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Posts Tagged ‘Late Capitalism’

On the Necessity of Being a Multi-Millionaire under Late Capitalism: 3

August 8, 2020 20 comments

In the previous part of this series, I wrote about how housing polices of countries in anglosphere are optimized to benefit those who have lots of money rather than satisfying the housing needs of everybody. That is why, in the past 40 years, housing prices and costs have gone up far faster than the “official” rate of inflation. This is also the reason why developed countries outside the anglosphere have a far wider range of housing and why anglosphere countries have unusually high number of homeless compared to other developed countries. Now let us talk about the cost of education under late capitalism where, once again, we see a very similar trend. FYI- I plan to cover the effects of late capitalism on medical costs in future parts of this series, however that subtopic is almost certainly going to require more than one post.

Anyway.. back to the topic at hand, have you ever wondered how the cost of higher education rose so much in certain “developed” countries during past four decades? Some of you might not believe it, but there was a time when attending public universities in this country cost very little. Boomers such as MikeCA could attend well regarded public universities for the equivalent of less than five thousand dollars in today’s money, while doing so right now would cost approximately 20-40 thousand per year. But there is a even bigger question- namely, why hasn’t attending universities in other developed countries (especially outside anglosphere) become similarly expensive during the past 40 years? What explains this most peculiar difference?

While I encourage you to confirm it (with Google, or even better- Bing), the yearly fees at public universities in countries ranging from Italy, France, Germany to Japan, South Korea, China are between 1-5k dollar equivalent (or adjusted for purchasing power). They are even lower in most central and east European countries. In other words, university fees in rest of world retain the same relation to income as was the case in USA between 1945 and mid-1970s. And let’s face it, the quality of undergrad education at a decent public university in one developed country is pretty much identical to that in another. To put it another way, the student who spends 20-40k per year for attending an undergraduate program at UCSD or Berkley is not learning anything different or better than his or her equivalent attending a similar university in France, Germany, Japan or in any other developed country. So what is the ‘murican student paying extra for?

1] The first reason for the higher fees at universities in USA (and anglosphere in general) comes down to the changing employee composition of universities in these countries. Forty years ago, the number of teaching (and research) employees at these universities were almost always larger than the rest, and administration-types were typically outnumbered 2:1 by faculty. Today, almost every single university in ‘murica has anywhere between 2 to 4 times more administrative-types than faculty. To make matters worse, these parasites typically get paid almost as well or better than faculty. So how do universities try to control costs? Well.. by not hiring faculty positions and increasingly replacing them with temporary sessional “instructors” who are often paid wages below the poverty line. Universities in anglosphere are, nowadays, run as employment schemes for administration-type parasites. Providing higher education is, at best, a very secondary goal.

While universities in non-anglosphere European countries have also seen some administrator bloat, it is noticeably smaller. Moreover, the differences in pay-scales between them and faculty combined with the generally higher degree of government funding for higher education in those countries have kept things far more reasonable in those countries. But how is administrator bloat in anglosphere universities related to late capitalism? One of the distinguishing features of late capitalism aka neoliberalism aka financialism is its very strong emphasis on performative bullshit rather than actual results. There is a reason why LIEbrals in this country think Obummer was a great president, when at best he was a failed mediocrity. That is also why companies in the anglosphere are constantly talking about “empowering women”, “elevating black voices”, “celebrating trans” etc rather than paying their employees a decent wage.

Administrator bloat is about creating the optics of doing something rather than actually doing anything useful. It is about creating the illusion of work through endless meetings, conferences, seminars and reports by people with borderline parodic job titles. It is also about late capitalism obsession with “metrics” and other minutiae that are irrelevant in real life. So why does this administrator bloat keep growing. Well.. how many of you would refuse an office job which paid well, had a nice pension plan etc even if it required you to perform totally useless “work” and maintain ideological conformity at the workplace. Also, administrator-types hire more underlings to enhance their status even if it means destroying the original institutional mission.

2] The second reason why the cost of universities in the anglophone (especially USA) has gone up a lot in past forty years is also linked to late capitalism. See.. in late capitalism, government’s main function shifts from maintaining an equilibrium between money and labor to facilitating the looting of everybody else for the benefit of a select few super-rich people. Part of this process involves the government cutting taxes for the rich while simultaneously funneling more money towards them. One of the main reason why government support for universities has declined over past 40 years in certain countries has to do with reduced taxation of large corporations and the rich. Guess how universities in those countries make up for that funding shortfall..

But there is more. As part of their acceptance of the cult of neoliberalism, governments in the anglosphere have also privatized many services which once helped universities make some money. These range from meal plans for students in residence, management of residences, maintaining and renting out sports and other facilities etc. So, not only have neoliberal governments in the anglosphere reduced their contribution to the budget of universities but they have also crippled their ability to make some extra money from services which they used to provide in the past. But wait.. there is more.

Another feature of late capitalism is the strong desire to extract ‘value’ from things which either should never be treated that way or look for alternative sources of money for continuous growth once they have depleted the surrounding environment. This is where all those overseas students, especially from some Asian countries, come into the picture. It is no secret that universities in the anglosphere have aggressively recruited students from well-off families in Asian countries to fuel the latest stage of their pyramid scheme. And why not.. those students pay far more in fees as well as live in the more expensive new residences. Increased “diversity” of the student body, therefore, is not about combating racism. Instead it is about collecting lots of money from Asian students wanting to get credentialed from a university in the anglosphere.

In the next part, I hope to write about how late capitalism has created a dysfunctional and very expensive “healthcare” system in this country.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Necessity of Being a Multi-Millionaire under Late Capitalism: 2

August 2, 2020 8 comments

In the previous part of this series, I made a point that over the past 30 years, living standards of almost everybody in west have diminished considerably. This has occured due to the convergence of two factors. Firstly, the cost of the basics such as houses, automobiles, higher education and in case of USA- healthcare, have increased far faster than “official” rate of inflation. To make things worse, wages have either remained stagnant or decreased and in an increasing number of cases- the jobs have been shipped overseas without being replaced by anything comparable. Even the few well-paying jobs left in this country have become far less stable than they used to be just two decades ago. Furthermore, these changes have impacted those under 40 or 50 much harder than those above that age. So it is not just a “Millennials”, “Gen Y” or “Gen Z” thing.

So now let us talk about the role of financialism aka late capitalism aka neoliberalism in creating this terminal dystopia. Make no mistake, the situation the west (especially USA) has gotten itself into is, for all practical purposes, terminal. It has also fucked over the 99% to enrich the 0.01%.. and yes, there is a reason I wrote that sentence the way I did. To better understand what I am going to talk about, let us compare USA (the most afflicted country) with others such as Japan, South Korea and Germany (among least afflicted). How is life different for the median person in the least afflicted countries compared to the most afflicted one? Let us start by talking about the relative affordability of decent quality housing in nice or even OK neighborhoods.

If you have seen vlogs of expats in Japan and South Korea, one thing becomes obvious rather quickly. While many of their less expensive apartments are small- almost every single one of them is reasonably well built, adequately furnished and in areas that are not sketchy. Note that apartments in these countries come in a range of sizes allowing even somebody in a menial job to have an OK place of their own. More curiously, unlike in the anglosphere, East-Asian countries have been able to ensure that the rents and prices of these apartments are strongly linked to real income of the people. Even somebody living in Tokyo or Seoul, two of the largest megalopolises on earth, can easily find safe and affordable housing that is not too far away from their place of work and other amenities. Oh.. and they have excellent public transit systems.

Now compare this to the situation in Bay Area, where even a shitty bachelor suite within some century old building in the Tenderloin district of SF is somewhere between 2500-3000 $ per month. The same holds true for NYC, where anything that affordable in a non-sketchy area is both rare and rent controlled. Without going into too much detail, the same holds for other metropolitan areas in this country such as the LA megalopolis, Boston and its suburbs, Chicago and its suburbs, DC and its suburbs… you get it, right. But why is it so? Why can you find very affordable and OK apartments in two of most urbanized countries on earth with very little flat land suitable for building cities but not in one of more sparsely populated countries with tons of open areas suitable for expansion of cities?

But why restrict our comparison to East-Asian countries? Even more USA-influenced western countries such as Germany, Czech Republic or less-influenced ones such as Italy or Spain have no shortage of decent and affordable housing in their largest cities- with some exceptions like Frankfurt. My point is that the disproportional increases in cost of housing in Anglosphere and closely associated countries (Netherlands, Switzerland) during past 30 years is an aberration among developed countries. But why? Well.. the short answer is that this has occurred due to deliberate government policies, just as the relative inexpensiveness of housing in East-Asian cities is also due to government policies.

The slightly longer answer is that government policies in the Anglosphere have consistently favored the interests of who have capital and land over everybody else. In contrast to that many other countries, especially in East-Asia and continental Europe, have decided that the well-being of the majority is more important than extra enrichment of a minority. And let me remind you that it was not always like that. For the first three decades after WW2, any white person with even a mediocre job could afford to rent or buy a pretty decent place to live in almost any part of the country. Sure.. those places did not have 5 bedrooms and a man-cave, but they were quite acceptable and in OK neighborhoods. Even as late as mid 1990s, the median person with a job in SoCal or the Bay Area could afford an OK house in a non-sketchy neighborhood.

But what does any of this have to do with neoliberalism aka late capitalism aka financialism. Well.. everything! See.. the high and rising costs of housing in the Anglosphere has nothing to with the natural constraints on the ability to build more housing etc. Instead, it is about creating artificial scarcity via rules and regulations to extract an increasingly larger proportion of income from most people to line the pockets of those who already have tons of money so that they can use that extra money to play ever more elaborate sterile financial games which yield no return in the real world. Financialism is a form of parasitism that is too incompetent to even reproduce itself- just look at the poor fecundity of the so-called “elites” and “masters of the universe”.

In the next part, I hope to go into how financialism has fucked up healthcare, education and a whole lot more. We will also go into why boomers were cheering for deregulation in 1990s and early 2000s, which led to the rise of financialism.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Recent Articles on the Ongoing Global Demographic Decline

November 18, 2019 18 comments

Recently, I came across a number of articles about the ongoing demographic decline in developed countries all over the world. FYI- I plan to write a short series about this topic soon.

Link # 1: The End of Babies

If any country should be stocked with babies, it is Denmark. The country is one of the wealthiest in Europe. New parents enjoy 12 months’ paid family leave and highly subsidized day care. Women under 40 can get state-funded in vitro fertilization. But Denmark’s fertility rate, at 1.7 births per woman, is roughly on par with that of the United States. A reproductive malaise has settled over this otherwise happy land. It’s not just Danes. Fertility rates have been dropping precipitously around the world for decades — in middle-income countries, in some low-income countries, but perhaps most markedly, in rich ones. Declining fertility typically accompanies the spread of economic development, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. At its best, it reflects better educational and career opportunities for women, increasing acceptance of the choice to be child-free, and rising standards of living.

Link # 2: The Global Fertility Crash

While the global average fertility rate was still above the rate of replacement—technically 2.1 children per woman—in 2017, about half of all countries had already fallen below it, up from 1 in 20 just half a century ago. For places such as the U.S. and parts of Western Europe, which historically are attractive to migrants, loosening immigration policies could make up for low birthrates. In other places, more drastic policy interventions may be called for. Most of the available options place a high burden on women, who’ll be relied upon not only to bear children but also to help fill widening gaps in the workforce. Each of the following indicators tells a part of the global fertility story: not just how many babies women have on average, but also how well women are integrated into the workforce, what slice of the income pie they receive, and level of educational attainment.

Link # 3: Armenia’s Looming Demographic Crisis

The sharp drop in births seen in 2001 has continued for another decade. In addition, the births are heavily weighted toward male children (15% more males than females). One can easily understand the additional strain this will cause by 2030 in family formations. Diasporan communities being formed today, who are prospering in their host nations, offers no guarantees of repatriation to Armenia, or even of having close ties with a country their parents chose to leave. The first 30 years of independence set in motion a demographic crisis so deep and lasting that it is unclear whether anything can be done today to rectify it. The resulting national security issues for Armenia are so serious as to jeopardize the viability of the country for the next 30 years.

Link # 4: How to Overcome Losing 600,000 People a Year

A banner at a traffic roundabout urges onlookers to marry North Koreans. Another, with a photo of a pregnant woman, reminds passersby that freelancers and self-employed female workers can benefit from government stipends for expecting mothers. A church hall contains a busy office, staffed by government social workers, that supports brides from Southeast Asia who wed lonely farmers unable to find a local mate. Uiseong’s efforts are laudable, but government programs like these have done little to address the commonly cited barriers to having children. The cost of living, particularly in urban areas, is astronomical; meanwhile the brutal competitiveness of the education system and a work culture that has traditionally placed a premium on long hours leaves little time for family-rearing. Last year, President Moon Jae-in reduced the maximum work week to 52 hours from 68, though not all firms are covered by these restrictions.

What do you think? Comments?

Slavoj Žižek is Just Another CONartist aka Modern “Public Intellectual”

May 2, 2019 7 comments

Some time ago, a reader asked me about my thoughts on Slavoj Žižek. I believe this request was linked to a recent public debate between him and Jordan Peterson. As some might remember, I had previously written a short series about the another CONartist aka Jordan Peterson. And let me be upfront about something else.. I have always seen “public intellectuals” as nothing more than mountebanks, frauds and house slaves. To be clear, I am not implying that every famous intellectual is a fraud. People such as Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, Nassim Taleb etc achieved a lot in their fields of expertise before becoming famous intellectuals. Now contrast them to alleged “public intellectuals” such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Charles Murray and other TED-talker types.

But what really separates people such as Sagan, Feynman, Hawking or Taleb from mountebanks such Tyson, Dawkins, Harris and Murray. For starters, people in the first category derive most of their livelihood from being really good at whatever they do for a living. Sagan would have been an world-famous astrophysicist even if he never written a single popular science book or made a TV show. Feynman and Hawking would still be world-renowned physicists even if they hadn’t written a single popular book. Taleb had made tens of millions at least a decade before writing his first book. Those in the second category, in sharp contrast, derive most of their livelihood from being famous and known as “intellectuals- like how Kim Kardashian is famous for being famous.

Let us now move on to the topic of Žižek, or to be more precise- why he is a mediocre CONartist aka contemporary “public intellectual”. But before we go there, let me briefly describe how much of his content I went through before reaching that conclusion. The short version is that I viewed over 12 hours of his lectures (made over a period of at least 6 years) on YouTube. In addition, I read the transcripts of over a dozen interviews and other articles written by him over the past decade. Which is another way of telling you that I did not reach my conclusions about him lightly or because of the opinions of other people. While he is not as big a fraud as Peterson, Dawkins, Harris and Murray- he is a fraud, nonetheless. And here is why..

1] If you have watched more than a few minutes of Žižek talking in public, you will notice that he has some long-standing neurological issues affecting control of his upper body- especially hands. While there is no point in speculating on the likely cause, it is especially apparent when he is talking into a camera. After watching many of his videos, I noticed something even more peculiar- namely, that his movement disorder is far less pronounced when he is not looking at the camera. Also, his long-standing condition was under far better control before he became famous. While some of you might think that this might have something to do with aging or his underlying condition progressing, I think there is a different explanation.

Žižek’s audience until a few years ago was more local and European than it is today. But what could this possibly have to do with the public manifestation of his condition. Well.. audiences in Anglo and some Asian societies are far more likely to associate wisdom with an odd physical appearance and body language than continental European societies. This is why gurus, spiritual leaders and other assorted godmen with unusual or distinctive physical appearances are far more common in some societies than others. While he probably did not go down this road deliberately, Žižek seems to have realized that his persona gets a bigger reaction and audience if he lets his neurological condition manifest itself to the fullest extent.

2] If you have watched some of Žižek’s videos from start to end, you might have found out about his appointments at many ‘elite’ universities in the anglosphere. But why would these institutions, operating under the paradigm of neoliberalism, bother to acknowledge the existence of a self-described Marxist let alone pay for that association? While there are those who might attribute this to western universities appreciating free thought, a more likely explanation is that Žižek is harmless- like Noam Chomsky. In other words, their association with him carries no risk while simultaneously allowing them to pretend that they are intellectually tolerant.

You might have also noticed that his philosophical musings are about the pervasiveness of capitalism throughout the contemporary world. And while he points out the problems inherent in this setup- he artfully dodges any talk about how the status quo can be changed. In my opinion, this goes a long way towards explaining why so many ‘elite’ western universities are perfectly OK with inviting him as a speaker. Žižek is eerily reminiscent of all those public figures in pre-1860 USA who argued that slavery was inhumane and an abomination, but had no plans or desire on how to end it- largely because they were also profiting from its existence.

3] Another example of Žižek lazy and conventional thinking comes from his repeated insistence that China is a capitalist country managed by a tyrannical communist party. As any person, with some objectivity and more than half-a-brain, can figure out- the Chinese government is far more interested in improving the quality of life for its own people than contemporary democratic regimes in the west. While this might be for less than altruistic reasons, the end results are too hard to ignore- except perhaps for some white “public intellectuals” in west. And as mentioned in another post, the type of governance system one sees in China is common to many east-Asian countries, who have also done quite well. We can all see who has failed and who has prevailed.

Žižek’s description of the Chinese system as capitalist becomes even more laughable once you start appreciating how fundamentally different it is from anything in the west. For example- it is the government rather than capitalists who decide how things are run in China. Those foolish enough to believe that their riches protect them from the government in that country learn that is not the case, very swiftly. The Chinese government spends tens of billions on tons of seemingly unprofitable infrastructure projects, which almost always turn out to be profitable a decade or so after they were built. They invest tens of billions in acquiring competencies in multiple areas that are supposedly unprofitable for them, but which almost always become highly profitable in the next decade. And China is hardly alone in such policies.

Both Japan and South Korea implemented watered-down versions of these policies to great effect many years before China went down that path. It is telling that Žižek seems unable to imagine (privately or publicly) ways of doing things that are significantly superior to those prevalent in the west. Maybe he really likes the Kool-Aid of neoliberalism in spite of his vocal protestations to the contrary. Perhaps he has far more in common with people like Christopher Hitchens and Niall Ferguson than we (or him) would prefer to believe.

4] A further example of Žižek intellectual laziness can be seen in how he worships a lot of useless “technological” progress which has occurred in past 30-40 years and attributes it to capitalism. Let us face it.. there hasn’t been really improved that much over past 3-4 decades, and almost all of it has to do with stuff like reduction in rates of cigarette smoking, improvements in car design and occupational health, better drugs for hypertension and better management of heart attacks and strokes. Did I mention that rates of improvement in life-expectancy in developed countries since 1980 have no correlation with degree of technologification of healthcare in those countries.

Furthermore, vast majority of alleged technological breakthroughs made over past 3-4 decades from human genome sequencing, stem cell therapy, gene transfer therapies, new gene editing techniques, new drugs for most cancers have turned out be either outright failures or far less consequential than first thought. We still don’t have electric cars that can effectively compete with gasoline (or diesel) fueled ones outside major cities. Renewable energy is still an expensive joke. We don’t have anything better than chemical and a few piddly ion rocket engines for space exploration. Oh ya.. and integrated circuits, CPU design and the internet are the result of government spending money on seemingly impossible ideas.

In summary, Žižek is a secret worshiper of neoliberalism who has learned to maximize his earnings and popularity by pretending to be a Marxist and Hegelian (while accentuating his physical shortcomings in order to appear more authentic). Along the way, he keeps interpreting the world around him in ways meant to flatter the pre-existing biases and prejudices of his main audience. Then again, this is what most “public intellectuals” do and have always done.

What do you think? Comments?

Recent Articles about Problems at Boeing, Including the 737-Max Series

April 3, 2019 4 comments

As some of you might remember, I recently wrote about how the 737-Max series fiasco at Boeing is just another symptom of late capitalism and the terminal decline of USA. Turns out, it was more prescient than I first realized. Here are links to a few more recent posts by journalists and industry-insiders which go into some detail about issues mentioned in my original post. As you will, the 737-Max fiasco is the symptom of a much larger systemic corporate problem at Boeing.

Pontifications: I don’t know what to make of this -Post details similar problems occurring with other commercial airlines being developed and built by Boeing over past decade. He thinks Boeing can get back (american exceptionalism?), but I would not be so sure.

Four concurrent commercial airplane programs (the KC-46A being a hybrid between commercial and military) each had trouble. Two of their last four airplanes have been grounded by regulators. A third airplane had such poor quality control the customer stopped taking delivery. Three of the four were years late. What’s going on here? Boeing resources were clearly stretched too thin. Billions of dollars were going out the door in cost overruns. Were bad management decisions made by the bean-counting McNerney regime? Was there something systemic happening? Or just a run of bad luck and bad timing? I know people will say bad luck is just a myth, but sometimes (as the saying goes) [stuff] happens.

Whistleblowers in 737 Max Case Say FAA Was Lax in Inspector Training – No shit! That is what happens when ivy-league educated CONartists with little to background in engineering think they are smarter than their engineers. Also, this won’t stop Boeing from making the same “mistakes” again- they will just get better at covering them up.

“Multiple whistleblowers” provided the committee with information alleging that “numerous FAA employees, including those involved in the Aircraft Evaluation Group for the Boeing 737 MAX, had not received proper training and valid certifications,” Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said in a letter to the FAA’s Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell Tuesday. Those claims and two 737 Max crashes since October that have killed 346 people prompted Wicker to launch an investigation into potential connections between training and certification shortcomings and the FAA’s evaluation of the airliner, he said in his letter, which was released by the committee Tuesday.

U.S. Air Force Again Halts Delivery of Boeing’s Tanker Over Debris – Turns out the quality of Boeing airlines, even those sold to the USAF, has a lot in common with american cars made during the late 1970s. Maybe destroying unions and employing poorly-paid workers was not a smart idea. Nah.. just kidding, killing unions made tons of extra cash for the top management and some shareholders. Don’t worry, capitalism and managerialism is safe..

The Air Force has stopped accepting deliveries of Boeing Co.’s new refueling tanker aircraft for the second time in a month because of debris found in closed compartments, according to Secretary Heather Wilson. The halt in deliveries of the KC-46A Pegasus is the latest issue to plague the $44 billion effort to create the first U.S.-built flying gas station for the Pentagon’s fleet since the KC-10A Extender in 1981.

Disaster and the Boeing CEO – Ever wonder why CEOs, nowadays, seem to have no understanding of what the corporation they head actually does? Me too..

McNerney came to Boeing in 2005 from 3M after two previous CEOs resigned. The Dreamliner was the company’s moonshot product, the first commercial jetliner to use lightweight carbon composites and electrical systems powered by lithium-ion batteries.But production delays forced the company to deliver its first plane three years behind schedule, in 2011. Then in January 2013, an empty plane caught fire at Boston’s airport, and nine days later a plane in Japan made an emergency landing after pilots detected a burning smell. The FAA grounded the 787 for four months

and it turns out that the Ethiopian airline pilots did actually do exactly what Boeing recommended when the aircraft started to become uncontrollable. Death by poorly designed software?

737 Max 8 Anti-Stall System Reactivated After Being Manually Disabled – Remember that this occurred a few months after they first claimed the MCAS system was “fixed”.

The Wall Street Journal reports a slightly different sequence of events. It states that the pilots initially disabled the system (following Boeing’s recommendations) but were unable to regain control of the aircraft. The system was either manually reactivated by the pilots themselves as part of an absolute last-ditch effort to recover the aircraft or came back online automatically. The WSJ points towards the former conclusion, while Reuters appears to have heard the latter. Either way, we now know the pilots reportedly disabled the system properly, yet were either unable to regain control of the aircraft after it had activated or unable to prevent it from activating again. The reasons why this happened are themselves still unknown.

If this is how Boeing treats safety issues and concerns for their most popular airliner series, I wonder how they design, test and build their “innovative” newer airliners.

What do you think? Comments?

Era of Creativity in American Music, Cinema , Television etc is Over: 1

March 31, 2019 11 comments

Regular readers might be aware of an older post in which I wrote about why the past decade of mainstream movie-making in USA has been full of sequels and reboots rather anything vaguely original. The short version is as follows: the uncritical worship of financialism is behind this and many other (and much larger) systemic problems seen in USA today, from brick-and-mortar retailers dropping like flies to Boeing making some truly atrocious design choices for its 737-Max series. And yes.. ‘late capitalism’ and ‘financialism’ are interchangeable terms- in most contexts. I also wrote another post about how the downstream effects of late capitalism explain the proliferation of ‘superhero’ movies we have seen over the past decade. But how is any of this connected to the title of this post? For starters.. the general lack of creativity we have seen in american music, movies, television, streaming services, video games etc over past ~ 15 years is just another symptom of the same underlying problem.

But before we talk about that problem, let us first spend some time to properly define the issues involved. For example- How does one define creativity and how long did the ‘golden era’ last? Do music sale numbers, box office receipts etc matter and do they affect how we define creativity? So let us begin by discussing all of this and more by using real life examples. That way, I can explain the issues involved in very clear and straightforward terms. Given my greater interest in the visual arts, I will first focus on cinema, television, specialty cable shows and streaming outlets in this part. Here is a good question to start this discussion- Was there ever a ‘golden age’ of american cinema? The answer to that question, while affirmative, is a bit complicated. See.. most people are trained to think that the ‘golden age’ of american cinema was between 1927 and the mid-1950s, when TV started to become the more widespread form of audio-visual entertainment.

I think differently. While cinema was the dominant form of audio-visual entertainment in that era- it was not the ‘golden age’ by any stretch of imagination. The quality and originality of the movies in that era left much to be desired- and that is a huge understatement. While a small part of the blame can be assigned to technology, most of it was a result of how the whole system was run. See.. Hollywood studios were the worst thing that happened to Hollywood- because they were run by losers who cared only about the bottom line and exerting their egos over creative people. That is why movies from that era are so bland, insipid, and unmemorable. Sure.. they made money- but that was largely a consequence to there being no other competing audio-visual media. Also cinema theaters were among the first public places to be air-conditioned. The true golden age of american cinema began after the studio system fell apart in the 1950s and the Hays “moral” code became increasingly irrelevant throughout the 1960s.

The golden age started sometime in the early- to mid- 1960s. And there is something else, which facilitated this era. Today, we think of Hollywood movies as being internationally popular. This was, however, not the case for many decades. Many large European countries had flourishing local film industries for many decades before and, in some case, even after WW2. The Italian, Spanish, German and Russian film industries has tons of very talented directors, producers, actors and the financial means to make and distribute their products. So why did all these other players slowly decline after the 1950s and 1960s. Well.. in the case of film industry in Russia, Germany and other East-European countries, the rise of state communism and promotion of extremely bland control-freaks into position of power resulted in complex regimes of unofficial censorship. People with non-standard worldviews were either silenced or learned to keep quiet.

Let me put it this way.. the majority of memorable and influential movies you can think of simply could not be made in those countries after the early 1960s. Do you think they would have allowed their people to make movies such as Jaws, Star Wars Trilogy, ET, Back to the Future Trilogy, first two Godfather movies, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Blade Runner, The Matrix, the first Jurassic Park, a couple of the original Indiana Jones etc? But why stop there.. what about the first two or three Police Academy movies, all those teen sex comedies from the 80s and 90s, spoofs with Leslie Nielsen or by Mel Brooks and many.. many more transgressive comedies. My point is that the quality of even mainstream Hollywood movies was pretty good (compared to rest of the world) between the late 1960s and early 2000s. But why was Hollywood able to make and market some pretty amazing movies in those three and a half decades- while the rest of the world kept making the same types of movies they had been making since the 1950s?

Some of you might invoke reasons such as american exceptionalism or Hollywood being run by a certain religio-ethic group. The reality is rather different and it all comes down to a combination of two or three factors that were unique to Hollywood. Firstly, after the late-1960s there wasn’t anywhere near the level of direct and indirect creative censorship as compared to other countries. For example- films in former east-Germany and Russia had to pass multiple rounds of scrutiny by people employed specifically to enforce ideological purity. Or take the case of India, where films that did not adhere to the standard Bollywood format had no chance of getting funded and filmed, let alone distributed. In sharp contrast to that, one could make and raise money for all sorts of crazy sounding ideas (some of which later became cultural landmarks) without the fear of being labelled as a dangerous subversive or a perma-failure in Hollywood.

Then there is the effect of 3-4 decades of post-WW2 opportunity for non-rich or non-connected people to get into the film industry. See.. one of the big differences between the american movie industry and the its equivalents in the rest of the world was that the former let people who were not rich or connected into the movie industry- especially behind the camera. Just look up the biographical details of most iconic movie director, producer, special effects guy etc between the late 1960s and early 2000s and you will see that they did not come from a family who was already established in the industry. but why does this matter? Well.. people who rise to their position by coming out the ‘right’ cunt are usually not the most competent or capable candidates for any given job. In my opinion, this was probably the most importance difference between Hollywood and its equivalents in other countries.

The third reason is linked to how success and failure was treated in Hollywood as compared to its foreign counterparts. Which is really a fancy way of saying that frequent failure was considered an unavoidable part of making movies. A few moderate failures or even a couple of nasty ones was not an automatic death sentence or cause of perpetual ostracism in Hollywood- as long as you had a decent record of success or demonstrable competence. To be clear, I am not saying that the american film industry was some great meritocracy full of fourth and fifth chances or kind altruistic people. But it was significantly better than its counterparts in other countries as long as you were white. It was this combination of factors which allowed the extraordinary three and a half decades ‘golden age’ of Hollywood- from 1968 to 2003. But why did it end at 2003? Let me put it this way, truly significant movies made after 2003 are few and widely spaced.

In the next part, I will go into some detail about why 2003 is the best cut-off point for Hollywood making truly amazing and creative movies. As you will see, it has much more to do with new business models based in financialism, managerialism and other bullshit ideas that are also destroying other industrial sectors in USA. You will also see how similar the demise in this sector is to concurrent demise of others such as pharmaceutical research, physical retail outlets and many more. I will also show you what outcomes these financial and managerial types are targeting and how that explains the demise of creativity. You will also see why these losers were in the back-seat during ‘golden age’ but are now firmly in driver’s seat of this dying car.

What do you think? Comments?

737-Max Fiasco is about Late Capitalism and Terminal Decline of USA

March 13, 2019 30 comments

By now, almost everyone of you must have heard about the 737-Max fiasco. In case you have not, let me quickly summarize it. About six months, a 737-Max 8 airliner with barely 800 flight hours crashed in Indonesia resulting in the death of all 189 people on board. Even at that time, this incident raised many eyebrows- largely because it was barely 3 months old in addition to being the most recent version of the long-running 737 family of airliners. The crash was subsequently determined to be the result of undesired behavior by a new automated trim control system. At that time, Boeing promised current and future customers of its new ‘737 Max’ series that the trim control problem would be fixed by a software update or something along those lines.

And then about three days ago, another 737-Max 8 went down under similar circumstances killing all 157 people on board. While we do not, yet, have the final report on this accident- it appears that this particular crash (too) occurred within a few minutes of takeoff and had something to do with the automated trim control behaving in an anomalous manner. Which brings us to the first question regarding this pair of airplane crashes- How does a large corporation such as Boeing with decades of experience building tens of thousands of airliners manage to build an updated version of the venerable 737 with bad flight characteristics during takeoffs and landings. In case you are wondering, dozens of incident reports from all around the world, including USA, filed during the past year about this version of the 737 have reported similar problems.

But what does any of this have to with late capitalism and the terminal decline of USA? A couple of poorly designed airliners falling out of the sky and killing over 300 people, while tragic, is by no means a harbinger of national collapse.. right? Well.. let me put it this way- I see it as another sign of the ongoing terminal death spiral of USA, at least of the form it exists in today. To better understand what I am talking about, let me ask you another question- At what point did people in USSR stop becoming optimistic about their future? The answer to that question is.. sometime in the mid-1970s. But why then and not during WW2 or the early 1950s when material conditions were far worse? Well.. because people will persevere in face of adversity if there is a realistic hope for a better future, but they won’t care about a system if there is no hope for one.

But how did this societal malaise manifest itself? Well.. in many ways and a multitude of areas. The one common thread which ran through most of them was a slow but steady degradation of pre-existing capabilities. Apparently, the quality of things built during that era, from apartments, cars, consumer appliances to unmanned space-probes and commercial aircraft, well.. basically anything not absolutely essential to survival of the existing government, went down. I have long held the view that post-2008 USA is increasingly like ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe after the early 1970s. Think about it- youth who do not see a brighter future for themselves.. check. An out-of-touch elite who want to maintain the status quo.. check. Widespread despair and slow decrease in life-expectancy.. check. Rampant alcoholism or drug addiction.. check. Increasing crapification of consumer products and services.. check.

I could go on, but you get the point. But how does the 737 Max fiasco fit in this picture? Let me explain.. but before we do that, let me give you a quick historical primer about the 737 family of aircraft so you can better appreciate what I am talking about. The project to develop the 737 was started by Boeing in the mid-1960s because they wanted a bigger 727 that could fly a bit further. At that time, Boeing had already making the 707 for longer routes, 720 for medium distance routes and the 727 for short hauls. In case you are wondering, all three of these aircraft were powered by turbojet or first-gen turbofan engines. And yes.. this fact is relevant. The 737 was originally designed to use first-gen and therefore low-pass turbofans. While these engines were less efficient and more fuel hungry than later high-pass turbofans, they were also far slimmer.

Some of you might wonder as to what this fact has to do with the current 737 Max fiasco. The answer is.. a whole fucking lot! Because Boeing wanted an airliner that was simple to operate, easy to repair and with a high dispatch reliability, they made some design choices. Specifically, they built an aircraft which sat pretty close to the ground- something that was possible because of the slim first-gen turbofan engines (-100 and -200). And it worked very well. After a somewhat slow start, sales picked up and it became pretty popular. But then Airbus came on the scene and its 310 series started providing competition for the 737. Boeing responded by developing the 737-Classic (-300, -400 and -500). This is also where they first faced the problem of how to install a fat high-bypass turbofan in a low-slung design meant for older and slimmer turbofans. They did it with some ingenious shaping and positioning for the new engine and it worked.

The next major update, aptly named the 737 Next Gen (-600, -700, -800 and -900) proved to be their most successful. Its engines were a bit less fatter than the Classic series, while being more efficient. It, however, proved to be the furthest they could safely stretch their original design. For a decade or so, this design was in a happy sales equilibrium with members of the Airbus 320 family. And then Airbus started developing the Airbus 320neo. It offered considerable fuel savings, lower noise levels and a longer range than its predecessors. But most importantly Airbus was able to develop it without spending a ton of money because the original design it was based on (the 320) could easily accommodate even wider turbofan engines. Remember that the 320 was developed after 2nd gen turbofan engines were developed.

Anyway, this forced Boeing to update the 737- with even wider and more efficient turbofan engines. The thing is, they had two choices. They could either use their institutional knowledge and ability to build a new design from scratch or they could just try to somehow shoehorn the new big-ass engine into the 737 design template. They chose the latter option for reasons that had everything to do with financial considerations. Through a combination of “clever” placement of the extra-fat engines, a slight height increase in their landing gear and a bit of wing redesign- they were able to develop a design that checked all the boxes their bean-counters cared about. However physical reality is a bitch and the new design had a less-than-optimal weight distribution and flying characteristics. Loathe to abandon something that almost worked, they decided to use a software solution to improve its flight characteristics.

Enter the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Without going into too much detail, this system was not well implemented and caused problems when the aircraft changed altitude rapidly such as during takeoff and landing. Furthermore, the issues with this system were not consistently reproducible- which is a fancy way of saying that the system misbehaved in an unpredictable manner. Also, the new cockpit interface which came with his update was different from the one in its predecessors and it took multiple steps to switch it off and the MCAS was automatically turned back on after each flight. Did I mention that the new manuals and checklists did a poor job of explaining the updated interface and this system.

In summary, Boeing built upon an old design template to save money resulting in problematic flying characteristics. To make matters worse, the hardware and software components of their auto-trim system (meant to fix poor flying characteristic) was inadequately engineered and poorly implemented. The user interface through which this system could be overridden was unfamiliar, poorly designed and even more poorly documented. On the bright side, a bunch of senior Boeing executives made a shitload of money and performance bonuses. And this is what happens when you run a company based on the whims and series of MBAs, bean-counters and other ivy-league scam artist as opposed to listening to and respecting the judgment of your engineers.

What do you think? Comments?

Ubiquitous Social Media Creates an Abundance of Dancing Monkeys

November 16, 2018 30 comments

Over the past decade, I have noticed the rapid growth of a peculiar trend concerning the manner in which people interact with those around them. Almost everyone and their dog (in many cases, literally) wants to create and project an artificial idealized image of themselves. While this trend is most obvious when you look around on Instagram, but it found on every social media platform (YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Tinder etc) and more worryingly.. in real life. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the desire to project an idealized image of oneself is something new or inherently dangerous. It is however hard to deny that ubiquitous social media has made what was once a small-scale and localized behavior into something that is disturbing and potentially dangerous.

To understand what I am talking about, let us go back a little in history to a TV program known as “America’s Funniest Home Videos“. While the concept might seem quaint today, most people do not understand how revolutionary it really was in 1989. In a single stroke, it allowed anybody with a camcorder who was lucky or clever enough to film a “viral” video clip to become famous and even make some money. I should point out that this was in an era when becoming famous required a combination of luck and fellating the people who owned and ran media outlets. Now any person with some degree of understanding of how media worked could use that knowledge to game the system and become famous and even make some money.

But why is that such a bad thing? Who does not want to be famous and rich? In my opinion, the problem lies not so much with seeking fame and fortune as how it all of this interacts with late capitalism. See.. when AFHV came out in 1989, it was still pretty easy to get a decent and fairly stable job which paid enough to live a middle-class lifestyle. Being famous by having your “viral” video clip shown on AFHV was akin to getting an extra boost for your social life. Being a famous (or infamous) public figure was not a career choice for most people. Now fast forward to 2018 and we are in a situation where ‘normal’ jobs and vocations are increasingly difficult to get and almost everyone below a certain age is juggling multiple low-paid and precarious jobs.

To help readers understand why this trend is disturbing and potentially dangerous, let me ask you a simple question- would you seriously consider gambling at casinos, buying lottery tickets or betting on horses as a career choice? If not, why not? While it is possible to make a living and even get rich by engaging in such activities- the chances of succeeding in them (especially in a consistent manner) are really small. In other words, the chances of failure are unacceptably high for the vast majority of people- and even those with some skill are not consistently successful. Coincidentally the same is true for business ventures, even though the neo-liberal scammers who want to promote the snake-oil of “entrepreneurship” would like you to believe otherwise.

It is no secret that a few people have become very famous and rich because of their social media presence. Even more have become semi-famous and make decent if unstable income from the content they create as well as their social media presence. Neither would be an issue if we were living in a normal society. But we live in late capitalism where the vast majority of people face an ever diminishing chance of finding a stable livelihood. Combine this with the almost lottery like success of a few and it is not hard to see how many more might be suckered into believing that they have a chance at fame and riches. Furthermore, the barriers to entry are non-existent and most famous internet celebrities are not even unusually good-looking.

There is also another uniquely american issue which makes this far worse than necessary. As many of you know, american culture (especially post-1980) celebrates the culture of scamming.. I mean “hustle”. Now combine this with the already poor career prospects for most people and the low barrier for entry and you can start to see how this could become problematic. And it has.. YouTube channels where attractive women model swimwear and lingerie can easily get 100k-500k subscribers (example 1, example 2 and example 3) as can ugly women pretend to be white trash. Some of you might also have heard about attractive and popular teen girls making decent money as social media “influencers”. But why is any of this problematic in the long run?

well.. because, for one, it creates a society where the ability to cultivate a public image and bullshit is infinitely more important than actual knowledge or competence. That is how we end up with media savvy mediocrities such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ernest Moniz instead of Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman. That is how we get endless and insipid reboots of older beloved movies and TV shows rather than anything new and path-breaking. That is also how we get other mediocrities such as atrocious and hyped “collaborations” between previously famous musicians or autotuned losers who look and sound the same. Did I mention the sad losers who cheer on charlatans pimping 30-40 year old technology such as Elon Musk?

Eventually you end up with a society full of con-artists (of varying skill levels) engaged in a constant struggle to ‘out-con’ each other. To be fair, this process was already underway in USA. It is just that the effect of ubiquitous social media on this trend has been analogous to spraying a lot of gasoline on an already destructive fire. But what does any of this have to do with creating large numbers of dancing monkeys, and what do I mean by that term? Well.. dancing monkeys are people whose livelihood is heavily dependent on their enthusiasticness of their performance. This is especially apparent on social media platforms like Twitter and FaceBook where people spend inordinate amounts of time and effort to make themselves look and act the part.

That is why, for example, every establishment journalists is perpetually cheering on the “mueller investigation” or how con-artists supported by right-wing think tanks see deep state conspiracies behind every audible fart. That is also why SJWs spend so much time on tone-policing, doxxing “unbelievers” and other acts of fake self-righteousness. And there is paid astroturfing and bot-farms who post content on those and other platforms. But it gets worse.. ever wondered how the gmail user-interface keeps getting worse or why install size of iOS keeps on increasing despite lack of new features? Oh how Microsoft keeps releasing shittier updates to Windoze 10?

Guess what… it is all about dancing monkeys (in the management) desperately wanting to create the appearance of effort and hard work. That is why, almost every day, you hear about some fire or police department participate in a make-a-wish for some dying kid. Or why PR departments of “famous” universities put out daily press releases about how their scholars are on the verge of curing cancer or solving some other problem- and then we hear nothing more about it till they recycle the same bullshit template a couple of weeks with different names and a slightly different writeup. As I said before, this problem is not new but it is undeniable that ubiquitous social media has made it significantly worse by speeding up the contradictions inherent in late capitalism.

What do you think? Comments?