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Sunday, October 10, 2010


Did the U.S. just put the world on notice that we have some pretty clever geeks that can do some heavy damage to your system if you oppose us? Or did the Chinese do this in order to implicate the U.S.? Hard to say.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Sabbatical Work

I am on sabbatical right now to write my portion (1/3) of a book on Global Popular Culture. I'm doing the theory section right now. I'm also writing a paper on memetics applied to the ancient Silk Road in comparison with memetics in today's mass society. The upshot is that when memetic quantity and speed reach a certain threshold there is a qualitative change in the nature of human communication. The characteristics of memetic replication take on greater importance at higher speeds and increased quantity. Human reason is likely to play a lesser role in guiding decision making as popular culture increases its dominance of rationality. Mass society in the age of the internet becomes the domain of the more rapidly replicating ideas rather than the ones most compelling from a rational point of view. This is not to say that there wasn't always some memetic role in intellectual history; my discussion of Silk Road dynamics establishes that. The narrative and visual elements of Buddhism, Hinduism and other thought complexes are spread to some extent as much because they are prone to replication as they are because they are rational or meet the needs of people. The thing about the history of memetic reality before mass society is that it is tightly linked to the history of trade. Ideas aren't strong enough to move by themselves, they required that trade routes along the Silk Road be established first. That is why the Hindu elements of Cambodian art have to be understood in terms of Indonesian influence. The Hindu aesthetic traveled through Indonesia on its way to Cambodia because trade went that direction, first to the more distant Indonesia (by sea), then back to Cambodia.

The Stupid Demographic

Dems need to work harder on the "stupid" vote. Repubs do a great job with the faux patriotism, religion and silly slogans they come up with to gain their vote. Dems can't just write off 20% of the voting public. Dems need their own Palins, Limbaughs and Becks, all Repubs who supply the party with the red meat idiots crave. You have to hand it to the Repubs. They have managed to cultivate the stupid vote without undermining the more intelligent of their constituency. That will be the hardest part of the task for Dems because Dems tend to call out their own fools, while Repubs just change the subject or look the other way.

Burning Down the House

If you want a good idea of what Repub privatization policies lead to, look no farther than the case of the firemen who watched as a house burned because the owner didn't pay the $75 fee. (He forgot). Now think about social security, police, and yes, health care. It just doesn't make sense to privatize some things. But the Repubs are willing to "burn down the house" for the sake of their ideology. The point is that this case is a good metaphor for the key problem with lassiez faire philosophy: people slipping through the cracks. People don't forget to pay their taxes (at least most of us don't), so that is a more reliable way of dealing with absolute necessities like fire and police protection. What if a cop refused to help someone because they didn't pay their "police fee"? My own view is that this is what we do with health care by having private insurance involved in any way. "Oh, you didn't buy policy 1a, you only have 1b, so you don't get treatment." I'm all for using the market as a general framework, but it doesn't always supply us with what we want.

The Sharia Meme

Sharron Angle is running for U.S. Senate. In this article she is quoted as saying Islamic Sharia is taking hold in Dearborn, MI. Dearborn, MI! She talks as if we can't just go there and see that it isn't so. How do these wackos get this far? How can someone this far removed from reality actually be a viable candidate for the U.S. Senate. What does this tell us about the Repub party right now? It tells us that they will tolerate complete wackos. But in this case I am not talking about the leadership so much as Repub voters. What the heck are they thinking? But this Sharia meme seems to be gaining steam with virtually no reality behind it. If people thought for two seconds they would realize it isn't and can't be a problem. Muslims would have to be a majority in the U.S. and there would have to be a Constitutional convention. I don't see a Muslim majority anytime soon, so this Sharia fear comes from somewhere else, probably a general fear of Muslims. Of course, there are also the Newt Gingrich's of the world who know better, but still push this blatant nonsense. But what Newt knows is that fear works for the Repubs. It is well-established that fear works to make memes powerful, and the Repubs are the best at running with the fear meme. Maybe that is why Repubs are so into heroes: it is because they are filled with so much fear themselves that they have a hard time imagining someone actually having a little courage.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Time for a different kind of economist?

If I had Obama's ear, I would tell him that since Summers is leaving, pull in someone like Krugman, Roubini or Stiglitz. Summers and Geithner got us through the economic armageddon--it was probably smart to have people trusted by Wall Street at that point, but maybe it is time for some experts who don't trust Wall Street. After all, Wall Street is responsible for the economic debacle, but is yet to feel much of a pinch in the way of new regulations. We still have companies that are too big to fail. We still have massive foreclosures. We still have derivatives whose quality is hidden.

Even David Stockman is sceptical!

Voters: shouldn't you have just a few doubts about the Repubs? Last time they were in power they took us from a surplus to a massive deficit. The recent Repub Pledge outlines a path (extending all the tax cuts with almost no spending cuts) to ever greater deficits. As David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's budget director recently said on NPR, the idea that you can get rid of the debt without raising taxes is a big lie.

Southeast Asia Trip

 Booked my flights to Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam today. Giving a conference paper in Bangkok, checking out the killing fields (Phnom Penh) and Angkor Wat (Siem Reap) in Cambodia, and hanging out in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

George Will's Silly Expectations

I had to laugh at a George Will article today. He says the Dems have failed because unemployment isn't below 8%. If you had asked economists at the beginning of Obama's term if, given the Wall Street crash, we would have 9% unemployment at this point they would have been quite impressed. We were looking at a likelihood of depression-level (25%) unemployment, so where we are is pretty damn good. Show me a plausible scenario that would have brought unemployment down significantly lower. Notice that the right-wingers say we should have let Wall Street and the auto industry go down. Where would unemployment be had we taken that path? It is simply pie-in-the-sky to believe that we could have 5-7% unemployment right now after the shit-sandwich of an economy was handed to the Dems from Repubs. Check your economic history. (I would recommend Rogoff and Reinart, but any history of economics for the last 100 years will do) No economy, ever, has rebounded that fast from the kind of calamity we encountered. What kind of genius do we think is available out there? Do we think there are people who could have done better? Really? Seriously? And what are there actual proposals? Keeping the Bush tax cuts? That is the solution? Implausible bleating about cutting spending? And we are going to accept this from people who managed to overspend so badly in good economic times that they turned a surplus into a deficit? What have tea partiers said that would make us think they have a solution? They all want to extend the Bush tax cuts forever. Show me a way out of massive and dangerous deficits if we take that path. So right there you have a big reason to think hard before drinking the tea. Gov't too large? Specify what you will cut. The tea party has been awol on that task. Unless you tell me what you will cut I can't take your pledges to small gov't seriously. Now on the Dem side, has the deficit gotten bigger? Yes, but it is a short term increase in a recession, which is exactly how it is supposed to be. Gov't is supposed to run a deficit in a recession. If they aren't, they aren't doing the job of replacing the demand lost by unemployment and mitigating the pain to the people unemployed because of it. The problem was that the Dems inherited a standing (and structural!) deficit left by Bush's tax cuts. If we consider where we were when the Dems took over, where we are isn't too shabby at all.

Welcome to my blog!

After blathering on Facebook for a while now and running into its limitations, I have decided to start a blog where I can pontificate at greater length.