Tag Archives: pyramid schemes

governments, hierarchies, states, and power relationships of all sorts

postcards from the handbasket

Our trip to hell in a handbasket has been mostly passing through environmental markers, with occasional — okay, frequent — forays into the economy and civil rights. Now we’ve got rising bread prices, a scary sign that I have personally never seen in my nearly 40 years of life.

So now, farmers want to take land out of conservation programs in order to grow high-priced commodity crops. NYT 4/9 Why are the commodity crops high-priced? Because of government mandates about biofuels: The Bush plan on global warming and the energy crisis is to burn more food crops. Wow, good idea. Of course, farmers are not just being greedy. Their costs on their current croplands — fuel and fertilizer — are also rising, which means they need the most bang for their buck out of croplands. Jeff Krehbiel, apparently a wheat farmer from Oklahoma, put it this way: “Let’s hurt the farmer in order to shut the bakers up, is that what we’re saying?”

Instead of tax dollars for truly clean and renewable technologies, and conservation, the Bush people are putting our money on “clean” coal, biofuels, nuclear, hydrogen fuel cells, and other less promising technologies. Of course there are roles for these, and all technologies, but I don’t get the math.

Recording industry in England

John Naughton had a nice column last week in The Observer (at the guardian) trashing the British Phonographic Industry. Triggered by their spokesperson’s statement that “For years, ISPs have built a business on other people’s music,” Naughton awarded it “Fatuous Statement of the Month” and went on to excoriate their arrogance and the legislation they’re pushing to mandate ISPs to deal with copyright infringement. And properly Naughton pointed out that “ISPs have indeed ‘built a business’. They’ve done it by providing an internet connection for upwards of a billion individuals and businesses across the planet.”

But what I thought was funny was the spectacle of the phonographic industry, which represents record companies, complaining about someone else “building a business on other people’s music”. The irony kills.

portfolio diversification in your income

Firefighters who want to live in high-priced cities can work two jobs, said W. Michael Cox, chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “I think it’s great,” he said. “It gives you portfolio diversification in your income.”

[NYT 7/23] Words fail me. Actually, polite words fail me.

“scan this book”?

siva linked to “scan this book!”, a NYT magazine article by kevin kelly, with a promise to post comments about it soon. i look forward to them, and in the meantime will post my own (hurried & no-doubt flawed) quick reactions to one point:

Authors and publishers (including publishers of music and film) have relied for years on cheap mass-produced copies protected from counterfeits and pirates by a strong law based on the dominance of copies and on a public educated to respect the sanctity of a copy. This model has, in the last century or so, produced the greatest flowering of human achievement the world has ever seen, a magnificent golden age of creative works. Protected physical copies have enabled millions of people to earn a living directly from the sale of their art to the audience, without the weird dynamics of patronage. Not only did authors and artists benefit from this model, but the audience did, too. For the first time, billions of ordinary people were able to come in regular contact with a great work. In Mozart’s day, few people ever heard one of his symphonies more than once. With the advent of cheap audio recordings, a barber in Java could listen to them all day long.

Um, no. I mean, partly yes, but partly no. Let’s not get the “protected physical copies” cart before the horse of creativity and economic power. The “greatest flowering of human achievement” has been enabled by a relatively wealthier populace; the wealth has been largely enabled by technology which enabled faster & more efficient production and resource extraction. Billions of ordinary people can come into contact with works, great or otherwise, because they have surplus capital and time to purchase them (technology, democracy, FEMINISM, the labor movement, etc.); it is cheap to reproduce them (because of technology); and as a result of this expanded marketplace, and greater leisure / capital, more people could create their own works. (And the barber in Java, if she is like barbers in many other developing nations, is listening to the recordings despite copyright law, not because of it.)

The transitional technological moment when works could be mass-produced but only with expensive equipment and with relatively expensive resources allowed a chokehold on that production, and certain parties were able to make a killing on that chokehold — record producers, publishers, and the like. But the chokehold didn’t enable the flowering — like a dam, it just siphoned off energy from a river that was already flowing. Sorry for the mixed metaphors. But let’s not isolate creativity and copyright from history and the real world.

There’s no question that, as Kelly suggests, this is a clash of business models. But it’s important to characterize the middle-man business model correctly: not as the cause of creativity, but as a by-product of creativity + a transitional technological state. If you think about it that way, you quickly figure out that middle-men’s interests not only aren’t protected by copyright law, they’re not even the interests described in the Constitutional “Authors and Inventors”. If the middle-men want to continue making revenue, they’ll have to do it in some way that adds to the value. The principal means they formerly had of adding value no longer cut it. Creation and capture are getting cheaper, being reduced just to their human inputs of creativity and ingenuity — as they should be. And distribution costs are approaching zero. Thanks for bringing your expensive printing presses, recording and processing equipment, and land-based distribution methods to the party, guys, but we can party on without them now. What else ya got? Editing? Selection? Indexing? Archiving? Tagging? Promotion? Because all those things could be very helpful.

… Anyway, I largely enjoyed the article, although I skimmed it very quickly during a short break. I look forward to reading it again at more leisure (and to Siva’s eventual commentary).

space weapons

Re-assuring words from our Glorious Leader’s curiously independent-minded military leaders:

“We haven’t reached the point of strafing and bombing from space,” Pete Teets, who stepped down last month as the acting secretary of the Air Force, told a space warfare symposium last year. “Nonetheless, we are thinking about those possibilities.”

The Air Force believes “we must establish and maintain space superiority,” Gen. Lance Lord, who leads the Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently. “Simply put, it’s the American way of fighting.” Air Force doctrine defines space superiority as “freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack” in space.

Apparently, Star Wars is not a successful defense program! It’s a movie, instead:

The Air Force’s drive into space has been accelerated by the Pentagon’s failure to build a missile defense on earth. After spending 22 years and nearly $100 billion, Pentagon officials say they cannot reliably detect and destroy a threat today.

Tired of waiting around for that tedious old bureaucracy, the Air Force is leading us into a bold new destiny! Is the Air Force some kind of independent super-military agency now? Why is the Air Force coming to the Glorious Leader to authorize their own separate special “Air Force” weapons? Doesn’t this seem a little, well, “precious bodily fluids” to anyone?

“Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny,” he told an Air Force conference in September. “Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future.”

For background details: fafblog 5/19; NYT 5/18