Friday, December 2, 2016

A Bike In Trumpland

Image result for beverly hills peninsula









- How's Beverly Hills?
- For me, or for the majority?
- For the majority. Then we'll get to you.
- Beverly Hills is an enclave in the middle of Los Angeles where live and work thousands of people who voted for Trump thinking he'll help them make more money, who at the same time won't admit to voting for him because he's not politically correct and political correctness is good for business.
- And Beverly Hills for you?
- I told you about my bike?
- It was stolen. That was in Beverly Hills?
- Yes. Late last night I went to Police Headquarters. It's hidden at the end of a maze of walkways within the fake Byzantine addition to the Civic Center.  The interior layout is a combination office building and bank, with lobbies, passages and stairs up to a room divided by a wall of windows over a counter. After a minute a policeman comes from the other side to the wall: they'd had to buzz me in from the main entrance downstairs so I was expected. I repeat what I said at the door: I am there about my stolen bike. The police officer says he will send someone out to talk with me. I sit down with a book. A couple minutes later two officers, a man and women, come out of a door off the lobby and approach me. I say hello, put down my book and stand. Neither man nor woman officer offers a return greeting. The policeman asks:
- Where was your bike stolen from?
- Starbucks, Wilshire and Santa Monica.
- When was it stolen?
- Five, Six days ago.
- Why didn't you come then?
- I didn't see anything you could do.
- Why are you here now then?
- The man who probably stole my bike was wearing a fez, a hat you don't seen worn around here. I was at Starbucks this morning when a man came in wearing a fez. The uniform he was wearing bore a badge of the Peninsula Hotel* just across the street.
- Tell us what happened. What time? Where were you?
- Eleven thirty to twelve at night, sitting outside. The bike was a few yards away, leaning against railing of the terrace where I sat at a table with my computer. There was only one other person on the terrace. A couple times he turned around completely to look at me then immediately looked away. When I got up to go I found my bike was gone and the man with the fez gone.
- Did you see him take your bike?
- No. My attention was on the video I was watching.
- If you didn't see, you don't have the basis to make an accusation.
- I'm not making an accusation. I want you to investigate at the hotel, talk to the employees, see if the bike is there at wherever the employees are allowed to keep bikes. The hotel insists it is your responsibility and won't cooperate with me.
- Suppose we find the bike at the hotel. How do we know it is yours? Do you have a serial number?
- No. I bought the bike second hand. It is seventeen years old. I have the name, phone number and email of the student who sold me the bike.
- Does he have the serial number?
- I doubt it. But I know every scratch on the bike.
- Maybe you saw the bike earlier and saw the scratch.
- Hundreds of people in Beverly Hills have seen me with the bike. The people at Starbucks for example.
- But if we take a report from you, you realize that this is a serious accusation you are making in a criminal matter?
- Yes. That is why I went to the hotel first and asked them to help.
- You went to the hotel. That was not necessary. What exactly do you want us to do if you don't want to file a complaint?
- Since you don't want to do anything I guess tomorrow when I'm at Starbucks when the police come in for their coffee as they do every day I'll ask them to go across the street with me to the hotel.
- You can call our non-emergency number and have officers meet you there.
- I'll do that.
- Where do you live? What is your exact address?
- Why do you ask?
- We're helping you so you should help us.
- But you're not helping me.
- Ok.
The conversation ends there. Man and woman police officers go out through the side door in the lobby. The next morning I return to the Peninsula Hotel.
- I was here yesterday.
- You were plainly told that this was a police matter. You came here, talked to us. There is no reason for you to come again here.
- If you want this to go away you're going to have to be more polite.
- I'm Chief of Service in Charge of Room Management.
- I have no idea what that means.
- I'm basically the manager of the hotel.
- And?
- I'm telling you what is hotel policy.
- What is the hotel's policy?
- We don't support accusations against our employees.
- I'm not accusing. I'm investigating. Yesterday you told me to get the police to investigate. I went to the police and they told me to come here and call them to meet me and they would with your cooperation look for the bike wherever employees usually put their bikes.
- Let me call our security director.... Hello, can you come here? Now. You, or send someone. Right now.
The house detective arrives.
- What is this about?
- I'm looking into the theft of my bike from across the street. The only person around at that time was wearing a fez, as many of your employees do. He disappeared at the same time as the bike.
- And what do you want from us? You should go to the police and make a report.
- I went to the police. They didn't want to take a report, suggested I go back, call their non-emergency number for officers to come, and they could go with you to look for the bike here in the hotel. I don't think this is necessary. You could look for the bike yourself.
- That is acceptable to you?
- Yes.
- You'll trust I'll look?
- Why would the hotel want to keep a stolen bike on its property?
- Is this your coffee? Take it. Wait outside. I'm going with another of our managers. He's going to look with me and be a witness. We'll be back in a minute.
- Did they find your bike?
- No bikes were there. The detective promised to keep a look-out for my bike. I told him there was a chance he might see it because the night after the bike was stolen I was back at Starbucks at the same time, I hear a load ticking, and look up to see across the street a bike approaching, the rider wearing a fez, who seeing me immediately makes a sharp turn down the side street.
- What was the ticking?
- The sound of the gears disengaging when you're moving and stop peddling. It is unusually loud on my bike. The detective suggested I return to Starbucks same time every night to look for rider and bike again. I said I might.
- To summarize: for others life in Beverly Hills is about waiting for the profits to roll in, for you it's about waiting for the return of a thief on your stolen bike.
- That's about it.

Further Reading:
Dozing Off
____________________
* Rooms from $575 /night.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Freedom & Capitalism / American Character

Image result for plato

- Sometimes I think I've got these ideas almost worked out, but then when I need them most I'm lost. Will you help me out?
- If I can.
- You know how when someone asks you 'How are you?' and you answer honestly, 'Not too good, there are these problems I just can't manage to solve, not for lack of trying, I've tried everything I can think of.' And the person you're talking to answers that he is a great believer that it's possible to do anything you set your mind to. Which makes you angry. You've had the experience, I'm sure.
- Yes.
- I get angry because I am being told to do what I never want to do in order to allow me to do what I want to do now. I'm being asked to do things I fundamentally don't want to do, like lie, disrespect strangers, turn completely around the direction of my life and go another way. Follow?
- Yes.
- So tell me, what exactly defines this wrong way we refuse to go in order to get to where we won't otherwise ever be? They, the good Americans, tell us traitorous complainers, if only we turned our minds to it, repeated to ourselves over and over anything is possible, anything would be possible. We traitorous complainers answer, 'Maybe, much is possible, if we're willing to destroy ourselves, but we aren't.' And the good strong positive thinking true Americans ask us what we're talking about. 'Destroy what about yourselves? Your inflexibility? Yes, now you're talking, destroy that! Do it right now!' What do we say to them? 
- We ask them, Isn't it true that if we have a certain character, we have certain habits, ways of doing things, and these habits make it easier for us to do some things and harder to do others? And if so, how can a person of strong character do everything and anything?
- By strong character they mean the strength to go against their own habits when necessary.
- And that is the American character that anything is possible to.
- Yes.
- A sort of instantly renewed character to suit constantly changing circumstances.
- Yes.
- Where would such a character be at home?
- In America, obviously.
- But would there be any particular place they'd be more at home than another that would suit their character best?
- That would have to be the place where instant adaptation of character would get most exercised.
- And where would that be?
- America.
- Would such a character find any rest in America?
- How, if being at home meant constant change and adaptation?
- Then being at home would mean constantly moving, inventing, producing. For those who have the un-American character of having habits rather than having a habit of change, the reward and goal of activity is rest at home when activity has come to an end. What is the reward and end for those who have a habit of changing their habits? Do they never rest?
- I'd say they don't. The more money they make and possessions they acquire the more they want to make money and acquire more possessions. 
- Would you agree that if it is true to say they rest at all, it is a rest in their confidence in and satisfaction at the thought they can continue to perform and acquire new habits successfully in any conditions?
- Yes. They gloat over their sense of power.
- But only to go on and acquire more power, because only in their thoughts is there a sort of rest, not in the world itself, there is no comfort anyplace for them when they stop doing things. 
- So, when they tell us, if we only turned our mind to it, we like them could do anything, we answer, maybe, maybe not, but we don't want to lose our sense of home, we don't want to lose our character.
- And they tell us, yes, you say it yourself, you have another character, you are different from us, you are un-American losers.
- They do. 
- What do we say to that?
- That they are the true losers.
- What have they lost? Themselves? Truth?
- Yes. But what I was thinking particularly to tell them was that they have lost exactly what they think they have gained.
- Which is?
- Freedom. Call it a bad habit, a character flaw if you will, but one last time will you let me make use of Plato's allegory? 
- Prisoners are chained in a cave...
- Behind and unseen by them is a wall on which puppets and objects are paraded. And behind that wall the puppets are moved along is a fire which throws their shadow on the back wall of the cave the prisoners face. Outside the cave are the real people and things the puppets represent, but the prisoners only see the shadows of the puppets. Let's say the American 'we can do anything' character is that of a prisoner who has broken his chains but rather than escape to the upper world of real things remains down in the cave to be a puppeteer. In his bets with his fellow prisoners about what the shadows will do he almost always comes out on top because he is no longer simply himself, he can do what he wants with all the shadows including the one that the other prisoners are now told represents himself. He can do anything he wants, subject to the need to avoid the danger of losing his advantage by teaching too many of the other prisoners to do the same he has. What do you think? Does this describe the American character of having no character we've been talking about?
- It's not really true the prisoners can do anything: it's true only that they can do anything with the shadows. 
- Yes. Outside the cave is the real world illuminated, not by the artificial light of a fire, but by the sun, which is the source of good. Getting up and getting out of the cave we establish a real relation to the world we come to know. We find that known part of the world to be good, and rest in the feeling of being at home.
- The unchained but still in the cave prisoners are free to produce for themselves the most powerful representation of themselves. It's like magic to the other prisoners who can't change their own representations and are afraid to break their chains and do what true Americans can do.
- We know though that among the prisoner puppeteers there can be no discussion about truth: each tries in his own way to put on the show that brings the most possessions into association with his own puppet. There is no truth to the show except that it is a show.
- But it's all about things. It's a show about things.
- What else could it be about if there never is any home or rest? 
- So the prisoner puppeteers are capitalists: there is no fixed right and wrong, there is nothing but the fact a show is to be performed, a show about things being produced and exchanged, and in that show they can do anything, they can destroy competitors' puppets and the things associated with them, do it behind the scenes or openly on the wall, whatever they can get away with. But no matter what they do their world is exclusively a world of things.
- To people without character everything is allowed, everything except getting out of this world composed only of things and their shadows. Or to put it another way: Americans are entirely free to do anything they can get away with except question property, the idea that meaning in life is to be found in associating oneself with things. They never get out of the cave. They are not free to make their lives good.
- But, you know, I allowed you the cave, allow me to risk making myself ridiculous and speak for the whole country: these people we are calling Americans are not Americans. You and me are Americans. We don't want freedom to move around things and images of ourselves. We want freedom to do good with our lives. These people are 'doers for the sake of doing'. They are materialists, they are restless, they are without home.
- They have a lot of character for people who claim to have no character.

Further Reading:
Puppy & Puppets
Hybrid Fates
Zagreb Stories

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Puppy & Puppets



- I don't know. It's so abstract. When's the last time you were at Starbucks?
- Why do you ask?
- Things happen to you there. You probably tried out these ideas on someone. Did you?
- I did.
- Let's hear it. The conversation.
- Three characters, four including me. A woman in her early twenties, a man somewhat older, and the woman's dog, a Pomeranian, who stood impressively still on his four legs to his full six inches of height. The man I'd talked to before. He made angry, raging videos about prejudice against his race.
- Which was?
- Black. First asking and receiving permission I went to make friends with the dog. He remained quiet, not sure if I was worth noticing. I asked the young woman if as often the case with dogs and their masters he got his manners from her. She said unfortunately she wasn't so calm. She was busy day and night. Busy with what? She tended bar, and the rest of the time, like the young black man, made YouTube videos. And they were about?
- My generation. We're different. We're organized.
- Organized to do what?
- To make a difference. Your generation made a mess. We're trying to clean it up.
- Do you think you can?
- Yes. We have the internet. We're connected to each other. There are millions of us. I'll show you someone I like. He has millions of followers and he's still a teenager.
- What's his subject? Political satire?
- Yes. He makes people laugh telling the truth.
- What about you? Are you satirical?
- Sometimes.
- Your generation entertain each other, put on shows for each other. Do you think shows change anything?
- I think artists and creators are the only one's that change the world. We're serious about what we do. Entertaining we build an audience.
- You expose injustice, the criminality, stupidity of your opponents. Yet satire works by adjusting the relative power of roles in the imagination of the audience, makes the audience feel more in control, more comfortable living in a world with what they've satirized so they end up doing nothing.
- We elected a black president for the first time.
- Elected another artist, a talker, a creator of an image, a role to be played out, not something real. And consequently nothing much changed.
- A lot changed. The country's perception of itself changed.
- Do you agree? I asked the black YouTuber. He took out a vintage micro-cassette recorder and placed it on the table. This time around, he said, he chose to listen and get a recording. For this he asked and was given our permission.
- You two are very polite with your permissions.
- Have to be. Everyone is touchy about other's treatment of their image, especially those whose business it is to make images of themselves. I continued to the YouTuber:
- You're not silent like your dog, but maybe he takes after you in another way.
- What?
- As a puppet.
- People often make the mistake. He's little, but almost four, he's not a puppy.
- Not puppy, puppet: little figure of a person or animal moved around on strings. In Plato's allegory of the cave puppets are moved on top of a wall built inside the cave, a fire behind them projecting their shadows upon the back wall. Between the puppets and the back wall prisoners are chained so that all they can see are the shadows. For them, the shadows are the only world they know. They make predictions of which shadow will follow another, and this is their knowledge. If the prisoners could escape and leave the cave and see the world outside, they would at first be blinded by the light, and not understand what they see of the real world, and prefer to go back to the cave and watch the shadows of the puppets. It seems to me your generation of performers are alike in making shows of yourselves, are alike in moving puppets casting shadows in the cave. You make the show, move the puppets along the wall, fight with the other puppeteers for precedence, but your audience sees only the show, your shadow, only your words and gestures, knows nothing of why you do it or the techniques you apply to hold your audience's attention.
- If our videos are shadows, that's for the best. Our generation are not dogmatists and ideologists. We know anything anyone makes is partial, one view of the truth. Nothing is the whole truth. Get used to it. We avoid fanaticism of all kinds including Plato's idealism, his religion that in some other world ideas live eternally. We live in the real world, I think we live in a more real world than the older generation. We have to deal with global warming, nuclear weapons, economic collapse. That we don't hide that our ideas are shadows, that makes them more not real and truthful, not less.  
- What did you say to that?
- I said:
- Here's my experience of the past 24 hours. Listen, and then tell me if role play brings people together or separates them. The night before at midnight I was at FedEx's office on Wilshire sending off the memory book* to the Washington Holocaust Museum. The young man on the other side of the counter, making small talk, asked me where Washington was. There were two of them, he knew. Up near Oregon? This was going to the other one. Oh. he said. 'D.C'. Did I know what 'D.C'. stood for? Didn't he? I asked. No. Where, I asked, was the capital of the U.S? He didn't know. And you, our sound recorder, you told me you were working towards revolution. And is it true or not that when I brought up the recent wave of revolutions in the Middle East, that was the first you'd heard of them? Still recording this? And at Ralphs supermarket, where a guard lurks at the exit all night, stationed there glaring at all who come and go just to have the opportunity to catch people like this one, a mad man I often see wandering in filthy rags by the L.A. Country Club. He was cleaned up, in new clothes, but still mad, holding aloft a plastic tray with day old rolls, now after midnight, 2 days old not legally to be sold. The guard stop him, says, Where do you think you are going! He says, What? The guard says, You can't take that. He says, Oh? The manager comes over, says to him, You have to pay. You have to pay! He says, What? He moves more towards the door at which point a customer waiting and watching at check-out says he'll pay the two dollars for the two day old rolls, saving the madman from arrest and possible a week locked up in a mental hospital before being returned to the streets.
- I listened. What conclusion you draw?
- Our friend here wants to play revolutionary. He's not interested in what revolution is enough to study it, not even in very recent history. And the FedEx kid, old enough to vote, identifies himself to himself and others by his tattoos. For him that is enough, he has his role and not an idea in his head. Consequently no politics either, not curiosity enough to know where the capital is. And the corporate supermarket, those who work there are forced into slavery and most abject role practice, no humanity or reasonableness allowed.
- If roles separate us, what brings us together?
- You know your Plato, the analogy of the sun.
- Sure:
As goodness stands in the intelligible realm to intelligence and the things we know, so in the visible realm the sun stands to sight and the things we see.**
- Politics requires ideas. Ideas are shared, bring us together. Roles separate.
- Roles are based on ideas too.
- But they are not good ideas, not drawn out from a shared human nature that strives toward good. The playing out of roles and protection of roles, those made up things, is done in the dark, unilluminated by the good.
__________________________
The Memory Book
** The analogy of the sun is found in the sixth book of Plato's 'The Republic' (507b–509c)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Kant & Compromise

Image result for kant immanuel

1.

- We're told it's unreasonable to expect we'll ever have someone represent us in government who is not
a sociopath or clinical narcissist, (who has) failed to be the target of fraud lawsuits, sexual-harassment claims, or federal criminal investigations...(who hasn't) the capacity for unspeakable evil that is generally considered necessary to win higher office.*
We're told we have to vote for Clinton to make sure we don't get Trump. We have to choose the lesser of two evils. Do we?
- We don't.
- Why not?
- Because it is a compromise that is sure to have drawbacks and is sure not to have benefits.
- How can that be? The benefit is to save the world from Donald Trump, who with nuclear launch codes in hand can basically end the world.
- Aldous Huxley's 'Ends And Means'** argues that the only end we could choose bad means to reach was there being greater charity in the world. Choosing any other end we'd be doing certain bad for the sake of uncertain good, at the cost to both ourselves and others, losing our integrity and becoming a bad example.
- We'll have our integrity while the nuclear bombs are exploding over our heads.
- In the 18th Century Immanuel Kant wrote an essay,*** drawing on Plato's allegory of the cave,**** that argued that people are weakened by dependence on others and don't dare to take back their independence. But once they do,
free thought gradually reacts back on the modes of thought of the people, and men become more and more capable of acting in freedom. At last free thought acts even on the fundamentals of government and the state finds it agreeable to treat man, who is now more than a machine, in accord with his dignity.
- And what if there is no time?
- Kant advocated freedom only in public speech, not in personal life:
Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment.
- Then Kant advocated compromise too.
- He advocated obeying the rules in our personal lives when combined with free speech in public life, because that was he believed sure to result eventually in change for the better in our lives. If we merely call on each other to compromise in our personal lives, without the free speech in public life, our compromise will cost us our integrity and our good example and get us nothing.
- Except maybe not having nuclear bombs falling on our heads.
- Wouldn't that risk be better taken care of by people coming out and talking to each other, looking to another candidate or another political party rather than voting for the lesser of two evils?
- If there is time and if you can get people to talk to each other.
______________________
* From the Borowitz Report, July 24, 2016 issue, The New Yorker Magazine
** Ends And Means, (An Enquiry into the Nature of Ideals)
*** What Is Enlightenment?
**** The Allegory Of The Cave


2.

- I've done a little research. According to Kant, because ability to be free develops slowly and is limited by present conditions, we have no choice but to accept present political conditions, in his case a more or less benevolent dictatorship, in ours oligarchy, and talk our way into more and more enlightenment which will in time change the present political circumstances. Correct?
- Yes.
- As incredible as it may seem, my research shows that present conditions may not be a restraint for us much longer. Want to know why?
- Why?
- A few years ago you talked about throwing out the existing Congress and electing a whole new one.* There now is a political movement called Brand New Congress** for doing just that in 2018 when most congressional seats will be up for grabs. You also talked about criminal prosecution and taxing of the rich to fund economic freedom for the majority of the people. The charity Oxfam, hardly a radical organization, in 2013 calculated that half of the income of the world's hundred richest people would be enough to save the lives of millions dying every year of starvation.*** Existing law in the United States makes it a crime to fail in the "duty to save".**** Putting this research together I come up with the surprising conclusion that in 2018 it is not impossible to elect a Brand New Congress with the exclusive mandate of criminally prosecuting and confiscating the wealth of our country's richest citizens for gross negligence of duty to save.
- Save from what?
- Poverty, conditions of violence and social injustice, all of which can be directly laid to the door of their hoarding of wealth, not to mention their bribery of the government in the service of that hoarding. Two years ago you wrote all this should happen.
- I did. And it is true, we have the wealth, we have the law, we have the political organization necessary for change. But part of the restraining conditions are the use of advertising and political speech to convince people change like this is impossible. Voters are allowed to choose only between images of leaders that make them feel better about themselves.
- Even if in public life they are told about other possibilities, they won't be able to act on them because in their personal lives they have been made idiots by advertising, movies, TV, music. I'm not so sure.
- Why not?
- Because as statistics tell us Americans are some of the most religious people on the planet, and really all we are talking about here is the golden rule: act with others as you would like them to act with you. Right now Americans are being told, Let those guys be billionaires as they like to be billionaires, because wouldn't you like to be a billionaire too and act as you like with your billions? But Americans haven't had the opportunity to see that those billions were acquired and maintained by criminality that costs million of lives every year, many of them in their own communities.
- They haven't had the opportunity to see because their minds are controlled by those same rich people who are criminals under current law.
- But Kant's theory of the enlightenment, and despite all our faults we are creatures of the enlightenment, predicts that that control can't indefinitely be maintained against public talk of new political parties, the world's increasing wealth, and existing law.
______________________
A Spiritualist Campaigns For Congress, An Anarchist Attends
** Brand New Congress
*** Oxfam report
**** Duty To Save

Monday, August 8, 2016

Time's Up


              D-Wave's Quantum Computer

1.
There's this theory I've been reading about. As communications that once were controlled by monopolies at high profits are now produced and consumed directly by people at no cost on the Internet, so energy and transport will go the same way. Everyone will have solar panels on their rooftops and everyone will share transport rather than own a car. The production of the tools of communication and energy production and transportation are getting cheaper and cheaper through automation, approaching the point where the tools can manufacture themselves and repair themselves. Only the raw materials the tools are made from need be provided, but they can be recycled. Sounds good, right?
- Do you remember the conversation?* Last year, I think?
- Yes.
- From what I've been reading we are now within five or ten years of the point where the tools can manufacture themselves and repair themselves. We have already functioning 'machine learning' with neural network computing. Its weak point is the immense power of computation required to connect more and more 'neural' nodes to each other. However quantum computing is developing fast, and is poised to provide almost unlimited computation power. And then...
- Then?
- The head guys involved in both machine learning and quantum computing don't neglect issuing the usual warnings about technology being a tool that can be used for good or evil. Their job is to develop the technology, the society at large has to take care of the problem how to use it safely.
- There are whole institutions dedicated to this question.
- Staffed by technicians.
- Should they be staffed with philosophers who don't understand the technology?
- Perhaps they should, if this warning from 50 years ago, the ideas developed 30 years before that, turns out to be true:
The danger to democracy does not spring from any specific scientific discoveries or electronic inventions. The human compulsions that dominate the authoritarian technics of our own day date back to a period before even the wheel had been invented. The danger springs from the fact that, since Francis Bacon and Galileo defined the new methods and objectives of technics, our great physical transformations have been effected by a system that deliberately eliminates the whole human personality, ignores the historic process, overplays the role of the abstract intelligence, and -- makes control over physical nature, ultimately control over man himself, the chief purpose of existence.**
- Lewis Mumford. His astonishing idea that technology, before it constructed machines of metal, made machines out of people, organizing them in massive armies for constructing monuments to their leaders or to fight wars.
- From the same 1963 essay:
Let us fool ourselves no longer. At the very moment Western nations threw off the ancient regime of absolute government, operating under a once-divine king, they were restoring this same system in a far more effective form in their technology, reintroducing coercions of a military character no less strict in the organization of a factory than in that of the new drilled, uniformed, and regimented army....
And, towards the conclusion:
Again: do not mistake my meaning. This is not a prediction of what will happen, but a warning against what may happen. 
- So with machine learning here and quantum computing on its way: time's up.
- Slaves provided the human material to ancient civilizations to construct their technology, so as Mumford put it there was no need for 'inorganic' material and to develop metal based technology. Once, however, all our inorganic machines are making and taking care of themselves, immense supply of organic material - we human beings - will be available for use to serve the 'human compulsions' that were behind the drive to construct the first social, organic technologies, and are already a dominant element in present day social organization.
- What are those human compulsions?
- Doing for the sake of doing. Endless production. The more times you can successfully repeat an action, the safer you feel in your power to perform that action, and others related to it.
- A question of safety then. How are we ever going to get past that?
- Find security in our knowledge.
- Technology is knowledge and it is in the service of this power madness.
- The wrong kind of knowledge. We have the most perfect myth to express this: Adam and Eve,*** expelled from the garden of Eden for acquiring knowledge, become mortal. They can apply their knowledge to their work, but they are punished by work and reproduction being a pain to them and by being confined within their social roles of master and slave. Work is to do what you don't want to do, that you don't have a personal reason to do. Reproduction is a pain. Put these ideas together, and you get doing for the sake of doing, production without end never without pain. You have to do what your role tells you to do and you have to do it for no reason outside itself and you have to keep doing it forever. It is the only thing that makes you feel safe in your state of mortal uncertainty and fear.
- So you end up doing it more and more because the more you do it the safer you feel you can continue to do it. If you have the chance, you make yourself into a pyramid building pharaoh or modern day prince of finance or industry.
- Yes. Adam and Eve are out and can't get back in to Eden, but their descendants have a way back if they use knowledge right.
- Which is?
- For the sake of getting back to Eden.
- Which is where exactly?
- In the company of the people we love. Or perhaps you want a more technical answer? Here's Mumford:
The reconstitution of both our science and our technics in such a fashion as to insert the rejected parts of the human personality at every stage in the process. This means gladly sacrificing mere quantity in order to restore qualitative choice, shifting the seat of authority from the mechanical collective to the human personality and the autonomous group, favoring variety and ecological complexity, instead of stressing undue uniformity and standardization, above all, reducing the insensate drive to extend the system itself, instead of containing it within definite human limits and thus releasing man himself for other purposes. We must ask, not what is good for science or technology, still less what is good for General Motors or Union Carbide or IBM or the Pentagon, but what is good for man: not machine-conditioned, system-regulated, mass-man, but man in person, moving freely over every area of life.


2.

- Do you know what I find most interesting in this?
- What?
- Mumford warned that control over physical nature and over man himself had already become the chief purpose of existence. If that is true, we should be seeing the two acting together.
- How do you mean?
- We should be seeing people treated as property and defined and distinguished from each other by their relation to property. We should be seeing all parts of the human personality outside of these definitions being rejected, both by threat of exclusion from social participation and by outright violence upon those whose present social position is an irritant to the efficient practice of accepted social roles. I have some personal experience of this happening.
- Tell me.
- So far, all rather ridiculous stuff. On my way back to Westwood late at night I'm often trailed at walking pace by Beverly Hills police cars. I've been approached by the University police and asked to inform them of any suspicious people (like myself) I see on campus.
-What did you say?
- That there was already too much spying going on and I didn't want to be approached again.
- They must have thought you were crazy.
- They must have. To continue. My single valuable possession, a 17 year old Italian racing bicycle, regularly suggests to bike thieves who are out in force late at night that as it was too good for somebody like me it would be better in their hands than mine. Earlier this month a man was gesturing crazily across the street as I was coming towards him. When I passed he exclaimed, 'That's a nice bike', and ran after me, grabbed hold of the bike seat and tried to pull me to a stop.
- He didn't?
- No. The benefit of a fast bike. At Starbucks in Westwood a twitchy drug addict told me his story. A poet and filmmaker, he was also a biker. He had gotten into drug dealing with one of the numerous bike gangs that group-ride late at night in L.A. They demanded of him that he steal a bike for them as sort of an initiation. When he refused, his story goes, one of the leader's friend's asked to try out his bike, and rode away never to return. Whereupon the gang leader with suitable menace sends him on the way home on foot: an all night walk from Burbank to West L.A. As I got up to leave he repeated his observation, what a nice bike I had, placed his hands on the handlebars, asked couldn't he take it for a ride?
- You didn't let him?
- No. The ridiculousness reached a new level a couple days ago. I was sitting at the tables outside of Trader Joes market in Westwood, eating lunch and reading, when a strong wind rose and blew the large garden unbrella down on top of the woman at the next table. She got up and left, and I tried but failed to steady it so it wouldn't fall next on me. I was unlocking my bike to leave when a man approached me, crying out, "What are you doing to our property?" I asked,
- Who are you?
- I work for the association. We got a call that a strange man was breaking our umbrella.
- The Westwood Community Association. Who called you?
- The manager of Trader Joe's.
- Hard to believe.
- Are you calling me a liar?
- Let's go inside and talk to the manager. If he denies he called you, then I'll call you a liar.
- No.
- No what?
- I won't go inside. I'm here because a strange man was damaging our property. You admit that strange man is you.
- Your property fell on the head of the woman sitting at the next table. She left and I attempted to set it straight so it wouldn't fall on me.
- You have no right to touch our property. You have to leave.
- What?
- You have to leave. Right now.
- Who are you?
- I work for the association. I'm protecting our property.
- Your property is a public hazard. And your property is on public property.
- No. This is our property.
- It's public property.
- It's ours.
- Possibly it's Trader Joe's property which you've been given the authority to manage.
- No it's not.
- Let's go in and ask them..
- No.
- Then I'll go in. But here's the manager now.
- What's going on?
- This idiot from the Westwood Association claims he manages this area outside the store for you. Is this your property?
- No.
- No. Did you call him to come here?
- No.
- No. You're a liar, idiot.
- You can't call me an idiot.
- I can't? Is this your property?
- Yes.
- Idiot.
- Don't call me idiot! Leave right now!
- You leave. If you choose to stay I'll conclude you're such an idiot you want to be called an idiot many more times.
- You can't talk to him like that.
- I can't? Is this your property, manager of Trader Joe's?
- No.
- Then you can't control what I say.
- But you're not right to ...
- Nothing's keeping you here. You can go back into your store.
- Tell this man he has to leave.
- Look, idiot...
- Don't talk to him that way!
- Idiot, you leave, go back the way you came, and you, manager of Traders Joes, if you don't like the conversation go that way back to your store.
- Wow. The manager went back into the store?
- Yes. And the association man also went away.
- Without either community association representative or market manager showing the slightest concern about the dangerous garden umbrella.
- But showing, which is why I'm telling the story, plenty of menacing authority.

                                                          * * *

P.S. 'The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.' - Albert Einstein

_______________________
Something To Look Forward To
** Authoritarian and Democratic Technics
*** Eve In The Garden Of Eden

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The First Loser

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- Did you hear? They found a dead girl in the trash behind Jerry’s deli.
- When?
- Early this morning. And last Saturday when they came to work at Coffee Bean there was a body lying on the sidewalk.
- Dead?
- Yes. On TV every week now there’s a report of the police killing someone, usually black.
- Last night at Starbucks, at closing time, one of those who live on the street came in. He dug a crumpled dollar bill from his pocket, asked for coffee. The girl behind the counter said it was $1.95. He turns out his pockets. He has no more. $1 only. The girl repeats he has to pay full price. He cries out, “I’m trying here.” Her coworker appears, confirms full price is required. Behind us in line is the nurse who comes in with a trolley every night getting drinks for the intensive care unit at Cedar Sinai. She says she’ll pay. He's handed his coffee and told he has to go. He gets angry, shouts, not understanding that it is past closing and everyone has to go, everyone except the three Sheriffs deputies that also come in every night at this time. One deputy shouts back at him: Leave! Another deputy laughs, warns 'We’re all going to be on YouTube tonight.'
- What happened?
- The intensive care nurse gently urged him out.
- Probably saved his life.
- Probably. Have you seen the new guy? Comes at night to Ralphs, sits on the stairs up from the side street to the parking level, surrounding himself with dozens of little bottles filled he says with detox juices.
- White guy?
- Black. Claims to be a music producer, been in L.A. five years, worked with many famous acts but his accounts receivable is backed up, he expects substantial amount of money, until then…
- Sits on the iron stairs up to Ralphs all night. Maybe he’s the killer, maybe he's the guy on the street the police kill next. How does he look?
- Take a look for yourself. He’s there now.
- Maybe later. What’s happening with you?
- I got my first death threat. Sent from a little used Google Plus account. Not really a threat, more like a heart-felt wish: 'Hope someone kills you soon.'
- Why would someone want to kill you?
- It was a comment on a story I wrote about Donald Trump.
- What will you do?
- Nothing. I feel like I’ve finally made it. I’m important enough to kill. The paparazzo who comes here tells me that after I’m dead they’ll all remember me by my bike locked outside.
- Don’t joke. It might be serious. There is a killer on the loose in the neighborhood.
- The world is a world of killers. I think we’re entering into a period of realism in which the structure of human life is becoming clear. We talked about indifference, the people living on the street in Westwood.* Some are gone, dead or dying in hospitals. Some are still there. They’re the ones we Americans like to call 'losers': they go along with the idea that everyone must have a role, they don’t want more from life than money and power. Until then they study to play the role they have been given by fate, they work out where to go at what time. Bad as things are, they’re confident of the future and of themselves.
- Losers we have contempt for, for the role they accept. So we’re not indifferent to all of the people on the street, only those who have no role. Police have the power to do away with them. The rest of us have no feeling at all for them, only a conviction they don’t belong and the world's better off with them gone.
- Yes.
- And you? Do you have a role?
- I’m proud to say apparently not: If people want to kill me, it means I’m among those with no place in life. I'm not even in the role of loser, the object of contempt. I'm open to the violence of anyone interested in relieving themselves in that way. Though to be fair there's this man who comes in here, a retired real estate speculator, friend of the Guru. He says he’s afraid of me, I’m poor and have too much confidence. According to him if I were rich I’d be another Hitler.
- You told me about the Guru, he and his gang pretending to be orthodox Jews, going to temple in the morning visiting prostitutes at night. Can social roles really be so important that we kill those who don’t have any, either by our indifference, or with the police?
- Yes, absolutely. The more we see the world as a world of things, the more we focus on improving the technology of things, the more we see people as things useful to other people in the way things are useful.
- How do we see the world as not of things?
- From the beginning, both in the West and the East, there's been an attempt to answer that question with metaphor and story.
- Why can’t it just be answered directly?
- Because of language. Language uses nouns and verbs, things and actions.
- So maybe that is the way it is.
- No. Our thoughts don’t work that way. The world we see is in flux, a movement out of which we draw out things in movement when we want to talk about or do something. Heraclitus called this necessity a 'sacred disease'. The I Ching put the situation like this:
[Separating itself out, the hard rises to the top, and in doing so provides the soft with pattern;] this is the pattern (wen) of heaven. It is by means of the enlightenment provided by pattern that curbs are set, and this is the pattern of humans. One looks to the pattern of heaven in order to examine the flux of the seasons, and one look to the pattern of humans in order to transform and bring the whole world to consummation.
- I didn't understand a word.
- Here's Helaclitus again:
Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things.
-.Meaning?
- He's meeting straight on the 'sacred disease' of words. Anything that changes in response to the world cannot be accurately defined in isolation from the world. We have a sense of ourselves in movement, changing in relation to the world; repeatedly responding to the world we learn about the world. Because we change and the world changes (gives us different responses to our differing responses) it makes no sense to talk about ourselves as things.**
- If we aren't things what are we?
- We don't ask "what". That's the point. We move. We see a pattern to our movement. We aim to get somewhere.
- Where? And what is this 'we'? You told me don't ask 'what' thing but what am I supposed to say to ask my question?
- We can identify repeated paths of change of relation to the world.
- What in relation to what?
- A cell joins with other cells into an organ, and it finds itself part of new activities. Athenian citizens joining together in assembly gain new opportunities of social life.*** A child moving its hand over a toy experimentally in time learns to see it, and in addition to what it could do before now can identify and play with the toy. We're talking about things here, using words that name them: child, citizen, cell, but things in the process of change in reaction to other things that change.
- You said that. The truth is we still see things, but focus instead on the pattern of their changes. That, according to Heraclitus, is wisdom, gets us to the heaven of the I Ching. I got it. When we talk about ourselves in our roles, we are locking ourselves down in relation to other locked down things of the world. We don't lay down a pattern in our story, we don't get to heaven. Is that what you mean? Maybe it is more clear now that we make a sport of killing people without role, but it doesn't seem like anything new to me.
- It's not. We see it in our founding myths.**** Adam and Eve are thrown out of the garden of Eden, rebelling against god just as he intended.
- Why?
- Because they are made in god’s image and god is not obedient.
- God doesn’t play a subservient role. He doesn’t play any role.
- Exactly. Adam and Eve break the rules, act independently, get thrown out. They’re punished by having to painfully work the land and punished worse by being locked in a hierarchy of social roles, woman subservient to man. But what happens then? Their first boy becomes a farmer, their second a shepherd. Note that a shepherd does not work the land, does not stay in the same place, a shepherd manages a community of animals. God likes Abel’s sacrifice better, despite the fact Abel has evaded the ancestral punishment of being tied to the land and its pain. Cain goes crazy, and like our police are drawn to kill those who live without social role, he kills his brother. And what does god do to Cain? Set’s him off to wander the world with nothing, no herd of sheep, no community to be the managing spirit of.****  When Cain complains everyone will kill him, god establishes him in stable social role by marking him with a sign of his protection, warning of retribution should something happen to him.
- Cain is the first loser!
- He has his role wandering endlessly and uselessly like the people of the street. No one will kill him.

Further Reading:
Killer Metaphysics
The Way And The End
Political Correctness
Consciousness (For Sale)
Process Philosophy
Donald Trump
____________________
Indifference
** Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges – at certain times and places – that being which says “I.” - Julien Coupat (presumed), The Coming Insurrection
*** Prostitution, Employment, Slavery
**** Eve In The Garden Of Eden  
***** Bringing Back Stray Sheep

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Character Of Donald Trump

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We admire good character: directness, openness, etc. We ask about politicians whether or not they in fact act, in their personal and professional lives, up to the character they work hard to display to the public.

Donald Trump is a building speculator who started with inherited wealth, repeatedly went bankrupt, and was repeatedly bailed out by the public. He is a man who was bailed out, an interference with free-market discipline, and who also claims to support conservative principles of no interference with free market discipline*. Hypocrisy is evident, that is, bad character. Much, probably most, of Trump's wealth was acquired acting in TV shows*** and licencing for profit his name, activities which make use of the show of character, not actual character, and certainly do not make use of business genius unless business genius, contrary to conservative free market principles, means profiting from claiming business genius without having the reality. Trump went bankrupt in 1991, 1992, and 2004 prior to his TV acting career, with his bankruptcies continuing in 2009 and 2014 during his acting career. Even if he had business genius, use of it in speculation in housing for the rich is not admirable or creative behavior, and does not benefit anyone other than himself:
Drawing from a deep well of data Piketty found that for almost all recorded history, those who are rich enough to be sitting on a pile of cash and assets will get richer just from the returns on their capital at a faster rate than the economy can grow as a whole. In other words, if you don’t start with capital, you can never close the gap with the rich, no matter how hard you work; whereas if you do start with capital, you’ll get richer and richer whether you work or not. Over time this leads to greater and greater inequality. (from The London Review Of Books)

Trump talks of "our people". It is natural and inescapable to care more about people you know than those you don't. That however does not make it a sign of good character to irrationally hate strangers or act without information and judgment in defense of "our people". Indiscriminate bombing of terrorist enemies in foreign countries, which Trump recommends be intensified, has caused the United States to go from having a limited number of enemies in one small corner of Afghanistan to having tens of thousands of enemies in dozens of countries all over the world -- the kind of result to be expected when show of character substitutes for reality.
________________________
* Trump, in fact wildly inconsistent in his economics, has made a point of putting himself on record to be in favor of free market principles (for example with regard to health care). However, being wildly inconsistent in economics is typical of free market conservatives who in practice mean free markets to be for the poor, and protection to be for their sponsors, the rich. Trump, like did his fellow nationalists the Nazi party (the National Socialistsin Germany of the 30s, for the sake of getting elected, as a bribe temporarily delivered, is including the poor electorate in the spoils of market economics normally reserved for the rich.
** No major U.S. company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump's businesses in the last 30 years. See this article in CNN Money.
*** The exact amount Trump has been paid for his TV performances is in dispute. See this article in the The Hollywood Reporter.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Political Correctness

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Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges – at certain times and places – that being which says “I.” - Julien Coupat, The Coming Insurrection

- What’s happening with your friend, the graduate student who got thrown out of UCLA for sending insulting emails to his professors? He wasn’t the guy who killed the professor in his office a couple weeks ago?
- No. That was someone else.
- Professors don’t seem to be too popular at UCLA. After this students won’t be able to say anything critical without being considered potential killers. Political correctness will reign supreme. What do you think? Should we talk about political correctness?
- Fine with me.
- How would you define it? A claim everyone has on each other for tolerance? Everyone can think and do anything without challenge except use violence?
- What do you mean by “without challenge”?
- We may not like what we see but we won’t demand it be changed.
- Everyone is free to do anything that is desired?
- Except use violence.
- And what would you say is being tolerated: individual acts and words and thoughts, or identities?
- People get upset about what other people do all the time. But tolerance is not about individual acts: that is something psychological, something maybe calling for forgiveness. Tolerance is political. So I’ll say it is about social roles, identities.
- We are told to tolerate types of people unlike our own type, types which in some way interfere with the actions types like us perform.
- Yes.
- Why do we choose to see ourselves and others as types?
- Because we think we and they really are types. The type of person we are are our identities. Our Identities identify ourselves to ourselves and to others.
- Why do we need to do that?
- Why?
- Could it be for security? A sense of our own power to do the kind of things the type of person we are does?
- Could be.
- But then, why do we feel insecure in the first place? Are we missing something we need in order to feel safe and powerful?
- What are we missing?
- You know Plato’s three part division of the human soul: the rational, the spirited, the irrational. The rational part thinks and reasons, the spirited part has courage and becomes indignant, the irrational part desires.
- Why do we need the spirited part? Aren’t anger and courage irrational forces like sex and aggression?
- We are passionate when a physical need is not being satisfied. Spirit is a passionate response as well, but to a social world, the world of people we live with who we have become accustomed to, a need of their company that has become “second nature”. Follow?
- Yes.
- Political correctness, the demand for tolerance bars spirited action.
- Because spirited action makes a demand on the others in society?
- Yes.
- And because the politically correct aren't allowed a home in the social world to protect, they are insecure. They still though have the other two parts of self.
- And what do they do with them?
- They have reason and desire: they think about how to most safely and regularly satisfy their desires.
- How do they do that?
- By adapting their identity to circumstances.
- That’s all?
- What else?
- Don’t people secure their satisfactions by acquiring possessions, even hoarding them as symbols of power and security?
- They do.
- Don’t people attempt to make other people their possessions, to dominate them? To force an identity on them as dominated?
- Not always.
- If people are fundamentally insecure wouldn’t this always be an attractive possibility, a desire that reason would choose to satisfy?
- But how do spirited people maintain security? Wouldn’t they be always undermining for each other the social world each makes a home in?
- Constantly. But when you live with people without identities to be protected accommodations are easily reached.
- I don’t see it.
- If you don’t have an identity to protect you don’t have to have things any one particular way. No one ever has to face the catastrophe of loss of self. All you want is that the new way can be relied on, and it be a good way, which it will be because you’ll naturally be at home with people who’ve reached agreement with you.
- Naturally. So you argue that the crime of political correctness, respect for identities, is that it leads to possessiveness and domineering. Which political correctness tell us we have to tolerate.
- And worse. One class of people identify themselves as political and business leaders. In their insecurity they pursue endless accumulation of possessions, taking advantage of the dispossession of the rest to dominate them, to force them to sell themselves as employees or to adopt a submissive identity. Political correctness, by repressing the spirited part of ourselves, eases the way to dispossession and domination.

Further Reading:
Killing At The University
UCLA Stories

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Killing At The University


                                  (UCLA June 1, 2016)  

This morning, while I was at the library at UCLA, the police announced there was an "active shooter" on campus, and all about 70,000 people on campus got locked in where ever they happened to be. The police call taking this precaution "lockdown".

Everyone checked the internet for news. 2 people had been killed in the Engineering building. No details. 

In the library, the student security service went around the floors ordering everyone into the bathrooms and meeting rooms. I drifted off down the stacks of books before anyone could try to herd me into these small spaces. 

A student I passed going the opposite direction asked me why I seemed so calm. I answered that it looked like the police were deliberately not giving out any information so as to create panic. Literally hundreds of police from all over the city were now on campus. You could hear shouting from outside the library even up on the 5th floor where we were.

I went on with reading (the novel "Elizabeth" by Coetzee, the South African writer). A few minutes later, a SWAT team in riot gear (helmets, armored vests, etc.) moved through the aisles of books on the 5th floor, rifles in their hands. The library's own uniformed security guard arrived saying that there had been a report of "shots fired" on the 5th floor of the library.

Internet news reported that police were emptying the engineering building of students, ordering them out "their hands held in the air". 2 hours later student library security staff arrived on the 5th floor to announce that a SWAT member was outside and wanted everyone to leave the library. That turned out to be untrue. True instead was the "lockdown" was over and people could leave. No more information was given. 

It was another hour before the police revealed to the news media that "apparently" there had been a murder suicide; there was some kind of note. Now 5 hours later the police still have not said more.

On the basis of 2 dead bodies being found in the engineering building, along with an apparent suicide note, 70,000 people got locked in buildings and led to believe they were in utmost peril. In many buildings students had barricaded themselves in classrooms blocking up the doors and windows with furniture.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Bad Results


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- So you really did it? You told Google they were evil?
- Suggested the idea to their man in charge of new advertising, yes.
- What did he reply?
- I gave a definition of evil - knowing as individuals doing something was bad but doing it anyway for social rewards. Asked him about Google producing a list of search results it claims to be the best possible, in order of usefulness, then subverting the order by putting paid advertising on top of the list.
- What did Google say?
- He'd prefer to continue the conversation by email.
- And you did, of course.
- Yes. Here it is:

1.
Dear Mr. Pleasance, 
You remember me, I think: I asked about the inherent contradiction in Google Search's business process: search results, page ranking, reflect technical calculations of popularity, personalization, and inter-linkages. And this calculation is undermined by paid advertising, which puts at the top not the most popular, personally relevant, or interlinked, but the highest paying. 
I'm sure this is not the first time you have heard this remarked on.

A related problem is that the paid advertisers, after paying for a period of time, as their paid for popularity leads to more popularity, they gain page rank based not on payment but on unpaid characteristics (popularity, personalization, linkage), and so these results too become "contaminated" by the influence of money, rather than calculated to be of advantage to the customer.

So there are two related problems here: (1) the top results, being paid for, work against the advantage of the customer, and (2) payment promises to create a brand, or a monopoly of interest, which will find its place in the unpaid portion of the search results, thus contaminating the entirety of the results. 
Shouldn't Google, if it wants to do good, be looking into ways of dealing with these problems? 
I can think of two solutions to try, right off the bat. 
To deal with the first problem of advertising undermining the suitability of search results: "Affirmative action" advertising. Small businesses, on a competitive basis, would be chosen by Google to benefit from free top-of-the-page advertising.

To deal with the problem of monopolization of search results:

Go back to the Aardvark past of Google plus. Use robot chat to ask members, "What do you want to do?" and on the basis of personalization statistics send the best people to the questioner. The robot follows up, asking, was he/she the right one to meet?, and continues to be a presence in creative management of individuals' lives. People would more easily find each other and become each other's resource, become temporary "companies", and this robot aided formation of alliances, business and personal, potentially can undermine the market control effect of monopolies.

I look forward to your response,

- Rex Miller


2. 
Hi Rex, 
Thanks for the follow up. I think at the core of your assumption is a belief that somehow having ads included as part of a search result is disingenuous and/or bad for people. You also appear to believe that top ranked ads are placed purely to the highest bidder. I can help address both of these: 
1) Search ads that are served are done so with an expectation that they are 100% relevant to the query being submitted. In fact, the goal at Google is to make search results most relevant by having ads as part of the results and ensuring that the ads that get shown are in fact useful and relevant to the person searching. If ads were to go away, the relevance and completeness of the search result would drop and actually be of lower value to the searcher. In addition, to ensure maximum transparency, and provide the maximum choice and control to our users, we ensure that all ads are clearly marked as such so that there's never any confusion that the content at the top of the search results are paid for, while also being very relevant to their query. As such, there should never be a question in a person's mind about what they're clicking on, and they will only click on an ad if they find that it's most relevant to addressing their query. This is all very consistent with Google's mission of organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful. 
2) Search ads are not just rank ordered based on who pays the most. Ad relevance plays a much higher role in determining what gets shown. To help better understand this, here's a link to a good YouTube video by Hal Varian describing in detail how Google algorithms determine what ad to place on a page, and in what order. As above, Google's goal is for transparency and relevance and to this end, we make the advertising division of our company very transparent and available for all to learn about and understand. 
I hope this is helpful, and I hope you found my talk on Monday interesting. 
Warm regards, 
Darren 

3. 
Dear Mr. Pleasance,
Thanks a lot for the completeness of your response (and I did enjoy your lecture). Can I take you at your word that Google has a positive wish to clarify their advertisement policy and continue the discussion with you a little further?

I understand, I think, what you mean when you say ads improve the search results. I may prefer to know about, as in your video, an artisan furniture maker rather than the more widely known companies at the top of the search list. 
My question is, if Google knows the results are improved, why does it wait for the artisan to come up with some money for Google before the search results are changed? Is Google not able to find the artisan furniture maker and depends for his discovery on him to come to its advertising division? In fact, I read some time ago that Google was already doing something like this, advancing in the search rank worthy individuals, in a small way and on a trail basis.

Do you see what I mean? Any good that you attribute to advertising, with respect to search results should have already been there. Unless Google is really saying it needs to advertisers to come forth and bring themselves to its attention? 
But in that case, why should businesses that put themselves forward have to pay to improve Google's search results? It is already in Google's interest of complete results to have them there. Or can you be seriously suggesting that willingness to pay makes these businesses more of interest and relevance? 
Of course, Google makes money from advertising at the top of the page listing. But there are other ways Google could make money that would not lessen the value of the search results, when, as you write, Google definitely does not want to lesson the suitability of the results to the customer. 
I suggested two steps Google could take without changing basic advertising policy. "Affirmative Action Advertising" that would allow many people to compete for Google's attention, when Google could not otherwise find them, and receive free top of the page listing on a lottery or merit basis. 
I suggested returning Google Plus to its Aardvark past, this time with robot assistance for site members, not to answer each other's information queries, but to find each other to do things with each other. Many small enterprises could be created, and the effect of monopoly arising out of popularity breeding popularity would be lessened. 
I would appreciate a response to these suggestions. Many people are interested in how Google approaches suggestions of innovation, whether they are truly open to innovation when it comes to their basic business of search. 
- Rex Miller 

4. 
Hi Rex, 
Two things: 
1) I don't think it's fair to say that Google is avoiding debate and communications on the topics you've raised. You have I have had several back-and-forths on this topic and each shared our points-of-view.

2) Regarding your suggestions for ways Google could improve its products, I think you should publish those and let the readers weigh in. Our product teams are constantly on the look out for opportunities to make our products the best they can be for our users and customers and I'm sure they'll see your ideas and also see how readers weigh in with their views on your ideas. 
All the best, 
Darren 

5. 
Dear Mr. Pleasance, 
Thanks for your quick response. You are right that if I publish a story about Google, the company will one way or another get to hear of it. However, when that happens, Google does not respond. That lack of response is what we are talking about here. It makes Google appear to be an institution that makes its way in the world through the use of power, rather than knowledge. Google claims otherwise, so I ask the company, through you, why it is impossible to communicate with the company? 
- Rex


- That's it?
- There was a round going over the same ground I've left out.
- Aside from the fun of asking your innocent question, does it really matter? Google is evil, the rest of big business is evil, politics is evil. 
- Did you ever get around to reading Guns, Germs, And Steel*?
- I'm meaning to.
- The book argues that technology, material and social, develops best in regions with moderate connectedness, neither too high nor too low.
- What's wrong with high connectedness?
- It allows communication to be seized hold of, controlled, monopolized, filtered, reduced.
- So Google, monopolizing access to internet communication, is reducing access, retarding social development? How?
- By putting at the top of their search results what has been paid for, when what is at the top is already, in a sense, the result of monopoly, of what is most popular becoming more popular by being at the top of the list.
- When there is medium amount of communication, there are some pockets which do not get absorbed in that cycle of popular becoming more popular, and they survive to issue a challenge to the monopoly.
- Exactly. You can see our culture as a kind of epidemic, which ends when it kills everyone, but in Europe, for example it didn't, because there were always other pockets of people to move on to and infect.
- Then Google, as their guy said, by subverting their own monopoly with advertising, opening it up to uninfected pockets of information, is doing something good. Their results are better with the advertising. That's why you suggested extending the benefit with affirmative action advertising. And, I understand now, that was the idea behind the social network sending people to each other to do things with: each person with his connections is to the other is a pocket of communication that can be put in contact with another pocket of communication with his connections. Not too much connection, not too little.
____________________
* Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, 1997

Monday, February 8, 2016

Conservatives With Property & Without


1.

People Helping People

- What are you doing here?
- Drinking coffee. Reading.
- What is someone like you doing here, alone at a fast food restaurant in the middle of the night?
- Drinking coffee. Reading.
- What are you reading?
- The London Review Of Books.
- I knew it!
- What did you know?
- I can help you.
- How?
- Do you need help? Are you in danger?
- Riding my bike here an Aston Martin going about a hundred ran a red light and missed me by a few feet. And there's this lapsed student who wanders around Westwood night and day who has an apartment he's afraid to stay more than a few minutes in. Last week he invited me over and served me poisoned Tequila. I saw him again tonight at Starbucks. Did I want to come to his place again, he asked, he didn't like Tequila any more, wouldn't I finish the bottle for him?
- God's trying to tell you something.
- What? That I am in danger and announcing that you would arrive to save me?
- Why not?
- How are you going to save me?
- What do you need?
- A safe place. Is that what you are offering?
- Yes.
- I accept. Let's go.
- The place is my girlfriend's friend's. It's not free at the moment.
- I see.
- You should help people like I do.
- Do you offer everyone a place to stay?
- I do what I can. Sometimes a few words, a few dollars.
- How are you going to help a drug addict with a few words or a few dollars?
- I understand them. I'm a drug addict myself.
- You're a drug addict? A drug addict is sent by god to save me at Jack in the Box? You don't look like a drug addict.
- I'm checking into rehab next week. Crashing at my girlfriend's until then. I'm going outside to smoke. Come with me.
- I'll wait for you here.
- Sure you'll wait?
- Yes, sure. Go on, smoke your cigarette.


2.

Conservatives & Other Strangers

- Something terrible has happened.
- What?
- One of my best friends has become a conservative.
- Conservative morally or politically?
- Politically. It’s so stupid.
- By conservative you mean resistant to change?
- No. I mean wanting to keep the present kind of government but reduce it to a minimum, conserving the idea of government and little else.
- That is stupid because an idea of government doesn’t govern, people do, the kind of people who have that idea of government. And what kind of people are they?
- Selfish and greedy.
- And the reason you say conservatives are stupid is that the government in idea alone they ask for ends up being against them?
- Yes. Against all of them but those who are of the same social class and wealth as their leaders.
- Conservatives want to exclude aliens, end aid to the poor, forbid subsidies to business: they don’t want the government to help strangers. Yet they elect to represent them and implement this idea strangers who convince them that they hate strangers more than all the others running for office. They don’t seem to have any doubt these strangers who hate strangers will not hate them as strangers.
- They think these politicians are their friends.
- Where do they get that idea?
- They share with them a fear and hatred of strangers. Living alike in fear they think they all are in this together.
- A kind of family. While in a family people help each other instead of treating each other as enemies, as the politicians say they want to do and the people say they want the politicians to do.
- And somehow not hate them too!
- Some things government must do if the state is to remain in existence. Government must defend against attack, protect against other countries' subsidized products coming in to ruin local trade, protect against crime. These government jobs are to be given into the hands of people who hate strangers, when the people who gave them the jobs are also strangers to them and in the normal course of things will be hated?
- They aren’t expected to act against us because, just like us, they don’t like strangers. We’re alike in not liking strangers (yet alike in nothing else).
- Political representatives have authority over people who elect them, like the government has authority over the poor and weak. Representatives who are elected to minimize concern for the poor and weak will also minimize their relation to those who elect them who are likewise poor and weak in relation to themselves who have the power of the government behind them. Have you tried explaining this to your friend?
- You know how it is. No one listens.
- We’re strangers.


3.

Conservatives With Property & Without

- Let's say conservatives don't hate strangers. They believe a limited government is the only safe government. The don't want property relations questioned, they believe that is too dangerous, they'll instead select leaders who say they will lead without questioning property and govern as little as possible. But the led, giving up their freedom into the hands of leaders, are treated by them as their property to do what they want with, and what they want is more of their property.
- Why do the leaders have to want property?
- If you don't acquire property for your life with people, you use people to acquire property.
- Why?
- Because people who you manage are your work, not your joy. You don't live with people you have power over. You live with the people you share that power with, your fellow leaders, with whom you can act creatively and be at ease. Conservatives in their trusting to leaders are like their nemesis the communists. For if like them you do question property, yet agree to having leaders, you'll find unequal property relations returning, leaders getting rich, the rest getting poor.
- Then politics don't matter, communist or capitalist? Choose to have leaders and you've chosen to redistribute property from the poor to the rich?
- Yes. Conservatives and Communists alike must expect redistribution. For leaders, it is just what they do, for the led, it is the mysterious way of the world they gave up understanding when they gave that job of understanding to their leaders. Can I tell you two stories about conservative leaders and their concern for the led?
- Ok.
- In the last days of the Clinton administration a bill proposing a new bankruptcy law was introduced into Congress and passed by both houses. The proposed law would make bankruptcy inapplicable to credit card debt. The rich could go bankrupt and not pay their debts, corporations go bankrupt and not pay their debts, but those without corporation protection and without wealth, who in fact had nothing but debt, would have to pay in full. On the same principle that only the poor have to pay their debts, student loans had already by recent law been exempted from bankruptcy forgiveness. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the President would sign the bill into law, when Senator Elizabeth Warren* received a message from President Clinton's wife asking for a crash course in bankruptcy. Senator Warren met with Hillary Clinton, schooled her, convinced her the proposed law was extremely unfair. Within days the president's wife had convinced her husband not to sign. The president left office, and Hillary in the course of time became a U.S Senator. The same bankruptcy bill came up for a vote and she voted for its passage. She was willing to make a kind gesture when her husband's office was at an end, but not when for her own political career she needed funding by the credit card industry, the largest of all donors to politicians, tens of millions a year. Just today she claimed on television, now running for president herself, that she doesn't know why Goldman Sacks paid her $650,000 to give a speech; they offered, and she accepted. No obligation. An act of generosity.
- Like her act of generosity to all the little people in America.
- Not really. Leaders when they are generous to each other strengthen each other, make their collaboration more productive in the endless endeavor of acquiring property from those they lead. Generosity to the led however is a mere gesture to make the leaders feel better about themselves, severely limited because strengthening their victims too much makes victimizing them that much harder. Here's the second story about conservative leaders and their care for the led.
- I'm listening.
- The 24 hour fast food restaurant is cold, near freezing at 2 in the morning. Those who sleep outside come in one by one, encumbered with their bags, or sometimes like this one, dragging behind him a strong scent and a filthy blanket. He studies the overhead menu, while the night manager, an immigrant from India who has held this same night job for 26 years waits, his expression not hiding his increasing impatience. Yes? Yes? Can I help you? Finally the customer makes his decision.
- Give me, uh, two tacos.
- We have no lettuce.
- I'd like two tacos.
- No lettuce.
- Uh, two tacos. I want tacos.
- I tell you. No lettuce.
- No lettuce?
- No lettuce.
- Uh, hm, two tacos.
The manager grunts, punches in the order, takes payment, gives change. He moves quickly away and takes up his station at the drive through window, ready to deliver orders to the waiting cars as they are delivered by the cook. A headset keeps him in communication with cars. The overnight shift has a skeleton crew of three: cook, and two more who between them take drive through and walk in orders, clear the tables, clean the floor, and keep an eye on the bathroom which receives a steady stream of problematic visitors arriving at regular times. This demands considerable attention, as almost every night one of the bathroom regulars will flood the place bathing or washing clothes, or in an attack of madness strew the floor with paper. The next day just ahead of that time the night shift takes the precaution of locking the bathroom door: the visitor gets the message, finds another bathroom to frequent, perhaps returning after a suitable interval expecting forgiveness and period of exclusion expired. Those are the problem visitors. There are also the favored visitors, who whether they buy anything or not are allowed to pass the cold nights inside the restaurant. These include: the "mummy" who pulls his football jersey over his head and draws his arms inside and sleeps at the table; the bike restorer who sleeps days under the freeway in a semi-permanent structure built of scavenged boards, with dozens and dozens of bikes on the sidewalk protected in his absence by the other denizens of the underpass who've all got their bikes from him; the old man who talks to himself and reads the newspaper; and the former counterfeiter of U.S. currency. He operated a press himself, aged the bills in cat litter, lined up a whole crew to make purchases with the counterfeits and get genuine money in change. Finally he was caught living too large and too getting too many people involved. That was long ago. Now he's at the 24 hour fast food every night all night writing for micro payments fake comments and reviews on the internet. Counterfeiting opinions not money, he's gone legal: who can prove payment affects the personal views he expresses?
- He's doing there what Hillary Clinton does accepting Goldman's Sacks' generosity, which you say is something significant...
- It's their work.
- Not the mere gestures she makes in the direction of the public.
- He is. More, many more, are regulars at the fast food restaurant.
- The drug addict who wants to save you.
- Which is his generous gesture, like the manager letting this assembly spend the night at his restaurant despite it being against his nature and his principles and his personal interest. Indeed, his own good nature makes him angry and bad tempered with everybody. For he is a conservative just as every person let stay in the restaurant is a conservative. He doesn't complain about the desperation he has to face every night, the customers don't complain; they accept the government isn't interested in them, that actually no one is interested in them. Poor as they are they don't for a moment challenge existing property relations.
- They're conservatives without property. Why does that sound strange?
- Because we think of people being conservative to protect their property. That's generally true. As it is true that generally the poor become communist to acquire property. But in both cases the consequence of accepting leaders deprives them of property at the same time it makes them accept, in their voluntary relinquishing of responsibility and understanding, being deprived of their property.

Further Reading:
Against Leaders
Killer Metaphysics
____________
Elizabeth Warren interview with Bill Moyers, 2004