athelind: (tell it like it IS)
In a response to my post about the Doctrine of "Real" Names, [livejournal.com profile] araquan provided the following insight from a Charlie Rose interview with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg:

Facebook COO Sandberg talked about the power of relationship-based networks, contrasting "the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends."

"So that's Google versus Facebook right there," Rose replied.

Sandberg didn't agree. She thinks the entire first phase of the Web's development -- which led to "a lot of wonderful things" -- was largely based on "anonymity and links between crowds."

The next stage of development, the one Facebook has spearheaded, is built around identity. "The social Web can't exist until you are your real self online," Sandberg said. "I have to be me, you have to be Charlie Rose."


The logical fallacy, of course, is the conflation of "real self" with "legal name". You can't be your "real self" if you're always wondering, "what would my family think of this? What if my boss Googles me?"

I am my "real self" online, and my "social Web" is woven among those who know me as "Athelind" and "Your Obedient Serpent".

That other name?

That's not my "real self", Ms. Sandberg.

That's my banking information, and I know why you want it.


athelind: (number six)
It is a classic trope of science fiction that In the Future, We Will Have Numbers Instead Of Names.

In almost every instance of this trope more recent than Ralph 124C 41+, this is a sure sign that you live in a dystopia. It suggests a world in which human concerns are devalued, and society itself is engineered to make it easier for a large, impersonal bureaucracy to track and monitor its citizens subjects.

Over the last few centuries, as Nation-States have arisen and consolidated their power, there has emerged a doctrine that everyone should have one and only one name, used in any and every context; that this is your only "real" name; and that the only possible reasons to use nicknames, pseudonyms, or any alternative to the name recorded in your governmental and financial records are to conceal unsavory practices, or perpetrate outright fraud.

A name that falls outside a limited range of acceptance criteria may not be accepted as a "real" name, and will certainly engender harsh feelings from governmental and corporate bureaucrats inconvenienced by the nonconformity.

As so many things have, this memetic push has accelerated across the close of the 20th Century and the dawn of the 21st.

Be advised, and be aware:

The only difference between this doctrine of "real" names and the dystopian trope of numbers that replace names is the number of bits in your designation.


The intent is to make you easier to track. The intent is to make you a product.

Vernor Vinge warned us, thirty years ago: when someone knows your True Name, they have power over you.

Government watchlists aside, Google and Facebook aren't making money providing you with free email and search and "social networking". They're making money by selling your easily-monitored habits and interests to other corporations. If you operate under more than one name, if you compartmentalize your life and your purchasing power amongst multiple identities, you are diluting their product by making it more difficult to thoroughly profile you—and they consider that intolerable.

Enlightening References:


(I have noticed, and not without irony, that the same kind of people who once ranted about Social Security Numbers as "the Mark of the Beast" tend to automatically and reflexively agree with the idea that people only have one "real name".)
athelind: (tell it like it IS)
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Would you rather be super-rich or super-smart if you would only be average in the other category?

... assuming the question means "mean" and not "median" or "mode", an upgrade to an average level of income sounds pretty sweet right now.

To be a little less flippant:

A) It's not getting what you want, it's wanting what you've got.

The ability to be content and comfortable while living on modest means is a learned skill. If you haven't learned it, it is unlikely that you will be content or comfortable even with exorbitant resources at your disposal.

B) Knowledge does more than income.

Being "super-smart" includes the ability to make one's resources go further. Why buy your own supercomputer when you can network a bunch of loss-leader-priced video game consoles? Why pay Toyota for a bleeding-edge hybrid when you can replace the engine and transmission in that old junkyard chassis with a turbine generator and a surplus DC-10 starter motor?


I should note that I define "super-smart" as "a whole lot smarter than I am". Oddly, a lot of people have been answering this one with "I'm already smart...", which makes me suspect that either their bar for superlatives are a lot lower than my own, or their egos are a lot larger.
athelind: (facepalm)
For the record, Measure J passed with 60% of the vote.






I think "monorail!" (with exclamation point) is now part of Athelind's Argot.
athelind: (green hills of earth)
From The Rachel Maddow Show, a few nights back:

Right now, we have a catastrophic uncontrolled petroleum gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, and another spill up in Alaskan waters.

Who needs new footage? We can just rerun reports from 1979, when almost exactly the same thing was going on.



To recap (no pun intended):

  • A blowout on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • A rig run by the company that eventually became Transocean.
  • Exactly the same techniques used to stem the flow
  • In exactly the same order
  • With exactly the same results:
    • BUPKIS.

  • After months and months of gushing oil, matters were only alleviated when relief wells were drilled.
  • Why didn't they just go for the relief wells first this time?
  • Have "top hats" and "top kills" ever worked?*


The only difference is that in '79, the well was 200 feet down; now, it's over five thousand.

My father used to have a saying about four wheel drive vehicles: "They won't keep you from getting stuck. They just let you get some place even farther from help when you get stuck."

The oil companies keep talking about how their technology has imnproved—but it's just let them get even farther from any solutions. If When shit hits the fan, they don't actually have any new solutions; they're just trying the same things that didn't work before.

"But that trick never works!"


*Yes, that is a request for specific instances, if anyone out there feels like dredging them up. Like Wikipedia, however, I want citations.
athelind: (eco-rant)
Okay, one reason, and one alone:

The United States of America consumes a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, and produces a disproportionate amount of its pollution. Even a massive socio-economic catastrophe isn't going to do more than moderate that, at least over the next half-century or so. this is an issue that I can't run away from, because the ripples affect the entire world, and not just economically.

I am an Earth Systems Scientist.

If I have any hope of having an effect on this globe-threatening situation, it's gotta be here.

I've got my lever, rusty as it may be, and I think I'm narrowing down my places to stand.


athelind: (politics)
This was originally tacked on as a footnote to my last post, but I think it needs to stand on its own.

For the record, the "Divided States of America" is only a "worst-case scenario" if the Balkanization is violent. That's not unlikely, because we're all pretty pissed at each other right now, and we do like our guns.

On the other claw, the Soviet Union managed to spin off its component without devolving into all-out war, though, even if there were border skirmishes; if the U.S. pulled off the same trick, California might wind up better off than we are now, with the Federal Government funneling money out of the eighth-largest economy in the world and into Red States who rant against taxation, welfare and government interference.


athelind: (prisoner)
Mostly for my own reference: some thoughtful and measured words about emigration.

I'll tell ya: ever since reading Toffler's predictions for the future of the two "Second Wave" superpowers in 1990's Powershift, and watching it come true in the Soviet Union less than a year later, there's a part of me that's been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Yes, I'm fully aware that this kind of apocalyptic paranoia has contributed to the paralyzing stasis of my life since graduation.

Still, there's an important truth in play: things aren't getting any better in the Untidy States, and the best-case scenario is to hope that the continual erosion of our rights and freedoms will be sufficiently gradual that we won't notice.

And the alternatives ... well, we seem to be using all the worst clichés of Cyberpunk as a road map as it is, why not that one, too?*

I would really like to convince myself that this is just pessimism due to the latest economic downturn, but even during the boom years of the '90s, I saw the "New Democrats" quietly and casually continuing the trends of restricting the rights of biological individuals and increasing the freedoms of "corporate persons". Some oppressed groups have made a few advances in acceptance, but really, it's just welcoming them to the same Village that the rest of us live in. One step forward, two steps back.

I'm in the process of reevaluating my life, realigning my goals, and trying to get a better grip on how the "real world" works.

And around here ... it doesn't. Not very well. Not in ways that will do me any good, now or in the future.

Realistically, if I'm trying to reconstruct my present to make plans for my future, "emigration" needs to be one of my options—even and especially if I land the elusive "Real Job" locally.

The big issue, of course, is that the other Anglophone nations don't really want more USian expatriates.


This is not a post about pessimism or defeatism. This is a post about options.
*See next post.

athelind: (Eye in the Pyramid)
I guess I can boil down my last post into a couple of simple questions:

Does investing public money into building a stadium actually yield a net economic benefit to the community?

If so, does it actually provide more of a benefit than investing the same public money into, say, public transit or public utilities*?




*Note that Santa Clara is one of the few municipalities in Northern California that has its own, independent power generation facilities, and thus is not a serf to PG&E; as a result, they're one of the targets of Proposition 16, officially named the "Right To Vote Act", but generally recognized as the "PG&E Power Grab" or "Monopoly Preservation Act".
athelind: (cronkite)
I should have posted this a lot earlier than the day before the primary election, especially since I know a lot of people who vote Permanent Absentee and have already mailed their ballots in. Better late than never, though.

There's a big push here in Santa Clara for Measure J, committing millions of dollars of public money to build a stadium for the "San Francisco" '49ers.

I hear constant radio ads, talking about how it will "bring jobs" and "boost the economy" and "benefit the schools". In fact, one of those ads is playing as I type this.

I am deeply suspicious of these claims. Has anyone ever done any solid, rigorous studies on the real economic benefits that the presence of a big-league sports franchise claims to provide to a city? Has anyone looked at how the economy of a city swings around when a sports franchise arrives—or when one leaves?

The gut reaction a lot of people have seems to be, "this is a great, big project; of course it will bring great, big changes". There's a lot of talk about intangibles like "prestige" that will bring increased tourist activity, and that it will be a Major Civic Improvement, the centerpiece of a mercantile theme park; there's an air of Shiny Happy Utopianism to these proposals that makes Walt Disney's plans for EPCOT sound cynical.

My gut reaction is that the presence of a sports team doesn't make a lot of difference in a city's "prestige", or in the vacation choices of most travelers. Los Angeles is still Los Angeles, with or without the Raiders—and Oakland, alas, remains Oakland.

I also have to say that, in my experience, the neighborhoods which are fortunate enough to have a stadium descend upon like some Spielbergian mothership seldom look like they've had a significant economic boost. They're not so much "Utopian Theme Parks" full of prosperous businesses and happy locals as they are, um, scuzzy slums punctuated by parking lots.

Full Disclosure: I don't have a lot of use for organized sports. Growing up, baseball was just something that preempted weekend reruns of Star Trek, and football's greatest virtue was that it seldom interrupted things that I wanted to watch. Still, if the presence of a sports franchise really did have a measurable positive impact on the local flux of valuta into the coffers of the city and the pockets of the citizenry, I'd be all for it.

I'm just not convinced.

I hear a lot from the supporters of Measure J.

I don't hear a lot from the opponents.

To me, in this day and age, that doesn't suggest that there are more or better reasons to support the stadium.

It says that someone with deep, deep pockets is shelling out a lot of Dead Presidents to convince us that there are—and that those who disagree don't have nearly as many resources to make their case.

Of course, in this day and age, one doesn't need a lot of folding green to make one's case, and to present hard data. It's just harder to get people's attention without it.

It took some searching to find Santa Clara Plays Fair: The Problems with Measure J. I cheerfully admit that the numbers they present and the claims they make dovetail with my biases and prejudices—however, they're also more thorough and detailed than any of the pro-stadium rhetoric being bandied about.

Follow the numbers, follow the dollars.


athelind: (cue howard)

Warning! Two-topic post!




There's a discussion on CNN right now, where Rick Sanchez is talking to a guy from the Census Bureau about why we have to count everyone instead of using statistical methods to take a sample, and extrapolate the population numbers from there. Evidently, Rick's List is an "audience-driven" show, where Sanchez presents stories based on viewer questions; this explains some of his eye-rolling as he tries to hold up "his" side of the interview ("TV ratings extrapolate the opinons of a thousand viewers from a poll of a hundred, and we know how well that works.").

To me -- and, I suspect, anyone who's really studied and used statistical methods -- the answer is obvious

The U.S. Census is one of the rare opportunities to get the baseline data upon which we can base our statistical analyses.



In the Geospatial Analysis/Remote Sensing field, we call this "groundtruthing". It doesn't matter how good you think your digital data is -- at some point, you have to get down on the ground, take a look at the place you're mapping, and make sure the Map Resembles The Territory.

It's funny -- I'll lay odds that the guy who posed the question on Rick's site is also one of those people who bitches that "statistics don't mean a damned thing -- they can make'em say anything they want." Too many people will lambaste statistics as a lazy shortcut that fabricates meaningless data -- until they find themselves in a situation where rigorous, complete data collection inconveniences them.


And, yes, statistics can be misused, massaged, and abused. More often than not, it's because the people reading them aren't doing so fairly or rigorously, and the people viewing them don't really know how to read them.


This segues into a subject that was running through my head earlier this morning:

The people who are most resistant to accepting the principals of Evolution by Natural Selection in a biological context are those who most eagerly accept the same principle in an economic context. They call it "Capitalism". Darwin cheerfully admitted that he got a lot of ideas from Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.

There are those who will argue that the biological and economic systems are very different, and you can't assume that a model that works for one will hold true in another.

True enough, but from a century or two of observation, the model holds more true in the biological context.*

Even more, they tend to embrace it in a social context, as well, condemning programs that "coddle" the poor. If the poor were worthwhile -- in other words, if they were fit -- they wouldn't need support. If they were worthy, they wouldn't be poor, now, would they? So it's Right and Natural to leave them to their own devices.

Creationists tend to be Social Darwinists.




*Actually, the model works just fine in either context -- the mix of stable periods, instabilities, conditional oscillations, and mass extinctions look very similar whether you're looking at graphs of the fossil record or of economic trends. When you're on the ground in the middle of it all, however, the Panglossian hypothesis that the Invisible Hand of the market will produce the most desirable results depends heavily on how "desirable" you consider a regular pattern of decimation.


athelind: (barcode)
Today, I filled out my census data as the second person living at [livejournal.com profile] thoughtsdriftby's residence, and something occurred to me.

Neither [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia nor I remember filling out a census form in 2000 -- and in 2000, we were living in CSUMB's student housing. Despite the fact that we lived there for five full years (and the longest I've ever lived in any single place is six years), we were considered transient. In many places, students living on campus aren't considered "local residents", and thus aren't permitted to vote in local elections (though they can vote in national elections); since districting is based on census data, it makes sense that they might leave students out of that, as well.

In 1990, I was in the Coast Guard, and lived on a military base.

In 1980, my family lived in an RV park in a largely-agricultural part of Southern California; the immigration status of most of the other long-term park residents was, shall we say, dubious. My mother can't remember if we filled out a census form that year.

This may be the first census that's actually counted me since I was six years old.

The next time someone bitches about the effort the government has been going through to try and get the homeless and other "traditionally under-represented" segments of the population tallied accurately, I'll have to point out how easily a middle class white kid slipped through the cracks for forty years.


(This may be the most appropriate use of my barcode icon ever.)


athelind: (Default)
Today, I filled out my census data as the second person living at [livejournal.com profile] thoughtsdriftby's residence, and something occurred to me.

Neither [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia nor I remember filling out a census form in 2000 -- and in 2000, we were living in CSUMB's student housing. Despite the fact that we lived there for five full years (and the longest I've ever lived in any single place is six years), we were considered transient. In many places, students living on campus aren't considered "local residents", and thus aren't permitted to vote in local elections (though they can vote in national elections); since districting is based on census data, it makes sense that they might leave students out of that, as well.

In 1990, I was in the Coast Guard, and lived on a military base.

In 1980, my family lived in an RV park in a largely-agricultural part of Southern California; the immigration status of most of the other long-term park residents was, shall we say, dubious. My mother can't remember if we filled out a census form that year.

This may be the first census that's actually counted me since I was six years old.

The next time someone bitches about the effort the government has been going through to try and get the homeless and other "traditionally under-represented" segments of the population tallied accurately, I'll have to point out how easily a middle class white kid slipped through the cracks for forty years.


(This may be the most appropriate use of my barcode icon ever.)


athelind: (outrage)

AlterNet runs the numbers.



In the 1950s the marginal tax rate on those earning more than $3 million a year (in today’s dollars) was 91 percent. By 1990 it was 28 percent. The IRS says that the top 400 richest tax filers actually paid a rate of just 16 percent in 2007 (the latest numbers we have). Yep, the richest earners — people who took in an average of $343 million each — probably paid a lower rate than you did. Something to consider as you sign your 2009 return.

By the way, those 400 people who do so well on tax day have a combined net worth of nearly $1.37 trillion. [...] If we had progressive taxes that reduced their wealth to a trifling $100 million each, we’d have enough money to set up a trust fund whose interest could provide tuition-free higher education for students at every public college and university in perpetuity. [...]


Note that "if" the article proposes is still far less than the upper-bracket tax rate of the 1950s.

And aren't the 1950s the mythical Good Old Days of Prosperity and Civic Responsibility that the Conservatives point to as the pinnacle of US culture?


Your Obedient Serpent has found that when he includes article quotes, people frequently just read the quoted passage, and leave comments raising objections that were dealt with handily in the original source. Please don't do that, or I'll have to stop including passages, and start including well-earned bitchslaps.
athelind: (Default)

AlterNet runs the numbers.



In the 1950s the marginal tax rate on those earning more than $3 million a year (in today’s dollars) was 91 percent. By 1990 it was 28 percent. The IRS says that the top 400 richest tax filers actually paid a rate of just 16 percent in 2007 (the latest numbers we have). Yep, the richest earners — people who took in an average of $343 million each — probably paid a lower rate than you did. Something to consider as you sign your 2009 return.

By the way, those 400 people who do so well on tax day have a combined net worth of nearly $1.37 trillion. [...] If we had progressive taxes that reduced their wealth to a trifling $100 million each, we’d have enough money to set up a trust fund whose interest could provide tuition-free higher education for students at every public college and university in perpetuity. [...]


Note that "if" the article proposes is still far less than the upper-bracket tax rate of the 1950s.

And aren't the 1950s the mythical Good Old Days of Prosperity and Civic Responsibility that the Conservatives point to as the pinnacle of US culture?


Your Obedient Serpent has found that when he includes article quotes, people frequently just read the quoted passage, and leave comments raising objections that were dealt with handily in the original source. Please don't do that, or I'll have to stop including passages, and start including well-earned bitchslaps.
athelind: (work)
… I have an icon for "pointless, repetitive, soul-destroying work", but not one for "vital, productive, fulfilling work".


athelind: (Default)
… I have an icon for "pointless, repetitive, soul-destroying work", but not one for "vital, productive, fulfilling work".


athelind: (V)

Better Off Deadbeat



Craig Cunningham is suing abusive credit companies and bill collectors.

It's one of those framing issues: "oh, no, he's trying to weasel out of debts he racked up, fair and square" -- but, you know, we've all been manipulated into this debt-based economy anyway. We're expected to play nice and be cooperative and toe the line, while they don't even see fit to follow the rules that already favor them.

The only way that's gonna change is by telling the bastards to take a flying leap. And sometimes, that takes another bastard to lead the way.

More power to ya, Mr. C -- and back to you, Howard.




For the record, I'm not seeing this as some kind of easy way to deal with my own economic woes;
for one thing, I don't have a whole lotta debt right now, myself. This just pleases me.

athelind: (Default)

Better Off Deadbeat



Craig Cunningham is suing abusive credit companies and bill collectors.

It's one of those framing issues: "oh, no, he's trying to weasel out of debts he racked up, fair and square" -- but, you know, we've all been manipulated into this debt-based economy anyway. We're expected to play nice and be cooperative and toe the line, while they don't even see fit to follow the rules that already favor them.

The only way that's gonna change is by telling the bastards to take a flying leap. And sometimes, that takes another bastard to lead the way.

More power to ya, Mr. C -- and back to you, Howard.




For the record, I'm not seeing this as some kind of easy way to deal with my own economic woes;
for one thing, I don't have a whole lotta debt right now, myself. This just pleases me.

athelind: (outrage)
A lot of people keep defending President Obama's mediocre track record on progressive causes,* citing the close margin he has, and occasionally even acknowledging that he can't even rely on his own party members in Congress.

[livejournal.com profile] bradhicks points out that Roosevelt, Johnson, and every other President who managed to accomplish anything of lasting significance faced the same kind of opposition, but knew how to use the power, prestige, and clout of the Chief Executive of the United States to get shit done.

The ones who didn't?

They didn't accomplish jack shit, for any cause, progressive or otherwise.

This is not the change I voted for.


*Most of his defenders also ignore his reprehensible track record in sustaining and expanding frankly regressive causes, including some of the worst stances of the Bush Junta on privacy, security, and copyright law, just to name a few.
athelind: (Default)
A lot of people keep defending President Obama's mediocre track record on progressive causes,* citing the close margin he has, and occasionally even acknowledging that he can't even rely on his own party members in Congress.

[livejournal.com profile] bradhicks points out that Roosevelt, Johnson, and every other President who managed to accomplish anything of lasting significance faced the same kind of opposition, but knew how to use the power, prestige, and clout of the Chief Executive of the United States to get shit done.

The ones who didn't?

They didn't accomplish jack shit, for any cause, progressive or otherwise.

This is not the change I voted for.


*Most of his defenders also ignore his reprehensible track record in sustaining and expanding frankly regressive causes, including some of the worst stances of the Bush Junta on privacy, security, and copyright law, just to name a few.
athelind: (cronkite)

Upper Mismanagement


Quick Summary: American manufacturing is in trouble in part because American business schools focus almost exclusively on finance, rather than production.

-- found via Boing Boing.



This thesis jibes with my impressions -- or perhaps it just plays into my prejudices.

You see, I've never really believed in money. I never have. I know it only has meaning and value because everyone agrees that it has meaning and value, and I've always found it difficult to buy into the consensual hallucination.

I design games for fun. I model real systems for a vocation. When I look at the financial world and derivative markets and all the rest, it all looks a lot more like the former than the latter. It's made up. It's arbitrary. And it bugs the hell out of me that, over the course of my lifetime, the people playing these made-up number games have managed to arrange the world so that their Game is somehow the Only Important Thing. no matter what else you do, no matter what else you know, you have to play their Game to have any measure of stability or security in your life.

And yet, they have no reciprocal obligation. If you have solid, useful, tangible knowledge, you also have to know their rules at the most basic level, and the more you pick up, the better off you are -- but if you focus on nothing but the Game, you have distinct advantages, economically, socially, and politically.

And, adding insult to very real injury, they constantly pat themselves on the back for being "hard-nosed" and "practical" and "only looking at the bottom line".

In short, they're Munchkins.

And yeah, the idea that their inbred, detached-from-reality number games have eviscerated the economy, leaving nothing but a hollow shell, a junk-bond paper tiger, a ghost made of numbers -- that makes perfect sense to Your Obedient Serpent.

On the other claw, as valid as these points may be, at this juncture in my life, I am forced to ask: Hey, Athe, how's that workin' for you?

I need to reassess my own attitude toward their razzin' frazzin' Game, and my own participation in it. Right now, when someone says "investment" and "mutual funds" to me, what I hear is "gambling" and "scam" -- and that's not useful.


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