Archive for ‘economics’

2015/01/05

That secret and powerful message

It may have been as much as thirteen years since I mentioned my unaccountable interest in Wacko Tax Protesters, but I am happy to see that The Tax Protester FAQ is still there and may even have been updated since 2002.

I was reminded of the Whole Area by a Wonkette piece, How Are The Feminists Keeping Men From Getting Laid Today? (Oh, Wonkette, you are so funny with the funny headlines and all), which refers in passing to one “Peter-Andrew: Nolan (c)”, whose distinctive use of punctuation reminded me of ol’ David-Wynn: Miller, author of such lyrical prose as:

~2 FOR THE EDUCATIONAL-CORRECTIONS OF THESE MODIFYING-COMMUNICATIONS ARE WITH THESE CORRECTION-CLAIMS AGAINST THESE FICTIONAL-ADVERB-VERB-USAGE WITH AN OPERATIONAL-METHODS OF A FICTIONAL-MODIFICATION-PARSE-SYNTAX-GRAMMAR.(8500-YEARS OF THE SYNTAX-GRAMMAR-MODIFICATIONS WITH EVERY LANGUAGE)

Now normally we would not publicly point and/or laugh at such things, because schizophrenia is not a fun condition to have in general, but it seems at least plausible that D-W:M is actually quite sane, since although his new kind of speech does have the power to bring about world peace, since

~39~a FOR THE DUTY OF THESE QUANTUM-MATH-PARSE-SYNTAX-GRAMMAR-COMMUNICATION-CLAIMS IS WITH THE CORRECTIONS OF THE WRONG-WORDS IN THE NOW-TIME WITH THE MISSING-WORDS-HISTORY OF EVERY COMMUNICATION-TRANSLATION-WORLD-WIDE WITH THE CLAIM OF THE COMMUNICATIONS AND LANGUAGE-FRONTWARDS AND BACKWARDS WITH THE TRANSLATIONS BETWEEN THE FOREIGN-LANGUAGES WITH THE CLAIMS OF THE FACTS AND MEANING FOR THE PRICELESS-PEACE BY THE TREATIES BETWEEN EVERY COUNTRY.

the main point, or at least the thing he is by far most famous for, is the claim that if you use this ummmm language you don’t have to pay your taxes, or really obey any laws at all that you’d rather not, because after all

~76 FOR THE CONSTRUCTIVE-TREASON OF THE CONTRACT IS WITH THIS CLAIM OF THE DUTY AND AUTHORITY WITH THE SURRENDERING OF THE TRUTH-COMMUNICATIONS-CONTRACT INTO THE FICTION-STATE WITH THE FICTION-FRINGE-FLAG WITH AN OATH AND COMMUNICATION-CLAIMS OF AN OATH IN THE TRUTH, ALSO KNOWN AS THE DUTY BY THE SUPPORTING OF THE U.S.: W.C.-CONTRACT WITH THE CONSTRUCTIVE-TREASON BY THE DEFINITION WITH THE KNOWLEDGE WITH THE VOLITION BY THE DAMAGE: TITLE: 4: U.-S.-C.-S.-~THREE~3 OF THE FLAG OF THE U.S.C. BY THE FORMING OF THE JURISDICTION OF THE FICTION/FOREIGN-STATE-COMMUNICATION WITH THE CONTINUANCE OF THE DAMAGE OF THE CLAIMS AND RAPE OF THE CLAIMANT/ BY THE OFFICERS OF THE COURT.

and so on.

(Oh my just stumbled across his translation of the Lord’s Prayer; should I reconsider my thoughts on his mental condition?)

Anyway, it turns out that this is no longer, or perhaps never was, just a USian thing, but has also infested Canada and other FICTION-STATEs.

Here is an amusing weblog entry on the subject from our neighbors to the North: How Not To Manage a Bankruptcy or Income Tax Case, which led me I think to the text of Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (CanLII) which is a very nice overview of the whole Wacko Tax Protester situation by an actual judge writing actual legal reasons and stuff.

I have not finished reading through that yet.

(One of the scammier scams is the claim that if you get a bill or anything else really, you can just write “Accepted for Value” on it, and sign it, and send it back, and you’re all done. This is clearly stupid, but for some reason web sites like this are out there attempting to get the extremely gullible to pay money to find out exactly how to do it. I wonder how many bills they get back with “Accepted for Value” written across them, and how they feel about that.)

Now on the other hand I can’t be too tough on people who actually think that there are secret legal facts that the legal establishment is conspiring to keep from the common people, because it happens to be the case that there are secret legal facts that the legal establishment is conspiring to keep from the common people.

One of the things what was noted just in passing in something linked from something above was a list of various other wacko pretend-legal groups, and one of them was “the Fully Informed Jury movement” or other words to that effect.

And that drew me up a bit short, because unlike the wackos trying to convince people that if you attach signed postage stamps to your clothing you are effectively royalty (really!), the fully-informed jury folks are trying to convince people of something that is in fact true.

To quote from the article that was linked from whatever it was I found this mentioned in, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Volume 88, Issue 1, Article 8 (Fall 1997), Populism, Free Speech, and the Rule of Law: The Fully Informed Jury Movement and its Implications, by one Erick J. Haynie:

It has long been recognized that juries have the power to render verdicts inconsistent with the criminal law. Since jury acquittals are never subject to appellate review, a “not guilty” verdict will always be final regardless of the jury’s reasoning or its interpretation of the facts.

Which is to say, when you are on a petit jury and the judge instructs you that you are allowed to determine the facts of the case, but must strictly obey his pronouncements on the law, he is well sort of maybe lying just a bit, because in fact you can acquit for whatever darn reason you want. But the lying is in a good cause!

The great distinction in American jury nullification doctrine, however, is that while juries enjoy an unrestrained power to nullify the law, courts almost universally forbid this power to be explained to juries. The prevailing view among jurisdictions is that affirmative instruction on the ability to nullify would lead to lawlessness in the jury decision-making process.

That’s Haynie again. Isn’t that nice? Can’t trust juries to act reasonably if they knew the truth, so we’ll just conceal it from them. Otherwise it’s the End of Everything!

For a jury that is taught the legal reality that, no matter the facts of the case, an acquittal verdict is unreviewable and a guilty verdict will be given much deference on appeal, will also understand that it has nearly absolute power to determine questions of life, liberty, and property however it pleases. At that point, law is no more.

Welllll… This doesn’t seem all that blindingly obvious to me. (Especially since they can only acquit unreviewably, not convict.) Surely there is a position between “lie to people and keep this fact secret” and “tell them they can just do whatever the heck they want”. More on that below.

Our Haynie considers; what are we to do about this? Action is clearly required, now that people can find stuff out on the internet! And there’s even this Fully Informed Jury Association that is trying to tell people this true thing in an organized way omg!

(Their website does sound a little close-to-the-edge here and there; but imagine the feeling of finding yourself in the middle of a conspiracy-theory scenario that turns out to be true! Brrrr.)

Anyway, Haynie again, clutching his pearls:

Silencing attorneys and refusing nullification instructions, however, is no longer an adequate solution to the nullification problem. With the rise of FIJA, judges are no longer the sole gate keepers of that secret and powerful message. Consequently, as the FIJA movement continues to grow it will become necessary for the jurisdictions to develop new approaches to the nullification problem that are more mindful of juror awareness of jury nullification.

Yes, new approaches, that’s what we need!

Fortunately and amusingly, of the various possible new approaches Haynie considers, all of them, except for making it harder for FIJA types to actually throw information at jury members on courthouse grounds, turn out to be unworkable and/or clearly unconstitutional.

(And at this point I begin to suspect that Haynie is a genius of gentle satire, and he’s actually pointing out that the project of keeping the “secret and powerful message” under wraps is actually doomed.)

His conclusion:

And so time will march on until either FIJA withers into nothingness or the rule of law comes to have “about as much force as the Cheshire Cat’s grin.” True lovers of liberty will fear the latter over the former. Anarchy is no better friend of freedom than an overreaching government.

Quite the doomsday scenario! The assumption here is that if people find out from the evil internet that they are allowed to vote Not Guilty just because they think the law is unjust, say, they will start capriciously acquitting people randomly right and left, and it’s Game Over for law and order.

And if you have that low an opinion of potential jurors, you must be pretty unhappy that we have juries at all! Let alone Grand Juries! Why, those people could do anything!

I think in actual practice there are all sorts of jury instructions that could acknowledge the nullification power without messing anything up. Top of the head:

I’ve just explained to you that you are here to determine the facts of the case, and have a duty to follow my instructions as to the law. There is one exception to this: if the facts of the case and the law are such that the accused did violate the law beyond a reasonable doubt, but that in this instance a guilty verdict would be gravely unjust, so that you in good conscience simply cannot vote to convict, you have a duty to vote to acquit. Be aware that this is an extremely rare situation; District Attorneys work very hard not to bring you such cases, and judges work very hard to make sure that when one slips through, we catch it before it gets to the jury. But just for completeness, I mention this here.

All right, that exception aside, to return to what I said a moment ago…

And yeah I’m sure that that has big holes in it since I Am Not A Lawyer and I only thought about it for like ten minutes, but something like it seems plausible to me.

Better than lying to people and just hoping that they don’t find out the truth and bring about The End of Everything, anyway…

But you still have to pay your taxes!

2014/01/31

But it’s not that simple

On Twitter I follow a few rational-seeming right-wing types, to try to avoid the echo-chamber effect, and yesterday one of them posted about the big kerfuffle where MSNBC implied that the Right Wing might not like interracial marriage, saying how offensive it was and all.

I replied, as one does, saying that, um well, isn’t disliking interracial marriage sort of a Right Wing thing, after all? One of the other people in the thread gasped at how horribly offensive I was being, and we went back and forth a little with me trying to suggest that certain attitudes about race really are, as a matter of historical fact, associated with certain political factions, and they (from my point of view) ducked and weaved a little and then got quiet. I was really impressed, though, with how thoroughly the person seemed to live in a world where interracial marriage (and maybe even same-sex marriage) weren’t a right-left issue at all, and right wing racism was just an offensive myth.

In trying to decide whether to follow this person also, I looked at their earlier “tweets” (and ultimately decided not to follow them), one of which was something that reminded me strongly of the kind of thing that I might have posted like 25 years ago myself, if posting was something people did then, back when I still identified as Libertarian.

And since I seem to be never getting around to that Grand Unified Why I Am Not A Libertarian Anymore posting, I thought I’d at least post about this.

The “tweet” in question was an image, one of those “image that is basically just text” images that social media so loves. It said:

The Rich Man, the Poor Man, and the Politician
A Tale of Income Inequality

There is a rich man and a poor man.
The rich man makes $1000 a day.
The poor man makes $10 a day.
The difference in their income is $1000 – $10 = $990 a day.

The rich man builds a factory.
Now the rich man makes $2000 a day.
He gives the poor man a job at the factory.
Now the poor man makes $100 a day.
The difference in their income is $2000 – $100 = $1900 a day.

A politician decides the “income gap” has grown too large.
He taxes the rich man $1000 a day, gives it to the poor man.
The rich man can no longer afford to run the factory.
He closes the factory. The poor man loses his job.

Everything is as it was before.
And the politician takes credit for “closing the income gap”.

This is a cute Just So story, very typical of, maybe even a little more complex than, the average Libertarian Just So story.

But, like all of them, it leaves out so much that it ends up pretty much completely irrelevant to reality.

These people really need to read “The Jungle” or something.

But short of that, here’s a slightly more realistic version of the story.

The Rich Man, the Poor Man, and the Politician
A Tale of Inequality

There is a rich man and a poor man.
The rich man makes $1000 a day.
The poor man makes $10 a day.
The difference in their income is $1000 – $10 = $990 a day.

The rich man builds a factory.
Now the rich man makes $20,000 a day.
He gives the poor man a job at the factory.
Now the poor man makes $100 a day.
The difference in their income is $20000 – $100 = $19900 a day.

The rich man’s factory pollutes the air that the poor man breathes.
The products the factory produces are poorly-made.
The poor man’s working conditions are dangerous and unhealthy.
The health insurance the poor man buys from the rich man’s insurance company
will drop him on a technicality if he gets sick.
Once he’s too old to work, he will have nothing.
Taking into account actual quality of life and not just money,
The difference in their income is $20,000 – $5 = 19,995 a day.

A politician decides there is too much “inequality”.
He taxes the rich man $8,000 a day, and the government uses that:
To enforce laws on clean air, product safety, and working conditions.
Not to mention Obamacare. :)
To provide the poor man with Social Security.
And to prevent unfair labor practices.
The poor man joins the union and his pay rises to $200 a day.
The rich man can still afford to run the factory;
after all he’s still making $11,800 a day.
Taking into account actual quality of life and not just money,
The difference in their income is $11,800 – $200 = 11,600 a day.

Which is still quite a lot, but
the politician can take some credit for “reducing inequality”.
And things are generally fairer and cleaner.

Sadly that second one won’t really fit on a Twitter placard…

2013/10/17

Change of address

This has been up on the Facebook for a bit, but it fits nicely into the narrative here, so:

We've been eating grass!

Okay, I really ought to announce it myself, rather than just hijacking the little daughter’s status on the subject. :) As of Oct 21st, I will be retiring from IBM after 33 good years, and starting at Google in Chelsea for the next 33. Yep, it’s quite a commute, and I’m looking forward to it anyway. The place is packed with former Watsonites, and I expect it to be a Good Time. Also, they provide Lego!

I expect there will be more postings on this general subject going foward :) but right now here are a couple of exclusive pictures (well, on the Instagram, but not the Facebook) which are related.

The cake is not a lie!

Sorry about that!

Oops! Sorry about that, stockholders…

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2013/08/02

Of Reprehensible Persons

rep·re·hen·si·ble (\ˌre-pri-ˈhen(t)-sə-bəl\)
adj.
Deserving rebuke or censure; blameworthy.

Just to give rebuke where rebuke is due. And/or to vent a little. :)

Anthony Weiner is a walking punchline, and should Just Go Away. If an oppresivist Republican was doing this I’d love it :) but Weiner is just hurting the Progressive side every time he (or his organization) opens its mouth. If he were a uniquely effective force on the side of good (see below) I would be more conflicted, but apparently he isn’t. (I am a bit of an Alex Pareene fan, I admit.)

On the other hand, Eliot Spitzer has been one of the few people in power willing and able to get all up in Wall Street’s face and at least threaten to bring some justice to the thoroughly entrenched criminals there. Which makes it sort of a pity that he’s an entitled oppresivist hypocrite who is willing, even eager, to prosecute people for things that he happily does in secret himself.

So what to do about Spitzer? It’s likely that he goes after Big Finance mostly because that’s his schtick, that’s the side he’s chosen as a path to fame and power, and not so much because he really believes deep down in justice, but still. I think I would be happiest if he apologized to the universe, declared his support for the legalization and effective regulation of sex work, gave his personal fortune to the Sex Workers Project or somebody, and went back to challenging Wall Street.

Given that that’s unlikely, unfortunately, I think it’d be best if Spitzer would Just Go Away also; we’ll have to find someone to fight Big Dollars who isn’t such a jerk.

Speaking of Wall Street, employees and management of Glass, Lewis & Co., as well as the owners of a nearby food truck, are obnoxious jerks. It is nice to see this going viral. Go and enjoy and contribute to the big Twitter flame-out before they notice and delete it.

(I’m amused by the lonely Twitter voice from an alternate universe shouting about how tips are only for exceptional service, and no one should ever be upset not to get one. That may be true on Planet Nebulon, but in New York City a tip of 15% or so means normal ordinary service, an amount above that is a compliment, and leaving no tip at all means that either (a) you forgot, (b) the service was so bad you had strong grounds for a civil or criminal case against the server and their entire family, or (c) as in this case, you are a total douchenozzle. It might be reasonable to wish this was not true, but… it is!)

Okay. Less controversially perhaps, the people (“people”) at “Project A.W.O.L.” are disgusting scammers. Given the numbers of people in the pictures on their horrible Facebook page, I’m surprised there isn’t more on the net debunking them; but maybe the pictures are all fake, and it’s mostly just a couple of douchenozzles spamming weblog comment pages.

I discovered this because one of the things they do (as well as putting up obviously fraudulent web pages), is Like and Follow random WordPress weblogs (I expect there’s software that does this for you?), and they’ve done that on this very weblog here. It’s a relatively typical Ponzi / Pyramid scheme (not exactly the same thing, I know; I think this has aspects of both), in which they convince some number of gullible people to pay them some amount of money per month for “secrets” and “tips” to “get rich online” and “make money with your blog”, whereas in fact the only Secret Technique they have is to convince some number of gullible people to pay you some amount of money per month for…

Yeah.

And there are all these different nearly-identical weblogs and scam pages and Exclusive Limited-Time Offers and things, and since all each one does is take money from people for enabling them to spread exactly the same scam further, you get a big rotting squelchy mess of stinking fraud and self-deception.

For instance, upon running across this awful thing on the weblog of an otherwise apparently well-meaning author who just wants to flog her self-published book on GoodReads, you have to wonder. Is she part of the scam? Or just a victim, fooled into reposting their stuff? (The two do sort of blur together of course; one of the things that makes the squelchy mess so foul.)

(I was able to find a smallish amount of actual information about the mess; see for instance Project AWOL is a scam, which leads to some other good material about the mess. And in fact even the scammer community seems to think that Project AWOL is a bit much. “Empower Network” seems to be a scam-enablement company that goes to some effort to skirt the letter of the law, and apparently they suspect that Project AWOL’s fraudulent promises of wealth might get them in trouble. It’s noteworthy the amount of frothing from perp-victims occurs in the comments on the various anti-scam posts, insisting that everyone is making tons of money and it’s not a scam at all; uh-huh.)

So that’s that. Ick!

Another scam I wandered into somewhere; the horrible and/or amusing “Power 4 Patriots” site and video, which is noteworthy mostly as an example of skillful Tea Party button pushing, where scary statements and images (Obama’s electricity monopoly!), sometimes entirely incompatible with each other, are used to try to sell plans for making your own homemade solar panels and wind turbines, which will magically protect you and your family against all possible disasters. It’s easy to just laugh at this, it’s so obviously pathetic, but we are not the target audience; this stuff is designed to appeal to people of limited reasoning and analytical skills, and often limited money, in order to scam them out of some of that money in exchange for stuff that will most likely help them not at all.

And that’s evil.

What else? There’s basically the entire Republican party and most of the Democratic party, of course, but that’s old news, and kind of generic. Let’s pick specifically on the reprehensible Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI), who used a hearing to scold some nuns for not doing enough for the poor, and expecting the government to do anything at all. Words fail.

(And I admit I am rather a fan of Wonkette also, monetized and snarky as she/they/it is…)

So as not to end on just all these notes of negativity, we will point out in closing that while the Daily Mail is of course reprehensible in most aspects, Amanda (Fucking) Palmer totally rocks. :)

2013/06/05

So yeah the new flickr site design is awful

I’ve been a member of flickr since back when GNE closed down and many of us regulars said “eh, might as well try this free photo-sharing site that Stewart and Caterina are doing now”. It’s had roughly the same design ever since, nice and clean and well-balanced between text and graphics, with just the occasional moving of a button or adding of a new fancy feature (without removing the old version if there was one) to keep things interesting.

Until sometime last month, when they messed it all up.

flickr on blackWhich is to say, they imposed an entirely new design, with a completely different look and feel, different content emphasis, and different affordances (in the Donald Norman sense of the term, most importantly), and they did it without any warning to speak of, and (somehow!) without anticipating that at least some users would be upset by it. It was presented in the very XXth century style “here is a great new thing we have done, passive consumers, be thrilled!”, that is a total no-no in the XXIst century web world, where your customers are your collaborators, you steer by real-time user feedback and A-B testing, and so on and so on.

And I wouldn’t really mind, myself (except that they have to spend lots of time doing damage-control that they could be spending on actually making the site better), except that (speaking purely objectively of course) the new design is flippin’ awful.

It’s one of these hideous “infinitely scrolling page” things that break the Back and Reload buttons, and break performance if you scroll down too far; it hides pretty much all the text (i.e. picture titles and descriptions), suggesting that the Proper Experience on flickr is just a big mush of pictures all run up against each other as close as possible; there are individual picture controls (which are coy obscure little symbols) which appear only when you hover over a picture; when you click on a picture it takes you to a page which shows the picture big on black, and sometimes seems to show the title and description and stuff and sometimes not (I still haven’t quite figured that out yet), if you scroll downward.

Basically it’s just like those tumblr designs that I find most obscure and annoying, only without the graphics of emo album covers in the background.

One or more poor flickr schlubs has had to try to keep some order in the milling rioting crowds of protestors in the flickr forums, and one thing they did was to close the original zillion-page thread about the changes and start a new one, summarizing what they are hearing their customers say so far.

I posted a couple of replies in that thread (on like page 64), and here I am posting them here too just for grins.

So I don’t want to bring any hate or anger :) and I haven’t read all twelve million comments above, but I do find the new design offputting, confusing, hard to use, and all that. It seems to be modeled on a very common style of tumblr design that I also dislike (but at least on tumblr I can just use some different one).

On the various updates in the header:

> you want the option to see Flickr in a “classic” view


That would be a good start.

> textual information around your photos (and sets in particular) is too hidden in the new design


I’m not sure why you say “and sets in particular”; the thing I’m most upset about is that my titles and descriptions are basically completely absent from my photostream page. The titles can be seen one at a time, if you hover, but that’s a drag. And the descriptions show up randomly, as far as I can tell, if you click on the picture an even number of times and then scroll down. Or something. Wildly confusing.

I guess the idea is that pictures matter and words don’t, but that’s not an idea I agree with. I put titles and descriptions in on purpose, and I’d like them to appear, not be hidden 90% of the time.

> user’s organizational choices are limited and not surfaced enough, particularly with the Collections, Set, Photo hierarchy

Not a huge one for me.

> loading the justified, infinite scroll views are cumbersome and expensive for many with slower network connections

And also I personally *hate* infinite-scroll pages and tend to avoid any site that has them. They break the “back” button, they break the “reload” button, etc, etc.

> you want more customizability of content and layout in your photostream and home page



Yes. Obviously you have some designers who have real strong opinions about what everyone’s flickr page should look like, and obviously many of your users don’t agree with those opinions. Telling all those users that they are out of luck and they just have to go along with designer-of-the-day’s opinion-of-the-day is not going to help your bottom line.

tumblr is very customizable. wordpress is quite customizable. That’s the standard now. If flickr is for some reason not going to be customizable, it will die. And I think that would be sad!

And then…

Oh yeah, and I would also like my homepage to not feature some random HUGE picture from some random contact. The results can be… startling…

… because they really can. I mean, eeek! :)

2013/03/08

Salon covers the Mystery Infographics!

Just a quick jubilant note to say that Andrew Leonard at Salon has up a piece on the mysterious Tony Shin / QuinStreet infographic spams that we have covered lovingly in the past.

And apparently there was another piece the other day about the “request for link removal” things that I also talked about recently.

And I’m sure when I have a chance to read them, they will be interesting!

Here is a picture of a bird eating a fish or something:

Kingfisher_6611

Update: zomg the Salon piece actually links to us. W00t!

2013/02/25

Psychology and micropayments

Ha, there, got that Oscars rant off my chest…

So I’m temporarily tired of Minecraft PE (the world is still fun to run around in mining and stuff, and I have lots of pictures to maybe eventually take and post again someday, but I don’t have any compelling New Project ideas at the moment), and WoW (there’s always lots to do there, but it doesn’t draw me at the moment, all seeming sort of same-same), so for my anti-social time the other night I downloaded a random free “app” for my “iPad”: “Eternity Warriors 2“.

It’s free, in that it doesn’t cost anything to buy, and you can play through the first few levels with just the armor and weapons and “coins” and “jewels” that you get for free or find lying around the dungeons or get after killing monsters (the usually amusing trope that some giant spider might be carrying around a nice pair of plate-armor gloves).

And then if you are me and you look further along in the Store, you notice that there are alot of things that cost lots of “jewels”, and that “jewels” cost significant Real Money. I did a little math and figured that buying a nice tough suit of armor and weapons to match would cost between US$50 and US$100 (real-live real-world money), and thought “haha I am too wise to do that, so I will just enjoy whatever happens if I don’t pay money.”

But these people are smarter than that! What happens if you don’t pay money up front is that you have fun killing lots of slightly-tougher monsters using the slightly-better weapons and armor that you find, and then suddenly you die.

owie

You die because suddenly there’s a big monster that does lots of damage.

And after you die, the game pauses, and offers you the chance to “revive”.

And reminds you that if you don’t revive, you will lose everything you’ve so far gained on that level.

And tells you how many jewels it will cost to revive.

And, if you don’t happen to have that many jewels left, will kindly give you a convenient button to buy more, right there, so as to come to life again!

Which means that, having decided not to spend lots of money on the game in the store in advance, you are now offered the chance to spend a relatively small amount of money, right when your mental defenses are weakest.

Because you’ve been fighting monsters, so your adrenaline and heart rate are high, and you’ve just died, so you’re feeling vulnerable and angry and frustrated, and here is the chance to undo that dying by spending just a little money and maybe for a second you wonder hm is the price per jewel that they are offering me here really a good investment all things considered but then your id is all OH PUSH THE BUTTON WE DIED AND IF YOU PUSH THE BUTTON WE CAN FIGHT THE MONSTERS SOME MORE so you push the button.

Ages ago I was into Magic the Gathering for awhile (I think I collected a complete set of one of the expansions (and naturally it turned out that that was the expansion that having a complete set of was like the least valuable of all of the expansions)), and I noticed that they were very clever, selling you a game like a dollar or two at a time, seems very cheap, but then if you sat down and added it all up you would discover that you’d paid like US$75 (or more) for this silly game and if you’d seen it in the store for that much you would never have bought it.

Eternity Warriors 2 (and this flying-airplanes game Steel Storm or something that I bought awhile back, if to a lesser extent, and I’m sure hundreds of other “apps” in the general “freemium” category) takes this bit of psychological trickery to another level, by offering their many small-looking buying opportunities at times when your rational mind is more or less turned off, and your reptilian mind is in the lead, willing to push whatever button is sitting there on the screen IN THE WAY OF KILLING MORE MONSTERS KILL KILL KILL.

Which is damnably clever, and has fooled me into buying a few jewels now myself.

I am reminded of an old Internet Naughty Story from like the 90’s which explored this concept, only with slightly larger payments, and with sex rather than violence (and which impressively I was able to find on the web):

“If you liked that,” she said quietly, her voice melodious, “you’ll love our Adult Classics I series. And for a limited time you can get it for just twenty-nine ninety-five.” She took her left breast in her hand and raised the nipple to my lips, “Would you like that?” she whispered, “Would you like it right now?”

I’m sure that’s not the only story that’s explored that as an SF concept.

Maybe it’s a good thing that the Apple Store doesn’t allow Adult Content…

Anyway, I am off to play more Eternity Warriors 2 for a few minutes. I will of course resist any attempts to get me to spend money, now that I’ve figured out how I’ve been exploited.

Of course!

2013/02/16

Dear “Choice Privileges”,

About this email you sent me…

Better Idea

I have a better idea!

How about you freaking bite me?

Please vote you #1 in all categories, eh? Not just some, and not based on how we actually feel or anything? Just because you sent spam asking?

Sheesh.

I cannot understand how anyone could get this piece of insulting stupidity in the mail and not be enraged.

Of course, we know how I am

:)

(The exciting Freddie Awards, hahaha! Maybe it is parody…)

2013/02/03

I want a little lapel pin

I want a little lapel pin that’s officially recognized as meaning:

  • Hi there, salesperson!
  • I want to give you cash or show you my credit card in exchange for these goods here.
  • I do not want to join My Bonus Shopping Reward Points My Way or whatever.
  • I realize that it is “absolutely free” except for giving you my personal information, and I still do not want to join it.
  • I also do not wish to apply for your store-brand credit card.
  • I do not wish or intend to give you my telephone number or driver’s license for any reason at all.
  • If had had wanted fries, or a mini-flashlight, or your Special Of The Day, I would have brought it to the counter here.
  • And I didn’t.
  • In fact I do not wish to be monetized or upsold at in any way.
  • I just want to buy this stuff here and leave.
  • Seriously.

At least after I’d refused to give the Sears checkout lady my phone number when she discovered I did not belong to My Bonus Consumer Shopping Reward Points My Way, she had the good sense not to ask me for it again when I said I did not have a Sears Card either.

Sheesh!

2012/12/15

Fractionally Reserved

I’ve run across an internet troll or two railing against fractional reserve banking in the past, but I had the impression it was sort of a fringe-of-a-fringe thing, in the same realm as the “NASA faked the moon landings” idea.

(Fractional reserve banking is where the bank can loan out some of the money that is deposited with it, as explained by Professor Stewart in that scene from It’s a Wonderful Life.)

But now I’ve just finished L. Neil Smith’s Pallas (a wonderful and awful piece of escapist fiction that I ought to write more about, related to that Waking from Libertarianism posting that I also ought to write), and in one memorable scene an “overstuffed” banker is arranging a loan to Our Hero from his (Our Hero’s) best friend and lover (a hooker with a heart of gold and a big bank account), and the narrative voice mentions that the banker can’t just lend him money himself because he (the bankers) isn’t rich, and he can’t loan from the bank’s deposits because fractional reserve banking is considered “felony fraud”.

Now L. Neil Smith isn’t exactly a moderate, but I have the impression he’s more or less a mainstream libertarian writer, so this suggests that the idea is at least a bit more popular than secret government treaties with space aliens.

Last time I was within hearing distance of a troll blaming our economic problems on fractional reserve banking, I used a little just-so story to show how it seems perfectly consistent with libertarian ideas about individual liberty and so on. He replied by contemptuously dismissing me as not understanding, which is what that flavor of troll does when you ask a hard question, and I didn’t pursue the issue.

But if L. Neil Smith is saying the same thing, it occurs to me I should write out the just-so story in a little more detail, and put it here in the weblog where it can be picked up by Major News Media.
bank
So, the story.

Without fractional-reserve banking, a banker is just a particular kind of warehouse guy, one who specializes in storing high-value low-volume stuff (like gold nuggets, hundred-dollar bills). You give him a box with your gold in it, and he promises to keep it safe and give it back to you when you ask, for a mere four-fifty a month. Maybe he even specializes in stuff that is valuable solely for its monetary value, in which case you give him two thousand dollars worth of gold, and he promises to give you back the same value in gold (although not necessarily the same actual atoms), when you ask for it, for either four-fifty a month, or possibly some fee scaled to the value of money on deposit.

This guy isn’t going to make much more money than any other warehouse guy, probably; he can charge more per cubic foot because the stuff is more valuable, but then he also has to spend more on security for the same reason; a vault costs more than a simple warehouse, and the guards have to be paid more to resist the extra temptation offered by small valuable stuff that’s easy to resell.

(Similarly, at this stage of the story, an investment guy is pretty much just a matchmaker. In the example in Pallas, where Cherry has lots of money and wants to lend some to Emerson, and they already know each other (in the Biblical sense, even), he serves no purpose at all except to allow Smith to show that he doesn’t like bankers.)

Now one day a warehouse guy of the “you give us money, we give you money back” type notices that there is all this money sitting in his warehouse, and it’s doing nothing. And he starts up a brand-new service, where if you sign up for it, he will take oh say ten percent of the money that you give him, and lend it out at interest. He will then keep part of that interest for himself (his profit on this great idea), and use the rest to lower your monthly fee.

Sure, it’s possible that if you want all of your money back at once, and when he tries to call in the loans that he’s made with ten percent of it, the people with the money won’t be able to come up with it all at once, but that’s not very likely really is it? That small risk is worth the lower monthly fees, at least to some depositors.

And in version 2, he has the bright idea of changing the contract so that it says that if that does happen, he can use on-deposit funds from anyone else in the program to pay back the difference. Then he can only come up short if lots of people want to withdraw more than 90% of their funds at once, and at the same time lots of people that he’s lent to can’t pay up when he calls in the loans. And (since this is such a good idea that he is prospering, and has lots of depositors and lots of borrowers now), the chances of that are so small that he can actually insure himself against it.

This works out really well, and he dominates the money-warehousing market because of his low fees, and dominates the money-lending market because he has lots of money to lend.

Since this is a libertarian just-so story, his success naturally leads to competitors improving on the idea!

One competitor in particular notices that people have so much faith in this whole system now that hardly anyone ever gets cold feet and wants to withdraw even half of their money all at once. So in his contracts, it says that he can use up to 60% of the deposited funds for loans. Also, because he can get insurance against the bank runs that seldom happen anyway, he can say in his loan contracts that he will never call in the loan unless the client doesn’t keep up the payments; naturally this extra sweetening of the loan contract means he can charge higher interest.

His calculations show that with this much money to lend, and these higher interest rates, not to mention needing a smaller vault, he’ll be able to make a modest profit and not only eliminate the monthly fees to his depositors, but actually pay interest on deposits!

Naturally, customers flock to him, and eventually almost everyone in the money-warehousing industry is doing it this way.

So now we’ve got fractional reserve banking: you deposit money, the bank keeps some of it in the vault, lends the rest out at interest, and pays some of that interest back along to you, the depositor. Banks are insured against runs up to some amount. All of this is clearly documented in the contracts between depositors and the bank, borrowers and the bank, and the insurance company and the bank.

There is no fraud of any kind.

Basically, if we want to describe it more briefly and collectively, a bunch of people have got together and said “hey, we never need all of our money at once, so why don’t we pool it together and lend some of it out at interest, and get free profits?”.

It’s not at all clear that there’s any step in here that a libertarian government can step in and stop. No one is being lied to, no one is being forced to do or not to do anything. People are voluntarily deciding to try to maximize their individual utility by making certain agreements with other people. And the result is pretty magic; there’s lots of loan money available to start new companies and invest in new things and carry out research, and yet on the other hand there’s also lots of liquidity, and you can withdraw some money to buy that special Solstice gift anytime you want.

I admit I don’t quite understand the railing against it by internet trolls and L. Neil Smith; but whatever objections they have to the resulting institutional arrangements, it seems pretty clear that there’s nothing inherent to fractional reserve banking simpliciter that a libertarian government can forbid and still keep its credentials.

Unless I’ve overlooked something?

2012/10/16

North American Power Scams

Have you lowered your electric rate yet?

We’ve gotten a couple or three of these nice shiny fliers in the mail, by themselves or as magazine inserts or whatever.

They’re nicely designed, with a decently-balanced set of sans-serif fonts, a sort of green abstract flower logo and “Power for change” tagline. My brain ran some sort of until-recently-subconscious algorithm, thinking “well, this seems to be targeted at somewhat progressive folks, progressives tend to be intelligent, so if they’re targeting intelligent people it’s less likely to be a scam”. (Not an entirely terrible algorithm, although extremely heuristic.)

What they are offering is a lower rate on the same electricity delivered through the same power lines, billed on the same bill etc. Pay less money for exactly the same thing; sounds like a good deal! There’s a big box, very well highlighted by color and shape, saying “conEdison 6.79¢” and “North American Power (flower logo) 4.99¢”. So that’s almost a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour, can’t be bad!

I’d been ignoring these but not throwing them away either, on the theory that it’s good to save money. Before calling the Toll Free Number I sat down and looked around the Interwebs, just y’know in case.

There wasn’t an awful lot of obviously-relevant stuff, but there were a few good ones. One comparison of alternative electricity suppliers (which I now can’t find again) gave the rate for North American Power as “(teaser rate, read the fine print)”. Another said in passing to remember that the introductory rate is for the first month “or less”, and that after that the rate is variable, and can become anything at all.

(Also, somewhat worryingly, there were quite a few hits comparing North American Power to various (other?) dodgy-sounding Multi-Level Marketing schemes, with lots of red-flag discussion about “lead generation” and “uplines” and “downlines” and things; which is sort of like doing a web search on a potential babysitter and getting lots of hits on cockfighting sites.)

So anyway, that seemed like a good point; the fine print (very very tiny fine print) on the fliers does refer in passing to “one month introductory price”. I looked around the official web site, but couldn’t find anything about the non-introductory price. So I actually called the 800 number and asked.

The nice lady said that they don’t have any graphs of actual prices over time (a bit odd), but that the current non-introductory price is 6.99¢.

That is, 0.20¢ higher than the conEdison price featured on the flyer.

So maybe not such a good idea after all? As the flier says, “[p]aying even a fraction more for the energy you use every second of the day is paying too much.”

If something looks too good to be true… :)

2012/10/02

Trolling for the gullible

Two notable one-liner 419 emails that I couldn’t resist posting:

THERE’S RUMORS AGAINST YOU THAT YOU DEAD AND SOMEONE CAME BANK TO CLAIM YOUR FUND US$30M SENT TO YOUR RELATIVES AND FRIENDS,RESEND ALL YOUR INFORMATION.

and

WHILE PEOPLE GIVE FAKE RUMORS AGAINST PEOPLE THAT YOU ARE DEAD AND YOUR BROTHER, SISTER,RELATIVES FRIEND FUND CAME TO CLAIM YOUR FUND US$30M.I AM VERY SURPRISE

I wonder if they have a little Perl script or something that generates these, or if they’re manually crafted?

(And, does everyone else tend to end “I wonder” sentences with question marks, even though they are grammatically-speaking not questions?)

An interesting paper (widely weblogged, so you’ve probably already seen it) on the general subject of why these things tend to be so hysterically dumb: Why Do Nigerian Scammers Say They are From Nigeria?, from Microsoft Research.

A pullquote:

By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor.

Of course there is a certain distribution of obvious dumbness in these things, and some are considerably more coherent. (Got one recently that was a long and almost properly-spelled letter claiming to be from the FBI, telling me to stop communicating with those nasty 419 scammers, and instead work with them at the FBI to get the millions of dollars that is really coming to me.)

But the mean of the distribution seems pretty low lately; a sad comment on something or other…

2012/06/28

… to lay and collect Taxes …

It’s funny, normally I would have been quite skeptical about Obamacare, and would have required quite a bit of careful and rational persuasion to get me to like it. But in this case, the utter dishonesty, blatant hypocrisy, and general repulsiveness of the loudest voices raised against it have put me firmly in the Pro camp.

Now I just hope it turns out to be a good thing in fact, and not just, say, a massive transfer to wealth from taxpayers to big insurance companies.

I do like having the kids covered until they’re 26, I admit. We citizens are so easy to bribe… :)

(For light reading, the actual decision.)

2012/05/02

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

So I was down at the Drug Store getting more of the pills to inhibit my neurotransmitter reuptake, and there on the bottom shelf of the cabinet near where you drop off prescriptions there were some Home Pregnancy Tests, and some Home Cholesterol Tests, and next to those there were some Home Drug Tests (Marijuana).

And while I realize there are all sorts of Important Social and Cultural and Moral Things to say about these, what I’m really thinking is what a great routine George Carlin could have done on these.

Just imagine, someone sees one of these in the store when he’s a little wasted, and he’s like “whoa, cool, I’ll take some o’ those, man”, and he takes them home and opens one up and figures out how to use it, and then he yells “SHIT!” and his roommate says “what’s wrong, man?”, and he says “Man, I’ve got WEED!!”.

Something like that, anyway.

I was going to write down other things, too, but I can’t remember what…

Oh yeah! So we forgive Jen Rhee for whatever role she is playing in the mystery infographic spam thing, because one of the things that she links to on her Digg page is 5 Questions We Desperately Need a Buckaroo Banzai Sequel to Answer, and Buckaroo Banzai references are worth alot.

(Although we also dimly suspect that the things on her Digg page are carefully selected to contain at least one thing that is worth alot to each of seventeen carefully-selected Internet Demographic Groups, about which she also has infographics. But probably we are just paranoid.)

Passive media invades the Internet!

In the sense that I heard something on NPR or somewhere about how all various people with lots of money, like Google and I guess Yahoo and all various other people are apparently spending lots of money to put together “channels” which would carry “programs” that people would then be expected to “watch” like they do (or used to do) with “television programs”.

Which strikes me as bizarre!

I personally have very little patience with non-interactive media these days, and the only things I really consume that you can’t click on, so to speak, are (a) background music, (b) WNYC while doing other things, and (c) occasional old Buffy episodes on Netflix. My impression of YouTube “channels” is that they are, like, places where you can go to find some mildly amusing “JibJab” thing with animated talking pictures of politicians or something, except now they have advertisements which if you have to watch more than like six seconds of invariably causes me to go do something else instead.

But apparently I may not be entirely typical (shocking thought), or at least some people with lots of money are willing to bet that I’m not. So there are whole “channels” on YouTube and YahooTube or whatever and maybe like Hulu and things, where people make “episodes” of “programs” with High Production Values, and advertisers, and all like that there, so you can have the whole stultifyingly dull and ad-saturated television experience right there on your computer, oh joy oh rapture.

Here is one they talked about on whatever NPR story or whatever it was that I heard: Barely Political. If you click on that you will go to a YouTube page where some video will probably play even without you asking it to. The one it showed me was incredibly stupid, but maybe you will be luckier.

(It occurs to me that when I watched several in a row “episodes” of (what was that? oh, yeah) Dragon Age: Redemption, I was probably consuming one of these very “web program” things, but it was just to moon over Felicia Day, and obviously that doesn’t count, right?)

This interests me somewhat, in that I like to think of the Internet as extremely liberating and empowering and tending to inspire and facilitate creativity and collaboration and participation and all, which is pretty much the opposite of the “sitting on the couch staring at ads interspersed with brief stretches of plot” paradigm that TV and this stuff represent.

Passive consumption has, I tell myself at some level, been so successful on TV just because the technology doesn’t offer the superior alternatives, and now that the ‘net so definitely does offer those alternatives, we’re basically done with that whole TV thing.

But maybe not!

Time will tell…

oh P.S.: This is probably the NPR story that I heard.

2012/04/28

The internet really is changing the world!

So it’s very hard to estimate, objectively, how much the world is actually changing. Except in the oddest of times, after all, the perceiver is changing at least as much as the world. Stairs get steeper, burdens heavier, music louder, children younger and their jargon less comprehensible (ikr?), the people who run the world more obviously incompetent, because of the shift of viewpoint, regardless of any other sort of change.

You can’t go down to the same river twice, that is to say, even if the river is the same.

Having said all that, though, the world sure has changed! :)

I went to The Mall today, to get my both pairs of glasses repaired (the world’s gotten blurrier, too, as it happens). My reading glasses have been held together with a little twist of wire for months, and yesterday I figured out that my driving glasses have been bothering my nose because although the lefthand nose-piece was still there, it was subtly torn enough that the metal bit was sticking through whenever I actually put them on.

There being no convenient way to get them repaired at home (or maybe just by force of habit, really; come to think of it I didn’t even look online for home glasses-repair kits), I went to The Mall. The Sterling Optical was having, or was involved in, some peculiar event involving a local radio station, balloons, a popcorn machine, and other arcana, but someone asked if they could help me, and when I said I needed some repairs they summoned The Guy Who Does The Repairs from the back room, and he came out and took my glasses and said it would be just a couple of minutes.

So I stood there reading news and books on my ‘Pad until he (or actually someone else, which was slightly confusing) returned with my glasses all fixed up, and then I was all done.

I strolled around The Mall a little, got a coffee, wandered through the Video Game Store, didn’t go into the book store (or even, come to think of it, notice if there is still a book store there), went upstairs and got some lunch from Asian Chao, thought I noticed a “Rounders” to open soon where the Burger King used to be, but then decided that it was actually a “Rounders” that had opened and closed again where the Burger King used to be, since the last time I was there.

There were Akoo screens on some of the columns in the Food Court, and cardboard ads for the Akoo app (which in some sense lets you control what Currently Popular Videos appear on the Akoo screens) sitting on the tables. I looked briefly at the Akoo app on my ‘Pad, but it looked kind of dumb so I didn’t get it. After I ate I bought some (really rather awful) chocolate from the all-candy-same-price candy stand, and wandered through F.Y.E. and didn’t buy anything there either.

The Mall is really a pretty impoverished environment in which to buy things. The F.Y.E. has some little devices that you can run the barcode of a CD under and possibly listen to the tracks and read about the artists on a little display; last time I was there a few of them mostly worked. This time I didn’t even bother trying; I was going to be home pretty soon anyway after all. The book store that I didn’t even go into has some random selection of books that someone (I would guess the Home Office of the bookstore chain) has decided to stock, but there’s no metadata, no reader reviews, no easy way to find other books by the same author or “readers who looked at this also looked at” lists.

Part of me says that it’s nice to be able to browse through the physical objects and decide what to buy one-to-one with the thing like that. But how much sense does that actually make? It means that I’m deciding whether to buy based on how compelling the cover design and the blurbs are, and the things I’m deciding between are limited to whatever someone (else) has decided to stock. How are those advantages?

So one thing that The Mall has is Sterling Optical where they will fix your glasses (and for free!). It also has a somewhat wider variety of coffees and ice-creams than home does, and Asian Chao and Desert Moon and fast-food chains like that. But that doesn’t seem like enough to support a whole Mall really, does it?

And then it has the persons. Quite many persons, each one interesting and lovely in a different way, with eyes and limbs and clothing of different colors and designs, and hair in various styles and lengths. Persons with voices and stories, and laughs and quiet whispers and sidelong looks.

I do like persons. :) And you don’t get to admire them when you buy books on Amazon or music on iTunes or furnace filters on Furnace Filters 4 You Now Dot Com.

But you do when, for instance, you go out to hear live music in Peekskill. (And to an interesting extent that we won’t consider further here right now you also do when you go out to hear live music while staying home.)

So the Internet gets us lots of great metadata from other persons while we shop, but keeps us from encountering the actual persons themselves, and their voices and hair and limbs.

Does this deprive us of the company of other persons, or does it just mean that we have more time to encounter other persons in non-consumer contexts? Both, of course. :) But which more, and which when, and which to whom? Them are the questions (some of them)…

2011/12/02

More economics shit

So I don’t understand the huge fucking deal about the weakness of the goddamned Euro. I mean, so who the fuck cares if their currency is “weak” compared to some other fucking currency? Sure, it like sounds wimpy an’ shit, like “haha dude you are Weeeeeak!”, but it’s not like really so fucking awful and like waaaaa my currency is weak and oh noooo my poor poooor balance of payments!

Some Euros or some kinda shit like that

Some Euros or some kinda shit like that

So say you’re some Euro dude and you want to buy some foreign shit, and you go to buy it and the fucker is like “you want to buy it with what?” and like “those Euros aren’t worth jack-shit, so if you want to buy my crap you gotta give me like ten billionof ’em”. And that’s a drag ’cause you can’t buy the foreign shit, but really you can just go to some other Euro fucker who makes the same kinda shit, and buy it from him, and he’s a Euro dude too so he’ll take just a couple Euros for it, and so you didn’t get the foreign shit that you originally wanted, but you got some similar shit, and really shit is shit, y’know?

And if you’re a Euro bastard who wants to like sell stuff to foreigners (or y’know people that Euro dudes think are foreigners, which includes like Americans who aren’t actually foreign, but you know what I mean), you are in Hog Heaven, ’cause you can be all like “my shit is one million Euros!”, and they can just go down to the bank and buy a million Euros for like nine ninety-five, and they’re like “here’s your million Euros, sucker!”, and you’re like “yes!!”, and everybody’s happy.

An’ really once enough fuckers who have real money start buying all that Euro shit ’cause Euros are so cheap, Euro stuff’ll get all like fashionable an’ shit, and everyone’ll want to buy it because it’s cheap and like Lady Fucking Ga-Ga is wearing it or anyway it’s cheap, and so people will want to buy like billions an’ billions o’ Euros to buy it with, and when some assholes want to buy tons o’ some shit the price of the shit always goes up, and so Euros’ll start to be worth more again.

So it’s, like, self-correcting an’ shit. I’n’t? I mean, fuck!

2011/11/30

Yay, I saved Europe(an bankers)!

Scene: a big fancy room in a big fancy building.

European Banker: You must help us! No one wants to trade in Euros, or borrow them at interest, or anything, because the economies that back them are all messed up!

Capitalist: This is a valuable market signal! The weak demand for, and vanishingly small interest rates on, your currency means that you are doing things wrong. You should reassess how your economies are structured and see if, for instance, they are run primarily for the benefit of politically-connected individuals and institutions who steal billions on a whim, but produce nothing of value.

European Banker: Who let him in here? GUARDS!

Shouts and scuffling, gradually receding into the distance.

European Banker: Apologies, my friends, most embarrassing.

U.S. Federal Reserve Banker: No problem, mon ami, these things happen.

European Banker: But back to our problems! If there is no demand for Euros, economic activity will slow, people will have financial difficulties, perhaps even come to think that our economies are run primarily for the benefit of politically-connected individuals and institutions who steal billions on a whim, but produce nothing of value. They could demand change! We might lose power! And we really, really, really like power.

U.S. Federal Reserve Banker: I understand completely, mon cher, mon coeur. It is not a problem! We will buy your Euros with our dollars, and we will pay as much for them as if they were actually valuable, and your economies healthy! We will make dollars cheap, cheap, cheap, and give you vast truckloads of them for your pretty colored Euros!

European Banker: Che bello, tesoro! That is wonderful! But what if the Euro does in fact tank? You will have huge piles of worthless colored paper!

U.S. Federal Reserve Banker: Όλα θα πάνε καλά, Αγαπούλα μου! Do not worry your head! In that case, the American people will as always make up the shortfall!

European Banker: ¡hala! That is extremely generous of them!

U.S. Federal Reserve Banker: Yes! Or it would be, if they had any choice in the matter! Ha ha ha!

European Bankers: Ha ha ha! xaxa! Ja ja ja ja! mdr mdr mdr!

Exeunt omnes.

2011/11/20

The Political Side

Okay, so now I will write down some things about the political aspects of my visit to Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street, the Occupy folks in general, and stuff in general.

One very common complaint about the Occupy movement is that it doesn’t have a clear program, and isn’t about anything in particular. This, of course, is Just What The Bad Guys Want You To Believe, as amusingly depicted here:

Well, okay, one might respond, but just what is “economic injustice”?

I think most folks would respond that it’s the thing that underlies this:

There’s actually evidence that most folks (and not just most Occupying folks) consider that sort of thing to be economic injustice, and don’t realize just how bad it currently is; see for instance:

So there’s a good candidate for “what’s it actually about?”.

Another question, and this came up in the comments to our last entry, is okay if that’s the issue, what’s the plan? What’s the platform?

I have a couple of thoughts about this:

  • The Occupy movement is very much nonhierarchical and led-by-everyone (somewhere on Friday I read something along the lines of “don’t mistake us for a leaderless movement; we are all leaders”, and I like that). So there isn’t going to be a Single Official Platform Approved By Everyone. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; organized groups don’t necessarily do any better (waves at the Libertarian Party over there across the way). On the other hand, the movement does have some documents and statements that represent a consensus of certain people at a certain time; see for instance the Declaration of Occupation.
  • Even if the plan is just “loudly express our concerns”, I personally think that that is a great plan. If nothing else, the Occupy movement has taken the focus away from the Tea Party’s astroturf platform of “give less money to the poor, and deregulate the powerful”, and moved it to something more like “punish criminal behavior by the powerful”. Which I consider to be a Much Better Message. If elected representatives start to see that message and others like it, and decide that there might be votes involved, we may see changes in behavior (I believe that we already have, in fact; I hope this isn’t the last, or the best, change that we see, and I doubt it will be).

There were various single-issue folks at Zuccotti when I was there; a few complaining that “The 1% Wear Fur”, the lady complaining that the college had lost all records of her daughter’s attending, the person with the very long detailed small-print sign about how the government had implanted radios in his teeth so on. There were a couple of cute young people with a sign that just said “Revolution”, getting their picture taken together. But that’s all okay! This is New York City, after all, and a political movement. That happens. While in fact anyone who comes into the Park with an opinion thereby makes that an opinion of the Occupation, I’m pretty sure that there are some opinions held by a more significant fraction of the folks than others.

The other week we listed some possible goals for Occupiers. I’ll reiterate them here, and add a few more.

  • Tax income from capital gains just like any other income. For: why favor rich people (who get lots of capital gains income), after all? Con: if we don’t favor rich people, they might take their ball and go home.
  • Let the Bush tax cuts expire like they were written to. Gets rid of most of the projected federal deficit with one blow.
  • Regulate the shadow banking system about like we regulate the normal banking system. ’cause now we know that otherwise they go crazy.
  • Bring back Glass-Steagall since on the whole it appears to have been a good idea after all.
  • Announce that the U. S. Government will no longer be bailing out failed financial institutions beyond what’s in the FDIC and so on. “Moral hazard” ain’t just a theory anymore, eh?
  • Stop lopsidedly favoring investment over savings in Federal economic policies. Savers are people, too.
  • Regulate corporations. I know, kind of general. But as the very interesting The Conservative Nanny State points out (free pdf available), being able to create this fictional construct to shield yourself from liabilities is a huge benefit; government has a perfect right to require a certain amount of good behavior in exchange.
  • More specifically, end corporate personhood, at least anything beyond the strictly legal and financial bits of it. In particular, there is no need whatsoever for these fictional entities to have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech, any more than they should have a right to vote. The officers and owners of the corporation can express themselves as they like, using their own resources and money; but the money belonging to the government-created entity should be used only for the legitimate business purposes of the entity, not to (for instance) lobby the government to increase their profits.
  • Aggressively prosecute and convict (and get some of the billions back from) the people who ruined the world economy to enrich themselves. Seems like a no-brainer, but apparently not everyone is on board, even with prosecuting the most blatant and obvious parts of it, like fraudulent mortgage foreclosures.
  • Remove those administration officials with the most obvious conflicts of interest. The argument that only these people have the skills to clean up the mess is unconvincing; the only skills we know they have are to make the mess in the first place, and to enrich themselves and their friends and firms. Get rid of ’em.
  • Abolish private prisons because it leads to stuff like this, which is just pure evil. (How do these people even look at themselves in the mirror?)
  • Apply insider-trading rules to Congress just because duh.

The “end corporate personhood” and “abolish private prisons” and “apply insider-trading rules to Congress” ones are the new ones.

I’d be surprised if any significant fraction of Occupy folks would object to any of these, or even call them unimportant side-issues. So to the extent that this category of agenda-item starts to be seen as something that voters actually care about and vote based on, they may tend to get done. And to the extent that the Occupy folks loudly expressing their opinions helps them to be seen that way, they are advancing that agenda.

What else was I going to say?

Oh, yeah!

I don’t actually have anything directly against the wealthiest 1% of the American people (or any other group). If I wear a 99% button, I’m not primarily saying that I’m one of the 99% of people who make less than a certain amount of money. Mostly I mean that I’m one of the 99+% who didn’t fucking steal billions of dollars through financial fraud and then escape prosecution because I own the fucking government, and who don’t fucking pressure and/or bribe the government to put more people in jail, because I run a fucking private jail and get paid per inmate.

Or that sort of (fucking) thing.

You know?

2011/10/17

Monday, October 17, 2011

I wear the chains I forged in life, mon!

Ha ha ha ha ha! We just came up with that in the office here. Maybe a little obscure, but it pleases me…

Secure yourself to heaven.
Hold on tight, the night has come.
Fasten up your earthly burdens,
You have just begun.
Indigo Girls

That pleases me also, because I have no idea what it means, but it sounds neat.

I like to be able to think of the world as a deep and complex place, with lots of secrets and interesting things I haven’t seen yet, where the lit-up parts that I understand and inhabit are a nice small-and-secure corner from which one could venture out.

Songs sung in unknown tongues…

Be kind to me or treat me mean
I’ll make the most of it
I’m an extraordinary machine

Heard that on the radio yesterday (yesterday?), and liked it. Seems to be an original Fiona Apple; my main mental impression of Fiona Apple is that she is too thin. Maybe I should listen to some of her music! I wonder who else has covered this ditty.

What Do They Want?

Here is a This Modern World on the subject. (Apologies for any Daily Kos popovers or anything.)

My sympathies are to a large degree with the Occupy Wall Street (and Things In General) protestors (protesters?). As are even some folks at Fox, which gives me a warm feeling. I think.

So what is economic justice, in this context? I can think of a few examples that one might work for. I’m not sure whether or not I favor them all / each of them in any particular sense.

  • Tax income from capital gains just like any other income. For: why favor rich people (who get lots of capital gains income), after all? Con: if we don’t favor rich people, they might take their ball and go home.
  • Let the Bush tax cuts expire like they were written to. Gets rid of most of the projected federal deficit with one blow.
  • Regulate the shadow banking system about like we regulate the normal banking system. ’cause now we know that otherwise they go crazy.
  • Bring back Glass-Steagall since on the whole it appears to have been a good idea after all.
  • Announce that the U. S. Government will no longer be bailing out failed financial institutions beyond what’s in the FDIC and so on. “Moral hazard” ain’t just a theory anymore, eh?
  • Stop lopsidedly favoring investment over savings in Federal economic policies. Savers are people, too.
  • Regulate corporations. I know, kind of general. But as the very interesting The Conservative Nanny State points out (free pdf available), being able to create this fictional construct to shield yourself from liabilities is a huge benefit; government has a perfect right to require a certain amount of good behavior in exchange.
  • Aggressively prosecute and convict (and get some of the billions back from) the people who ruined the world economy to enrich themselves. Seems like a no-brainer, but apparently not everyone is on board, even with prosecuting the most blatant and obvious parts of it, like fraudulent mortgage foreclosures.
  • Remove those administration officials with the most obvious conflicts of interest. The argument that only these people have the skills to clean up the mess is unconvincing; the only skills we know they have are to make the mess in the first place, and to enrich themselves and their friends and firms. Get rid of ’em.

Seems like a nice start. Hello, White House and Congress and all? You there?

Let’s see, what else we got?

Two postings on how the “SCADA” systems that control things like air traffic and the electrical grid are really not all that mega-secure after all, and in fact are probably not any more secure than one might expect. Which is a little worrying.

High-Performance Computing at the National Security Agency, not a book title one would necessarily have expected to find on the open Web. :)

The Best Thread in the History of the Internet; and I think they have a plausible case to make for the title.

Fleepgrid, a fun example of someone’s personal desktop virtual world that they’ve made available to everyone, just because why not?

I’ve been playing Glitch, which is kind of fun in a silly and amusing and relaxing way. I think I have like three invitations; tell me if you want one! I’m Orbst.

(Glitch has gotten some very positive press lately, which is notable. I have no idea how long I’ll keep playing in it; I think (sort of like WoW and utterly unlike Second Life) it will have alot to do with what the developers do to move the story that we’re all living in along in interesting ways.)

And I’ve been playing lots of Second Life, including a real clothing-acquiring spree in the last few days for some reason. (Evidence here and here and here and so on.) Perhaps decompressing after releasing my second major Serendipitous Exploration product in SL, which was great fun. (Sales are light so far, but I’m sure it will bring me worldwide fame and wealth soon!)

Otherwise, things are good in general. Missing Dad (and Mom for that matter) in wistful but nontraumatic ways, hoping that they are doing interesting things in whatever one does after one is done doing this. Loving the coming of Autumn, vaguely regretting that I can’t smell it (but not enough to go back to ENTs and talk about nose operations and stuff). Wondering about how one chooses an evaluation function (the answer being that ultimately one doesn’t, more or less inevitably, but then what?).

And writing in my weblog! Woot! :)

2011/08/21

Griftopia

So I said the other day that my libertarianness was slipping because of undesirable things that can happen even in a libertarian system with everyone obeying the (comparatively few) laws.

And that may still be true (something for another post), but at the moment I’ve decided that it isn’t relevant to what’s currently going on. I’m reading Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia, and he’s convinced me that what’s currently happening is mostly people getting vast sums of money through blatantly illegal actions, and then using a small fraction of those vast sums to avoid any sort of punishment for their crimes.

(And then using the less savvy parts of the Republican voter base, rebranded as the Tea Party, to create a huge noisy distraction around the premise that our problems are caused by giving poor people food stamps.)

There’s also an element of “getting vast sums of money from the government that you in no way deserve”, where a libertarian can say that, well, the government shouldn’t be structured in such a way that it can give anyone that much money, and that’s probably right.

But the general observation that if you steal enough money, quickly enough, you can then use some of it to deploy resources to avoid punishment (and even avoid capture, prosecution, indictment, discovery), probably applies to any society with anything like money in it.

How do we prevent this kind of crap? I think the need to prevent it (or at least minimize it) is one argument against the sort of libertarian minimal state. If the state is that minimal and simple, it’s not going to be able to defend itself against a really well-heeled miscreant, who can employ his stolen resources to baffle and evade the comparatively small and simple state.

Or as Taibbbi says in the book, talking specifically about Ayn Rand’s libertarianism:

Obviously it’s true that a Randian self-made millionaire can spend money on private guards to protect his mansion from B-and-E artists. But exactly where do the rest of us look in the Yellow Pages to hire private protection against insider trading? Against price-fixing in the corn and gasoline markets? Is each individual family supposed to hire Pinkertons to keep the local factory from dumping dioxin in the county reservoir?

We can tell lots of stories here about voluntary associations of private people getting together to hire some really good Pinkertons, but it’s not at all clear, given that even a non-libertarian nation-sized government has a hard time marshaling enough resources to do this sort of thing, that these voluntary associations could actually have enough clout to prevail against, or even sufficiently deter, people with the amount of money that this sort of crime can produce.

In some sense “criminals who make so much money that they can use it to escape detection and identification and prosecution” are an edge-case. But edge-cases can be ignored only if you’re sitting in your armchair opining about how much better a minimal government would be. In the real world, if there’s some edge-case that someone can use to get rich, it’s got to be at the center of our attention, however peripheral it is seen from the armchair.

Anyone else read Griftopia? Any nice comforting debunkings of it you can point us at?