Sesame Street gentrifies. Hooper’s Store now sells nothing but artisanal ketchup. The apartment building is luxury condominiums. Gordon, Susan, Bob, and Maria had to move out. Big Bird’s empty lot is now a single origin cold brewed coffee bar called The Nest.
When asked about the recent changes to the neighborhood, one long time resident who asked not to be named was quoted as saying, “I think this is great! Everyone was so happy before. Now they’re miserable! Now if only Chipotle would close down that taqaria down the block, it would be perfect!”
Charlie Stross has written what he termed a new cluetrain manifesto, although it bears no relation to the original except in form. Instead of talking about businesses and marketing, his is about the relationship of labor, capital, and government in the early 21st century.
I don’t think most of his points are all that controversial, with notable exception of 14. I find the idea of mass civil unrest in the Western democracies laughably absurd. For the United States, it’s doubly absurd when it’s supposed to be the outgrowth of a populist economic revolt. As John Steinbeck put it, “[America’s] poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
I think I finally have something worth turning into a sticker.
Quartz recently reported that “Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the [I]nternet”. Specifically, in southeast Asia and Africa, there are more self-identified “Facebook users” than there are “Internet users.” Most of the Internet basically just said “Ha! Ha! Look at those stupid people!”, but that misses what’s really going — and explained in the Quartz article.
In the developing world, most people don’t have computers, they have phones, and those phones aren’t even smartphones, they’re feature phones. When they browse Facebook, they aren’t using an app, or even m.facebook.com, they’re using what’s called “mbasic“. Additionally, the bandwidths are limited — say 2G — and the data rates are relatively expensive. In a very real sense, trying to surf the modern web is nigh-unusable. So Facebook experience is in certain sense not the Internet. The trouble comes in from the fact, that’s how Facebook wants it.
FB is a walled garden. It always has been. It’s a walled-garden with a billion users on a 7 billion person planet. There’s just not that much growth in the wired world available beyond population growth… unless you increase the number of potential users. And that’s where Internet.org comes in. Internet.org is a corporate partnership between Facebook and various feature phone manufactures that is “dedicated to making affordable internet access available to the two-thirds of the world not yet connected.” It sounds like a charity. It talks about the good works it does. But in reality, it’s just a ploy to increase the number of Facebook users. One of Internet.org’s main tactics is “zero-rating“. Zero-rating is a network-biased approach where telcoms or ISPs don’t charge customers for packets exchanged between them and the zero-rated site, thereby biasing user behavior.
There’s nothing altruistic with Internet.org, it’s all about increasing advertising revenue. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, that’s how the company makes money, and hell it pays my bills. And yeah, Facebook is primarily user generated content, and yes it is possible to do your own things on it, but the thing that bothers me about Internet.org is the whole mission from God rhetoric about it. “Is Internet connectivity a human right?” Well maybe, maybe not, but spouting this while promoting a walled garden is bullshit.
With growing inequality and the civil unrest from Ferguson and the Occupy protests fresh in people’s mind, the world’s super rich are already preparing for the consequences. At a packed session in Davos, former hedge fund director Robert Johnson revealed that worried hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes. “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway,” he said.
This fear that the unwashed masses will soon rise up and overthrow their betters is a reoccurring theme with the ultra rich. It never happens though. Why? As Marco Rubio famously said, “We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots. We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves, of people who have made it and people who will make it. And that’s who we need to remain.” As long as that lie keeps getting believed, the 1% will remain safe on their piles of money.
In the new book, Marijuana Legalization What Everyone Needs to Know – operations research(!) and public policy professors from CMU, Pepperdine, and UCLA – attempt to determine what the price of marijuana if production was legalized. Using Canada’s industrial hemp industry as a guide, they estimate a price of about $5 per pound for mid-grade ganja, and a price of about $20 for good stuff. That’s 800 joints for a quarter. (But then again, who smokes joints when you can smoke a bowl?) As Matt Yglesias points out, this puts in the ketchup and sugar packet territory.
Of course, I don’t believe that the price would ever actually go that low. First, cannabis would taxed quite aggressively. Sin taxes and all that. Also there’s such a huge disconnect between the potential $3 per ounce price and the $300 per ounce price that consumers are conditioned to expect. While prices will no doubt fall, I wonder to what the profit margin would end up being? 10x? 50x?
The always entertaining and informative show Radiolab, brings us the strange case that according to Marvel Comics, mutants aren’t human. Which is ironic because the entire undercurrent of the X-Men universe is the bigotry and right of mutants to be seen as equals.
Why did Marvel do this? Tariffs. “Dolls representing only human beings and parts and accessories thereof: Dolls whether or not dressed: Other: Not over 33 cm in height” are taxed at 12%, while “Toys representing animals or other non-human creatures (for example, robots and monsters) and parts and accessories thereof” are taxed at 6.8%. Toy Biz, the company manufacturing the toys for Marvel, argued in court that since some of the X-Men were blue, they weren’t human, and therefore the “action figures” were “toys” and not “dolls.” Yglesias is right, in pointing out that there is absolutely no logical reason why there would be this discrepancy, but there it is.
When I heard this, I immediately thought of customs agents thumbing through containers and putting Wolverine in the 6.8% “toy” pile, putting Nick Fury in the 12% “doll” pile, and woe to the agent that puts Juggernaut in the “toy” pile. Cain Marko’s powers are magical, so he’s not a mutant. (However, Ultimate Juggernaut is a muttie.) Alas, I suspect customs just throws everything marked “Marvel” in the 6.8 pile.
There is something seriously wrong when condemning one of the seven deadly sins is a taboo. Why? Evangelical preachers don’t want to alienate wealthy donors. In other words, they want the money that’s used to line their pockets. Maybe it’s because I grew up Catholic, but I never trust anyone that says he’s doing “God’s work” and doesn’t take a vow poverty. Or as George Orwell said, saints should be considered guilty until proven innocent. Personally, I blame the the Prosperity Theology and the canard that Mark 10:25 actually doesn’t mean what it says.
Bonus points for the article quoting the right winger that says that envy is the real problem.
MTV aired True Life: I’m Occupying Wall Street recently. According to Slate, it went as well as expected.