling that we are "digging holes and filling them back up" strikes me as much the same thing in terms of human labor. There is so much work to be done in the world: children to teach, sick people to care for, roads to build, spills to clean up, experiments to perform, art and music to make. But there's the same kind of misdistribution of work, particularly remunerated work, so we end up wasting our hours and our labor on pointless things, or burning it up in organizational friction.

I don't know how to address this. We discuss valuing teachers more, and talk about the fundamental uselessness of derivatives traders, but there doesn't seem to be any way, in our current system, to pay the former what they're worth and figure out what to do if we don't need the latter.

Or perhaps it's merely a chimera, a small cog's dream of a simpler, more comprehensibly useful machine.

#310 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 02:44 PM:

Bruce @307: pickled eggs are a staple pub food in Scotland. You get your eggs, wash them, then dump them into a jar of non-brewed condiment (read: artificial vinegar -- acetic acid and water) for 2-4 weeks. The calcium carbonate of the shell dissolves in the acid, but not before the proteins in the white and the yolk have coagulated. Amusingly, brown shelled eggs remain brown: the pigment diffuses into the outermost layer of the egg.

They taste like, well, hard-boiled eggs in vinegar. Do it at home with good quality wine vinegar (or even balsamic) for best results.

#312 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 03:26 PM:

abi @ 308

I read somewhere, some time ago, that famines are ... not so much a problem with the quantity of food available as with its distribution.

This is from Amartya Sen, and the actual result is even worse than you are remembering. It's not just that the world has emough food; it's that in most famines, the region where the famine occurs has enough food.

Charlie Stross @ 310

Pickled eggs are a staple pub food in Scotland...
Yet another entry in the annals of "Appalachia is significantly Scottish;" every country store where I grew up had a jar of these on the counter, except that they were colored bright red.

#313 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 03:30 PM:

abi @308 following up on SamChevre @280

In theory, I don't think a more sensible distribution of labor and value is a chimera. I think it's both a practical necessity for a sustainable society and a moral imperative for a better one. But how you make it happen, I haven't a clue. Once you get out of the realm of actively-harmful goods (e.g. adulterated food, or children's toys with lead) there's such a risk of the cure being worse than the disease. And there will, of course, be differences of opinion even on what constitutes "actively-harmful."

People should be able to spend their time and money in ways that they choose, within the constraints imposed by living among others. The disagreement is about the shape and nature of those constraints - and, I suppose, about who gets to determine them. At a bare minimum, you have legal constraints and social expectations, which are neither synonymous nor interchangeable.

As stated, that seems banal. I've been trying unsuccessfully for the last 20 minutes to expand on it. Bah. Tossed out here anyway.

#314 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 04:21 PM:

Re: Digging and Filling of Holes: It seems to me that we *need* a certain amount of this to keep the wheels turning. If people can earn a living digging and filling who would be unemployed otherwise, it's OK for a while.

As part of other jobs, it creates a bit of slack - things that can be dropped when bigger things come up - giving an organization more flexibility.

I say dig 'em if you have the capacity, and fill 'em if you've got the time. Who knows, you might even strike gold.

#315 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 06:17 PM:

OtterB #313: Well, try this: If you think of human labor as a machine... what is it for? What objectives, what input, what output?

... then again, maybe it's not a machine. Human society in general isn't! Societies aren't something that get built for a purpose, and maintained toward that purpose. They're ecosystems and they evolved out of the collective ends of their members. If people are being directed toward useless or counterproductive work, that's a problem, but it's not the sort that can be handled as a flaw in a machine: It's an element of the human ecology, and to remove it demands that we address not just "those people doing useless stuff", but the currents and flows around it -- where are their salaries coming from? Why are people paying those salaries? How else might these people contribute to society, and can that earn them a living? If not, why not? And so forth....

#316 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2011, 06:25 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz (#311) Wow. That looks like waaay too much work. Although I am grateful to the evil mad scientist for doing the research to prove it.

#317 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 10:43 AM:

If people can earn a living digging and filling who would be unemployed otherwise, it's OK for a while.

ISTM that this presupposes that it's better to be employed at something useless than unemployed. Why? Because you don't get a paycheck for being unemployed? But if your job is useless, in what sense are you earning your paycheck by doing it? You might as well give the uselessly employed and the unemployed the same paycheck, since they're contributing the same amount to the good of society; at which point it's a guaranteed minimum income and the uselessly employed might as well stay home.

#318 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 12:39 PM:

It's easy to get so caught up in worrying about these big, depressing problems and all this gloom and doom talk, that sometimes, we miss the good things happening right here in front of us.

In fact, I had been starting to feel a bit down myself and was due for a med tuneup on Friday, thanks to my buddy Joe. (He may be my manager, but he cares, you know? He saw my numbers starting to slip and he put me right on the MedTune list, ahead of Gilda!)

But then I checked my inbox this morning -- and boy howdy if those geniuses at Wells Fargo haven't done it again!

Enjoy More Payment Flexibility


Pay bills using your Wells Fargo checking account, credit card, Home Equity Line of Credit, or Personal Line of Credit

YUM! So let me get this straight -- I just start with that first account, right? And then kinda work my way down one by one?

Oh GOODY! I can't WAIT to start Enjoying More Payment Flexibility!

#319 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 12:50 PM:

Cliff @318--I have found that I may assume, when dealing with banks, that they are going to find a way to make more of my money theirs with just about anything they offer. I have rarely been disappointed with the results of this mental approach, and it saves a great deal of time in planning.

#320 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 02:48 PM:

David Harmon @315 The ecological analogy is interesting. And cautionary; it implies that interventions are likely to have complex, nonlinear results.

This is linking up in my head with a book I'm off-and-on reading, Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, by Emma Marris. It says, essentially, there's no such thing as a pristine ecosystem untouched by human influence. Get over it. There are still ways to make ecosystems healthier.

(Going off to think about this some more.)

#321 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 03:43 PM:

chris #317.

There are a number of (sometimes) good reasons why being employed uselessly can be better than being unemployed and staying at home.

Start with:
It gives the Lie Direct to those arseholes who tell us that the unemployed are so because they are lazy.

Go on to:
The transition from employed, but not usefully, to usefully employed, is a lot easier, for employee and employer (and, I would hazard, wider society as well) than the transition ftom unemplyed to employed. There are multiple reasons for this, including the advantage of already being used to showing up for work and duties as directed.

I have no doubt the wise people of this community can think of many more such reasons.

J Homes.

#322 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 04:43 PM:

J Homes @321 and chris @317

There is a difference between "employed uselessly" as some kind of a transitional strategy and as a permanent fix. It makes a lousy permanent fix. IMHO it may be useful as a transition strategy. It's clearly not the preferred option.

#323 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 04:59 PM:

J Homes, #321: Quite.

(Summary: an increasing number of job listings specify that applicants must already have a job. If you're unemployed and looking for work... well, you're out of luck.)

#324 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 06:46 PM:


That really makes no sense to me as a hiring strategy. I would think you could get jobless people to take lower salaries than ones who are switching, and the jobless ones would even feel grateful to have something, anything.

#325 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 07:21 PM:

Re: job postings specifying that only the already employed need apply, I have a recollection of reading...somewhere, relatively recently, that the rationale (and I use the term loosely) behind this is "If you aren't already employed, you're too lazy to bother with."

Which of course ignores all those statistics that indicate there are more job-seekers than available jobs (last I read was 3.1M jobs vs. 14M unemployed). That doesn't make those of us who are unemployed (or freelancers trying to transition into full-time employment in order to do things like save our homes...) lazy, it makes us holders of the wrong end of a very unpleasant stick.

Fortunately, I have also been hearing/reading that such listings are being challenged as discriminatory--which they are, from my seat, anyway. YMMV.

#326 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 08:47 PM:

Sam and abi:

It's clearly true that many things could be done better, more effiiciently. But whenever I hear people suggesting this on a large society- or even company-rearranging level, it sounds to me just like the eternal claim of politicians that they will cut government spending by eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse, eliminating redundancy, streamlining operations, etc. And usually the result is that nothing happens, since the existing level of waste, fraud, and abuse is pretty much what we know how to get. Large restructurings can sometimes eliminate a huge amount of existing waste, fraud, abuse, overhead, unneccessary administrative levels, etc., but generally they replace them with a new chunk of all those things, just distributed differently.

A similar and common story is that some new manager decides to make his mark on the company by restructuring some important part of the business to cut costs. And inevitably, there is a short-term cost cut. But quite often, this is accompanied by a larger rise in long-term costs or a increased vulnerability to some kind of disaster. ("Eliminating redundancy" is pretty much another way of saying "getting rid of the safety margin in the system.")

This isnt to say that no change for the better is possible. In my lifetime, there have been constant improvements in the way many things are done, and corresponding drops in costs and increases in quality of services and products. But there is a huge difference between saying "we could eliminate most of these people standing around in the Dept of Commerce or the Pepsi corporation and still get the work done," and knowing how to do that. Often, those apparently unimportant people are critically important in some non-obvious way. (Once they're gone, the criticality often becomes obvious--"ah, *that*'s why the company always kept that little office around.")

#327 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 08:59 PM:


There's an interesting and hard to deal with problem at the core of that: Even in this shitty economy, people with jobs are going to be, on average, a little better choices than people without jobs. Some of the people without jobs will have been let go because they were bad employees or were calling in sick too often or something. Mostly, they will just be people who got laid off because their employer folded or something, but knowing that I'm out of work still has some information for you as an employer. Something similar happens with credit reports--your credit rating isn't all that relevant for whether you're a good carpenter or programmer, but it conveys some information--someone with really bad credit may have other lurking problems, like a drug problem or some kind of health problem.

In a market where employers have a lot of choices for each job, it probably doesnt cost them much to filter on these things. And these things are surely somewhat correlated with the stuff the employer cares about, and it gives the employer a quick way to narrow the pile of 100 resumes down to 40.

The problem is that having employers use that information creates a really nasty amplifier of random noise in peoples' lives--your company folds because the bookkeeper headed to Brazil with the secretary and the payroll, and you're out of work for a year and have wrecked credit and thus become very unlikely to get a job.

I dont have a good solution to this (we could presumably ban using such things in principle, but it's not like you can exactly keep employers from asking about your work history.

#328 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2011, 09:30 PM:

chris #317, Syd #325: There's also the matter that stretches of unemployment are hard on peoples' psyches in general -- the companies don't want to deal with "rehabbing" someone who's been out of work for a while. I speculate also that after being unemployed for a while, people might not be quite so accepting of abusive or exploitative workplaces, given they've learned that unemployment != death.

#329 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2011, 01:00 AM:

albatross @ 326:

High efficiency is not always a desirable goal, especially in a complex system like a society or an ecosystem. The widespread use of "just-in-time" supply chains, for instance, has resulted in very high efficiencies, but has left the global supply system vulnerable to demand shocks, manipulation by speculators, and cascade failures due to natural or economic disaster. The main cause of this vulnerability is that there's much less slack in the system than there used to be (we wanted to get rid of it because it's inefficient, right?) so anything that perturbs the supply at some point in the chain beyond the ability of the upstream suppliers to compensate for causes disruption to the downstream suppliers and consumers.

Same thing for diversity, which could be considered an inefficient way to structure systems, because you can usually make a less diverse system do at least as well as long as the environment remains status quo. But if things change beyond the ability of the less diverse system to handle, the reserve of different subsystems isn't there to take over. That's why monocultures are so vulnerable: a single new pest can destroy them.

#330 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2011, 08:17 AM:

Yesterday, I said good things about the original Luddites. Today I wish to speak up in support of slack.

#331 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2011, 09:14 AM:

This is an interesting conversation, and please don't let me derail it.

My point wasn't about slack/robustness/low-value-added-by-some metric work. It was about work that is necessary only due to systemic problems; that the work will go away is not (for me) an argument against fixing the system.

Two examples:
1) if the US tax system were simpler, clearer, and more intuitive[1], much less time would need to be spent filling out tax returns. This would be bad for tax return preparers; that it would be bad for tax return preparers isn't an argument against a more streamlined tax system.
2) if the US copyright and patent system weren't such a mess[2], a fair number of people who specialize in copyright research and enforcement would not have anything to do. Again, this is not a reason to keep the system we have.

1] Say, for example,that corporations paid taxes on undistributed GAAP earnings rather than on a completely separate basis.
2] Say, for example, that there was a central clearinghouse for finding out whether something was copyrighted, with the right to give default permission to use/republish work with no identified owner.
3] Note carefully that I'm not arguing for getting rid of patent and copyright, or changing tax incidence; I'm only saying that "in a sensible system, this job wouldn't need doing" isn't a good argument against the sensible system.

#332 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2011, 09:26 AM:

SamChevre @331 Noted. There examples in US healthcare. Switching to a single payer system wouldn't eliminate the need to watch for fraud but it would eliminate some categories of fraud. Likewise the paperwork needed to support COBRA eligibility and payment. Etc.

#334 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2011, 10:05 PM:

Bruce Cohen STM at # 329: Well, there's efficiency and then there's Efficiency. As someone (I think it was IT management guru Bob Lewis) said, when you optimize the parts you sub-optimize the whole.

#335 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 12:57 AM:

Allan Beatty @ 334:

The most common, and IMO the most expensive, single mistake made on software projects is premature optimization: making design decisions based on intuitions about performance before correct behavior is taken into account, and before performance is measured. Often attempts to optimize parts or wholes are misguided. But that's another rant.

#336 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 03:30 AM:

Bruve Cohen, 329:

"Slack," third time today!

JIT means carrying *as little inventory as possible*, right? Obviously not a good idea when you step back from the profit = income - cost perspective...but with margins as thin as they are, you'll go broke if you don't do what the others are doing -- we end up all tightening each other's nooses some more.

It makes the whole system that much more vulnerable to the unexpected.
It's not as visible on the internet, but nondoubt that e.g. all these Groupon styl "half off" services will turn out positive for the participating businesses in the end.

I'm curious, but kinda scared to find out, e.g. how many days NYC supermarkets have on hand in 2011 vs say 91 and 81, if resupply becomes difficult?

The SubGenius Must Have Slack!

What's funny -- we'll look back on this and laugh! if we survive -- is that so much of it was rationalized on the basis of one simplistic misreading: Darwin's "fittest" isn't _strongest_, it's _most adaptable_.

(which is why I'm betting
Us: 2, Lizards: 0!


A lot of the Slack - maybe the vast majority - has been at the cost of employees. And that has epffects elsewhere, not just the obvious time, money, workload ones: when your company procedures are fully specified, and there are no more hidden places or free moments for conversations to spring up in the background of things, your company starts malfunctioning _more_. It's us irrational monkeys who've been keeping the Mechanism working at all, sometimes:

My first job in NYC, people would stop and chat here and there; we'd hang out by the copier or in the kitchen for a minute. And when you had some Office Depot supplies to buy, you wrote out a Purxhsw Order and took the elevator down to the basement to enterl Frank's mlair. Partly so he couldn't tell you next week he never got your PO, but mainly just to get away for a bit, have a smoke, mostly listen.

And a lot of the problems caused by the latest genius manager's new grand scheme, would get worked out, solved or bypassed, in conversations in Frank's basement. and similar places, by the people who were going to be doing the actual work, and wanted it to oactually work (cause if it didnt work, we would be the people cleaning). There's always been Qeng Ho.

One time Frank made one quiet call, five minutes, and by Friday the plan was "Undernpolicy.".

Another time, me and a co-worker figured- since our manager didn't understand the problem - to follow instructions as given, and let her "discover" the solution when the numbers didn't add up. "Huh, $10,500. Hm? Oh nothing, just a funny coincidence."

That was twenty uears ago. All the Franks are gone, and the people stuck inside the machine are forced to act more and more like machines.

The machines will take themselves.

800 customer service numbers raise this insanity - I use the word precisely - to an art form. You navigate the computer maze to speak to a human who "says"

"Thank you for calling AT&T. My name is Melissa, Customer Service ID 3298, how may I be of service today"

-- and Melissa will be reading all her other lines from the screen as well.

Remember when we thought computers were supposed to follow _our_ commands?

P.S. Sudoku sure is popular these days, but it doesn't look much fun. Maybe it's more like _preparation_ for something, you know?
"OK! Now see if you can restrict ONE LAST degree of freedom!"

#337 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 01:52 PM:

While I sympathise with John Arkansawyer @ 4's feelings about the horned octopus, some attempts to find anti-semitic imagery in OWS symbols strike me as a bit of a stretch.

It also strikes me that anyone who's reflexively inclined to look for anti-semitic motivations in an anti-capitalist movement may be in the grip of some fairly strong anti-semitic prejudices of their own.

#338 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 01:57 PM:

Hashtag-previewfail: ahem.

That last sentence didn't come out right. What I meant to say was:

It also strikes me that anyone who's reflexively inclined to look for anti-semitic motivations in an anti-capitalist movement may be in the grip of some fairly strong anti-semitic stereotypes of their own.

#339 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 01:59 PM:


There is a limit to how many times I'm willing to ask you to confine yourself to consensus reality and conventional means of engaging with the conversation. This, in point of fact, is that limit.

Although you've made some useful observations, you seem to fall back again and again into the pattern of writing very long, disjointed and rambling comments, consisting mostly of generalities and vagueness. It's difficult for other people in the conversation to find anything to engage with in them, but they're also tremendously disruptive to the flow of the discussion. It's rather like trying to talk to one another in the same room as someone reading a newspaper aloud. Even when the articles are relevant, it's distracting.

Since the better comments you've made on this thread have tended to be the shorter ones, I'm afraid I'm going to impose a length restriction. Anything that you write over 250 words from this point forward will be unpublished as soon as I find them.

If you can demonstrate a pattern of coherent, relevant contributions, I'll lengthen or lift the restriction. But for the moment, please make brevity the soul of your wit.

#340 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 02:20 PM:

Part of the loss of slack is probably related to rewarding what you can measure. That leads to rewarding:

a. Short term improvements in performance that have hard-to-see long-term costs.

b. Improvements in average performance whose benefits will be wiped out the day the 1/1000 or 1/1000000 event happens.

(b) is really a subset of (a), but a particularly hard one to deal with, because it's easy to measure average performance, but very hard to predict how a complicated system will respond to an event you dont even know is possible, yet.

#341 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 02:36 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 337: Wrong thread, right sentiment! ;-)

#342 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 03:02 PM:

This tale of yet another shameful NPR move might be somewhat confusing.

Lisa Simeone has been fired from "Soundprint" but not (so far) from "World of Opera" for having participated in the Occupy movement outside of work hours.

She is a freelancer who does not work for NPR, but apparently NPR has the power to get her fired, invoking their unethical "ethics code." Her real offense was offending the right-wing blogs -- who were furious when Juan Williams was suspended for making his anti-muslim and islam attacks on the air -- as a guest, on Fox -- but he has been a Fox News employee since 1987.

The NPR ethics code is long and vague. It looks kinda like it could be used to play gotcha with almost anyone. If I read it right, it extends well beyond ethics, instructing that

>The primary professional responsibility of NPR journalists is to NPR. They should never work in direct competition with NPR. An example of competing with NPR would be breaking a story or contributing a feature for another broadcast outlet or Web site before offering the work to NPR.

That's ethics? Sounds more like a business demanding a right of exclusivity. Another section states that the code applies to freelancers as well as regularly salaried journalists. I say that demanding first-look from freelancers and calling it an ethics code is sleazy.

So does this "ethics" code apply to Mara Liaason, who appears both on NPR and on the ultrapartisan Fox News (a fact not noted on her NPR biography page)? Or to professional conservative David Brooks, whose Times sinecure is surely his "primary professional responsibility?" But --NPR-WNYC -- the largest public radio station audience in the corporation -- has an overt, even advertised mutual re-inforcement relationship
with the NY Times to use the same people and run the same stories -- this is supposed to be a plus, they tell us even infinitely right now during their autumn fund raiser.

Love, C.

#343 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 08:19 PM:

Constance @342 NPR probably pushed for the firing from Soundprint, despite their denials. I long ago gave up the idea that NPR stands for anything but Nice Polite Republicans.

#344 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2011, 10:52 PM:

Re: the comment about Groupon and similar discount programs, if the owners of those businesses are anything like the owner of the clinic where I used to work, the hope is that (1) the deep discount in service prices will bring people in, and (2) the quality of the service itself will convert them to long-term clients paying at or near full price. This was the rationale behind the owner making the discounts of fitness and wellness services (Pilates instruction, massage therapy, etc.) available to new clients only.

What resulted, in this case, was a batch of people taking full advantage of the services at their reduced prices and disappearing when the discount ended. This may have been a contributor to the clinic's closure in August (although I now doubt it was a major reason, based on conversations I've had since then with people more in the know).

In every economy, there will be people who seek the bargains without regard to what you might call brand loyalty. In this economy, there are a lot of people who can't afford brand loyalty, even if they really like their Pilates instructor or massage therapist (to use examples from the clinic).

#345 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 01:32 AM:

Syd @ 344: A friend of mine did a Groupon for her Pilates business, and swore never again.

#346 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 03:16 AM:

abi, 339: fair enough and more.

Syd, 344: That's what I'm afraid most of Groupon's partners will see: a massive influx of bargain seekers, none of whom stick around (makes sense: they're on to the next deal).

App developer Shifty Jelly had a similar experience when they went along with Amazon's "think of the exposure!" pitch for making their app free for a day. You get exposure, alright: to cheapskates.

But money's tight all around: being cheap is the smart move.

(Here's where I tend to go off the rails, trying to connect a thousand dots...must...resist! Focus. Aim.)

We keep ending up with wrong outcomes, though all our steps are logical: the premises must be wrong.

#347 ::: cliff ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2011, 03:52 AM:

Glark, connection difficulties. Gnomes, kill a twin?

janetl: that's got to be the most frequent outcome.

#348 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 03:38 PM:

Larry Brennan@343 - I long ago gave up the idea that NPR stands for anything but Nice Polite Republicans.

I once filled out an online survey of where you get your news or what radio stations you listen to or something like that. I checked the box for "conservative radio" and put my local NPR station as the station. Presumably that wasn't a combination the survey folks expected, because NPR is not a right-wing ranting network, but they are conservative in the more traditional sense - they're the Establishment's radio station, with elitist programming and default respect for the government's statements about anything. (And I'm not using "elitist" as a criticism - it's high-quality in-depth content, and I like it, and if I want even more conservative elitist programming I listen to the BBC to hear what's going on in their empire.)

A couple of months ago, I was surprised to hear somebody on NPR news use the word "torture" - I don't think I'd heard that from their news programming in the last decade, who prefer official euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation" to such an extent that it's obviously policy, though occasionally Terry Gross has interviewed authors who've talked about it.

#349 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 05:17 PM:

cliff #346: Here's a couple of dots for you: If you want to build a society where people care about quality -- much less intangibles such as reputation -- then those people need to have enough spare money and time, that they can choose based on those things, and enough power that they can get the merchants to make what they want. If you want to break such a society, just make sure folks are too busy to compare different merchants, too broke to buy anything but the cheapest on offer, and too scared to protest.

#350 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2011, 07:37 PM:

Syd, #344: In every economy, there will be people who seek the bargains without regard to what you might call brand loyalty.

I used to know several people who did that with their long-distance service, back in the days before the ubiquity of cellphones; they'd switch providers whenever somebody else was offering a good discount deal. I always thought of it as, at best, a rather shady tactic -- not illegal, but definitely toward the unethical side.

janetl, #345: I have the same opinion from the customer side, after our experience with trying to buy RenFaire tickets from a Groupon offer. There are a lot of little gotchas in the fine print that you don't see until you've started the purchase process; they don't have a graceful way to fix things that go wrong, so we ended up with only half the number of tickets we'd intended to purchase; they made me set up a Groupon account for myself before I could print out tickets that were supposed to be a gift, bought for me by someone else; and most damningly, we were able to get the exact same package, for the exact same price, directly from the TRF website. Fuck that noise; it'll be a cold day in Hell before we use Groupon again.

#351 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 09:23 PM:

Patrick, #0: "... and the other son-of-a-bitches shot first."

The plural I'm used to is "sons-of-bitches."

Or "sons-of-a-bitch" in the case of brothers (e.g. George W., Jeb, and Neil).

SamChevre, #312: "... in most famines, the region where the famine occurs has enough food."

During the 19th-century Irish [Potato] Famine, Ireland was actually still exporting food.

Recall that it was governed by the English at the time....

Just around the start of the 21st century, it finally regained its pre-famine population count.

#352 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2011, 09:35 PM:

During the 19th-century Irish [Potato] Famine, Ireland was actually still exporting food.

...for values of 'exporting' approximately equal to "being robbed of by brutal rapacious occupiers."

I know you know that. Just clarifying for others, who should realize that the Famine was not a natural disaster, but an attempted genocide that used a natural disaster (the blight) as a tool and an inspiration.

#353 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2011, 01:07 PM:

An interesting thing to think about. Karen gets the print version of the Wall St. Journal. On the front page of the second section yesterday (10/27/2011), there was an ad for Avis that talks about an employee going to deliver a misplaced laptop on his day off. It's about a 1/8 page ad, in two colors.

How much of a bonus do you think that employee got for doing this?

How much does a 1/8 page display ad on a main page in the WSJ cost? (Hint -- I found some of their display rates by Googling: a 1/7 page B&W ad runs about $35K, and this has an additional color and is on a page with significant extra eye traffic).

Is it likely that there's a major disparity here?

#354 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2011, 11:22 AM:

Tom, #353: Oh, I'm sure A was a calculable fraction of B.

#355 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2011, 12:48 PM:

Quite possibly 0%, though.

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