What is to be done?

When I started promulgating this notion of The Interregnum–“The old is dying and the new cannot be born;in this interregnum morbid symptoms abound”(Gramsci)–two years ago, I had no idea how morbid the symptoms would get.

The last week has been as depressing culturally and politically as any in my recent memory. On the political front, the whole Washington edifice seems so terminally broken that I can neither summon the energy to believe that passing this health care legislation which will force every American to pay 15% of their earnings to a private health insurer  is worth the kind of energy I and my friends brought to the 2008 election campaign. Nor can I summon the vitriol to denounce the charlatans like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck–the Private Jet Populists–the new Lonesome Rhodes from A Face in the Crowd–for their cynical manipulation of the paranoid conspiracy theorists that we call Teabaggers. The whole scene seems like some ancient Roman tragedy where King Pyrrhus upon defeating the Romans at such cost to his own followers turns to his general and says, “Another such victory and I am undone.”

And then I venture out in to the culture– the Hollywood Oscar parties–the reality TV–the Facebook posts–the TMZ front page–and I think that so little of it passes the “who cares” test. I met Guy Trebay a couple of years ago when we did a conference called Ready to Share. He writes about fashion with the acid vision of a 21st Century Trollope. This rung true.

And that was when someone else mentioned that fame is so cheap these days, that paparazzi fodder is so interchangeable, that celebrities are so dime-a-dozen, that often one has no idea whom the photographers are making a fuss about.

Perhaps, this person added, someone ought to invent celebrity Shazam, a fame app based on the music identification service available on cellphones.

That way, in a landscape prophesied with cold accuracy by Andy Warhol, one could point a camera phone at a given person and immediately learn which minor Italian soccer player or which trophy wife of which French intellectual or which former actor on a Jerry Bruckheimer crime-scene juggernaut one was gawping at.

It all seems so fucking inconsequential. Here we are stuck in two wars where our boys and girls, as young as the kids I teach at USC, are dying every day and it is as if they aren’t even real. What if the 26 year old coke sniffing Wall Street trader was in danger of being drafted? Would he then pay a bit more attention? A filmmaker like Paul Greengrass in Green Zone, puts evidence of the most treacherous deceptions by your government before you in the most wonderful style and panache and you ignore him. I feel like we are the collective victims of a huge heist of the collective wealth by Goldman Sachs, Halliburton, Wellpoint, Northrup Grumman, Merck and a few other duopolists and now we are celebrating the guys that picked our collective pockets in books like The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine and Karl Rove’s ironically titled Courage and Consequences.

The only things that give me any authentic joy are the concentric rings of my community–my wife and kids, linking out to my spiritual family and then out to my students and the community on this blog. I saw an authentic community of 600 at the Transmedia conference that my colleague Henry Jenkins organized today.

None of us seem to be in the kabuki play that is politics or celebrity and yet we realize that those two worlds filled with actors dominate our televisions and our computer screens. Why is J.D. Hayworth any different than Charley Sheen?

So I feel some despair from my sense that these families–these small groups–at the largest, 100 people in the same lecture hall–are being destroyed by this Savage Capitalism we live in. Kids are on edge at school because you know their parents are going through tough times. There are lots of stories of people out of work on Sundays. So I wrote my spiritual counselor. He’s a Texas Episcopalian rock and roll preacher named Jimmy Bartz. This is what he wrote me back to the question: Is capitalism destroying the family?

Initial answer.  Probably?  I think now that I would say modern American consumerism is destructive to the preservation of family.  Probably has it’s unintended roots in Friedman.  When consumerism runs wild, everything becomes a commodity or a product.  Probably potential spouses (and children) are initially commodities.  Over the course of a relationship (in our wildly consumerist culture) a person—spouse or child becomes a product, a what, rather than a who, and becomes replaceable when that product is no longer meeting our desires, changing tastes, or serving our dysfunction or airing “its” own dysfunction.

It gets articulated like, “she just didn’t give me what I needed.”  “He just stopped meeting my needs.”

My Buddhist friend Martin Perlich talks about “waking up to the world”, and in that sense we are truly sleepwalking as a culture and a polity.

What is to be done?

Can community like ours, dedicated to simplifying our lives, making good guitars out of great wood, writing fine songs of “the weary kind”, writing open source software–can we resist the next inevitable wave of consumerist advertising onslaught needed to keep the sputtering mall open?

I keep thinking back to Stewart Brand and his wonderful experiment called The Whole Earth Catalog. It was essentially an act of resistance “Access to Tools” it was called. You don’t need to hire a fucking expert, you have to become your own expert. Years later Stewart joined up with Peter Schwartz at the Global Business Network (NB: I’ve done some consulting for them) they mapped out the two energy futures for the US. One, named “Scramble” was essentially we keep what we’ve been doing and “by the 2020s, life has become volatile and uncertain.” We may have arrived a bit early at this stage.

The other scenario, named “Blueprints”, is more hopeful.

The world of Blueprints shows what can happen when actions outpace events. Groups of seemingly disconnected people in California –- venture capitalists, farmers, politicians –- collaborate around opportunities for profitable action on climate change. Publics put international pressure on governments for change. Smart investments in modern facilities improve air pollution, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas emissions all at the same time. This isn’t a sudden outbreak of altruism. It’s a recognition of shared interests, new opportunities for profitable business, and the benefits of taking action before it’s forced by circumstances. In the world of Blueprints, local actions spread and join up –- like the C40 megacities pact of mayors and others, experimenting and sharing good practices around carbon emissions, transport and energy efficiency. During the next decade, the Blueprints world is diverse. Different parts use different approaches to promote energy efficiency, and technology development. Some choose taxes. Others use mandates. Some look for voluntary action by businesses and consumers. The most successful approaches spread.

Here’s the deal. I know I am rambling a bit at 11 at night but I also I know we’re actually capable of “sudden outbreaks of altruism”  despite the poisonous garbage spewed out by Ayn Rand and her sad acolytes like Alan Greenspan. I’ve seen it in my church and even in my school. California already knows its possible to radically conserve energy, if only to get us off the Arabian Oil Teat. The state saved over $16 Billion in the first few years of it’s efficiency experiment.

But first we need to wake up. Stop taking the Soma. Perform random acts of resistance. And then get on with the work of making these local actions to change our world more real. This is perhaps the promise of the New Federalism.

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97 Responses to What is to be done?

  1. Rick Turner says:

    Jon, you and I are talking privately about one little piece of what to do. We all need to rise up and do some fucking thing. Almost anything positive and permanent counts. Blogging isn’nt enough anymore. If any of us have any push or pull, we have to use it NOW!

    Raise the kids right, put out the re-cylecling, compost table scraps, and then get out and do some fucking thing…

    Our voices wasted to the choir aren’t enough. Get it out to those who do not get it… They’re scared shitless…

  2. Rick Turner says:

    Does anybody really believe that the Chinese are going to go on a shopping spree with US manufacturing companies? Come on now folks; let’s get real here…

    It ain’t gonna happen for at least another ten years in real numbers… And by then we’re all the field niggers… We ain’t in the house talkin’ to massa…

    Sorry for the reality check…

  3. Clint says:

    I agree Jon, it is a bit mind-numbing and discouraging. I think you have found the solace that we all need in the all the right places. It is the small communities that we build now to live our lives, not the big communities.

    It is perhaps possible, that we are meant to be part of much smaller tribes and not the huge, unmanageable amalgams that are our present institutions. I have yet to experience, or see, a large institution that provides what we need as people today.

    It is frustrating to watch one’s beloved country quibble about an $87 billion while we are spending $663 billion on defense. We are clearly headed the wrong way and only those who “own or rent” the government officials can effect the changes that are needed, but largely not in their interest. So where does that leave the rest of us poor schlubs?

    With our small communities trying to make it through the day or week or month or year as best we can. Enjoying the satisfactions of a fine guitar, a song that lightens our hearts, a solid piece of furniture, a movie… and those are real.

  4. Gordon says:

    Jon, don’t despair; you are doing a fine job with this blog. Along with the smart investors, thoughtful mayors and so on of the ‘Blueprint’ scenario it is the sort of initiative that provides the necesssary edge from which the new will arise. Communication and cross-fertilisation are essential to that process.

    But I disagree that random acts of resistance are the way to go. Local actions are fine but just as fish cannot thrive if their river is polluted neither can people if the political economy has been hijacked for private benefit.

    So I say again read ‘Cornered’ by Barry Lynn. He really does the most remarkable job of joining the dots including those covered by Jimmy Bartz. Almost every page is a revelation.

  5. JTMcPhee says:

    There’s almost a word for everything. Maybe the one for hereandnow is Weltschmerz. You know the notion.

    I would add my little pitch that it seems to me what’s afoot is more than an Interregnum (as I understand the term) and more of a Ragnarök,but behind the screen of words I am sure it is the same thing. People argue about semiotic details, flood space and time with self-importantizing words, but most people just know they “yearn,” and that seems to me part of what Tea and Coffee and Schnapps Parties are all about. We live in Plato’s Cave, at various distances from the mouth, more or less content with the shadows we perceive, more or less afraid to move closer to the light, to awareness.

    The yearning comes when having done and thought all those things that “satisfy” the urgings of the disparate but unfortunately interconnected parts of our limbic systems (some of the interconnections being necessary to outrun the cave bear and sabertooth and successfully fuck our way to progeny, thus more or less current depending on whether we are living in a combat area or not) we wake up to discover that Peggy Lee was right to ask “Is That All There Is?”

    What annoys about folks like our Libertarian friends and the Wolfowitzes and John Hagee and Lenin et all is the insistence on their nice internally consistent, brittle and barbed structures, themselves inconsistent and incompatible, on which they would impale all of everyone else’s “reality.” And gee, what a surprise that by successfully emulating Vlad the Impaler, these folks and their structures might improve their chances of breeding and getting “More!” and all the other markers of Limbic Success.

    So today a Procurement or Logistics colonel in the “A” Ring at the Pentagram will “accept a gratuity” to foster some fraudulent and/or needless Program or other, justifying this little bit of theft from the National Wealth on the grounds that he is justtakingcareofhisfamilyeverybodyelsedoesitwhyshouldn’tIgettoenjoysomegreatwineoranightoutwithmymistressnowandagain. And hucksters will set up card tables in the Bronx and bring out their greasy Three Cards and three little paper medicine cups and the mythical Pea and with their shills, sucker another round of saps, or carry their storyboards and plot outlines into executive offices and pitch another kind of “reality,” or steer their Grim Reapers over whatwehavedeclaredtobeenemyterritory and loose the fires of Hell on some people who dare to shoot back at us )when we shoot at them after invading their terrain) and are therefore “militants” and in the category of “enemy” and therefore (and even they would agree about the consequence – Open Season, anything goes, the purpose of torture is torture, if not their being stuffed into the category) “toast.” And over coffee and Wheaties, millions of Americans will decry the latest sappy stayontheNarrative newsprint about another dead Marine being carted Home for interment with “full military honors,” an honor most of them might prefer not to partake of, and the Home Fronters will shake their heads and decry the now patent-to-them “necessity” to kill a bunch of Towelheads as the Blood Money or expiation for the lost young man, who may himself have thought so little of his fellow man that on being asked what he felt when he shot a mile-away, minding-his-own-business Hajji with his .50-cal sniper rifle, puffing that Towelhead’s head into that satidfying Pink Mist, responded “Recoil, ma’am.” And he was not referring to a reflex or an emotional state. And who can forget Wolf Blitzer, was it, parlaying his brave reporting of the “conundrum conundrum” from that suite in the hotel in Baghdad as the F-117s launched or steered “smart weapons” through that hail of un-aimed antiaircraft fire at so many ShockedandAwed hard and soft targets on the ground? From such exposures are careers made, isn’t that right, Octomom?

    One of Freud’s truest insights, as far as I am concerned, is the one about the basicmost of human needs (after the ground tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy, of course): Liebe und Arbeit, love for and from others, and meaningful work.

    You picked the line, all right – “The most successful approaches spread.” Moderation in all things, including moderation.

    Come on out of the Cave, friends…

  6. Jim Ramsey says:


    Yep I am kind of feeling like you these days. I worked hard for the Democrats, and we don’t get a public option on health care, we get a plan that still leaves out millions and gives millions to the Insurance companies. It was also interesting to note that Michael Moore was on Countdown the night after Obama’s Ohio speech. He pointed out that the lady Obama used as a person who would benefit from the health care legislation would not be eligible for four years so she still would have been screwed.

    We are still a society that loves war and we suck all our money from important things to pay for military escapades. When you hear our leaders talk about how to save money in the federal budget they never include “military/war” in the mix of things to be considered. We are still a society that thinks “wall street” is a magical place, but it also is consumed by greed and sucks the life out of our country.

    I now am retired and live in Iowa, but I spent my whole life in California. And the quality of my life was the result of one of the most wonderful education systems in the country. I was lucky to grow up in those times. Today California is almost at the bottom of the list in money and quality. I would be screwed if I were growing up under the same circumstances of my youth.

    Last the media has become a spectacle rather than a news source. The Daily Show mocks this almost every night with their computer generated graphics. All the stations put exciting music and graphics up for every story. The sad thing is they do not do any research or reporting, they just read copy some bozo put on the prompter for them. It is a sad day when we see a great interviewer like Bill Moyer retire. There are so few left.

    Like you all it appears I can do is deal with the people around me and try to make my voice heard. But when your Representatives are Steve King and Charles Grassley there is not much hope.

  7. len says:

    Here is another reality check from an article virtualworldsnews.com. A product launch:

    “Inversoft’s software understands and analyzes how users communicate with each other, a tremendous value to our customers,” said Amy Pritchard, CEO of Metaverse Mod Squad. “In the hands of our community managers and moderators, this information not only makes us more efficient in stopping inappropriate conduct, but also allows us to channel back a wealth of information about the preferences, behaviors, and motivations of the community. These are incredible tools built by an exceptional company.”

    It’s hard for me to grasp how many myths of the web this shatters or what it says about online culture. If they told me this was only being applied to the New York web scene, I might understand it, but as a much needed way to both moderate/control and harvest human behavior across the board?

    T-Bone is right about this medium being cold except that the wires are just wires. All it can really be is a communications amplifier and the collective message from its users has become such that it also has to be a nanny and a snitch. Just as TV went from the great teacher to the subculture pimp, the web devolved in less than two decades from the library of Alexandria to pulp fiction.

    And the technology isn’t the reason. The people using it are.

  8. pond says:

    Interesting, Jon, that you mention Stewart Brand. According to a new bio of him, his Whole Earth approach essentially failed; it didn’t work to go from the bottom (small community actions) whilst ignoring the top (national politics). Instead his heirs moved into cyberspace, where this blog abides. But warning signs already are appearing that the freedom of the internet will not last long: ‘three strikes’ laws promulgated by media corporations, censorship by governments (among them, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand — among the least repressive nations around in other ways), and the dominance and choke-holds of a few oligopolistic ISPs.

    It seems clear to me your despair is justified, and that politics in America is now wholly owned by the elites and big money people and corporations. We can build our little communities and try to ride things out — if there is an unstormy sea beyond the tempest rising overhead — but we can only do so by giving up all those goodies we love, like the internet, cell phones, TV and gadgets, fast cars, big homes, new wardrobes, cool drinks in hot clubs and sex, sex, sex.

    I no longer believe in any interregnum. We’re headed for collapse. And nobody in power intends to stop it.

  9. John Papola says:


    You need to take more joy in those concentric circles and allow the misery you experience when observing politics and the so-called “society” to put the final stake in the heart of your romance with large scale collective action through the state.

    Altruism and empathy bring people happiness. They are part of the positive choices people make to enrich their own lives and the lives of the people around them. Neither of those two human qualities can be forced on people by the guns of the state.

    People are good. Community is the nature of humans today. It’s why we are still here. It’s how we survived despite frail, mushy, armless bodies. Those concentric circles are the true “we” that matters.

    So cheer up. We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to take a lot of lumps as the credit cards of the past and present begin coming due in the form of reduced income and living standards. But we’ll work through it.

    And please, PLEASE judge people by their actions not their words alone. Alan Greenspan is not a libertarian. He was a bulldozing monarch of the monetary state. He took the reigns of power and abused them for the sake of his own glory. All this from a man who wrote passionately about sound money was the key to economic freedom and peace. Give me a break.


    The time has come for people to re-align what it means for “we” to act.

  10. Nancy Jalbert says:

    John, The one thing that alarmed me most in this post was the feeling-around-the-edges of your sense of futility. Please at least know that this blog is a kind of rational life line to many people out here who don’t have a sane church or a sane milieu. Coming onto this site and reading your thoughts on things keeps me feeling balanced, and hopeful, and I’d bet this is true for many who don’t write in. I work in municipal government. Down at the ground floor level, people ARE trying to keep life together for our neighbors, and a spirit of cooperation can survive.

    On the topic of “what to do”, I’d like to make a suggestion. The right wing republican idiot who yesterday called for people to flood Washington DC didn’t get a very big turnout. It would be hilarious as well as instructive to the right wing, if his call did net a huge turn out in Washington FOR change. We need an organizing force that would turn out a march for change. Citizens the world over are wearing colors to silently protest. How about a color day for people to signal support for health care change, finance reform etc. What color would we wear? Red might cause Glen Beck to implode, so how about GREEN???? It would make the Iranian opposition happy as well!

  11. Ken Ballweg says:

    Looking at the wake of economic/political bubbles (The Great Depression, post WWII Germany, the post sunset British Empire) the interregnum and collapse look a lot alike. Massive changes effecting significant minorities, and yet, somewhere in the global economy (founded as it is on the warlord principle) there is enough momentum for the old illusions and institutions of class, and privilege, and exceptionalism to manage to find new sock puppets to occupy on stage.

    The reality is that in 20 years the shape of things will be determined by the 20 to 30 year olds who are carrying the weight of a demographically localized Great Depression, and we post war babies, and Boomers who comment here haven’t a clue what direction they will take. We saw a bit of potential direction in the Obama campaign, but then the radical left and monied right took over the narrative and pretty much turned that into an illusion of “Fail” (even though the man has three years and possibly more to go).

    The Malthusian pressures on them will carry influences we in our dawdling exit left never had to consider: real water shortages, oceans fished out, too damn many thankyourighttolifers babies, the compounding social and fiscal cost of locking up the males of a minority for too many years to make them docile or friendly when we can no longer afford to keep them fenced in, and a self centered, self indulgent delusional senior population pissed that they can’t have their Winnabago Winter in the dessert.

    How will these kids react? What will shape them the most? Admit it, we don’t know. Hell we grew up fearing/expecting atomic devastation at key points in our lives.

    The irony is that peak oil may well be delayed by the melting of the ice caps, and all the hand wringing devoted to green alternatives to oil may have been so far off the mark of the real world/life bending realities that the kids will look at us as a bigger generation of fools than we can imagine. But how that will shape them, which sock puppets will they pick up or stitch to occupy, is a real crap shoot. And the truth is, our generational opinions on the subject wont carry a whole lot of influence.

    Which, given our track record is as it should be.

  12. JTMcPhee says:

    And here, courtesy of the Internet, complete with a really fine assortment of people from a wide veriety of concentric and eccentric and decentric spheres offering their “takes” on one another, is a look at a random sample of Our Fellow Americans and maybe a smattering of furriners. Love the comments — almost as illustrative and illuminating and completely self-unaware as the story.

    News flash, JP: “People” are not good. Some persons may be good and trustworthy and kind and all that other Boy Scout and Girl Scout shit, but there are a lot of tag lines that capture the reality that there are a lot of “borderline personalities” aka “sociopaths” aka “nihilists” out there, in among the “good” people. How ’bout that German Catholic Church hierarchy, and the Irish one and the Italian one and the American one, hey? Wonder if the Pope knows?

    Was it Eric Ericcson who observed one aspect of humans is their need to find an identity? And gee, in the avatar-driven world, what could be more natural than to become a Scientologist or a Libertarian or as reported in this story today, a RedWhiteAndBluehadist? Young people figure out who they are by trying to figure out who they are not, so I observe, much as older people understand who they might be by deciding who The Enemy is and what (S)He looks like and can be imputed to believe. When shits like Newt “Fucking Another Woman While You Wife Is Dying Of Cancer Is A Family Value” Gingrich and “Just Say No” Nancy and all the rest are spitting out their careful scripts aimed at the pushbuttons in the brains of those people who write the comments on stories like the one linked above, they are playing the real “identity politics.” “Him over there BAD, him ENEMY! You Hate, you Kill for good of Tribe you think you belong to, one where I Big Chief get first crack at all pubescent women and new brides…”

    So JP, be good to your circle, hope that its members will be good to you in turn and not give in to that impulse to have just a little bit more than their share, but gee, when the people in that other circle from that other ‘hood come on down to “fraud” you and “coerce” you and they got better guns and better maneuver-and-fire discipline than you, gee, would you not hope and pray that there’s a “Dictate” with troops with guns to level the Field of Honor?

  13. Seth says:

    Our mid-century prosperity was in large measure the result of a resource-rich country inheriting the scientific and cultural legacy of Europe after its attempted suicide in the first half of the 20th century. We also benefited from having all our industrial competitors in ruins, leaving us an absurdly strong market position in all the industries that mattered. Labor in the US enjoyed a special dividend from this process because it had privileged access to the “good jobs” created by disproportionate US market power.

    So this lucky jackpot has largely been spent now. Many other countries have been our scientific and engineering equals for decades now, and the edge is gradually moving ‘off-shore’ — it’s hard to pinpoint where it is going because it isn’t going just one place. And the US will still be *among* the leading powers. But only *among*, not dominating any longer.

    Meanwhile, the social contract based on “the US is rich, and labor can demand a share” is in tatters. The US is relatively rich, but the owners of that wealth no longer want to negotiate with the local workers when increasingly they can find more compliant labor off shore.

    The transition will run its course when international labor markets are more fully tapped out. 10 years ago, IIT graduates in India generally had to come to the US to find top paying jobs. Now international companies bid for them right at home and Indian technologists job hop the way Americans did in the dot com boom. This is a ‘normalization’ so to speak after the opening of an artificial labor market barrier.

    Sooner or later, business will start to see the US “interior” as a place worth investing in. Our labor market and infrastructure will be more competitive when overseas labor has been bid up sufficiently, the dollar has adjusted downward sufficiently, and geopolitical risks pop up to remind investors that the US is a big, stable, single market worth locating production in.

    But in the meantime, the owners of American capital are largely oblivious to the painful transition the workforce is being subjected to. If globalization means taking a call from your broker during intermission a Met production of Otello and making some portfolio adjustments, of course it is ‘no big deal’. Tougher if your job is being ‘portfolio rotated’ out of existence.

    If we manage to survive this transition without letting our upper class convert us into a banana republic by destroying the social safety net we should be okay. But the big danger is the lack of investment in real educational accomplishment — both from the upper class people cutting education funding first AND from a culture which teaches everyone to want to be a basketball star or a banker rather than an engineer or scientist.

    Kids will figure this out, but I worry that they haven’t yet shaken off the American culture of entitled ignorance.

  14. JTMcPhee says:

    Ken, meet Nancy. Nancy, I don’t know how old you are, but you are where hope resides, people trying to make the best of a bad situation down on the ground floor while their “betters,” apotheosized by “election” in our mythical “democracy,” figure out new ways or carry forward the old ones of Bushwahing the people who actually generate wealth (food, shelter, clothing, tools, that kind of stuff) into paying more and more for less and less to fewer and fewer.

    And I would not be so quick to believe, having observed several generations come along and have to deal with the shitstorms THEIR AwfulElders delivered to them, that the Millenials are going to be any better or wiser or more just or kind than any set of humans that went before. And I don’t think that the Boomerang set has, all things considered, so much of a Higher Moral Ground to stand on, either. Like this one of many intergenerational arguments, which is becoming part of the “identity politics wedgie” for a whole new round of greedy leave-them-on-the-ice-floe newbies to justify themselves over. Ken, there may be some Airstream Assholes out there, but a whole lot of plain old decent folks who did their share, did what they were told, and carried the whole mess along, for better or worse, are now Hoping that the people who are younger and stronger won’t try to Change (get this, JP, there was a “contract” that one set of parties is unilaterally trying to coercively void or modify) the reality about Social Security, what’s been paid in and stolen out and how it really works.

    Look, I did not live the investorially prudent life — divorced twice with cleanouts, other imprudences like putting money in market-tracking funds and somehow ending up owning dust-worthless tech stuff. I expect to work until I die, and am lucky to have a job that I enjoy and can barring major med problems do until I am incinerated. But I paid that SS and Medicare money in all those years. So forgive me if I feel, given the realities pointed out in that link to Mr. Norton’s article, at least a little bit “entitled.” As much as the people who manufacture V-22s and F-22s and F-35s are “entitled” to their paychecks.

  15. Jon Taplin says:

    I just want to thank everyone for the words of encouragement and wisdom this morning. It is perhaps fitting that I was venturing through a black Irish night of the soul last night on St. Patrick’s day. It had nothing to do with Green Beer, but rather the Weltschmertz, that JTM described. I think both Ken and Seth are right that we have come to the realization that our American Exceptionalism was a mirage.

    Having said that, we are still a damn inventive country, with oceans of capital sloshing around, looking for good solutions to obvious problems. It’s just a problem of scale. We cannot try to fix things at a national level. We need to start at the community level.

  16. JTMcPhee says:

    And for all the people who buy into the notion of “agility” and the New Open Workspace Sans Cubicle Walls, you may want to consider very carefully whether, in this Brave New World you posit, you are the cheetah, or the gazelle.

  17. JTMcPhee says:

    Seems to me that as has been hinted here, we all have a problem of the spirit. In thinking about what is to be done, it might be worth remembering that other folks have faced similar problems and come up with some good notions of what’s important. This little article on Maslow’s Hierarchy of NEEDS has some nice harmonic echoes and resonances and timbre, to my damaged tinnitic ears at least.

  18. Gordon says:

    John Papola’s assertion that, “Alan Greenspan is not a libertarian” reminds me of university days. Back then there were still a few, a very few, holdouts who still believed in communism. Faced with the awful case histories of the Soviet Union and the rest they took cover in the exact same formula, “But they’re not proper communists, they’ve hijacked the revolution”.

    The problem they avoided was that the roots of the hijack were/are inherent in the nature of communism. The total concentration of power in a single organization, the communist party, was almost guaranteed to throw up psychopaths presiding over a dysfunctional mass of self-seeking bureaucrats – and so it proved.

    Libertarians’ faith in ‘free markets’, untrammelled by rules (Greenspan certainly believed this – hence the lack of regulation even as banksters resorted to outright fraud) which they supposed would, in some God-like way, deliver the maximum good to the maximum number is similarly misplaced. Without rules markets will most certainly be taken over by the strongest and most ruthless. It is a prescription for an economy run mafia-style and its descent into chaos and failure is as inevitable as that of the Soviets – and so it has proved.

    As an aside, one has to question Greenspan’s judgement in associating with Ayn Rand.


    What we should argue for is ‘open markets’ meaning markets which have rules the chief of which must be that they should be and should remain contestible – i.e. someone with a better idea can at any time come along and sell his product without being locked out by a cozy monopoly or duopoly.

    That is what libertarians should be arguing for. It was for a long time the basis of American exceptionalism and made the US economy far more dynamic than those of Europe where too much of the creativity was locked out by established aristocracies. Obviously resources helped but Africa and Russia have far more; by themselves they are not sufficient.

    American exceptionalism and vitality has declined as the commons of open markets have been enclosed by a growing commercial aristocracy. The solution is clear, the commons must be reopened to recreate a diverse and vibrant economic ecosystem.

  19. len says:


    “In thinking about what is to be done, it might be worth remembering that other folks have faced similar problems and come up with some good notions of what’s important.”

    Save the world? World peace? Worth having, I guess, but I don’t know how to do it. I can’t invent a philosophy or a technology to get that done. The mammals are relentlessly innovative even at inventing the means of their own demise. Entropy wins and if you enjoy the thrill of the downhill, wax up the skis and jump.

    Or… gather up what is good, beautiful and true and make a box to keep it in so you can share it. One at a time. Without fear. Make of your life an art of making such boxes to keep such in. Then offer it up away from the slopes where those so enamored with the terror of their willing engagement can’t see or hear anything beyond the spray and the push to the bottom of the hill.

    I choose art. I choose joy. I choose life. I choose these because they are so freely given and create no fear.

    Here’s a bit o’joy, JTMc. Smile! It’s important.

  20. Alex Bowles says:

    From the LAT Green Zone review you linked to:

    American moviegoers — as one look at the receipts for “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland” show — aren’t much in the mood for real these days.

    On one level, this is an obvious reaction to all the travesties visited upon us by the previous administration (including, it seems, open tolerance for flat out fraud). But on a deeper level, I suspect that it reflects something closer to home. Specifically, a sense that what’s real in our own lives – our jobs, mortgages, communities, schools, retirement prospects and yes, health care options – are all compromised in very unsettling ways.

    It’s not that we want more than we have, or don’t want to pay for things we think we deserve. It’s that these things – all of which contribute to a sense of well-being, identity, community and purpose – seem to have a rotten streak running through them – and undercurrent of ick that can’t be avoided without abandoning the ships themselves. It’s as though we’re stuck in rooms with things that stink and doors that are locked.

    I’m not sure how ‘resisting’ fits into this. After all, isn’t that what you’re already doing when you pay for two-hours immersed in neo-psychedellic 3D fantasy? Resisting the heavy claim this stuff has on your mind?

    But beyond that, what? Default on your mortgage because you know you lender is lobbying against consumer protections in DC? Quit your job because you know your commute consumes fossil fuels sources from totalitarian states? Are you going to tell your kids ‘forget about college’ because you know that SallieMae is charging 7% interest on money it can get for free due to Federal guarantees, and that you’re essentially paying for your own screwing?

    Of course not. But what you can do (and indeed, what I think is happening) is to take Al Gore’s advice to heart, and start by ‘dis-enthralling’ ourselves. Given the overbearing ‘success’ of TMZ culture, it may be hard to see that this is what’s happening. I mean, what could be more antithetical to a firm grasp on reality?

    But beneath this, you see the real shift – specifically, you see the death of the American Dream as it was defined in the latter half of the 20th Century.

    Start with the G.I. Bill, and Levitt Town, and the first generation to grow up with the New Deal in place. Consider the astonishing rise of the US Corporation, and the realization that ‘small business’ didn’t mean ‘pioneering start-up’. It meant ‘your Uncle Sid’s shoe store’ (i.e. the last place you wanted to be). With large firms becoming the most attractive employers, lifelong commitments, pensions, and stability (swiftly) became the new norms.

    The point is not that life was simple, easy, or wonderful (the rises of Joe McCarthy and MLK Jr. are enough to show it was anything but). However, the dream was clear enough. More to the point, it was in reach. And for those to whom it was readily available (i.e. straight white people), it provided for baseline sanity.

    Since then, the pillars of this establishment (e.g. decent public schools, a college degree, social welfare via a corporate job, and stable institutions to provide for health and retirement) have all been brutally undermined. Their roles in contributing to life have been transformed to channels for extracting more than they deliver in return. These goods became liabilities. And yet, no cost is greater than that of ditching them altogether. The frying pan remained cooler than the fire. Dropping out is still a path to oblivion.

    So again, escapism wins the day. But beneath this, an idealized view that animated people wanting to avoid uncomfortable the social pressures of previous generations is starting to erode and decay. The dominant power of the image pushed by the real-life Mad Men is showing its age. The exploitability of our once solid pillars has been placed on full display. The idea that they’ll ever command the faith they once did is a pipe dream, at best (sorry, Madison Avenue, but your best days are behind you).

    The generation now graduating from college understand this better than anyone. They may feel a sense of helpless dismay when they realize that their options are so limited – that the ‘best’ jobs are the soul-sucking ones, that home-ownership can carry very negative costs, and that when it comes to health and retirement, you’re putting your life in the hands of institutions that are fundamentally corrupt.

    But one good thing about the health care fiasco (as well as the relentless blocking of reform in response to the banking crisis) is that the corruption of our politics (in particular, of the US Senate) is now well-and-truly in the open. The question is no longer about ‘small’ government vs. ‘big’, or ‘freedom-loving’ vs. ‘the nanny state’. No, the real question is ‘who do you work for?’ If there’s a new American dream, it seems to be one in which our legislators depend on We the People, and no one else.

    If the old dream was about people ‘getting their piece’, this one is about recognizing that all those pieces fit together in a larger whole, and that rot at the center can ruin the pie for everyone.

    I don’t think that turning inward, and retreating from any but the closest locality is the way forward. Yes, there’s plenty of life in both these places, and welcome counterweights to heavily commercialized culture. But it can’t end there, in co-ops, church groups, and communes. That’s not a very big dream at all.

    Far better (and more inspiring) to see the possibility of recovering balance by recovering control of our governments, at local, state, and federal levels. Specific policies are secondary, and will vary by region. The primary aim is to make these governments directly – and singularly – accountable to the people who elect them.

    The dream is everything that can happen once that takes place. Again, this isn’t about expanding government, or shrinking it. It’s about liberating it from its current owners who – let’s face it – have done a shit job maintaining one of the most remarkable constructions in human history.

    Call it Regeneration.

  21. Alex Bowles says:

    @ len

    I choose art. I choose joy. I choose life. I choose these because they are so freely given and create no fear.

    That’s what the hippies did, and promptly scared the shit out of the Nixons.

  22. Hugh says:


    That’s quite beautiful, and I’m consonant if not “congruent” with all of it. Your exposition seems to me to play out in natural progression. (I can’t see Friedman as godhead of the greedheads, though, as he was so into frugality, but certainly he tried to summon prosperity–and in any case this is just a quibble.). Surely despair is at hand.

    It would be nice were Stewart Brand to pay just a bit more tribute to his precursors, friends of his who likewise spoke of appropiate tools and appropriate scale. But it’s all cool, so long as it lives on. A lot of the interpersonal breaches stemmed, as you must know, from the incompatibility of the New Left with elders who’d reached similar conclusions on fairly othodox religious grounds. Why did the Hippie artisans and Back-to-Nature ones not revere the Amish, for example? At some point it ceases to be mystical, but must become bloody practical.

    It seems thar you hint that, on the practical side, politics not only is a right but a moral obligation. Christianly alone, I think that’s borne out by your recent blog, and progeny, on social justice. It’s a positive edict, inescapable and perhaps enthralling.

    Maybe you should write nightly at 11:00.

  23. Hugh says:

    @ Pond,

    Very interesting. It’s curious to reduce such a sweeping movement to the foibles of that sometimes central, sometimes tagential and ever reinventive person, but I suppose Brand’s a promising window for a certain kind of scholar. The thing is that Brand, like Taplin, is still a formidable futurist. Either of them can bite one in the arse were one caught off guard.

    I’ll try to look up this new biography–it would be nice were you to cite it–yet some people just should be spared that treatment as they did about the best they could do. If someone wants to alledge that Brand did otherwise, frankly I’d doubt it and would be quick to testify otherwise. Perhaps you’re right, in your researches, but it doesn’t square, Pond. Perhaps you won’t believe this but I once saw him forecast in the highrise boardroom of the B of A.

    Still he hasn’t evidently sold out. He went back to Sausalito, presumably with his per diem, and that was it. Big deal.

  24. len says:

    That’s what the hippies did, and promptly scared the shit out of the Nixons.

    How does the neocon line go: if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you’ve nothing to fear? Nixon was born frightened.

    I’ve gotten more changes out of people writing songs for them than I have preaching at them.

    And “I” feel better.

    Famous philosophers and pundits to any side, if engaging the polity makes me miserable or leaves me full of despair, I’m doing it wrong or it is no longer worth doing. Smoke gets in your eyes. :)

  25. JTMcPhee says:

    len, than you for the gift box.

    About that link I mis-connected, and the quote you noted, my attempt was to suggest that a good starting point in trying to figure out what is to be done might be to think about <a href="http://www.envisionsoftware.com/articles/Maslows_Needs_Hierarchy.html"&lt; old Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (as opposed to IWANTITGIMMEITNOWS). Though I have to toss in my usual cynical bit, to point out that the “Self-Esteem” and “Self-Actualization” levels are where the neocons and Gordon Gekkos and such step away from the drum circle and start stealing the purses and spouses of those who are busy taking care of lower-order needs, for themselves and others.

    I don’t think there is such an entity as “social justice.” That’s the millstone the “strong” and violent hang around the necks of those “weaker” than they are, before they kick the “weak” off the fantail of the Megayacht out beyond the 12-mile limit. I do think that enlightened self-interest, for the species or any level of culture or economy you want to name, is best captured in the simple mutuality of the Golden Rule. Always to be aspired to, maybe like that dumb young battlefield killer Achilles in <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno's_paradoxes"<old Zeno's famous paradox, never to be attained. That doesn’t let us off the hook to stop trying, and maybe some of us will be smart enough to jump past the goal, after the fourth half-way-there marker, and emulate the Amish (who on close examination of course display their own all too human predilections (nothing is really sacred) while managing a sustainable and fairly stable community existence with a strong spiritual component.

    It’s all a Pilgrim’s Progress, and for people cursed with the need to be “good,” just a series of successive approximations and falling-aways and returns to grace, we hope.

    By the way, I wonder if THIS might explain Glenn Beck…

  26. Todd says:

    Keep rambling if this is what comes out of it, Jon. It’s a great post, and so much of your writing makes me feel a lot less alone in the world. Cheers.

  27. len says:

    You’re welcome, JTMc.

    When I stare into the photos in that video, I see a summer day 35 years ago when a most beautiful smile kept me company and I ask myself, why did I let that go? The sad answer is I couldn’t commit to happiness, to bear the awful burden of knowing my pain was all self-inflicted that happiness was a kiss away and I being the selfish boy I was, couldn’t commit to it.. I thought there was a greater good, a more beautiful smile, a higher calling, a shinier day.

    I was wrong.

    No regrets about how it turned out, but I have to say to Alex and the rest of the young un’s not to be too quick to sacrifice a smile for yet another gig, not to be too enamored of themselves when they share a meal with the rich or famous because all anyone really wants is to be a little higher, a little happier, a little more satisfied when in fact, everything and everyone worth knowing and having might just be sliding over the horizon, a light that rises again but never on the same day.

    I’m glad I kept the song and my friend kept the photos in a box for 35 years. Of such I find my way to make something wonderful to have. So if you or anyone here know how to make the world better through despair, do so. I don’t. I only know how to make sweet things from sweetness itself. Cinnamon optional but recommended.

  28. Rick Turner says:

    The power of the people is the right to vote. That’s all we’ve got folks. Let’s hope that doesn’t get subverted.

  29. Fentex says:

    If U.S citizen contributors here do see themselves as a community and (with exceptions) believe they share a similar concept of better governance than is available from the two dominant political parties, and there’s a dire need for political change in the face of looming financial and ethical catastrophes….

    The power of the people is the right to vote.

    People also get to join political parties (to sway them from within), or even create new ones, perhaps ‘The Citizens Party’?

  30. len says:

    The Coffee Party is cranking up to collect the sane folks uninterested in parties, haters, or tea.


  31. Seth says:


    You probably would enjoy this amusingly staged ‘interview‘ with Slavoj Zizek on Tagenlicht.

    This is the same Dutch program that produced the fun documentary on quants recently. And no I don’t sit around watching Dutch TV! But this is an excellent example of the way the internet opens the world to creativity. While American TV obsessively caters to the stupidity of crowds, Dutch programming of a vastly more intellectual flavor can find an international audience.

  32. Hugh says:

    @ Seth, damn staight. Good point.

    @ Fentex,

    That’s I tend to feel–in the absence of coalescence, take the pulse of the most. Popululism therefore isn’t a first resort but a happy last one. Ten thousand French, I don’t know. But ten thousand Yanks I might defer to. (Also a panel of a dozen of my peers plus one in robes.). My more jurisprudential friends here won’t like it, but I’m fairly deferential to authority. I tend to think that they put their All into it wheras I just visit their concerns from time to time. It figures that they see things I don’t, and that’s why I’m pretty reticent when the Court confirmations come ’round. It’s why I don’t care so much from which side of the perceived aisle the nominee comes. Just stick to the basics and I’m fine with whoever it may be. Makes sense? I dunno. Just wiring, maybe.

    Populism can be a bad thing, I guess I’m saying, Fentex, but it can be a good thing too.

  33. Rick Turner says:

    Hugh, how about those judges who got busted for sending kids to for-profit “reform schools” for kickbacks? Is that the kind of authority to which you’d like to be deferential? How ’bout some nice pedophile Catholic priests? They were the voice of authority to their parishioners. They put their all into it…just maybe not the definition of “all” that we might prefer…

    It is our right and responsibility to question authority. The bastards are too easily corrupted.

  34. Fentex says:

    Speaking of corrupting power, we had an interesting example of it in actino in NZ yesterday.

    Members of parliament can submit legislation (bills) anytime they like and time is put aside every so often to consider them (there’s a random ballet from which they are drawn).

    Members who have an issue they’re interested in often submit bills to improve/change relevant legislation and if it isn’t one of the policies parties stood on there’s usully pretty reasonable, open and honest debate on them

    Our major parties have traditionally been pretty good about providing sensible consideration of such bills, epsecially in our new proportionally representative government.

    But yesterday a fairly innocuous members bill designed to provide slightly better, non-ideological and socially supported improvements to the treatment of metally ill patients was unceremoniously voted down by our current government.

    We have, unusually for our current system, pretty much a single political party in power with it’s own simple majority. And where just a year ago they would be expected to treat sane incremental improvements to legislation put forward by any member responsibly now that they have, essentially absolute, power they won’t.

    If it isn’t their legislation, if they won’t get credit for it, they dismiss it out of hand.

    Just one year of a single parties dominant power and the quality of governance has dropped significantly.

    It’s a simple, straight forward example, of the immediate consquences of the temptations to abuse power.

  35. Morgan Warstler says:

    This is a wildly compelling post. Kudos! A few observations:

    1. Population growth is leveling off as the world catches up to our lead. Negative growth is on the horizon, we should be careful wishing for it.
    2. Kids are smarter today than ever before. 3 pts. each decade. I have a newly 3yr old learning to read and an 18 mos. old who refuses to watch commercials. I’m awe struck.
    3. We haven’t yet Napsterized Education. What happened to EMI, is going to happen to 10x over to the Ivy League. And senority will be meaningless in public school salaries in 10 years. Good high school and college courses are going to come for free when you buy a new TV.
    4. We haven’t yet done GOV2.0. What web technologies did to middle management in the aughts, is coming to every level of government – lots less middle management, self serve web interfaces for everything. The Post Office won’t be around in 20 years.
    5. The Euro has created the United States of Europe. 3% budget deficits submitted for approval for Currency Union- with each state maintaining their own approaches to life.

    All of this is what points so aggressively towards states rights. CA and NY need to control their tax dollars and their policies and win or lose based on those decisions. This approach is far less risky, the eggs are in many different kinds of baskets.

    The massive costs savings coming from systems-based, market-driven Government and Education reforms can easily cover the costs of the retiring baby boomers.

    Personally I think the world class level of despair is healthy, it is only when the rivals are completely whooped, their energies completely expended can both sides start admitting the disgusting burdens caused to progress by their own side’s idiot cousins.

    More like this please.

  36. JTMcPhee says:

    What, Warstler? Tired of flicking boogers over on Yglesias’ and other sites? I am so glad that neither the snake oil you sell nor your prescriptions for those weight loss pills with the tapeworm cysts in ’em are likely to sell to any significant number of God Bless ‘Em “consumers.”

    Gee, would that there were only two “sides,” and that it was only the “idiot cousins” that got us where we are, rather than false-colors pirates (who despite the best PR efforts of Erroll Flynn and Johnny Depp were and are not nice people)flying the American (or Russian or Palestinian or, or, or) flag right up until they are at point-blank range, whereupon they “show their true colors” (as you occasionally do with a slip of the keystroke), fire into the guts of the ship of state, and board it in the smoke. Steal all the good stuff, “break bulk” so the cargo booty that can’t be carried off spoils, or swells so it ruptures the hull, ransom those who might have wealthy kin and hamstring or kill the rest.

    “Progress?” Yeah, your maunderings really entice one to think of a World According To Worgon as a nice place to want to live.

    Want an honest exposition on how the Social Security Situation came to be and might best be resolved? Here’s a decent thinkpiece for you to ‘splain away…

    Whatcha think, Hugh? “Kids are smarter?” Hey Big Lie-er — news flash: repeatin’ repeatin’ repeatin’ yerself again and again and again does not make it true, just may attract some of those “idiot cousins” to buy your shit sausage and try to make a square meal out of it. And you might, with a little searching in the Everything You Could Want To See In Black And White Internet, even find a “poll” that “establishes beyond peradventure” the Absolute Truthiness of whatever whacked-out troll-flavored treacle you are peddling this minute or hour. Do you have a real job, or does someone pay you to make these jackassinthebox appearances? Round and round the mulberry Bush…

  37. Jon Taplin says:

    This is a wonderfully coherent and cool string. This is a dinner party I want to carry oin til dawn. Sone thoughts.

    @Pond-Stewart Brand- Maybe he later on thought it was a failure, but the Whole Earth Catalog did serve a seminal purpose. Here’s what he wrote in the introduction:”We are as gods and might as well get good at it…personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.”

    @ Alex Bowles-How can we have any power at the national level unless we start at the town level? I know this notion of New Federalism has a lot of kinks in it, not the least being the embrace of states rights by the loony right. But I still think this devolutionary idea has power. We need to figure out how to make it work.
    @ Morgan- Thank you for your honest contributions on this. Some of us are unsure about your authenticity, but I welcome good suggestions like a way to provide
    “napsterized” education on demand to a new generation that would rather just drop out.

  38. nt says:

    I’ve always half suspected that Morgan was a construct of the Blog Author to stir debate. @JTM, I just do not understand your vitriolic ad hominem attacks. They seem on par with Ann Coulter’s visceral hatred of anything labelled ‘Liberal’ and about as useful.

    The only way to converge on useful solutions is to take input from as many diverse places as possible. While interesting, your link to the piece on the Social Security trustfund, does not seem to address the points raised. I recommend a nice dose of TED talks to raise your optimism levels. Check out Leroy Hood’s new effort. There are a lot of exciting things happening out there. No one saw the massive rise of Silicon Valley and the Internet coming including the people who made it happen. Smart people hit restrictions, invented their way around them and profoundly changed the world. Why do think that ability has suddenly disappeared?

  39. Rick Turner says:

    Jon, I’m interested in knowing more about why Brand thought the Whole Earth Catalog was a failure. The stores (which I loved…) did fail, but the Catalogs were utterly fantastic. If ever there was a time for that concept it is now with the Internet. I do visit Kevin Kelly’s site fairly often, but it pales by comparison to what could be. Of course monetizing the concept could be iffy unless there was a tie-in to Amazon or something like that.

  40. len says:

    We haven’t yet done GOV2.0. What web technologies did to middle management in the aughts, is coming to every level of government – lots less middle management, self serve web interfaces for everything. The Post Office won’t be around in 20 years.

    Sounds soulful. Ever write Federal systems? Automating a civil servant’s job may not be what you have in mind, but that is what you will be doing. I assure you, middle management will be even more secure than they are now.

    It’s not the technology; it’s the organization. HITL. The reality of automating human governance like any other workflow we’ve automated is that it becomes more corrupt and less reliable. The interfaces are shields and the contracts are still knives for cutting everything from corners to throats, and no, the web doesn’t change that in any meaningful way. This is not despair. It is experience.

  41. len says:

    The only way to converge on useful solutions is to take input from as many diverse places as possible

    Sounds good and really politically correct. It is wrong. The only way to converge on useful solutions is to take input from the authorities in the domains who both understand the cost of the lifecycle of the system who have actually solved the problems the solutions are intended to address. The rest is noise with the occasional randomly generated insight. It really isn’t the commons that creates. It supports. To get the most useful people, you need the right people, not necessarily the most diverse.

  42. len says:

    We are as gods and might as well get good at it…

    A thought that neatly captured Niebuhr’s nightmare, Jon, and quite accurately characterizes the Beck’s of the world.

    The problem is you really are an elitist and so is Brand. You do think you are smarter, but in effect, it was you and he and others like you that came to the counter culture and turned it into the over the counter culture. You just did it with the art the same way one might take flower petals and make perfume. It isn’t unnatural, but it is the way someone with high ideals and a sense of destiny becomes the enemy of the garden because they come to see themselves as gods instead of gardeners.

  43. Rick Turner says:

    The “Founding Fathers” and “Framers of the Constitution” were all…each and every one of them…elitists. When did elite become downgraded to a four letter word? There is an intelligencia, there are people who are smarter than average (Lake Woebegone not withstanding). There are folks who think before they react. They are who I’d like to be able to elect to manage my country representing my interests and the true interests of a majority of my informed and educated co-citizens.

    And the dumb shits can just take a hike. “Get out of the road if you can’t lend a hand…” You all know the rest of that one…

  44. len says:

    Can community like ours, dedicated to simplifying our lives, making good guitars out of great wood, writing fine songs of “the weary kind”, writing open source software–can we resist the next inevitable wave of consumerist advertising onslaught needed to keep the sputtering mall open?

    And that is where self-delight really goes off the rails.

    Jon, you’ve been in the business of supporting the onslaught as long as you’ve been in business. When you weren’t working on finances, well, you were financing. When you weren’t teaching, you were looking for ways to monetize that next book. C’mon down from the perch, Dude.

    Open source software is some the hardest to keep alive. It fails in support, it fails in version control, it fails in feature pruning, let me go on. But you see, you don’t write open source software. You don’t write software at all. You don’t write movies. This is where Armand has you, and I’m not being mean. You want to talk about your vision of a country, but what where is that going? If you don’t know what is on the other side of the interregnum, how sure are you that it is really there?

    It isn’t the mall economy. It is the people at the mall. The small communities are all there have ever really been. If they are sleepwalking, it is because they dream they are part of something bigger when in effect, they are adjacent to more like themselves. Our entertainment industry spins a tale of that bigger thing, and maybe we are just uncomfortable enough with the smallness of the neighborhood to desire that, but ask yourself where you and so many of your friends have spent most of your careers: entertainment and finance.

    So why haven’t you changed things more to your liking if those are such culture benders? You’re an elitist, bubba. Now you need to decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or is it anything at all except a conversation had with a mirror?

  45. len says:

    You can be an elitist, Rick, but you can’t be using the vocabulary of consensus of the commons without also being a deep hypocrite, yet another spinmeister. Can you?

  46. Mark Lewis says:

    Hey Jon, do you know where I can get that great phone app “celebrity Shazam?”

  47. Hugh says:

    More than $16 billion? Really…

  48. Hugh says:

    Sheesh! Are y’all in thrall to Movement nostalgia, er wot? Wow, is that what stirs your aging bowels these days? So that’s the schtick. I finally get it. Dance the recapitulation of the old days. Only better this time.

    Who’s full of shit here?

    P.S. JTM: I sincerely hope you go to Hell in a handbasket really soon. You son of a capitalized Bitch.

  49. Hugh says:

    No offense, len. I agree with you as usual, but I lack your gift–or discipline–for agreeableness.

  50. Hugh says:

    And Rick, yes, that’s my default mode until they transgress, in which case I rage. I took out my school superintendent when I was 17. And that was for starters.

    But anyway, if you all are such a bunch of renegades, shredding your Stratocasters with abandon, or whatever stupid wasteful dispiriting thing, then what does that say of the President we all support, that he’s shredder-in-chief?

  51. JTMcPhee says:

    nt, what “points you raised” were not addressed by the piece on the reality of the Social Security funding and defunding that I linked? Maybe it was in another thread that you “raised” them, or another blog altogether? Something about how “we” (young people?) need to keep all the money taken out of the SS and other funds, and either kill off the old non-contributing folks (your persumption, right?) or make them open Walmart doors until they drop dead? Do you keep a log of your “contributions” that I might peek at, to try to figure out where your “points” might have been “raised?” When our host was playing with different formats, I recall you were much in favor of that DisCUSS thingie, so you could “keep track” better. I can see why now. That’s a nice bit of argumentation, that one about “Yay, I win because you did not address my points.” Your post at 3/17, 11:03 is the only one in this thread under the “nt” moniker. Did you even READ the linked piece?

    And wow, speaking of “vitriolic ad hominem attacks,” if you can’t distinguish between me and Ann Coulter when it comes to what I guess you mean by “vitriolic ad hominem attacks,” well, hey, Buddy, your Distinguisher needs a tuneup and a new set of lenses. Worgon is a big fella with an irrepressibly big ego, and I am sure his shoulders are broad enough to swing his own battleaxe. But nice of you to take his part. You seem from other posts to have many of the same notions.

    As far as dinner party behaviors goes, maybe we should all rent a theater someday soon and view “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” together. “Let’s do it again soon!” The white gloves are off… Reality has caught up with us, we are having that epiphany where we begin to see that underneath all that vanilla pudding and lace doilies, we are what humans have always been, as so well limned by so many of our perceptive fellows over the millennia… naked apes, discovering that you can use Abel’s femur or the jawbone of an ass as a pretty effective weapon, though a Glock or a Reaper keeps you from getting blood splatter on your white linen suit…

    The question, as always, is “Where do we go from here?” For the sake of my grandchildren, I hope the answer is not anomie, anarchy and extinction. But hey if they want to steal the rest of my Social Security and Medicare to indulge their present whims, well, let ’em take care of themselves, if they can, like I had to do in my time…

  52. Hugh says:

    Scew you. We’re not so broken that we as a Peole need cling to the skirt, yet the skirt craves the clinging onnacounta we’re not just broken but broke. Hume, and Hobbes especially, foresaw this moment. It’s the chance of a Grand Slam for a lefty power maniac. Time to go for broke. Must one spell it out. Hypocrisy within hypocrisy, ad infinitum. Hence the stopping of it all, at Golgotha.

  53. JTMcPhee says:

    “grand slam for a lefty power maniac”? What, Obama at the plate? Whoosh! another whiff! In the meantime, in the Pentagram that never sleeps, another $50 billion goes out the door for “programs” and war toys and a self-augmenting bureaucracy of increasingly complex, increasingly incomprehensible, increasingly detached-service violence.

    The thing about the Visigoths is that they were able to find some pretty good pickings amidst the ruins of the Eternal City, and they did not have any tradition of maintaining the old gods and temples so the ruins were either ignorable or just romantically wuaint. And as foot- and horse-soldiers, less dependent on wagons and chariots, they were just fine trotting along on the well-made but inevitably decaying roads laid down by populusque Romanus. Live for the moment, scew the future…

    Insight Into The True Nature Of Humanity #12,001, from Dear Abbey by Jeanne Phillips today, a piece about “Loved ones’ final wishes:”

    When we buried my mother, Dad realized his burial plot next to hers would be so close to the road that visitors might drive over it or park on his grave. So he requested that when he was interred, a nail be placed in his fist [fist, not hand] so he could reach up and poptheir tires. When he passed away last August, we gave him the largest nail we could find. from Daddy’s Daughter

    Requiescat in pace, Daddy…

    And at the other end of the scale, higher notes and major key, Insight #12,002:

    My great-grandma also requested that she be buried in her pajamas, but said she also wanted a fork placed in her hands. We could understand the pajamas — given the “long sleep” — but the fork had us stumped. She explained that when the dishes were cleared after family dinners [how quaint!] when she was growing up and dessert was on its way, her father would say, “Hold onto your fork, the best is yet to come!” We did as my great-grandmother asked, and it helped those of us who werre grieving to remember that she is now enjoying her “just desserts.” by Holding Tight To My Fork, Sioux Falls, SD

  54. Ken Ballweg says:

    One thing to remember about the Whole Earth Catalog is that it was a Catalog. By definition a time bound source of things folks might not otherwise have had access to. In that respect it was a success. Where it “failed” was in magically changing the society to buy into the implicit values behind what Brand et.al. editorially elected to include as The Lifestyle of choice.

    The Montgomery Ward/Sears and Roebuck catalogs of my youth shaped a multitude of us, for better, for worse (your coin to toss on that), but shaped many of us. The Niemann Marcus crowd, not so much, but that didn’t make those catalogs a failure in their time and context any more than Brand’s Catalogs failed.

  55. Ken Ballweg says:

    As the dinner party progresses and the two drunk uncles get deeper into their cups of vitriol the tone at the table shifts from interesting to “oh shit are they going start to punching each other again?”

  56. Rick Turner says:

    Maybe it’s time to go back to that most basic of Internet forum and blog rules…”Don’t type it if you wouldn’t say it to his/her face.” Along with no posting after three or more drinks… And…taken your meds yet?

  57. Jon Taplin says:

    @Len- I’m going to ignore the squabble going down at the end of the dinner table in order to try to address your more important concern: Is “elitism” (or perhaps the ascendency of the critic) important? Honestly, I think my answer is, yes. Back when Pauline Kael or Lester Bangs were willing to go out on a limb and say this movie or this record “sucks”, I think the overall level of art production was better. The fact that I think “Transformers” sucks, doesn’t really have much cultural purchase right now. I also think elitism in the sense of “business is reputation” had a role in the economic climate of the 1950’s and 1960’s on Wall Street. I really doubt whether someone could get away with Credit Default Swaps shenanigans in that era. You would be thrown out of the club.

  58. Morgan Warstler says:


    You just made hot coffee shoot out my nose.


    I’ve been asserting the coming power of video based education for a long time. Originally got to thinking about it when a set top play I was doing got acquired by Knowledge Universe, and I started looking at Milken’s wildly disparate education assets and trying to imagine what new projects could be done with them, that could work on the set top box.

    JTM, I won’t annoy you with it now, but I just saw another first hand experience that makes me just as cocky as ever about it.

    My best friend has a daughter in high school. She’s a high achiever going to the best high school in Austin (a 10 of 10 in greatschool ratings). It’s the wealthiest school in town, the teachers are very highly regarded. Her new semester had her with a Biology course she just couldn’t understand. My buddy was working with her at night, and he (having forgotten most of biology) was spending a bunch of frustrating time trying to help.

    Sure enough, a quick search unearthed a online video class being offered, using modern graphics, animations, etc, and ta-da! She gets the material.

    Now, is it a shitty teacher? Is it not enough money? Is it uncaring parents? None of that solves the problem.

    Video does.

    There are different kinds of kids, with different kinds of backgrounds, and there are different kinds of learners, BUT – there is still a limited number of kinds of kids / kinds of learners.

    One video course on Biology won’t do. But we won’t need 1,000 versions either.

    If you know DVD architecture, or just basic video timelines, just think of it as a a single 1 hour time code, but with say 50 different videos / audio tracks, that the kids can be “changing the channels on” or “flipping through” so that at 45 minutes, they are all explaining osmosis in a different way.

    How many ways does the kid need to see to get it? AND which is the best one to show him first? Second? third?

  59. Hugh says:

    Yes, JTM, Obama on the plate, now. It’s definitely make-or-break. Please don’t imagine that I mean “on the plate” in the sense of John the Baptist. That’s simply not what I meant, and you know it. Why are you now into smearing?

  60. Hugh says:

    …and one doesn’t “solve” anything in the classroom. I’ve taught Kindergarten, wherein we do a lot of potty training but don’t accomplish an otherwise identifiable thing. I’ve taught Seventh Graders, some of whom were going on their third abortions.

    You presume that I spout comfortably. I do spout, but uncomfortably. The things I address break my heart. So I resent and resist your stupid frogmarch. Fuck you.

  61. Hugh says:

    …and one doesn’t “solve” anything in the classroom. I’ve taught Kindergarten, wherein we do a lot of potty training but don’t accomplish an otherwise identifiable thing. I’ve taught Seventh Graders, some of whom were going on their third abortions.

    You presume that I spout comfortably. I do spout, but uncomfortably. The things I address break my heart. So I resent and resist your stupid frogmarch. Fuck you.

  62. Tom Wilmot says:

    A lot of interesting viewpoints have been trotted out in this thread – granted some of them got a little heated and the pricks sharper than necessary on occasion, but good reading nonetheless.

    We all have our notions of how we got here, the question still up in the air is how to get out.

    There seems to be a belief in innovation as the salvation of economic disaster; and if economics were the only issue Americans were dealing with, I’d be inclined to agree. The problem is, there is a lot more going off the rails than just the money train.

    The political system, the “common culture” (whatever that may be and I have my own thoughts on that), social responsibility, “business as usual”, the environment, etc. etc., have all been hit and hit hard by a lot of short sightedness over the past 40 to 50 years. Every time someone talks about “recovery”, I sort of cringe. Recovering what America was a couple years ago is not necessarily something I relish.

    As a mountain loving, nature hugging hiker and hanger-outer, I’ve learned one thing about natural catastrophes in unsettled and unmanaged areas – whatever occurs after a disaster is never exactly the same as what was around before. A wildfire creates slight alterations in the environment; reducing opportunities for one set of plants and critters and creating opportunities for others. The same is true of floods. Right now, the forests in Colorado are suffering a double blow from pine-boring beetles as well as climate changes that are affecting the ability of aspen groves to survive. This die-off is very disheartening, since folks like me will be long gone before we see what will replace the conifers and quakers. The thing is, something (most likely harder wooded deciduous trees) will eventually.

    The point of the above Ranger Rick discourse is to point out that the America that was is the America that was. Recovering what was is akin to replanting burn slopes with the exact same trees that were there before. It looks the same, but it is even more vulnerable than it was. It might be time for a forest to become a meadow.

    To me, this is where America sits at the moment. We have a couple of basic choices at this point – primarily re-defining what we are as a country, a people, a system of management and most critically, what we are as an interdependent society. If the Left or the Right matters to you, I’d suggest you drop out of the debate. Both sides embrace stale perceptions that haven’t mattered in a dog’s age. Mantles of moral superiority tend to be lousy work clothes and get in the way of actual labor.

    The trick here is to replace punditry with pragmatism and some sort of call to action. There are a lot of folks without access to the bully pulpit that have some interesting ideas – ideas worth consideration, if not execution that go sweeping by the boards. Someone mentioned the TED seminars and presentations. Yes, there are some interesting notions bandied about, but what I find even more interesting is that they all seem to be pedigreed – I don’t see Eric Hoffer or Thomas Edison types trotting out their stuff; it’s all degreed and institutionalized types running their dog and pony shows. What I don’t see is a national clearinghouse of ideas.

    To paraphrase Mister Brand, how about a “Whole Ideas Catalog”? Invite anyone and everyone to present their pet idea and give it enough exposure so that each can be analyzed for both practicality and implementation? Sure, there will be a lot of chaff, but you never know what nutritious grain could be found amidst all the offal. Just around my neck of the woods, I see little ideas that have a lot of value to the folks participating in them as well as their possible implementation on a larger scale.

    There’s a farmer east of Burlington that started a grain co-op 25 years ago that has allowed himself and his neighbors to survive the worst fluctuations in grain prices over the years in relative comfort. Thanks to the pooled resources they utilize, they have reduced individual risk and been able to finance themselves from year to year. “Fuck you, Farmer’s Bank, we’re doing fine”. Along the Sangre Di Cristo’s, the people in the town of Westcliffe are seriously looking at creating their own energy (solar and wind combinations) farms as well as creating a publicly administered water board. Granted, these sorts of things require one to have a sense of community and responsibility not only for oneself but for one’s neighbors, but they are happening and they are doable.

    The notion that we need some large overweening government is an archaic one. Speaking of archaic, we could be looking at a future of city-states with strategic confederacies with their neighbors in the near future – who knows?

    There are a lot of possibilities out there and many of them could be implemented in a rapid fire manner if the motivation among the people is there – and there’s the rub. Culturally, how do you get the majority of folks excited and involved in creating something new?

    Instead of shows like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” – why not shows like “Battle of Wits” where viewers vote on the best idea for a given problem and THAT idea gets a million dollars as seed funding? How about replacing shows like “American Idol” with “American Town”, where community revitalization programs are showcased, encouraged, developed and voted on? Why not present the BEST in human nature rather than the worst?

    I’m probably the most naïve and least articulate person posting on this board, but thank you for allowing me my time on this bully pulpit.

  63. Hugh says:

    I believe that, Tom. I do. We can get past this. We will.

  64. Hugh says:

    …but unlike you I think this actually was a dumb move on Jon’s part.

  65. Rick Turner says:

    Hugh, enough of the spitting in the host’s punchbowl. Add value, please, or go over in the corner and sleep it off.

  66. Hugh says:

    OK, Rick. Just, OK, if that’s your best. I’ll see you in the corner you self-congratlatory SOB.

  67. Jon Taplin says:

    @Hugh- Can we tone it down a bit? The host is getting ready to turn out the lights on this particular bull session.

    @Tom-I actually think the Universities might be place to incubate some of your “battle of wits” notions. I think this city-state meme has legs. We need to work on that.

  68. Alex Bowles says:

    @Tom – I really enjoyed your remarks, esp. the analogy about the permanent alterations that follow a major catastrophe.

    That’s what it’s about right now, isn’t it? Working out what’s gone for good, and what’s emerging for the best.

  69. Hugh says:

    Jon, you are severely biased-BIIASSED–viz JTM’s attacks on me, but you must do what you will.

  70. Hugh says:

    I shudder to think what you’d do were you ever confronted with an actual Republican.

  71. Jon Taplin says:

    Hugh- I am not biased. I just want everyone to talk like civil friends. JTM too.

  72. len says:

    Invite anyone and everyone to present their pet idea and give it enough exposure so that each can be analyzed for both practicality and implementation?

    That was given to you. It’s called the Internet. In the beginning, technologies were being created in public groups, lists that anyone could join and contribute.

    1. Because flaming was easier than learning, most of these lists began to collapse under the weight of consensus. As a result, smaller better informed groups broke off to do the actual work of issuing specifications. Then those groups began to fight each other because of ego and company market plans.

    2. The open lists were pillaged for ideas that were taken behind firewalls, developed, patented and rebranded.

    3. Because of submarine patents from companies joining the groups to “contribute” IP and only revealing patents once the specification was to be considered as a standard, the public lists had to function as choruses and the only IP that could be put into the specification had to be contributed under membership obligations of closed consortia.

    You may have yet to realize it but HTML5 is a thinly disguised project supported by two major competitors to Microsoft to unhorse IE and Adobe Flash. You really have to get your heads out of 1969 when you were kids and start understanding the forces at work here and learning to manage them. You aren’t gods. You can’t even try that rhetoric on any experienced engineer who has worked in this field and expect anything but wide open laughter.

    Only money matters in those projects. Why? Read the laws about fiduciary responsibility to employers. This is not Lauren Bacall or June Alyson in “A Woman’s World”. Can we do better? We try but with each generation that arrives convinced that progress and innovation only starts the day they get there, ignorant of the history and in far too many cases misinformed and misguided by the very idols they believe are welcoming them, I don’t expect it to get better soon if ever.

    And Jon, as an educator, the responsibility to find out the historical truths and teach them well is yours. The technologists gave you the tools. Your problem now is the concentration of the databases in a few hands, eg, Google, your own inability to understand that Apple is possibly the worst example to emulate for open anything given your own investments, and that the topic at hand is actually the role of elites in society, governance, and technical evolution.

  73. len says:

    I’m reading these from the bottom, Jon, so I didn’t see that comment about elites. It is an important adjustment to thinking as it was in the technical lists where we had to learn to let the better trained and experienced lead while we contributed.

    Politeness, civility, acceptable tolerance and the willingness to occasionally exile are keys. What we discovered was classes of individuals who care enough about the topic will emerge to control those who have to be and to encourage those who don’t, to look for interesting ideas and more importantly, to seek out the sources, document them and attribute them. The last part because otherwise the patents granted would not reflect the reality of the obviousness or the prior art.

    I think of them as sheepdogs. You may consider them teachers. The seachange is not in the technology but in the change of hearts and minds of decent individuals who realize they have obligations and humbly go about fulfilling them.

    Otherwise, the heresy of Amarna ensues.

  74. Hugh says:

    OK, Jon. Fair enough. I apologize to you and to the table for my foul language, but gadzooks that guy can really get the better of me. He reminds me acutely of my older brother!

  75. Hugh says:

    Thank you, len. You and I both are sheepdogs.

    And the interpolation of a sheepdog betwixt the classically Christian dichotomy of sheep and shepherds–that nuance, that subtlety, that’s Buddhism, I think. And typically gentle. It’s fascinating when the two traditions meet.

    When they did so in the flesh, JPII greeting the Dalai Lama, they reportedly pondered ecumenism, and had so much to say that their respective schedules were scratched so that they might repair to Castel Gondolfo and finish their plans.

    And what plans might those be? Something good, I feel sure, awaiting.

  76. Hugh says:

    And JTM, the answer is no, we definitely cannot do better than June Alyson. It’s not our fault; nobody could.

  77. len says:

    BTW, if it makes you feel better, Hugh, five minutes before I wrote those notes two nights ago, I was going horsefeathers all over the house, wife, daughter and sheltie. The production work on Song for Kim set off one of those long-buried head grenades we all carry around when old frustrations meet new frustrations and like an atom bomb fusing a hydrogen bomb make a much bigger bang than necessary. Why would a sweet song with pictures of a beautiful girl do that? Loss pure and simple,

    So why am I calm in the notes if blunt? Lots and lots and lots of practice. I got to this medium years ahead of most of you and the state conditions of training by experience predispose me to stay calm. I am acutely aware of the exclusion zones on my writing as if I were wearing a tracking bracelet.

    This is part of the concept I want to present to Jon and the rest of the teachers here: that you can teach and encourage those behaviors online, that people can learn collaboration and do it rather well with reflexes once the elites-in-the-moderator-box understand the humanity of this kind of conversation and how to focus it on tasks.

    It might be an interesting project for USC Annenberg to look into: online simulations focused on training thought leaders to use the technology and their humanity to get consensus on problems much the way Harvard(?) had those simulations for national leadership televised on PBS some decades ago. Answer the questions of how best can this be done (what to do next is a perennial), what techniques can be taught, etc.

  78. Mark Morris says:

    I think you are calm because you have a self awareness born of self examination. I find that not a lot of people are really willing to exam why they respond the way they do(or perhaps they just don’t want to talk about it). I feel your posts in this topic have brought a lot of wisdom to it.

  79. len says:

    Thanks Mark. I think it is a habit acquired of setting the woods on fire on too many pre-Web2.0 mail lists and I’m not always good at filtering out local conditions. I wasn’t polite by intention but because I was numb.

    We blew it on the web in the beginning because some of us were masters of the art of let’s you and him fight. We enabled other to understand the power of polemics modulated by frequency and amplitude, of rephrasing to appear original, of dropping citations and allowing adulation where none was merited.

    The heresy of Amarna is worth understanding. Amenhotep IV inherits the wealth of a nation provided by his father’s relentless warring and for his own viewpoint about the Aten and his presumed relationship, rebrands himself as Akenaten and then almost snaps the spine of the culture by not understanding proclaiming oneself a divine being is not the answer to corruption in the priest class.

    Reform takes time. Anyone who expected Obama to do more than he has or any other President for that matter would do well to study that period in history.

    And they should definitely read this:


    It’s so easy to use the symbols to rig the stage to cover the crimes committed feeding the bigger pigs.

  80. JTMcPhee says:

    IF there’s going to be a curriculum of sims to help the New People figure out how to keep the species alive, can I make one of my broken-record, er,-CD, er,-BluRay pitches for including “The Beer Game”?

    Again, it’s a B-School exercise that was designed to illustrate the challenges of “supply chain management,” in this case the brewing, warehousing, transport and sale of Duff Beer, which in Bus.Ed seems to be seen as a small discrete corner of Big Bidness. But from what I can tell, reading about it and looking at some of the game films, running through it a few times could help a person (maybe not an MBA candidate, likely — greed thing, you know) understand a fundamental weakness of everyone who has ever played out the sim in earnest. Starting conditions can be arbitrary, but the outcome is always the same: Greedy people, advancing their own interests under guise of doing collective good, produce a boom followed by a huge bust. And that’s true even if the players know in advance that almost no one has ever produced the ideal, which is a sustainable steady-state production of beer. (No, the sim does not include Superbowl party-induced variations in demand.)

    Lessons of the game

    During the game emotions run high. Many players report feelings of frustration and helplessness. Many blame their teammates for their problems; occasionally heated arguments break out. After the game I ask the players to sketch their best estimate of the pattern of customer demand, that is, the contents of the customer order deck. Only the retailers have direct knowledge of that demand. The vast majority invariably draw a fluctuating pattern for customer demand, rising from the initial rate of 4 to a peak around 20 cases per week, then plunging.

    “After all, it isn’t my fault”, people tell me, “if a huge surge in demand wiped out my stock and forced me to run a backlog. Then you tricked me – just when the tap began to flow, you made the customers go on the wagon, so I got stuck with all this excess inventory.” Blaming the customer for the cycle is plausible. It is psychologically safe. And it is dead wrong. In fact, customer demand begins at four cases per week, then rises to eight cases per week in week five and remains completely constant ever after.

    This revelation is often greeted by disbelief. How could the wild oscillations arise when the environment is virtually constant? Since the cycle isn’t a consequence of fickle customers, players realize their own actions must have created the cycle. Though each player was free to make their own decisions, the same patterns of behavior emerge in every game, vividly demonstrating the powerful role of the system in shaping our behavior.

    Research reported in Sterman (1989) shows how this occurs. Most people do not account well for the impact of their own decisions on their teammates – on the system as a whole. In particular, people have great difficulty appreciating the multiple feedback loops, time delays and nonlinearities in the system, using instead a very simple heuristic to place orders. When customer orders increase unexpectedly, retail inventories fall, since the shipment delays mean deliveries continue for several weeks at the old, lower rate. Faced with a growing backlog, people must order more than demand, often trying to fix the problem quickly by placing huge orders. If there were no time delays, this strategy would work well. But in the game, these large orders stock out the wholesaler. Retailers don’t receive the beer they ordered, and grow increasingly anxious as their backlog worsens, leading them to order still more, even though the supply pipe line contains more than enough. Thus the small step in demand from four to eight is amplified and distorted as it is passed to the wholesaler, who reacting in kind, further amplifies the signal as it goes up the chain to the factory. Eventually, of course, the beer is brewed. The players cut orders as inventory builds up, but too late – the beer in the supply line continues to arrive. Inventories always overshoot, peaking at an average of about forty cases.

    Faced with what William James called the “bloomin’, buzzin’ confusion” of events, most people forget they are part of a larger whole. Under pressure, we focus on managing our own piece of the system, trying to keep our own costs low. And when the long-term effects of our short-sighted actions hit home, we blame our customer for ordering erratically, and our supplier for delivering late. Understanding how well intentioned, intelligent people can create an outcome no one expected and no one wants is one of the profound lessons of the game. It is a lesson no lecture can convey.

    The patterns of behavior observed in the game – oscillation, amplification, and phase lag – are readily apparent in the real economy (figure 4), from the business cycle to the recent boom and bust in real estate. The persistence of these cycles over decades is a major challenge to educators seeking to teach principles and tools for effective management. Though repeated experience with cycles in the real world should lead to learning and improvement, the duration of the business cycle exceeds the tenure of many managers. In real life the feedback needed to learn is delayed and confounded by change in dozens of other variables. By compressing time and space, and permitting controlled experimentation, management flight simulators can help overcome these impediments to learning from experience.

    But the biggest impediments to learning are the mental models through which we construct our understanding of reality. By blaming outside forces we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn – recall that nearly all players conclude their roller coaster ride was caused by fluctuating demand. Focusing on external events leads people to seek better forecasts rather than redesigning the system to be robust in the face of the inevitable forecast errors. The mental models people bring to the understanding of complex dynamics sytematically lead them away from the high leverage point in the system, hindering learning, and reinforcing the belief that we are helpless cogs in an overwhelmingly complex machine.

    Thus to be effective, management flight simulators must be more than just business games. They must be embedded in a learning environment that encourages reflection on the perceptions, attributions, and other mental models we use to interpret experience as well as the substantive lessons of the situation.

    Any of this sound familiar? There’s lots more good notions, but I’ve boored along too long already.

    I understand that some profs have been able, by jiggering the and augmenting the communications functions, and carefully coaching the greedheads as they play out the sim, produce something closer to a stable and sustainable market. but that’s not how people “get rich quick.” Volatility is Everything.

    Suppose goodness or at least greedlessness of the Beer Game kind can be taught?

  81. JTMcPhee says:

    And Hugh, at the risk of further excoriation, what did I ever say about June Alyson? I’ll apologize for challenging beliefs and offering alternative factual views where that causes pain, but I really do not have any kind of personal animus toward you.

    My schtick is to believe I am throwing the flag on plays where people are not being factually honest or correct or are carrying forward and offering as truth some of what Wilfred Owen called “the old lies.” I am a sinner, will admit to it, lots in my life that I would not really want to Face My Maker and account for despite my justifications. I do believe in universal, unstinting Grace, no matter how unfair that is for the St. Francises as against the Stalins.

    We need some myths, the kinds that not only bind us together as a People, but that offer a chance to survive as a Species. I used to argue “vigorously” with my history prof who was all about stripping away all the myths. Some of that is good — it helps us see that we are being played by the Roves and Gingriches and even the Obamites and the neocons — and can arm us morally and intellectually against getting sucked into a “cult of personality” or a “Wag The Dog” war. But there has to be a residuum that says “We come from something good and worth preserving.” Argue all about American Exceptionalism, but understand all the ugly pieces that make up that construct and as has been pointed out here, the fact that isolated geography coupled with huge and now nearly depleted exploitable physical resources let many of us Live Large with both feet in the trough needs to be spotlighted. But we need to see ourselves, and insist that all the cells that if they go renegade can kill us, are working to the same end.

    If we don’t recognize what we are and are capable of, good and bad, and do go on just living on the foamy crest of the feeling present, at some point we are going to fall off the curl and get pounded into a coral bottom with a bunch of sharks circling.

    So I recall your older brother to you. I’m a first-born myself, so maybe it’s a birth-disorder thing. Maybe for some reason bits of what you have written here recall my uncle to me, who was OSS and lifetime CIA and inveterate and implacable Cold Warrior, and who it seems to me was able to frontal-dichotomize his at-home self from that other set of “necessary activities” that, as I study the world, are “necessary” only because folks at Langley and in the Kremlin and the Stasi and Mossad and ISI office, and the Pentagram and its equivalents, are more like each other than they are like the rest of us, and they figure out how to fund the tricks they play on each other and even, whoever heard of inter-service rivalry? amongst themselves.

    I’ve rambled here about a sci-fi hero tale set on a harsh world where the inhabitants have to intimately and innately understand the full meaning of their ecology, of scarcity and niches and relationships, of energy exchanges and predator and parasite and symbiote, in order to survive. Their language is Germanic-rooted, and their ultimate judgment words are two: “medverk,” works with, and “u-medverk,” works against. Symbiosis equals survival equals success, no taking without giving back, actions do have consequences. If you don’t help everything survive, you don’t either.

    It is to be hoped that a leadership curriculum, if it materializes online and properly crowds out the u-medverk parts of all that other belief and training out there, like “success” and “winning” at others’ expense as taught by Dr. Chester “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate!!!” Karass, will actually attract a quorum of people who can actually move the cultures and species in a healthier direction. Going to physiology again, except for the cancer cells that pop up in all of us every day, every other cell in our bodies, all 75 trillion of them, is pulling on the same end of the rope, trying to keep the larger organism alive. Along with maybe 750 trillion bacteria helping with digestion and infection control, and myriad mites like the ones that clean the detritus off our eyelashes and live around the base of each lash.

    So healthy cooperation is patently possible, even in complex systems, presuming some bit of common heritage and awareness of interdependence and honest and clear views of the terrain and the footprints in the sand leading up to w, if you can just control the cancers and the systemic infections like greed and religion…

  82. Hugh says:

    No, no! JTM. You said nothing foul about Ms. Alyson, I was simply agreeing with you about how delightful she was onscreen. Perhaps I should employ emoticons to indicate those rare instances in which I’m sincere. (But that would constitute asseveration, concerning which one should consult the thirty-ninth Article of Religion, so help me God.)

    Your gaming gambit is interesting. Sometimes I fear that everything is game-able to anyone with a gamey mind. This worries me especially in the case of those to whom little children are entrusted. You also alluded to this concern.

    It all makes sense in a pinched way, like the rat&chichilla farm, but at some point the moral spirit has to break out, as it did do in Central Europe, as it did in the works of Solzenitsen. “Thank you, gulag!”. My word, how liberatingly defiant!

    It’s all a game now. We need iconoclasts in the worst way. Don’t you agree? I’m too old for it.

  83. len says:

    What is to be done?

    You’re doing it. You’re doing it here by talking about it. You’re doing it by changing each other’s minds and informing each other’s growth.

    Example: on Dan Harr’s FB friends list which includes a number of Nashville songwriters, Harr went off on the topic of the war. After a flurry of exchanges written rippingly because these are songwriters (passionate beasties in the main), songs were written.

    And that is how things change. To particulars here gathered, your art is more powerful than your opinions.

    From the edge of the record not the center, FWIW, make movies, folks. That’s when you really shine.

    Aten is the disk. Ra is the Sun.

  84. len says:

    elitism in the sense of “business is reputation” had a role in the economic climate of the 1950’s and 1960’s on Wall Street.

    Ok. I’m not a financial person obviously (don’t snicker..). A common hero wrote a book, Profiles in Courage. It is one of the first adult books I read when I was eight. What I remember about it was it told tales of times when given poltical loss, men took the higher road that led to the greater good even where it meant personal loss. Something like that…

    How have the ideas and conduct of the elites changed the culture and when have they merely maintained it, and when have they caused it’s corruption? Tales?

    Are elites necessary? I think so but that could be otherwise. What I do think is undeniable is they are organic. Elites as controls emerge. The challenge has always been self-selection followed by the presumptions of inheritance: Amenhoptep III to IV, when the heir assumes divine rights to the system.

  85. Hugh says:

    len I want to answer you directly, but first let me please thank you for your immediately previous toast. Were I drinking, which contrary to opinion I happen not to be doing, I’d drink a hearty toast to your “passionate beasties”. I wish the whole planet could be populated with them! (In fact, let me add a couple extra, Seventh-Grade !!’s)

    the thing about elites–I’m reminding you, ’cause you already know this–is Who gets to decide, and how? It turns out to be a pretty central question given the history of this country. Permit me one illustration. When Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visited the U.S. at the invitation of President Reagan, the First Lady’s chief of protocol, receiving the royal couple, curtsied. She was fired the next day.

    As concerns elites, well, we have them, praise God, but they belong to what Jefferson called our “aristocracy of talent”. Were they nuclear submarines we would dub them the Louis Armstrong Class.

    The thing that teachers must do is, while remaining fair and effective, to find the next Satchmo and send him or her to the rest of us. That’s what Jefferson dreamt of. Indeed he was a hypocrite but on this score he truly staked his claim: he impoverished himself to build this country’s first public university. And I didn’t go there, by my, it’s a good one.

  86. JTMcPhee says:

    If “elite” = “have more” and not equal “do good, Bentham-and-Assisi-wise” but equal “get more,” why not Nancy Reagan fire her astrologer the day Hinkley shot Reagan? I mean, if “curtsey not equal protocol” due to image-ism, why “failed seer not equal Wisdom” = still employed?

    Now there’s some symbolic logic for ya, you betcha! (wink)

  87. len says:

    Tim Berners Lee says if we release raw data, people will do wonderful things with it. That’s true. They will also do unseemly horrible things with it. That’s true too.

    If we accept one, we accept the other. Those of us honest about what we were doing with the global hypertexts knew that when we started. The deal is to have a greater good we must accept the possibility of a greater evil. There is no way out of it. The change must come of the evolution of people. Fortunately, the side effect of such systems is ampified evoluton. Unfortunately, that’s a horse race between a more powerful evil or a more accomplished good.

    And that is the great drama, isn’t it, by which a creator reflects on his or her or our own existence?

    Lux et umbra vicissm, sed semper amor.
    Permissum illic exsisto lux lucis.

  88. Pingback: Daily Links for March 9th through March 20th | Akkam's Razor

  89. Morgan Warstler says:


    Most of that doesn’t happen now, the supply chain is almost transparent. We can tell exactly how many actual retail orders there were.

    Are you know giving us credit for being brilliantly efficient? particularly after negating such a serious issue?

    Our current fuck up is basically all from fraud.

    Let me ask you this: what do you think of the idea of a transparent bank? where all the loans are exposed. So you can see exactly what the state of the fiat money is in. it could be anonymous, but you’d still be able to see that loan #111142 hadn’t made a payment in 60 days. you get the drift.

    I of course, think it is genius. How’s about you?

    Poo-poo away!

  90. Rick Turner says:

    Morgan, I’d be all for it, and it would tell as much about the competency or lack there of of the free market capitalists in charge as about those unable to meet the loan payments. And that is precisely why it won’t happen. The Lehmans and Madoffs…and Summers and Bernankes of our financial system thrive in the dirty and confusing netherworld of muck. Transparency would expose fraud all too quickly, and the powers that be don’t want that. It would be hard to get rich quick on a non-fraudulent Wall St.

  91. len says:

    With the victory in Congress today motley though it is, we have seen the first event in rolling back the Reagan revolution at last. Thank God.

  92. Rick Turner says:

    Now we throw the bums out and demand improvement…

  93. gb says:


    I haven’t read many of the comments of this thread… some seem totally disconnected (though well-meaning), some seem to simply reaffirm your position. I wanted to give you my Canadian perspective, because I think it’s important to hear from the side that is most like you but is not you. There is no more an American country in the world than Canada and yet, we’re like twins that were separated at birth; you got the guts and the glory, and we got the stability and order. At this point in history, I think it’s fair to say that some members of both sides would gladly swap places, if only for a wee bit.

    I’ve been watching the American healthcare madness closely, marveling at how this sort of thing could even be open to debate, but have to keep reminding myself : we’ve had divisions here… the West is really one country, Ontario another, Quebec another and the Maritimes another… but we’re divided along longitudinal lines, not latitudnal, because everyone endures the same hellish weather… (mostly) BC is like northern California, so we all hate their guts, but it rains and rains and rains, so good luck to them; the Prairies are God’s worst nighmare visited on those who think “flat, unchanging and mind-numblingly cold” are aspirational; Ontario is, well, Florida half of the time, North Dakota the rest of the time… Quebec is part Martha’s Vineyards, part Appalachia, part Louisiana, and the Maritimes are just a really fun and dangerous version of Maine (“Bill in Portland Maine” included)

    But overall, we’re Canada… everyone gets to feel the weather tomorrow that just happened to the poor bastard up the road. So we sympathize, we empathize. We have a commonality that is our seasons. They happen at different times and severity, but generally, we all feel what each other feels eventually.

    You guys don’t. I’ve been there. You have places that haven’t seen rain in decades. You have environments where the humidity never drops below 80%. You have not one, but two, maybe three, climates. In one country. I can’t help feel that fucks with your collective head.

    Regarding healthcare : early on, from what I know, we decided it would be a good idea to take care of each other, because there’s so few of us. Everyone toss a few coins in the pot and when you need it, it’ll be there. It stuns and saddens me that you guys are still so far from this ideal.

    But yesterday showed me that movement forward is possible, even in the most complex of dystopias. As an observer, my sense is America is becoming absolutely sick of the lies and will (mostly) only have room for the truth going forward (except for the 30% of you who have, let’s face it, escaped Darwin’s wrath).

    I can feel the ire from here.


  94. Rick Turner says:

    GB, thank you…

    I first “got it” about Canada in 1965 when I was playing guitar with Ian and Sylvia Tyson. For the most part, everyone was just really pretty darned nice. There was a noticeable lack of the weight of the world on the place…and weirdly enough, I could buy underwear and socks made in China…which were forbidden in the US at the time! Everything seemed about a decade behind the US…in a very good way…it was kind of like the US in the 1950s without McCarthy and red-baiting.

    Don’t worry too much about the weather; with climate change, you’ll be tropical in PEI before you know it…and they’ll be making pina coladas out of Newfie screech…

  95. Mark Morris says:


    Please write more about the Canadian perspective on these various issues discussed here. Your post was very interesting.
    I have been discussing health care with older people lately. All these people are working class and all of them resent having to pay for other people’s health and fear that there will be a run on the doctors. And these people are Democrats! I think there is a real belief in lack in this country–as in “not enough to go around so I gotta get mine.”

  96. Rick Turner says:

    Mark, that is precisely the effect of the brilliant…and evil…tactics of the Teabagger types. It’s really easy to move people using fear-mongering. Yes, all the Mexicans are stealing your antibiotics… And some black government hack on the Death Panel will decide that you die next week…

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