Tag: society

Quote of the Day

If taxation is theft, then so is profit and property. That’s because private ownership of the means of production is protected by the capitalist state, and we as regular working citizens are coerced into accepting this arrangement under which we are exploited for profit.

Extra Newsfeed

There is not a square inch of land on this planet that wasn’t stolen at some point.

Private property is an artificial construct which has not for over 90% of human history.

Headline of the Day

Trolling is not Opinion.

It is what I consider to be a very well reasoned critique of OP/ED pages in general, and the New York Times opinion page in particular:

Opinions. Every asshole has one, or something. Opinions are good! People who have no opinions are boring. But what about opinion sections of newspapers? Are they good? Should newspapers even have them?

First, let’s talk about me, the Leah of Leah Letter. I would like you to know more about me, and feel free to ask me personal questions at any time. One of my first jobs in journalism was in the Opinion section of the New York Times. I was mostly in charge of fixing paper jams in the printers and keeping track of Thomas Friedman’s schedule, among other things (fun fact about Thomas Friedman: whenever he sends an email, he makes the subject line “Thomas Friedman”).


Still, I thought the section did some good things during my time there, although I can’t really remember any of it so maybe it wasn’t that good. But I came to understand some things about opinion journalism. A good opinion section is not one that seeks to confirm its readers’ values, but challenge them. A good opinion section is provocative, thoughtful, and delightful. A good opinion section will turn down an op-ed submission from a head of state that doesn’t say anything. A good opinion section does not kowtow to blowhards.

You might say that the Times has a responsibility, in this fiery era, to present opinions that will cause Trump to resign or be impeached. But the Times is not a radical, or even particularly progressive, paper. It refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis in in the ‘80s. It basically started the Iraq War. It could be argued that it helped give rise to Trump by hammering Hillary Clinton on everything it could possibly hammer her on. It didn’t even know what bubble tea was until a few weeks ago. Traditional newspapers are by nature conservative, not wanting to believe anything is happening until there is concrete, or official, proof, which marginalizes the oppressed who do not have means of providing such proof.

An opinion section is a crucial part of the sad business of a newspaper. Like it or not, a sh%$-ton of people look forward to reading David Brooks, the paragon of family values who married his decades-younger assistant no judgment just stating facts. The politics of idiotic centrists who pontificate on specious social trends closely mirror the politics of most of the paper’s employees: over 50, white, well-educated, and generally disdainful of the young. At the end of the day, though, the Times is a content mill, and there are deadlines, and traffic quotas, and column inches to fill. And so sometimes it publishes bullsh%$.

But there’s been a remarkable uptick in the bullsh%$ published since James Bennet, formerly of the Atlantic, became editorial page editor last year. James Bennet is the Spencer Pratt of opinion journalism. This guy loves to troll, and position his writers as martyrs for their bad opinions. He also seems kinda bad at the basics of his job (writing and making sure facts are correct).


But the controversial pieces the Opinion section runs under the auspices of fomenting some sort of “conversation” are done so disingenuously. The Times is not furthering useful conversation with these bad and wrong op-eds, it is spraying its readers in the eyes with tear gas and then asking them why they’re screaming. They’re not seeking to upend established, calcified viewpoints, but deliberately instigating anger and spreading disinformation in an insincere attempt to “show both sides.” This is particularly egregious when you consider that, post-Trump, the Times has widely marketed itself as a crusader for capital-T Truth and an essential component of a healthy democracy. But the Times’ version of the Truth is highly subjective, and when it lends credence to vile idiots like Erik Prince or Louise Mensch, it loses any semblance of legitimacy.

People expect a lot from the Times, much like they expect Tina Fey to solve the nation’s problems with comedy and then get mad at her when she does jokes. Newspapers are emotional! I know. But it’s fairly insane how out-of-touch the Times’ Opinion section is. Frankly, I’m tired of being trolled.

(Emphasis and %$# mine)

Of course, it doesn’t just apply to newspaper opinion pages.  It also applies to art, entertainment, at least one recently deceased Supreme Court justice, and the leaders of the the oldest and the most recent nuclear powers.

Just stop trolling.

Seriously, Get Your Head Out of Your Ass

The New York Times just published an Op/Ed titled, :‘Make It So’: ‘Star Trek’ and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism,” that should never have made past the editors.

It conflates the original series and later incarnations over things like the existence of money, see the mention of prices in credits in The Trouble with Tribbles, and the statement that there is no money in the Federation in TNG & DS9.

Furthermore, the original was if anything a manifestation of John F. Kennedy’s decidedly capitalistic “New Frontier.”

The basic theory espoused in the article, that SF is frequently social commentary with socialist overtones, is so obvious as to be banal, but the execution, cloaked in layers of academic jargon, is incoherent and inaccurate.



Yesterday, the Teabaggers had a major case of butt hurt over a series of tweets sent out by National Public Radio.

They claimed that they were an attempt to provoke a revolution against Donald Trump.  They were claiming that it was “fake news” and left wing propaganda.

One small problem, the series of 113 tweets was the declaration of independence:

For about 20 minutes Tuesday, NPR traveled back to 1776.

To echo its 29-year on-air tradition, the public radio network’s main Twitter account tweeted out the Declaration of Independence, line by line.

There — in 113 consecutive posts, in 140-character increments — was the text of the treasured founding document of the United States, from its soaring opening to its searing indictments of King George III’s “absolute tyranny” to its very last signature.

Who could have taken issue with such a patriotic exercise, done in honor of the nation’s birthday?

Quite a few people, it turned out.

Perhaps it was the Founding Fathers’ capitalization of random words or the sentence fragments into which some of the Declaration’s most recognizable lines were broken. But plenty of Twitter users reacted angrily to the thread, accusing NPR of spamming them — or, worse, trying to push an agenda.


You are claiming that the quoting the Declaration of Independence on Independence Day is a communist plot?

What the actual f%$#?

Where did you get your education, Hamburger University?

Seriously, if you freaked out over this, then you seriously need to evaluate your value system.

Also, take a history course, and try to actually read the founding documents that you claim to have so much affection for.

Who Found Pictures of the Registrar of the Copyright Office Engaging in Carnal Congress with a Goat?

After decades of interpreting copyright in the most bone headed and restrictive way possible, the US Copyright Office has come out in favor of a “Right to Repair”.

This means that , which will allow people who own products to repair them, despite licensing terms that lock down the products and attempt to force them to drive them to expensive service arrangements.

John Deer for example, is attempting to force farmers to do even the most basic maintenance on their tractors, oil changes, new spark plugs, etc., at the dealers.

This office literally had to be overruled by an act of Congress, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, because the office decided that consumers should have no right to unlock the phone that they owned.

I think that what happened was that the interim registrar (the last permanent registrar was fired in part for IP extremism) has realized that some common sense needed to be applied:

Last week, to little fanfare, the US Copyright Office took its first baby steps towards stopping auto-makers wrapping their software in copyright rules.

The decision is important because auto-makers use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “technical protection measures” (TPMs) provisions to restrict diagnosis and repair to an approved ecosystem.

That’s especially galling for farmers in remote locations who have argued that they can’t always wait for a factory rep to okay fixes to agricultural machines, while in the more mundane world of automobile mechanics, legitimate repair shops complain that Detroit uses the DMCA to exert market power.

In a lengthy report (PDF) that also canvasses how exceptions to the TPM rules could apply to accessibility technologies, device unlocking, and library archives, the office proposes legislation that sides at least in part with the “right to repair” lobby.


Since “bona fide repair and maintenance activities are typically non-infringing”, the report suggests using the DMCA to tie up the repair market wasn’t a legitimate use of the law.

Hence “to the extent section 1201 precludes diagnosis, repair, and maintenance activities otherwise permissible under title 17, the Office finds that a limited and properly‐tailored permanent exemption for those purposes, including circumventing obsolete access controls for continued functioning of a device, would be consistent with the statute’s overall policy goals”.

While this sounds like basic common sense, but the application of common sense to IP law has been virtually non-existent over the past 30+ years.

This constitutes a revolutionary shift in culture, even if it is a minor change in policy.

We are finally seeing meaningful push-back against a copyright and patent regime that increases inequality, reduces innovation, and perverts our economy and our society.

The Term is Not Disruptive, It’s Criminogenic………

If the things that Silicon Valley companies did were done by black people, they would be in jail.

The avatar of such behavior is, of course, Uber.

Here is a roundup of their latest hits:

The obvious question is why do people patronize such an awful company, and I think that answer is that we have seen 30 years of idolizing behaviors that are at best dishonest, and at worst sociopathic.

The point here is not that Uber is a bad company peopled by criminals, though it is, it is that Uber  is merely the apotheosis of what is a larcenous culture.

If we had serious enforcement of corporate criminality and antitrust, many of the tech billionaires would be in jail.

Remember the Study That Had Rats Killing Themselves with Cocaine?

It turns out that the study placed rats in miserable conditions, and when rats were placed in better environments, not only did they eschew drugged water, but addicted rats placed in better conditions stopped using as well.

The addiction crisis is driven by misery in the lives of ordinary Americans.

The parallels between the current US opioid epidemic and the explosion in drug and alcohol abuse in the Soviet Union just prior to its collapse are striking:

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.


Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)

(emphasis mine)

Addiction is not just an artifact of pharmaceutical company malfeasance: It is a canary in a coal mine.

Preach It, Brother!

In the Guardian, Thomas Frank makes a very good point, that “The Democrats’ Davos ideology won’t win back the midwest.”

The current neoliberal consensus is that globalization benefits the deserving, and that if you lose, it’s because you’re stupid, and never studied in school:

The tragedy of the 2016 election is connected closely, at least for me, to the larger tragedy of the industrial midwest. It was in the ruined industrial city of Cleveland that the Republican Party came together in convention last July, and it was the deindustrialized, addiction-harrowed precincts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that switched sides in November and delivered Donald Trump to the Oval Office.


And what I am here to say is that the midwest is not an exotic place. It isn’t a benighted region of unknowable people and mysterious urges. It isn’t backward or hopelessly superstitious or hostile to learning. It is solid, familiar, ordinary America, and Democrats can have no excuse for not seeing the wave of heartland rage that swamped them last November.

Another thing that is inexcusable from Democrats: surprise at the economic disasters that have befallen the midwestern cities and states that they used to represent.

The wreckage that you see every day as you tour this part of the country is the utterly predictable fruit of the Democratic party’s neoliberal turn. Every time our liberal leaders signed off on some lousy trade deal, figuring that working-class people had “nowhere else to go,” they were making what happened last November a little more likely.

Every time our liberal leaders deregulated banks and then turned around and told working-class people that their misfortunes were all attributable to their poor education, that the only answer for them was a lot of student loans and the right sort of college degree … every time they did this they made the disaster a little more inevitable.


Of course it isn’t working out that way. So far, liberal organs seem far less interested in courting such voters than they do in scolding them, insulting them for their coarse taste and the hate for humanity they supposedly cherish in their ignorant hearts.

Ignorance is not the issue, however. Many midwesterners I met share an outlook that is profoundly bleak. They believe that the life has gone out of this region; indeed, they fear that a civilization based on making things is no longer sustainable.


I have no doubt that people in this part of America would respond enthusiastically to a populist message that addressed their unhappy situation – just look, for example, at the soaring popularity of Bernie Sanders.

As things have unfolded thus far, however, our system seems designed to keep such an alternative off the table. The choice we are offered instead is between Trumpian fake populism and a high-minded politics of personal virtue. Between a nomenklatura of New Economy winners and a party of traditional business types, willing to say anything to get elected and (once that is done) to use the state to reward people like themselves. The public’s frustration with this state of affairs, at least as I heard it on my midwestern trip, is well-nigh overwhelming.


But when “the resistance” comes into power in Washington, it will face this question: this time around, will Democrats serve the 80% of us that this modern economy has left behind? Will they stand up to the money power? Or will we be invited once again to feast on inspiring speeches while the tasteful gentlemen from JP Morgan foreclose on the world?

The argument of the privileged (center) left is that this is inevitable, and people who are harmed by this are to blame for this harm.

It is a pernicious attitude, one that stems from their inability to recognize their own unearned privilege.

This destructive sanctimony needs to be purged from the Democratic Party.  Let the Republicans have them.

Well, This is an Interesting Take on the Problems in Indian IT

According to this report by the Indian web site Scroll.in. cheating is so endemic that many of the most prestigious schools in India are unable to do basic coding.

It appears to be the result of a toxic mix of entitlement and credentialism.

This is not to say that all Indian programmers are incompetent, though an Indian IT executive basically gave up on ⅔ of all IT grads in the country, which is a remarkably high failure rate for the elite institutions.

Reports of mass copying during school and college examinations in several states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, are common. But a blog post by a computer science professor indicates that students at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, and other engineering colleges, indulge in it too.

Earlier this month, Dheeraj Sanghi, a professor at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology-Delhi, wrote a blog post on the quality of the country’s information technology engineers, which corporate recruiters also seem to be concerned about.

In the post titled, CS education is poor because of copying, Sanghi referred to a statement by Srinivas Kandula, chief executive of information technology major Capgemeni India, at a business event in Mumbai earlier this month.

At the event, Kandula said: “I am not very pessimistic, but it is a challenging task and I tend to believe that 60-65 per cent of them [IT recruits] are just not trainable.”


Speaking to this reporter, Sanghi said: “In many colleges, even in some of the IITs but to a lesser extent, students either copy the code for a programme from the net, or one student writes it, and the others copy. The code is tested in the laboratory. If it runs – and it does – the student is awarded marks even if the lines are not original.” He added that these shortcuts are adopted as early as the first semester.


In his blog post, he recounted that he was recently part of a selection committee to recruit programmers for a government department. He found that most applicants he interviewed, including those who had “several years of experience in industry”, could not perform a variety of tasks they ought to have learnt at engineering college. “These [were] all the programmes we ask our first semester students who have never programmed before,” he wrote.


But Indian Institutes of Technology have had their fair share of cheating scandals, some of which seem to have resulted in a cover-up.

For instance, in 2011, a computer science professor at the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur, was suspended for reporting a variety of irregularities at the institution, including mass cheating in examinations. It led to a court case, which is still on. With the next hearing scheduled for Friday, the professor was reluctant to talk to this reporter but his lawyer Pranav Sachdeva said that one of the charges against his client was that “he spoke to the media about it”. Sachdeva added that the IIT had “tried to impose compulsory retirement [on his client] but the Delhi Hight Court put a stop to it”.


Even though engineering colleges can easily check copying if they wanted to by failing students who did not submit original programmes, there’s perhaps a valid reason why institutes hold back. “I know of one college which tried this,” wrote Sanghi in his blog. “Every single glass [pane] in all buildings were broken by the angry students.”

Any comments from people who have been through an IT education in India, or those who have experience working with Indian IT professionals would be appreciated.

Trump Gets a Bull Durham Lesson

The lesson in the movie Bull Durham is Never Call the Umpire a C%$#sucker.

When Trump disparaged (I would argue threatened) Federal Judge James Robart after he issued an injunction against his attempted Muslim ban, it was clear that no one in the Judiciary would be happy with this.

The 9th Circuit of Appeals ruled against rescinding the injunction, and what is significant is that they did so in a per curiam opinion.  (Note that the crack reporters at the Times somehow missed this.)

A per curiam opinion is unanimous, but it is also unsigned, and except in extremely rare cases (Corrupt Supreme Court Justices covering their asses in Bush v. Gore), it means something very specific.

To quote Scotusblog, “Traditionally, the per curiam opinion was used to signal that a case was uncontroversial, obvious, and did not require a substantial opinion.

In other words, it’s a way to say, “Your Kung Fu is weak, and you are stinking up the place.”

I think that the appellate court would have ruled in much the same way, and probably unanimously, had Trump not called out Judge Robart, but I think that it did so as a per curiam ruling was a message to the Trump as to what constitutes appropriate behavior with regard to the judiciary.

The only question is whether Trump will learn from this.  (I’m guessing that he won’t)

The standard disclaimer applies here, I am an engineer, not a lawyer, dammit.*

*I love it when I get to go all Dr. McCoy!

Stating the Obvious on Populist Rejection of Expert Opinions

Whether it’s the Brexit, or Donald Trump, it is clear that disdain for experts figures prominently in populist politics, particularly on the right.

Dean Baker makes a point that needs to be made, that the experts have proven themselves to be unable to find their ass with both hands while insisting that they must remain the exclusive font of all policy:

Ivan Krastev, a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, had an interesting NYT column on the disenchantment of the European public with the meritocrats who have been largely running governments there for the last three decades. Krastev’s main conclusion is that the public doesn’t identify with an internationally-oriented group of meritocrats who possess skills that are easily transferable from their home country to other countries.

While this lack of sufficient national identity may play a role in the dislike of the meritocrats, there is a much simpler explanation: they have done a horrible job. Much of Europe continues to suffer from high unemployment, or low employment rates, almost a decade after the collapse of housing bubbles sent the continent’s economy in a downward spiral. The meritocrats deserve the blame for both the weak recovery and allowing dangerous bubbles to grow in the first place. In most countries, most of the population has seen declining incomes over the last decade in spite of the substantial technological progress we have seen over this period.

It doesn’t matter if it is the City of London, or Brussels, or Wall Street, or Washington, DC, or Berlin, these people nearly destroyed our world, and continue to promulgate policies that do not work, and still they remain largely in charge of our policy apparatus.

These people need to have a job that involves asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

This is a Fascinating Perspective on Hillary and Trump Supporters

Frequently the analysis is about how the winners and losers in an increasingly interconnected and technical worls engage in her.

Using the example of the opoid epidemic, Lambert Strether makes another point, that the professional and credentialed class (Hillary’s base) has benefited from the losses of the working class:

That said, can we think of any reasons beyond despair why rural voters might vote red (and not blue)? I think we can, if we look at the role that urban credentialed professionals and institutions play. In “Credentialism and Corruption: The Opioid Epidemic and ‘the Looting Professional Class’” I wrote:

CEOs, marketing executives, database developers, marketing collateral designers, the sales force, middle managers of all kinds, and doctor: All these professions are highly credentialed. And all have, or should have, different levels of responsibility for the mortality rates from the opoid epidemic; executives have fiduciary responsibility; doctors take the Hippocratic Oath; those highly commissioned sales people knew or should have known what they were selling. Farther down the line, to a database designer, OXYCONTIN_DEATH_RATE might be just another field. Or not! And due to information asymmetries in corporate structures, the different professions once had different levels of knowledge. For some it can be said they did not know. But now they know; the story is out there. As reader Clive wrote:

Increasingly, if you want to get and hang on to a middle class job, that job will involve dishonesty or exploitation of others in some way.

And you’ve got to admit that serving as a transmission vector for an epidemic falls into the category of “exploitation of others.”

And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that red-shift voters would identify Clinton’s base in the urban, professional classes with the very same people responsible for the opioid epidemic that was killing their families. Consciously? I don’t know. Viscerally? I’d bet on it.

It isn’t just the opiod crisis.

You see it in healthcare price increases (Doctors and administrators benefit), the skyrocketing cost of education (Administrators and tenure track professors), finance (’nuff said), etc.

The professional, college educated class needs to understand that they are not spectators to the destruction of  working class lives and livelihoods, they actively benefit from this destruction.

To fix this requires sacrifices on our part.

Meritocracy, My Ass

It appears that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and his brother got into Harvard because their father donated $2½ million.

When one considers the obvious influence that we wields with the President-elect, this does not bode well for the rest of us:

I would like to express my gratitude to Jared Kushner for reviving interest in my 2006 book, “The Price of Admission.” I have never met or spoken with him, and it’s rare in this life to find such a selfless benefactor. Of course, I doubt he became Donald Trump’s son-in-law and consigliere merely to boost my lagging sales, but still, I’m thankful.

My book exposed a grubby secret of American higher education: that the rich buy their under-achieving children’s way into elite universities with massive, tax-deductible donations. It reported that New Jersey real estate developer Charles Kushner had pledged $2.5 million to Harvard University in 1998, not long before his son Jared was admitted to the prestigious Ivy League school. At the time, Harvard accepted about one of every nine applicants. (Nowadays, it only takes one out of twenty.) 

I also quoted administrators at Jared’s high school, who described him as a less than stellar student and expressed dismay at Harvard’s decision.

“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former official at The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, told me. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not.”


I began working through the list, poring over “Who’s Who in America” and Harvard class reunion reports for family information. Charles and Seryl Kushner were both on the committee. I had never heard of them, but their joint presence struck me as a sign that Harvard’s fundraising machine held the couple in especially fond regard.

The clips showed that Charles Kushner’s empire encompassed 25,000 New Jersey apartments, along with extensive office, industrial and retail space and undeveloped land. Unlike most of his fellow committee members, though, Kushner was not a Harvard man. He had graduated from New York University. This eliminated the sentimental tug of the alma mater as a reason for him to give to Harvard, leaving another likely explanation: his children.

Sure enough, his sons Jared and Joshua had both enrolled there.

This raises an obvious question: Why did their father, who went to NYU, a highly respected school, drop millions of dollars to get his kids into Harvard?

Because going to Harvard is like become a made man for the mob.

The undergraduate experience at Harvard, according to a alumni (a relative who is in academe and former Clinton economist Brad Delong), is simply not that special.

That does not matter: it is an entrée into American nobility.

It’s why the banksters who blew up the world never faced the possibility of jail time: It was inconceivable that the Ivy League educated prosecutors would frog march the Ivy League educated banksters out of their offices in handcuffs.

It’s a twisted satire of noblesse oblige.