Posts tagged the_long_depression

Misc. links Oct 15th - Nov 24th

The Internet as Hyperbole — A Critical Exhamination of Adoption Rates by Gisle Hannemyr is a paper with compelling arguments against the popular perception that people adopted the Internet much faster than other new communication technologies such as radio or television. The demonstration much ICT policy is based on a meme-ified anedocte makes this a compelling read.

Neal Stephenson on Innovation Starvation. That’s what happens to nations full of Nixons.

Charlie Stross writes about the existential quagmire of the ultra-rich, the ways most of us are richer than the ultra-rich of past generations, and the ways the ultra-rich are not rich at all.

George Monbiot on how the elites became destroyers of wealth. Much is made clear by xkcd’s crushing, epic Money infographic.

A short guide to lazy EU journalism. Granted, as even though I consider myself a literate European I do have a lot of trouble understanding how the EU institutions work. These lazy journalists won’t help. Please do your job already!

Christian Thorne’s two-part essay (part one, part two) on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds is one of the best pieces of film criticism I have ever read.

It appears a Russian filmmaker called Ilya Khrzhanovsky took over a large part from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov and turned it into a 24/7 film set. And that has been going on for five years. Almost resembles a real-life Synecdoche, New York.

Stu Maschwitz’s totally inconclusive guide to choosing a pro video camera. We live in a glorious era of wonderful and affordable imaging technology, but in a depressing age of nitpicky trade-offs and difficult choices.

It is impotent rage and despair masked as a display of force; it is envy masked as triumphant carnival.

Slavoj Žižek: Shoplifters of the World Unite

Still on the subject of last month’s London riots (and beyond), Slavoj Zizek bests my ability to articulate a few (hopefully) nuanced thoughs. His indictment is complete: conservatives blind to the fact the riots were themselves a conservative outburst, leftists too vain to recognize impotence and too eager to opt in on to any popular outbursts without discrimination; and a particular insight about both sides’ lack of ‘world’, which I read as the refusal to acknowledge nuance, complexity, and the staggering fact that there are seven thousand million people around. Perhaps an good example of this — and as picking on the right-wing would be too easy — is the typical leftist blind and uncompromising refusal of nuclear energy, as if the option was between nuclear and nothing — it is obviously, a complex choice between nuclear and other equally harmful sources, as even a similar megawattage of ‘sustainable’ sources such as wind or solar is arguably ecologically harmful (and even if people in their little community believe they need no such amounts of energy, perhaps their 7000 million meat-eating, Benz-craving neighbours disagree, and what to do then?).

Again, a very recommended and uncompromising read.

Endgame

The Null Device has some interesting thoughts on last week’s London ‘riots’. I think Andrew’s analysis nails it: the wave of stealing and violence may have started as a legitimate protest against a killing by the police, but very soon became an excuse for random looting and violence, and in a way the endgame of ‘Third Way’ neoliberalism — consumers who wouldn’t afford it otherwise stealing the bling (plasma TVs, iPhones, Timberlands) they were taught to want, excercising their ‘freedom’ to “claim back their taxes”, as a looter said in an interview (and as the post is right to point out just reeks of Tea Party rhetoric). All in all, an appaling sequence of events in which people excused themselves with far-right populist utterances, and I’m glad to see that, believing in the news, no exceptions are being made and looters are being tried as the ordinary criminals they acted like.

What I find painful is how yet again a vast number of so-called Leftists seem completely unable to tell their friends from their enemies, and seem to endorse actions motivated by ideas in the opposite ideological end. This “enemy of our enemy” cannot be our friend!, and I find it disgusting when people post dismissive slogans like “bankers are the real looters” as if two wrongs made things right. One can almost imagine certain kinds of leftist cheerleaders being sympathetic for thugs in brown shirts and combat boots smashing the windows of McDonalds restaurants: if we are for anyone or anything against globalization, high finance, etc., where does one draw the line after all? The Left should understand once and for all that there are bad things (such as banks) and there are worse things (like fascism gaining mainstream currency); and self-described leftists should stop feeling so damn pleased about themselves: advertising a sense of moral superiority plugs right into the neoliberal way of thinking.

Looters were no indignados fed up with the corruption and the inherent self-destructivity of capitalism in a globalized world where full employment is no longer possible. The protesters were not like those camped out in southern Europe or Israel. These crave for a Future in which they are able to live as they please, free from the bondage of insecurity — a Future in which they even can even choose to lead ‘boring’ lives like raising a family. The ‘freedom of choice’ offered by neoliberals (i.e. the “competitiveness” between products, say Android or iOS, or Pepsi or Coca-Cola) are completely irrelevant in comparison, even ridiculous. And yet in London there were no misérables stealing bread. Instead they stole bling, and took the opportunity to act on their prejudices, burning down GLBT bookstores, a warehouse full of indie music, and another of antique furniture. Looters were stormtroopers, destroying what they didn’t like: A Clockwork Orange rather than V for Vendetta. And thanks to them, we now have mainsteam talk of Chinese-style Internet censorship in Europe while governments from Lybia to Iran run away with the West’s hypocrisy and stage mock demonstrations in support of those ‘freedom fighters’ with brand-new Nikes. Are these the friends we Socialists* want?

Just to reiterate: the enemy of my enemy is quite often not my friend. Let’s be clear.


* The correct word for American readers is ‘Liberals’. Of course, ‘liberal’ completely changes meaning across the Atlantic, so my own use of ‘neoliberal’ or ‘liberal’ in the post should be interpreted as ‘conservative’ by those in North America. The mind boggles.

Misc. links May 31st - June 12th

What is College good for? I’ve recently had a student ask a somewhat more brutal form of the question the author mulls about — “Why do we have to learn this?” (‘this’ being, by the way, a short tutorial on sound recording in the context of a Multimedia Lab course with a very high amount of audiovisuals in its syllabus) — and found myself unable to provide an answer. I always figured someone who goes to college has a interest in learning stuff, no questions asked (much less when the ‘stuff’ is a downright obvious part of what you commited yourself to study for three years).

In the United States, the advertising industry says the middle class is over.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman on the ‘rule by rentiers’. No better example than the recent Portuguese election, in which the media (owned by people with a vested interest in the privatizations-to-come) conspired not only to utter demonize the outgoing PM — the only way to ensure a ‘stable’ government by the right, given the overall perceived mediocrity of the right-wing leader and new PM, Pedro Passos Coelho —, but also to present the IMF’s prescriptions as palatable and inevitable (and a good 80% voted pro-IMF, fucking A!). And of course, not content until the country descends (or, as the media would put it, ‘ascends’) into a kind of feudal post-democratic ‘Berlusconianism’, pundits now call for a new ‘modern’ Constitution, stripped of such ‘nagging aspects’ as electoral and labour regulations, then freely available to the MPs and the lobbies to change as they please. And it seems people will gladly take it, as envious dreams of bling are the true opium of the masses. (via Boing Boing)

On a lighter note, about one year ago two players fought a three-day, eleven-hour battle in the Wimbledon lawn. The fifth set of the match ended 70-68.

Everything is stupid

There’s been much noise and disinformation about the so-called IMF/EU ‘bailout’ of Portugal, which I chose to spell with quotes because it’s not really a bailout, but rather a loan made under such paradoxical draconian conditions — eg. restoring ‘competitiveness’ by lowering corporations’ welfare taxes while raising taxes on the energy they spend; privatizing only the public companies that actually made a profit for the State — the portuguese economy won’t be able to pay it. It’s no stretch for conspiracies theorists to see Portugal (and Greece, and probably the rest of Southern Europe) out of the Euro before you can say ‘loanshark’.

There’s a saying about “nobody is ever right in a home without bread”, which no-one seems to acknowledge. Our incumbent Prime-Minister, José Sócrates, is perhaps the most hated man that ever lived, and there’s no shortage of newspaper articles, viral videos, tweets and remarks on Facebook blaming him for everything, from gasoline prices to the shortages of second-gen iPads on retailers. Most common though, is the charge our PM and a small cadre of ‘boys’ “ruined our country”.

I mean, they did. But so did you and me and everyone else. Our politicians are our representatives, and I don’t mean this in the democratic sense that we elected them. When people say our ministers and MPs and public company execs ‘lost touch with reality’, I contend they didn’t: they’re our hyperreal selves. Whenever I see someone linking to a blog post listing the salaries of politicians, or to a video clip of a report about the Parliament’s luxury car fleet, quite often it reeks of envy-fueled outrage. For it is hard to detect a feeling of injustice in a people who generally like to brag about their own consumption.

Most of us in Portugal live damn confortably. When our grandparents tell us their personal stories of hunger, of their shoes being their most prized possessions, we fail to believe it. Most haven’t seen something like Las Hurdes, the shocking documentary Luís Buñuel did in 1933 about the misery in a part of Spain just the other side of the border (and we can be sure this side of the hill wasn’t any greener), and those who did think bygones. We’ve come a long way, and we’re spoiled brats, who yearn for a past that never existed just because the cable TV bill went up. So spoiled, a whole generation of graduates has the luxury of considering themselves ‘slaves’ after volunteering to work for free, basically sending the job market the message that their knowledge and studies are worth zero euros per hour.

Politicians have the responsability of their leadership. But we, the portuguese people, fell well on the turbo-capitalist addiction. It starts at home, from credit cards to car loans (and I do have one), from the habit of dining out on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to the home-owning mania, from plasma TVs to tablets to holidays in Brazil. We hear people complaining that because of the crisis, they’ll have to keep the same car for two years. We see parents buy their twelve year-olds all game consoles known to Man. We made tax evasion a national sport, and mistake being gentle for being a loser.

Still, for all their self-righteousness about their being Workers and our being lazy pigs (spend a year in our climate and try being anything else — someone said “geography is destiny”, rightly so), there’s something quite critical the leaders of the richer countries of Europe like to forget about: although in the past two decades their taxpayers contributed a lot of money to Portugal via the European Union, they weren’t actually giving it away for our politicians to mismanage at will. All that money actually came with a lot of strings attached, and all those countries bought something from us — a dismantlement of a great part of our agricultural and industrial capacity, and our conversion to a EU-enforced services-based economy —, basically an almost irreversible ‘non-compete’ clause that made Portugal and other Southern European countries utterly dependent on foreign imports — Northern exports — and credit. Part of their growth was our loss.

In the end, though, it’s our collective fault, and no better proof of that than our denial to acknowledge we ever did anything wrong, as if our Prime-Minister was the only obstacle between Portugal and Paradise. So convinced only a supervillain kept us from glorious destiny, take as an example the absurdity of this discussion over at Metafilter, regarding a YouTube video called What the Finns Should Know About Portugal. That video was a desperate plea for Finland’s approval of the EU bailout put together by bored employees at some right-wing municipality, full of unproven (or even disproven) factoids regarding Portugal’s delusions of historical awesomeness, with a bit of ill-willed moral blackmail at the end. Despite the obvious fact we are not so awesome anymore (and who gives a shit, really, “our Ronaldo is better than the brazilian Ronaldo?”), this video spread like wildfire through Facebook and Twitter, and its only practical effect was convincing the rich Northern Europeans we are in fact all a bunch of douchebags. PIGS, in fact.

What we have in academia, in other words, is a microcosm of the economy as a whole: a self-enriching aristocracy, a swelling and increasingly immiserated proletariat, and a shrinking middle class. The same devil’s bargain stabilizes the system: the middle, or at least the upper middle, the tenured professoriate, is allowed to retain its prerogatives—its comfortable compensation packages, its workplace autonomy and its job security—in return for acquiescing to the exploitation of the bottom by the top, and indirectly, the betrayal of the future of the entire enterprise.

Faulty Towers: The Crisis in Higher Education (via Metafilter)

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

While about the US, I think this article is as pertinent regarding our situation in Portugal. Today our government starts negotiating with the IMF and the EU. They’re going to ‘help’ us, ‘support’ us, ‘bail us out’.

Just as “War is Peace”. (via Instapaper)

±’s EGO SUM PANIS VIVUS, shot March 23rd 2011, the day the Portuguese PM resigned.

A little context: amidst the uproar about further austerity measures, someone at the Finance Ministry thought a consumer tax cut (from 23% to 6%) on golf equipment would be just what our economy needed. It’d turn out to be one of the last Moments of Zen from our government.

However, given that for all practical purposes our capital moved to somewhere between Paris and Berlin, I don’t believe the coming elections will do us any good. The outgoing PS douches will most probably be replaced by PSD douches, a single letter difference that contains all the golden parachutes paragovernmental workers will get when shown the exit door, all the dodgy deals and comissions that will get renegotiated.

And we’ll probably get the IMF’s ‘help’ in the end anyway. And just look how great that worked for the Greek and the Irish. I guess I’ll start stockpiling ramen noodles

White-collar criminology findings falsify several neo-classical economic theories.

Bruce Schneier quotes a paper on ‘control fraud’ theory, discussing how those in position of power (CEOs, heads of state and bosses in general) are the biggest security risk. According to the author this kind of fraud causes greater losses than all property crime put together (no shit?), but what I found especially resonating is the above quote. Even though I know almost nothing about Economics, whenever I watch the pundits on television I get the feeling Economics might be only slightly more of a science than Astrology. Then again, when I read something about the subject by some seemingly uncompromised economist, I find it a little more believeable as a scientific discipline.

So I’m left wondering: is the science of Economics itself a victim of control fraud?