Archive for the opinion Category

Letter of Apology from the Shanghai Metro: Another Failure of the Worker State

Posted in adventure, opinion, politics with tags , , , , , on 2013 July 22 by KLP

This morning, my coworkers and I enjoyed a significant delay on the green line of the Shanghai Metro. Apparently there was some kind of accident. Not only did it take a lot longer than we were used to to get on the train than we had experienced until this morning, the train only let us off several stops after our intended destination. On our way out of the station, a small mob formed around some of the metro staff who where handing out pieces of paper. It seemed important, so I made sure to get one for myself. The following link includes scans and an explanation of the document: http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2012/08/09/letter-of-apology-from-the-shanghai-metro. In short, if you are late to work because of a delay on the metro, you can present this letter to your employer as a valid excuse.

Despite the terminology I often hear in the US, China is not a communist state. A “communist state” is actually an oxymoron because the absence of a state is part of what defines a communist society. Officially, China is a worker state, meaning that the working class has taken control of the state and is using it to progress toward communism, at which point the people will just abandon the state. But if the workers really are in control of the state, why do they have to present a note to their employers if they are running a little late? After 64 years of the People’s Republic, that is some dismal progress. Clearly, these notes are great little examples as to why the state is not a viable means of achieving worker liberation and communism. I am going to frame mine and hang it up in my cubical.

The Internet’s Landlord

Posted in miscellaneous, opinion, Photo with tags , , , , , , , , on 2012 October 25 by KLP

Data centers – Google Data centers

I noticed a link at the bottom of the Google Search page for a photo album of Google’s data centers. Not only do I appreciate the technology, logistics, and organization that the photos depict, but the photos themselves are really pretty, too.

However, the album’s title, Where the Internet Lives, concerns  me somewhat. Do we really want Google, or any large corporation, to be the Internet’s landlord? Perhaps we should strive for a more democratic, distributed, and decentralized Internet, where every household or community maintains its own servers and hosts its own members’ content.

If the Internet must have a landlord, what are the terms of the lease, and who pays the rent?

A Brief Moral Argument Against Voting for Anyone to be President.

Posted in opinion, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 2012 October 3 by KLP

Although presidential debates have captured my interest in past election cycles, I did not bother to watch this last one. I did not bother because I do not intend to vote for anyone to take that office on the anarchistic grounds that voting signifies endorsement of the state, something that I would prefer to avoid giving. But, regarding the office of the president in particular, I think I have found a persuasive argument for those who don’t share my libertarian inclinations.

This article about Harold Herring made me aware of the fact that the president of the United States of America has the unchecked authority to deploy nuclear weapons and potentially end civilization, if not our entire species (and many others, no doubt). Conceivably,  anyone in the chain of command could disobey an order to launch, but the system is supposed to prevent such dissension. That’s why the Air Force discharged Herring after he asked, “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”. I believe that no individual has the moral right to impose such a consequence on everyone. Therefore, it is immoral to award anyone such authority unless, perhaps, such an award comes with the unanimous consent every member of the human population.

I was going to argue that voting for anyone to become president would unconditionally constitute an immoral act because it is an attempt to award someone that authority. However, a friend reminded me that, at least in the United States of America, voters don’t award the presidency to anyone. That job belongs to the Electoral College (usually). Therefore, voting for any presidential candidate becomes an expression of consent, which I won’t argue is intrinsically immoral. However, giving such consent is misguided because no candidate can meaningfully deserve it more than any other. Given the enormity of the consequences, no candidate is significantly less unfit to hold that authority than his opponents. Going by this train of thought, a vote for a presidential candidate means effectively nothing. Of course, if we ignore the idiosyncratic technicalities of our electoral system and approximate it as a roughly democratic process, the moral argument still holds.

My friend also pointed out that even if no one has the legal authority to launch a nuclear attack or retaliation, a few conspirators could still deploy the arsenal illegally. In other words, the citizenry withholding their consent for anyone to have that authority will not preclude individuals from simply taking it, thereby leading to the same pragmatic outcome. We could go on from here to a discussion on disarmament, but that’s besides the point. If an illegal launch does occur, whether legal means exist or not, the moral responsibility lies exclusively with the individuals who took it upon themselves to conduct the attack. When you vote for someone, though, and thereby consent for him to have the legal authority to use nuclear weapons, you have explicitly accepted moral responsibility for an immoral condition as well as that for an attack that occurs by the authority to which you consented. So, if you intend to vote for president, you’d better be cool with, or at least ignorant of, that responsibility. I suspect that the powers that be rely on the latter.

Printing Firearms and Democratizing Manufacturing

Posted in opinion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2012 September 20 by KLP
"You'll shoot your eye out!"

A printed lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle.

Today I learned about the Wiki Weapon project, which aims to create a design for a working firearm with which anyone can print their own from a RepRap or similar 3D printer. As an exercise in freedom of information, I think that it’s a cool project, at least at first thought. It illustrates how peer-to-peer sharing empowers individuals against middlemen and unjustified authority. However, as an exercise in designing a firearm that anyone can build, employing additive manufacturing doesn’t seem like the most efficient or practical way to do it. It just doesn’t make sense to put in the effort to figure out how to print a plastic barrel through which one can safely fire a round when one can already easily acquire bar stock and a drill press, perhaps more easily than plastic filament. And open source plans for DIY firearms already exist. We already have the means to build and share together. So, beyond testing the limits of the RepRap and its ilk, I don’t think the project will accomplish anything very significant. Of course, I don’t want to disparage additive manufacturing. In fact, I especially admire the RepRap. But, to do a job properly you need the right tools. A 3D printer is the right tool for some jobs, but definitely not every job. At least, not yet.

360 State: Rent and Taxes

Posted in opinion, Photo, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on 2012 September 3 by KLP

image

Our aim is to be completely transparent, because we believe that a full examination of the facts will lead fair-minded people to urge the New Haven Board of Aldermen to hold the city to its word and fix the tax assessment for 360 State Street so that it is consistent with the projections that both the owner and the Board of Aldermen relied upon when they decided to move forward with the project.

So writes Alderman Doug Hausladen, of New Haven’s seventh ward, in the welcome message of the 360 State Tax Problem website. Of course, “fair-minded people”, or at least the constituents of New Haven’s working class, will not prevail, regardless of the outcome. Certainly, I would have a hard time arguing that the City of New Haven has acted fairly toward the Multi-Employer Property Trust (MEPT), given what I have heard about the situation. But, what does that matter when both parties are just fighting over how much each gets to extract from the product of 360 State’s tenants’ labor? It doesn’t, so proponents of a special reassessment shouldn’t pretend that the fates of the tenants are really at stake. The city is just trying to eat the MEPT’s lunch. Hausladen’s site argues that not modifying the assessment will harm the labor union pensions that the MEPT manages. But, what business do labor unions have playing landlords‽ Such behavior perpetuates the class system that labor unions are supposed to help dissolve. Effectively, 360 State’s high assessment will harm scabs, so maybe it’s a good thing in that regard. I realize that most union membership has disturbingly little control over the unions they constitute, so that was a bit harsh of me. My point is that union labor should make investments that will help, not exploit, other workers. So, that argument won’t sway me. The last major argument Hausladen puts forth states that not modifying the assessment will scare away other investors from New Haven. Perhaps that is true, but even if the city does modify the assessment, its leaders have already damaged its reputation. Furthermore, such investment hurts New Haven. Sure, 360 State is pretty and I enjoy many of the businesses to which it rents, but all that rent money leaves the city. Instead, the city needs to somehow attract investment that will keep ownership local, preferably with the residents and businesses who occupy such spaces. If the “tax problem” deters landlord investors, like MEPT, hopefully that will make room for more wholesome investors.

Anyway, those are my reasons why, as a working-class New Haven resident, and a member-owner of the Elm City Market, I don’t see the situation as a serious controversy. Please, don’t construe these words as an endorsement for a particular outcome. Pragmatically, I would prefer that the city honor its original assessment and I do view these events as another unfortunate example of the city’s leaders’ myopia, but I just wanted to address the issue from an underrepresented perspective.

Whine of the Rent-Seeker

Posted in miscellaneous, music, opinion with tags , , , , , , , on 2010 June 26 by KLP

Twitter has claimed me as another victim. I have my first Twitter argument to show for it. It started when I replied negatively to @mickeybuckno‘s support for the content of an interview between the owner of Deep Elm Records, John Szuch, and “the Norwegian music press”. I’m unaware of an efficient method to share the argument here, but you can get the gist of it from this Google search result. Most recently, @DeepElm messaged me directly as follows:

Please read this from start to finish Kurt: http://www.deepelm.com/filesharing will take 5 minutes of your time

Which brings me to this post. That underwhelming and hyperbolic article demands a response that I couldn’t possibly flesh out to a thoughtful extent in 140 characters. Also, I had already read it and having satisfactorily beaten English, I find this particular reading assignment rather annoying. Therefore, the cold hard truth about the recording industry, for labels major and indie alike, will sound colder coming from me.

No one ever went to a record store with the intent of buying intellectual property, even before the advent of relatively inexpensive internet access, cheap CD-R drives, and useful codecs. Rather, they went in search of physical media–vinyl, cassettes, and compact discs, which have significant manufacturing, distribution, and inventory costs–with which they could put in their stereo systems to reproduce music. Even though the some of the companies behind these media colluded to keep prices artificially high, the thought of paying for something tangible, collectible, and somewhat fungible made sense. Furthermore, upon breaking or losing such an item, one would find himself shit out of luck. If consumers ever honestly believed that they were dealing in intellectual property, they would have demanded discounts upon purchasing albums they already owned in other formats, or fresh copies at little to no cost in exchange for their worn out vinyl. Now that modern technology has enabled us to freely replicate, transmit, and store (musical) information, we see the recording industry suddenly pulling the intellectual property card, now that it’s in their favor to do so. And so the rent-seekers whine that their formerly hapless tenants should start to consistently avoid their hotel-ed Park Place, calling us thieves and pirates just because we’ve found better ways to spend what we have of our disposable incomes. How pathetic.

Instead of wasting their resources lobbying for stronger protections and governmental intervention, suing fans, and calling names, members of the recording industry need to innovate and devise new business models. Small labels and individual acts probably have an advantage in doing so insofar as they lack the corporate inertia preventing them from experimenting with new ways to make money with the music they compose, record, and perform. As such, I find it upsetting to read Szuch’s paranoid, delusional, and self-important complaints that acts like Radiohead are “devaluing music”, that equipment manufacturers are preying upon helpless music labels, or that the fate of music itself hinges upon the preservation of labels like his own and their aging business models. Get over yourself, John! At least Radiohead is trying something. At least equipment manufacturers sell worthwhile products. And let’s not forget that music predates the recording industry. Even amid increasing sales of digital copies of audio tracks via the likes of iTunes, no one is buying intellectual property. Consumers are paying for services that they find worthwhile, they’re avoiding the wrath of the RIAA, or they’re just trying to get money to their favorite musicians. Ultimately, unless they intend to make litigation their new business model, members of the music industry will have to stop relying on the notion of intellectual property. You can’t expect people to honor it when they’ve never done so before. If you really want to survive, come up with a worthwhile product that doesn’t exist solely in the realm of litigation.

Suggested reading: Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine.

My Name is BP

Posted in fiction, opinion, politics with tags , , , , , , , on 2010 June 7 by KLP

As an impending doom approaches, like an asteroid, comet, or dying Sun, the executive leaders in the films that depict these events adopt extraordinary measures. Often, these measures include the creation of some sort of dream team of experts, the members of which offering plenty of egotism, techno-babble, poor social skills, clever solutions, and excellent one-liners.

Welcome ta Earf!

Welcome ta Earf!

Recently, over the period of more than a month, we’ve watched a deathly, inky goo spew from the bowls of the Earth, invading the shores of the United States’ coast on the Gulf of Mexico. Were it not for animals actually getting harmed, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had the makings of such an impending disaster flick, and possibly a good one. A greedy, corrupt corporation ignores environmental and worker safety, leading to a violent, explosive disaster that unleashes a sea-monster of sorts that slowly makes its way to shore to wreak havoc upon the innocent citizenry and the cute animals. It even has a great title, Deepwater Horizon. However, we don’t have a complete script. Besides lacking American Humane Association approval, the script also lacks an intrepid president assembling a crack team of engineers and experts to save the day, with a hot foreign actress going to the most deserving member. Somewhat ironically, the best we get is a brainstorming session graced with the presence of the esteemed filmmaker, James Cameron. As such, Deepwater Horizon unfortunately looks more like My Name is Bruce than Sunshine. Perhaps BP will start shoving bean curd into the well next.

Histrionics aside, I mean it. Upon learning of the leak (eruption is probably a more appropriate word with “leak” seeming a little too BP-approved of a term) in the aftermath of the accident, President Obama should have begun conscripting the best engineers, geologists, and other experts to tackle the problem, all on BP’s tab, of course. We’ve heard from many sources, including the Obama administration trying to downplay its responsibility, that only BP has the resources and expertise to stop the oil. That doesn’t have to be the case. Obama has the executive authority to create his own team of experts and to commandeer BP resources as the situation requires. However, with oil already washing up on Florida’s coasts, Barack has missed his movie moment. Even if the hypothetical dream team couldn’t plug the holes in time, such an effort would have been more substantial than Katrina-style fly-overs or tours of soiled shorelines. Obama missed his chance to better delineate the good guys and the bad guys in this disaster, precluding the following scene.

Cold, dark, and moist, the cavernous cold room, where seafood, freshly harvested from the Gulf, used to await shipment, felt constrictive to Tony Hayward, BP’s former CEO, seated in its center. Once teeming with activity, its owners had to close shop. The oil choked off their business. Fittingly, the room’s old odors had a similar effect on Hayward’s throat. He couldn’t make that association though. He had no idea where he was, only that he had been taken here against his will. Although he had no restraints, the cone of light emanating from the lamp dangling above his head kept him seated in the unbalanced chair where he had woken some time ago. Unable to see much past the light, save for some warped and broken cargo pallets, he wouldn’t dare venture beyond it, choosing instead to study its intersections with the cracks in the floor. This meager distraction however, couldn’t overcome Hayward’s growing sense of reality.

Hours ago, he expected to meet with the president for some kind of beer summit. Perhaps he’d have to make another canned apology. When a SWAT team boarded his private plane, zip-tied his hands, and put a bag over his head, he convinced himself that there must have been some sort of mistake with a terror watch list. ‘Everything is going to be fine,’ he thought to himself. ‘Everything always turns out fine’. As such, he decided not to start calling for help. Hayward tried to think of plausible scenarios that might bolster his affirmations until a deafening metal squeal of the sliding door some distance in front of him interrupted him. A figured entered and then turned to Hayward’s left, almost disappearing in the darkness. Hayward tried to follow it with his eyes, but another figure appeared in the doorway, commanding his attention. Whereas the first was average height, with broad shoulders and a soldier’s posture, this second figure looked familiar, standing tall yet relaxed. The silhouette’s ears were distinct, and upon noticing them, Hayward felt both relief and dread. He was in the presence of the President, Barak Obama. A loud, staccato screech amplified Hayward’s dread as the first figure dragged a stainless steel table into view. Obama approached the table, his face glowing eerily with the light reflecting off of it. Hayward stood to greet him, but only made it a few inches off of his seat before the first figure, whom Hayward by now assumed was a Secret Service agent, loudly commanded him to sit back down. He felt some urine surge into his pants. He hadn’t visited a bathroom since some time before his abduction, but was too concerned with his situation to have acknowledged the fact.

“Looks like you’ve sprung another leak,” the president chided.

With his height, and with the BP executive still seated an uncomfortable distance away from the table, Obama had a clear view of the damp spot in Hayward’s pants. Unsure as to whether he should protest his detainment or defer to the reflexive pandering he’s typically employed with politicians, Hayward attempted both.

“Barry! What a surprise. Say, is there a bathroom around here?” His voice cracked and stuttered.

“You won’t be needing that, Tony” replied Obama.

“I-I beg to differ,” Hayward said, gesturing toward his crotch, “I seem to have had a little accident.”

“We’ve seen worse. Haven’t we?”

While only slightly damp in his pants, Hayward dripped with humiliation. The spill had been contained, albeit with some damage to the Gulf, its coasts, and its dependent industries. He had lost track of all the depositions and interviews but assumed that the worst was over for him. He had hoped to fade into comfortable obscurity with the help of a golden parachute.

“You’ve got a funny look on your face, Tony,” Obama continued, “one of entitlement, as though you not only deserve a bathroom, but the right to live out your days in luxury, playing golf on some pristine course. Well, in case you can’t tell, you’re a far cry from that, all thanks to your dishonesty.” Obama lifted his hands, palms up, fingers spread, as if to reintroduce Hayward to his confines.

“Dishonesty? I’ve been nothing but forthcoming in my efforts to mitigate the effects of the spill and—“

“Don’t bullshit me, Tony”, Obama interrupted. “The people want justice and atonement. It’s my job to deliver.”

“Well what do you expect me to do about it? The oil’s been spilled. All that’s left is to clean it up.”

“You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.”

“Well, it’s two thousand ten. I don’t have a sword.” Hayward chuckled uncomfortably.

Obama starred at him. ‘Christ,’ Hayward though, ‘this guy has a sword. He’s the president and he put me in this hole. Of course he has a fucking sword.’

“Indeed” replied Obama. “George?”

The Secret Service agent reached into his coat, producing a handgun, which he then passed to the president. “Sir.”

“Thank you, George.”

“What the hell is that?!” Hayward could barely find his voice.

“SIG P226, standard issue.” Obama removed the magazine and handed it to George. He then pulled the slide back, gracefully ejecting the chambered round into his left hand.

“What’s this all about, Barack?”

“I guess I have to fill you in. You’re dead, Tony. Your plane exploded shortly after landing, before you could get off. Static electricity. It’s tragic. No survivors. Not even any discernible remains. At least, that’s the story the media will tell. Sorry it had to be this way, but in order to get financial restitution past your former company’s legal obstructions, you had to die so we could seize your estate, and thus your remaining shares in BP, with the help of some graft allegations. I suppose we could have left you to actually die in the explosion, but then you would have missed out on your atonement. Don’t feel singled out. I have appointments with some of your former colleagues as well.”

“You’re kidding me.”

Obama held the round up to the light, smiling as he admired its simple, precise construction. With a click, he re-chambered the round and coolly replied, “a bullet always tells the truth.” Obama placed the weapon on the table and turned to leave with his agent in tow. In the time it took them to reach the door, Hayward could barely process the president’s explanation. With his long strides, Obama was already through the doorway and out of sight. The screech of the door sliding shut jolted Hayward into action. He picked up the gun and pointed it at the agent. “Hey! You let me out of here!”

“Don’t waste your bullet,” the agent calmly replied, “the clean-up team won’t be here for a week.” With that, he slammed the door shut. The remaining contents of Hayward’s bladder streamed down his legs, into the cracks in the floor.

I copied two quotes from two excellent movies. Bonus points to anyone who can tell me which movies and which characters say them.

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

@dmytri

Venture Communist. Miscommunications Technologist. Telekommunisten Polemicist. ThoughtWorks Analyst.