peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)

There's a lot of crap at the TED talks, given how many tiny splinters have formed; but the good stuff is really, really good.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Recently, I commented on a comm. I shouldn't have. It was just another citation of yet another scientific theory that has been embraced with way, way too much enthusiasm by outlets beholdened to that sweet, sweet advertiser cash. And many if not most of those sponsors are somehow complicit in the carbon economy. The less this irritating Anthropogenic Global Warming theory is quashed, discounted, and thwarted, the better for business, if not our future. (Either way, we'll see.)

So I found I need to read a book, William F. Ruddiman's Plows, Plagues & Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Why? I'm weird. )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
A few years ago, a friend at work had a problem while driving. He heard a noise, probably from the front end of his vehicle. Since he was driving a 60-foot articulated passenger coach packed to the gills with commuters, this could have been a real problem. It was. Though he didn't notice anything at first, when he made a simple lane change he noticed the coach didn't respond to his steering wheel like it used to, instead becoming sluggish in turns. He dropped his speed and made for a turn-off from the freeway to inspect outside the seat. Probably a front blow-out. It wasn't.

He notified control about the weirdness and just took it slow to town, then drove the bus to the garage and notified the mechanics about the weird. The next day, all hell broke loose. )

Addendum, November 15, 2013: The Archdruid has some salient thoughts on the sequential processes both growing people and growing civilizations use to understand their worlds relevant to the above post:

It’s not merely that the government of every major industrial nation is trying to achieve economic growth by following policies that are supposed to bring growth in theory, but have never once done so in practice; it’s not merely that the populace of every major industrial society eagerly forgets all the lessons of each speculative bubble and bust as soon as the next one comes along, and makes all the same mistakes with the same dismal results as the previous time; it’s not even that allegedly sane and sensible people have somehow managed to convince themselves that limitless supplies of fossil fuels can somehow be extracted at ever-increasing rates from the insides of a finite planet: it’s that only a handful of people out on the furthest fringes of contemporary culture ever notice that there’s anything at all odd about these stunningly self-defeating patterns of behavior.

It’s at this stage of history that reflection becomes necessary. It’s only by thinking about thinking, by learning to pay attention to the way we transform the raw data of the senses into figurations and abstractions, that it becomes possible to notice what’s being excluded from awareness in the course of turning sensation into figurations and sorting out figurations into cascading levels of abstraction.

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Back in 1988, I was lying in bed listening to Mel Blanc (you know, the voice of just about every well-known cartoon character, famously Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Barney Rubble . . . I could go on) being interviewed by the local station as part of his book tour, his autobiography That's NOT All, Folks!. He told Robin and Maynard a tale I was too young to hear as a lad, the story of his car wreck in early 1961 that left him very near death in a coma.

Here's the weird. Mel told the story that his doctor came by every day and ask, "Mr. Blanc, how are you?" to see if he could elicit a response. Every day, nothing. Finally, Mel said, the doctor tried a different tack; he asked, "How's he doing in there, Bugs?" To the shock of both the doctor and Blanc's son, also in the room, Bug's voice came out, saying weakly, "Ah, he'll be alright, Doc."

I always loved that story. Even when I found out it was wrong, since it was wrong in a very interesting way. )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Over five years ago, I wrote an LJ entry provocatively titled "The Hate Comes First". The title came from an article that I quoted regarding the psychological phenomenon called "splitting." Shall we review? )

I may have found some answers to why I feel the way I do and, perhaps more importantly, why others just a few years older than me feel the way they do. Ah, but that will have to wait for another rambling of mine at a later date.

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I don't feel like thinking too hard today, so instead I'll make and defend a simple observation: Today's conservative politicians rely overly-much on visceral topics instead of intellectual arguments in order to attract the undying support of those who hold those emotional trip wires tautly. In other words, modern conservative activists and many of the elected representatives that respond to them have developed a vocabulary of dog-whistle scare tactics to simultaneously frighten their base and thus shore up support by promising to, if elected, curb the scary and icky.

Ooga booga! Scary ahead! )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Over two years ago, I read Thomas Geoghegan's Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?, a somewhat rambling collection of observations about the differences between the United States and Germany. In it, he noted that, quite unlike the American experience, German broadsheet newspapers were thriving. Yes, in a country that also has the intertubes, newspapers were being read. Of course, there were other differences in German life that led to that thriving newspaper business. The important question to ask is which differences should we in the States emulate?

Don't care about news? Don't click. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I recently tripped on yet another rhetorical caltrop in an online discussion thread, a seemingly off-handed observation that sought to quiet the Sturm und Drang of yet another whiner (this whiner being myself); it was the notion that "advertising has . . . been the fuel for art and entertainment for decades, if not centuries." And while yes, this is technically true, there are reasons—some worth considering, others so powerful that not considering them puts people at peril—obviating the seeming simplicity of this observation.

In a nutshell, I am here proposing that there are good reasons to create ad-free multi-media space, and that those reasons have to do with the negative and deforming effect of advertising itself. This has been a hobby horse of mine for some time, and I thought it might be interesting to introduce this concept with those who might not have considered these issues before. So, riders, saddle up! )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Waaay back in 2008, I came up with a theory of conservatism I called the Deist Miasma, an attempt to understand for myself why the religious in general and conservatives in particular have such violent reactions against theories that challenge traditional interpretations of reality (specifically in that post, Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection vs. Creation). In Part II, I further delved into the why of the conservative reaction by tying their rejection to the more emotional parts of the brain that irrationally reject concepts that create a sense of disgust. I got that concept from Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, a fascinating book that chronicled the 1848-49 cholera outbreak and how a new germ theory of disease challenged the prevailing miasma theory.

Never heard of the miasma theory? I'm not surprised. Here are the essentials: "There were practically as many theories about cholera as there were cases of the disease. But in 1848, the dispute was largely divided between two camps: the contagionists and the miasmists. Either cholera was some kind of agent that passed from person to person, like the flu, or it somehow lingered in the 'miasma' of unsanitary spaces." (Johnson, The Ghost Map, Riverhead, 2007, pp. 68.) "Miasmas" are detected by the nose; if it smells bad, it likely causes disease.

Miasma theory has been largely discredited since the perfection of ever more powerful microscopes and research into the efficacy of hand washing, especially when done by doctors before surgery and assisting births. Essentially, the theory lived long after the evidence mounted against it simply because of the disgust bad smells can raise in the brains of the smeller. This disgust overwhelms the smeller's desire to examine a problem intellectually and rationally. This strong disgust emotion trumps and overrides the rational brain, short-circuiting our ability to problem solve.

I hadn't considered it before, but econ blogger Asymptosis has: isn't neo-classical economics itself a form of the same flawed, disgust-based thinking that kept the miasma theory alive? He makes excellent points, points that follow almost to the letter my association between the creationist camp and the progress supporting natural selection. I would add that disgust against Marxist economics might have been the founding event for the neo-classical thinkers, and that all their complex theorizing stems not from the desire to craft rigorous and disciplined empirical modeling of reality, but to reject the fairly sound observations Marx made in Das Kapital. After all, creation "science" wasn't around before Darwin; there was no need, since the creation "science" was science.

Ah, but some of Asymptosis' conclusions resonated with some recent reading. James Howard Kunstler closes his most recent book with this observation about Barack Obama's first term:

He came along at a very difficult time in our national history. The economy is wobbling again for reasons this president has never adequately articulated (and which are the subject of this book), despite his renown for eloquence. And despite his genial disposition and adult demeanor he can be faulted for failing on many issues, including botched health care reform, a dumb energy policy, keeping two of the longest wars in our history going, and not reestablishing the rule of law in banking in the face of arrant misconduct.

(James Howard Kunstler, Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011, p. 240, I emboldened.)

In our President's defense, he studied law, not economics. For his economic expertise, he hired the brains behind Pres. Clinton's cabinet. Sadly, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin shared the same neo-classical tradition in their assumptions about our economic functioning, enough to pressure Mr. Clinton into signing the official repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a repeal that got us into this mess. Back to Asymptosis:

[There] are many valid and semi-valid ideas, theories, and constructs floating around in the world of textbook economics. But they are so intertwined with, caught up in the miasma . . . theories that today constitute mainstream economics . . . that it’s hard for even the clearest-eyed economist — much less the everyday person or Washington staffer, legislator, or policy wonk — to tell the shit from the shinola.

(I again emboldened.)

The result? Yes, we can judge the President for his actions; but we should also realize that no one person has a sufficient grasp of the arcane minutia to not have advisers, and that given sufficient acceptance, even bad theories can prove widespread enough to taint said advisers. Translation: yes, Jim Kunstler may have a better understanding of our economy to avoid, as Asymptosis put it, "emptying the cesspools into the water supply" just like the Londoners in the grip of the miasma theory of disease; that doesn't mean a clear-eyed appraisal of our economy is wide-spread enough to reach the halls of power.

And judging by our current economic situation, I'd say it well and truly isn't.

Addendum: The Next Day: This TED video gives a good introduction into how disgust warps our opinions.

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
In an out-of-town visitor induced haste, I briefly posted one of my pet peeves about what news has become, notably a race to the bottom of the attention span, constantly trying to keep the attention of the viewer despite a complete lack of engaging detail and even though there are a lot of stories they could be covering. Years ago, This Hour Has 22 Minutes did the best parody of this phenomenon, reporters blathering on about how a door will soon open and someone will say something important, complete with a crawl talking about "The Doors first album was released in 1969," just as a tangental observation. (One day more advanced online search will allow me to share gems like this.)

Today, though, I thought I would go over my observations about current news coverage and how they are hobbled by their chief reason for existence, their need to keep corporate sponsors coughing up that corporate cash. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
This is a kind of a flip-side to my last post on the intrusiveness of electronic data gathering. About as long as I've worried about virtual profiles being used to target me for ads, I've also kinda wondered about the very coolness of data gathering in the digital age and how that can be put to more productive uses.

For example, anyone can stand on a freeway overpass and record the license plate numbers of as many passing cars as one wishes. A lot of good it will do you, but knock yourself out. Ah, but put a scanner up there instead of a set of gooey eyeballs, and you can collect just about every plate number. Combine that with similar scanners at other vantages over several days and one can gather a near point-to-point map of the regular commutes of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. This data can be invaluable in future road construction, for example, helping to guide which future projects are worth the money based on projected impact.

Ah, but my buddy (with whom I have most of these liquid-fueled speculative bull sessions) thinks that would be a violation of privacy. I doubt it, simply because it would just anonymize the data, not track individuals. Sure, it could track; but so could anyone. What would be the difference?

Freeway traffic is one thing. What about internet search data? Lots of folks have done this, but a recent analysis has answered the question of how much racism affected the 2008 presidential election. From the article:

The conditions under which people use Google — online, most likely alone, not participating in an official survey — are ideal for capturing what they are really thinking and feeling. You may have typed things into Google that you would hesitate to admit in polite company. I certainly have. The majority of Americans have as well: we Google the word “porn” more often than the word “weather.”

And many Americans use Google to find racially charged material. I performed the somewhat unpleasant task of ranking states and media markets in the United States based on the proportion of their Google searches that included the word “nigger(s).” This word was included in roughly the same number of Google searches as terms like “Lakers,” “Daily Show,” “migraine” and “economist.”

It turns out those areas where the N-bomb is most often dropped experienced the greatest decline in the Democratic presidential vote, even amongst traditional voters for Democrats. Who says liberals can't be racists? That's just silly. Liberals are people, too!

Is this earth shattering in any way? Nope, any more than a survey of freeway drivers reveals that the point-to-point arrival time of certain drivers reveals through the time stamps that these certain drivers consistently exceed the posted speed limit. (And isn't it weird that these are often the same people we hear bitching about how late they are because of traffic? It's as if they don't even take their departure times into account. Hmmm. . . .)

We all know what speeders and racists look like simply because we all know some. It's good on occasion to remember that, as far as we've come, there's always room for improvement, and that means we need to talk openly about our real motivations.
peristaltor: (Default)
Just a bit ago, [ profile] badlydrawnjeff brought up priming, the concept that preparing people can affect perceptions, especially of ambiguous or even non-sense material. Fair enough, that.

I think we should, however, pursue this concept just a bit farther. Consider the following graphic:

Just about everyone who took intro courses in psychology knows this is the chief image used in the famous Asch conformity experiments. In a nutshell, if you want a significant number of people to say that the line in the left-most box is the same length as lines A or B in the right-most box, all you have to do is have four people agree that this is the case. It doesn't matter that C is clearly of equal length; a significant amount of social persuasion will make a significant number of people conform.

The Asch study simply had a single study participant in a study group of 5 to 7 other people, all confederates in on the study, confederates told to give either right or wrong answers. When the single non-confederate was asked to answer which line was the same after the confederates all agreed on the wrong answer, 41% of them would agree with the wrong answer.

41% would say something just about everyone could see wasn't true.

With a little help from our friend technology, the Asch results become clearer, but a tad scarier. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
The intertubes are a great resource for some things. Not so great for others. The instant nature of information dissemination is great for a death notice going 'round the world in seconds, as the recent deaths of Kim Jong Ill and that Libyan guy with the alphabet-soup-of-possible-spellings name demonstrate.

The not so much category, though, has to go to examining information on a more long-term, less spur of the moment manner. One must sift through a whole bunch of Rick rolls and cats with hats to find bits that fit with an overarching narrative that might, just might, prove useful to people trying to sniff out future trends. A good place to start would be this whole indefinite detention clause in a new bill that might soon be signed into law.

I'll let Glen Greenwald discuss the finer points of both this new future law and the trends that have been leading leaders to it. Essentially, not only can terrorists be indefinitely detained,

but also also anyone who “substantially supports” those groups and/or “associated forces” (whatever those terms mean).

That, I'm sure you will agree, is a pretty wide net to cast. Anyone who, for example, questions the legitimacy of the US government's actions might be described as someone who "substantially supports" terrorist groups who do the same, even though the first group bases their objections not on so-called "criminal acts" of the US, but rather on actual laws on the books within the United States itself, laws the current executive in charge might be violating. Protest too hard, and you might find yourself locked up without access to a lawyer . . . ever.

So, what future would be so extreme that the disaster planners in Washington deem unilateral detentions a necessary option? How about the breakdown of civil society?

I've already noted that just about everything in our presently organized society depends upon cheap and easy transport. If fuel costs rise too high, our economy hits the gas ceiling. From there, I've extrapolated that laws may have been crafted to protect our financial sector from the long contraction the loss of economic growth will necessarily create. (Mind you, I noted the protections were enacted for the financial sector, for the established banks and their oh-so-important bottom line of profit, not for the plebians like you and I merely relying upon our monetary system for financial survival. After all, those protections created money for reserves not lent into the economy.)

This is nothing new. The above graph was presented by M. King Hubbert himself in an article called "Exponential Growth as a Transient Phenomenon in Human History", published in 1976. Dmitri Orlov outlines the progression of Hubbert's three predictions:

In 1956 Hubbert predicted the US oil peak would be sometime between 1969 and 1971. For this he was ridiculed and laughed off the face of the earth (almost). Turned out the US oil peak was in 1970. This is something the drill-baby-drill, it's all the environmentalists' fault, ditto heads don't know anything about.

Next in 1974 Hubbert predicted the world oil peak to happen about 1998. However he DID say that if OPEC were to restrict the supply, then the peak would be delayed by 10-15 years which would put it at 2008-2013 . . . a reasonably close estimate of the actual global oil peak which started in 2005 and has continued as a plateau up to now. . . .

The chart above is his third prediction, about which Hubbert says:

"The third curve (on the left) is simply the mathematical curve for exponential growth. No physical quantity can follow this curve for more than a brief period of time. However, a sum of money, being of a nonphysical nature and growing according to the rules of compound interest at a fixed interest rate, can follow that curve indefinitely...Our principle constraints are cultural...we have evolved a culture so heavily dependent upon the continuance of exponential growth for its stability that it is incapable of reckoning with problems of behooves begin a serious examination of the...cultural adjustments necessary...before unmanageable crises arise..."

(I emphasized.)

It seems to me our disaster planners are taking measures to prevent the gas ceiling from hitting us too hard on our collective noggins, falling in the process right into the mindset the emboldened quote above illustrates. To prevent thinking outside the so-called box of exponential growth alternatives, one might start by developing a new source of liquid fuel; no matter how expensive that fuel might prove to extract or distribute, it will be something our economy can use while we figure out how to use less. Call this our emergency supply. How about extracting liquid fuel from tar sands and shale, then move this liquid to where it is needed? A really nice map of this plan can be found here, with an interactive feature describing the links planned and completed.

Ah, but let's say we aren't able to extract enough tarry goo from low-energy geological formations to prevent further spikes in fuel price. Let's say we get alternative political groups like, say, the Tea Party or the Occupy movement (opposite sides of the same coin, if you ask me) continuously bitching about the growing price of transport, food, and other stuff of life, but the shrinking prospects for ordinary people to get employment or other decent livings. Let's say the continued snuffing of protest by riot gear clad officers really rankles a few, and they decide to shake things up by blocking or disrupting pipelines. If they do this where the goo first flows from the steam melted tar sand, there's nothing we in the States can do . . . is there?

Well, yes there is. We can send troops north at the invite of the Prime Minister. You see, the United States and Canada agreed to just such a troop-sharing back in 2008.

Canada and the U.S. have signed an agreement that paves the way for the militaries from either nation to send troops across each other’s borders during an emergency, but some are questioning why the Harper government has kept silent on the deal. . . .

The left-leaning Council of Canadians, which is campaigning against what it calls the increasing integration of the U.S. and Canadian militaries, is raising concerns about the deal.

“It’s kind of a trend when it comes to issues of Canada-U.S. relations and contentious issues like military integration. We see that this government is reluctant to disclose information to Canadians that is readily available on American and Mexican websites,” said Stuart Trew, a researcher with the Council of Canadians. said there is potential for the agreement to militarize civilian responses to emergency incidents. He noted that work is also underway for the two nations to put in place a joint plan to protect common infrastructure such as roadways and oil pipelines. . . .

“Are we going to see (U.S.) troops on our soil for minor potential threats to a pipeline or a road?” he asked.

(I emphasized yet again.)

If those minor threats come at a time when other supplies of petroleum prove in drastically short supply, Mr. Trew, then the answer might very well be yes. After all, south of our border we are enacting not just legislation but, as Glen Greenwald notes, a trend toward laws that pull the legal protections granted citizens by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, possibly all so we can avoid the societal perturbations financial crashes and famine can create.

It will take time to adapt to a world without cheap motive power. We may not have the fuel necessary to make that transition without major disruptions to our economy's current configuration and subsequently to the stuff of life that structure enables. This detention mentality is a band aid. This militarization, whether crossing borders — Iraq? Afghanistan? Canada? — or deployed right here at home might be another albeit larger wound dressing, an attempt to staunch the flow of fuel from our hungry gas tanks. People who cannot conceive of viable alternatives might be pursuing the only path they see available.

I worry that they might be exactly right.
peristaltor: (Default)
I know most of you are either sick of or exhilarated by our national excitement that calls itself the Occupy movement. I vacillate between the two myself. Heck, I hopped a downtown bus a few weeks ago just to check out the excitement, only to discover it was at that time dwindling to about four or five people.

Just as I leave, it seemed, Scott Olsen's projectile to the head and the following concussion grenade to the helping crowd care of the Oakland Police moved many around the country to take back to the streets. One thing led to another, and the police, trying to clear a crowd from 5th and Pike, decide to break out the pepper spray. Dorli Rainey's image is now everywhere.

The police say they were trying to clear the crowd from the street, a place normally used by cars. People drive cars to get from one place to another. If people are in the street, the cars probably shouldn't try to drive there. I hope that's clear. In fact, blocking the street was the whole idea, according to Rainey:

On Tuesday night, she said, she was part of a group who stayed a few minutes after police told them to disperse.

Protesters were talking aloud about leaving when police converged, holding their bicycles and spraying pepper, she said.

"You only get real attention when you block a few streets," she said.

Why you only get real attention should be obvious: People get pissed at being held up in traffic. They are unlikely in their delay rage to be very generous to those that hold up traffic. So people expect the police to clear the roads. Which is what they did.

Ah, but now we have a good look at consequences. When the police unleashed pepper spray at this poor, little-old-lady, an event that led to the iconic photo, the reaction really snarled traffic two days later:

Hundreds of demonstrators marched onto Seattle's University Bridge on Thursday, snarling traffic during the evening rush hour in one of several rallies nationwide for "Jobs Not Cuts."

Seattle police escorted the group from the University of Washington to the University Bridge, and later reported there had been no conflicts in what they termed "the peaceful demonstrations."

This was in marked contrast to Tuesday night, when a group of Occupy Seattle demonstrators was pepper-sprayed by police while blocking downtown traffic, first in Belltown and then near Westlake Center.

Okay, here's a question: Why was the blockage of a single block, 5th and Pike downtown, different from the "peaceful demonstrations" that blocked one of only six bridges crossing the Ship Canal, and quite arguably a far more necessary route to the city as a whole? The latter demonstration was just as angry, just as determined to get their voices heard by being a temporary nuisance. Shouldn't they have been fire-hosed with pepper spray?

I'll cut this bit of personal experience, which has become too ramble-y. )

This raises an important question: Should the police focus on defusing a single event, or on avoiding repetitions of the conditions that led to the event? [ profile] bradhicks thinks the latter is more important. He points out that not all cities responded with brute force:

Multiple news sources are reporting that the multi-city raids on Occupy Wall Street and its regional imitators were coordinated by the National Council of Mayors, via conference call right before they began. A few minutes ago, I saw an article on a San Francisco news website alleging that, based on deep-background off-the-record anonymous law enforcement sources, the FBI was on that 18-city conference call as well, and that it was the FBI that advised cities on tactics: go in hard, with as many cops as you can, wearing black riot-squad gear to make sure you have the psychological upper hand; do it in the middle of the night and keep the reporters as far away as possible.

The St. Louis Beacon non-profit news site is reporting that St. Louis's mayor didn't bother listening to the conference call himself; he let his chief of staff take the call. And after seeing how other cities handled their raids, and comparing it to how St. Louis handled its raid, I'm left wondering: did Jeff Rainford laugh out loud at the FBI and the credulous mayors who were listening in? Or did he manage to hide it?

I encourage you to read Hicks' take on the differences between St. Louis and Seattle, et al. The University Bridge protest escort took a page from St. Louis's tactics. If they had done so earlier, there wouldn't have been a bridge protest to escort.

I have to conclude here that ham-fisted police policy responses have done more to fuel the protest fire than quell it, something the little old lady with a face full of spray knows well.

Dorli Rainey, you see, has been no stranger to protest. A few days after the spraying, she emerged from the hospital. A reporter asked her what she would say to the police officer who sprayed her. She said, "Thank you." Her picture has reinvigorated a protest almost moribund a few weeks ago.

Oh, and she has a blog, wouldn't ya know, though it doesn't look as if it's seen many recent updates. I haven't myself, but maybe you would like to peruse her blog and better know this Old Lady in Combat Boots.
peristaltor: (Default)
Co-worker VeloBusDriver turned me on to yet another boner popped by our nation's nemesis General Motors: GM ads that mock bicyclists and pedestrians.

Embiggenate the shame of cycling.

It gets worse. As if this ad (which ran in UCLA's student paper) weren't enough, GM tried to apologize in a very, very ham-fisted and obviously untruthful way. Mark Degnan, Director of Local Advertising and Marketing, actually wrote, "It was not our intent to make light of a healthy lifestyle and cycling." I ask you, people, if that ad doesn't "make light of a healthy lifestyle and cycling," what exactly does it do?

A little digging in the comments revealed that, at least a day after Mark published his official "apology," GM was still running banner ads which I think are even worse. This little number to the left was, according to a commenter, an intro to a feature that allowed people to toggle between different GM pedestrian-splashers currently on the market . . . at the GM College Discount web site. Showing cyclists to be shamefully un-date-able is one tactic; showing pedestrians to be worthy targets of driver derision borders on goading hate speech.

I got the title for this entry after I described it to The Wife. She has admittedly far more experience dealing with corporate culture. She notes that this kind of "taking the lead" in "making a difference" talk is pretty common in meetings everywhere. I countered that all of us differ on what steps can be considered forward leading and which just carry the walker backward. Why? Each of us has in our heads different definitions of utopia and hell. Your utopia might very well be my idea of hell.

People who gather together every day and interact with each other every day form a society of their own. They can reinforce each other in ways that might very well seem alien to those outside the culture, even contrary to devices designed to catch errors and correct them. General Motors, formed of people, is no exception. Are we in agreeance?

When someone in a board meeting suggests an ad campaign mocking cyclists because focus groups show that cycle riders (especially in LA, where the paper ad ran) would rather drive, someone else in that group (probably in Detroit, one of the least pedestrian and cyclist-friendly cities in our nation) thought that was a fine idea and green-lighted the campaign. After all, whatever sells more cars the better, no matter how despicable the idea might seem to non-auto industry people.

Why, I bet these ads were run by some of the same people who thought those kooks over at the electric car division were tilting at windmills with their wacky wiz-bang battery cars. Those EV-1s, some of the most advanced modern electric cars every produced commercially, got exactly what GM corporate culture thought should come to them.

Crushed, just like the naive hope of every pedestrian and cyclist that General Motors will ever, ever change.
peristaltor: (Default)

An interesting take on the situation, though lacking in one aspect: His App #3, Property Rights, needs to extend beyond mere real and personal property to intellectual property. This allows coupling the first two of his apps, Competition and Science, to economics, a coupling which incrementally increases the complexity of technology first by giving inventors domain over their inventions, and later by allowing improvements to those inventions either when the patent rights have expired or through licensing agreements. Author William Rosen called the patent system The Most Powerful Idea in the World, and traced its Western roots to the reign of Elizabeth I.

Ferguson mentions Smith, but Rosen goes one step farther and points out what Smith missed:

Smith's theorems did a spectacular job of explaining the self-regulating character of a free market, in which prices and profits are forced by competition to the lowest possible level. . . .

What they didn't do was explain how wealth, profit, and competition can all grow over time. In short, it didn't explain the two centuries of growth that were beginning just as Wealth of Nations was being published. It is in no way a criticism of the book to state that it covered everything except the reason the author's own nation was about to get wealthier than any other nation in the history of mankind. The failure is pretty much explained by what is not in the book. Despite living in the middle of the biggest explosion of inventive activity ever recorded, and even though his illustration of the advantages of specialization was a factory for making pins, Smith's book hardly mentions the role of the new machines then transforming his world. Next to nothing about waterpower, to say nothing of steam; nothing about the forging of iron, and his few paragraphs about the textile revolution are mostly an argument for restricting the export of spinning machines. His pin factory, it turns out, was only a metaphor; he never set foot inside one. . . .

The efficiencies of specialization are real, and the self-regulating "invisible hand" powerful, but it was the machines, and nothing else, that allowed Britain, and then the world, to finally produce food (or the wealth with which to buy food) faster than it produced mouths to consume it.

(William Rosen, The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, Random House, 2010, pp. 250-251, I emphasized.)

Bottom line: While the development of engines was an offshoot of science, it took a formal recognition of patent rights to prod an inventor's desire to move creations beyond the laboratory and to invest enough in research to make these inventions economically viable.

Of course, there's another bottom line, that the machines need constant fueling . . . and without this fuel, growth — "to finally produce food (or the wealth with which to buy food) faster than it produced mouths to consume it" — would not be possible.

Which might explain this debt situation he mentions near the end of his talk. No cheap fuel, no economic growth. No economic growth, no ability to pay the existing loans still outstanding. Sound familiar?
peristaltor: (Default)
It looks like AdBusters planned to protest Wall Street like an American Arab Spring, but no one really showed up.

Back in July, Adbusters began promoting a move to occupy Wall Street in protest of the rampant corruption, market manipulation and out of control greed that is destroying our nation today.

Adbusters was hoping for a turnout of some 20,000 angry Americans who would occupy Wall Street for months.

Unfortunately, it appears that the number was less than 1/20th of their goal, or less than 1,000 activists, according to AFP.

I do agree about some of their anger. No, I do not support the so-called "free speech zones". As the article noted, "It is not free speech if you have to get permission to speak, plain and simple."

But I do have to question the validity of their entire enterprise. After all, yes, Wall St. did fuck things up on a grand scale, but exactly how many lost lives can be blamed on this enormous cock-up? Allow me to elucidate: I lost my bank, Washington Mutual, in the cluster-fuck; but did I suffer anything other than irritation? Not at all. Even though The Wife and I had quite a bit in that bank to lose, thanks to the FDIC we lost not a penny. Sorry, but the Wall St. shenanigans simply do not compare to the torture squads and corrupt police tactics in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum.

In reading the article, though. . . . )
peristaltor: (Default)
I had a moment of extreme coincidence the other day. I spent the early part of the day transcribing a bit of interesting info from Oren Harman's The Price of Altruism. Let me share the coincidence. )

And now, let me rant. )

X-Posted to [ profile] home_effinomic

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It's nice when a book not only confirms my niggling suspicions, but shows that I was not cynical enough by a wide, wide margin. The book is High and Mighty SUVs: The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How they Got That Way by Keith Bradsher. He points out not the now-tired observations about how SUVs tend to kill their occupants and others far, far more often (well, not just those observations), but interesting points about the big "truck" drivers that I thought you folks would find illuminating. Let me give you a taste:

Who has been buying SUVs since automakers turned them into family vehicles? They tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors or communities.

No, that's not a cynic talking -- that's the auto industry's own market researchers and executives.

(Keith Bradsher, High and Mighty SUVs: The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How they Got That Way, PublicAffairs, 2002, p. 101, me with the boldening.)

Would you like specific citations backing up this broad generalization? Why, certainly! )
peristaltor: (Default)
Back in August of last year, I ended the last episode of Swatting the Swarm with this paragraph:

Alan Greenspan may not have been in charge of the Fed during the most severe and obvious part of the collapse, but his actions -- or rather, his ideological inaction -- sowed the seeds for the impending disaster. To understand what happened, we need to note how systems work in general, how our economic system works in particular, and how we individuals within the systems can have more control over system outcomes than the leaders supposedly guiding the system with their authoritarian control.

I figured it only fitting to do some reading on the economy and how it works before laying out my damning indictment of Greenspan. I'm still reading, of course, but have still found enough hard informed commentary to all but dismiss that group of economic thinkers and theorists to which Greenspan belonged as a starry-eyed gaggle of dogmatic optimists sometimes led by (in some cases) out-right con artists. Sadly, this group wields an enormous amount of power and influence today, all but dictating policy in defiance of the democratic process and skewing toward their conclusions far too many aspects of our everyday lives.

Economics purports to be, you see, a science, and as such should rely on supporting its claims with empirical evidence. That's what other branches of science do, after all. Much of the following 150+ years of biology and paleontology have, for example, supported Charles Darwin's 1959 Origin of Species and his theory of natural selection found therein. That same year brought us one of the most important foundation observations supporting today's science of climatology.

As the two examples of science provided suggest, though, is that a lot of damage can be done to the reputation and understanding of good and well-supported theories if enough people with money find it in their best future interest to distort and obfuscate the official record. Believe it or not, even given the massive distortions climate change deniers and creationists have wrought on those other disciplines, economics has suffered an even greater attack and for a far more extended time. The Neoclassical and Neoliberal branches of economic theory prove far less supported in their tenets or their conclusions than either climate change denial or intelligent design, yet very few in the media even question the veracity of these assertions. As a result, we get a never-ending blast of neoclassical nonsense regurgitated by pundits, noise that effectively deafens the populace clamoring for real information they can use at the ballot box and with their checkbooks. Until that clamor is stanched, few will hold the qualifications to make informed decisions governing their very lives.

With this in mind, the following Too Long; Don't Read post addresses some of the tenets of neoclassical economic theory with explanations where I am able to provide them and dissenting opinions discussing why said tenets are theoretical at best and delusional at worst, backed by some of the books in which my nose has recently been buried. Click onward to view the Mythos. )

Addendum, May 3, 2011: In my haste, I forgot contributions from Pink and Hertz (which sounds like an S&M porn, I know). They were included today.


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