Friday, February 27, 2009


Kaunda has a fantastic, nuanced blog post responding to my attack on Blair and religious politicians.

Unfortunately he notes he's glad that I didn't enable a comment he made here on Composing. But, in fact, I had enabled it, I was just late.

After reading his post, I got rid of it, of course. But Kaunda shouldn't have worried. There was little wrong.

Personally, I think Goodwin's Law is abused almost as much as the word fascist. Sure, accusations of Nazism and fascism are often rhetorical flourishes signifying little other than dislike. Over-use can be called out as lame or exagerated. But you shouldn't get hung-up on the occasional rhetorical misfire.

If you want to know what Kaunda really thinks, go read his post.
Something kind of hilarious just struck me. About the blinkered thinking that economics can encourage.

The main claim for the virtue of markets is that they co-ordinate supply and demand. But the big political problem we face now in a recession is jobs and unemployment. In other words, supply and demand for labour.

And, while there are many interesting theories about the incentives for parents to have children, I'd bet that no-one believes that the birth-rate goes *down* in response to a drop in demand for labour.

So how the hell do economists go round claiming that a) markets are a successful economic institution, b) that the theory of markets "clearing" is a successful *explanation*, and c) that economics (as understood) should be a guiding star for political policy, when, in the most important, widespread economic relationship in the world (the sale and purchase of labour), markets DON'T co-ordinate supply and demand and the theory neither predicts nor explains the supplies and demands that occur?
I wonder if Asus (or similar) could make a netbook in an e-book form-factor.
I suppose I need to start talking about We20.

We20 is the new name for a discussion group that started at #amp2008 last year, under the name "Bretton Woods 2.0". The main aim was to discuss the role of social software in the context of the economic crisis. To begin with, there were a couple people who were interested and wanted to keep talking. Over the last six weeks or so, we've been meeting up fairly regularly and thrashing out what this is supposed to be about.

I'm also one of the volunteers working on developing the web-site. But We20 isn't really an online event. At heart it's about encouraging and supporting small real-life meetups of people to discuss their response to the crisis : what affects them and what they'd like to see done about it.

And then there's some interesting - to me, anyway, - features of the site that allow good proposals to bubble up and get noticed.

Obviously, this presses a lot of the right buttons for me. It's encouraging wider participation (and education) in the debate about the economy; it's about experimenting with web-tools to organize "purposeful communities" (and, yeah, I'm definitely trying to learn from StackOverflow); it's about meeting interesting people in the London web community; it's even about doing some real-world Django etc.

We're deep in coding at the moment, but the site should be going live within the next week or so.

I'll keep you all posted.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mina, Queen of the Week. (Great video)
Simon Reynolds against economic determinism in music
OK. Last tecno-brega post, I promise.

I hadn't realized that the evolution of tecnobrega / tecno-melody from what Simon Reynolds calls "feminine pressure" to a harder, more "masculine", "grimier" sound was so advanced.

But check this mix where bleeps and rapping have pretty much swamped romantic songs. This is pretty great ... definitely something fermenting.

Via today's new follow : Blentwell.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Bin Laden do Brega
Another mind-blowing tecno-brega hit.

Which kind of reminds me; what's with everyone raving about the worthily dull Novalima when they could be getting excited about Tinkus?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Meanwhile keep your eye on Tecno-melody or tecnobrega ... the lazy, sleazy, unbelievably kitsch pop music from Belem and northern Brazil which is going to blow up any year now. Just you watch ;-)
Scatterblog release music only through their blog.

A policy governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects in Pakistan that led to British citizens and residents being tortured was devised by MI5 lawyers and figures in government, according to evidence heard in court.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chris Dillow (now on my following list) :

From tomorrow, it will, in effect, be illegal to photograph policemen.

People seem to be concerned that Lloyds, despite making a massive loss and being on the verge of nationalization, wants to pay bonuses to lower-paid staff.

Immediately this raises the question of why fairly ordinary staff are being paid bonuses for merely "hitting their targets". After all, if bonuses are meant to prevent high-fliers from leaving the organization, in what sense are rank-and-file employees also high-fliers?

Two answers suggest themselves to my cynical mind :

One is that perhaps the banks pay ordinary workers low salaries and then top them up with bonuses as a kind of tax dodge. In which case, this is simply a loophole that needs closing. The workers should lose their bonuses, get pissed off and demand higher salaries next year, which get taxed at normal rates.

But this is pure speculation. Perhaps taxes are paid normally on these bonuses. In which case, something more interesting is going on.

Perhaps the bonus-qua-bribe-not-to-fuck-up-the-company culture goes deep in the organization, and basically nobody can be trusted to do their job properly unless they feel they are getting a special treat for it.

Maybe the whole financial industry is effectively shipwrecked on "punished by rewards" where all the incentive and bonus schemes are not simply bad because they encourage people to take risks, but bad because everyone starts to feel that they're being treated unfairly unless they get some kind of bonus and the organization becomes incapable of functioning without.
Fascinating to see Blair going full-out religious in his retirement.

I worry that we'll see Obama doing this in about 8 or 9 years. If he does, it's a sign that he'll have retreated into spiritual pieties rather than earthy problem solving; and the world will be in a real mess.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what a politician believes in private. But the moment he or she starts letting their ungrounded faith guide their actions, it's time to get them out of office.

Update : In case this seems like pure anti-religious prejudice, I'll try to clarify / rationalize.

I'm happy if my leaders take risks and work on hunches. We all have to. I don't expect them to be omniscient. But what I also hope is that such conjectural behaviour is balanced by willingness to take note of, and learn from, mistakes.

But someone who is of a religious bent, who believes in an omniscient deity, and believes his hunches are consistent with (or worse, inspired by) the will of that deity, has a greater barrier to recognising and correcting his mistakes than someone who believes in nothing but himself. The believer's religion will teach him that unwavering certainty is a valid option. Yet we need an expert waverer.

I'm not saying that the atheist is always better at self-criticism than the deist. Just that faith and skepticism are contradictory skills and you have to be particularly good to be good at both of them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chris Dillow :
Everyone seems upset by the prospect of banks paying big bonuses. What they’re not asking is: why have banks paid them for so long?
The popular answer is that banks need to attract the best talent.
Yeah, right. Eric Falkenstein and James Kwak provide the real answer. Traders must be bribed not to plunder the firm. If you don’t pay them millions, they’ll sell the banks’ assets cheaply to rival firms for which they then go and work. They are paid fortunes not because they have skill, but because they have power.

Great point. Pushes towards a managerialist theory, of course.

(Hat-tip Zby)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

In response to the last post Oli commented :

I'm not convinced that an economy with a growing numerical size (as measured by some currency) necessarily has to have a growing ecological footprint.

Agreed in principle. But probably hard to find counter-examples in practice.

Basically, if the *numbers* are growing, but the "consumption" isn't, then that's just *inflation*. And governments are already concerned to keep inflation low, meaning to keep the growth of the money in sync. with the growth of consumption.

But then Fractional Reserve Banking specifies that money *has to* grow, so to avoid either catastrophic failure or inflation, the only thing governments can do is try to *increase* "consumption".

That's the big issue as I see it. Not that *we* consumers are affected by FRB - we'd like to consume anyway - but that government policies are hostage to the desire for growth.

So when, for example, BAA promises that a new terminal at Heathrow will help increase business in the UK, the government is faced with a choice between a rather vague, "long term" threat of ecological damage (and frankly there's a tragedy of the commons because they think that if they don't allow it, another government will); and a very concrete risk that they won't make their growth quota this year and either a) they raise interest rates, throttle borrowing, create less money and a whole lot of debtors will go bust and people lose their jobs; or b) they don't raise interest rates, borrowing continues, extra money is created to pay the interest on last year's debts, but without new consumption, the extra money is soaked up in rising prices.

Now it's possible, in theory, that with technological innovation, consumption can increase while the ecological footprint decreases.

In practice, a) an innovation is a one-time event which drops the cost of a particular product, but doesn't alter the *trajectory* of increasing consumption (in other words, it's a delay, not a solution); and b) - worse - often the reduction in resources consumed by a product simply becomes a drop in price, which, in turn, *accelerates* consumption. People buy 20 dresses a year instead of 2.

In other words, to have growth in consumption without growth in ecological footprint, you need a constant and reliable stream of technical innovations which are reducing the footprint of a product-category *faster* than the increase in consumption of that category including acceleration of consumption due to the fall in price.

It's hard to think of examples.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A not bad video on Fractional Reserve Banking. Explains things well.

Yeah, it goes a bit conspiracy at the end. But apart from a couple of sentences which send the cringe-alarm off, it mainly makes a lot of sense.

Discussion continues in comments and here.

Mr Davis said it appeared the Bush administration had "threatened" the UK government about the repercussions should details of the case be made public.

"Frankly it is none of their business what our courts do," he said, adding this was "plain fact" not merely an allegation.

"They should not seek in any circumstances to put pressure on British courts. That's completely beyond the rule of law."
Let's hope the catastrophe can be averted.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Despite my antipathy to that Charles Platt piece, it just gave me a mind-blowing insight. (Possibly :-)

Maybe read with the John Robb too.

OK, here's the simplified history of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The 19th created the industrial model of production, and also therefore the industrial model of organized labour mirroring the work structure. Aggregation around the mine, or factory or industry "sector" etc.

From the mid to second half of the 20th century, that industrial model broke down to be replaced by a more free-wheeling, network shaped economy : smaller, more specialist companies; service businesses; fiendishly complex, transnational supply chains etc. etc. And organized labour on the old model similarly evaporated because there were few large, monolithic, employers and labour was spread across multiple smaller-scale groupings with divergent and out-of-sync. interests.

However, here comes Platt's quite breathtakingly stark and explicit defence of low wages : why should anyone believe that they have the right to a salary sufficient to live by themselves? Or put this another way. As the employers relentlessly try to drive down the cost of labour, there's no reason to think that they should stop at the minimum required to support distinct nuclear families.

It would be even more cost-effective for the employer if workers were aggregated together in larger clusters, sleeping in dormitories, eating in shared canteens and with food, bedding and life-support services bought in bulk.

This is not science fiction. It's China. The "China price" can always undercut the UK or America if it doesn't need to support workers living in family units. And the Platt answer is (presumably) that the workers of the US and Europe should move in together to compete. This is what is meant by "race to the bottom".

But what may draw our attention is that whenever capital creates a new aggregation of workers it also create a new locus of political awareness and action. A new political entity, united by common fate and interest. Could the "dormitory" become such a unit?
John Robb is clearly working up some righteous indignation today. Good stuff!
This "takedown" of Barbera Ehrenreich is total bullshit.

Condensed (read the comments) :

Charles Platt : I worked at Walmart and it wasn't too bad.

Commentators : But you didn't try to live off your salary; which was kind of the point of the Ehrenreich book.

Platt : Ah, but she was stupid / selfish to hope to actually live off her salary. Obviously she should have subsidized Walmart's profits by doubling up and sharing her accomodation and bills with other people.

Er ... right.

There's more if you can stand it. Boing Boing commentators pick up most of the egregious stuff.

Update: Gave me an idea though.

Monday, February 02, 2009

BTW : while I'm thinking about Momus - although not listening to him; I'm actually listening to Arnaldo Baptista and, er, Sally
- I'd like to get it on record that the best "Analogue Baroque" song is not, in fact, on Little Red Song Book (which I respect but don't enjoy much) but "Jeff Koons" from Stars Forever. Meanwhile, the best songs on Little Red Song Book are the least prototypically "Analogue Baroque" sounding. (Born to be Adored, What are you Wearing? White Oriental Flower)

I also find the instrumental version of Miss X, an Ex Lover far more interesting than the vocal.

OK, that's it. Just had to mention that.
I just suddenly feel like commenting on a discussion about Momus's recent albums. Some people think they're not as good as his old stuff. Some people disagree.

However, what strikes me more than whether the noughties are "better" or "worse" than earlier decades, is that the new albums recapitulate earlier trajectories.

The best for me (qualified by not having heard Joemus) is Oskar Tennis Champion, which I think is possibly one of the top 5 Momus albums.

Oskar Tennis Champion is a "peak" Momus album (like Hipopotomomus) where the audio experiments are really radical, the lyrics are brilliant (clever, funny, interesting), the melodies are strange but catchy, the images powerful, and everything hangs together in a coherent sort of way.

On the other hand, the next album, Otto Spooky, is (IMHO) the worst Momus album of all. It's a "tired" album like The Philosophy of Momus, where the clever parts don't save it from the fact he's largely run out of ideas and treading water. Some songs (Sempreverde, Lute Score) are just one good idea stretched further than necessary. Many songs on the album are less than one good idea (Belvedere, Your Fat Friend, Klaxon, Robin Hood, Jesus in Furs) or mere washes of atmosphere.

A couple of honourable exceptions : Cockle Pickers and the musically extraordinary Bantam Boys are one-idea songs but justify their existence because the result is striking.
And there are a couple of songs which could potentially be a strong matrix of idea, tune and imagery (Life of the Fields and Corkscrew King) which are let down by pedestrian and lifeless arrangements.

As with The Philosophy of Momus (which shares similar problems) Momus then follows with an example of what I'd call one of his "crowd pleaser" albums : Ocky Milk. These tend to be raids on the back-catalogue, consolidating the good from the earlier experiments with great tunes and pleasant arrangements. Previous examples are 20 Vodka Jellies in the 90s and maybe Monsters of Love at the end of the 80s. "Crowd-pleasers" tend to be far more enjoyable than the "tired" albums but don't excite the way that the peak albums do.
Kucinich goes directly after fractional reserve banking.