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Interesting Links: Oct 28, 2017

October 28, 2017 6 comments

Here are three interesting articles I came across in the previous few days. They are about three distinct topics, namely deterrence and revenge, vertical vs horizontal censorship and the repulsive logic behind the process of financialization.

Link # 1: The Psychology of Revenge and Deterrence

Why is the instinct for vengeance so strong even when it is clear that widespread death and destruction would be a much more likely outcome than any kind of “victory”? In the event of a nuclear war, why is second-strike retaliation so certain when it may gain nothing of social or material value? We believe these things because humans share a universal thirst for retaliation in the face of threat and in the wake of loss, no matter what classical economists may say to the contrary about how people “should” behave. Indeed, the psychology of revenge and the hatred on which it rests make a seemingly irrational second strike entirely credible. We can apply this analysis to nuclear weapons, but the basic drive is no different than the one that makes most people want to kill anyone who threatens their child, or to hurt a cheating spouse. The instinct for revenge is universal, automatic and immediate. It also serves a function: to deter the threat of future exploitation.

Link # 2: The geometry of censorship and satire

As Dorenko explained it, Kremlin censorship under Putin is “vertical”—top-down censorship that is brutal and frightening when you’re targeted; but also flawed and inefficient as censorship strategies go, because the top-down vertical approach is too narrow, too concentrated under one tyrannical locus at the top. There are too few censors, and too many people and too much material to censor, meaning there’ll always be someone you miss, and there’ll always be journalists or satirists looking for ways to circumvent the narrow-minded censors. This was contrasted to our “horizontal” censorship in the West: rather than coming from a tyrannical top-down force, our censorship is carried out horizontally, between colleagues and peers and “society”; through public pressure and peer pressure; through morality-policing; and from within oneself, one’s fears for one’s career, and fears one can’t necessarily articulate, fears that feel natural rather than imposed upon.

Link # 3: Finance isn’t just an industry. It’s a system of social control.

Our way of thinking about it starts from the idea that the logic of the market doesn’t enforce itself — the logic of the market has to be enforced. And one way of looking at the role of finance is that it enforces the logic of the market and ensures that a whole range of decisions that could potentially be made in many different ways in fact end up being made according to the logic of commodities and of accumulation. Here we’ve been inspired by the economists Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy, among others. So, the most obvious case we highlight is the corporation. On one level, we think of the corporation as a typical organizational form of modern capitalism. But in another sense it’s simply a body of people with some sort of hierarchy and defined roles, engaged in some kind of productive process.It’s not inherently engaged in producing commodities for profit. And if we go back to the prehistory of the corporation, the corporation was just a legally chartered body that carried out some kind of function.

It got appropriated as an organizational form for capitalism specifically, but it didn’t start out as that. The other side of the coin is that there’s a long tradition of thinkers, including Galbraith, Keynes, Veblen, and many others, who saw a natural, or at least possible, evolution of the corporation into the basis of some kind of planning or collective organization of production —that it could easily cease to be oriented toward the needs of profit maximization. So if you think that type of evolution is possible, then you ask, why hasn’t it happened? I would argue that the answer is that somebody stopped it from happening — that there are people in society whose job it is to prevent that from happening. There are people and institutions whose job it is to ensure that corporations remain within capitalist logic, that they remain oriented towards production for sale and for profit. On some level, this is the fundamental role of shareholders and their advocates, and of institutions like private equity.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Jun 30, 2017

June 30, 2017 3 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles which I came cross over the previous few days. All of them are about different facets of the ongoing slow-motion decline of contemporary liberalism, aka neoliberalism. Will post something original tomorrow.

The first link is about the ongoing demise of the apex era of neoliberalism, from the viewpoint of somebody in UK. You too might have noticed that the west seemingly went into a holding pattern sometime in the early- to mid-1990s and has only recently started exiting that era, including its foundation beliefs. The second one is about how the sequelae of the 2008 financial crisis slowly but irreversibly resulted in the loss of public faith in contemporary liberalism, aka neoliberalism. The author of that post makes the point that contemporary liberalism now has more in common with a failing cult or religion than anything with a worthwhile future. The third one is a recent interview with Ralph Nader where he describes how the many missteps and miscalculations by establishment democrats in their attempts to suck up to the rich and professional classes (as republican-lite) have caused irreversible damage to its future electoral prospects.

Link 1: The end of the Long 90s

For the last 30 years, what David Goodhart called “the two liberalisms” have prevailed, the economic liberalism of the right and the social liberalism of the left, “Margaret Thatcher tempered by Roy Jenkins.” The Conservatives concentrated on deregulation, union busting and privatisation, while talking tough, but avoiding any action on, on immigration, political correctness and traditional values. Meanwhile, Labour focused on a socially liberal agenda without attempting to roll back the economic gains of the right. It was almost as though a tacit deal had been struck; you can have diversity, minority rights and discrimination laws if we can have privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts. The effect was to take policies that were popular with the public off the agenda on the grounds that they were publicly unacceptable. This applied both to left-wing and right-wing policies.

Link 2: The Blathering Superego at the End of History

Liberalism is not working. Something deep within the mechanism has cracked. All our wonk managers, our expert stewards of the world, have lost their way. They wander desert highways in a daze, wondering why the brakes locked up, why the steering wheel came off, how the engine caught on fire. Their charts lie abandoned by the roadside. It was all going so well just a moment ago. History was over. The technocratic order was globalizing the world; people were becoming accustomed to the permanent triumph of a slightly kinder exploitation. What happened? All they can recall is a loud thump in the undercarriage, an abrupt loss of control. Was it Brexit? Trump? Suddenly the tires were bursting and smoke was pouring into the vehicle, then a flash. The next thing they could remember, our liberals were standing beside a smoldering ruin, blinking in the hot sun, their power stolen, their world collapsing, their predictions all proven wrong.

Link 3: Interview by Intercept with Ralph Nader on Failure of Democratic Party.

The Democrats began the process of message preceding policy. No — policy precedes message. That means they kept saying how bad the Republicans are. They campaigned not by saying, look how good we are, we’re going to bring you full Medicare [for all], we’re going to crack down on corporate crime against workers and consumers and the environment, stealing, lying, cheating you. We’re going to get you a living wage. We’re going to get a lean defense, a better defense, and get some of this money and start rebuilding your schools and bridges and water and sewage systems and libraries and clinics. Instead of saying that, they campaign by saying “Can you believe how bad the Republicans are?” Now once they say that, they trap their progressive wing, because their progressive wing is the only segment that’s going to change the party to be a more formidable opponent. Because they say to their progressive wing, “You’ve got nowhere to go, get off our back.”

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: June 9, 2017

June 9, 2017 4 comments

A few months ago, I came across another author/ journalist whose posts many of you might find interesting. Sam Kriss writes on a wide variety of issues and in a number of outlets. He also has a personal website.

Here are three of his articles that I found to be especially interesting.

Link 1: The Long Slow Rotten March of Progress

Desperation is everywhere; exhibitors make lunging grabs for any passers-by wearing an “INVESTOR” lanyard, proffer stickers and goodies, scream for attention on their convention-standard signs. These do not, to put it kindly, make a lot of sense. “Giving you all the tools you need to activate and manage your influencer marketing relationships,” promises one. “Leverage what is known to find, manage, and understand your data,” entices another. The gleaming technological future looks a lot like a new golden age of hucksterism. It’s networking; the sordid, stupid business of business; pressing palms with arrogant pricks, genuflecting to idiots, entirely unchanged by the fact that this time it’s about apps and code rather than dog food or dishwashers.

Capitalism doesn’t know what to do with its surpluses any more; it ruthlessly drains them from the immiserated low-tech manufacturing bases of the Global South, snatches them away from a first-world population tapping at computer code on the edge of redundancy, but then has nowhere better to put them than in some executive’s gold-plated toilet. This soil breeds monsters; new, parasitic products scurry like the first worms over the world-order’s dying body. The “Internet of Things” is meant to be the future, but it mostly looks like a farcical recomplication of what we already had: a juice press that needs to scan a QR code and connect to your wifi before it’ll exert functionally the same amount of pressure as a pair of human hands, a wine bottle that connects to the internet and only dispenses proprietary wines, light bulbs that burn out or flicker maniacally if you haven’t installed the drivers properly.

Link 2: Village Atheists, Village Idiots

The madman in this story is Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the frustrated punter is the rapper B.o.B. Near the start of this year—heralded by Tyson with the announcement that January 1 has no astronomical significance—B.o.B. began insisting (on Twitter, of course) that for centuries a vast conspiracy has existed for the purpose of convincing people that the world is a sphere, when it’s actually flat. And for some reason, Tyson immediately jumped in, skittle-bowl flapping noisily against his ass, to repeat endlessly that no, it’s round. He even helped create a genuinely unlistenable rap parody—“B.o.B. gotta know that the planet is a sphere, G”—that borrowed not only its backing track but its entire lyrical structure from Drake’s “Back to Back.” (See what I mean about rationalists and repetition?)

In the time of Kierkegaard and Marx and Parallax, there was still some resistance to the deadness of mere facts; now it’s all melted away. Kierkegaard’s villagers saw someone maniacally repeating that the world is round and correctly sent him back to the asylum. We watched Tyson doing exactly the same thing, and instead of hiding him away from society where nobody would have to hear such pointless nonsense, thousands cheer him on for fighting for truth and objectivity against the forces of backwardness. We do the same when Richard Dawkins valiantly fights for the theory of evolution against the last hopeless stragglers of the creationist movement, with their dinky fiberglass dinosaurs munching leaves in a museum-piece Garden of Eden. We do it when Sam Harris prises deep into the human brain and announces that there’s no little vacuole there containing a soul.

Link 3: Why won’t you push the button?

Imagine if a politician openly promised, during a campaign, that they would be willing to burn people alive. They come to knock on your door, bright and smiling in a freshly crinkled rosette: unlike my opponent, who doesn’t care about your security and the security of your family, I will personally subject someone to sixty million-degree heat, so that their fat melts and their bones are charred and their eyeballs burst and their bodies crumble into toxic dust. I will torture other people by burning their skin, I will torch their flesh away and leave them with open wounds bubbling with disease. They will die slowly. I will poison others; their organs will fail and they will shit out their guts in agony. I will do this to people who have done nothing wrong, to families, to children, to their pets; one by one, I will burn them to death. For you. For your security.

It’s striking how sharply the inhuman vastness of nuclear war contrasts with the pettiness and finitude and awfulness of the people who demand it. The first question on nuclear weapons came from one Adam Murgatroyd, who looks exactly how you’d expect, some simpering Tory ponce with his slicked-back hair and his practised raise of an eyebrow. ‘It’s disconcerting,’ he later told the press, ‘that we could potentially in six days’ time have a prime minister who wouldn’t be prepared to protect British lives over someone else’s life.’ Imagine the air poisoned, the soil dying, the biosphere eradicated, the grand flailing tragedy of humanity and its aspirations put to an abrupt stop, the families huddling their loved ones close as the shock wave hits, knowing they’re about to die – and all because some limp umbrella of a man wanted a leader who’d make the right kind of nationalistic hoots about defence. Now I am become Adam from the BBC studio audience, destroyer of worlds.

Enjoy! Comments?

Interesting YouTube Channel: This is Dan Bell

May 15, 2017 3 comments

A few weeks ago, I came across a YouTube channel detailing the sorry state of malls and non-4/5 star hotels in USA. The videos on this channel might, at first sight, just seem entertaining- if a somewhat odd way. They do however hint to a much bigger problem underlying problem, namely, that things in many parts of USA are going downhill at a pretty alarming rate.

It is worthwhile to note that many of the malls and motels/hotels featured on this channel were not always places full of decay and abandonment. In fact, even a bit of googling reveals that more than a few of the malls and hotels covered in these videos were once very functional if somewhat unremarkable places filled with people who had money to spend and fulfilling lives to live.

Today they are either empty and decaying or used by marginalized people who once had “normal” jobs and lives. In other words, these videos show (if somewhat inadvertently) how far things have fallen for the majority of people in USA- especially outside a few nice coastal enclaves and other islands of relative affluence.

Here is a link to the YouTube Channel: This is Dan Bell

Clip 1: Dead Mall Series: Hickory Ridge Mall, Memphis, TN

Clip 2: Another Dirty Room Ep. 9: Regal Inn and Suites, Rosedale, MD

Enjoy! Comments?

Interesting Links: May 3, 2017

Here are links to three interesting posts which I came across recently. At first glance, they appear to be about three different topics. However once you read them it is obvious that they are describing various aspects of the same basic problem- namely, what happens when you let capitalism and legalism run amock. To be more precise, all of them describe the disastrous (but very predictable) consequences of celebrating the gaming of proxy measures of reality by greedy people aka credentialed “meritocrats”.

The first link is about how the “healthcare” system in USA ends up providing quite shitty and ridiculously expensive medical treatment. The second one is about “innovation” in Silly Valley is now largely about trying to DRM everything, extract even more rents and working precariously employed people to a slow death- all without providing any added value to rest of society. The third link talks about the real motivation behind establishment democrats blaming Putin for Trump’s “surprising” electoral victory. As some of you might know, one of my older posts said something very similar.

Link 1: How Economic Incentives have Created our Dysfunctional US Medical Market

In my new book “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take it Back,” I began with a list of 10 Economic Rules that seem to govern the Dysfunctional U.S. Medical Market. Some readers reacted with disbelief: How could such seemingly callous and absurd-sounding principles form the underpinning of something as precious as our healthcare? So here, I’ve illustrated each of the 10 rules with some real-life examples from the book to show you how they do, indeed, come into play. What you’ll see is that the economic forces and incentives that motivate our health system often lead to medical practices that are not especially good for our health — or our wallets.

Link 2: The Three Hot Trends in Silicon Valley Horseshit

The purpose of these companies is to take whatever tiny sense of social responsibility businesses might still feel to give people stable jobs and destroy it, replacing whatever remains of the permanent, salaried, benefit-enjoying workforce with an army of desperate freelancers who will never go to bed feeling secure in their financial future for their entire lives. These companies are for people who think temp agencies are too coddling and well remunerative. The only service they sell is making it easier to kill minimally stable, well-compensated jobs. That’s it. They have no other function. They valorize Doers while killing workers. They siphon money from the desperate throngs back to the employers who will use them up and throw them aside like a discarded Juicero bag and, of course, to themselves and their shareholders. That’s it. That’s all they are. That’s all they do. They are the final logic of late capitalism, the engine of human creativity applied to the essential work of making life worse for regular people.

Link 3: The Anatomy of Liberal Melancholy

Liberals see no such system. Instead, they see more or less qualified individuals who either have the right ideas or not, in government or business: cultural diversity, a fervent belief in incremental rather than structural change, and a firm commitment to meritocratic success. Rather than thinking historically—and preferring to avoid the whole idea of neoliberalism—they profess an ethos. And since they cannot recognize neoliberalism as a system, they cannot acknowledge its political and economic dissolution, its steady descent into incoherence. They cannot acknowledge the loss of the historical soil of their selfhood.

Enjoy! Comments?

Interesting Links: Mar 17, 2017

March 17, 2017 2 comments

Here are three interesting links I came across recently. Though they are apparently about three different fields, namely, drug discovery, higher education and establishment liberalism- all three are about manifestations of the same underlying trend. And what is that trend? Well.. let me put it this way. The rather disappointing results for what was hyped as the next multi-billion dollar drug, the role of credential inflation in the success of for-profit colleges and the willingness of supposedly ‘liberal intellectuals’ to spout ideas that are conservative in all but name are three aspects of the same problem.

They are all examples of what happens when large centralized systems are run by people who want to live in their manufactured reality- even when it has no connection to the real world. Putting hundreds of millions into a drug discovery program based on the trendiness of the idea is really not that different from hiring people based on paper credentials or ‘liberal intellectuals’ spouting dubious conservative talking points about race and class. They are different manifestations of the so-called ‘meritocratic’ elite repeatedly fooling themselves to the detriment of others without suffering any personal negative consequences.

Link 1: PCSK9: Real World Data Arrives, Unfortunately

This morning we have three-year data from Amgen and their drug Repatha (evolocumab), an announcement that has been eagerly awaited. And it’s honestly not all that impressive. There’s a 15% relative reduction in cardiovascular risk (heart attack, stroke, etc.) relative to placebo, but investors were looking for something more over 20%. Insurance companies were probably looking for that, too, and given the price they’d have been happier to see something more like 25%. Amgen is defending the data (as quotes in this Adam Feuerstein piece show), but I don’t think that’s going to do the job. The numbers shouldn’t have to be interpreted and spun; in a three-year study with over 13,000 patients in each arm, the numbers should be able to speak for themselves, and they don’t.

Link 2: Credentials, Jobs and the New Economy

That kind of professionalization and educational inflation falls under the “declining internal labor markets” rubric of the new economy. Unlike in the past, when experience and subsequent licensures might be obtained through an employer — in this case, a hospital — the expectation now is that workers will increase their human capital at personal expense to “move up” the professional ladder. Janice’s choices for promotion were limited: she could hope for favorable reviews from a sympathetic management culture (a risky proposition) or earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Political wrangling over job statistics looks like action, but it is mostly a distraction. Sociologist David Brown has shown that credentials can be created without jobs to justify them. We produce risky credentials when how we work changes dramatically, and the way we work shapes what kind of credentials we produce. If we have a shitty credentialing system, in the case of for-profit colleges, then it is likely because we have a shitty labor market. To be more precise, we have a labor market where the social contract between workers and the work on which college has previously relied has fundamentally changed and makes more workers vulnerable.

Link 3: Liberals and diversity

More and more, it seems like liberals in The Discourse agree with this basic conservative assessment of how diversity affects society. But, despite that underlying agreement, they somewhat bizarrely resist the conservative conclusion. Despite telling you that they think increasing diversity will result in children going hungry, as well as the mass incarceration and widespread discrimination of minority groups, they nonetheless support it. If liberals are going to adopt the conservative view on how diversity operates in society, then they really do need to also work out what they think the implication of it is. Conservatives are very clear: diversity has all these problems and so it should be restricted. But the liberal view — that diversity has all these problems and yet it should be expanded without restraint — is just incoherent on its face.

Beauchamp’s article gives a clue as to where liberals will go with this. Since they believe 1) diversity is incompatible with justice, and 2) that diversity is important and good, they will reach the conclusion that 3) justice should be sacrificed in order to “beat” right-wing populism. As Beauchamp notes, pursuing a more economically just society “could actually give Trump an even bigger gun” because it flies in the face of the immiseration of racial minorities that majority groups in diverse societies necessarily demand. Thus, it would seem the only way forward is to give in to the bloodthirst a bit in order to stave off an even bigger atrocity.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Blog: McMansion Hell

February 11, 2017 3 comments

A few months ago, I came across a blog called McMansion Hell. As you might have guessed, it is about the overall poor quality of design and construction of large and expensive houses in suburbs and exurbs. While the blog is mostly about McMansions in USA, it does has some posts about similar monstrosities in other countries- especially Canada.

On another note, I wish that he had not hosted it as a Tumblr Blog as finding older posts can be real pain. Here is the link to the index – McMansion Hell Archives.

It is important to understand the critique (and mockery) in that blog is largely directed towards poorly designed and built houses which happen to be large, as opposed to living in or buying a large house. The person who writes that blog is trying to point out that people who buy such ugly and dysfunctional monstrosities have more money than taste or common sense.

Here are a few of her most interesting posts:

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 1) – The real thing Vs its pale imitation- Part 1

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 2) – The real thing vs its pale imitation- Part 2.

Aesthetics Aside, Why McMansions Are Bad Architecture – Many ways McMansions suck.

The McMansion Scale, Explained! – Quantifying the shiftiness of any given McMansion.

Where and Why Do We Build McMansions – Factors enabling these abominations.

and here are a few examples of her brutal and much deserved take down of these shitty stucco-boxes. Browse her tumblr blog archives for more..

Montville Township, NJ – This lovely home, built in 2004 can be yours for the low price of $2,250,000.

Fort Worth, TX – This week’s house, a Mansard built in 1993 (but is totes 1987) is pushing 5,000 square feet, and is currently on the market for $1.3 million USD.

Scottsdale, Arizona – This house, built in 1996 and boasting around 4,000 square feet can be all yours for just under a million dollars!

What do you think? Comments?