Saturday, September 22, 2007

Are we ruled by the Pod People?

Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine speaks the unspeakable, that unregulated Capitalism demonstrably does not produce the results it promises.
AlterNet: WorkPlace: Can Radical Capitalism Survive the Disasters It Creates?: "As Klein sees it, free market shock therapy may actually have succeeded in achieving its true objectives. Post-invasion Iraq may be 'a ghoulish dystopia where going to a simple business meeting could get you lynched, burned alive or beheaded.' Even so, Klein points out, Halliburton is making handsome profits -- it has built the green zone as a corporate city-state, and taken on many of the traditional functions of the armed forces in Iraq. An entire society has been destroyed, but the corporations that operate in the ruins are doing rather well. Klein's message, then, seems to be that -- at least in its own, profit-centred terms -- disaster capitalism works."
I'm a Libertarian and my faith in any particular socio-economic system is tied directly to my own Libertarian litmus test. "What's in it for me?"

This undoubtedly sounds selfish and anti-social, but both ethically and economically, if I do not first consider my own interests, any concern I have about the interests of others will be purely theoretical. I will have no money and no power and therefore my concerns about others will be utterly irrelevant.

Furthermore, any rational system of economics or government first presumes that whatever you do, people will act according to their own perceived self-interest, whether or not you think they should from ANY given social, moral, economic or philosophical viewpoint. You may persuade a great many, perhaps, you can coerce many more, but the proportion that cannot be so influenced will rise with the degree of restriction and the amount of force expended until at some point it all ends with a whimper or a bang.

This is why "The government that governs least, governs best." That government generally avoids setting up positive feedback loops that destroy the whole system in the name of maintaining it.

But it's a publish or perish world and there is no idea so obviously and inherently stupid that you cannot find some very well-credentialed idiot proclaiming it as the new gospel.

Economic and social policies that are presented as "Free Market Capitalism," that have the obviously predictable effect of restricting market access to the powerful, the well-connected and the heavily armed is anything but a Free Market, and perhaps something other than Capitalism.

After all, the objective of Capitalism is to make money by addressing problems to the benefit of all concerned. While there are great sums (and great power) for a few in dealing with disasters in the manner discussed by Klien, the net result is always a measurable loss for most and a severe reduction on the total possible amount of profit - as well as a sharp restriction on the total number of profitable enterprises. The Capitalism she speaks of is the "Capitalism" of vultures and junk-bond financiers.

Now, when the response of our government to a nationwide credit crisis is to facilitate publicity for government auctions, it's time for the great majority of people to realize that we are governed by those with the same ethics and economic foresight as "Make Money Fast" spammers.

It's clear to me - even if it's an observation that seems obscure to most other Libertarians - that whether it's a Government or a "Military-Industrial Complex" that sees my petty concerns about life and liberty as irrelevant in The Greater Scheme Of Things - I have no obligation to respect, much less comply with their idiot diktats.

This is especially true when said idiot diktats are so very obviously stupid with a long track-record of unintended consequences. I merely need to add the risk of being caught to the rest of my risk/reward calculation and compare that to the cost of compliance. If the metrics of the first are more attractive than those of the second - I know what I will do. And, whatever you may protest, I know, in a statistical sense, what YOU will do, too.

The NeoCons have made it clear that their vision does not include any common interests - public infrastructure - like, say, levees, earthquake-upgrades for interstate overpasses and aging bridges - are "a problem for the free market." But of course, a free market that is underwater is not a market at all nor is a market you cannot get to because the roads are impassible. Perhaps mentioning a market that has just been truck bombed or smart-bombed would be bloody redundant, but it's also bloody common in our foreign bastion of the "unfettered free market."

Likewise, any common concern about public health is dismissed as being "inappropriate," a sort of Socially Darwinistic view that if you get sick and cannot afford health care, your fate is of no concern to society - as if that lack of concern forestalled any individual, entrepreneurial efforts founded upon the realization that the constitution and social contract had been "retasked" to toilet paper.

Well, my dear plutocrat, there are a lot of folks who, faced with the dilemma of paying their bills or taking care of themselves, will have no ethical concerns about the impropriety of sneezing into your Cobb Salad, or for that matter, robbing your house. Perhaps that's a fate you seek to forestall by living in gated communities with high overheads for security - which leads to fairly much the same economic outcome as having been mugged repeatedly.

I am, myself, an absolute supporter of the RIGHT to bear arms. I have very, very different feelings about a society where there is an obvious NEED to bear arms. Indeed, that's one aspect the establishment of the right was intended to forestall - the rise of lawless powers that, by dint of force would naturally arise if the people themselves did not have the inherent right to answer force with force.

Which they do. And are doing. It's an inalienable right, after all. Whether or not you define the exercise of that right as a "crime," it is the right of all people to survive, to make a living, to feed their families and to move about freely, whatever your objections to the consequences of their actions may be. Any law that has the direct and predictable effect of interfering with that is unethical. (Never mind whether or not it's immoral - ethics are not so much about right and wrong as they are about cause and effect.)

This is the direct consequence of the manifest contempt with which "the people who matter" treat "the people who don't matter," the people who, having gained power and influence, see no obligation to do more with it than gain more money and power at the expense of those not YET willing to shoot them down like dogs.

The obvious "whatcha gonna do about it" attitude of the wealthy - is tellingly and naively portrayed by our dear Blonde, Paris Hilton. Hilton's obvious contempt for expectations of some minimum level of social accountability - or indeed, some evidence of consciousness that there are standards being violated - is an illustration of a very real mindset that most of the very rich are a little more careful about keeping within their own circles, lest those not so privileged realize that in a very large number of cases those "rules" were put in palace to enforce behavior that people like the Hiltons found profitable and to punish behavior they did not find profitable. From their viewpoint, there's no earthly reason why they should have to comply with them and broadly, they do not comply when there are no cameras around.

So we can thank Paris for being so very "blonde" about the fact that her "privilege" is not based in right, but in fact based upon not being caught in such a way that bribery and influence cannot alter the outcome.

(And frankly, despite her flaws which are the result of growing up in a community and context as isolated from normal society as a "holler" in Appalachia with no road leading to it, she does seem determined to make an effort to become a useful and creative human being, beset with the usual deficits and handicaps those who are destined to become useful and creative look back to in regretful thanksgiving for the wisdom provided by mistakes well made.)

So, as she painfully learns her lessons, let us at least not ignore the implication that she has lessons to learn, realities that she doesn't understand. This is true of the majority of her social class, people who have become so alienated from our culture that they may as well be pod people from Mars, as this now-classic AlterNet article about a cruise sponsored by The National Review so wittily demonstrates.

"I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."
Oh, indeed they would, my dear. But possibly not in ways the National Review is likely to advise you of beforehand.

By the way, I happen to be a fan of the National Review - I grew up reading it, along with The New Republic. An informed citizen cannot ignore viewpoints they disagree with. Indeed, they need to seek them out and challenge their own preconceptions on a daily basis. I've gotten to the point when, if someone seems to be reinforcing my world view far too consistently, I start to wonder if they are simply appealing to my prejudices instead of my intellect. But when I find myself in agreement on an issue with ... picking at random - Lenin, Milton Friedman, the Holy Bible and Whoopi Goldberg, I start to think I might be on to something.

I have arrived at my own worldview by that process, by virtue of being largely unprotected from the consequences of my own actions, and with the blessing of being kept outside of a social circle that may otherwise have maintained my innocence of certain unpalatable, but very consequential realities.

One of these things that is true - and unpalatable - is that the "side" you are on by virtue of birth, social class, race, national origin or religion is not correct by definition, nor is it's world-view the only valid one. Even more importantly, the fact that you are on a "side" does not mean that the side is on YOURS. Indeed, that is almost never the case, and inevitably the case if you do not understand that all such social circles and arrangements involve an exchange of power for protection and security - and that unless you demand a due return, it's not at all predictable that you will get anything in return but smoke blown up your butt.

It's apparently also quite unpalatable, frightening and incomprehensible to most people that rights of people OUTSIDE of their circle matter, if for no other reason than the fact that they will defend them against your trespasses, evade your attempted restrictions or, if left no other resort, piss in your coffee as you discuss the difficulty of "finding good help these days."

People who wish to have Authority without any understanding of the need to be an actual, informed, competent authority on the domain they have authority over and are accountable for are really quite pathetic poseurs, and history will be filled with snide footnotes regarding their amazing capacity for arrogance and self-delusion in the face of utter catastrophe if the grownups do not do something.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Kerry Triangulates New Failure.

In a widely publicized incident, there was a confrontation between University of Florida campus police and one Andrew Meyer who may well have been intending to "provoke a scene."

Still, it's difficult to imagine that he anticipated the sheer, overwhelming and vicious nature of the assault upon his person - and his constitutional rights, which included being knelt on and tasered while handcuffed.

Video is all over the web and it is covered in many places with many different spins. But my story is not about the incident per-se, it's about the public reaction to the incident, a reaction distressingly evident in the discussion thread following the story itself.

Here's one such response:

As usual, we get a distorted synopsis from the distorted, liberal media.

This kid deserved what he got, and MORE!

There is a line between dissent and 'healthy discussion' as Kerry misspoke, and breaking the law. This kid, obviously a spoiled brat, learned a good lesson: Obey a lawful police order.

John Kerry also has a great deal to learn, because when a U.S. senator cannot distinguish between inciting a riot and a 'healthy discussion,' we're all in trouble.

Reminds me of the melee at Columbia University -- another bastion of liberal assininity.

Posted by: Ed | Sep 18, 2007 1:52:44 PM

Political Radar: Kerry Condemns Heckler Arrest

I felt obliged to add my own reaction, and then realized it was more of a post than a response, so I repeat it with some revisions and tweakings.

I come late to this story - but then, in my mind, the real story is the reaction to the story. I think the young man probably did try to "provoke an incident" in order to illustrate and provoke this very discussion.

And THIS is what it's about. Yes, the young man was provoking a response. But the specific response - that was under the control of "handlers" and the police themselves. And the response he provoked was ineffectual butt-coverage on Kerry's part and a violent police assault on the provocateur.

It does not matter that he was "disrespectful." There is no citizenship duty to respect ANYONE - unless that disrespect rises to actual violence.

And to me "resisting arrest" is not the same thing as refusing to quietly take your lumps. I saw resisting assault, and quite frankly, given the level of threat presented, I do not think the young man would have been unjustified in resorting to deadly force.

It would have been the wrong call, but police have been given passes for equivalent mistakes - that's why you can't find a black water-pistol in toy stores anymore.

Indeed, even the manner of the arrest itself - a "shock and awe" swarming of a supposed "perp" - is a tactic developed in prisons (to the best of my understanding) to safely restrain a very violent, hardened offender. It's also designed to strip the dignity from the target, to force submission and to extract a price in pain and humiliation - a lesson to inspire future compliance.

From the reactions here, the lesson has not been lost so much as taken for granted. And yet nobody on either side has asked what "rules" were in existence that would trump Andrew's constitutional right to free speech, and consultation with someone who wants to be his elected representative.

It was a not very metaphorical rape, a public punishment for a trivial "offense" of "disrespect for authority."

That itself should make you not just question, but to presume that such authority is unworthy of such respect - and more tellingly, knows what a hollow shell of pure bluster it is and how tenuous their grasp on society's willing compliance has become that their first response to a lack of immediate compliance is overwhelming force.

I find calls to treat anyone who does not immediately submit to any police command this way to be appalling. This was not so much an arrest as it was a summary judgment and execution of sentence.

It was a very effective demonstration of the respect ordinary citizens are given by the police in the United States.

I should add that, while this might well be the result of training and police doctrine, there are quite different training and doctrine sets that result in VERY respectable and appropriate security without unavoidably offending anyone's dignity, that in fact rely strongly on our social conditioning to avoid making a scene as a primary tool.

I'm pretty sure I know how the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) would have handled this, ideally. They probably would have stepped up, right at the edge of his comfort zone, and loomed at him until he ran down, simply making him aware of their presence, and their expectation that he would govern his own actions.

Then, if that were insufficient, with appropriate Sirs and polite deferences, they would have respectfully led him away - in a manner designed to be polite but inarguable - and without making an embarrassing scene for everyone.

Canadian police are not feared, nor do Canadians expect them to act with predictable violence to any challenge. Their job is to maintain the peace, not to breach it.

They ARE widely respected and trusted, even though Canadian cops are in enough violent confrontations that get in the news for the average Canadian to be aware that there is but one predictable outcome for the drunk, the stupid and the violent.

(One great advantage of the RCMP way is that if a confrontation does escalate, it's in such a way that there is no serious doubt as to who's being the ass in the equation.)

But their attitude towards the public is quite different from police here - as is the willingness to accept a degree of risk in order to resolve a situation peacefully. And yet, generally they do.

There is another fact illustrated here that has gone largely un-addressed.

The initiator of violence is the one who has lost control of the situation, and it's that sheer funk that I smell here - the idea that one weedy college student is somehow threatening our society by asking awkward, pointed questions. He was "being disrespectful" and "deserves" to be beat down for "running his mouth."

As it happens, there is no Constitutional exception to the First Amendment for speech that is rude, embarrassing, disrespectful or awkward.

Even the ranting of the clearly mad is protected speech - and there is no "right to not have to put up with it." The only constitutional remedy to offensive speech is more speech, or of course, to walk away.

Kerry - both for failing to realize that he was both in charge at the time and responsible for this outcome and for failing to acknowledge a publicly embarrassing leadership failure - has lost any remaining benefit of my doubt.

He's triangulated himself into impotence, lost any sense of command authority he may have one time had, and as such, has demonstrated his lack of qualification to be a leader, for his failure to restrain this clear abuse of authority.

And for this service, you should be thanking Andrew Meyer. He may be an idiot - but yes, he has been a very useful one.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Canadian Dollar at Par | Canadian dollar hits parity with greenback as the US dollar sinks relative to most world currencies. This may strike you as dull and irrelevant but it will certainly affect you far more than anything any politician will wish you to believe.

The American dollar's weakness was evident across most currencies Thursday as it slumped versus the euro, the British pound, the yen and Swiss franc.

And Alexander warns it's important to keep in mind that the exchange rate we watch so closely is the value of the Canadian dollar compared to the U.S. currency.

"In recent years what we've been getting is a rise in the loonie on a strong economy, and commodity prices -- which are domestic fundamentals," he told Newsnet. "But it's also a reflection of weakness in the U.S. dollar, which has been falling against most major currencies.

"And although the Canadian dollar has outperformed the euro and many other currencies in the last year, the reality is most currencies have been going up against the U.S. dollar."

Now, as a USAmerican, you may not be particularly concerned about the impact on the Canadian economy. But remember, this applies to almost every other world currency. Now, next time you shop - for anything - check to see what proportion of your options are actually made in the US.

Everything that is NOT made in the US from US materials will be going up in price. So, yes, international economic policy does rather matter, and policies that tank the domestic economy - such as debt-funded warfare and labor policies that put downward pressure on wages - make it that much work.

But most critically, this is the result of many millions of individual, corporate and national "bets" on the US economy - and increasingly, the smart money bets against the US dollar.

As a fellow citizen, you and I are, unfortunately, the people who are going to have to deal with the fallout of seven years of utterly irresponsible domestic, foreign and economic policy. We - not the blithering idiots inside the beltway - are going to have to rebuild our economy, in the face of hostile world opinion and in the face of thousands of lost industries.

The only question is whether our current federal government will survive the coming... ah... correction. No, there's one more question. Whether it should.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blogging, Burnout and Bob

It's been a long time since I awoke in the morning, spitting fire and eager to fight the good fight. The last seven odd years have been a graphic lesson in the saying "Bullshit Baffles Brains," and I confess that I'm loathe to carry on.

The obvious thing to do would have been to take a vacation - but I'm aspie and multiple, so I took a little mental vacation. To tell the truth, I'm phoning this in from Otherwhere.

No, I'm not confessing to a lapse in sanity, folks. I'm bragging. And proselytizing, just a little bit, because I just had a huge insight. You see, I'm just like anyone else in one sense, the way I think is natural to me, and I don't often think about it's differences, much less it's advantages or it's deficits. It takes some fairly unusual circumstances to think about how I think at all.

But for the last few weeks I've been devoting most of my time to Second Life, learning the interface, making new friends and generally recharging my batteries for the big showdown between the forces of Good and Bush.

In doing so, I've realized that in Second Life, people are using computers and games to enhance the power of dreams and imagination that is so very central to my own existence and that of other multiples. We often call it "internal reality," Often, before we can achieve something in real life, we need to literally model it in our imaginations.

You could pay thousands to attend seminars that would tell you to do just that; to consciously harness the power of your mind and imagination to make your dreams come true. But truth be told, it's all rather airy-fairy and for the more concrete of mind, produces neither data nor direct experience that's useful to implementing that reality.

Well, Second Life (and other such massive simulation platforms) do in fact produce real data, and test themselves in what really amounts to "the real world," that is to say, against statistically significant numbers of real people acting as people really do. Or, to give you a concrete example, you can learn to run a business with the price of failure being a tiny fraction of the dollars real world experimentation would extract. And yet, you would learn everything you need to know about marketing, customer relations, fraud and of course, arbitrary changes in the regulatory climate.

Now, as it's primary goal has been entertainment, Second Life has made many inconveniences of life optional. Players need not eat or sleep in the game, have no need to worry about disease , danger or even gravity. All physical conflict is purely consensual - as is all sexual activity. Second Life reality. does not bias that consent, though individuals may well try to twist your arm in order to get you to hop on a poseball, just to see what happens.

Personally, I find the results hilarious rather than pornographic, and a graphic illustration of the need for comprehensive and effective sex education.

Disclaimer - neither person here is known to me, nor would I admit it if they were. Actual age is a matter of speculation.

Adults should be obscene and not absurd.

While the main grid of Second Life is supposed to be 18 years and above, there's really no good way to ensure that, short of depending on parents to make sure their kids are doing what they should be doing. And, aside from outright neglectful and indifferent parenting, mileage varies on what sincere parents think of as "appropriate."

There is a "Teen Grid" in SL, and I plan to report on it at some future time - but I suspect it's more suited for pre-teens and tweens. If I were sixteen or seventeen... scratch that, WHEN I was sixteen and seventeen I chafed remarkably at such ghettos - and once I was able to leave them found out that what I was being "protected" from was largely in the minds of the dirty-minded.

You know, the sort of people who masturbate furiously thinking of Michaelangelo's "David" and then try to get images of it removed from text-books as being "Homoerotic."

I DO happen to think that it's appropriate for teens to be gaming out sexual relationships before actually engaging in them. The beauty of SL is that you have all the drama and none of the pregnancy, disease or death that teens CAN suffer from as the result of painfully swollen genitalia. The idea that SL might "Give them Ideas" is laughable. The ideas come with puberty. Comprehension of CONSEQUENCES, on the other hand - that comes with experience. It seems better that experience should be virtual.

Think of it as giving your child a driving game long before they get their license. While they are having fun - they are learning to drive. They also learn why the rules of the road exist in the first place.

SL is very useful for illustrating the "Why not" of "Thou Shalt Not." The answer is, usually, "Because it hurts." See illustration above. Sprains and concussions a distinct possibility - and it's a pretty good metaphor for life in general, whatever universe you happen to be in at the time.

My Second Life Profile - such as it is - can be found here.


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