Saturday, August 22, 2015

Random Early Morning Barking

Someone Make That Dog To Shut Up

Burned And Fearful

Here in Kiddietown ( "One Big Campus; One Big Dorm" ), it's been sooty; the Bay Area has been smelling faintly of burned California's Oak, Pine, Manzanita, Chaparral, Poison Oak, and the occasional home. As a Dog, I can tell.

And in the Big World: How About Yesterday In That Stock Market, Hah? Wheeeeeeee! And while I don't like the imagery, as The Great Curmudegon has said, "Another Day At The Dog Track!"(Reminds me of a George Carlin joke from his standup days -- A news announcer, reading off a list of events: "...and, the stock market dropped six hundred points. Trading was a little spirited, there, towards the end...")

Kim Jong Tubbyboy, Leader of the People's Fun Republik Of Chuckles, is demanding everyone love him and do what he says, or it's war with South Korea, maybe.   Sad Vlad, The Putin, says to the sovereign nation of Ukraine: Do What I Want or the troops I claim not to know about will invade. The followers of ISIS, when not raping women and children, destroying the cultural heritage of the Middle East, and generally turning territory they've seized into Col. Kurtz' paranoid enclave from Apocalypse Now, demand the Earth convert to their notion of what Islam is, or they will invade everywhere.

Donnie Trump says he doesn't care if anyone loves him or not, he'll be invasive. Oh, and, Ooogli Ooogli Ooogli -- Hillary!  Jebby! Who among us can contain the simulated excrement excitement.

(And oddly, a larger number of people in Ukraine than usual have been looking at this blog recently...  you'd think they had better things to do with their time, but perhaps it takes their mind off of being indiscriminately shelled. Good luck to you all, and be safe.)

Crossing The Styx, The Boatman Doesn't Care What You Owned

As usual on my way to work, homeless men (mostly) are still sleeping in the stairwells of the Embarcadero BART station At 6:00 AM. You step carefully over them to enter the station. More are sleeping just inside. You avoid stepping in the occasional puddle of puke or piss or scavenged food.  The men lie stretched out as if beached, or dead; it's the sleep of damage and exhaustion and hopelessness on the banks of the Styx, which is never really that far away for any of us.

A friend mentioned on Sunday that, among other middle-school parents they know (like my friend, involved in some sector of the Tech economy and relatively affluent), several said a number of homes in their various Kiddietown neighborhoods had just been purchased, for cash: two- and three-plus million dollar homes. "Who can do that?" my friend asked. "Can you imagine having so much that you can do that? Two million in cash? I can't."

For some reason, I remembered this conversation as I made my way down, down, into the Sub Way, the electric road beneath the City. It made me consider the the huge gap opening between Those With and Those Without -- right in your face (and particularly in a place like Kiddietown), you see the preening frenzy of affluence and access, getting and having; Another crazy you get from / Too much choice / The Thumb in the satchel / Or the rented Rolls-Royce.

Kiddietown is awash in cash. It's a town full of Big White Busses with smoked windows, painfully thin hipsters, trust-fund girlz who chitter with a nasal whine, and drunken frat-boy clones, all staring down at tiny smartphone screens, dreaming of how they can become overnight millionaires when their startup goes to IPO and is 'acquired' by one of the mega-names of the Tech world.  When criticized, if they bother to respond at all it's with an insouciance that defines them, in a Tweet: Fogeys gonna foge.

The dichotomy between having two million dollars in cash (the life savings of two-plus "regular" working families in America; every nickle and dime they'll ever earn) to "acquire" a residential property, and the  homeless lying unconscious and underground, made me consider where we are as a society and a country. If you've ever been curious what things Dogs think about, that's one.
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Business Cycle Sluts

Technology and commerce drives economies and fuels cycles of cultural change. In the years after WWII, the first large shift began in the decade after Vietnam. Whole industries (steel, clothing, kitchenware, furniture, automobiles) disappeared or downsized. In 1981, Reagan took office with rising unemployment -- solved by cutting taxes for the wealthy, and increasing "defense" spending against the Communist Bloc.

As Daddy Bush became President, the Evil Empire dissolved. We had a quick, winnable war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- but the wartime / 'defense' economy dwindled and unemployment rose again. Daddy Bush lost the 1992 election to Clinton ("It's the economy, stupid").

The second economic shift was the 'Dot-Com Revolution' -- electronic and computing technologies had become mature (and disruptive), and the World Wide Web began to develop. Venture Capital flowed into startups (e.g., Google, PayPal); while established tech names increased their sales and market share (IBM, Intel, AMD, Cypress; HP, Dell, Compaq; Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Oracle; Yahoo, Netscape). Cell phones got smaller; processors got faster and faster.

In Kiddietown, you could walk past beautifully designed storefronts; inside, people were busy... primarily designing websites, software applications, and offering 'transformational concepts' to businesses -- how to do commerce on the Net. The Busy People believed they were building the Future, an end to Old Ways of working and earning a living. No one knew exactly what our Future would be, or how we would all transition into it -- but it would be on the Web, and we would navigate it with a few clicks, and get everything we ever wantedIt would create jobs!  DEN.com!  WebVan!  Boo.com!  Pets.com!  Yay!

With the 2000 crash, the beautiful storefronts vanished. Before Clinton left office, he had helped Larry Summers and Phil Gramm and the BSD's set the stage for the Go-Go, "Lil' Boots" Bush years. We had Terraists, and a second war in the Middle East. The economy initially grew around 'defense' spending and tax cuts for the wealthy; then, around real estate sales, and the financial / investment 'industry'.  Everyone knows what happened next.

The Crash of 2008 allegedly ended in 2012. Tech expansion and development had continued after the Dot-Com Crash;  Apple introduced the iPod in 2001 and the iPhone in 2007; T-Mobile brought out the G-1 Android phone in 2008; and virtual (Cloud) storage technology became a reality.  A decade on from the 2000 Crash, more tools we use in our work and personal lives depend on programmers, developers, technicians, system architects and security specialists than in the Dot-Com era.

This is the third large, and latest, shift in a progression from a manufacturing economy to one based on creating infrastructure, hardware and software to provide access to goods and services. By 2012, the Tech sector, and the "service economy" (both traditional [waiters and hotel staff], and non-traditional [Uber; TaskRabbit]) were the prime factors driving the Fabled Recovery. The beautiful businessfronts returned to Kiddietown.

Money, money, money is being made. The streets are full of BMWs, MBZs and Teslas. Everything from the Crash has been made All Better. The future is robotics and more leisure time -- for some people, anyway; Yay! Why, then, does it feel so much like 2006?
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There are plentiful examples of cultures where the gulf between those who Have and those who Have-Less becomes wider and wider.  My favorite is the European / American 'Golden Age' (roughly, 1875 through the summer of 1914), the time of The Proud Tower, the Distant Drummer.
On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams.

Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die.

East and west on fields forgotten
Bleach the bones of comrades slain,
Lovely lads and dead and rotten;
None that go return again.

Far the calling bugles hollo,
High the screaming fife replies,
Gay the files of scarlet follow:
Woman bore me, I will rise.
A.E. Housman, "A Shropshire Lad" (1896)

Each time a culture lurches forward, it leaves people behind. I watch the antics of the Kiddies; I see the bodies on the stairwells. I see the restaurants, theaters, bars, clubs and side streets crowded with people exuding energy, spending money; I hear the cars with sound systems pumping Cholo music, Soul and Rap as they cruise the City. I smell the burning neighborhoods in Syria, Gaza, Yemen, Cairo, Brazil. We are so fortunate, here in the Land of the Brave and the Home Of The Hip -- and, damned; but don't bring that up at the backyard parties.

I hope you weren't expecting a real analysis. It's just one Dog's random thoughts, and the feeling that in the rush to grab for the shiny ring, it's helpful to remember that ring is only what we've been taught to want from the cradle; and it's made of brass, inside and out.   Just sayin'.
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MEHR, MIT GOOD OLD MAMA'S HOMEMADE SCHADENFREUDE:  As ever, a trenchant view from one of the Smartest People In The World™ can be found here.
...Population growth is slowing worldwide, and for all the hype about the latest technology, it doesn’t seem to be creating either surging productivity or a lot of demand for business investment. The ideology of austerity, which has led to unprecedented weakness in government spending, has added to the problem. And low inflation around the world, which means low interest rates even when economies are booming, has reduced the room to cut rates when economies slump.
 
Whatever the precise mix of causes, what’s important now is that policy makers take seriously the possibility, I’d say probability, that excess savings and persistent global weakness is the new normal.

My sense is that there’s a deep-seated unwillingness, even among sophisticated officials, to accept this reality. Partly this is about special interests: Wall Street doesn’t want to hear that an unstable world requires strong financial regulation, and politicians who want to kill the welfare state don’t want to hear that government spending and debt aren’t problems in the current environment.

But there’s also, I believe, a sort of emotional prejudice against the very notion of global glut. Politicians and technocrats alike want to view themselves as serious people making hard choices — choices like cutting popular programs and raising interest rates. They don’t like being told that we’re in a world where seemingly tough-minded policies will actually make things worse. But we are, and they will.