Friday, 24 December 2010

"Ultimate Capitalist Weapon" inventor dies

The obituary I read of Samuel T Cohen, who invented the neutron bomb, quotes his perverted relativism in calling his invention "the most sane and moral weapon ever devised",  He claimed it would have saved 50,000 US lives by shortening the Vietnam War. He worked on the atom bomb in the 1940s and the devastation it wrought led him to conceive this weapon that kills people but leaves property intact.

700 warheads were built but never deployed. The move convinced Cohen that politicians were beneath contempt. They night be, but they saved him from being an accessory to yet more "murders", using his "sane weapon".

We know arms companies like wars, because they sell weapons for them, paid for by tax payers, to both sides. We know construction companies like buildings being destroyed, because they can make money rebuilding them, but the neutron bomb would be no good for that.

There's nothing 'sane' or 'moral' about any of this.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Simpsons dig at corporate corruption

An episode of The Simpsons - You Kent Always say what you want - aired recently mocked big corporations for changing news coverage to suit themselves. TV anchorman Kent Brockman was forced to interview Homer Simpson, who had bought the millionth ice cream cone from a local shop, mockingly saying that an item on the Arab-Israeli conflict is what you will not hear. The ice cream company is owned by the same corporation that owns the TV channel

Brockman swears on air (because Homer spills a hot drink on him) and is sacked. With Lisa's help he starts making videos for the web in which he makes comments against the military industrial complex, in which there are corporations that own weapons manufacturing companies and TV channels.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas appeal for cyclic consumption

In today's Evening Standard (London), some pundit was arguing for the VAT increase (due in the New Year) to be postponed to help retailers sell more stuff. He also wants to have a traffic free period as more stuff gets sold then. (Interesting - retailers usually argue for less restriction on cars).

Of course if the VAT increase is postponed, the government could lose tax revenue, but this could be offset by people buying more stuff. Deep sigh. What is it that we in fact need? Basics - food, shelter, clean water, medical care, a source of information and communication; and possibly some things to give us a quality life, rather than an existence - the means to express ourselves or to enjoy seeing others express themselves, let's say. I do  not suggest this is a comprehensive list. But buying more stuff to keep people in work making more stuff for us to buy - cyclic consumption - is just silly.

Yet another example of the wrongness of our current system

Musing with my hands under a hot air hand drier the other day, I considered whether they are better overall than paper towels or roller towels. Of course replacing towels is work for someone, and so the objection to "electric towels" could include doing people out of work. My thoughts went to the problem of optimising a subsystem (getting an electric towel) yet sub-optimising the system - depriving someone of work. But of course, depriving someone of work should not be sub-optimal in any sane system. This is a simple example of where automation reduces human labour - so why is this not good?

Monday, 20 December 2010


I've been watching internet films about 9-11 and the 7 July 2005 London Bombings. I'm not going to try to sell any conspiracy theories, but:

  • We know there are 'false flag' attacks because information about various ones have been de-classified.
  • There are so many anomalies in the official version of 7/7 that it would seem to be a strong candidate for being 'not what it seems' and therefore possibly a false flag attack.
  • The government / secret services will not of course admit to this, as it would render the FFA useless. All the while enough people believe the official version, the FFA will achieve its ends, to some extent. An enquiry will never go far enough to satisfy the most ardent seekers of truth, for exactly the same reason.
  • A FFA could theoretically be used for good, but most critics suspect that 7/7 was not. This is where conspiracy theories step in.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Social Return on Investment

To be honest, I'm not sure exactly what this is. It sounds like a Good Thing, but from a quick skim it's rather arcane in that way that policy wonks tend to write and think. I think/guess it may be to do with measuring RoI by things other than money. Good. I guess the want a standardised way of doing this, in the way that GDP/GNP are standard, because standardisation makes comparison easier. Some people have tried to put a price on the ecosystem, so that it is included within capitalism and doesn't break its rules (liquidising assets and calling it income, ignoring externalities and others.) If I ever get around to looking into it more I'll blog further.

What is a valid contribution to society?

In the current system, the distinction seems largely to be whether you are in paid work or not. Although some paid work is taboo - drug dealing, say,  pretty much any paid work is seen as contributing to society - even selling cigarettes / tobacco.

This is a bit of an exaggeration, as there are people of course who give of their time voluntarily and do things that are socially necessary and/or socially constructive. These will tend to be people who have the money and therefore the time to do something socially constructive without being paid specifically for doing so. Even as I write, I see the true logic of how society should be operated arising from what I am writing, even though I'm not writing exactly what I originally intended.

No-one should be doing anything that is not socially constructive. We put people in prison for some socially destructive things, but for others we pay them a salary. Lunacy. Let's go back to the volunteers. They're doing something socially constructive, because it is socially constructive and for no other reason. Does it not seem likely that the vast majority of people, freed from waged slavery, would do the same?

Under the current system, consuming is contributing to society, because of cyclic consumption:  I have to work to get money to spend to keep you in work so that you can consume and keep the next person in work, and so on. Lest we should see the foolishness of all this, advertising/marketing steps in to keep us thinking we must consume more. What is this system (or those that operate it) trying to achieve? Are they genuinely trying to use up resources as quickly as possible? Do they just not care that the system is consuming the resources ever more rapidly?

Paid incompetence and inefficiency

Those of us who work in the public sector often have it put to us that public sector staff are incompetent and the public sector is inefficient.

Never mind which sector - the current system requires people to work at a job to get money to access the necessities of life. It doesn't directly match people's skills to what needs doing and must be done by people - at least for the time being (really needs doing to sustain life on this planet)  and thus incompetent people (or more politely people with poorly matched skills) are in jobs working for organisations that are less efficient than they might be.

I'm not suggesting that the private sector is efficient and staffed entirely by competent people. The sector distinction is a false or irrelevant one in my view. It's just that I work in the public sector.

Efficiency and employment are diametrically opposed. Efficiency rises drastically where automation is introduced, but people are put out of work and this is seen as a bad thing. Similarly, if organisations use the best people for the task required, they will need fewer people to do it - more efficient, but less employment.

A Resource Based Economy aims to be sustainable and efficient  first and foremost. It does not aim to create work for the sake of it, but it "pulls in" what work it needs. Each person has access to the necessities of life as a birth right and not because they carry out a job that may be unnecessary (either because a machine an do it or because it doesn't need doing) or even counter productive (working to destroy rather than preserve and enhance life or the ecosystem).

Films, Music, Education, Food. Not war

"Cultures of Resistance (CoR) is an activist network that encompasses a family of initiatives. These include an outreach web site, a feature documentary, a media production company, and a private foundation." I saw footage they supplied in John Pilger's film The war you don't see, broadcast on ITV earlier this week.

Pilger's film showed how media organisatios are at best complicit with war propaganda, and at best taken in by it. One point repeatedly made was that if a politician says something that is not true, and a media organisation reports what s/he said, the media organisation is being truthful, whilst managing to convey an untruth. The film featured several journalists expressing their regret that they'd been taken in and had passed on propaganda (lies) as news/truth.

Getting at the truth of war is hard. Journalists that report what the war machine wants them to report are given protection ("embedding") and access to sources. Journalists who try to live up to their high calling of objectivity and impartiality seem to be fewer. The film featured a memorial to journalists killed in war at St Bride's Church Fleet Street - 'the journalists' church'.

The idea that journalists should trade their objectivity for their lives / personal safety is particularly galling.

Peer reviewing is not necessarily as serious as it sounds.

"Science Correspondent Tom Feilden describes some of the cheerful comments made by scientific papers reviewers. Chief editor of Nature Protocols Chris Surridge and neuroscience professor Colin Blakemore discuss the witty side of peer reviews."

This was an item on Radio 4's today programme on Thursday 16 December. Headed on the website "The scientific sense of humour", the item was presented as a bit of a laugh, but towards the end a key point emerged that was rather a concern. There was reference to scientists being rivals, and later, towards jobs being on the line. The idea that someone's scientific opinion should in any way be influenced by their need to keep their job is really quite a concern. I'm not blaming the individual scientists - I'm blaming the monetary system. What we want from our scientists is pure, objective science. Money distorts objectivity.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Shape Memory Polymers

Researches at the Arizona State University have developed a material that can detect and heal damage to itself. It is made using Shape Memory polymers.

In an RBE, things would be built to last, rather than built to fail so that others could be sold. Self repairing materials would obviously help things to last even longer, thereby being even more economical with the planet's finite resources.

Plane ticket price madness

"Code sharing" is the selling of one airline company's flights by another airline. The price for the same seat on the same flight can vary drastically. I read about this in Metro (London, 8/12/10). In the article one airline's spokesman said "We always advise customers to shop around for the best fares to suit their needs". Setting aside the odd concept of "needing" to spend more money to get exactly the same thing, this point is also odd as we have an airline effectively marketing other airlines' tickets. Let's not forget in all this oddness that there are of course companies that exist to find the cheapest fares for you. Yes, special websites that uncover information that is already known, but that has been covered, or not shared. Thus a market and competition and jobs are created to achieve nothing.

McLaren MP4-12C

No - I haven't turned into a petrol head. What's interesting about the design of this supercar is the moulded carbon fibre body shell weighing only 78kg. The Book Natural Capitalism which chimes in well with the idea of a resource based economy mentions this technology in its Hypercar chapter. It makes the point that while carbon fibre is expensive per unit weight, it is the cost of it per car that is relevant. The carbon fibre can be coloured in mould and can be very light per car as this McLaren shows (though its hardly a practical car). By keeping the weight down the need for motive and stopping power is reduced, hence lighter motors and brakes. The carbon fibre monocoque is very crash-worthy, not only because of the design but also because of the low weight.

In Natural Capitalism the idea is that the need for private cars can be minimised by sharing them (leasing / hiring) and by planning our town and cities to reduce the need to travel. This fits very closely with the RBE ideas.

Monday, 6 December 2010

You what?

In the current "The Week" magazine, there's an item on the chaos that's breaking out in the Eurozone, and it mentions this about Italy:

"Italy's finances are basically sound: it has a high level of debt ... but that debt is largely funded from within Italy and is well managed by the country's respected finance ministry."

I admit I am no economist or financier, but let's look at this. What does a debt being "funded" mean? Surely whoever "funded" a debt lent the money? So Italy has lent money to itself? The people of Italy have lent money to their own government? How is the government going to pay them back?

And what does a debt being "managed" mean? Does it mean it is being paid back? If not, what?

Christmas is coming

I'm not a puritan and have nothing against people enjoying Christmas or anything else - in fact I'm in favour of it, but the commercialism of Christmas seems particularly trenchant this year, my first "run up to Christmas" blogging on the idea of a resource based economy.

All the shops and businesses want more money and we're cajoled into buying and consuming more so that the economy can grow, but this is nonsense. Growing in fact is going faster; the money must circulate faster for there to be growth in the sense meant here, but obviously - ? - it can't just keep getting faster indefinitely.

As the money moves faster it sucks in more stuff, but one thing we can't get for Christmas is a new planet earth. When we've used up this one, that's it.

Efficiency vs cutbacks

Really efficiency is desirable. Anything we pay for we want to be efficient, so that we get the most benefit possible for each £1 we pay. Where we work, though, it's different. We have to keep our jobs and while we will agree that we should be efficient, if efficient means doing the same with fewer people, we're not so keen as we may be one of those looking for a new job.

The current public sector cutbacks are clearly an attempt to force public sector bodies to look for efficiency savings, hence for instance plans to share services with neighbouring boroughs, but all the while there are people thinking "be efficient, but keep me on", separating efficiency gains (doing the same for less) from cuts in services (doing less to save money) is going to be an issue.

In a culture where we think it is OK for people to be in any old paid employment, irrespective of whether it is socially constructive, and even if it is socially destructive, we will never get true efficiency. True efficiency can only come from focussing human effort on those things that technology cannot do and more to the point directing that human effort so that skills are matched to the work that needs doing. How can this happen with people grimly holding on to jobs for survival purposes?

Unless everybody can have free access to the necessities of life without being bonded to an employer, we will never free up creativity and motivation.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Hi tech prefabs

Today's Metro free newspaper (London) features an article about a new hotel in China built in under 6 days from pre-fabricated parts.

Jacque Fresco's ideas for pre fabricated buildings can be seen on the Venus Project website amongst other places - and he envisages that the construction will be almost entirely automated. I admit this is one of the elements of TVP I find least plausible, but I have no knowledge of construction and not enough knowledge of robotics by a long chalk to know how far from reality Fresco's visions are.

The metro article did strike home though. A 16 storey building in under 6 days bodes well for future building if there is no need for human involvement just to create jobs and automation can be used as fully as possible.