Friday, October 29, 2010

What I Think

What I think hardly matters to anybody but me. Anyone who has read almost anything I've written knows that I'm quite naive. Still, I find my online excursions thought provoking and wonder about the ideas I encounter. The nice thing about blogs is that there is a space way out here on the long tail where I can ruminate about and point to what interests me without being told to often not to speak about what I don't know; simply because so few people see what I write. It's also nice that online is a social space and by sometimes sharing what I think on my blog at least I needn't be completely anonymous to others, especially others whose blogs I leave too-long comments on.

Christopher Alexander's idea of the quality without a name seems very important to me, but I find it hard to talk about it. Part of the difficulty is the absurdity of "the quality without a name" is the name of a quality without a name. And of course part of the difficulty is that I haven't really thought out why this idea seems so important to me carefully.

Recently I've been talking about computers, because I got a new one. But I'm also very interested in general by technologies: How the upsides are rarely clearly envisioned in advance, but can only be seen in retrospect, and that the downsides are almost always unintended.

For the last couple of weeks I've been thinking of a contrast of two views about culture. The first from Constitutional Law scholar J.M. Balkin's book Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology. Here's a short snippet taken from the first chapter here:
Cultural software does not merely obscure; it also clarifies. It does not merely limit the imagination but empowers it as well. The theory of cultural software thus rejects a uniformly pejorative conception that views ideology as a disease or a decrepit form of human thought. In the theory of cultural software, the mechanisms of ideological thought are the mechanisms of everyday thought. In this theory, truth and falsity, deception and empowerment enter through the same door
. The second view is that of ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terrence McKenna:
This is something, culture is not your friend. Culture is for other people's convenience and the convenience of various institutions, churches, companies, tax collection schemes, what have you. It is not your friend. It insults you. It disempowers you. It uses and abuses you. None of us are well treated by culture.
Not in the partial written transcript at that link, but ending the video clip posted there, the question was asked: "How do we fight back?" McKenna answers:
By creating art...By putting the art pedal to the metal we really maximize our humanness and become much more necessary and incomprehensible to the machines.
Both authors have spoken about what to make of our thoughts using the metaphor of computer software. Both are pointing out the importance of freedom and that's something important about the quality without a name.

My general temperament aligns me more closely with Balkin's use of the metaphor of software as applied to culture. His chapter begins with a metaphor from the Talmud:
God knew that He was finished with the task of creation, He endeavored to bring into existence everything that might be needed later on. At the end of this list of necessary items is a curious addition: the first set of tongs, for, as the Talmud tells us, tongs can only be made with other tongs.
Central to Balkin's conception of cultural software is the idea of "a tool that can be made only from another tool." Balkin locates cultural software in us, which seems pretty convincing. But I'm left wondering how to account for network effects and the observation that Balkin's metaphor of software seems to depend on a pre-Internet notion of what software is. Nevertheless, Balkin is speaking about a rather formal way of thinking, or is speaking in formal language, which is more in my comfort zone than where McKenna is coming from.

I haven't read Douglass Rushkoff's book Program or be Programmed, but I have seen a few videos and read a few Web pages about it. I'm not sure the connections I make are very good, but more generally connect Rushkoff to McKenna in re these quotes. The point about Balkin's fromal language is about outward forms or structure. McKenna, Rushkoff and Lilly--I'll get to him--pay more heed to processes than structure.

Terrence McKenna died in 2000 and I only discovered him in the last year or so. I'm not sure how I missed him before. In 2005 I went to an Afrobeats night at a local club and met some nice young folks who suggested that I connect with them through I think I probably was already on Friendster, but never connected with anyone there, so it seems like Tribe was my first exposure to online social networks. Very lively discussions there and I soon got a vivid picture of myself on the other side of a generation gap. Because there was so much discussion going on at Tribe then, there was ample opportunity for me to learn more and to begin bridging the gap. But it goes to show how clueless I still am not to have stumbled upon McKenna and his ideas directly at Tribe.

At there were ideas which in one way or another people were talking about back in the seventies, but the vocabulary and orientations to these ideas had changed. Because I've been lately thinking about the ideas which struck me as important in the 1970's and have continued to think about, I was reminded of John Lilly's book "Simulations of God." I lost my copy along the way but found a place to download it here.

I mentioned in a previous post that writing a philosophy paper about Kierkegaard was very hard for me--my paper was exasperating to my professor. It was hard because I was thinking of studying social science of one sort or another and "objectivity" and "subjectivity" and notions about them were driving me nuts. I've got a textbook on my shelf by Robert E. Ornstein, "The Nature of Human Consciousness." The old saw goes something like "If you can remember the sixties, you weren't there." I think that applies to the seventies too. Anyhow I can't remember what course the textbook is from. I think it was probably from a course in what was then the School of Library and Information Sciences, entitled "Cybernetics." I'm embarrassed to say that I walked out of the class after a session about defining "information" after asking the sophmoric question: "Then what is wisdom?"

I regret not having paid better attention in school. Nonetheless while not articulating the hard problem of consciousness in quite the way it's stated today, and without paying attention to my studies, I'd concluded even then that human consciousness was a hard problem. Lazy as I am I tend to put hard problems aside. That's probably why I don't still have my copy of "Simulations of God" even though I remember it impressed me back in the day.

Mary Catherine Bateson speaking of her father Gregory wrote:
[I]t seems that we have the capacity to be wrong in rather creative ways--so wrong that this world we cannot understand may become one in which we cannot live. But it is important to remember in this context Gregory's commitment to the principle of double description. The richest knowledge of the tree includes both myth and botany. Apart from Cretura, nothing can be known; apart from Pleroma, there is nothing to know. Gregory, convinced that the artist and visionary sometimes knows more than all our science, might have ended with this fragrant of prayer embedded in a poem by William Blake:

May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton's sleep!
The emphasis is mine. Bateson thought of himself as a Monist but certainly not a Physicalist. Whenever I've tried to talk about Bateson's ideas I always seem to give the impression that Bateson was a Dualist. A part of what I think about when I think about "a quality without a name" is Bateson's contention of "mind and nature: a necessary unity." With emphasis on the "unity" bit.

I certainly don't think I can solve "the hard problem of consciousness," but I think I can't really compare Jack Balkin's use of the metaphor of "software" with Terrence McKenna's without touching on the issue of human consciousness.

After re-reading "Simulations of God" recently I happened upon a lecture by Slavoj Zizek, Materialism and Theology on YouTube. Zizek doesn't really talk about consciousness, but is critical of "vulgar materialism" while stridently advocating materialism. I think it's a good jumping off point to explore being and thinking and in turn consciousness. I'll leave that for another day, but this is some of what I've been thinking lately.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The picture is of Andrew Solomon. The photo comes from The Moth Radio Hour site, all right reserved. I am asserting a fair use of a small version of the photo for commentary purposes.

I must be crazy, but I've never quite found a list that seems to match my particular ways of crazy. I mean "crazy" with the connotation of mental illness as well as in the metaphorical sense of cracks and flaws as in pottery. Certainly I'm full of flaws. And sometimes I'm depressed, but I've never suffered major depressive illness. I know people who suffer from clinical depression and know that among people I admire some have had major depression. Depression is very serious condition.

Recently I was talking in a relaxed family setting. In the conversation was a psychiatrist and a mental health counselor. While the general tenor was social chit-chat there was a strong current of shop talk going on too. I wanted to relate the story that Andrew Solomon had told on The Moth. The podcast is about 18 minutes long and can be heard here.

Perhaps Solomon's most well-known book is A Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. None of my interlocutors had heard of it before. I haven't read the book myself. But we get the New Yorker at home and I think that I had read Solomon's article Anatomy of melancholy.

Damn it. This set-up sounds so depressing and that's sad because Solomon's podcast about undergoing an aboriginal healing strategy in Mali for his depression and is quite cheerful. The photo was taken mid-way through the ritual. Ignoring the blood on his face, he certainly doesn't look depressed in the photo. I wanted to tell the story precisely because the conversation had become a little too heavy.

I'm not an awfully good storyteller so I didn't presume that I could tell the story all that well; just enough to get the gist of it. I began by saying who Solomon is and then placed the action in Mali. Opps, that's when I realized it was going to be hard to get even the gist across. I've never been to Mali but it was clear to me from the start that the story would suffer from a typically American mental map of Africa. Chris Blattman recently shared a couple of maps dealing with perceptions of the continent. I'm thinking of the second one, a GraphJam with the outline of Africa and a legend with four categories: Nelson Mandela, Sudan, Pyramids, Tigers, each a different color. Sudan is a red square and misplaced, Mandela blue at the southern tip, the pyramids yellow located where Egypt ought to be on the map. All the rest is green, tigers everywhere.

This morning when I came online a friend in Kampala had sent a link to a Time Magazine article Uganda: Debating God in a God-Fearing Country. It's pretty cool because the article mentions James Onen. Onen has the blog Freethought Kampala. Onen is well-known in the city. The Sanyu Breakfast Club at Facebook has over 4,500 members including me. While I don't hear the radio program I do sometime check in on the conversation at Facebook. When Onen first started Freethought Kampala I think I must have left an over-long comment there. He was nice enough to send me an email to introduce himself and check me out. Onen has lived in Japan and speaks Japanese. He's one cosmopolitan dude.

I know that Uganda isn't Mali. But I don't see how to understand Solomon's story properly with a mental map of Africa with tigers everywhere. There are no tigers in Africa, but there are many cities.

It so happens that my history with with Onen overlaps with the prolific Ugandan blogger The 27th Comrade. The 27th may be banned from commenting at Freethought, but his blog is certainly a part of the broader conversation about faith in Uganda. So the next thing I read was at Comrade 27th's blog You-Genics and Ed-You-Cation which was prompted by an earlier comment I'd left there. I was at a loss as to what to say in the comments and this post serves as something as a response.

Next I read a post by Aaron Bady at Zunguzungu, Johann Hari, V.S. Naipaul, and bigotry which takes on British journalist, and atheist, Johann Hari's review of V.S. Naipaul's new book The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief. Bady is a good writer and I'm tempted to copy snippets here; better to just go there and read. A basic point he makes is how obnoxious the tired old script is when it come to writing about Africa. By this time my head was aching so I went out and mowed some grass.

James Onen writes cogently from the perspective of "A loud and proud freethinker, skeptic and atheist." The 27th Comrade's Christian apologetics is really quite extraordinary. I'm only a very casual reader of philosophy, even so his philosophical sophistication is evident. Usually when writing I begin with a title something near what I suspect I'll write about and then most often stray way off course. In psychology hypothetical constructs are explanatory variables which are not directly observable. Recently The 27th Comrade has written extensively about faith. He's presented how so many of the constructs people tend to agree on are like faith.

I tend to think more along the lines of James Onen than Comrade 27. So I try to argue with Comrade 27, but he's a more careful thinker than I am so he keeps pointing out holes in my arguments. What's surprised me is following his comments at blogs frequented by much more learned people than I and so often it seems they miss seeing the holes and gaps he's pointing to. It's quite frustrating because I want some help with my arguments. Oh, that's only one side of it. I so enjoy the palaver. I'm curious about what's true and it seems to me most of the time people can only come to what's true from multiple perspectives.

Thinking tonight about constructs, I'm reminded of a "metalogue" written by Gregory Bateson, "Metalogue: What Is an Instinct." Bateson over his career employed the invention of a metalogue as a discussion between he and his young daughter. Seven of his metalogues are published in Steps to an Ecology of Mind. "What Is an Instinct" was first published in 1969 in Approaches to Animal Communication edited by Thomas Sebeok. The piece is well-known enough that I suspect it's posted somewhere on the Internet. All I found tonight was Steps at Scribid. But I often have trouble getting files there even with a fairly fast connection. I also found a 45 minute long audio file with Bateson himself playing Daddie. It's really worth hearing if you can find the time and can get the file.

In the Time piece James Onen is quoted:
"Why should one difference in our beliefs make [believers and nonbelievers] not be friends?"
People being people, of course we come up with all sorts of reasons not to be friends. Still, in following various Ugandan blogs, and not just about subjects about beliefs, I've rather consistently found the presumption that we can be friends unless shown otherwise. It's a quality I find strangely lacking too often among Americans. I'm not sure why, it may have to do with our constructs and tired old scripts about Africa.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Quality Without a Name

My last post was entitled "Bad Writing." The biggest reason for my bad writing is that while I'm online my mind is always following one link after another. Tonight I was thinking of doing a post here, on a subject dear to my heart, when I noticed that Keith Richards has a new book out. In reading some of the press about it there was an expression, "tiny todger" I was unfamiliar with. The meaning was clear from the context,I'd just never heard the term.

Google is your friend in cases like these; except that the search for "tiny todger" has occupied me for the last hour or so with one entertaining Web page after another. I was particularly taken by a piece about Oliver Reed in The Sabotage Times. I hadn't stumbled upon the publication before. Right on the masthead it says:
We Can't Concentrate So Why Should You?
Sounds like a publication for me.

Over the weekend I saw a friend who'd happened upon my recent rantings about computers. He pointed out sensibly that Apple really isn't a luxuary brand like Cadillac, rather more like Volkswagen. He's fond of both Apple and Volkswagen and he's right that if the central point is design then Volkswagen is the better comparison. I disagreed with him in person, but figure he won't see me say he's right here; alas, because I drone on and on about subjects tangential to what I intend to write about.

Ah, but one more link before I get around to the intended subject. David Schlesinger (aka "Lefty") weighed in on the Linux desktop debate from the perspective of being actively engaged in the mobile open source community. A more extended version of Schlesinger's thinking on the matter is here. From that second link:
Organizations like GNOME continue to attempt to “market” free software on the basis of its inherent freedom-enhancing qualities, which is something like trying to sell electric drills based on the color of the extension cord. Just as people don’t really care about electric drills but rather about holes, people don’t care about computer operating systems, particularly: they care about creating documents and spreadsheets, using the web, and reading their email.
Schlesinger makes some really important points well, and because I don't know how to code or program, he's in sense making my case for me. But I have to weigh his points against Douglass Rushkoff's warning:
Program or be programmed!
Here's the buy-page for the text-inclined and here's a short video. Either way you might look, Rushkoff points out:
The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? Choose the former and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.
I'm pretty sure that "tiny todger" is completely off the topic I want to talk about, but I've got a hunch that the points Schlesinger and Rushkoff are on about are connected. I'm wondering if I can get down to making a connection?

In 1975 I was struggling in college. I was living in a house with a bunch of others and someone ripped off a book club membership that shipped four books for free as a hook. These books got passed around the house and one of the books that generated a good deal of discussion was Christopher Alexander's The Oregon Experiment. That book had a great impact on me. I was still in school so it was great that I had the opportunity to sit in the library and discover some of Alexander's earlier work. The Oregon Experiment is a book on architecture and architectural theory. In the library I discovered that Alexander had spent some time in Jerome Bruner's Learning Lab doing research.

At the time I was interested in studying Child Development and so was taking psychology courses. I suspect that every generation of young people is concerned about "relevance," and especially true of kids in the Seventies. My sense about what I was learning at university, especially in psychology, wasn't right, or at least wasn't connecting. The 27th Comrade somewhat recently pointed to a religious discussion he was participating in at another person's blog. In it he said that he was "wearing his Kierkegaard hat." The mere mention of Kierkegaard sent me reminiscing about the torment over the notions of subjectivity and objectivity I felt back in the day when I read Kierkegaard in college.

The American military withdrew finally withdrew from Vietnam in 1975. I was certainly not alone among other young people in hoping for ways to create a more participatory democracy. And Alexander's The Oregon Experiment filled me with a sense of possibility.

The Oregon Experiment is part of a series of books by Alexander. On the book spine are stars noting the sequence. There are three stars on The Oregon Experiment spine, two on Alexander's most well-known book A Pattern Language, which was published in 1977. There is a single star on the book spine of A Timeless Way of Building published in 1979. The quality without a name comes from A Timeless Way of Building. It's odd that the introductory book was published after the other two.
The Quality Without A Name

There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.
When I was in school, even before reading The Oregon Experiment, I had been introduced to Gregory Bateson's book Steps to an Ecology of Mind. That book was absolutely essential to me in thinking about an approach to psychology and academics. When I read The Oregon Experiment I was mostly thinking in terms of political possibilities.

Anyhow, I flamed out at school. I then tried to rehab a house in a very derelict area along the lines of The Integral Urban House--that book remarkably in a new edition. I was ambitious but not prepared. In any case when Alexander's book A Pattern Language came out I was working on a property and devoured the book. Also in that year Bateson's Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity came out and I tried to wrap my head around its contents.

My experiment in rehabbing the house turned into a fiasco that wouldn't go away, but by late 1979 it had failed, if wasn't completely over. I started working as a delivery driver for a wholesale grocer. It was in a context of feeling an utter failure that I read The Timeless Way of Building. The quality without a name is hard to talk about because there is no name. And so seems insubstantial. Nevertheless Alexander pointing out that there was a quality that was necessary to take seriously drew together threads of ideas I'd been wrestling with towards understanding.

On one level my difficulty understanding Kierkegaard at least so far as writing college papers had to do with my religious crisis of faith. But on another level I was struggling with subjectivity and objectivity in studying psychology. The classes within the Department of Psychology were very much in the experimental psychology tradition of operant conditioning and the like. Not that I continued into the Child Development program, but was well aware of a different fork in psychology. Well, aware of other approaches across disciplines at the university too.

I flunked out of my Introductory Sociology course, and didn't take a course in Anthropology. I did however read Bronisław Malinowski for a Philosophy of Language course of all things. So I had some idea about ethnography. Even though I failed Sociology the course at least presented Emile Durkheim's positivism and contrasted Max Weber's anti-positivism.

What Gregory Bateson had given me was a way to be careful to make distinctions between problems of material creation and problems of order and differentiation. In other words I knew that qualities were important. Bateson's book Mind and Nature includes a chapter which attempts a list of criteria of mental processes. They are listed here in summary form if you scroll down about 2/3rds. I thought I had a way to think about thinking by way of Bateson.

It's almost a cliche to say of certain professions that they are both an art and a science. In one way Alexander's approach to architecture can be read as integrating separate disciplines of art and science.
In talking about A Pattern Language Alexander notes: So in this case, art is concerned with the making of it and science with the explanation of it--but there is a continuous interplay between these two because obviously to the extent that you understand more about the phenomenon--the kinds of processes which create it, and so forth, which are scientific questions--the more you are able to make of it.
I got that quote out of Stephen Grabow's book Christopher Alexander: The Search for a New Paradigm in Architecture. Grabow comments on Alexander's quote:
To him, the importance of the phenomenon of the unity of space is that it exists in a realm that is fundamental and basic to both--and that what we call art is part of it and what we call science is part of it. They are not two distinct activitites but, rather, two different ways of looking at the same thing.
Right, when I read Alexander's chapter in A Timeless Way of Building, "The Quality Without a Name" that strange idea that art and science are not "two distinct activities" dawned upon me as a Eureka moment.

In Bateson's book Mind and Nature there's a chapter "From Classification to Process." The model is elaborated on in his unfinished final work Angels Fear: Towards and Epistemology of the Sacred. The second book came out in the mid-1980's so I didn't have Bateson's more elaborate model when I first read A Timeless Way of Building. But I did have a way of thinking about two different ways of looking at the same thing, that is, from Bateson I had got a formal model for the unity Alexander maintains.

I realize that I've not fleshed out "the quality without a name." I have an idea in mind to do so sometime soon. For now I want to go back to the Schlesinger and Rushkoff. I think that Schlesinger is right that most people really don't care about operating systems, but I think Rushkoff is right to point out that we ought to.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bad Writing

The picture is the logo for Flattr a micropayment system.

My writing is really bad. I think it was John Michael Greer who offered that there is a certain amount of bad writing that writer have to get out before good writing can commence. Maybe it wasn't him, but this blog is one place I can get some of my bad writing out of the way. It's embarrassing to think of readers. But I'm very appreciative of Comrade 27 for taking what I write as possibly containing a little sense. I am trying to learn how to make some sense.

Recently among other things I wrote about the vision of Steve Jobs. Jobs takes design as primary and therefore favors integration over fragmentation. In a fragmented way I tried to take the side in favor of fragmentation. But Jobs's success is good evidence he's right about fragmentation, at least so far as too much fragmentation is untenable. So my point isn't against design, but rather it's not the only necessary thing.

I'm using Ubuntu as my Linux distribution of choice. A big reason for that is I'm not very computer savvy and Ubuntu is very well put together for people like me.

One doesn't have to be technically inclined to know that free and open source software FOSS, sometimes FLOSS, free/libre/open source software is something significant when it comes to computers and computing. Discussions of FOSS can be very broad and deep and I can't keep up, except to say that there is a moral core to the philosophy--morality meaning the ways we treat others. The FOSS community makes a distinction about free; their meaning is free as in speech not as in "free beer." The point being that "free" doesn't necessarily mean "no cost." Indeed there are commercial aspects to some of the distributions of Linux.

Mark Shuttleworth is associated with Ubuntu much like Steve Jobs comes to mind with Apple. In September Shuttleworth responding in part to criticisms about Ubuntu not contributing enough code to the kernel and core GNOME infrastructure wrote a blog post about what he views as Ubuntu's contribution to the Linux community. His answer really boils down to design.

Clearly both Mark Shuttleworth and Steve Jobs are serious businessmen and both see the importance of design. Jobs's rant on his call was about Google, but he was talking about bets about different business approaches. Shuttleworth's business play with Ubuntu represents an even clearer difference between Apple than Google.

It's not hard for me to imagine Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, talk about winning the whole shebang along with Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and the like. It's harder for me to imagine Larry Page and Sergey Brin the founders of Google talking that way. And certainly, at least in the context of Ubuntu, I can't imagine Mark Shuttleworth talking about winning in the same way other executives do. There's a different game at play concurrently with the old game.

Weeks back I began writing about social currency sometimes called Whuffie. Online social currency is an idea that lots of people have been trying to work out for quite a long time. I think often about what sort of incentives would increase online collaboration.

Recently I noticed that the New York Times is suing Kachingle. Kachingle's tag is "Social cents for digital stuff." In short it's a way for users to direct microdonations to online creators. My reaction to the take-down order by lawyers for the Times made me smile. I appreciate those who tilt at windmills because I so often do. Afterwards, I berate myself for being so foolish; still I do believe there are battles that ought to be fought even when winning is unlikely. Kachingle hasn't a chance.

I think the idea of Kachingle is stellar nonetheless. Flattr is a somewhat similar service to Kachingle. The premise with Flattr is that you have to give to get. So each month you load a small amount of money into an account and then you may click on Flattr buttons people have installed next to their content. At the end of the month the money you've uploaded is split among the people whose Flattr buttons you've clicked.

In RhythmBox the music player that comes installed with Ubuntu releases 10.04 and greater are three music stores. Ubuntu One is Ubuntu's store. Magnatune is a store that allows unlimited downloads for a monthly subscription fee. And Jamendo operates a pay scheme that bears resemblance to Flattr.

I had thought I'd seen Flattr buttons on artist pages I'd discovered through Jamendo, but I was probably mistaken or confused. I have seen Flattr buttons on blog posts by developers of applications. I thought I'd seen enough Flattr buttons that it would be worth loading a small amount of money so that I could Flattr people. Alas, once having the money loaded I'm having a hard time locating Flattr buttons I want to click!

I suggested in an earlier post that a pure reputation currency might be something that Microsoft could implement. My thinking was there are Microsoft users everywhere. There are lots of people online whom I'd like to Flattr, the problem is that none of them have signed up for Flattr. I'd like to be able to Flattr anybody I want. So while I'm keen on Kachingle, Flattr, Jamendo and other sorts of services that allow positive feedback to online creators the lack of a very widespread way to do so is a real drawback. I can't remember where, but I saw Mark Shuttleworth interviewed and he was asked whether Ubuntu was considering a service like Flattr. He said they were. But of course on the desktop Ubuntu has a rather low penetration.

Someone is going to figure this out. When I first came online in the late 1990's I thought it would be nice to have a little block of "stamps" on the desktop that people could purchase in a block and then drag a number of stamps onto a site that one wished to support, or were prompted to in order to see the rest of an article. Obviously I hadn't thought it through, but my point is that if I've always wanted a way to support online content with micropayments that surely others have too. Payments aren't quite the same thing as a reputation currency, but when they are transparent counters, as Flattr and Jamendo's are they are quite related to one.

Whuffie doesn't need to be free as in "free beer," but perhaps sometimes it is just that. And Whuffie ought to be in my opinion free as in speech. I do think people want to give credit to the creators of stuff we appreciate. Some sort of ubiquitous online currency would create incentives. Some of the incentives might be perverse, but surely not all.

Everytime I read Shuttleworth being questioned about whether Ubuntu is profitable yet, I hear an impatient "No." As rich as Shuttleworth is I'm sure money matters. Yet I suspect that if Ubuntu got lots of reputation points from users that sort of recognition would matter a lot to him too. Ubuntu as a business isn't just about winning in a zero sum game, but about creating more winners. I admire the vision of Steve Jobs, but the game he excels at of winners and losers is not the game I believe will succeed in the long term. I want to root for the business players who are creating public goods not just more stuff. The game that's being played makes a difference to the design.

Update What do I know, but saw this piece about the announcement of the Mac Apple Store and how Microsoft has got to make an app store like yesterday. A micropayment feature like Jamendo would be radical. Okay, I know it won't happen, but I still think Microsoft is well-positioned to be a leader in micropayments if only they wanted to be.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Computer Blathering

If you've been reading with any regularity, you'll know that I got a new computer in August which has the Ubuntu Linux operating system installed. I don't run a dual-boot with Windows, just Linux. If you know me, you know that I'm fairly clueless when it comes to computers. Being slow on the upstart it came as no surprise when I read Robert Strohmeyer in PC World this week write:
The dream of Linux as a major desktop OS is now pretty much dead.
It's pretty typical for me to adopt technologies when they're already over, my collection of music on cassette for example. Strohmeyer's argument in a nutshell is that what really matters today isn't the desktop but the cloud:
But if Linux ever manages to win equal footing with Windows or Mac OS X in a cloud-centric world, it will likely be a hollow victory, made possible only through the sheer irrelevance of the operating system itself.
I don't see a smart phone or even a cell phone in my near future, although I see Strohmeyer's point.

Previously I've only owned computers running Microsoft Windows. I never was tempted to upgrade any of the operating systems because I felt certain I'd break them. Ubuntu has a six-month cycle of updates to new operating systems, with releases with long-term support (LTS) released every two years. My computer came with the current Ubuntu LTS version LucidLynx 10.04. I'm not quite sure what came over me but I decided to upgrade to the most recent release MaverickMeerkat 10.10. It didn't go well for me, almost certainly user error; what I ended up with is a computer that wouldn't boot. I'm not sure that a clean install was the only appropriate response, but that's what I did. So now I'm running MaverickMeerkat 10.10.

One thing about being clueless as I am is that as long as things are working I'm reasonably content. I had been using XP and as it aged there were things that stopped working, most everything around Windows Live seemed broken. That probably had to do with settings regarding ActiveX that I must have changed when trying to recover from nasty malware. What annoyed me the most about XP was how long it to boot. That annoyance made MS updates irritating, and the frequent updates to McAfee anti-virus consumed so many systems resources to grind my system to a snails pace. But essentially I was happy with XP because most of the time because the computer did what I wanted it to do.

The new Ubuntu LucidLynx booted in about a half a minute. Once up and running the look was much nicer. My flat screen resolution was better than my old machine could muster, so the images stretched, not so with my new computer. Ubuntu allows for an enormous degree of choice about how things look. Many users enjoy using a dock similar to Macs, but I don't use that feature. Aside from choosing wallpaper and a theme, I have done little customization. There's a nice feature in Ubuntu of workspaces which I only use occasionally. Basically I'm happy with the way the computer came right out of the box. Probably I'd feel happy had I gotten Windows 7 too. But I'm sure I'm happier because I like the idea of Linux.

Some of my friends are Mac fans. I've never questioned that Macs are nice computers, rather like I'm sure Cadillac are nice cars, but I doubt I'll ever own either. The only opportunity I've had to play around on a Mac is at a friend's house. I was frustrated the other day in using my friends's Mac when I realized that tabbed browsing wasn't enabled and the tabs bar hidden. I find tabs so useful I can't imagine doing without them, even though I did for many years. Clearly if I had a Mac I would enable tabbed browsing. My friend won't do anything without making an appointment at the Apple Store to let an authority weigh in. Different strokes for different folks.

There's a great interview with John Sculley at Cult of Mac. My friend who lets me play on her computer probably isn't typical of Mac fans because she didn't know who John Sculley is and even the mention of Steve Jobs produced a puzzled look questioning why in the world I'd find such an article interesting. I found it interesting because Sculley, the former CEO of Apple, pointed out that Jobs is first and foremost a designer, something I'd never quite understood before. Another friend who is a Mac fanatic is an artist. The interview with Sculley helped me to appreciate my his deep love for Macs.

In an earnings call this week Steve Jobs presented a short speech saying among other things:
“open systems don’t always win.”
Since going to Ubuntu I've been more attentive to what people are saying about it. The stereotype of Linux is that it's an operating system that only geeks could love. It is true that plenty of geeks talk about Ubuntu and Linux. I particularly enjoy reading and listening to young people who are fans. Among the many sorts of people who comment on Linux I'm most like what I call the Gramps contingent. The view of this contingent might be summed up: It works and you can't beat the price.

The fact that there are Grandpas and Grandmas who proudly identify as Linux users in comments at places like Slashdot is just one more reason that Linux is right for me. It may be helpful to point out that Geek-culture is known for its rudeness. So there are some tough old birds out there. I hasten to add that Ubuntu as a brand is pretty serious about keeping the discussions civil. The Ubuntu brand is tied to the philosophical construct of Ubuntu. that Wikipedia article copies a quote from a 1999 book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
Of all my friends the one with the Mac who wouldn't change anything without first consulting at the Apple store surely is a person with Ubuntu, but Ubuntu the operating system probably isn't right for her. Macs are right for my artist friend because Job's ethic that "the most important decisions you make are not the things you do – but the things that you decide not to do" is a touchstone for his daily work.

Here's a YouTube video which is really just the audio of Steve Jobs conference call. Jobs asks: "What's best for the customer: integrated or fragmented?" He answers with solid support of the integrated approach. His comments are very much in line with the guiding philosophy that Sculley reveals in the interview I linked to earlier. But I'm not sure he's right about what's best for the user; or rather I'm not sure he's right to think that he knows what's right for me and everyone else.

Apparently the interest in Netbooks, small laptop computers, has fizzled. In the process of losing my old computer and getting a new one, I also acquired a Netbook. It's not surprising I think they're the greatest thing since sliced bread and that I'm late to the party again. Anyhow despite the fact that I can't afford an iPad, I don't really want one either. And my misgivings about the iPad have to do with what I do online. I consume content online of course, and I like to be social online; I like to do stuff online. The iPad seems great for consuming content, not so much for creating it.

Navneet Alang asks some really smart questions in an article What If the iPad Magazine is Already Obsolete? Note that Alang isn't really addressing the iPad, but rather the idea of iPad magazines.
"There’s at least an argument to be made that very concept of the magazine is changing because the multiple, networked nature of the web changes our need for one publication to bring us info on a given topic, whether that’s baking or current affairs. And maybe the idea of a ‘tablet magazine’ that simply recreates the idea of a publication that somebody else put together for you isn’t such a great idea anymore."
A YouTube video introducing Flipboard for iPad is embedded with the article. Flipboard aggregates links from our online social connections and organizes them as a personal magazine. Alang also links to which say offers a way for people to "read Twitter as a newspaper." I don't have an iPad to enjoy Flipboard, but I do enjoy using for my Twitter stream.

Here's my problem with Steve Jobs thinking about what's best for users: the approach seems primarily about users as consumers rather than users actively engaged. It's a mess when people are engaged. Jobs paints a nightmare picture for customers and developers with the many variants of the Android phone. The premise is that customers don't want to be "systems integrators" and therefore will choose Apple products because integration is their focus. It's true that things like Flipbook and address the social connectedness in the way we experience the Web. The social is complicated and nuanced, so they are useful but not enough

I think about myself as someone who doesn't care about how computers work, I just want them to work. Following that logic, clearly Jobs is right about what I seem to want. But when I think about what I do online, it's gets more complicated, because so much of it is social. For example people came together on Ning when Ning was still free, but now have to think about going elsewhere or paying. Or take MySpace, it's still a place to hear bands and see pictures and maybe even to see updates, but the social aspects around bands mostly has seemed to migrate elsewhere. Online collaborations of people come together, fall apart and come together in different configurations. As far as the social Web goes all of us are systems integrators. Users at least part of the time are thinking in terms of social systems.

There's a clear logic for the iPad not to support Flash, but from the users perspective what's seen is a Flash-is-broken icon. Not to worry says Apple, there's a whole collection of iPad ready Web sites you can visit. The logic follows technical specifications as well as the idea of users as consumers. It does not place the social systems, which are important to users, front and center, instead suggests that users need to be led. Technical issues are real and important, but it seems to me that when gadget makers forget the primary social importance of the Web they've lost the plot.

Apparently there's a crop of 7-inch Android tablets coming out. Tim Carmody at Wired thinks they can succeed. They're easier to hold, type on, take pictures with and use as an ebook reader. You can hear in Job's trashing them: "These are among the reasons that the current crop of 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA — dead on arrival,” a confidence that Jobs knows what tablets are for and the other guys don't. I think that the smaller form is easier for people to be social with, but still large enough to have richer apps than the Touch or iPhone, will make them popular.

Accommodating another size is exactly the sort of fragmentation that Jobs finds so unaesthetic. Wired suspects that if this form factor succeeds Apple will release their own version. I think that's a smart bet. It's a dilemma, nobody really wants beta crap, but the beta nature of things is rather baked in because people what to discover new ways to use these devices. And the importance of the ways we wish to be social can't be underestimated.

Despite the fact that Linux still has low penetration in the desktop area, Linux as an operating system has developed social systems which help users get computers which do what they want. Microsoft, Apple and even Google seem very slow to see the need for this sort social engagement with users in the development and deployment of software. The great strength of Linux is the social aspects are baked in.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day

October 15 was Blog Action Day and the subject is Water. A very important topic and that link will take you to a page to read what bloggers all over have to say.

I didn't get it together to write anything. And as usual what I really want to do is to let my thoughts wander here; I suppose looking to make some sense. I know that I've got several disjointed threads in mind. Curious what will come out.

I've shamelessly ripped off the map image from the BBC. It's a good report on a study published in Nature that is behind a pay wall. It's much better to read the BBC piece than my rehashing it here. But I wanted the image because look where all the yellow, orange and red on the map is. The article says the study shows that the places where 80% of the people in the world live will experience water stress; a lack of water in the near future. In industrialized areas the infrastructure may be secure enough to provide for people, but not so the broader ecological communities where they live and depend.

I live is an area where the geography is marked by rivers and streams. It's too easy for people to take water for granted here in Western Pennsylvania. Right now there is a gold-rush to exploit deep deposits of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale underneath us. In order to exploit these deposits of gas, which aren't in a sort of underground storage tanks but rather between layers of rock, great quantities of water are needed. The water is pumped into the well along with lots of very toxic chemicals in order to fracture the layers horizontal to the bore hole; beleive it or not the process is called fracking. Of course the companies doing the exploiting paint a very rosy picture about the water issues involved. And because there seems water all around many folks don't seem very concerned.

At Facebook I've been posting links to a great Web site called FracTracker which is the best resource for information about what's going on with this energy play. But it's not an advocacy site. I've also been putting up links concerning legislation to impose a severance tax on gas produced. Pennsylvania is the only mineral-rich state without one. It's those links that have gotten a bit of a reaction, and the reactions are interesting. Some of my friends think the important issue is stopping the drilling, apparently not noticing the gold-rush fever has already struck. So they see political issues of taxes being not so important. It makes me sad, because much of the grassroot political effort is being spent closing the gate after the horse has left the yard.

Well water contamination is a legitimate concern, but not the only water issue involved. More pressing now are more direct impacts of removing surface water, holding ponds of highly contaminated water and the discharge of total dissolved solids into streams and rivers. Water issues are very difficult politically because they involve balancing interests. In the USA the interests of corporations are well heard, but not so much the voices of individual citizens. The state of Pennsylvania is no where near up to speed to regulate the immediate problems of fracking, and progress in the legislature is slow.

We're headed into elections in early November and polarization of politics has been ginned up to almost absurd proportions. I think that debate is very valuable, but it's frightening how dialog is disparaged. It's as if the possibility that interests, especially in re vital interests like water, can be balanced in an equitable way isn't on anyone's mind or in their imaginations. We're crazy to think competing self-interests will produce healthy outcomes around this issue. My prayer is that we as citizens somehow rediscover the notion of common interests.

I didn't get around to some of the other stuff I'm thinking about; I suppose I'll wait for another day for that.

Clean water for everyone.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Social Networks

It's really worth checking out for the whole map in all of its glorious detail. Furthermore at the site, right at the top is a link to the 2007 version as well as a link to Ethan Bloch's update of his map. even has a big poster of the map for sale (only $20) at the site.

Image permission:cc 2.5

The 27th Comrade left a comment on my last post and I want to bring a snippet of that up with his advice:
However, I give only one piece of advice to those I give a damn about: fuck social networks. I have grown to be really, really suspicious of anything that seeks to define my life in terms of … algorithms. Bad. The necessary end of a World gone mad, and very bad also.
From Comrade 27 and my online banter I suspect he knows most of the time I'm too stupid to take his advice. I hope that he knows that I try to consider it. He's got a knack for getting to the nub of things. So I take very seriously the warning that there are dangers in having our lives defined by algorithms.

Online today I saw a warning, or a bit of unsolicited advice: "Don't talk what you don't know." It wasn't even directed at me, but at time similar warnings have been and I always chaff. It seems that one of the ways I can come to know something is by talking. Even the discomfort of talking sometimes seems useful.

It seems very likely that sorts of currencies of online social relationships will become more common. All the various schemes already existing seem very interesting and there are many. Some of these schemes are an attempt to provide a visible measure of trust, for example eBay's reputation system. Many more deal with reputation of participants within particular online groupings.

One point to be made is that there are many different systems in part because there are many different contexts. A reputation as a Haskel programmer is quite different from knowledge of celebrity gossip so the sites for programmers and gossips are different. It's quite possible for one person to know a lot about both, and could easily flow into the norms of the different sites.

Having slept on last night's post the part that seemed so nonsensical was a vague vision of some sort of currency which in some way aggregated social currency people might have garnered across many sites. It doesn't make sense because notions of reputation are particular. What difference does it make on a Haskel board whether or not you are admired for knowledge of celebrity gossip? Clearly the answer is, Not much. Still I think some sort of aggregate currency has appeal.

Programmers and gossips is just a silly example of what is a complicated set of problems are out there, not just for creating some sort of Whuffie currency, but for all sorts of issues which emerge when people are active online. So perhaps the example sheds a little light on the problem The 27th Comrade has with "anything that seeks to define my life in terms of … algorithms."

The big news today in the social Web scene was Facebook rolling out changes to the Web site. I'm eager to read and listen to what people have to say about this. Zuckerberg had this to say:
"What we're trying to do here is build a social platform. That's very different from building a social application. The difference between building a social application and building a social platform is when you're building an application you're building it for one use case." A platform, meanwhile, can handle anything.
The difference between "social application" and "platform" points to a difference I'm not very clear about and certainly didn't make plain in yesterday's post.

I envision many, many schemes to show something about our social capital online. Some of them will bear some likeness to Whuffie, or a social currency. Almost by definition those will depend on a context for most of their value; that is value within particular social networks. These it seems are akin to Zuckerberg's social applications.

Now it isn't at all clear exactly what I want as far as something bigger goes, but it seems something like a platform which brings together various Whuffie currencies. Comrade 27 suspicion about this is well placed. The dangers and disadvantages are obvious.

Another problem with my inchoate ideas is using a metaphor of money. One of the qualities of money is how agnostic it can be; to by bread or poison no matter. Money entails choice for good or ill.

I enjoy reading My Song In The Trench, the 27th Comrade's blog. He knows theology and I don't. He's been nice enough in my overlong comments on his posts not to point that out to me. Although I'm agnostic I like his theological excursions and other posts because issues of ethics, morality and honor come up. These are subjects dear to my heart and issues which seem to me embedded in the topic of Whuffie and social capital.

I've gone on too long as it is so I'll leave with a few links. First to and old post by Ethan Zuckerman where he explores the pleasures and perils of Cyber Utopianism. Second to philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah at BigThink where he discusses some of the ideas he's written about in his new book The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen. I am perhaps too little suspicious about dangers inherent in online social networks and that's not very smart. On the other hand I see great potential for online social networks and commons based peer production to create something good.

I talk about what I don't know in the hopes of learning to know better.

Inchoate Ideas

It's autumn here in western Pennsylvania. The picture of Zinnias is from years past, but there still are some bright Zinnias blooming in the garden. I once let it slip that Zinnias are my favorite flower in front of a friend. In truth my favorite flowers are probably what's blooming in the garden that I most recently noticed. For two seasons now my friend has given me packets of of Zinnias from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Johnny's sells some Zinnia seeds from the great German plant breeder Benary. The seeds are expensive but both my friend and I agree they are simply the best Zinnias we've grown. The Zinnias in the picture are not Benary Giants, still the great color and cheerfulness comes through. Oh, I miss summer already.

The problem with most of my ideas is they are not very fully formed. A good example of that is Bazungu Bucks. I printed out 100 Bazungu Bucks and it turned out I couldn't give them away. In theory my giving a Bazungu Buck away meant that it could be claimed for an hour of my time. But people seemed to understand that in accepting a Bazungu Buck was somehow a claim on their time. They understood the idea of a small economy premised on giving time that in some yet to be determined way was supposed to jump start a time-based currency of in a particular Ugandan community. They wanted nothing to do with it. Surely not because they had animus toward me or the community in Uganda, but rather because they didn't want any promise of their time hanging over them. The promise of my time in exchange for Bazungu Bucks they might accumulate wasn't worth the potential of getting suck into spending their time on something not important to them.

That's ancient history now and I should add that my friends did contribute real dollars to the Ugandan community. But the kernel of the idea was to find a way of sharing time in service of making things that matter to us happen. Real dollars do that well, but are scarce. Our time is scare too, but we often have some to spare. Still what comes out loud and clear is people value their time very highly. And that's as it should be.

That makes it all the more remarkable that so much really cool stuff gets made with the voluntary contribution of people's time, things like Wikipedia, blogs, and the fantastic free and open source software that's available today. I'm stuck on the idea that making data about each of our commons based peer production more visible to us and to others has great potential to encourage doing more great things.

I'm really loving my new computer with Ubuntu as its operating system. One of the very cool features is what is essentially an App Store. It's a program that makes it easy to find and install, as well as uninstall, software. One of the best things about running Linux is a wealth of free software available. I'm using the Lucid Linx version of Ubuntu. In a few days the new version 10.10 Maverick Meerkat will be released. At Platform Wars Phil Jones asked:
Why shouldn't Ubuntu's Synaptic package manager / package store count the number of people who are using each package? Or allow people to vote for packages that they find good / useful?
Ah, well there's no question in my mind both are desirable because it fits with my inchoate idea of making peer production data more visible.

According to the Wikipedia article on the Ubuntu Software Center the Maverick Meerkat OS will allow users to rate software and to see others ratings. I suspect that he knew that when he posted, I did not. so I wrote some gibberish comment. It's bad form to blog at other's blog, a lesson I seem to be very slow to learn. And the great thing is there's basically no hurdle to making a blog of ones own. So I've got this blog and can try to flesh ideas out here.

Now there's nothing really new about ratings, for example SourceForge has been doing it for as long as I can remember. But there are a couple of points to be made. User ratings are a way of establishing reputation and trust online. Thousands of Web sites have some method of doing this. So the first point is that lots of data about reputation is already collected. The second point is a bit more hazy. Facebook collects all sorts of reputation data by way of their Like button. Developers can add them to their sites. I'm not a developer. I don't quite understand all of it, except that it's advantageous to Facebook.

Anyhow there's this economy that's being created on the basis of lots of us spending a bare minimum of time to press a button that says "Like." Our time may be valuable but we hardly notice that brief moment. I don't absolutely begrudge Facebook profiting from my likes, after all each take but a moment. But I am keen to have some way to get and give some of this reputation value that Facebook and others already have ways to capitalize on. My being able to use some of the credit I get for my online production to spend on encouraging others to produce does not diminishes the value for Facebook.

If I've hit "like" 100 times on my niece's posts why shouldn't my neice be able to see a running tally of my likes about her stuff? And likewise that I might see data of where I'm putting my likes? The data is already being collected, it just isn't visible to us in an aggregated form.

I don't look for something like this to happen at Facebook anytime soon. But I'm not alone in seeing the value in having a currency which is based upon social capital displayed online.

Whuffie is a funny sounding word coined by Cory Doctorow in his novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for a reputation currency. Tara Hunt popularized the word in her book The Whuffie Factor where she explores the value of social networks in the business world. So Whuffie is commonly used word for this sort of currency I'd like to see.

The Whuffie Bank is an organization which trying to make the value of our social networks at Twitter and Facebook a currency. I haven't delved into it much, but the sad part is that with whatever algorithm used the result is I have zero whuffie. I want my whuffie, so basically I'm mad at the Whuffie Bank. No not really, but my lack of any whuffie means the Whuffie Bank is of no use to me at least now.

American Express has partnered with FourSquare for a social currency app for iPhones. Frankly this platform seems to have all the creepy aspects of Facebook "Like" and very limited upside for users so far as I can see. My vision is poor because I don't have a cell phone and hardly ever go anywhere so Foursquare isn't something I use. Nonetheless, both the Whuffie Bank and Foursquare's Social Currency rather point in the direction of something I want.

What I would like is a way that I could bring together measures of reputation gained from the various Web sites which I frequent that already collect it in one way or another. There are a couple of big problems that make this hard. First, places like Facebook don't provide users with easy tallies of our likes, that is, many Web sites collect data but don't share it with users. The second problem is that at sites having some sort of visible reputation system, all the various systems are different.

The Whuffie Bank is a non-profit organization and that's probably the most appealing approach to a repository of social capital data to me. But as evidenced by American Express building a platform for social currency, big companies will compete in this field. I might be terribly wrong about this, but it seems to me that the organization or corporation that is allows users to join social capital data from the most sites will be the platform with the greatest adoption.

With my really hazy thinking, I've thought that Microsoft with more than a billion people regularly using their products is in an excellent position to make a big splash on the social Web. A Microsoft platform for social currency could be that.

Microsoft seems so committed competing against free they appear incapable of seeing value on the table that other companies like Google, Facebook and even American Express are rushing to grab. I'm not so keen on this rush to grab value on the table in the first place, but I'm bemused that Microsoft doesn't even try. Oh maybe Bing is an attempt, I don't know because I've not found a good reason to use it.

So my very inchoate idea is a currency which in some way represents my value in online social networks. I want something I can earn and ways then to spend towards ends I think worthwhile.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Internet Addiction

That's a screen shot from Mark Fiore's recent political cartoon video, which is well worth watching if you're into that sort of thing. I particularly liked it because it introduced the "cashocracy" which had already nested in my conspiratorial mind.

I am into Internet videos and the myriad distractions of the Internet. I've been avoiding writing because I know my last post was garbled at the end and I couldn't be arsed to come and fix it up. One aspect of my life that follows a regular schedule is preparing supper. Sometimes I find myself with a bit of time in the afternoon to write a post. As often as not I get distracted by the Internet. That's what happened with the last post. I found myself surfing, as the post seemed almost done and it was supper-making time I simply hit publish without reading it over. That's a big mistake as I'm apt to write gibberish.

What I write online is the epitome of what people who argue there's too much trash online are talking about. I know that I'm not the only one who posts gibberish, but I also know the Internet makes genius accessible. People post really smart stuff and finding it is like a narcotic fix to me. I'm too easily distracted! But I like to post so I can point to some of the neat stuff that engages me so.

Dougland Hine pointed to an article at The Guardian newspaper with this tweet at Twitter:
This is a really excellent reading of the complexities of the British class system and how it gave us Cameron & Clegg -
What struck me is how unusual it would be for an American to point to an article in a major newspaper having anything to do with the complexities of the American class system.

My Internet addiction is made visible when I do searches and find links to my own banal writing in the results. For example in my last post about conspiracy theories I searched "netocracy" and found a bunch of links of me pointing to Phil Jones. And when I searched "cashocracy" most of the search results were to Fiore's excellent cartoon, but there were a number of links to my ravings about cashocracy.

What disturbs me about links associated with me about cashocracy is it's a term coined by Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Jr. H.L. Hunt is to my mind an important American figure and certainly the Hunt family is quite significant. But there seems much less written about them online than I would expect. So it's disconcerting that stuff I write would come up high in search. I generally take comfort in the fact that nobody reads what I write. I probably could track people coming to my blog by searching cashocracy, but I'm too lazy to look.

A Village Voice article, White America Has Lost Its Mind, got passed around quite a lot this week. I suspect that for those outside the USA the headline hardly seems news. The article features mostly the ravings of media figures, and while they're rich they're hardly the ruling class in the USA. I suppose it's fair to assume that major media personalities reflect what the ruling class thinks in some ways. But the problem with this is the media personalities themselves have to affect populism. I doubt the ruling class consider themselves populists; I mean why bother? It seems to me that most Americans seem remarkably incurious about what the ruling class thinks. Dougland's Twitter post made me think think people in the UK are much more receptive to thinking in terms of class. That we aren't so much so seems a detriment to Americans making sense of what happens.

H. L. Hunt was on the radio when I was a kid. He didn't have an intermediary like the scions of the rich do today, so his Fascism was straight from the horses mouth. Because he was rich, few said he'd lost his mind, at least in public, instead referring to him as "eccentric." In 1967 Hunt published a book, his vision of Utopia, entitled Alpaca. Here's how Rusty Crawley in the Dallas Business Journal explains part of the cashocracy mechanism Hunt proposed:
The perfect society, according to Hunt, would give the most votes to the oldest, the wealthiest and the most ambitious. Citizens younger than age 22 would get one vote. Older voters would get two votes. The top 25% of taxpayers would get an extra two votes.
Who really knows what the rich in the USA think today? My suspicion is Hunt's proposal didn't seem favorable enough so they've sought to improve it towards their ends by other means.

Mostly I hear the radio when I'm driving and that isn't too often. Last week while grocery shopping I heard a fascinating interview with journalist Mark Feldstein on Fresh Air. Feldstein has written a book Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture. For people of my age the Nixon presidency holds a particular fascination. Feldstein has done a great deal of research and I'm sure the book is a great read, although I have not read it. Feldstein uncovers that not only was Nixon taking corrupt money, but his journalist nemesis Jack Anderson did as well.

So far as I can tell his book doesn't really tell us much about the powers that be behind the corruption, except that some of it was "mob" money. Here's the thing, the very rich in the USA are not just rich from conventional business, but also criminal enterprise. That latter bit makes it all the more difficult to know what the rich think and to understand how the class system works here. Although from anything I can gather there isn't much distinction made among the rich how they got rich, simply having tons of money and influence are sufficient class markers.

Rick Perlstein is a historian who has written about the Nixon administration. The book previous to his Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America was Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. Alas, I haven't read either. But I did find of review of the Goldwater book by the wonderful reporter Robert Sherrill in a 2001 issue of The Nation. Sherrill's piece is entitled Conservatism as Phoenix and sheds light on the rich who rallied around Goldwater in the 1960's, H.L. Hunt among them. Sherrill writes about the book:
You will be carried away to those exciting days of yore--the 1950s and 1960s--when several large parts of the national psyche became so twisted, so gripped by fear, so almost comically, sometimes viciously, mad that they got behind a senator from Arizona named Barry Goldwater--who himself, by the way, was free of all those characteristics--and if fate hadn't intervened, just might have made that right-winging mediocrity what he apparently had little ambition to be: our thirty-seventh President.
Crazy white folks are nothing new in the USA. What's different today it seems to me is while ordinary Americans are quite ready to paint various media personalties as nuts, we're less ready to think the ruling class so than we were in the 1960's and 1970's.

Vinay Gupta wrote a very perceptive post touching on how middle-class Americans think, We have everything we need, but not for this…. Sally Kalson a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also explores hat theme in the paper today Bamboozled by the colonel: Voters should not let the fox back in the hen house. Kalson's post is a great read, but what's missing is much about the ruling class. I think it would really help to understand, at least in rough outlines, how the Bamboozlers in the USA think. The candidates Kalson rails against are just lackeys of the rich speaking in a populist voice.

What I can't understand is why most Americans aren't more interested in the rich. Inequality in the USA exceeds most Central and Latin American countries; it's on track with Uruguay. Why don't we want to know more about the plutocrats? And surely it must be obvious that the interests of the rest of us have little in common with theirs. Tea and crumpets anyone?