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June 19, 2010

where we are now

This might be a reflection of my mood, but I tripped over a teaser (on the NYT homepage) for a story I'll never read, which teaser perfectly encapsulates for me where the century has taken us so far:
With nearly two-thirds of American women now overweight or obese, the fashion industry sees an opportunity to reinvigorate the market.

Instead of a community we have a business plan, and that business plan is to squeeze every last penny out of that canary in the coal mine before it croaks.

Also: we're two years into a financial calamity, unemployment is high, families are spending less, and people still fat?  Does anyone remember from Social Studies any past civilizations in which the underclass was overweight?  So basically the food manufacturing industry has found a way to commodify nutritionless food?

I'm back in a Panera.  The obesity rate here is only 45% or so, but it's still early.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:24 AM

June 18, 2010

monetizing the singularity

The Singularity as hit the mainstream, as last Sunday's NYT Business section ran a looong feature on the grand McGuffin of futurists and great swaths of science fiction:
...Yet it also smacked of a future that the Singularity University founders hold dear and often discuss with a techno-utopian bravado: the arrival of the Singularity — a time, possibly just a couple decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.

At that point, the Singularity holds, human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past.

It's kind of curious because my personal experience/exposure to the Singularity has been purely from the perspective of sci fi writers and people other people call "futurists", and when it does come up no one can agree exactly what it means — is it some computational threshold, or some paradigm shift in human intelligence, or some other extrinsic event that leaves us with the result of "post-human"?  So to invoke the inability to comprehend/predict and then talk about a specific technologically-based outcome is a bit weird.

But it makes more sense as you go on, and our millionaire Singularity-advocates are profiled.  They start universities!  They make documentaries!  They create luxury experiential events for other millionaires!  It's not a piece about the Singularity; it's a piece about idle wealthy people who are scared of dying.

It's a good sign overall that the we are beginning to endeavor to apprehend the future, maybe try to meet it head on, but it seems that this concept of the Singularity, so dear to a specific subset of dreamers, has become irretrievably commodified.

Which was probably predictable to someone who claims that he is a cynic, dammit.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:49 AM

June 17, 2010

it's gonna be a sun-storm

It's not all doomsday scenarios here at Titivil.  Take this story about how we're entering into a cyclical period of increased solar activity, and we will be experiencing a higher risk of errant solar flares and coronal mass ejections bombarding the planet.  Not as bad as it could seem — these solar emanations are more electromagnetic than thermal in nature, so it will not be tongues of nuclear fire strafing the earth.  But it could be bad:
"We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be," Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa's Heliophysics division, told The Daily Telegraph.

"It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic.  It will cause major problems for the world."

"Large areas will be without electricity power and to repair that damage will be hard as that takes time."

"Systems will just not work.  The flares change the magnetic field on the earth that is rapid and like a lightning bolt. That is the solar effect."

See, that's not so much doomsday and it is really inconveniencing.  Is it lunchtime yet?

Posted by mrbrent at 12:17 PM

don't forget the financial services

Please do not be so distracted by the mob violence you imagine befalling BP to stop hating the financial services sector!  Here is a little example of the death of a thousand cuts the banking industry is offering civilization:

So as part of the Stimulus Package, the feds introduced a new financial tool for localities to raise financing for public works, the Build America Bond, which is a taxable municipal bond, the interest of which is partially subsidized by Washington.  The intention was of course to incentivize local investment in infrastructure, which gives the benefit of both increased employment and better infrastructure.  And, as of last month, BAB sales hit $100 billion.  Sounds good, right, like everyone winning?  Enter the financial services industry.

But questions about this multibillion-dollar program are piling up.

For one, Wall Street banks are charging larger commissions for selling Build America Bonds than they do for normal municipal bonds, increasing the costs to the states and cities...

As if all this were not enough, Wall Street banks — which have pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars in fees from the program — are now releasing research reports warning that states’ financial woes may make the bonds less attractive.  Some banks are even telling investors how to bet against Build America Bonds.

It's the same storyline as the familiar one we still have trouble putting into a single sentence — new form of financial instrument is created, which totally validates its purpose up to the point where the banks figure out how to rig it for their own exclusive profit.  And this is above and beyond the more than $700 million dollars in bank fees already paid, which makes you wonder exactly who the Build America Bonds were supposed to stimulate.  Even when not trying to game a market for short-term gain they are morally questionable.

Sure, "That's what banks are supposed to do, profit," I can imagine a straw man saying to me, but cancer cells just want to wildly reproduce and yet we still find ways to kill them.

And here is the best way to remember who to hate, courtesy of an interview with Bruce Sterling:

But I'd also like to point out that large financial centers in certain cities around the planet are certainly going to kill millions of us by destroying our social safety networks in the name of their imaginary financial efficiency.  You're a thousand times more likely to die because of what some urban banker did in 2008 than from what some Afghan-based terrorist did in 2001.

If you are running out of hate, let me know.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

June 16, 2010

balanced copyright for canada

I'm becoming increasingly interested in corporate astroturf, like this recent one in Canada, purporting to be average folk arguing for draconian copyright law revision:
A website in support of Canada's proposed US-style copyright law looks to be a work of corporate astroturf, and signs point to the Canadian Record Industry Association (mostly composed of US record labels; many Canadian labels have left to form an independent lobby that opposes much of CRIA's agenda) as the entity behind it.

It's a pretty galling level of cynicism for a purely business interest to gin up a "populist" sock puppet that supports its efforts, especially when such efforts are blatantly not in the consumer interest.  It's a swindle, and a swindle with not a whole lot of lipstick on it.  And it's especially telling that the come-on of these astroturfs boil down to "keeping prices down" or "this bill will lose jobs" — blackmail, essentially, with the affected industry threatening to punish workers/shoppers if the government doesn't do exactly what the industry wants.

Though of course, you can't really turn on the TV news without being forced to watch yet another exclusive lifting the veil on another dim-witted astroturf campaign, can you?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:39 AM

hello maureen dowd

I'd like to take this opportinty to call for a cease-fire in the most pressing conflict of our time: what level of emotion should the president be demonstrating?

It was fun while it lasted, and we all learned a lot about ourselves, and yelling, and tears.  We might not all agree on the exact nuance of the shaken fist, or on whether casual profanity is an indicator of rage genuine or manufactured, but we've gone through this together, and it's time for us to accept that a president is more than just a ventriloquist's dummy, there to say the things we want to hear, to miraculously sing a shanty while we drink a glass of water.  And I'm not calling the time-out because we failed to achieve something: we achieved a lot.  We've fully measured all the windows of futility and now it's time to buy the drapes.  And every time the president does show a bit of emotion — a bemused impatience, a jot of pique — he will be doing so just like we wanted to.  So we'll have that.

And to fill the hole left in our lives as we refrain from the topic, I suggest we argue about which professional athlete is best compared to President Obama.  That should keep us occupied for the summer.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:26 AM

June 15, 2010

the deepwater horizon

This post is either heavily-jargoned insider info concerning the particulars of the failure of Deepwater Horizon and the implications of the capping efforts, or meticulously constructed faked heavily-jargoned insider info concerning the same.  But it's chilling just the same!

It's far too comprehensive to do it the disservice of a brief pullquote, so, to summarize: the leak has always been much worse than either BP or the government has been telling us, and the worst-case scenario is not only the likeliest scenario but also a lot worse than the worst-case scenario you had in your head.  Think total failure of the integrity of the well and sizable breach of gulf floor that could empty the entire deposit.  Think, "Oops we broke the planet."

It really is more than you can comprehend on your coffee break, but it might be useful to bookmark it and refer back in a couple months and see if it is oracular in nature or not.  And remember: only panic in the face of terrorism — the wholesale despoiling of an entire Gulf is just the cost of doing business.

[Via The Fourteenth Banker.]

Posted by mrbrent at 11:27 AM

david brooks sets 'em up

David Brooks, the NYT's stultifyingly banal token conservative columnist, has written the column that can be dismissed purely on the basis of the first two words:
These days...

What's the column about?  I don't know — I dismissed it purely on the basis of the first two words and then read no further.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:12 AM

June 14, 2010

brooklyn tea party: not so much

In case you run across this story of a Tea Party emerging in Brooklyn, I need to make a few clarifications.  To sum it up:
Despite the borough's reputation as a hipster-friendly liberal bastion, around 35 Tea Partiers gathered on Saturday in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to protest the Cordoba Initiative's plan to build a Muslim community center two blocks north from New York's Ground Zero.

First of all, Brooklyn is a borough of over two million people.  In fact, according to the opening credits of "Welcome Back Kotter", it is the fourth largest city in America.  So in perspective, the average group of people waiting at a crosswalk for the light to change has more than thirty-five people in it.  In fact, the population density of Brooklyn is much greater than thirty-five people per public gathering, so if in fact there were thirty-five people together alleging to be having a Tea Party, then that means that the other sixty-five people that were there previously left because of the company kept.

And second, Bay Ridge is technically part of the borough of Staten Island.  We let allow them to call themselves Brooklyn because they are (largely) an attractive and friendly people with excellent auto dealerships.

And as to the point of the protest — that is indeed some weak-ass kung fu.  I suspect these so-called Brooklynites are from some place where such ugliness is tolerated, like Iran.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:20 PM

June 13, 2010

good morning 6.13.10

I've got a head cold and I'm still in this Lehigh Valley and the Panera is not as charming as it usually is.  I'm trapped out here for too many TMI reasons none of which are heart-warming, in a little pocket universe where self-pity is intended as a virtue, as an heroic trait, and the Joel Osteen is the second most favorite television programming to Lifetime Original movies.  I try not to complain, but today I am opting for failure.

But I will say this week-in-review piece by Randy Kennedy comparing (and contrasting) the Deepwater Horizon Spigot and "Moby Dick" is thoughtful and engrossing.  The metaphor is apt, and is anchored by the historical fact that two centuries ago, there were enough whales off the eastern seaboard of the US to actually hunt and stake an industry to.  Now there are not.  This is a useful bit of knowledge to keep in one's head as one ponders the future (hint: the whales did not just run away and hide).

If there is something uplifting out there, please inundate me with it.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:11 AM