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'Soviet' Is The New 'Hitler'

"It's sort of like when you imagined the Soviet invasion, it would take over the airwaves." Right. Because invaders always pay for their air-time and have the courtesy to get off and let you keep watching baseball when they're done telling you resistance is futile.

The conversation about just how Soviet Barack Obama really is, is...

...another example of how comparisons to totalitarian Russia have become as meaningless as allusions to the Nazis -- people basically use both as rhetorical crutches for arguments that limp along without them. This election season, such inane comparisons have multiplied like breeding rabbits, in part because the right has descended into absolute hysteria over Obama's chances of winning the election, and because you can only ride that Hitler hobby-horse so long before it starts to chafe. (Remember when the right used to complain that the left was making inappropriate comparisons between Bush and the Nazis?) Clearly, the media has started to internalize this nonsense, at least partially because people like Geist and Hazlett apparently have no idea what communism and socialism really are.

Adam Serwer, "GODWIN'S LAW NEEDS AN UPDATE", on American Prospect

I try to be charitable, I really do, but anyone who thinks Obama is a Stalinist, Marxist, or even a Socialist really needs some serious history lessons, some serious counseling, or both.

It's just a stepwise progression, of course. 'Liberal' has been tantamount to 'Nazi' in large segments of the right for at least 20 years. It's just that in the pre-Internet days, they didn't have a place to air out their skid-marked psyches.

Freeman Dyson and the Pretense of Vision

Freeman Dyson is one of the more dangerous scientists alive right now.


.... The wiggles in the [Keeling] graph show us that every carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphere is incorporated in a plant within a time of the order of twelve years. Therefore, if we can control what the plants do with the carbon, the fate of the carbon in the atmosphere is in our hands. That is what Nordhaus meant when he mentioned "genetically engineered carbon-eating trees" as a low-cost backstop to global warming. The science and technology of genetic engineering are not yet ripe for large-scale use. We do not understand the language of the genome well enough to read and write it fluently. But the science is advancing rapidly, and the technology of reading and writing genomes is advancing even more rapidly. I consider it likely that we shall have "genetically engineered carbon-eating trees" within twenty years, and almost certainly within fifty years.

Carbon-eating trees could convert most of the carbon that they absorb from the atmosphere into some chemically stable form and bury it underground. Or they could convert the carbon into liquid fuels and other useful chemicals. Biotechnology is enormously powerful, capable of burying or transforming any molecule of carbon dioxide that comes into its grasp. Keeling's wiggles prove that a big fraction of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes within the grasp of biotechnology every decade. If one quarter of the world's forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in about fifty years.

That's just science fiction, of course -- not the scary part at all. This is the scary part:

It is likely that biotechnology will dominate our lives and our economic activities during the second half of the twenty-first century, just as computer technology dominated our lives and our economy during the second half of the twentieth. Biotechnology could be a great equalizer, spreading wealth over the world wherever there is land and air and water and sunlight. This has nothing to do with the misguided efforts that are now being made to reduce carbon emissions by growing corn and converting it into ethanol fuel. The ethanol program fails to reduce emissions and incidentally hurts poor people all over the world by raising the price of food. After we have mastered biotechnology, the rules of the climate game will be radically changed. In a world economy based on biotechnology, some low-cost and environmentally benign backstop to carbon emissions is likely to become a reality.

Translation: "We don't need to do anything now, because we'll invent our way out of the problem when the time comes."

I suppose I should be grateful that he's no longer appointing himself global diagnostician. At least now he admits that there might be a problem.

I've been told by people I respect that Dyson is a very good physicist. But I'm hard put to recall anything outside of his domain that wasn't just plain stupid once you got past the "oh, neato" moment. I mean, Dyson Spheres are a cool idea, but also a really dumb one if you think about them just a tiny bit. They're a triumph of the broadly logically possible: We can imagine it, therefore it must be feasible. We can imagine going Niven & Pournelle one better and building a sphere around a small star (or arranging otherwise to intercept all of the star's energy). We can imagine nesting matrioshka layers one inside the other, to overlap and trap the inevitable leakage. All we have to do is solve this list of several thousand technical problems. We've solved every other technical problem we've ever been presented with; we'll clearly be able to solve these. What is conceivable, is feasible.

We can imagine magic carbon-sequestering trees, therefore they must be feasible. We can imagine a quarter of the world's trees being replaced by these magic inventions, therefore we should count on it happening (when the alternative is essentially the collapse of civilization).

All of these speculations commit an obvious and really, really troubling error: They assume that certain important things, like rate of technological innovation, rate of increate in energy use, etc., are essentially laws of nature: That not only won't they change, but that their not changing is a righteous thing. Moore's Law will go on forever; we'll keep increasing our need for energy at a predictable and increasing rate; we'll keep inventing new ways to solve all of our problems; better living through chemistry.

This kind of thinking is usually based on a detailed look at only a very short span of human history, and a very high-level gloss of anything beyond the past three or four hundred years.

It's disturbingly short sighted, in other words, even as it pretends to vision.

This is why I don't respect Dyson: He pretends to vision, but is blind to his own short-sightedness

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The problem of trackback and comment spam in Drupal, and one way to address it

(I just posted a version of the following over at Drupal.org, in their "Drupal Core" forum. I doubt it will make much of an impact, but I had to try...)

I propose that there is a problem with the ways that program function URLs are written in Drupal, that causes Drupal to be a disproportionate target for trackback and comment spammers.

The problem with comment and trackback spam in Drupal is this: It's too easy to guess the URL for comments and trackbacks.

In Drupal, the link for a node has the form "/node/x", where x is the node id. In fact, you can formulate a lot of Drupal URLs that way; for example, to track-back to x, the URI would be "/trackback/x"; to post a comment to x would be "/node/comment/reply/x". So you can see that it would be a trivially easy task to write a script that just walked the node table from top to bottom, trying to post comments.

Which is pretty much what spammers do to my site: They fire up a 'bot to walk my node tree, looking for nodes that are open to comment or accepting trackbacks. I have some evidence that it's different groups of spammers trying to do each thing -- one group seems to be switching IPs after a small number of attempts, and the other tends to use the same IP until I block it, and then takes a day or so to begin again -- but that hardly matters. What does matter is that computational horsepower and network bandwidth cost these guys so little that they don't even bother to stop trying after six or seven hundred failures -- they just keep on going, like the god damned energizer bunny. For the first sixteen days of August this year, I got well over 100,000 page views, of which over 95% were my 404 error page. The "not found" URL in over 90% of those cases was some variant on a standard Drupal trackback or comment-posting URL.

One way to address this would be to use something other than a sequential integer as the node ID. This is effectively what happens with tools like MoveableType and Wordform/WordPress because they use real words to form the path elements in their URIs -- for example, /archives/2005/07/05/wordform-metadata-for-wordpress/, which links to an article on Shelley Powers's site. Whether those real words correspond to real directories or not is kind of immaterial; the important point is that they're impractically difficult to crank out iteratively with a simple scripted 'bot. Having to discover the links would probably increase the 'bot's time per transaction by a factor of five or six. Better to focus on vulnerable tools, like Drupal.

But the solution doesn't need to be that literal. What if, instead of a sequential integer, Drupal assigned a Unix timestamp value as a node ID? That would introduce an order of complexity to the node naming scheme that isn't quite as dramatic as that found in MT or WordPress, but is still much, much greater than what we've got now. Unless you post at a ridiculous frequency, it would guarantee unique node IDs. And all at little cost in human readability (since I don't see any evidence that humans address articles or taxonomy terms by ID number, anyway).

Some people will immediately respond that this is "security through obscurity", and that it's therefore bad. I'd argue that they're wrong on two counts: First, it's not security through obscurity so much as security through economic disincentive; second, it's not bad, because even knowing exactly how it works doesn't help you very much to game it. The problem with security through obscurity, see, is that it's gameable. Once you know that the path to the images directory is "/roger/jessica/rabbit/", then you can get the images whenever you want; even if you know that the URL to post a comment is "/node/timestamp/reply/comment/", you're not a heck of a lot closer to getting a valid trackback URL than you were before you knew that.

A Sobering Milestone

I can foresee a day when we're nostalgic about commercially-motivated spammers and mass-mailing-worms.

I get jaded about virus and worm stories. Each day seems to bring a new watershed in rate of infection, purpose, or technique. Sober is the worm du jour: It appeared sometime during the week of May 2, spread widely and rapidly, and this week started to download updates to itself. The latest variant, Sober.Q, is being used to spread "hate speech."

So let's count the milestones: Rapid spread; remote control; use for propaganda. None all that impressive anymore, on their own. But put together, they're like seeing someone walk down the street wearing sandals with black socks: It's just another sign of the end times. It's depressing.

But Seriously, Folks: Using mass-mailing worms to spread propaganda really is something to take notice of. It's a truism that spam is just about too cheap to meter, as exemplified by the fact that it's not cost effective for a spammer to even care whether most of his messages get through, much less whether you're trying to sell cialis to a woman; it was only a matter of time before the marketers of ideology grokked the significance of that fact and started using it to virtualize their lightpost handbills.

Self-updating zombie mass-mailing worms are the computing equivalent of a bio-weapon: (mind-bogglingly) cheap, effective, and devilishly hard to kill. Previously, they've been used for a rationally-accessible goal: Making money. Now, they're being used for goals that are comprehensible only in terms of the ideologies that drive their purveyors.

Still more proof, as though we needed it, that markets are dangerously deficient metaphors for understanding human social behavior.

Essential Education

Brian Dickerson quoted Michigan Governor Granholm in his Detroit Free Press column today (â??Bad news? Don't blame Americansâ?):

"Three-quarters of Michigan residents do not believe it's essential for their children to go to college," Granholm said, citing survey results made public last weekend.

"That's mind-numbing. Parents need to believe it's essential, just like K-12. Wake up! It's essential."

I was taken aback upon first reading this. After checking the survey results made public last weekend, it became obvious that while 27 percent had answered â??essential,â? in addition, â??51 percent said very important and 20 percent said fairly importantâ? when asked â??how important having a good education is for getting ahead in life.â?

Actually, these results didnâ??t differ much from a national survey done several years ago. Back in 1999, 77 % of people surveyed nationally did believe that a college education was more important than it had been 10 years earlier, but (in a 1997 national survey) only 37% considered a college education â??extremely importantâ? in order to get ahead. 47 % considered it â??very important.â?

Three-quarters of Michigan residents were not dismissing the importance of a college education. It was a matter of degree. Perhaps they were just shying away from absolutes. Then again, Granholmâ??s message is that in todayâ??s world, considering college education to be essential is imperative. It seems in our present economic crisis that even â??very importantâ? doesnâ??t cut it for Jennifer Granholm, and she is willing to speak up about it.

Brian Dickerson writes how â??personal accountability remains a tough sell in Americaâ?:

...the only thing we like less than hearing there's nothing we can do about a crisis is hearing we're the only ones who can solve it.

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Small Choices Moving Fast

It's a truism: You can't use the system to really fight the system. If you use a record label to sell songs about smashing capitalism, you're not doing anything substantial to smash capitalism.

So what do you do? Opt out of everything? Or act in small ways? Small ways are unsatisfying; and in any case, how do you know that the soap or chips you buy are really doing anything like what your conscience would have you hope?

Seminal straight-edger Ian MacKaye noticed these contradictions years ago [RealAudio], and they played a role in his move to a lower-volume sound:

"Volume had relegated bands to playing largely commercial venues. Most of the places that had sound systems were commercial venues; their economy is based on their bar sales. It cements this really insidious link between rock and roll and the alcohol industry. The idea that the people who music epseaks to in some ways the most deeply -- and by that I'm talking about kids, teenagers -- are by and large not allowed to see bands play because they're not old enough to drink."

And in turn, it cements the role of rock and roll as a gateway to the bar life. Not the connection someone like Ian MacKaye would miss. I don't doubt that awareness of that contributed to his desire to play in "non-traditional" venues like family restaurants, public places, and repurposed rented spaces like boathouses.

Small choices can make a difference. They might not overthrow the order of things, but then, revolutions are messy things that often do more harm than good.

Most of the people, most of the time is good enough

Or bad enough, depending on your point of view. And it's most fun if you can fool yourself while you're at it. The tutor points out this morning that most Americans are pretty profoundly confused about what's good for them:.

We live in a democracy where most of those on the verge of bankruptcy are more concerned to repeal the Death Tax on estates above $2 mil, than they are with preserving their own home when their credit card debt catches up with them. This is a testimony to the relative power of marketing versus education. Who can blame Congress for making an honest buck off the passing of bills? Meanwhile, the media look more and more like the WB Studio Productions, what in the trade actors call "Industrials."

My point of view is from the bottom. Or down below, at least, if not on the rocks. I made a bunch of money last year; but I've made hardly any this year, and that's much more typical. I'll freely admit, that if I got badly sick, I'd be pretty screwed.

The really fun and interesting thing about all of this oppobrium about deadbeat consumers who are ruining America is that it's the culture of over-consumption that these people exemplify that keeps America going. Responsible consumption would destroy the American way of life faster and more certainly than any market crash. So the forces of Right are really fooling themselves, too, if they actually think that this is at all about helping the economy. Personal bankrupcy is the expansion grid on the American economy.

So clearly, that's not what it's really about. It's about a long-range re-solidification of the American economic class structure. The class structure broke apart in the 20th century, and (excepting the 1920s) especially since 1950. It became possible for working class families to reliably place their children into the middle and upper-middle classes; now, those at the upper end of that spectrum would like to solidify their hold on the higher strata of neo-calvinist blessedness by setting skid-traps to the underclass: Below a certain threshhold, any wrong step can take you all the way back down. And once you're down, those new bankrupcy laws will make damn sure you don't get out.

But this is America. And in America, anything is possible. The longer the odds, the bigger and sweeter seems the dream.

Life Among The Oxy-Morons

In all the fuss over President Bush's "plan" for Social Security privitization, a simple fact keeps getting ignored: It can't possibly work, because it's based on a mistaken premise. And the error is so obvious, that I find it hard to understand why people don't see that the clear goal is to eliminate Social Security altogether.

The error, to me, is the assumption that Social Security funds invested in the stock market would actually accrue enough interest to "save" the system. It's painfully clear that's almost certainly wrong, even if we consider two simple data points:

  • The President keeps assuring us that the money will only be invested in "safe" "conservative" funds. But given the safety rules that will have to be erected around those funds to keep them from losing money, it's hard to imagine how they could make very much.
  • He also reminds us at every whistle-stop that participants will be permitted to invest only 2% of their Social Security deductions. For me, last year, that would have been about $80.And I made a lot of money last year.

Really, this should be obvious to everyone, and especially to "fiscally conservative" Republicans. Of course, "fiscally conservative Republican" is an oxymoron, so what should I expect? To the American Conservative mind, "social security" is a mistaken concept. There is no quicker way to marginalize yourself in American political discourse than to take seriously the concept of a commons (i.e., to treat community as an actual community). Ecological viewpoints -- the very idea of considering second-order effects in reckoning what Might Be -- are frowned upon. That requires subtle thinking. And that's not something we go for over here.

Shenzhen to Nashville, Non-Stop

We live in the Era of Air Freight.

My new Mac Mini shipped early this morning from Shenzhen, China, via FedEx. From there it will probably fly non-stop to Nashville on a FedEx 747-400, 777, or 767, and thence be routed here. I can track the movement of the package online, and see by implication how it's travelling: It hit FedEx at 8:51pm (local time) on 1/18/2005 ("Package received after FedEx cutoff time"). It left the FedEx ramp at 7:09pm. By my reckoning it will be in the air about 12-13 hours, based on the distance from Nashville to Shenzhen. So I should be able to browse to the FedEx site and see the Arrival Scan by about 9pm EST today. I'll be able to follow it hop by hop until it goes out on the delivery truck, which will be either Friday or Monday, depending on how seriously Apple takes their delivery-date promises.

We live in the Era of Air Freight. This ecological fact is in many ways the most important practical implication of advancing technology: Computing and networking technology makes the coordination global logistics possible, and efficient long-haul cargo aircraft from Boeing and Airbus make it cost-effective to distribute directly from a factory in China to a doorstep in western NY state. And all of this allows economies to pump capital more quickly -- allows the concrete manifestations of ideas and desire to move across the globe at 700 miles per hour. Thinking of it all in terms of goods and capital seems trivial, but this kind of point-to-point distribution is really the engine that drives the global marketplace, which in turn is what drives global society, for good or ill. We can blame the idea on Sears and Ward. The transit of goods in turn subsidized the rest of our long distance mass transportation network, as the big widebodies pack the extra space in their bellies with cargo, the complex spoke-end to spoke-end routing enabled by efficiently networked logistics systems.

And yet, all we see moving are the people. We are blind to the goods in the cargo hold on all the big planes; we taxi by the big, windowless cargo-haulers, logoed-up for DHL, UPS or FedEx, and most of us probably just have a quickly-forgotten moment of "Oh, so that's how they do it..." We only think about the people.

When the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11, British Airways lost about 40 Concorde frequent-flyers. The impact went much deeper, though, than just the loss of 40 reliable fares. Many of those 40 were senior decision-makers at their companies. They were the people who could approve the expensive Concorde tickets, either formally or tacitly. The Concorde relied almost entirely on human passengers to pay its way, and so from "Golden Eagle", the Concorde returned to it's early-'80s status as a money-burner. So we can add the Concorde to the list of things that can be said to have been killed by 9/11.

Amidst all the hoopla surrounding the formal unveiling of the Airbus A380 "super-jumbo", many asked where Boeing's competetive product was. Boeing's answer: The A380 is a "big plane for a small market." The same could have been said of the Concorde: It's market was so small, that losing 40 passengers upset it's fare-ecology sufficiently to make the plane commercially non-viable. But the Super Jumbo won't suffer the same fate. I heard it said more than once in the news coverage that half the orders were "from Asia" -- which means, they're for air freight.

Public reaction (and amongst the "public" I include most media business analysts) to the A380 under-reports a very important point: While hub-to-hub people-hauling is important, the 580-seat luxury model and even the as-yet unbuilt 800-seat steerage special versions of the A380 are really almost red-herrings. The real target market for these aircraft is not passenger hauling, but air freight. There's big money to be saved by increasing the weight and range of the planes, even just between major hubs. This is a plane designed to fly non-stop from Yokohama to Louisville, Shenzhen to Nashville, Taipei to LA, São Paulo to London, with a really big payload of shoes and consumer electronics. Airbus's bread and butter customers for the A380 are outfits like FedEx, UPS, DHL, that won't stop using the hub-and-spoke model for the bulk of their traffic for a long, long time.

It's easy to see this as a triumph for economic models of understanding. But that would be a mistake. While all of this can be seen in economic terms, its effect is human, social, and the field on which the economic facts are cast is fundamentally ecological. And that's the reason that economists (Marx first and chief among them) fail to predict accurately: They fail to understand that economics is only ecology writ fine, and hence divorced from the larger picture. And from the fine-writ bits from other aspects of the big picture. Capital -- money -- is fuel in an ecology of commerce. But it is not, yet, the reason. For the reason, we can still, at least, look to such intangibles as desire.

From The "Planning Is Everything" Department

Thomas P. M. Barnett, of the Naval War College, on Getting What You Wish For: "... Rumsfeld's answer was that 'sometimes you go to the war with the army that you have, not the army that you want' -- not exactly. You go to the war with the army you've been wanting." Because that's the army you've got: "we've been wanting for the past 15 years an army that doesn't do peacekeeping, doesn't do nation building, doesn't do post-conflict stabilization." [Thomas P. M. Barnett, "The Pentagon's New Map", on ME 2005-01-18] [as RealAudio] So what we got was an army on the ground in Iraq that couldn't handle "winning the peace", just as General Eric Shinseki predicted.

Alas, we didn't wish for Iraq to become the world's new terrorist training ground. But we got it. What do these things have in common? That they were both predicted by anyone who bothered to think about it. That they were both obvious consequences of the way we chose to do things. That people responsible for seeing this stuff in advance, did see it, and did raise warnings. That people responsible for listening to those warnings did not heed them (and perhaps did not even listen).

But common sense has never traded well in American politics. If it did, we'd have taken the common sense approach that Barnett advocates and opened trade with Cuba. That would have brought Cuba into economic contact with the rest of the world. Barnett argues that when nations are brought into economic contact with the world -- when they're given a stake in the world community, as it were -- they don't cause problems. Ergo, if we wanted to make Cuba play well with the rest of the world, we should have practiced a little [ahem!] constructive engagement. (If it's good enough for China, why not for Cuba? Oh, wait, that's logic...)

Since this is basically consonant with orthodox market theory, with conservatives theories of personal responsibility, and also plays well with the "liberal" comprehension of the fact that we've gotten ourselves far up the excrement race with no apparent means of propulsion, I'll be curious to see what kind of traction these ideas get.

Barnett's a military historian, so there's a military angle to all of this, too, of course: He seems to suggest basically that if we're to become colonial lords, we should make our army fit that bill. We should procure and plan and train for a force and force structure that is suited to peacekeeping, is suited to nation building, is suited to post-conflict stabilization. Common sense. Though I'm afraid having such a force might make us more likely to meddle in the business of other countries (I'd rather not see us as colonial lords), perhaps we'd get into less trouble if our army weren't well-suited for large-scale invasions. I'll be curious to see his reviews.

Sometime In 2004, Blogs Became Commercial

It's just that relatively few people have realized it, yet. As I so often say: When there's big money involved, the alternate modalities will be co-opted. (Or crushed.) Even more than information wants to be free, money wants to make more money. We're now sitting in that fragile cusp (oh, hell, we may be past it) where the "winners" of the next gold-rush will be decided. It's not a huge gold rush -- not yet -- but in its own way, it will be just as hokum-driven as the dotcom boom.

I know this because I bothered to do some simple math with numbers in a news story about American blogging habits. From Britain, of all places. A friend pointed me to the BBC's obligatory popular rundown on what a blog is and why their readers should care, combined with a little bit of exoticism regarding us cousins. The article relies heavily on a report from Pew Internet and American Life Project; it's thin on details, but the do provide us with a helpful bullet list in their sidebar:

  • Blog readership has shot up by 58% in 2004
  • Eight million have created a blog
  • 27% of online Americans have read a blog
  • 5% use RSS aggregators to get news and other information
  • 12% of online Americans have posted comments on blogs
  • Only 38% of online Americans have heard about blogs

By implication (according to the sidebar), of Americans who've heard of blogs (38% of online Americans), 71% have read read them (27% of online Americans -- 27/38=.71); and a bit less than half of those have gone on to post comments (12% of online Americans -- 12/27=.44). (Less interesting, but more impressive: about 30% of people who've heard of blogs have posted comments...) Interesting. If taken at face value (which wouldn't be a good idea), that means almost half of people who've read blogs have posted comments to them. Before we even start to think about commercial applications, that may well represent a radical increase in the population of people participating in online forums.

But here's the real meat: When they saw those numbers in the sidebar, direct marketing people in the reading audience (who eat, sleep and breathe much more complex math than that) were drooling on their keyboards. Consider that a direct mail campaign is regarded as doing very, very well at 5% response. These are not numbers to swing elections as a constituency; but they are well into "thought-leader" territory. These blog readers are high-throughput nodes. They're the folks who spread Jib-Jab movies and forwarded the Kick Osama Butt song. At least, that's how the consultants will spin it.

Also quite interesting: Almost a fifth of people who've "read a blog" (5% of online Americans) use RSS readers to aggregate blog content. RSS readers by their definition identify regular readers, so something in excess of about 20% of blog-readers are regular blog-readers. And the stream of drool intensifies.

You have to actually do some math to sort all that out, mind; I think they're probably better at it over there, but I wonder if they weren't actively hiding those numbers by not crunching the numbers. (In America, I'd just go for ignorance -- I don't have much faith that our reporters have the math skills to calculate a proportion.)

I can honestly say that I never thought blogging was a fad. But I will go out on a limb (not that I have to go very far) and say that "podcasting" was dead before it started. Or, at least, the meaning of the term will change. "Podcasting" will come to be the audio equivalent of "TiVO", as we start to see those forthcoming gizmos that let folks TiVO-ize satellite-radio broadcasts. They'll start as special attachments for iPods. (Perhaps even as an iPod itself -- though I don't think Apple will go that far. It would hurt iTunes sales.) Then they'll spread to other music players ("there are music players besides the iPod?!"). Podcasting as we currently know it will die a quick and inglorious death, mourned only by the people who hoped to have their name forever attached to the term.

Blogging has previously never really been at an equivalent risk. The technical barriers to entry are low: A decent secondary education and enough disposable income to afford $10/mo or less in hosting fees. They face very little competition. (Well, except for newspaper columnists. What are those? Well, um, they're these folks who'd regularly get their "blogs" printed in newspapers. See, these newspapers, they're printed on really big paper, so everything is in columns, and a columnist would get one column out of six on the page... ... Newspapers. They print them, on paper, and sell them to people so they can carry them around and read them.... How do they know how many to print? They don't. A lot get wasted. Yes, I know that's a waste...)

The Happiest Place On Earth

Disney is apparently angling for a market coup by forcing the FCC's broadcast decency rules to apply to cable [daypop cites]:

The Walt Disney Co. has quietly been lobbying Congress to apply broadcast indecency rules to cable programming, according to informed sources.

Were Congress to agree with Disney, basic and expanded-basic cable networks could be fined thousands of dollars by the Federal Communications Commission for airing four-letter words and steamy love scenes prior to 10 p.m.

Under a Senate bill pending floor action, cable networks, with certain exceptions for news, premium and pay-per-view fare, could face fines for airing violent movies and dramas before 10 p.m.

It's a brilliant ploy, of course: Once broadcast decency rules applied (so their reasoning goes), no other vendor of entertainment would be as well positioned to sell entertainment (in all its myriad forms) to the American public...

"Google is not your friend"

By now Google enjoys a 75 percent monopoly for all external referrals to most websites. Webmasters cannot avoid seeking Google's approval these days, assuming they want to increase traffic to their site. If they try to take advantage of some of the known weaknesses in Google's semi-secret algorithms, they may find themselves penalized by Google, and their traffic disappears. There are no detailed, published standards issued by Google, and there is no appeal process for penalized sites. Google is completely unaccountable. Most of the time Google doesn't even answer email from webmasters. [GoogleWatch, "Google as Big Brother"]

When Google speaks, it is much like Wittgenstein's Lion: They have their own agenda, and it is not our agenda, no matter how much we long to think so nor how easy it is to misread.

Commodifying Trust

I'm still not touching it. It's more than subverting the trust relationship: It's commodifying it.

At base, that's what Friendster and its ilk are facilitating: The commodification of trust relationships. Once those relationships are commodified, trust itself becomes undermined. At least, any trust that digs deeper than the layer of humanity where all experience can be understood in terms of economic transactions.

That is, until some new basis for common trust.

One place to find that is in "faith" -- i.e., in communities of religious practice.

Another is in these "high-tech tribes" that folks like Cory Doctorow talk about without end. But since the tokens for entry to those tribes are relatively facile (blogrolling consistently over a period of time should do it), the "tribal" connections don't go very deep.

And at another level, it's more than a little insulting to even refer to them as "tribes". That's a term we've previously used to refer to very special communities of shared allegiance or experience or -- most often -- blood.

There is a tendency among people, to minimize the complexity of a thing once it has been described. So Sterling or Stephenson can describe new tribes, or Howard Rheingold can write books about them, and they suddenly enter the vocabulary and the consciosness. But the form is grossly simplified, in the kind of way that lets us see the Amish as lovable relics. Anyone giving Rumspringa more than a moment's casual thought should be prepared to make a simple leap: These are not simpletons; they have not recoiled from the world, but rather made a conscious choice to live in their own world, and we have about as much chance of understanding why as we do of chatting with Wittgenstein's lion.

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