Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Price We Pay — Harold Crooks

From Cold River to Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics Michael Ignatieff, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics.  A genuinely interesting book about why someone with tenure at Harvard might be crazy enough to run for high public office, and then what it is like to lose somewhat ignominiously.
Kofis  “They’re manipulating all of us.”

Under the federal Equitable Sharing Program, police have seized $2.5 billion since 2001 from people who were not charged with a crime and without a warrant being issued. Police reasoned that the money was crime-related. About $1.7 billion was sent back to law enforcement agencies for their use.
Often the cash is seized from motorists (carrying costs now exceed liquidity premium, I suppose).  There is this too:
  • Only a sixth of the seizures were legally challenged, in part because of the costs of legal action against the government. But in 41 percent of cases — 4,455 — where there was a challenge, the government agreed to return money. The appeals process took more than a year in 40 percent of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.
  • Hundreds of state and local departments and drug task forces appear to rely on seized cash, despite a federal ban on the money to pay salaries or otherwise support budgets. The Post found that 298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.
There is much more here, by Michael Sallah, Robert O’Harrow Jr., and Steven Rich at The Washington Post, give them a Pulitzer.

Vale Harry Evans

Asked by the ABC's 7.30 program how he would like to be remembered, Mr Evans replied: "Probably as a troublemaker. I've been here longer than most senators, nearly all of them in fact."

POLITICIANS have paid tribute to the “fearless” Harry Evans, the Senate’s longest serving clerk, who has died, aged 68.
Mr Evans was head of the Department of the Senate for 21 years between 1988 and 2009, served the nation’s upper house for more than 40 years until his retirement.Tributes paid to longest serving senate clerk Harry Evans

The emails released by ICAC essentially involve a Liberal Party official seeking to pass on to Tony Abbott, via Credlin, encouraging comments from Brickworks chief Lindsay Partridge about Abbott’s already well-established scare campaign against the carbon price.
The email from Partridge says, “Tell Tony to stick to his guns on no carbon tax” and spurts a phrase tailor-made for sloganeering; “Business does want certainty. We want certainty that there is no new tax.”  Real politics of brickworks

Monday, September 08, 2014

Sat aka Sedem Roky with Sladka Malchkeon

How to see into the future FT. The Good Judgment Project looks at the next aeven years of blissful marriage :-)

The office is like God: It’s everywhere, including, of course, in your pocket. Is that a worse fate than a lonely cubicle? Leah Price wonders... God of Office

When we know too much. Jorge Luis Borges, a grand literary ambassador, has been transformed into “Georgie,” the impotentmama’s boy...Subject to Ignorance

With millennia of inventions and discoveries at our back, humans have never been more powerful. But were we happier in the Stone Age?... Combatting Stone Age

Friday, September 05, 2014

Metafors of Life

The player kicked the ball. 
The patient kicked the habit. 
The villain kicked the bucket.
The verbs are the same.
The syntax is identical.
Does the brain notice, or care,
that the first is literal, the second 
metaphorical, the third idiomatic?
- metadata of metafors by media dragons

Metaphor used to be a poetic ornament. Then neuroscientists got involved, and a nascenttheory of consciousnessemerged... Chronically Shaped ...

When writers get cancer, they write about it. But is there anything new to say? Jenny Diski, newly diagnosed, forswears the clichés of the genre... Kliszcezs

Water’s edge: the crisis of rising sea levels Reuters

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Bohemians Reeling Down Under in Cold River

The 2014 festival has the theme of "resistance", marking 25 years since the end of the Communist regime.  "Communism is still very much in the collective memory," Howard says, citing the mini-seriesBurning Bush - directed by Agneiszka Holland, a Pole who attended film school in Prague - as one of the new works being screened that confronts that history head-on.
The festival's retrospective component - including, this year, a tribute to Svankmajer - underlines the continuity between the old and the new.  "Surrealism has never died in that part of the world," Howard says, adding that the Czech and Slovak brand of surrealism tends to be darker and more pessimistic than its French equivalent.

Bohemians Down Under

Famous Feynman Free

Feynman was known in the physics community for his work in several areas, particularly  and superfluidy—he also came up with a way to pictorially diagram mathematical equations, which became known as Feynman diagrams. He also was part of the team that worked on the atomic bomb project and shared a Nobel Prize with Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger in 1965. To the rest of the world, however, Feynman was a bona fide scientist celebrity, sought out for his opinions and observations as new science discoveries or problems appeared. In later years he was a member of the panel that looked into the cause of the first space shuttle disaster
Famous Feynman lectures put online.  And Lena Learns a Lesson, children’s book by Mira Varma, daughter of long-time MR correspondent Samir Varma.

Trevor Paglen speculates:
Humanity’s longest lasting remnants are found among the stars. Over the last fifty years, hundreds of satellites have been launched into geosynchronous orbits, forming a ring of machines 36,000 kilometers from earth. Thousands of times further away than most other satellites, geostationary spacecraft remain locked as man-made moons in perpetual orbit long after their operational lifetimes. Geosynchronous spacecraft will be among civilization’s most enduring remnants, quietly circling earth until the earth is no more.... amen

Untouchable Insiders

Twenty-five years ago, Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy. Today it’s an ideal in tatters... Parliamentary library copy of this article is still in my archives ;-)
If you've ever looked in awe at smart skin being developed for robots, don't worry - your own is far more intelligent. Neurons in human skin perform advanced calculations scientists previously believed only the brain could carry out, it has been revealed. Researchers say that in fact our skin passes far more information to the brain that had previously been thought...
“Analyzing humor,” E.B. White wrote, “is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies.” Yet the study of funnyexpands... Reinventing Humour

Another Private Equity Scam

Russian bank hires two former U.S. senators Center for Public Integrity. Far worse than Cantor.

Another Private Equity Scam: Clawback Language Does Not Work As Advertised

As the SEC, reporters, and analysts dig into the operations of private equity firms, it is becoming obvious that one of the reasons that these financiers have cornered the best legal talent in America is for the express purpose of better fleecing their investors.
A prime example comes up in the use of clawbacks in private equity agreements. For those new to private equity, the clawback provisions are meant to assure that the private equity fund managers do not receive fees meant to reward good performance when the performance was no good.
The prototypical fee structure for a private equity fund is an annual management fee of 2% of assets under management plus 20% of the profits. The majority of funds stipulate that that 20% upside fee (called “carried interest”) kicks in only after a certain rate of return (the “hurdle rate”) has been surpassed. The typical hurdle rate is 8%....

New Zealand: How Crooks’ Buddies at WhaleOil Bounced Out the Chief of the Serious Fraud Office, and More

It was a particularly lively weekend in New Zealand politics, already in ferment as a result of the facts and claims documented in Nicky Hager’s new book about dirty tricks in New Zealand politics. Everyone’s paying a great deal of attention to the workings of the political/media sausage machine and the leaks are flowing.
It turns out not to be a machine, as such, more a tangled writhing heap of politicians on the make, spin merchants on commission, CEOs of massively bust companies, journalists looking for copy, chattering policemen, and bloggers on a sort of nihilistic spree. As you might expect, the resulting display is not at all pretty, or simple. Still, the same sort of thing goes on everywhere else too, and normally one doesn’t get to inspect the workings. One should take the opportunity to look and learn. This will be a brisk, longish walk through a tremendous mess, dear reader. I’ll do my best to get the story straight and highlight my favourite bits.
There was another leak on Friday. That leak promptly claimedthe already-vulnerable scalp of Justice Minister Judith Collins:
Prime Minister John Key has tried to distance himself from claims Mark Hotchin was paying bloggers to undermine the Serious Fraud Office, saying he does not know about the arrangement and it is not a matter for the National Party....
 An aside: Ms Odgers is the baleful blogger, NZ Herald newspaper columnist, wannabe M.P.,  diminutive ninja, tax lawyer, and serial major fraud bystander who appeared in a leading role in a recent NC post about apparent Russian mafia connections in New Zealand. She has since left her job in Hong Kong, “by mutual consent”. That departure might sound like a blogging coup worthy of Odgers herself, but in fact both her former company and Ms Odgers should be quite impervious to any embarrassment arising from our blog post; they’ve heard most of it before. One suspects the job change is motivated instead by the multiple massive breaches of offshore lawyers’ omertà that Odgers is seen to perpetrate in the Hager book.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Recorded Voices

"[T]he older you get, the more artificial it all seems." 
~ Joe Wenderoth • BOMB Magazine

Esther Freud: “Sitting down at your desk every day is an appointment with doubt; that is the nature of writing. But eventually I just had to admit that it wasn’t working; there just wasn’t enough happening to keep me interested.”

$3.2 Million – Bet You Wish You’d Kept That Comic Book Collection!

“Superman made his debut in Action Comics #1, which cost 10 cents in 1938. Only around 50 unrestored originals are thought to have survived, and this was described as the most immaculate.”

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

HMRC’s new directors: white, male and from big business  (1 Sep 2014)

Troubled waters

INK BOTTLE“You know what’s the loudest noise in the world, man? The loudest noise in the world is silence.”

Thelonious Monk (quoted in Lewis Lapham, “Monk: The High Priest of Jazz,” Saturday Evening Post, April 1964)

Dear intellectuals: You have a responsibility to speak truth and expose lies. You are failing. You are docile, cowed, and impotent. Best, Fred Inglis... Speaking Truth
The Price of Corruption SSRN. Ian Welsh’s classic formulation: “[Politicians sell out cheap] because it’s not their money. It’s like selling your neighbor’s car for twenty bucks.”
Private equity’s giant collusion case is over, as Carlyle folds Fortune

CEO Desmond Hague caught on camera kicking Doberman puppy in lift of luxury condos Sidney Morning Herald (skippy). Hague’s firm is Centerplateowned by private equity firm Olympus Partners. So that explains the puppy-kicking part, but why was Hague dumb enough to do it on camera?
When Do We Start Calling This “The Greater Depression”?Brad DeLong, Washington Center for Equitable Growth

Inversions: The Biggest Tax Scam Ever  (rolling stones exclusive)

The criminalisation of American business The Economist (LS) 

A mammoth guilt trip Corporate America is finding it ever harder to stay on the right side of the law 

The Cyber-Terror Bank Bailout: They’re Already Talking About It, and You May Be on the Hook Bloomberg. Let’s just hope we haven’t incentivized the CEOs to secretly hand over the passwords to “cyber-terrorists” for a share of the take, because that would be accounting control fraud.

38 maps that explain the global economy Vox. Headline overeggs the pudding, but we really are entering a golden age of data visualization.

Labour of Love

Social media revolution begins

Labor Day: Human Labor, Human Rental, Human Gift

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
I finished The Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin the other day. As Grandin follows the money, the book is almost a picaresque, his see-taste-smell-hear-feel language is amazing, and the sourcing is impeccable. It’s pleasant to see that America can still produce scholarship, albeit readable, popular scholarship. Here’s Grandin on the hold of a slave ship. Typing it in, from page 38:
Along the way, Africans died from contagious diseases or from the miseries of crossing the ocean in a claustrophobically small space. Some went blind. Others lost their minds. Even when the circus [?] followed the best practices of the early nineteenth century, the holds were never cleaned fast enough to counter the accumulating strata of excrement, vomit, blood, and pus. With poor ventilation, baking under the equatorial sun, cargo bays festered and putrefied. Slave ships could be smelled from miles away. “The confined air, rendered noxious by the effluvia exhaled from their bodies, and by being repeatedly breathed, soon produces fevers and fluxes, which generally carries off great numbers of them.” observed a British slave ship surgeon in the 1780s. When bad weather forced the portholes and hatches to be closed for long periods of time, the floors of the holds would become so covered with “blood and mucus” that they “resembled a slaughter-house.” “It is not,” said the surgeon, “in the power of the human imagination to picture to itself a situation more dreadful or disgusting.”
“Slave ships could be smelled from miles away.” In other words, everybody knew, much as the Germans knew, from the stench of ash and burning meat from the chimneys of concentration camps, or from the arms and legs waving between the slats of cattle cars. An entire political economy knew, over several centuries; my own, too, as it happens. (I can’t find the origin of the phrase “Southern slaves on Yankee bottoms,” but see Lawrence Goldstone’s Dark Bargain for the wheeling and dealing between Southern slave-owners and Northern shipping interests that enabled the Constitution to be passed.)
The good news for Labor Day, however, is that clearly “wage labor” (human rental) is a cultural — rather, civilizational — advance over slavery (human sale). No matter how horrid and lethal Blake’s dark Satanic mills were — and they were — they weren’t as bad as slave ships, or the entire vile process that enslaved humans, brought them to market, and sold them; or bred them and sold them.[1] And there was a moment when the United States chose to make that advance, which Lincoln framed:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
I know it’s fashionable to say that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery, but over the Union; which is in a narrow sense true; but had there been no conflict over slavery, no war would have been fought. I’m also taken with the idea that what we call the “Revolutionary War” was in fact a civil war between English-speaking peoples; and that what we call the “Civil War” was in fact a revolutionary war, because it culiminated in the complete overthrow and destruction of an entire political economy of continental scope, human sale (slavery), and replaced it with a different set of social relations, human rental (“wage labor”). The house ceased to be divided. Fast forward tothe Pullman Strike.
* * *
I got my first “job” (wage labor) in the sixth grade: Shelving books in our town library; and I got my Social Security card at the same time. Every afternoon after school I’d come in and get the cart where the returned books had been piled, and wheel the cart along the stacks, putting the books back in their places. Working with Dewey Decimal system ignited a life-long interest in Classification systems! Of course, the work was easy, because I already knew where the books were, having read them or decided not to read them, even the adult ones.
My second job was mowing lawns in my neighborhood, and I got a lot of work, because the wage I (as entrepreneur) paid myself (as wage laborer) was wildly insufficient; I’ve always underbid on work, from that day to this. Nevertheless, I loved the work itself, since it involved figuring out an economy of motion: How to maneuver the lawn mower, with its oceanic, all-enveloping sound and fresh smell of gasoline, so as to have completely covered the lawn, with a minimum of effort. (I found it better to pull the mower rather than push it; I wonder if others feel the same?) And this ignited a life-long interest in time and motion study, which stood me in good stead when I went to work in the mills. Mowing lawns was also fun for me because I was nerdy (glasses) and have always been terrible at sports; but here was a physical activity I could strengthen my body doing that was fun, too, and a had a little bit of a challenge.
Do “kids these days” have time for such things? My impression is that they are scheduled within an inch of their lives, enmeshed in a hideous post-9/11 compliance regimen, and very rarely alone; back in the day, I was what I think today they call“a free range kid,” and so I did all the work on my own. And spent the money on model trains!
So I believe in what, on Labor Day at least, we call the “dignity of labor.” Of course, we do tend to identify “work” with “wage labor” and a “job,” but the three concepts are, or ought to be, distinct. The formula I remember, which I’m sure is over-simplified, is work equals force over distance: Moving the books from the cart to the shelf; dragging the mower through its pattern; the saccade of the eye, grokking a call number; the swing of arms and torso, muscling the mower onto a new track. Those are not social relations, unlike “job” or “wage labor,” where the question of the day seems to be whether you have to rent a human for an amount sufficient to purchase the necessities to recuperate that human’s body from the work that it does for you; and if you’re a Walmart worker, the answer of the day is likely to be “No, you don’t have to” which is why you might have to go on food stamps if you work there, which I hesitate to call dignity. It’s hard to retain dignity when you lack for food.
So I value work. When we were very young, our work was play. It is true that when I write about gardening, I say “I don’t like work,” but all that means is that I don’t want to do unnecessarywork; like weeding, for example, or watering, when I can lay down sheet mulch and avoid both those chores. (And work taking pictures, or blogging.)
Leading us to raise policy issues. Should society value work, and if so, how? As opposed to valuing jobs, or human rental? Or the money that comes either from renting humans, or from having been rented? That’s an important question and goes directly to policy options that will increasingly — if we have anything to say about the matter — be matters for public debate. For example, is a Jobs Guarantee preferable to a Basic Income Guarantee, or BIG? Bill Mitchell lays out the case for the former; he believes that work is better than cash transfers, and I find myself not in disagreement:
I oppose the use of a BIG as the primary means of poverty reduction for the following reasons:
  • It creates a dependency on passive welfare payments.
  • It creates a stigmatised cohort.
  • It does not provide any inflation buffer and is inconsistent with the macroeconomic principles spelt out by MMT.
  • It does not provide any capacity building. A BIG treats people who are unable to find adequate market-based work as “consumption” entities and attempts to meet their consumption needs. However, the intrinsic social and capacity building role of participating in paid work is ignored and hence undervalued. It is sometimes said that beyond all the benefits in terms of self-esteem, social inclusion, confidence-building, skill augmentation and the like, a priceless benefit of creating full employment is that the “children see at least one parent going to work each morning”. In other words, it creates an intergenerational stimulus that the BIG approach can never create.
Unlike the BIG model, the Job Guarantee model meets these conditions within the constraints of a monetary capitalist system. [Some might regard this as a bug.]
It is a far better vehicle to rebuild a sense of community and the purposeful nature of work. …. It also provides the framework whereby the concept of work itself can be broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure, which is consistent with the aspirations of some BIG advocates.
It also allows for capacity building by integrating training and skills development into the paid work environment.
So I do not favour cash grants being extended to some form of BIG as the primary means through which the fight against poverty is conducted. Instead, I argue that, large-scale employment programs be introduced and cash transfer systems be used to ensure that families of workers are also able to live beyond poverty.
I also consider it essential, that consistent with poverty alleviation objectives, that the Job Guarantee wage (which would become the minimum wage) should be paid upon the person signing in for work irrespective of whether the government can offer meaningful work at precisely that time.
While this might have the semblance of a BIG, the dynamics of this system would be very different. The primary source of income would still be work (or a willingness to work) and it would then be the responsibility of the government administration not to waste this great productive capacity through inefficiency.
It would also recognise that frictions exist across time and space which would require the on-going Job Guarantee wage to be paid while workers shift housing or projects change.
No person who is capable of working in any nation should be left without an adequate income if they are willing and able to work. For those unable to work because of age, disability, illness or child-rearing, the primary source of poverty alleviation should be a upgraded cash grant system.
One key point is that “the concept of work itself can be broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure”; FDR’s Federal Writers Project (I wish!) would be an example of this, as could almost any form of citizen engagement, from gathering weather data through doing research on public policy (say, landfills). And the second key point is that, for good or ill, work has dignity in a way that cashing a check does not.
So, if one must have a system of human rental, the Jobs Guarantee would seem to be a good way of mitigating its ill effects, and a better way than a Basic Income Guarantee.
* * *
So at this point one asks, “But what about the robots?” Suppose we end up with a society where robots have “taken all the jobs”? What then?
To me, the loss of jobs to the robots would mean that just as human rental superseded human sale, human gift sould supersede human rental; that is, people — even the proles! — would offer work as a gift, with the full range of adult power, just as kids today play, also as a gift. We might then have a society where people gathered in the desert[2] to go to the office, or to punch a time clock, or to send out hundreds of their resumes, all as part of an exotic, life-changing adventure. Just to see what things are like on the other side.
I know that the sale -> rental -> gift transition sounds teleological, and I don’t even believe in teleologies. Nevertheless, as Gramsci wrote:
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
We know all about the morbid symptom; but I believe “the new” could be the transition I have just described.


[1] Grandin’s book has made me very leery of locutions like “debt slavery” or even “wage slavery.” Considered as abstract descriptions of social relations, the terms have merit. (You can, after all, go to prison for debt, in some states.) However, I believe these terms create a false equivalence that minimizes the human suffering caused by chattel slavery, and that’s to be avoided for the sake of those whose families suffered, andespecially for those suffering today.
[2] The Burning Man squillionaires are the very last people to implement such a utopian scheme for the whole of society. For those who can pay for the ticket to get in, sure. Not for proles. “House divided,” eh?
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