So America's finally sorted itself out and come to an agreement and raised the debt ceiling. Etc etc.
Something about the "crisis" feels weird though. But not a weirdness in the political crisis itself - more in how we react to it.
Something about the air of last minute salvation, something about quotes like "Brink of disaster". Something about comparing it all to a nuclear bomb.
This episode of US politics has edged rather too unnervingly toward "Hollywood politics". In which the Earth (read "North America") faces a major crisis, and a few brave fellows (always fellows) manage to overcome the odds at the last moment to save the day. It's stock stuff.
But should it be stock stuff for the major functioning of a global democratic power? Sure, there's contingency plans and nobody really thought it wouldn't get resolved, but is this how politics will be done now? Through blackmail? Through impending disaster? Wait until "Debt Ceiling: The Movie" hits your torrents.
Democracy deserves better. Getting into such a state - and having populations accept it en masse - is great for news-sellers, but really shouldn't become a status quo. Two-party systems are becoming routed around. Fake and foreseeable disasters are a pretty shit way of trying to put some life back into them.
I've been watching what's going on with interest. But the more I watch, the more I'm pretty sure I don't like being one of the uncredited actors that doesn't make it out alive.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
So America's finally sorted itself out and come to an agreement and raised the debt ceiling. Etc etc.
Friday, October 11, 2013
In the FT, Martin Wolf nails it on support for house prices, ending with:
"A deregulated and dynamic housing supply could spell financial and political Armageddon. The victims of this vile system are the young and upwardly mobile, who are either unable to buy at all or are trapped in a lifetime of debt serfdom. The political genius of the scheme is that it appears to help these hapless victims, while in fact helping the usual suspects: banks, homeowners, Nimbys and, if it creates another housing boom, the government.
Ministers also pretends the guarantees are a purely temporary arrangement. Nothing is less likely: it is the temporary that endures. The government has increased its commitment to frighteningly expensive housing. It is a trap from which the UK may not now escape."
While the government insists on urgently rolling out increased measures to prop up prices, something feels wrong. As in, there's something we're not being told. The urgency itself doesn't match up to the reasons shunted into the limelight. (Really? Politicians care about helping out a generation who just missed out? Yeah right.)
To me it feels like there's a real need to keep house prices propped up for some other purpose. Given the amount of leverage banks are placing on their capital, and the risk of that capital disappearing, it makes sense that there's a certain "repayment momentum" that needs to happen - i.e. cashing in all that future debt that borrowing is based on.
I admit I'm probably biased by being in the middle of reading Planet Ponzi by Mitch Feierstein. But growth through debt (or "investment" if you like) clearly requires money to come from somewhere. So if future costs are going up faster than money coming in, you need to get more money in. That can be done by either getting more sources of value, or by making those sources more valuable in themselves.
In the case of house prices, are both of these being done at the same time?
My guess is that banks have bet on house prices going up, as a source of payback. That translates into loans to builders, and loans to buyers. To keep the prices going up, the builders need to get their money back. To do that, people need to want the houses being built.
Negative equity and unsold property are both a form of devaluation. And if your business model depends on future growth, then devaluation doesn't offer less profit, it undercuts your entire method for making money.
The sceptic paranoid in me says state-owned banks like HBOS are involved in a vicious circle of betting on property, and pumping cash into that property. Good luck with that.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
As the tendrils of the NSA continue their silent attempt at infiltration, it's a whirlwind to understand exactly what the fall-out of Snowden's "revelations" are. I can see myself flitting between and falling into 3 different responses, each of which may be just as dangerously fallacious as each other:
1. Carry on as normal. Normal people don't care about all this. They just want to share photos and comment on each other's kids. Nothing to hide, etc. I'm still blogging via Google's blogger.com, aren't I?
2. Shrug and say "told you so". As a self-labelled, semi-practicing cypherpunk it's tempting to think you were working on the assumption that everything is surveilled anyway. Paranoia is the best form of defence. Be careful about what you leak.
3. Get outraged. I was right - but it's even worse than I thought! Cypherpunk efforts need to be redoubled. Everything needs to be self-hosted, resilient, and strongly-protected. Just in case. Be angry, be very angry, that there are a bunch of people who think they own you.
In fact, simply falling into one - or any - of these is a mistake. Why? Because they all follow the same model - the idea that state security is at one extreme, and everyday users (using commercial services) are at the other. That there is a difference, a very thick line, between the worlds of global security and funny cats.
This is an outdated model based on antique technology. It is a steampunk model - romantic, but useless in reality. The world has changed too much.
The reality is this: we are in an era of economic power struggles. Right now, a lot of people are desperate to keep control of the world. And this entails maintaining a population happy to exist in an economic-power mindset to support this - people that fit into a specific notion of how economics should work, and how "value" should be transferred.
The very notion that you are at the "bottom" or the "middle" or the "top" of society. That you fit into a class that has ever finer degrees of hierarchical granularity. That as you grow, you move upwards. All of this is essential to producing that economic-power model.
As we have moved into a more linked society, this hierarchy starts to break down - the segmented society (public/private/state/individual/commons) we like to categorise everything into has little meaning. Companies know everything about us. States know everything about companies. We know too much and yet too little about each other.
There is no "hierarchy" that you can make progress against, only a mesh of platforms and power within which you live your life. All those forces acting on you are there deliberately. Every time you wish you could afford something. Every time you get angry something goes wrong.
We can't think about global security in a James Bond way any more because 'spying' is now so integrally woven into the fabric of what we do, from CCTV cameras to rubbish bins, from search engines to loyalty cards. "Prosperity" is in the early, yet all-encompassing, stages of depending on this inherent level of surveillance to survive. The economic power model would be "inefficient" without it.
This is the fundamental paradigm shift we - as individuals, but also as communities, as companies, as organisations, as families - will struggle to understand, partly because we're not used to it, partly because it changes all the time, and partly just because we don't want to think about it. It's confusing and scary and unromantic.
But it's a model which will increasingly affect every single hour of every single day, from the weather when you wake up, to how you get to work (if you go to work), to what your political opinions are (if you have any), to what phone you buy and how much cooking you do. It will affect where you live, whether you have children, whether you get married, whether you have a pension.
It will affect whether you smile.
I wish democracy could find a way of circumventing this level of invasiveness, but I doubt "democracy" is a thing in itself any more. In our romantic view of the world, democracy is set apart from Politics, a lone bastion of philosophical standing. In reality, all we have is a handful of lack-lustre parties, an antiquated voting system, and insufficient openness or effort for anything to be truly influenced. Democracy is dead.
I'm not sure what's left in its place. Reality, perhaps. The idea that we don't really need any of these networks after all - we got sucked into them because we thought they were safe, convenient, somehow better. But maybe we just didn't think that one through.
Maybe it's time to do less. Care less about the stuff we thought we cared about. Stick two fingers up at things like "entertainment" and "pineapples". Ignore Instagram. Find stuff just by asking about. Do some weeding on a massive scale.
The whole point about weeding is not that you're left with empty ground. It means you're left with potential for something else - something you really want, something you actually care about and can actually use.
Friday, August 09, 2013
Oh God - TorrentFreak has been accidentally blocked by Sky - probably due to their IP being listed in a blacklisted domain. As comments in the article point out, this is a massive
opportunity loophole in how the system works. If this is how it works, all it would take is for a blocked domain to point themselves at whatever IP they want and any websites hosted there would fall off the net.
If it works like that, I'd thoroughly expect this to hit in the next week - over the weekend even, when everyone's catching up with news and email. I'm guessing the ISPs have some kind of whitelist in place though, which trawls "big" sites and auto-adds them. Guessing.
Let's find out.
Ongoing. The question - if I map out everything I use, what it depends on, and what it hooks up to, does it make it easier to modularise, and to see what the priorities are? Maybe up/down are links, left/right are forms of resilience. By exploding them into parts, can we create links between them that didn't exist previously?
Could the same be done with larger infrastructures (without descending into self-destructive Politics - why would you tie a single pot of funding and a single organisational structure across all modules? Can Local Authorities and "generic" branded movements really survive?)