Permission to Vent

Did you know that in the 1960’s, while all of the mainstream media devoted their sports sections to professional baseball, football, basketball, stockcar racing, and hockey, the sport that attracted the most actual fans– in person, in stadiums– was…. ready for it?  Demolition derbies.

In politics, the whacky far right is the demolition derby of ideologies.  Until recently, relegated to the back pages of history.

In spite of all the think-pieces about polarization in American politics, I really think the issue comes down to something much simpler.

Firstly, there has not been a massive change in attitudes or beliefs over the past 70 or 80 years.  A large segment of the U.S. population has always held stupid ideas about culture, education, leadership, the military, and the police.  And, of course, race.  They love guns, hate affirmative action, can’t bear the thought of giving up their massive V-8 powered pick-up trucks, fear black people even if they don’t see themselves as racist (and some aren’t), and hate the idea of foreigners coming into the country and taking away their jobs while they themselves are unwilling to work hard for long hours to get ahead and there is a labour shortage in most areas of the country.  They believe that good manufacturing jobs have been shipped over-seas even though 85% of them were lost to automation.  They believe Republicans when they say they intend to reduce the deficit even though, when in office, they never have and never will.  They seem to think that cutting taxes on the rich will benefit them, because, fuck it, some day I might win the lottery.

Until recently, people with toxic beliefs about society have intuited that they shouldn’t openly express those views because the consensus among politicians, the media, and other leaders is that those views are, in fact, untrue, toxic, and counter-productive, and ignorant.

They always believe crime is on the increase.  Always.   Try to explain to them that if crime was always increasing it would eventually reach 100%, so there must be times when it is actually decreasing (in fact, the crime rate is up only in year-over-year statistics.  Over a longer period of time, it is down, by a clear margin).

They think that somehow making the bail system rational increases crime: no study has shown this.  Not one.

Newt Gingrich came along, and Alex Jones, and Rush Limbaugh, and then Donald Trump, and they all publicly expressed massive approval of these toxic beliefs.  The internet broke the consensus among major media outlets to not give play to ill-founded, idiotic conspiracy theories.  Now every ignorant, ill-informed jack-ass in the country can search online to find that the cause of the wild-fires in California is Jewish space lasers or sun spots.

Try to explain to these people that international trade agreements, on the whole, benefit them.  (Essentially, the lower cost of imported goods frees capital within the local market to pay for more goods, services, and other items which you otherwise could not afford.  Free trade is a net benefit to the average American worker and consumer.  Tariffs take money out of your pocket and give it to the government which in turn subsidizes corporations to the benefit of wealthy shareholders.)

People haven’t changed.  They are just louder and more outspoken and more than happy to enlighten you as to their brilliant insights into the nature of reality and the truth about Biden and the international child porn conspiracy and Hollywood’s Jewish cabal and they way young school-children in small towns all across Iowa are being provided with litter boxes so they can “identify” as a transgender kitten.

Perhaps the most bizarre characteristic of these people is their close identification with Christianity.  Do any of them actually read the Bible?  Do they really see something in Jesus reflected in Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity?  Do they really think God blesses them as they storm the capitol building and threaten to hang Mike Pence?

 

Google is Getting Useless

Google made their name as an efficient search engine delivering streamlined results quickly and effectively. Is it just me or has Google the search engine become mostly useless nowadays. Too many paid results, and even more bad results– pages that might have a word or two of your search string but are otherwise irrelevant. I used to feel confident I would find a few useful results in the first few pages. Lately, I’ve actually– gulp– resorted to Bing, occasionally. And sometimes I just actually give up. I don’t have time to go through a hundred pages to find the one that actually helps me.

As IBM discovered when the Department of Justice was investigating them for monopolistic practices (way back in the 1960’s), too much information is as useless as no information.

In fairness, it’s not just Google’s fault.

Oh yes, it is.  By mastering the competition for profiting by manipulating search results, Google is king of turd island, the exemplar, the model for all that has made the Internet a fucking monstrous garbage heap of  excrement.  Facebook is a close second.

The $4K Concert Ticket

“Regardless of the commentary about a modest number of tickets costing $1,000 or more, our true average ticket price has been in the mid-$200 range,” he continued. “I believe that in today’s environment, that is a fair price to see someone universally regarded as among the very greatest artists of his generation.”  NY Times

I never find it not weird that people will pay astronomical sums to sit squeezed into a sports stadium to see Paul McCartney, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen,  Elton John, the Rolling Stones, and others, mainly for songs they created 40 or 50 years ago (which recent McCartney song did you really want to hear?).

Full disclosure: I recently went to see Bruce Cockburn at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener.  But he performed solo, just him and his voice and acoustic guitars, and he didn’t cheat.  And it was my wife who really wanted to see him.

Years ago, we paid a wee little amount to see Nellie McKay in Toronto at the legendary  El Mocambo. We were right up at the front of the stage, and we got to chat with her afterwards (I still have my autographed CD). She was at the stage of her career where she was producing the songs that people would today be paying $4,000 to hear, had she not opted out of the plastic-ware star-making music machinery because of creative differences with her publisher.

It was a fabulous concert experience, amazing songs, engaging… so much better than sitting in row 9,999 a thousand feet away from the stage to watch someone who, to be generous, is somewhat past his prime. Sometimes, as with the Beach Boys, the REAL keyboard player is in the shadows behind the drummer. Sometimes the real drummer is behind the drummer. Very often, the performance is autotuned, “live”. Very, very often additional instrumentation has been pre-recorded and added in– even vocals.

At least I rather expect that Springsteen won’t be autotuned. But then again, the logic seems to be “if everyone else is doing it” (and they are)…

If you like live concert experiences, I heartily recommend looking for an up-and-coming performer playing smaller, intimate venues.

For What it’s Worth

Though a large majority of Americans thought it was right and good and natural for the government to pay off the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, it was not. This was a completely original application of government resources that had never been done before, and it was at the behest of the airline industry which convinced the government– and the makers of this movie– that the nation would suffer immense economic harm if existing law was permitted to prevail and the airlines were sued, like they should have been in a capitalist free enterprise economy.

Have the airlines ever sued somebody?  Have any of the executives or large shareholders of the airlines ever sued somebody?  Did they think, before 9/11, that unlimited jury awards in tort cases might be a bad idea (actually, Republicans generally do)?  Why were gun manufacturers specifically exempted from tort law in 2005?   (As the link clarifies, gun makers could still be liable for “defects” in their product, if a product designed to kill and maim people can ever be said to have defects– does it not kill and maim?  Take it back to the store!)

Remember all that blather you heard about government hand-outs leading to toxic dependency? Yeah, that’s only for immigrants and black people.  In a capitalist system, as we claim to have, and as we say justifies letting poor people fend for themselves instead of helping them, the courts provide a system by which a good citizen can address compensation for deficiencies in a product or service that causes personal loss and suffering.

So the U.S. government broke all of it’s own rules and principles and decided that it would pay off the families of victims so the airlines could continue to pay off its shareholders and executives.

Next problem: how to decide who gets what?

We are the government: we have trillions. Line up and put your hands out everyone. And remember, repeat after me, “it’s not about the money”. Let’s work on the euphemisms for it: to bring closure; to ensure dignity; to make sure this never happens again; to bless the children and the kittens and the apple pie.

Meet Ken Feinberg, who, you should know, has been repeatedly hired (subsequent to 9/11) by large, powerful corporations like BP and Boeing to handle massive claims distributions after great big disasters. (Most recently, he has managed the 737 Max victim fund). Feinberg is asked by John Ashcroft to be the master of the compensation fund for victims of 9/11 and to the credit of “Worth” he is shown to be, at first, pretty clueless about managing the delicate feelings of the victim’s families.  (Except that he does refuse a salary– but then, we know how that works: somewhere down the road he will receive another appointment, maybe to a board or government post, that does pay, very, very well).  But the film does want it both ways: the families cannot be seen to be a mob of greedy materialists salivating at huge financial rewards. It’s not about the money, right? But it is always about the money and even the supposedly “pure” Donato family that sneers at the idea of taking compensation eventually joins the suit. Possibly the gravest hypocrisy in the U.S. right now is this absolute bullshit that people get away with when suing someone for a grievous loss. It is always about the money. “Worth” is far more honest than I expected about that, and presents some interesting dialogue about how the “worth” of a human life is determined. Should a janitor’s family get the same payout as a rich executive? (The initial plan, which rightly offended so many of the litigants, said: the CEO should get more since more potential earnings were lost.) And what about the children of a fireman by a woman with whom he was having a secret affair? Even more delicate: the gay partner of one man who lived in Virginia which did not allow for gay spouses. “Worth” is above average in it’s handling of these subjects, and relatively self-effacing– for a time– about Feinberg himself. Perhaps that is because it was critical to present him credibly while soft-pedalling the fact that this was all, all, really about sparing the airlines’ shareholders from shouldering the cost of their liability for 9/11, and for allowing juries to award scads and scads of millions of dollars for “pain and suffering” to family members who can cry on cue on the stand during a trial. We are also shielded from detailed discussion about the percentage of a settlement sucked up by the lawyers in cases like this.  The most depressing thing about this entire episode is how the government continues to resist any serious discussion about compensating the families of victims of slavery, or racial violence, in any form whatsoever. I’m not saying there is no argument against it– there is. I’m just noting how obvious the difference is between these two constituencies, and how quickly we can disregard and make exceptions to policy whenever we feel like it.

Astonishingly, Feinberg’s entry in Wikipedia contains no personal information about the man.  That is wondrous, for someone who was pivotal to some of the biggest and most controversial disasters in recent memory.

Pre-School

According to a study in Tennessee, children from poor backgrounds offered a pre-school program (for 4-year olds) did worse in several important categories by Grade 6.

This is not supposed to be true.  It is counter to other studies which generally showed that children do better — they graduate high school and have fewer disciplinary issues– if they have an extra year of school at about age 4.  For as long as I can remember, that has been the accepted wisdom on pre-school.  But this study flatly contradicts those assumptions.

If it survives further analysis and assessment, it will have to be taken into account regardless of the politics of government-funding for pre-school.

Just so You Know

While the American National women’s soccer team is suing for equal pay and bragging about their victories over other women and just how smackingly clever and talented they are, let’s just keep one minor corrective in mind:  the Australian National Women’s Team once challenged a team of 15-year-old boys.

They were easily, effortlessly, crushed 7-0.

The Americans are probably a bit better than the Australians but not by much.

So yes, you American women often beat other national women’s teams, but not nearly as many people care about your performance as much as you do, and you don’t play on the same grand scale as the men do, and no, you don’t deserve the same pay, not remotely, not by any standard that usually applies in the world of professional sports.  You can’t go into Italy or Brazil or even Iceland and play their national women’s team in front of 60,000 fans.

Anyone who watched your game right after, say, a men’s game of France vs. Spain, would know the truth.  In terms of skill and speed and power, you aren’t even close.  Not even close.

So who did you ask for more money?  From the fans, who would pay to see you?  From the owners of the club teams that run the league that you play in?  From the sponsors who pay for advertising during the games?  From the makers of sporting apparel and bling who dress you and market you?  But then you would have to prove that you actually generate the same income-driving passion as the men.  You don’t.  You too would lose to a bunch of 15-year-old boys if you played them.

So you went to the government.  That’s right.  Give us more money or we’ll cancel you.

 

Capitalist Socialism

A company produces a product that causes permanent damage to the environment.  In a free enterprise-capitalist economy, that should be no problem: the shareholders of this company, who stand to profit from the sales of the product, obviously have to pay the cost of manufacturing the product as well.   If the product cannot be produced in a profitable manner after these costs are included, in our free enterprise-capitalist economy, the investor money goes elsewhere.

Because it would be utterly contrary to the principles of Free Enterprise to assign to taxpayers and citizens the costs of environmental damage caused by the process of manufacturing ring a product that produces profits for private individuals who have invested in a corporation.  That is a subsidy.  That is the government putting its finger on the scale.  That is socialistic.

That is what we are sold: free enterprise.  But what we are sold is far from the truth.  As innocently described here as something almost reasonable, corporations that wish to make a profit by eliminating the cost of cleaning up the mess they produce while taking our money want taxpayers to cover part of the cost of production.  Don’t forget that tax cuts to high-income earners is almost always part of the package of governance advocated by the politicians who support this scam.  “Tax breaks” are invariably camouflage for “government subsidy”.  If you are buying a car for $40,000 and the dealership gives you a “price break” of $10,000 so that you only pay $30,000, it is exactly the same as if he had given you $10,000 cash and you paid him $40,000.  They are both “hand-outs”.

But it’s clever.  In the same sense, most Americans probably really have no clue what a “marginal” tax rate is.  They assume that once you cross a certain threshold, like $100,000 of income, the higher tax rate applies to the entire $100,000.  Can’t have that.  Vote Trump.  (The marginal tax rate only applies to the income above the threshold.)

Working class individuals subsidize the investment returns of the rich investors and fund managers.  Cleverly camouflaged as “tax breaks”, your politicians– your congressmen and senators and presidents– are diligently working to transfer your money to rich people, one way or another.   Since 1980, the trend has been perfectly obvious: the investor class has received fabulous returns on their investments; the worker class has been trapped in ever decreasing buying power and discretionary income.

And Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wants you to be very alarmed because Bernie Sanders would actually do what Obama and Clinton promised but never even dared to consider: stop the government from exclusively serving the interests of the rich.

The sense of panic in the Democratic Party establishment is palpable.

And no surprise that in the face of overwhelming evidence that the New York Times really, fundamentally, supports the established capitalist order, Trump supporters will continue to regard it as a bastion of unfettered progressive socialism.

Because it was never about the politics; it was about you people think you’re smarter than me, don’t you?  You look down on me.  You think I don’t get it.

You don’t.

Until it Stinks

Sir Joseph Bazalgette may have saved more English lives in Victorian England than any other single man.  I bet you never heard of him.

You need to know about Joseph Bazalgette because, perhaps in the future, a new Bazalgette will be remembered in the same way that he is, for saving us from global warming.  For the same reason: because the stink has become overwhelming.

There are profound similarities between Victorian-era London and the entire world today.  Victorian-era London had a major problem: it had millions of people living in close quarters who were all generating a lot of shit.  They were enjoying the convenience of not having to take any expensive measures to deal with their shit.  They just dumped it into the city drains and the drains dumped it into the Thames and from the Thames it came back.  Yes it did.  The tides and the variations in the flow of the Thames caused all that excrement to wash back up onto the shoreline where it splashed about and eventually worked its way into the drinking water and food and into the mouths of children.

This was not merely distasteful: it was poisonous.  People died of cholera and other diseases, and the smell was absolutely terrible.

Think about the government of that city.  When did it finally think that it might not be such a good idea to dump all of their shit into the river?  The truth is they always knew it was a bad idea.   They just didn’t have the courage to make the tough decisions required to do otherwise, including raising taxes to pay for what was needed.

What was needed was a massive complex system of pumps and reservoirs that took all the human waste and channeled it further out into the river at low tide.  It’s never been clear to me why this didn’t backfire as well, but it didn’t, and the system worked pretty well until they finally figured out a way to dump it into the North Sea.  Joseph Bazalgette designed and built that system.  I hope there is a statue of him somewhere in London.

You may wonder whether dumping it all into the North Sea was much of an improvement.  Well, it was for the people of London.

In any case, the similarities to climate change are uncanny.  And the lesson learned is simple.  People are too stupid to make modest measures in time to save themselves from having to take drastic measures when it is almost too late.  As the Marshall Islands sink into the sunset we can only wish that it would produce a stink that would envelop Wall Street and Washington.

Unlike London’s shit, climate change may not be so forgiving.  There is no way to take the carbon and dump it further out from the earth’s atmosphere.

Sharepoint, Sharepunt

Here’s what astounds me: Sharepoint is Microsoft’s fasting (sic) growing business ever. Faster than windows or office. It’s also a source of 1 bil+ revenue a year. YET, comments from 40+ educated people who know technology very well cannot explain its purpose or real value.   From Here

So what is it you do here?

If you have seen the movie “Office Space”, you will immediately recognize the query from a pair of consultants– the “two Bobs”–  hired to optimize the business operations of some hi-tech company that writes banking software (consequentially using only two digits for the dates).    They interview all of the staff and are sometimes perplexed at the role played by a particular individual.  They look at him, indulgent, perhaps, and open-minded, at least at first, and ask: what is it, exactly, that you do here?  One employee, desperately trying to justify his position, gets angrier and angrier as he explains that he takes the specifications from the customer and brings them to the development team.  The consultants repeat:  Yes… but what is it you do?

The truth is that “Office Space” is one of those movies that I like in spite of the fact that it really isn’t very good, on any artistic level.  The acting, script, and direction are pedestrian at best.  But it hit on an area of human life neglected by Hollywood: work.  And it’s amateurishness works in its favor there in the way it tries to show you something about working relationships that you won’t see elsewhere.  Like:  “PC Load Letter?!  What the fuck does that mean?”

In this case, the employee, Tom Smykowski, could have given an answer more in line with “I develop strategies for customer relationship development to enhance corporate branding” or something like that.  What he says instead is that he brings the specifications from the customer to the developer.  He “deals with” customers, which is actually more of a real job than what most managerial employees do.

So, in trying to inform myself about Sharepoint– what is it exactly that you do? — I found this guy.  Oh good, I thought.  He doesn’t look too corporate.  He’s sitting in a car.  Maybe, at last, I can get a real explanation of what Sharepoint does exactly.  So I watched.  He blathered on about how great it is, how fabulous, how foundational, and how it …. it….  it….

All right.   In spite of the car setting and the lack of a suit, he sounds like a shill for a consultancy group that sells Microsoft services and support.  When we need collaboration, when we need workflow… communications: few to many…  the many to many conversations crossing teams… applications … granular security… think Sharepoint.  And there’s teams: teams is where we’re doing things because we converse and we’re working on different things… where we meet and share files and the other aspects of what we do as a team…   Enhance employee engagement….  Yammer are those large  topic-focused typically self-serviced type conversational groups… teams!  Teams are where I do my work and get it done. …   They actually work together in a synergistic fashion and usage will vary from org to org depending on their own requirements.

Yes, but what is it you do?

That last line– my God!  You really hit on something there!   “Synergistic fashion”.  Something so profound and specific it will make the hairs on the backs of the necks of every high-priced consultant in North America tingle.

But what is it you do?

I think of Sharepoint, at this stage, like the layer of management just below the CEO at most organizations.  There are people who do real work at any organization, institution, or company.   When an organization starts out, that’s all anybody does, though there are always people with real power among them: the owners or appointed positions with the authority attached to them by the owners (it’s really always the owners who have the real power).  Then the organization grows and gets more money.  The appointed leaders promote themselves.  The last thing they really want to do every day is real work, so they crate new categories of “work”: management.   But even management can involve real work, like supervision, scheduling, processing time sheets, coordination, and so on.  So, as the organization gets bigger and bigger, they appoint other people to do the real management while they attend training seminars, retreats, and leadership conferences.  Eventually, they stop working altogether: their entire job consists of coming up with phrases like “synergistic fashion” and “topic-focused typically self-serviced type conversational groups” and “enhance employee engagement” to justify paying themselves more than the people who actually produce things of value for the organization.  Way more.

It provides you with an “intuitive” experience, so he says.  That’s not what “intuitive” means, really.  The experience is what you get to.  The skills required to navigate to this result are not intuitive, and real-world experience shows over and over again that Microsoft does a very poor job of making interfaces that allow users to “intuit” how to do something, like set up an international meeting via the internet with white board, powerpoint presentations, and video-conferencing.

“Your employees can create sites to share documents and information with colleagues, partners, and customers”.  Yes, it sounds like the internet.

Or listen to this (from here, an otherwise fine article):

Yammer the startup had a vision. It was to make the world of work more transparent and connected, to break open the rigid structures in corporations and to let information travel freely for the good of more collaboration, innovation and responsiveness. Yammer the platform was the conduit, the trojan-horse so to speak, to achieve such an ambitious social change agenda.

Is there any world in which you can imagine that any of this can take place without the actual work of collaboration being performed by smart, engaged, well-compensated employees?  Now, is there any world in which you can imagine that all these good things would not have happened anyway, without the expensive technological framework being sold to you by Microsoft?  There’s not a thing that Office 365 does that could not be done by Groupwise, Thunderbird, ExpressionWeb, WhatsApp, or Google.  The biggest obstacle this this process is not addressed by any software: stupid leaders who are more afraid of being exposed as the useless appendages that they are than they care about productivity and efficiency and rational management strategies.

 

 

The 2020 Election Debate

I hope the Democrats don’t fall into the trap of debating what Trump says he will do vs. what they say they will do.  That’s not the heart of the matter.  The heart of the matter is this: Trump says he will do many things, most of which he will not or cannot do.  His followers think he will get North Korea to get rid of their missiles, bring peace to the Middle East, get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan without giving it back to the Taliban, solve Venezuela, stop immigration from Central America, build new roads and bridges, cut taxes for the average American, reduce the budget deficit, strengthen the military so that it’s strong enough to confront endless imaginary threats, drive Russia out of the Ukraine, move better high-paying jobs to America from overseas,  get a better trade agreement with China, and give everyone access to a better health care plan than the ACA.

He is not even close do doing any of those things.  Why debate, for example, a Republican health care plan when it doesn’t exist?  Why debate policy towards the Ukraine when Trump has no intention of pushing the Russians back out?  Why debate Trump’s approach to income inequality when Trump has no policies that will affect it?

If the Democrats are wise, they will stick to the character of the man in office, knowing full-well that 30% of Americans adore that character.  What a character!  Did you hear Trump today?  He says he invented time!  That’s my guy.

So, have a coherent policy outline, but stick to the salient matter: you really want this embarrassment representing the U.S. to the world?  Okay, you can have him.