Friday, June 20, 2008

Transaction costs

It is striking that one of the main uses of the Web for doing business is to go to a site and find the phone number to call and place the order. In almost all cases this is way more effective than performing the transaction online.

For example, I got through snail mail a notice to renew an auto license's tabs and the choices were to go by the local office of the bureaucracy and present the document, pay the fee and get the tabs. This involves a certain amount of nuisance but because this is such a small town courthouse it only takes a few minutes when I'm in town for other chores.

The other alternative is to do it online and have the tabs mailed to me. This involves over 10(!) screens' worth of drill-down and lots of near-imponderable entries of data that is clearly on file or I wouldn't have gotten the request to renew.

Why do we paranoiacally erect so many barriers to convenient transactions? These will be the death of the promise of the Web to completely eliminate the rigors of these sorts of transactions. The one-click at Amazon is the closest to truly usable methodology and even there you have to gain familiarity with the process to, e.g. have a book sent to a different address.

Oh, well - whoever said that it would be easy didn't quite understand the old proverb "saying easy, doing hard".


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another Anniversary

Juneteenth again!

And I'm afraid to read Douglas Blackmon's "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II" for fear of drowning in tears.

I lived through the latter part of that era and actually understood what was happening, though not what levels it had reached.

I'm sure my forebears owned slaves and know of no way to affect that, but I keep trying both in writing and living.

The delights I've felt in mostly entertainment areas - Paul Robeson's incredible stage presence; Althea Gibson winning Wimbledon; Jackie Robinson's fantastic skill and vectorhood - had added to them this week's triumph of the Boston Celtics, an all-black basketball team in their championship release of jubilant emotion.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


There are 16 quite different translations of a classic poem ("Deer Park") by Wang Wei, an 8th-century AD Chinese master poet.

Leaving aside the question of whether any of these capture the essence of the original, we are dramatically reminded of the pitfalls of putting faith into similarly impossibly rendered ancient scrolls that form the basis for a "Holy Bible" that many demand be taken literally.

What we mark less is what Korzybski's mnemonic device, the "structural differential" endeavors to demonstrate: even at the most fundamental level (the sensory abstractions from the event level), we must try to stay aware that translation involves consequent problems of omission and inevitable modification.

The observation is NOT the thing observed. "Whatever you say it is, it isn't"!

This fundamental disjoint 'twixt events/observations/maps/territories underlies a great deal of our seemingly endless contention, often leading to the rather vaguely understood "it's just a matter of semantics."

After much long thought about poverty it became obvious to Dr. King in his final book (1967) that there is a rather simple/direct path to ending poverty, thence starvation/disease/war: "I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective - the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income."

This has been obvious since at least Thomas Paine's last pamphlet, "Agrarian Justice" from 1796.

Even third-party candidates don't espouse a Basic Income Guarantee despite its obvious value for moving, as Bucky Fuller put it, from "weaponry to livingry."



Root Respect?

In the chapter of my book called "Young" I dwell on a phenomenon that was evoked by last night's victory celebration by the Boston Celtics.

They embody the achievement (also symbolized by the candidacy of Barack Obama) of cultural growth which makes heroes of a team of African-Americans supported by a mostly-honky community.

The men in their league almost uniformly retain their childhood promise to take care of their parents (or, often, grandmothers) when they got the money. We frequently renege on our vow to ourselves to repay society for the blessings the commons bestows on us.

I think Fathers' Day is as much a commercial hype in regard to "family" as Christmas is for Christianity so the fact that only one of my ten kids called over the weekend was more amusing than troubling.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who's Clark Gable?

I use the subject query to typify a phenomenon that becomes noticeable with age in both directions - the surprise that someone is too young to know all about people I understood to be as iconic as Muhammad Ali (often cited as the most recognizable figure in the world), such as Paul Robeson (whose name got a blank response from my own son!) - and my own "who's Kurt Cobain?" (although I became fairly familiar with him when he blew his brains out).

This effect is really striking when one is in a foreign land where entire genres are noticeably blanked out "what's a 'double play' or a 'slam dunk'?"

The idea of there being only six months until some technology solves stuff (voice recognition, indexing pictures, communicating via brain waves) because "they used to say we'd never walk on the moon, so why can't we produce a time machine?"

I read that three paths not to get led up are time travel, anti-gravity, and teleportation. Of course perpetual motion has always been in there but the universe is in fact an example thereof - apparently quarks don't die.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Whither rms?

The irony of Richard Stallman's creation Free Software Foundation is manifest in its confusion of the notion that "freedom" can have its meaning/referent changed as 1988 becomes 2008, etc.

"Free software is software that gives you the user the freedom to share, study and modify it. We call this free software because the user is free."

This (at least) implies that they're weaseling "free" to cover the fact that we are all mistaken in thinking it should refer to the software, not the user.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Our Hijacked Commonwealth

One of our concerns should be how we can save our great Commonwealth that is the Web and its underlying infrastructure, the internet, from its possibly imminent hijacking by the usual suspects.

If we allow internet service providers to be top-down megaliths as was the case with publishing of all kinds before the tape recorder and xerox revolutions we must say "shame on us".

The hacker ethic can still preclude this eventuality, particularly as each of us becomes a server node without the necessity of paying "protection racket" fealty to the entities that have always, until now, managed to subvert our human rights with their "Mafia" tactics, prisons and the captivity of the system of exchange represented by money.

A main hope in this regard is the generation of the young people, mostly gamers, who have been finding ways to say "NO!" to attempts to follow the Pirates of Silicon Valley rather than the more benign populists who gave us GNU, Linux, the Creative Commons; i.e. (in personality symbols) Richard Stallman rather than Bill Gates.

The immediate onset of incredibly powerful hardware will give us an opportunity to pre-empt control of our Digital Destiny.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Doctor King's Legacy

His "I have a dream" speech is widely known/beloved. His last book is the culmination of an incredible mind's reflection on society as a whole. As I read it, I hear him orating the passage which contains "I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective - the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income."

We've long understood that the root of our scourges, hunger/war/disease is poverty and the implementation of the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) is such a clear remedy that it behooves us to advocate its universal adoption forthwith.