You are here

Free-Market Capitalism

Bruce Fein: Snobby Conservative Elitists Like Me Are The Only True Judges Of Exceptionality

Bruce Fein is getting his ducks in order to say "I-told-you-so":

None of the presidential or vice presidential candidates would have been worthy of the constitutional convention of 1787 or the Federalist Papers, the high-water mark of political erudition and profundity in more than a thousand years. Among other things, they all subscribe to the delusions that the government can outfox the efficiencies of free markets; that the United States can be made safer and freer by sacrificing the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of American soldiers abroad and squandering hundreds of billions of dollars in quixotic adventures to transform incorrigibly tribal or feudal societies into friendly secular democracies; and, that international terrorism justifies a permanent global war crowning the president with perpetual war powers, including the authority to detain American citizens as "enemy combatants" for life without accusation or charge; to spy on Americans without warrants in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; and, to employ waterboarding against detainees with impunity.

Translation #1: "Those Founding Father guys were, like, total gods, dude. Like, I read that their shit didn't even smell bad!"

Alternate Translation: "Don't blame me -- I voted for Kodos!"

Anyway, those are all strong statements Fein's making. Mostly false, and obviously so, and where not false, off the point:

  • The people who were there at the constitutional Convention of 1787 weren't "worthy" of it; and in any case, would certainly not be "worthy" to face the challenges we face now. We face our challenges with what we have, not with what we wish we had. (Don Rumsfeld got that much right.)
  • The Free Market is not a god, and it's not a law of nature, Fein and the Marketistas contentions to the contrary notwithstanding. We make choices about how our society is to be structured, and right now, the dominant choices are favoring Marketism. That was not always the case and there is no reason to suppose it will always continue to be in the future.
  • At least Obama, and arguably also Biden, have been quite clear in their belief that sacrificing the lives and limbs of Americans overseas does not make us safer, and if Fein were being honest he'd admit that he knows that.
  • Similarly, it's not at all clear that Obama and Biden support the continuation of Presidential war powers. But I'll just argue that Fein is too strong on this point, since neither Obama nor Biden has explicitly said they'll roll them back.
  • Both Obama and Biden have, though, been clear that the FISA must be honored by the next President, and ought to be honored by the current one.
  • Finally, Obama for his part has been quite clear (and I actually believe McCain would probably backtrack to his older, more ethically-grounded position on this once he was in office) that torture is simply not acceptable.

Moreover, this is all stuff that Fein should know if he's been paying attention, and if he's not been paying attention, there's absolutely no reason anybody should listen to his opinon on anything of consequence. So, what's the point of this exercise in late-term sour grapes?

It has to be so that Fein claim blamelessness and moral high-ground. He's pretending this is really about "mediocrity", it's really about America not turning to its elites anymore. There may actually be some wisdom in such a view -- but Fein's got no ground to stand on, since he doesn't actually know what the real capabilities of the candidates actually are. He hasn't allowed himself to see them. Other discerning people have looked at Obama, for example, and seen a confident, capable politician -- as qualified to lead America as, say, John Adams or Abraham Lincoln at the time of their ascension. What had they "run"? What could we look at in their records to say that they had the "experience" required?

The answers are all questions of either the good fortunate to participate in momentous decisions (in Adams' case), or in a judgement of character based on reputation and rhetoric (in the case of Lincoln). Neither had "executive experience" of any kind prior to assuming office. But in Fein's worldview, they're unassailable giants. What he's blind to is the fact that their stature is a matter of hindsight (and what I like about these examples is that either one would readily admit as much -- well, maybe not Adams, since his stature is really only now being so elevated). 

What this is really all about is that Fein's not getting to specify who's "exceptional." (Which is a damn good thing, since he's clearly got some problems with seeing what's actually going on in the world.) What this is really all about is that Fein's opinion isn't coinciding with the direction the electorate wants to go.

What's really going on is that there are these kids playing on (what Fein thinks is) his lawn, and he wants them to pull up their pants and show him some deference, dammit.

Which they might be willing do, if it wasn't clear that he isn't interested in actually listening to anyone else's opinions.

Before Bruce Fein expects anyone to take him seriously as a credible arbiter of who's exceptional and who's not, he should first demonstrate that we ought to listen to him (by showing he's been paying attention), and that he's got some  awareness of actual history (by recognizing that people were often as small, petty and unprepared in the past as they are now). Until then, he's just a snobby, snooty conservative elitist.

The Nordlinger Effect

Those wacky NRO guys -- Jay Nordlinger has spent a weekend in Vermont, and now he Understands The Noble Working Man:

.... here’s how I understand it: Modestly off people — “real Vermonters,” as some people say — are voting for McCain and Palin. Comfortably off people, such as those who own ski chalets, are voting for Obama and Biden. And the following has been frequently noted about the city of my residence, New York: The rich are voting Democratic. And those who work for them — driving cars, cleaning rooms, and so on — are voting Republican.

(I guess we know what "the math" is, now.)

Commenter Landon at Matthew Yglesias's blog describes this as the Nordlinger Effect:

The Nordlinger Effect is when non-rich people respond they’re voting like the rich jerk asking them who they’re voting for just so he’ll shut up and leave them alone.

For his part, Yglesias himself has pointed (unnecessarily) to the work of Andrew Gelman to demonstrate that rich folks in poor states (like Vermont) do in fact tend to vote for Republicans, while poor folks in poor states (like Vermont) do in fact tend to vote Democratic. Others in Yglesias's comment thread take the trouble to note (among other things) that you're not a real Vermonter unless you're born there (at least), all the ski chalets are owned by "flatlanders" from Connecticut, Massachusetts and NY (who won't be voting in Vermont, anyway), and that all the actual data demonstrates amply that "Vermonters of modest means" will be voting overwhelmingly for Obama. (As for housekeeping staff voting Republican: If he believes that, I've got this bridge I'd love to sell him...)

And how the hell Jay Nordlinger can use the phrase "of modest means" without blushing, I don't know. Maybe it's an internal manifestation of the Nordlinger Effect: Jay telling Jay what Jay wants to hear, so his brain will leave him alone.

, nordlinger effect

"But I might wake up king someday, and if I do...."

Deep in the middle of a surreal attempt at social analysis that reads more like a bad acid-trip, Mark Levin at the NRO stumbles upon one true thing: "Obama's appeal to the middle class is an appeal to the "the proletariat," as an infamous philosopher once described it...."

Congratulations, Mr. Levin: You've defined Populism. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin's great fake-president, the problem with an America where anyone can become rich is that everyone thinks they will, and makes their electoral choices accordingly. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean making a workable plan to become rich, or even necessarily working especially hard: It most typically means a lot of day-dreaming, lotto-buying, and planning to make sure that THE GOVERNMENT doesn't get a chance to take away any of your wondrous, hypothetical, chance-gotten gains.

Put another way: We act in the interest of the person we fantasize about becoming, instead of the person we actually are.

Of course there are a lot of people who work hard for what they get. But it's more or less never been true that wealth or status has a direct relationship with how hard you work -- or, for that matter, how smart you are. In fact, even some conservatives take great pains to make it clear just how much of it is down to the opportunities you have.

Cleverness, though -- now that's very important. You have to know how to work the angles, to work people. You have to have social intelligence, at a minimum, but that's not usually enough. No, to really become wealthy or important, you most often have to have a willingness to hurt other people to get what you want.

The Megalomaniacal Mac

When you start certain Apple applications (such as iTunes and Safari), they check to see if they have a shortcut in the Dock. If they don't, they automatically make one. If Microsoft did that, it would be regarded as incredibly rude; if Apple does it, it's "friendly."

Similarly, the Finder comes configured by default to favor Apple applications, like iLife, iTunes, and FinalCut, by virtue of the fact that it defaults to creating "libraries" of media types that are tailored to those applications.

In case the rationale isn't clear: iTunes makes Apple money. Wherever there is a way to "monetize" the uses to which a personal computer is put, Apple will take every opportunity to put themselves in the front of the queue. iPhoto has hooks to pay services; FinalCut is an expensive piece of software that Apple hopes to sell as an upgrade to home-videographers; and iTunes, of course, is making millions of dollars for Apple by linking Mac users directly to the Apple music store.

So why is it again that people see Microsoft as megalomaniacal, but don't see Apple that way?

"Voluntary Personal Savings Account"

How do conservatives manage to support the Bushite Nanny State and still sleep at night? They should at least be a little restive over the fact that their children have such weak and gullible parents.

I think that as we permanently solve the system, that we ought ot make it a better deal for younger workers by allowing younger workers to take some of their own payroll taxes and set it aside in what is called a voluntary personal savings account.
[President G. W. Bush, speaking in Greece, NY, 2005-05-24; listen to mp3 stream / download mp3]

Huh. I thought they already could. Don't we have these things called "IRAs" and "401Ks"? Or, for that matter -- "savings accounts"? You'd think the President didn't know about those. Maybe he just forgets -- from moment to moment:

Don't you like the idea of -- I mean, some of you have got 401Ks, and you open up your statement every month. Don't you like the idea of a statement?
[President G. W. Bush, speaking in Greece, NY, 2005-05-24]

More to the current conservative mania: How does George Bush deal with the cognitive dissonance of his party stumping by proxy for the will of the majority while he so strenuously attempts to force his own will upon the people? After all, as David Greene at NPR reminds us [RealAudio], the President's "60 day campaign" just passed day 84 with yesterday's visit to Rochester....

From the "Holy Crap!" Department: Adobe Acquires Macromedia

At first, I thought it must have been some kind of a joke, but it seems to be true: Adobe and Macromedia have agreed to a friendly takeover, at a price of about $3.4B. So the question is, does this save Adobe or destroy Macromedia? And is there any conceivable way that merging two 800 pound gorillas could be good for web developers or end users?

Macromedia and Adobe have presented as competitors for years, but they actually compete head to head in very few areas. Even places where they seem to butt up against one another, as in the case of ImageReady versus Fireworks, or FlashPaper versus PDF, the truth is more complex: In the first case, most design shops just buy their people one of each, and in the second, the formats, while presented as directly competetive, really aren't. PDF is almost zealously print-centric; FlashPaper is really an effort to make Flash more print-friendly, and in fact ends up incorporating PDF into its own standards stack. Both have more usability warts than most people on either side like to admit.

It's hard to see how this helps consumers. Adobe have become enormously complacent in recent years. They're effectively the only game in town for professional image editing, and they know it. In the graphics professions, the price of a copy of Creative Suite is simply a part of the cost of setting up a new designer graphic artist. Even heavily Macromedia-focused web shops use Adobe software at some stage in their workflow, thanks to Adobe's strong lock on certain color technologies. But they've never bothered to develop anything like Flash, and have never worked very hard to overcome the profound weaknesses of PDF as a format.

Macromedia are somewhat hungrier, somewhat more innovative -- but they, too, have a market lock. Professional web design shops either work with Macromedia StudioMX (or possibly just Dreamweaver), or they most likely do inferior work. I know of a few good web designers who stick with Creative Suite for everything, but they're old pros with lots of experience dealing with Adobe's deeply idiosyncratic conventions and techniques. Macromedia's workflow for web production is far, far superior to Adobe's in every regard except for color management and high-end image/graphic editing. Their "round-trip" code management is on an entirely different plane from Adobe's understanding of how to deal with HTML.

If I have to predict the shakeout, I'd predict that the final product lineup from the merged entity will include Dreamweaver and Flash from Macromedia, Acrobat, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign from Adobe, and will probably include both ImageReady and Fireworks until they figure out which one is harder to de-integrate. My guess would be that the good bits of ImageReady would be incorporated into Fireworks, which has much, much stronger HTML generation capabilities. (That said, its file format may prove difficult to integrate with Photoshop and Illustrator.) Acrobat and Flash will have a relationship analogous to that between Flash and Director: Flash will be a mezzanine for rendering and delivering PDF, and Acrobat itself will continue as a separate product.

And, of course, Macromedia's server-side products will remain intact, because they're what Adobe really wants. Adobe is digital graphics, basically; but they aren't positioned to continue to grow in a post-Web world. Specifically, they are vulnerable to being obselesced as technology moves beyond them. Macromedia, by contrast, has spent the last several years experimenting with web-focused (not merely web-based) workflows.

ADDENDUM: After reviewing the MeFi thread, I'm no longer so sure that Adobe will be humble enough to keep Macromedia's very emperically-grown software development stack. And I see that some of my assumptions regarding the smartest choice of components may be too optimistic. One thing's for sure: Our web dev apps will sure be a lot more expensive...

Who Needs A Majority When You've Got Righteousness?

Forget about resisting the tyranny of the majority. We're past that. Right-wing Republicans are looking to lock in the tyranny of a minority.

People in both parties, but most notably currently prominent Republicans, are saying there's still hay to be made on the Schiavo case. Democrats say that it can be used to galvanize opposition to the planned Republican takeover of the judiciary branch. Republicans say that it 'energizes the base' -- where the definition of "base" seems to be "hard-core right-to-life Evangelical Christian Republicans." The most wildly exaggerated numbers I know of put that at about 25% of the American population.

Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, on Morning Edition this morning [RealAudio], says they're both wrong: That if there had really been an opportunity there, smart Democratic legislators would have jumped on it; and that, furthermore, Republicans had gone too far. "You know, there is a difference between energizing your base, and having your base push you off the edge.... Was it that we needed to prove to the middle, the middle of American politics, that we were willing to go someplace place that they didn't want us to go? How many times can you do that and still be successful politically?"

Republican lion and Episcopelian minister John Danforth agrees. He notes that "traditional Republicans" have complained about the courts going too far. "Most republicans would have said, 'We think that the courts go too far.' Now, it turns out that it's Republicans who are saying that we want the courts to go very far, but in our direction, and I just think that's wrong."

I'd like to think that both Danforth and Fabrizio are right, in their own ways. Danforth's view implies a basic belief that people ought to be morally consistent: That means ought to be consistent with the end, not merely contributory to it. Further, he's clearly a real believer in a pluralistic society. Fabrizio states his view in pragmatic terms, with the clear underlying assumption that it's normal for a nation to be comprised of people with differing views. (If you can dictate people's views, you don't need to worry about being "successful politically.")

But they're both wrong, at least in pragmatic terms. The Republican train is being driven by people who don't see a problem with means that are contrary to the end, or with the idea that the nation ought to bend to their will. Voices of moderation, even when conservative, are no longer welcome. They get in the way of the program, which is to let the Republican Party (by which they mean the intensely activist religious right component) install hegemonic control over American discourse.

Their will is a holy will, after all. Whether it's all the same religion is another question; all that really matters is that one (the religion of power and capital) can be translated into the ends of the other (semitic absolutism, as manifest in right-wing American Christianity).

What Is Neo-Calvinism?

In a nutshell: Neo-Calvinism is Smith's and Weber's Iron Cage. Except that instead of holding the Neo-Calvinists, it restrains the lesser beings that would trouble them -- namely, the poor.

More prosaically, "Neo-Calvinism" is the idea that the rich are more morally worthy than the poor. Their wealth does not confer virtue -- rather, it signifies it. It is the most potent and dangerous of several modern Capitalist sects, because it unifies moral righteousness with an ideology of power.

Calvin, along with notable reformation successors like Martin Luther, believed that a person's salvation was predestined: God (being infallible, omnipresent, omniscient, etc.) had determined in His own time that you or I should be saved or damned. Nothing that we do in our lives can affect that; the decision is already made. In pure Calvinism, this doesn't let you off the hook for moral behavior, because moral behavior is said to be an indicator of your fate.

So good people are good not because they do good things, but because God said they were. "Goodness" is merely an indicator.

As is prosperity. Wesley once famously lamented that as Methodists lived good lives (rising early, working hard, practicing thrift and sobriety), they tended to prosper -- which had the unfortunate side effect of causing them to focus on that worldly prosperity.

Neo-calvinism essentially forgets about God, and makes commerce itself the religion. Prosperity is still a signifier of moral worth -- but instead of being a secondary signifier, it's primary. It indicates stronger character, superior "fitness." It's a close kin to Greedism, but it's more powerful because it marshalls concepts like virtue and fairness to its service. It's related to Objectivism -- and I daresay most Objectivists are Neo-Calvinists -- but it permits a spiritual dimension that can be lacking amongst Randians.

Neo-calvinists are everywhere, all around us. Wherever you find someone who cries "It's not fair!" when they notice that the wealthy pay proportionally greater taxes than the poor, you have found a Neo-Calvinist or one of his fellow-travellers.

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.

Delocating The Village Green

During one particular, unhappy period of my life, I used to cross the street from the Y to the Village Green after my morning workout, and get a large coffee (and some sesame noodles, if I was feeling flush), and sit at the counter while I scribbled in my notebook.

The first refill was free; some days I'd go through four large cups. I'd mostly just write, alternating with long stretches of staring out the window. Sometimes I'd take a break to make a to-do list (top item of which was usually something on the lines of "GET JOB"). "The Green" was one of those large-ish, eclectic bookstores that you often used to find in urban to marginally-urban settings, featuring huge selections of magazines, unusual selection, and a section filled with some interesting food and candy.

And coffee. They always sold coffee, and as early as when I started visiting Rochester in the winter of '90/'91, it was good coffee -- not that crap that chain coffee shops dark-roast or pump full of artificial flavor to conceal its poor grade. Later, as they expanded in an attempt to compete with the suburban mega-bookstores, they added tables and chairs to go along with a new selection of pastries, cake, and vegetarian deli goods. They expanded their big suburban store in Pittsford; they built out their "flagship" store (really the much smaller of the two) to add a new CD store, trying to target the custom order market.

They went out of business not long after that, like a player at Risk who gambles on too rapid an expansion. It was a slow death-spiral, first rumored around the neighborhood, then heralded by the closure of the Pittsford store. As I saw it at the time, it was purely a matter of bad cost-containment: The wastage in their coffee shop operation was terrific. I counted one time, while I sat there, and noted that on any given weekday, they'd keep a dozen or more cakes, pies, torts and cheesecakes in the display case. At the end of the day, they might have completely consumed four or five of them. Still, they stubbornly insisted on keeping their food inventory until almost the end.

When the Green finally went under, they walked through and put price tags on everything: The books, the bookshelves, breadracks, refrigerated cases, anything that wasn't nailed down. Then one day, it closed, and was replaced a few weeks later by remaindered book wholesaler. He stayed for a month or two (probably sitting out the end of their lease), and then the space was closed. Half of the ground floor would be refurbished into a Pizza Hut; the old record area, upstairs, became a YMCA youth center; and the main building became a Hollywood Video.

It didn't take long for a succession of new coffee shops to open up, in a pair of buildings across the street and down a half-block. Neither lasted: The first was badly-managed and ahead of its time (an Internet cafe in 1997), and the second got knocked out cold when a Starbucks opened right across the street. Right between the sushi place and the trendy boutique, and across the alley from a cozy, carefully-hidden used bookstore called the Brown Bag, in a residential home that once housed a trendy wood-fired pizza place. (The Brown Bag used to be called the Oxcart, until its owners got out to write childrens books full time. That was something more than 15 years ago. It changed so little that lots of folks still call it the Oxcart.)

Starbucks is much busier than the Green ever was. In my gut, I don't know why; the Green was cheaper, their coffee better, their desserts were from the best dessert bakers in town. (Cheesy Eddie's carrot cake is pretty hard to beat.) Intellectually, of course, I know that people don't go to Starbucks with any conventional notion of value in mind. They go for an upscale version of that same ritualized sameness that Ray Kroc grokked: The beverage names are an incantation, a call-and-response to the baristas; the packaged and routinized baked goods are offerings to some god of status-through-commerce. I feel unclean whenever I go into a Starbucks, because I know that I'm in the temple of a faith to which I am apostate.

I've been to lots of coffee shops since then, and even spent a fair amount of time in one or two or three. But it's not the same. They're more expensive, and that's a big part of it. It's not that I'm cheap; it's that the cost starts to feel like an offering to those same gods of style, of status-through-commerce. It's a different sect, but it still feels like the same creed. Still, the coffee is good, the food is good, and the old Hallman Chevy building is fairly charming.

All of this is brought to mind this morning by an entry on the Daypop top 40: Delocator can help you find an independently-owned coffee shop near any US zip code. I don't see any near my zip code that I didn't already know about; it would be nice if they could take proximity arguments, which would let me see several more. But this is a pretty unusual area; we had "indie" coffee shops here before they were cool, and some of the best of them weren't proper coffee shops at all. Like the Green.

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.

Apple's DNA Is Mystique

Why does anyone still trust Apple? I suppose it could just be that they don't pay attention. Maybe it's that they love a bully, especially when the bully speaks and looks so fair. Apple is one of the great counter-arguments to the wisdom of the Cluetrain: They keep their customers in the dark and feed them nothing but cheap wine and communal wafers, and yet they're worshipped for it.

Last week, ThinkSecret fronted a rumor that Apple would be announcing a sub-$500 "headless" Macintosh at Macworld Expo on 1/11. They also slipped in a mention, which I somehow missed, that Apple was working on an office suite to compete with MS-Office for OS X.

So, naturally, Apple is sueing them [via Gizmodo]. Said ThinkSecret was revealing "trade secrets". Seem to think that the stuff ThinkSecret is putting up on their website might somehow cause Apple harm. For example, maybe Microsoft doesn't already suspect that Apple is canoodling with KDE to produce an OS X customized fork of KOffice. (KDE are already got the whole suite working natively under Aqua.) Maybe now that Microsoft knows, they'll conjure some nefarious plot to destroy Apple once and for all. Or not.

And as though suing ThinkSecret didn't just confirm at least one of the rumors.

Now, if the Cluetrain Manifesto told the whole story, Apple would be toast thanks to hijinks like these. Their hardware is expensive and slow, the software is more expensive and there's less of it. And on top of that, they treat their customers like marks to be manipulated and jerked around. On the other hand, Apple products come in whatever color you want. As long as it's white.

Friends and acquaintences know that I've considered buying a Mac for a while now, so I can move away from Windows while still having access to high-quality design and graphics tools like PageMaker and Flash. Much as I love the idea of scoring a slightly used PowerBook, a $599 desktop Mac would be a nearly ideal solution. But the Dark Steve just keeps making it hard for me to switch. At least Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer don't pass themselves off as nice guys.

Whence this mania for secrecy stems, I could only speculate. It's apparently new since Jobs rejoined in the late 90s, and since Apple more or less exists for the sole purpose of making Steve Jobs feel like a big man, my first guess would be that it sources back to him. In any case, it's a brilliant piece of crazy-making. They have to grok very deeply that their true believers will love them even more for this, and that once a convert has drunk their koolaid, going over to Windows is unthinkable. (Why, that would mean feeling uncool....)

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...)

In An "Ownership Society", Love Is A Liability

Text for the moment is from Jack London's under-appreciated dystopian political thriller, The Iron Heel -- his narrator and heroine, sheltered young intellectual Avis Everhard, is trying to get to the bottom of a worker's injury claim:

"Why did you not call attention to the fact that Jackson was trying to save the machinery from being injured?" I asked Peter Donnelly, one of the foremen who had testified at the trial.

He pondered a long time before replying. Then he cast an anxious look about him and said:

"Because I've a good wife an' three of the sweetest children ye ever laid eyes on, that's why."

"I do not understand," I said.

"In other words, because it wouldn't a-ben healthy," he answered.

"You mean--" I began.

But he interrupted passionately.

"I mean what I said. It's long years I've worked in the mills. I began as a little lad on the spindles. I worked up ever since. It's by hard work I got to my present exalted position. I'm a foreman, if you please. An' I doubt me if there's a man in the mills that'd put out a hand to drag me from drownin'. I used to belong to the union. But I've stayed by the company through two strikes. They called me 'scab.' There's not a man among 'em today to take a drink with me if I asked him. D'ye see the scars on me head where I was struck with flying bricks? There ain't a child at the spindles but what would curse me name. Me only friend is the company. It's not me duty, but me bread an' butter an' the life of me children to stand by the mills. That's why."

"Was Jackson to blame?" I asked.

"He should a-got the damages. He was a good worker an' never made trouble."

"Then you were not at liberty to tell the whole truth, as you had sworn to do?"

He shook his head.

"The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" I said solemnly.

Again his face became impassioned, and he lifted it, not to me, but to heaven.

"I'd let me soul an' body burn in everlastin' hell for them children of mine," was his answer.

Henry Dallas, the superintendent, was a vulpine-faced creature who regarded me insolently and refused to talk. Not a word could I get from him concerning the trial and his testimony. But with the other foreman I had better luck. James Smith was a hard-faced man, and my heart sank as I encountered him. He, too, gave me the impression that he was not a free agent, as we talked I began to see that he was mentally superior to the average of his kind. He agreed with Peter Donnelly that Jackson should have got damages, and he went farther and called the action heartless and cold-blooded that had turned the worker adrift after he had been made helpless by the accident. Also, he explained that there were many accidents in the mills, and that the company's policy was to fight to the bitter end all consequent damage suits.

"It means hundreds of thousands a year to the stockholders," he said; and as he spoke I remembered the last dividend that had been paid my father, and the pretty gown for me and the books for him that had been bought out of that dividend. I remembered Ernest's charge that my gown was stained with blood, and my flesh began to crawl underneath my garments.

"When you testified at the trial, you didn't point out that Jackson received his accident through trying to save the machinery from damage?" I said.

"No, I did not," was the answer, and his mouth set bitterly. "I testified to the effect that Jackson injured himself by neglect and carelessness, and that the company was not in any way to blame or liable."

"Was it carelessness?" I asked.

"Call it that, or anything you want to call it. The fact is, a man gets tired after he's been working for hours."

I was becoming interested in the man. He certainly was of a superior kind.

"You are better educated than most workingmen," I said.

"I went through high school," he replied. "I worked my way through doing janitor-work. I wanted to go through the university. But my father died, and I came to work in the mills.

"I wanted to become a naturalist," he explained shyly, as though confessing a weakness. "I love animals. But I came to work in the mills. When I was promoted to foreman I got married, then the family came, and . . . well, I wasn't my own boss any more."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"I was explaining why I testified at the trial the way I did--why I followed instructions."

"Whose instructions?"

"Colonel Ingram. He outlined the evidence I was to give."

"And it lost Jackson's case for him."

He nodded, and the blood began to rise darkly in his face.

"And Jackson had a wife and two children dependent on him."

"I know," he said quietly, though his face was growing darker.

"Tell me," I went on, "was it easy to make yourself over from what you were, say in high school, to the man you must have become to do such a thing at the trial?"

The suddenness of his outburst startled and frightened me. He ripped* out a savage oath, and clenched his fist as though about to strike me.

"I beg your pardon," he said the next moment. "No, it was not easy. And now I guess you can go away. You've got all you wanted out of me. But let me tell you this before you go. It won't do you any good to repeat anything I've said. I'll deny it, and there are no witnesses. I'll deny every word of it; and if I have to, I'll do it under oath on the witness stand."

[full text at Gutenberg]

Hobbesian Market Theory

The religions of Free-Marketism and Libertarianism, to the extent that they are espoused by the Bushite regime, are fundamentally informed by what academics call "Neoliberalism", which "... focuses on the establishment of a stable medium of exchange, and the reduction of localized rules, regulations and barriers to commerce, and the privatization of state run enterprises." The theory is that "unnatural" impediments to market function, like "localized rules" and other "trade barriers", minimum wage laws, centralized systems of social welfare, etc., will produce inefficiencies; as markets are made more efficient, capital will seek its level, flowing (in part) outward from the industrialized nations, and trickling down to the lower echelons of society -- and all will benefit.

The doctrines appeal to the Anglo-American obsession with "fairness": On a level playing field, everyone would get what they deserved. In practice, capital tends to accumulate in the hands of elites, and stay there, and neo-liberal regimes result in a war of all against all, enforced by the implicit rules of the new system -- as Pierre Bordieu described in 1998:

Thus the absolute reign of flexibility is established, with employees being hiring on fixed-term contracts or on a temporary basis and repeated corporate restructurings and, within the firm itself, competition among autonomous divisions as well as among teams forced to perform multiple functions. Finally, this competition is extended to individuals themselves, through the individualisation of the wage relationship: establishment of individual performance objectives, individual performance evaluations, permanent evaluation, individual salary increases or granting of bonuses as a function of competence and of individual merit; individualised career paths; strategies of "delegating responsibility" tending to ensure the self-exploitation of staff who, simple wage labourers in relations of strong hierarchical dependence, are at the same time held responsible for their sales, their products, their branch, their store, etc. as though they were independent contractors. This pressure toward "self-control" extends workersâ?? "involvement" according to the techniques of "participative management" considerably beyond management level. All of these are techniques of rational domination that impose over-involvement in work (and not only among management) and work under emergency or high-stress conditions. And they converge to weaken or abolish collective standards or solidarities (3).

In this way, a Darwinian world emerges - it is the struggle of all against all at all levels of the hierarchy, which finds support through everyone clinging to their job and organisation under conditions of insecurity, suffering, and stress. Without a doubt, the practical establishment of this world of struggle would not succeed so completely without the complicity of all of the precarious arrangements that produce insecurity and of the existence of a reserve army of employees rendered docile by these social processes that make their situations precarious, as well as by the permanent threat of unemployment. This reserve army exists at all levels of the hierarchy, even at the higher levels, especially among managers. The ultimate foundation of this entire economic order placed under the sign of freedom is in effect the structural violence of unemployment, of the insecurity of job tenure and the menace of layoff that it implies. The condition of the "harmonious" functioning of the individualist micro-economic model is a mass phenomenon, the existence of a reserve army of the unemployed.

[Pierre Bordieu, "The essence of neoliberalism", Le Monde Diplomatique, December 1998] [Courtesy "Candida Cruikshanks" via The Tutor]

Jack London noticed the same thing a hundred years ago; it can be seen as another way of keeping us asking the wrong questions. If we're busy protecting our assets (or the assets of our loved ones), then we're too busy to see what's really going on.

But if we can choose to live in this un-natural way (and anyone who doesn't see that it's unnatural is ignorant of basic ethology), then we can choose to live in ways that will not leave us as miserable as this way does.

This here Bordieu fella may be some kind of po-mo froggy intellectual, but he sure can talk some sense when he wants to.

More On Grover's World

Another point that deserves to be called out from the AnomalousData piece:

.... We live in Eden Prairie, MN. George W Bush came to our high school and lauded it as a model for all school systems everywhere...presumably due to the fact that it is in a tremendously affluent and conservative suburb, and continues to pump out high-quality graduates despite being severely under-funded.

(... and by that token a model for the post-revolution era when Government has been drowned in the bathtub...but let's continue:)

(I can tell you how they do this in another article. But mostly, it has to do with teachers spending out-of-pocket for classroom supplies, parents donating supplies, a legion of parent volunteers in lieu of staff, and parents spending about as much time and energy teaching their kids at home as they do earning money at work, endless fundraisers, and an endless stream of nickel-and-dime fees that donâ??t seem like much individually, but add up to a lot over time...oh yeah, and deferring essential building maintenance for the past few years.)

Since I'm assuming today that people don't really thing through what they read, I'll spell out the implications of this: If school districts have to fund themselves through parental contributions, then districts populated by wealthy families will have better facilities than those with middle-class families.

(I'm using "middle class" rather than "poor" here to drive home the fact that this is really all about a war by the elite against the bourgeousie. They don't give a crap -- aren't even afraid of -- the poor. It's the middle class that they fear. Marx was right about that much.)

Why do we find it so difficult to understand that Neo-Conservatism is a vicious and anti-democratic strain of elitism?

The Next Cluetrain Test

Microsoft Windows XP SP2 will be an important, but probably un-noticed, watershed in the progress of the "cluetrain".

I've yet to see a major case where "cluetrain" customer/user-emplowerment juju actually had an impact on any company's actions. There are lots of cases on the books of products doing poorly, but the vast majority are the same traditional feedback mechanism: The product sucks, people don't use it, the product fails; or, the product is poorly marketed (Coke C2? New Coke?), people don't buy it, the product fails.

A cluetrain feedback loop would be different. It would mean that net-empowered buyers (which doesn't necessarily mean internet-empowered buyers) had acted consciously -- as opposed by passibly, by simply not buying -- to make the product fail. That action could be in the form of spreading word of the product's suckfulness via some network; in the pure Cluetrain vision, that network would be a human network, enabled by technology. (Side snark: Which network will shortly be owned and controlled by Google...)

Cluetrain thinking is quite a bit like Marxism or "singularity" theory, in that it presumes the inevitability of something which a little basic observation and some applied knowledge of human nature would tell you is highly unlikely. "But it's emergent," is one common (if foggy) response. "You won't be able to predict the shape of the future from the present." "But from what will it emerge?" would be my response. I've yet to see an "emergent phenomenon" that couldn't be traced back to properties of its culture medium.

So, what the hell does all this have to do with Microsoft? Well, they've decided not to bother doing security patches on IE for anything but XP, once they release SP2. (At least, that's what I think they mean; they might mean they're stopping now.) Many see this as a calculated move to incentivize paid upgrades (XP SP2 won't be free -- it will cost $99 for most XP users). If so, it's a very calculated move, based on the idea that they don't need to care anymore how people feel about Microsoft. It's Rock v. Hard Place. It means they think they're winning the anti-Linux fight (which may well be true).

If the Cluetrain is what it's boosters have always said it is, it will stop this, and what's more, it will stop this in a particular way: It will wound Windows XP via Market Forces. Microsoft's sales of SP2 will be poor, Linux and Mac adoption will rise sharply, and Market Forces will drive radical improvements in the usability of Linux desktops. Or MS will "get on the cluetrain" and cancel plans to charge for SP2, at least -- and ideally, continue to distribute updates for Win2K. (Which is a better OS, anyway -- though it doesn't have all those wonderful hooks for MS lock-in...)

Now, I actually think it's pretty likely that XP users will be getting SP2 for free. Whether MS continues to update Win2K is another matter. This will happen because their corporate customers will communicate their profound disappointment, and telegraph a willingness to migrate to Firefox or Googlezilla. Is this a manifestation of the Cluetrain in action? I don't know; it would tend to support the view that the "cluetrain" is nothing new or emergent, if it were, because changing plans based on Big Customer feedback is as old as the PC industry, and is mediated not by networking but by traditional sales channels. And the reaction would be just exactly as little as Microsoft has to give up to get what they want.

Now, all that snark having been levelled, I would love to see MS take a hard line on this. Because it would force the watershed, and make it that much more visible. Such a watershed would place more pressure on the open-source communities to come up with alternatives, whatever those might be. But whether those alternatives are really better and more empowering than Microsoft is another matter. Given the exclusive choice between a joyless overlord despised by most who still knows relatively little about me, and a beloved overlord who knows my every browsing habit, I'll pick the former -- Microsoft -- every time.

The New Pinkertons

"Libertarian anarchists" often smugly trot out the idea of privately-funded security agencies as the great solution to all of the obvious crime-related objections to -- well, to libertarian anarchism. DynCorp is the great, one-word counter-argument. If you can afford to hire DynCorp, "right" and legal oversight become irrelevant.

DynCorp specializes in outsourcing security. Other names are more public, but there may be no company more deeply and richly integrated into the fabric of governmental security outsourcing. For example, DynCorp currently holds contracts with the U.S. government to manage American drug interdiction efforts in Colombia and Mexico-US border posts, and to advise the new Iraqi government on law-enforcement and security issues. They have a specialty in field helicopter maintenance, so the Army often contracts DynCorp to operate forward Apache attack helicopter bases, like "Camp Commanche" in Bosnia.

They also run the Bosnian police forces.

Sometime in early 2000, two DynCorp employees approached officers of the Army's Criminal Investigative Division with evidence that DynCorp contractors were heavily involved with the local sex-trade -- in many cases even "purshasing" young (as young as 12 year old) women as personal sex slaves. You can guess what happened next, right?

You got it: DynCorp fired the whistelblowers, and covered up the rest: Several (but far from all) perpetrators were fired, a few more shipped back to the states (to be shipped out again somewhere else, presumably), but most went scot free. Why? Well, I'm guessing they aren't clearly under US jurisdiction.

But what about Bosnian jurisdiction? Couldn't they be arrested and prosecuted by Bosnian law enforcement authorities? Ah, but remember: DynCorp is Bosnian law enforcement....

Ultimately, the grievances of the whistleblowers were upheld, albeit in a less than gracious manner on DynCorp's part: One made an out of court settlement for wrongful termination, and the other was able to get relief under a Brtish whistleblower statute. DynCorp itself, of course, has yet to admit that it fired either for cooperating with the CID.

It's curious to note, here, that we're coming full-circle (well, full-spiral, at least): As for one-word retorts, "Pinkerton" should have been sufficient. But it's my experience that people who self-label as "libertarian" usually don't have much consciousness of history; the only image they get from "Pinkerton" is a bunch of middle-aged guys in armored trucks and ugly uniforms. Great American fortunes have been built in no small part by private armies, not to mention dynasties with histories both notorious and obscured, and we mythologize the private use of force to this day.

I sometimes believe we are not really a civil society, in America. Much of the rest of the world sees us as a lawless place, in one sense or another, and in a way they're right. One reason that we can instinctively see private armies as a good thing, that we instinctively believe we need to own assault rifles to defend our homes and Glock .40s to defend our persons is that we don't have coherent and consistent traditions of civil behavior. I fear that the same lack of homogeneity that has generally protected us from fascism, also renders us unable to trust civil authority, however it is vested.

[Link courtesy The Tutor.]

In the market, no one can hear you scream

Shelley Powers' elderly father had surgery. True to modern ideas, he was to be released into home care. But it didn't go so well:

The surgeon who operated on Dad sent him home without any further instructions for physical therapy, care, and medicine, particularly pain medicine. All the assisted living home could give Dad was regular Tylenol. My brother hit the roof and had a frank discussion with the head of the assisted living house who directed Mike to the hospital discharge nurse who also had a frank discussion with Mike.

The long and short of it was that the surgeon felt Dad was going home to die anyway, and didnâ??t need any additional care. Including physical therapy, special care to help Dad once home, and pain medicine.

That was a mistake on his part.

I feel a grim ennui on hearing stories like this, and like Christian's. That this kind of thinking is typical is made clear by comment after comment, and my own knowledge of similar situations in my own family, and in the families of friends and acquaintances and of people I barely know...

This is the dark side of the free market. Free markets are efficient, we're told. Like machines that automatically seek a level. Like water seeking a level during a flood. Like snow seeking a level in an avalanche. Grinding people and homes beneath them.

Markets are efficient. They efficiently slot people into their tracks and grooves and efficiently grind up anyone who slips out of those tracks and grooves. Humanity becomes maladaptive, so long as you remain within the system.

What the market "wants" is a separate system, that exists "outside" the market, to support it. The efficient market will grind humanity to such a find spray that it will leave no knots of initiative or innovation or humanity anywhere, leaving us with a robotic society worthy of a J. G. Ballard story.

What the market "wants" is a system to maintain humanity for it, while seeming not to have any relation to it: It wants charity to be a personal matter, for just enough of the elderly to be maintained to make us think it's possible, and to make churches and cultural leagues and community charities take care of everything. So the Market can absolve itself of any responsibility for anything human. (Peace Be Upon The Market.)

(Not unions, of course. Let these social organizations have nothing to do with work -- it must be possible to look at these safety-net organizations and allow yourself to not understand that the Market relies upon them. The Market must be sacrosanct, after all; it would be blasphemous to suggest that anything in the human world is not market-driven at its base....)

At the end all I'm left with is a knot in my gut.

"I pay your salary. So yes, I CAN tell you how to vote."

"The only thing a free man can be forced to do is die." So when Lynne Gobbell got an ultimatum from her boss to remove the Kerry-Edwards sticker or find another job, she had the choice to comply and stay, or to defy and go.

She had the choice to listen and obey when her lawful employer told her what to do in order to continue to earn a paycheck. Or to disobey, and not earn a paycheck.

Did she know that fealty to President Bush was the price of continued employment? Look for plant owner (and bankrupcy attorney) Phil Gaddis to take the position that she did, and that she understood the risks. After all, he'd inserted a slip of paper into everyone's pay envelope that read (in part):

Just so you will know, because of the Bush tax (cut):

  • I was able to buy the new Hammer Mill
  • I was able to finance our receivables
  • I was able to get the new CAT skid steer
  • I was able to get the wire cutter
  • I was able to give you a job


You got the benefit of the Bush tax cut. Everyone did.

So is it really Phil Gaddis's fault if Lynne Gobbell is too pig-headed to know who her betters are? Of course he can tell her how to vote: He owns her labor power. She sold it to him. Voting is work. End of discussion. When you own this country, you can vote however you like. Until then, get back to work.

Grover's World

A peek inside the mind of Grover Norquist:

Last, a Bush-Cheney victory in November will create the conditions for a constructive contest among leading Republican governors and senators for the presidential nomination in 2008. Dick Cheney's heart troubles mean that he will retire with Bush in 2009. Usually the sitting vice president is the natural enemy of all ambitious politicians of his party, but now all Republicans want a Bush-Cheney victory in 2004, so they can run for an open presidential ticket in 2008. The Democrats face the opposite dilemma: Every ambitious Democrat hopes Kerry-Edwards fails, so that the presidency will open for her (or him) in 2008 rather than in 2012, 2016, or 2020. [emphasis added]
[Grover Norquist, "The Democratic Party is Toast"]

"No brag. Just fact," says Norquist earlier in the piece, echoing the ubiquitous Freeper boast. Everyone, in the end (so goes the Gospel According to Grover -- or is it the Gospel According to Rove? ... or does it matter?), is always only ever concerned with his/her own dominance, and always only ever looking out for his/her self-interest.

After all, isn't bipartisanship just "another term of date rape"?

Sometimes I don't like being right

Spirit of Ontario at full cruiseThe Spirit of Ontario is a beautiful ship, in her own way. Sure, she looks a bit like a building, but she's fast and well built. Sure, I never thought there was really a business plan in a fast ferry between Rochester, NY, and Toronto. (Note that there's no need for me to say where Toronto is. Case made.)

But it's still depressing to hear that "Canadian American Transportation Systems" -- one of that class of risk-shielding partnership entities that ensure that the brain-farters get off and their fellow-travellers eat dirt -- has pulled the plug on the "Breeze" starting tomorrow, September 8, 2004. Just a few months after starting.

I made a bet with somebody a few years back. I told him that if the ferry was still in operation 18 months after it started, I'd take him out for a night on the town, my treat. I'm not in touch with him anymore, but I wouldn't have minded losing that bet.

So many people here got taken for a ride, from the crew who advocated restoring the Hojack Swing Bridge in Charlotte (at the Port of Rochester), to their fellow-travellers who advocated restoring the old trolly service from Charlotte to High Falls, or installing a comprehensive light rail network into a geographically dispersed metro area of 200,000. Pipe dreams -- millions of dollars of labor and material cost, powered by the fantasy of providing something interesting in Rochester for tourists from Toronto. The future of the ferry was always regional, in Finger Lakes tourism: The many "wine trails", the nigh-alpine scenery from the shore of central NY towns like Geneva and Canandaigua, the outrageous density of festivals from June through September. These were things that made our area at least a bit special. But they weren't Rochester -- they weren't smugtown.

Mayor Johnson is struggling to keep the ship running -- if not on its current twice-daily 7-day schedule, at least once a day, four or five days a week. I think he believes that if it stops, it won't ever get started again, and I believe he'd be right in that. The most sensible course of action for the CATS board right now is to preserve their reputations (of course, at that level of investment, there's no really personal investment stake -- these guys will all come out of this deal having made money) is to sell the boat, sell the concession, somehow -- maybe move it to Buffalo and run it to the Thousand Islands.

What the hell.

The New Republican Drug Of Choice: Cocaine

John Perry Barlow noticed something interesting in NYC last week. It seems cocaine is making a comeback:

I'm talking about the interesting fact that, along with the Republican National Convention, New York is being hit with a cocaine epidemic that is even worse than the snowstorm that gripped this town during the mid to latter 80's. (During the last Bush administration, to put a finer point on it.) This time there won't be a crack problem to get all racist about, however. Cocaine in New York is now so cheap and plentiful that such economic measures as cooking it down to crack need not be taken by the poor.

People who learned better 20 years ago are suddenly snorting blow again. People you would never think would mess with this stuff are messing with it big time. Once again one commonly sees lines on the tabletops and the frantic eyes you can never make contact with. I was in a club the other night that was full as a tick with beautiful-looking people pharmaceutically disabled from beholding one another's beauty.

At the same time that the white death has made such a roaring comeback, the drugs that I think are relatively harmless, pot and the psychedelics, are in extremely short supply. Pot is selling at cocaine prices, a hundred dollars a gram sometimes. And coke is selling at pot prices. An ounce of coke would cost about the same as an ounce of decent sensimilla a few years ago. Mushrooms are scarce. LSD is functionally off the market.

What's going on?


But then, cocaine is a Republican drug. It makes its users self-obsessed, aggressive, and greedy. It plays hell with one's sense of consequence. It's generally preferred by people who have more money than humanity. And, best of all, the weirdos and peaceniks who like to waste their useless time stoned on marijuana or psychedelics, tend to hate it. ("All the more for us, eh, Buffy?")


Once again, one can see clearly what the War on Some Drugs is really about. It's the culture, stupid. It certainly isn't about public safety, since coke and booze are the perfect combination for social depravity of all sorts. Instead, it provides a beautiful opportunity to jail the blacks and hippies who prefer the non-Republican drugs. It makes huge bank for one's wing-tipped colleagues.

Can it really be that the Bush Administration has decided to turn a blind eye to blow? Or is it that they are simply too incompetent, despite turning Columbia into a war zone. Maybe this is just a local phenomenon, arising from the fact that approximately 10,000 New York police officers, who ordinarily focus on narco crime, have been diverted to convention patrol.

.... Just what we need, a whole arena packed with irritable, glaze-eyed folks who are even more certain of their superiority than usual....

To once again quote an old prof: "Isn't it interesting that the only drugs that are legal make you either depressed or tense?" Add: Or temporarily sociopathic?

But it may be simpler: It may just be economics. As we shift focus from the America-exacerbated problem of narco-terrorism to the America-exacerbated problem of global religious terrorism, the drug-kingpins can expand their production and trafficking operations. And since our "homeland security" measures have been such dismal failures, we still have wide-open borders.

And to top it all off, those goddamn drug producers are behaving like manufacturers, and working to improve production! That's right -- those bastards are getting scientific, and breeding super-high-production coca plants! Clever'd think good capitalists like the Bushites would applaud that kind of initiative.

Maybe that's what's going on, after all...

When They Pay You, They Own You

Lesson for the day: "Free speech" is a governmental concept. It doesn't apply to private enterprise. So you can lawfully say anything [non-threatening] that you want about Dick Cheney or George Bush (well, in theory), but if you start talking about your employer -- hey, man, nice knowing you, we'll send your redacted belongings by UPS Ground. And just make sure you don't say anything that might get our lawyers excited, once you're out the door.

It's an axiom of American Libertarianism that we negotiate (explicitly or implicitly) with employers for the right to use our labor power. (Hell, it's an axiom of Marxism, for that matter.) But what terms have we negotiated? What have we given up?

Joyce Park (a.k.a. "Troutgirl") is a PHP expert, who until 3pm yesterday was a development manager at Friendster. Today, she's a fired dev mgr at Friendster. The reason given was that she had blogged about the company.

Let's be clear: She hadn't revealed any business confidential information, and she hadn't said anything really even very bad about them. The worst thing that I've found so far was a snarky, weary comment about app performance ("hopefully we can now stop being a byword for unacceptably poky site performance"). But she's out the door, with her blogging activity given as the stated reason.

Again, let's be clear: She was fired for things she did on her own time, with her own resources. She was fired for voicing an opinion about matters of public record. She was fired for putting into words thoughts that were in her head. And if I may judge, in a fairly judicious way.

What surprises me so far is not the groundswell of peer support (there's a movement among geeks to cancel Friendster accounts in sympathy); what surprises me is how many folks think this is a perfectly appropriate thing for Friendster to do. The prevailing wisdom in some quarters seems to be that this is basically just business ethics 101. Hell, they owned her labor power, right? That must mean they also own the right to dictate what she can and cannot say about them, right? (I'm thinking back to a similar case a few months ago. Typical comment: "It's all so simple, if your employer doesn't tell you to blog, don't. At least don't while mentioning your employer." Simple, indeed...)

But this just sounds less and less "right" and "appropriate" the more I think about it. After all, it's basically a logical progression from that to arguing that any corporate-specific information in her head should be restricted to use by Friendster, only. So that means that they can make a case for owning things she learned while working on that big JSP-to-PHP conversion that Friendster finished a couple of months ago.

In 2001, the Supremes handed down a ruling in Kyllo v. United States [250KB PDF] that found a scan of Mr. Kyllo's home using thermal imaging equipment to be an illegal search. It's the grounds that were interesting: It was found to be an illegal search because the thermal imaging device was not "in common use." If such devices had been "in common use", by the ruling, the "search" would not have been illegal.

In other words, once everyone knows that it's become feasible to search non-invasively, it'll be legal. Just like looking into open windows.

That's analogous to this situation in that, presumably, as soon as it becomes feasible to erase or otherwise control content in someone's brain, there will be corporate masters who regard it as their right to take that action when an employee is "discharged" -- or leaves voluntarily.

Wealth Bondage Pr0n Starz

It seems to me that pornography and its analogues are becoming more and more mainstream. I'm not alone: The Tutor has noticed the same thing:

.... You would find News Anchors interviewing a whore at 9:15 pm about oral sex and the President's Chief of Staff on Iraqui Freedom at 9:22 pm, with no change in tone, that of admiration. In such a society, CEOs are honored for "growth," without regard to negative social impact; attorneys are honored for winning cases for the guilty; PR firms boast to clients of successful hoaxes; Intellectuals are raised like little girls in a Brothel that they might work for Wealth in a Think Tank. We have praised what we should despise and dishonored all that we should hold holy. The result is what you see. Brands where God should be. Whores endorsing Whores for office, as the Pimp counts the money and calls the show a Success.

So who am I to object? .... All over American parents would spank sense into their kids. Citizens would spank their elected representatives. The CEOs would run from the lash. Rich and Famous Clients would come to me. ... A Resurrection in the Spirit; when it comes those who have sold piety for votes, or for celebrity, will not find the holy ghost to be as easily manipulated as they take the American people to be. Truth is a wind, not a shape. And it rising uncontrollably in defiance of all mortal shapes imposed upon it.

Alas, I fear the Tutor gives too much credit. He assumes a sense of guilt, where I suspect there is no sense of guilt at all. These are not Carnegie, Rockefeller or Theodore Roosevelt, possessed by the spectre of divine approval: These are Nietzschean Calvinists, convinced that their prosperity proves their purity, and willing to define new Master Moralities on the fly to keep the unwashed masses confused.

Knee-Jerk Libertine

The Washington Post is adding another minute or two to "Washintonienne" Jess Cutler's Warhol Clock:

.... Jessica and her friend slid onto stools in the cool dimness of Bullfeathers, a popular Capitol Hill watering hole. Jessica ordered a Southern Comfort. It was the middle of the afternoon on May 18.

"What happened to you today?" the bartender asked.

"I got fired. I lost my boyfriend and my job, and it's my birthday," Jessica remembers telling him.

["Blog Interrupted", Washington Post]

Of course, this is all so three-months-ago, now, but it's rearing its ugly head again, and I'm tempted to wonder why; but here it is, so I'll put into bits some of what I thought at the time, aged by a couple of months to bring a little nuance to the brew. Sit back and listen to a story, then, children, all about a girl who thought she was invisible. Or maybe she just didn't think at all. The details are sordid, and while some of the details are a matter of dispute, the core sounds disturbingly familiar: A young woman takes a quasi-glamorous job in a Senate office that doesn't pay enough to support her in the style to which hip modern young middle-class people believe they should be accustomed. She discovers that she can use sex to improve her position, often through direct cash payments. One day, she begins to blog; her day to day life has the sordid cachet that seems to connote credibility among the denizens of the Fox Generation. And this time, unlike the Plain Layne soap opera, people can actually corroborate the story.

One day, again, she counts her lovers and they total six. "There are seven days in the week," she says in her own defense. The "boyfriend" she "loses" is only one of six men she is sleeping with on an ongoing basis. Two of the others pay her regularly. One of those is a married political appointee, who is only interested in anal sex.

I have some empathy for poor little Jessica, but little sympathy. She bragged about her job and her connections and talked up her exploits as though they were something she was proud of -- though reading between the lines, she seemed to me to be running on bravado as much as anything. After all, bravado -- the willingness to take that dare, even if it's from yourself -- leads an awful lot of people into trouble who are otherwise perfectly "nice". I see her as buying into a set of ideas about what she ought to be like, and how she ought to use her sexuality -- market-based ideas, really. She had an "asset" to sell, and she "sold" it, and she's selling it still, looking for ways to drag out her 15 long enough to close the book deal. All stuff, by the way, that I'm quite sure all her friends are eager to tell her are "smart" things to do.

But even if it's all bravado, all behavior to impress her herd-mates, she still had to choose to live that way. It probably wasn't one big choice. It would have been the result of a bunch of little choices, like making up an imaginary boyfriend to impress the other girls in school. And it's interesting to note that the style of her presentation is much like that men use to tell their own sexual lies. (And while the fake-boyfriend story isn't substantiated, a pattern of other lies-to-impress has been.) It's not that I regard it as scandalous when women adopt male sexual behaviors; in fact, I rather think it's kind of pathetic. After all, what does identifying with the oppressor ever really get you except self-repression?

I also lack sympathy for the Conservative backlash. It's unexamined; it lacks credibility. After all, this "girls gone wild" culture is pushed most assiduously in the broadcast realm by "Conservative" stalwarts like Fox Broadcasting and Murdoch's News Corp. That tells me that there's more than a simple "conservative" v. "liberal" opposition going on here. It seems clear that in a culture driven by consumption, business prospers as we become more neurotic, and the simplest way to drive that is to increase the degree of sexual stimulation at the same time that you increse the pressure to conform to conservative sexual moral strictures. This is nothing new, and it's not driven by any genuine philosophy of enlightenment: It's as old as advertising, and it's driven by the desire to make profit.

So both the Conservatives and the Libertines are fellow-travellers in this, as far as I'm concerned.

W.W.A.d.T.D. [What Would Alexis de Tocqueville Do?]

To paraphrase Lincoln: You can't fool all of the people all of the time; but a plurality, most of the time, is good enough.

For the last couple of weeks, every time there is a major story, someone attacks Groklaw, placing scores of offensive pornographic links as comments on old stories. When they all got removed the first time, next they interspersed tech words with the porn, hoping to get past our filters, I suppose. They seem to use a bot, so it does affect us. I didn't put it out as a press release and imply or accuse SCO or AdTI of doing it, even though it is certainly possible, because ... well, because folks in the free world don't do such things. We are not in the business of trying to destroy anyone or ruin their good name with implications without proof. If I ever get proof, I'll tell the world, naturally. But I don't call press conferences on a hunch, even though I have one.

[Groklaw] [link added]

There's a free-market hit-tank called the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, that recently published a very ill-researched tome on the origins of Linux. The report's gotten a lot of press, and has been widely and effectively discredited, sometimes by the people cited within it as authorities (e.g., Dennis Ritchie, Andrew Tandenbaum). Event their own experts don't support them.

So now they're claiming to have been literally attacked for their incorrect views.

It's endlessly curious to me that wild, paranoid accusations have become so primarily the domain of conservatives. Wild wingnut leftists hardly merit notice anymore, though I'm sure they're still out there.

There really can be only one reason for it: Money. As in, Conservatives have it, and are willing to give it to wingnut conservatives to act as their cannon-fodder. "Liberals" with money aren't that "stupid."

So, why in the world would "conservatives" want to fund wingnut radicals? Perhaps: Because it works. Because if the way you get power is by convincing as many random people as you can that they agree with your aims, it doesn't matter who those people are or how you do it.

Aside: For the first several weeks that I had this new blog up, the bulk of my external referrers were porn spammer sites. I couldn't figure out why; now I know: They wanted to insert into my comments. I should enable comment posting with moderation just to see what comes in...

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...

Without rules to break, how can you be bad?

Candida Cruikshanks, riffing off a news story on KRON-4 News in the Bay area:

If you are looking for vice, look for the Church spire and listen for the voices singing Hosanna. Bush is the same guy he always, just battling his own devils with missles rather than booze. "Lead them naked on leashes," see what I mean? The best sadists, from the days of the Klan to Abu Ghraid are Baptized in the Blood of the Lamb. Strong religion, strong drink. Ignorance and cruelty. Violence and repression. Projection of devils on the wall of the Other. God as a Cracker damning all but the Zealot to hell. All one inner battle. If Bush closes the Bondage Brothels here, he will open hundreds in Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, What else is our prison system? Bondage never had a better friend than G.W. Bush. He talks tough, but he is a pussycat in bed. (Guess who loves the leash?)

It seems some "adult entertainment" industry folks are trying to drive voter drives to register anti-Bush voters, on principle that Bush and the religious right are bad for their business.

They're right, of course, but only as long as they want to stay "legit". Forget about cultural correctness, and it becomes clear that Candida's right: Vice is meaningless without its restrictions. It thrives under repression. Remember that illicit gains are not taxed, and gansters don't mirandize one another before they bring out the saps. And on the side of "order", well -- it makes getting nasty so much easier to justify...


Subscribe to RSS - Free-Market Capitalism