September 2, 2013

quote of the (labor) day

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 5:29 pm

For some brief context here, recall that Belloc's take on "Capitalism" is not the same as the "capitalism" as it exists in our own vernacular or current pop culture lexicon. For Belloc, (as he says below), Capitalism is an unstable equilibrium wherein the means of production are owned by a few and there exists political freedom -- meaning, basically, people are free to work or not work as they like, but if they do desire to work, it requires the means of production owned by the Capitalist. Thus your employment occurs at the whim and discretion of the Capitalist. So it does resemble (arguably) our current state of affairs, but has nothing to do with the connotations of "free market" ideology that exists in current America. Here, then, Belloc describes the essential character of insecurity (and anxiety) that exists for the laborer in Capitalism:

Combine these two elements: the ownership of the means of production by a very few; the political freedom of owners and non-owners alike. There follows immediately from that combination a competitive market wherein the labor of the non-owner fetches just what it is worth, not as full productive power, but as productive power which will leave a surplus to the Capitalist. It fetches nothing when the laborer cannot work, more in proportion to the pace at which he is driven; less in middle age than in youth; less in old age than in middle age; nothing in sickness; nothing in despair. A man in a position to accumulate (the normal result of human labor), a man founded upon property in sufficient amount and in established form is no more productive in his non-productive moments than is a proletarian; but his life is balanced and regulated by his reception of rent and interest as well as wages. Surplus values come to him, and are the fly-wheel balancing the extremes of his life and carrying him over his bad times. With a proletarian it cannot be so. The aspect from Capital looks at a human being whose labor it proposes to purchase cuts right across that normal aspect of human life from which we all regard our own affections, duties, and character. A man thinks of himself, of his chances and of his security along the line of his own individual existence from birth to death. Capital purchasing his labor (and not the man himself) purchases but a cross-section of his life, his moments of activity. For the rest, he must fend for himself; but to fend for yourself when you have nothing is to starve.

Enjoy your hot dogs!

August 23, 2013

on conscience

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 3:49 pm

An unlikely confluence of ideas between two books I was reading this week:

James Q. Wilson published The Moral Sense, which makes many of the same arguments from a criminologist’s perspective. ‘What most needed explanation, it seemed to me, was not why some people are criminals but why most people are not.’ Wilson chides philosophers for not taking seriously the notion that morality resides in the senses as a purposive set of instincts. They mostly view morality as merely a set of utilitarian or arbitrary preferences and conventions laid upon people by society. Wilson argues that morality is no more a convention than other sentiments such as lust or greed. When a person is disgusted by injustice or cruelty he is drawing upon an instinct, not rationally considering the utility of the sentiment, let alone simply regurgitating a fashionable convention.

-- The Origins of Virtue, by Matt Ridley

"Ah, but our conscience, my dear Bond. What shall we do with him while we are committing some juicy sin? That is a problem. He is a crafty person this conscience and very old, as old as the first family of apes which gave birth to him. We must give that problem really careful thought or we shall spoil our enjoyment. Of course, we should murder him first, but he is a tough bird. It will be difficult, but if we succeed, we could be worse even than Le Chiffre."

-- Mathis speaking to James Bond in Casino Royale by Ian Fleming.

August 9, 2013

state of the media

Filed under:, , , , , , , , — cwage @ 4:45 pm

the dreaded usa today effect

Some required reading before you go any further: Why Nashville Needs Newspapers -- the Nashville City Paper's farewell editorial, and JR Lind on the dim future of newspapers.

In the latter, JR says:

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid $250 million for The Washington Post. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway is adding newsprint alongside Dairy Queen and Orange Julius in its prodigious portfolio.

Boston Red Sox owner John Henry bought The Boston Globe.

Nashville doesn’t need to rid itself of newspapers. Nashville newspapers need fabulously wealthy benevolent benefactors.

Nashville needs a John Henry.

...

Eventually Gannett will bail on The Tennessean, and someone will have to step in if Nashville is to have a daily newspaper. Without a savior, 1100 Broadway will become a very valuable piece of empty real estate, the subject of interminable, high-minded and saccharine “imagining sessions.” Somewhere out there, some 20-something downtown resident is shoehorning an IKEA where the newsroom used to be.

I agree 100% with the premise (that Gannett will bail on the Tennessean) but I am less sure (or optimistic, at least) of his solution.

Gannett's current business model with respect to its local/regional papers is doomed. I won't go into a lengthy history of the evolution of media business/revenue models here (but Eric Alterman's Sound & Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy is a pretty good intro). But there was a time, of course, when local papers were just that: local. They served to disseminate a hearty mix of news and opinion -- often leaning heavily towards the latter. The revenue model was simple: they printed papers, and they sold them. If they didn't break even, they hoped for (and often got) a wealthy benefactor. Advertising changed things with the realization that advertisers would gladly pay to have their ads featured. Not long after, crafty newspaper businessmen began to realize that their ad sales were more or less directly tied to the broad appeal of their content. It no longer paid to provide a platform for just any soapbox rant or political screed -- these heavily biased pieces appealed only to small niches. What earned the most ad revenue was to stick as close to the center of any political/social divide as possible. Thus the ominous specter of objective journalism was born. Far from being the bedrock foundation of golden-age journalism we think of it as, objective journalism was invented to sell ads.

Corporate consolidation on a national level was the next inevitable step. As communication/technology advanced, people increasingly relied on "local" papers to relay national/international news. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there's an inefficiency in a nation of local paper staffs all producing essentially the same content. Enter companies like Gannett: buying up local papers, laying off portions of the staff, and replacing their content with centrally-produced copy.

This brings us more or less to where we find papers like the Tennessean today: it's still nominally a "local" paper, but it serves very little of the needs that a "local" paper once served. That was okay, because even if it didn't adeptly cover the needs of a local market, it still served as a conduit for national/international news. The Internet changed all that. The news I once had to buy a paper to read, I can now pull up on my phone.

So, what now? Sorry, did you think I had a solution? Ha. Well, JR thinks we need a hero. I agree that it would be nice, but I am less optimistic, at least with respect to the prospect of saving the institution of the Tennessean, should Gannett abandon it. Wealthy benefactors are hard to come by, in my experience. And should one come along that wants to attempt to hero this particular situation, there are a few hard truths I think they would be faced with:

  1. Physical printed papers are a waste of time. They may still be key for penetrating demographics (*cough*oldpeople*cough*) that still like dead tree editions, but they are useless for building something new to fill the void we're facing, and the overhead will forever be an albatross.
  2. No one wants to pay for news they can get elsewhere for free.
  3. Ad-driven content turns off readers, because a) it favors centrism, and b) ... ads are annoying.
  4. People like to share content.

Note that no-where in that list did I say what you might have been expecting: "People don't want to pay for news anymore". I don't think that's necessarily true. It was a given for decades (centuries?) that you dropped a coin into the box to get a newspaper. People are willing to pay for information. The only thing that's changed these days is that people don't want to pay for information they can get elsewhere. Why would someone buy the Tennessean to read the same shitty re-hashed national stories they see on Yahoo News? People pay for value.

There are some really tricky things to reconcile in the above list of constraints. Maybe people will pay for valuable content, but how do you compel them to pay for it other than restricting access via a pay-wall? This conflicts with #4 -- if I can't easily share/discuss a recent interesting article with my peers who may not subscribe, what's the point of reading it at all? The Nashville Post (another Southcomm publication) has subsisted thus far with a pay-wall model, so it seems to at least work for certain niches, but business news caters to a demographic that has deeper pockets. Conversely, it may work because the Nashville Post is one of few local publications genuinely producing 100% unique, valuable content. If you want to read what they're writing about, you have nowhere else to go. There's a glimmer of hope here that a subscription-based model might not be as much a non-starter as we think.

I don't have a concrete answer, but I have a vague picture of a business model that I think could work. I'm a simple guy. I believe in the power of the marketplace. If there's something of value I can't get elsewhere for free, I pay for it. I think other people would too. I have a vision of a small news outfit: digital production, subscription based. It would necessarily have to start small in order to grow organically and shift with the desires and whims of its customers. The subscriptions they buy need not necessarily pay for access to the content. The content itself could be free, and maybe the subscription buys you other perks: SMS alerts, customized/tailored frontpage tailored to your category preferences/etc. There's still a lot of potential for the industry to evolve, here. But I don't see the Tennessean -- even freed from the fetters of Gannett -- as being the source of the necessary innovation. There's simply too much overhead, unless they radically re-shape the company to be more in line with the above constraints.

The City Paper failed because its free, ad-supported revenue model just didn't work -- even with valuable locally-generated content. The Tennessean is failing even in spite of the fact that they still manage to get people to actually buy their physical papers. While I lament the failure of the City Paper's admirable attempt to reinvigorate a traditional newspaper business model, the lesson should be clear: it's time for something different.

July 12, 2013

blues in the street

Filed under:, , , , , , — cwage @ 4:10 am

I was reading a bit of Nashville history in George Zepp's wonderful Hidden History of Nashville and ran across the story of Cortelia Clark. I was surprised I had never encountered this man or his music before. He was a street musician, and a Nashvillian by way of Chicago. He lived at 934 Jefferson Street in a small wooden frame house, located just up from where the Garden Brunch Cafe is now. Sadly, this house was the site of an unfortunate accident in which his kerosene stove exploded and caught fire. He survived briefly, though eventually passed in the hospital -- his friends claiming that the hospital cooking wasn't as good as his wife's, and he lost his will to live. An album of interviews and his music won a grammy in 1967 for best folk recording.

I understand he performed in a number of places downtown, but most commonly on 5th avenue between Church and Union, which coincidentally is now the locus of a small resurgence in the arts itself. Check out an interview and a song below:

The street sounds in the background crack me up. Sounds like 5th avenue was a livelier place in 1965.

May 10, 2013

pretty as a singer, fine as a stripper

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 5:40 pm

I really like Killer Mike's "R.A.P. Music", but "Southern Fried" has possibly one of the most facepalmingly (a quick google search verifies unfortunately that I did not just invent this word) awful stanzas ever:

Moet? Rolex. Big Benz, no flex
Wedding ring on finger, I married a Trina
Pretty as a singer, Fine as a stripper
When we in the strip club strippers try to tip her

I am not certain it's the sentiment that is terrible so much as the rhyme scheme. Come on, man!

May 6, 2013

why ditching your “loser” friends makes you a giant douche nozzle

Filed under:, — cwage @ 3:57 pm

There's this article floating around called "Why Successful People Leave Their Loser Friends Behind" that I find incredibly repulsive. Let's ignore for the moment the most obviously distasteful things about it: the fact that it's hosted on a domain called "addicted2success.com", and that it has a photo of Richard Branson and two other dudes looking like the world's biggest toolbags. Or that it claims Hemingway was "one of the greatest American writers of all time". Seriously? Top 100. Maybe.

Those are bad, but the actual sentiment of the article is pretty terrible too:

If someone could improve his life, he spent as much time around them as possible. If someone could drag him down, he never spent more than five minutes around them. After following his “make or break” list, the man was able to become a millionaire within three years.

GUYS! Simply ditch your loser friends and YOU could be a MILLIONAIRE within THREE YEARS!! Seriously? What is this, Amway for my social life? I've known people that ditched their "loser" friends. Most of the time they were stellar examples of Dunning-Kruger -- convinced of their own superiority despite all evidence to the contrary, and blaming their failures on the perceived mediocrity of their peers. Often these people were of the "I gotta get out of this shit town" types that fled to a bigger city, because only there would their sparkling majesty be realized.

I've maintained a lot of relationships throughout my life with friends that have taken all sorts of paths in their life, very few of which have made them rich or powerful. Ditching them would not have made me rich or successful, it would have just made me an asshole -- and much poorer (in a quality-of-life sense) than I am now. Certainly there's a valid point to be considered in culling relationships that are clearly damaging to you, but doing it based on some half-assed notion that you need to hang out with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce in order to be successful is setting yourself up for disappointment. (Not in the least because they are all dead!)

Here's how you can be successful: Maintain relationships with people you enjoy the company of, regardless of their objective/material success. Put a little work in reaching out to relationships which are stagnating due to divergent paths (I am admittedly terrible about this one). Don't be a giant douche nozzle.

May 1, 2013

letter to the editor, 1998

Filed under:, , , , , , , , , — cwage @ 9:25 am

I found an old letter to the editor that I wrote in 1998 to Boston U's Daily Free Press in response to some awful opinion piece about how the Internet was terrible. I can't find any trace of the piece I was responding to, but I know they ran it on January 23, 1998. They also published my response, but I can't find any trace of that either. The gist of his opinion was that the Internet was "out of control" and needs to be regulated before things just get out of hand. Hilarious, right? Funny how much things have changed since those simple times. Oh ... wait.

So, for your amusement:

(more...)

April 23, 2013

who the fuck wants to live in a walled garden?

Filed under:, , , , , , , — cwage @ 2:06 am

Guys, the internet is broken. Can we start over? Let's review a few incredibly infuriating examples of why the internet is driving me nuts, lately:

  • Google invents the ultimate tool for information gathering and sharing (Google Reader), recruits an entire generation of devotees and information addicts, and then brutally murders it, because they want to drive more eyeballs to G+ because they need to compete with Facebook, even though no one actually uses G+. Thanks, shitheads.
  • theoldreader.com (an awesome Google Reader replacement) lets you share posts to Facebook, kinda like how Google Reader does. Awesome! ... Except that facebook now relegates all such shared content to "recent activity" -- a sad little widget outside the main timeline that no one ever sees, rather than showing up in anyone's timeline. Why? Facebook is trying to discourage third-party apps because they want to drive eyeballs to their website, where they can foist ever-increasing levels of "sponsored content".
  • Amazon Kindle's highlighting is basically useless because they only post the content to an obscure hidden URL buried in Amazon's website, and only for Amazon's purchased books, because they want to keep their users buried in an insular corner of their website. Fuck if I know why, but it probably has something to do with some idiot's grand idea to eventually sell ads. Possibly it has something to do with DRM, but that's a rant for a different day.
  • Twitter neuters ifttt.com (an awesome trigger/automation service) by locking down its API because .. why? You guessed it: they want eyeballs on their website.

The end result, increasingly, is that no one can fucking interact with anyone. What happened to the Internet where information was shared anywhere you liked as quickly as you could read it, and every awesome new web 2.0 app that emerged held the potential to interact in a million different ways with the rest? Remember when people read and shared stuff other than the same 3 damn huffingtonpost.com URLs circulated all fuckin day long? I actually distinctly remember a conversation I had with Marcus Whitney over delicious beers at the broadway brewhouse when facebook was first released. We were both ranting about how awesome it was, and how much potential it had. It really was an exciting prospect at the time. I specifically remember telling him I thought it was amazing because it had the potential to be sortof a central repository/clearing-house/aggregator for all of our different websites/feeds/data: my blog, my google reader shared items, my flickr stream. A true internet "presence" by way of all the different ways I could hook my data into it. This was true, at the time, too. Oh, how things changed. Oh, how wrong, wrong, wrong I was.

I miss those days. Social media doesn't deserve its name anymore -- there's nothing social about it. They're all high-walled gardens. I don't know how to extend the metaphor to make it clear how much this sucks. Maybe imagine some dudes on the top of the walls peeing on all of us. That works. We're getting peed on, guys.

April 10, 2013

a few things about the bitcoin turbulence

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 10:03 pm

DISCLAIMER: a lot of people are going to skim or not read this at all and just assume I'm another neckbeard technocrat bitcoin fanboy. That's fine. I am fascinated by the bitcoin experiment, and the prospect of an alternative currency pegged to a steady rate of growth mathematically, whether it's deflationary or inflationary. I have not invested any money in bitcoin, in any case, so this is not a personal or defensive screed.

  • Bitcoin is a currency designed to be a medium for exchange of value. It's a commodity, but it has no intrinsic purpose or use (as opposed to, say, gold -- making analogies with it close, but flawed). The fact that people are choosing to invest in it now is in no way related to its intended purpose.
  • The current hyperdeflation is not the sort of deflation people talk about when they refer to Bitcoin's inherent deflation. There is inherent deflation in bitcoin caused by the fixed target supply of 21 million BTC (relative to the natural expansive tendency of an economy's productive capacity), and natural attrition by loss/deletion, but this is stable and minor compared to the volatility currently being experienced.
  • The current hyperdeflation is being caused by rampant speculation and hedging that is multicausal, and many of the causes are unknown. Some of the best guesses are simple "get rich quick" investors pushing the bubble. Another is that people are hedging their bets because of the Cyprus bailout and the increasingly likely implosion of the eurozone.
  • Predicting that the current very high price of bitcoin will drop is not exactly a stunning observation. An intense speculative bubble is destined to pop. Most everyone buying BTC surely knows this. Identifying this fact means you're able to utilize common sense. Braying about it self-righteously with I-told-you-so's (directed at whom, exactly?) makes you sound like kindof a jerk.
  • ... it also makes you quite wrong, considering many people almost certainly did become very rich in the selloff today.
  • Others will probably lose money, and they'll probably whine about it. This happens in any bubble of speculation. Tulips, anyone? Gambling real money on a speculative bubble is a very stupid move unless you're very rich.
  • Thinking that this bubble popping means the end of the experiment is also a bit silly. Especially considering it's far from over, and that the price of BTC is up over, what, 2800% from this time a year ago? A decrease from $260 to $165 means a lot of volatility and lost money, but it will not end here. It means that the experiment is going to be annoyed and hampered by speculation. If you think that BTC is the only currency ever to have been inconvenienced by speculation, well ... that's a thing you think that's wrong. You wrong-thinker. The wild volatility we're seeing right now has no bearing on the future success or failure of the real bitcoin experiment (see above), except insofar as the volatility and extreme volume may put the infrastructure and technology to the test -- which is a good thing. It it fails, we can try something else.
  • If you think that Bitcoin is an imaginary fake currency, you're wrong. Trust me on this, or verify it for yourself if you like. Millions of USD worth of BTC aren't flying around because people are just really that keen on being in on the next grand economic experiment. People are using it. That doesn't mean it's a permanent success, but it's not imaginary.
  • I forgot what the last bullet point was

April 6, 2013

Satoshi Nakamoto == Milton Friedman duh

Filed under:, , , , , , , , — cwage @ 7:20 pm

"I've always been in favor of abolishing the federal reserve, and substituting a machine program that would keep the supply of money going up at a steady rate."

-- Milton Friedman

So .. basically we acknowledge that Satoshi Nakamoto is Milton Friedman, right?

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