Thursday, 31 August 2017

Tough to separate signal from noise in music industry

It’s hard to tell if the music industry is failing or booming.

Goldman Sachs latest” Music In The Air” study predicts the global record industry will jump 500% to reach $US41 billion by 2030. Online streaming will account for $US34 billion of that pie, of which $US28 billion will come from paid subscription while $US6 billion will be ad-supported.

New Zealand is showing a similar breakdown. According to Recorded Music New Zealand, the industry grew in 2016 by 16%, following a 15% growth in 2015 – the first rise in a decade – of which streaming makes up half the total revenue.

I

Yet it isn’t all roses. It is still hard to make money streaming, evidenced by Pandora’s choice to shut down its Australia and New Zealand service this year. Even SoundCloud is reportedly running on the smell of an oily rag, recently saying it might only stay solvent for 50 days.

Without money and the old infrastructure, how will music become part of the culture? The only reason we know of Stevie Nicks is that a record company risked millions of dollars to get her airplay, make music videos and advertise the band. Barely any of this infrastructure exists for new acts today.

Thankfully, the decline of the record industry hasn’t led to the death of music. The internet has plenty of room for bands and listeners. But if the record companies aren't making money, they won't be able to turn music into a central part of youth culture and identity as they did in the past.

Maybe this is a good thing, maybe not. Yet it will probably be a net negative for people creating new music. To younger people, all music is unheard music. Classical, country, folk, rap, jazz or rock from any era is all new to them. The music industry used to spend millions on marketing in shops to ensure people at the very least bought newly produced music.

This biased the market in favour of newer artists. New artists today don't have that marketing and are competing against decades of back-catalogues of bands on Google which did have that advantage.

II

The social networking phenomenon is probably a subconscious attempt to restrict the size of our own world and limit cultural experience to something workable, thereby manufacturing the collective cultural experience that sheer numbers have obliterated from the larger work.

For example, take Instagram. It is a series of links (pointers to units of culture such as videos, audio files or articles) and opportunities to have a common cultural experience. A subscriber clicks on a link knowing other subscribers click as well. To the extent that participating requires at least reading the comments or commenting yourself, there is a shared experience. It may not be shared in time, but it establishes a common micro-cultural Instagram vocabulary.

There is an incentive to click on Instagram links, even if the post in isolation wouldn't interest you, because you know that other people will be watching. Just like a teenager sits through 50 Cent videos on MTV even if they hate rap. Everyone watched MTV which made it more than the sum of the videos. It informed the culture and tastes of others in a community and therefore had value.

Instagram isn’t so much about finding a community of like-minded people. It’s about finding a smaller community of a manageable size in order to have a more fulfilling cultural experience which is an innate human need.

III

Youth culture is simply different now. People discover new music through friends, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or other channels.

If you grew up watching MTV most of your friends did so as well. It was the common experience. Even if you hated the music, at least you knew what it was. These days, video games and social networking occupy the centre of youth culture. Music is largely peripheral.

For example, we know music has a high penetration among teenagers. But if each band is a cultural unit, hundreds of thousands of bands exist in the total musical catalogue. So unless the band falls within the 20% that gets 80% of the total attention, it isn't likely to have any great impact. The total number of bands diminishes the total cultural impact the medium can have (a high impact unit – pop-star – supports the impact of the medium, and stars rise higher with fewer units in total).

By comparison, perhaps two or three hundred game titles are released annually and all have a built-in technological obsolescence preventing people from choosing old games over new ones. While fewer people play video games compared with listening to music, the total unit count in low enough that the relative impact of a video game is much higher than for a band. Movies probably fall somewhere between music and video games.

I suspect the cultural impact of motion pictures, music, television and movies has already peaked, and they peaked in the order I listed. However, the cultural impact of video games as a medium is still rising from one year to the next. But nothing is guaranteed anymore in a digital environment.

IV

What if you could make anything from a clump of dirt?

Sticking with music for a second, why couldn’t one album be made for every person on the planet? Or maybe one version can be copied for every customer who wants to listen. At this point, why should music shops exist at all if a customer can go straight to a record company and "lend" copies to all of his friends?

But then why do we need record companies if we can buy songs directly from the artist? And once the first digital copy is available, why wouldn’t everyone download it for free? After all, it only costs the artist an upfront cost to record, after that, every subsequent digital copy costs exactly $0 to reproduce – forever.

Now we get to the root of the dilemma. The music industry isn’t facing this problem alone. As more goods are digitised, society moves closer to a post-scarcity world. Buildings full of employees, storefronts, mines and factories will vanish as a result. And what about all those luxury goods the music artists would have purchased with their singing money? They disappear too.

This problem collapses down to one, central, critical question: is it possible to value a product which is infinitely reproducible?

This affects you, directly. Everyone’s betting on service jobs to replace manufacturing jobs, but if skill itself is digitised it becomes worthless. If this doesn’t make you worry about civilisation, you’re not paying attention.

V

When Lou Gerstner took over IBM as CEO in April 1993, Wall Street speculated it was going out of business.

Microsoft owned the software market, Dell owned the PC business and both Sun and HP were churning out workstations as big iron mainframes fell out of popularity. The ex-tobacco executive Mr Gerstner was seen as an outsider and was seen to be shepherding IBM into the sunset.

One of his first acts as CEO was to gather the top vice presidents of every IBM division to write in one sentence what IBM's business was. The result? No two VP's gave the same answer. None could articulate the vision, and there was no understanding of the company's business from people who had been in the business their entire careers.

IBM was being left behind because it wasn’t innovating and no longer knew its business. Huge companies that don't innovate get replaced by companies that do, but innovation doesn't have to come from small companies.

The record industry is the same. It’s trying to find a way to protect its business from ten years earlier, instead of trying to figure out how to recreate its business for success in the next ten years.

Instead of focusing on what they really do – which is understanding listener's tastes, seeking out music to meet those tastes and supplying it – they still think their business is pressing CD's and shipping them in plastic cases to record stores or downloading a digital copy to a hard drive. They focus on shipping the music as a thing, instead of enabling people to listen to it.

The problem in the record industry is not a technological problem, it is a vision and marketing problem. "What do I sell? To whom? How?" Music still needs promotion of some kind, but maybe not videos and heavy FM radio rotation. Money doesn’t have to be made from every song play to make enough profit to record more songs. So think outside the box, whether that box is a huge department store, a CD case, or an iPod.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Charlottesville problem or, the only salvation is less freedom, not more

History shows the left employing coordinated subversive techniques across the world to advance its cause, and it was extremely successful. Now, it seems the right is doing the same thing, though on a smaller scale.

This is a terrible idea. Let me explain.

A mob tore down the monument to Confederate soldiers in Durham, NC, this week. Up to eight people now face charges. Since statue desecration is what the original protests from people who call themselves the right was all about, it's more important to understand the significance of real-life deconstruction than whatever else happened last weekend.

We first need to appreciate that 41 of the 56 writers of the US Constitution were slaveholders. This is the history of the US. Slaveholders throughout history have invented things. Does their slaveholding make technology morally disgusting? Are Plato's ideas less instructive because he owned humans? Does the fact that US founders held slaves make what they wrote illegitimate?


That's an important question, perhaps the most important, especially if that question is transactional. What’s going on here is the creation of a popular movement by way of denigration of anyone who once held slaves. The goal appears to be to undermine and delegitimise the constitution of the United States of America. Quick, someone call Nicholas Cage.

All crimes need a motive. So what's the incentive for this seditious goal? Simple: No matter how much they claim otherwise, progressives can't stand the constitution. They hate it. To progressives, freedom of speech isn't a right, it is a tool. It was useful for progressives when they needed to capture power but now that they have power they strategically deny those rights to their domestic enemies. This is what people in power do.

But, because there are still plenty of Americans who were brought up believing in the foundational texts of the constitution, the progressive movement is always stopped just short of consolidating its control over the entire American polity. Capturing the Supreme Court (the seat of actual power in the US) has proven bittersweet because traditionalists can still enter and legitimately occupy permanent positions to slow "progress" down.

And there's only so much power in the civil service (the seat of formal power in the US), which is also under progressive capture. Although the civil service has less oversight than the Supreme Court due to the sheer volume of policy flowing out of Washington, few people have the time or inclination to check whether its actions are allowed under the constitution. The civil service gets away with a lot, believe me.

The Constitution is the only thing stopping the US from collapsing into an outright progressive/top-down/socialist state. To fix this conundrum, progressives are demonising anyone in America's history on moral grounds - based on today's concept of morality - if they held slaves. This is a clever move and I'd be impressed if it weren't so insidious. Once this propaganda starts to run by its own steam, the progressives can create a set of victory conditions by which the US populace actually considers the Constitution null and void. The path to revocation starts with morally vilifying slaveholders, which leads to corruption of the authors in the minds of the populace for whom the logical connection is then made to destroy the document so they can collectively reach absolution. If the Constitution is for the people and by the people, then only the people can destroy it.

Progressives know that if they were to unilaterally abrogate the founding document tomorrow, there would be blood in the streets, and not just from the people wearing tinfoil hats. Classical liberals would sharpen pitchforks too. It would be a terrible optics. The game is to use the tool of democracy to get the people themselves to rise up and remove the only thing protecting them from tyranny and horror of a totalitarian ideology. This kind of thing has been done before, ain't no reason to think it couldn't be done again.

This is why protesting and acts of terror are such a silly ideas for those who consider themselves to be on the actual right. By the way, don't confuse the actual right with "conservatives." The latter are merely laggard progressives defending everything the progressive movement agitated for 30 years ago (what conservative would dare propose revoking gay rights, for instance?). Conservatives don't deserve your energy. America's ruling class shops at Whole Foods. If this totally rocks your world, maybe your world needed a little rocking.

One synonym for "ruling class" is "policymakers." The people who rule are the ones who formulate the policies which the government carries out. These are not the people you see on TV. The people you see on TV are actors. Their job is to read lines. There is a small Republican policy-making machine offering mild dissident ideas on a variety of issues. Sometimes in exceptional circumstances, these ideas are even adopted - as with the "neocons" last decade - because they help spread the progressive gospel further across the planet. The rest of Washington then exerts its considerable influence to make the remaining policies fail, as of course, the "alt-right" will eventually too.

In general, public policy is formulated in universities by people who are exclusively of the liberal, Democratic or progressive persuasion. It is broadly accurate to speak of this caste - H.G. Wells called them "Eloi" - as the ruling class. And they certainly do shop at Whole Foods, drive Priuses, do yoga, go jogging, etc, etc. They can be white, black, Asian, Indian, and blah blah blah. It doesn't matter. What matters is the synopsis.

Every time I watch a leftist street march in the US I laugh at the huge numbers of black people (and the "ally" white people, but don't get me started...). Progressive philanthropists say they are Great Friends of the Negro, treating him as "a man, and a brother." In reality, progressives don't like actual black people any more than they like democracy. They have no love at all for the poor. What they love is to pick them up, turn them into feral barbarians, encourage them to devastate civilised society, and provide millions of jobs for fellow ruling class members caring for the animalistic, burned-out shell of what was formerly one of North America's great cultures - the African-American culture. Compare the cultural contributions of black people before and after the "civil-rights movement" and you'll see the difference.

"Now you're just being racist!" Calm down, wildman. It's not Jews, Niggers, or Fags I despise. It's philanthropists and liberal missionaries who, in the old Russian saying, "pretend to be the doctors of society, but are really the disease." Have fun curing juvenile delinquency in the slums with that planned housing project of yours, Sister Wolf.

Professor Venkatesh's little book was intriguing in many ways, but perhaps the most interesting is that none of the other people working at the University of Chicago's "sociology" department had ever come in contact with the inhabitants of the Robert Taylor Homes, nor did they have any idea what their lives were like. This is because the civil-rights movement, whose real goal was simply to put progressive party members into power, has no more use for its black playthings - except to pay them to vote every few years or march in BLM and Occupy protests.

If I had one message for the protesters at Charlottesville, it would be that leftist tactics do not work in general for the right.

There is no symmetry at all. The actual right (and conservatives, too) shouldn't believe in fair play, democracy and winning by convincing their opponents through argument because progressives have never believed in any of these things. Progressives hate democracy like the devil. That's why they're always accusing their enemies, the "populists," of "politicising public policy." Translation: it allows democracy to interfere with the progressive party line. I'm aware politics is what democracy says on the box, but hey, sometimes marketing is full of bullshit. Is this new information to you?

Progressives throughout the last two centuries always bowled the hardest ball they could get away with. They believed in winning by any means necessary. And in the cases where their victories have been absolute, the result has been nothing but destruction, disaster and death for most of the people who were tricked into supporting them.

Tocqueville had a useful way of explaining it: the right wins when it strikes hard, fast and decisively. Otherwise, it is playing Calvinball with Calvin. The left wins slowly; the right wins in one blow. For the same reason the right is basically, well, right, it will never be as good at lying, cheating and general hypocrisy as the left. So it shouldn't try, which means it shouldn't use leftist tactics. Terrorism, for example, works amazingly for the left and almost never for the right because terrorism is the destruction of order, not the maintenance of it.

The only solution involves some kind of political discontinuity. For example, in an America in which the right had actually defeated the left, the number of streets named after Martin Luther King would be equal to the number of Goering Avenues. I'm not sure my computer has enough memory to express the number of years this would take the "alt-right" to achieve.

The whole alt-right thing proves the pathetic limpness of conservatism when it sets a laughably low bar by historical standards and then fails to meet it. Conservatism is a disaster. What the actual right needs is full-on Bourbon reaction - offence, not defence. The Pentagon needs to grow a pair. Whatever is eventually done, it needs to eradicate progressivism, not just ameliorate it or try to slow it down. You don't argue with cancer. You cut it out.

None of this will happen until the American right wing quits its silly insistence on clinging to the sham of democracy, which is the creed of its enemy. It starts with a traditionalist voter base and tries to devise a programme that is maximally effective given that it needs voters to support it. Meanwhile, the left controls the press and the educational system and is slowly "educating" the backwoods Americans out of their last drops of sanity. (The sheer amount of "anti-racists" in Charlottesville is a good example of how far the line has been pushed in our lifetimes alone.)

Real success against the left can only be achieved by starting with a programme which, if enacted, would actually work. It will be impossibly radical and unpopular - in short, unworkable from a democratic standpoint. To win, either you have to change this, or you have to think outside the democratic box.

And if you don't suspect the danger is real, perhaps the New York Times will enlighten you. Suffice it to say that the behaviour of the alt-right is pretty much a case study in what not to do. The left cannot be appeased. It can only be smashed.

Progressivism is a ruthless, power-hungry death cult, just like Nazism. Someday the two will be remembered in the same breath.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

How to prove a conspiracy theory

Here are the ground rules for claiming proof of extraordinary phenomena in 2017.

1. Any video must be shot using a tripod or with the camera supported on some fixed object, like a big rock. If you make me watch another stupid video of some spectre and the camera is shaking all over the place, you are, in my eyes, subhuman. Go get a tripod or you'll have a video of the inside of your butt.

2. Videos must be in focus at all times. It's 2017, if they actually built lenses in the Sahara, they would have autofocus too. Blurry video = slap in the face.

3. Your video cannot show something that "could either be the Loch Ness Monster or a log." That just means you videotaped a log, and now you want to be famous for your log video. That makes you an asshole. Logs aren't interesting. They are super common, just lying around all day like a bunch of logs. If you make me watch an log video under false pretences, I will go Clockwork Orange on your ass. In the name of science.

4. Same with photos, I'm not even kidding you. I see a blurry photo of a hubcap you claim is a UFO, and my fist will rocket across the surface of the earth of its own accord, dragging my limp and helpless body behind it, until it smashes into your face.

5. Photos must be 8 megapixels or above, and if you claim more than one photo, one of them had better be in TIFF or raw format, with the exif data intact. An alien craft travels thousands of light years to get to earth, it's going to stick around for the three seconds necessary to switch to raw. You show me a compressed JPG with visible artefacts, I throw you into a pit of logs where you will be bored to death. See 3.

6. If you claim a photo of an alien spacecraft, and it has any writing from a science fiction movie on it, I am going to force you at sabrepoint to return to high school where you will attend gym class seven times a day, alternating between bullrush and paintball - without a mask. Wookie? Not on my watch.

7. Photos must be posted to Flickr and videos to YouTube, with the high-res uncompressed originals available as torrents on the Pirate Bay. If you link to a Tumblr site or, God help you, 9Gag, I'm going to glass you.

No-confidence in South Africa?

Now it’s a streak. Seven times in seven years members of South Africa’s parliament have tried and failed to remove President Jacob Zuma by a vote of no confidence. On August 8, they failed again and he remains in power to continue poorly managing the struggling state.

The general explanation for South Africa’s woes is to fault the leadership, but also the inability of its citizens to pull themselves out of a situation created, or at least exacerbated, by generations under apartheid. This is like saying if it looks, walks and talks like a duck, it's actually an armadillo.

Yet if I claim it's a duck, the burden of proof is on me for proving it is not an armadillo. Happy to do so. South Africa has symptoms similar to those of Haiti, Jamaica and Nigeria which are also struggling to emerge from generations under apartheid. Oh, wait, no they're not... Maybe the problem is something else? Let’s find out.

In 1994, the Republic of South Africa held an election. It was the last internal election of the three-centuries-old white tribe of the Cape, who considered a political separation from the Xhosa and Zulu people natural and obvious, just as the political separation between Italy and France was natural and obvious.

The Afrikaners felt the fundamental theory of apartheid was that South Africa was several nations in one territory, a perfectly reasonable design for government. The assumption mirrors the Ottoman millet system, which made the Middle East functionally multicultural – compared with its modern rabid, murderous, irredentist nationalism (which progressives have done so much to sustain).

Anyway, in 1994, about two-thirds of white South Africans voted to dissolve the white polity, surrender their old republic, its constitution and flag and succumb to State Department pressure which had used every instrument short of invasion to depose the Nationalists and install the ANC. The votes were binding and final and old South Africa, like Rhodesia, is gone. However, those who voted, yes or no, are now voting with their feet.

There were two schools of thought on the election. The first predicted a transformation of the strife-ridden tip of Africa into a Rainbow Nation in which the unity of humanity would be displayed. Others thought it was a terrible idea to turn the last developed country in Africa over to a mafia of Communist mass murderers, predicting South Africa would soon mimic Haiti, Jamaica, Nigeria or Zimbabwe. Obviously, there was not much middle ground.

In general, the South African whites of British descent or affinity (early 20th-century South African writings often mentioned a conflict of races, but they meant the English and Boer) voted yes in 1994, because they subscribed to the first school. This, of course, is the party line of the international intellectual elite known as American progressives.

On the other side, the Afrikaners were divided. Some, called verligte or "enlightened," followed the internationalist party line and voted yes. The others, called verkrampte (I'm not sure about the precise translation, but it looks onomatopoeic) subscribed to the second school and voted no.

They were correct. But imagine how hard it would have been to correctly predict the result of a glorious victory of liberation in South Africa, and endorse the verkramptes and their bitter, bigoted cynical racism. The verkramptes made some people in the Donald Trump fan base look inclusive. It’s always tough being wrong, but it’s really tough having to admit others are right.

Few people, however, would say the Nationalist era was a period of ideal government. If the Nationalists had operated a good government, South Africa would still be a First World country today. It had nuclear weapons and nuclear power, as well as healthy arms and energy industries. No country on earth, not even the US, had the power to coerce the RSA back then.

But, like most bad governments it was weak and therefore brutal. Comparing Singapore to the old Broederbond Boerocracy, the difference between effective and ineffective authoritarian states becomes clear. A strong government executes firmly and decisively. A weak government is fickle and inconsistent, and needs to be much more vicious to achieve any level of security.

Looking back, the fate of the RSA was sealed after it flinched at the outcome of the Rivonia trial and refused to hang Nelson Mandela for crimes which everyone now agrees he committed. This one death probably would have prevented many others, on both sides of apartheid’s fence.

Are South Africa’s problems due to the inability of Africans to self-govern, or of “inequality” and universal human greed? Ask the same question for Haiti, Jamaica or Nigeria. Depending on what you answer, ask again why aren’t Finland, China, Croatia, Malaysia and New Zealand also afflicted? Maybe the propensity for greed isn’t quite that universal after all.

History shows that majority-rule democracy is probably not the best political design for a population of predominantly African descent. I’d also say majority-rule democracy is probably not the best political design for a population of predominantly European or Semitic descent, either. Does this make me more or less of a racist? Clearly, I should apply to the Waffen-SS. The Indian Raj was much more similar to Moghul India than the postcolonial democratic welfare state. It also worked a lot better – surprise!

And besides, "inequality" is so easy to deconstruct: What is the precise mechanism by which the presence of wealth in one's geographic proximity causes suffering and poverty? "Inequality" is simply code for support of a political movement that survives by extorting rich South Africans and using their money to buy votes from the poor. Mr Zuma talks about it as a threat of violence: the poor are envious, he says, and if they get more envious we may not be able to control them. Pay us off, we'll pay them off, and everything will be fine. How progressive indeed.

Most people think South Africa’s problems are a result of apartheid. No shame in that. They barely have time to learn the official excuses, let alone dig around for the actual story. But Occam has a simpler explanation: the trouble is actually the result of decolonialisation, which is the process by which the British, French and Belgian empires were confiscated by the US after WWII and transferred from colonial administration to a post-colonial aidocracy.

But I won’t hold my breath for aidocrats to take responsibility for the vast increases in suffering across South Africa and the rest of the continent. That wouldn’t be very progressive at all. Mr Zuma has friends in high places, so to speak.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Back to square one with the Islamic State

The Old City in Mosul, Iraq has seen its fair share of destruction over the centuries. Right now the city is recovering from months of protected house-to-house fighting between Iraq Security Forces and the Islamic State (IS).

The militants are also being squeezed across the border. Syrian government troops and allied forces have taken the town of al-Sukhna, the last major Islamic State-held town in Homs province. Under cover of US airpower, Kurdish forces – much to the chagrin of Turkey – are methodically clearing the outlying villages near Raqqa in eastern Syria in preparation for a main assault on the IS capital.

It’s hard to tell if IS lost the battle in Mosul. Even if it did, it wouldn’t be the first time the jihadists melted into air. Guerrilla groups tend to do that. The Islamic State is neither a terrorist group nor a conventional military force. It acted like a militancy and often used terrorism, but it was hard to classify. As it washes away now, it jumps back into a frustrating grey zone of jurisdiction.

Terrorism – the random killing of defenceless civilians – is the normal mode of warfare in our charming post-WWII world. In other words, it is the most common way to use force to achieve political objectives. Terrorism, left or right, is a legitimate military tactic and it needs to be judged by the laws of war, not the laws of peace. Generally, however, it is treated as a law enforcement or intelligence problem because international law still hasn’t figured out what to do.

It’s great that IS is being crushed in the Levant, but at least while it holds Raqqa and Mosul it is limited by time and space – and susceptible to JDAMs and indirect fire. Once the group is kicked out, like a hammer blow to a puddle, it simply flows towards other places rather than disappearing. Afghanistan, for instance. So the real trick is to find a way to dry up the water.

IS fighters will once again choose to disguise themselves as and mingle with civilians – violating the laws of war and the Geneva Convention. So how should they be dealt with upon capture? That’s a tough question for Washington, which will continue to carry the heavy counter-terrorism load for the international community as the militants return to their underground terror roots.

An IS fighter can be put on criminal trial in the US, but there may only be an intelligence (CIA) level of proof, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt (district attorney). He is not a prisoner of war, so what is he? The US uses the term "unlawful enemy combatant" which for all intents and purposes they invented without any legal foundation. Despite a decade and a half of constant low-level warfare, none of this is much clearer.

Laws against international terrorists were always vague, but it didn't matter because they didn’t attack the US before 1993. Here, the planning and execution was done within the US so the law prosecuted the terrorists criminally in New York. The real problem never ripened until 9/11. Before that, there was no situation (that was made public) where an attack was ordered and organised overseas and then only the grunts sent to the US to carry it out.

Taking the fight to the terrorists isn’t straightforward. If the CIA captures a person overseas, does it really make sense the person should have the full spectrum of US constitutional rights? Does it really make sense that a prisoner of the CIA in Afghanistan should magically have more rights than a prisoner of the Afghan government in Afghanistan?

Think about this really hard for a moment. If the CIA detains, say, 12 IS members in a terror cell in Saudi Arabia, what should it do? Give them to the Saudis to disappear? Put them on trial in the US without witnesses, without a reliable chain of custody of evidence and without national security rules preventing the disclosure of what scant evidence there is? Should the CIA put them in a hotel? What should happen? The terrorist might have crucial information and the CIA needs that. Please tell the CIA how it should get that information without stepping on legal toes.

The CIA is not the United States’ foreign police force. What the CIA does is kidnapping. It doesn't have the legal authority to take people into custody. Not to get into a legal argument over the Geneva Conventions, but those don't fix the problem. Protocols 1, 2 and 3 were never adopted by the US, and neither IS nor al qaeda prisoners are prisoners of war. They may be prisoners taken in a war, but that's not the same thing.

The irony is that if Islamic State actually created a state these issues would disappear because IS fighters would then be considered as acting on behalf of a hostile state and entitled to POW status. Smashing IS will feel good for the US, but it doesn’t dissuade its fighters from returning to transnational terrorism. We’re about to go back to square one.

There are two possible responses to terrorism: the natural and the unnatural. The natural response is to take revenge on the terrorist and everyone even remotely resembling him. The unnatural response is to address the grievances of the attackers. Hopefully, Baghdad has been thinking about conciliation, rather than mass execution (although this is reportedly already happening). The alternative for the West is to kill and capture these people forever.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Commonwealth Bank and holding power to account

Talking to one of my far more experienced colleagues, his advice about Australia’s Commonwealth Bank money laundering scandal is to wait for the investigation (which is in process) both internally and potentially by the regulators before asking for scalps from the C-suite. It’s hard to believe their excuse of coding errors. Someone must have noticed. But the relative lack of media coverage in Australia is intriguing for other reasons.

Over in New Zealand, people I talk to are discussing the imminence of a recession. Why? Because Australian banks are running out of money. So for something like this to happen at one of the larger banks, and for the reaction to be relatively muted, bolsters my initial suspicion that journos are trying to maintain fiscal stability first, and encourage prosecution second.

But as a wise man once said, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Keep in mind the average age of journalists in NZ and AUS can’t be much higher than 26-27. Simply put, most journos may be avoiding this topic because they have no idea what’s going on. This is why when Trump and his wife travel overseas, a group of stories emerge about his dinner menu or her “beautiful clothing.” A25-year-old has no idea how to parse the complex geopolitical problems, so they collapse back to what they do know, which is nothing.

One thing that does bother me is how journalists pat themselves on the back about “speaking truth to power” but don’t realise that in the modern world, it’s not politicians who have power, it’s the civil service tied with the corporate world. I don’t mean a “who has the money” kind of power, but the ability-to-change-the-world kind of power. Journos are, of course, susceptible to influence from corporates due to advertising support. But the real problem is journos actually don’t comprehend that formal power has shifted.

I think if you claim to be “speaking truth to power” then the default assumption is that power manifests in a specific way, which makes anyone who says that phrase an instrument of that power. Because executives aren’t held to the same scrutiny as politicians, even though they have more power, implies journalists do not apprehend where the new power is. Hence, traditional or legacy media is failing as an institution because it is no longer a useful tool. So what has taken media’s place? Social networks (notice how these magically became social “media” within the last five years).

Social networks are emergent properties of online corporates, in the same way broadcast media was an emergent property of democratic government. As with any power shift, the old controllers of the institutions and their instruments are sidelined, but the concept of the institution remains. The dynamic is a flowing of power, which you can always tell has occurred when the names of an institution have changed.

Why am I bringing this up? Because the most interesting question to ask is whether social networks would have brought this Commonwealth Bank fiasco to your attention if traditional media hadn’t.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Anonymity is the only anti-system choice short of revolution

Finding a solution to cyber-security isn’t proving easy, but what if people are thinking about the problem backwards?

First, it’s fairly obvious cyber-security would be less of an issue if companies didn’t collect and store every piece of the data they could get their hands on. Especially when few companies seem to know what to do with the data anyway and just hope to find a way to use it in the future. If the cyber-security question is really about safety – if people were truly concerned about fixing the problem – surely the answer is to increase the amount of anonymity online, not reduce it? After all, if none of my data can be tied to me, why would I fear a breach?
What happens to the girls outside the frame?
Do they, just, disappear?

We all yelled at the NSA for “collecting it all” but everyone seems perfectly happy handing the keys to their personal kingdom over to corporations.

I suspect it is vitally important for Facebook to capture all the data because it needs to map a single identity to a single person for the purposes of advertising. It can't achieve this with five separate identities of you. They really, truly not only don't care about privacy, Facebook wants to own privacy so they can sell it back to you. Because if it destroys privacy then it has nothing to trade.

It's a surveillance economy. Society has outsourced the panopticon to private companies. It was bad enough when the government controlled it, but at least there are certain rights against the government. We haven't quite figured out how to apply this to corporations.

What's frustrating is how all the arguments around anonymity online are focused on either bullying, trolling or abuse on the one hand, and some sophomoric notion of "responsibility" for people's words on the other. You can see this in the "speech is violence" rhetoric which, for obvious reasons, is outlined by a certain kind of activist.

Please read this carefully: The reason I am anonymous online is to force you, the reader, to be responsible for what you read and how you read it. The moment someone introduces theirs or someone else's identity into a discussion, they are hoping their statements will carry more weight or more credibility than the content those statements deserves. They are looking to substitute anecdote for data or personal preference for fact. It's why bylines on journalism are terrible (although The Economist's lack falls tends to be glorified opinion, so there must be a balance).

What's amazing is how much people want this identifying information. They want to know who or what you are so they can compartmentalise you and then only read what you write in the context of that knowledge. They want to judge what you say based on who you are. And when you don't give it to them, they actually fabricate it for you.

There is absolutely no benefit, none, to using your real-world identity online. Anything you think you can get by using your real identity, you can just as easily get using a different identity. Hell, there are times in real life when I don't use my real name. The risks in doing so online are legion, so why do it?

The greatest critique of social media, shopping and constant rebranding is that the people who run these things, do not participate in it. The owners of Google and Twitter do not blog and Tweet incessantly. Zuckerberg does not have a personal Facebook page where he takes pics of himself at parties. I don’t know what Larry Page and Sergey Brin are watching, or when they get out of bed. That’s the stuff we post on their websites so they can exploit it for money.

I think this picture is trying to tell me...something
The man who runs Forever 21, Do Won (Don) Chang, does not obsess over creating his personal fashion brand. He doesn't care about having the latest clothes or modelling trends. His family is by all accounts traditional and typically Korean.

When he emigrated to the US, Chang worked in a number of jobs, even as a janitor. On his Facebook page, he identifies as a devoted Christian and scripture quotes are printed on the bottom of his shopping bags. Does a guy who got his start working three jobs and scrubbing toilets strike you as someone who'd encourage his children to chase fashion trends and buy new clothes all the time?

None of Chang’s work ethic nor his sacrifice is on display in his commercial creation. That outlook has enabled him to make the sacrifices, endure hardship, persevere and build something massively successful. Instead, his store promotes a lifestyle of perpetual youth and endless fun feeding a ravenous and paranoid consumer mindset that he himself doesn’t possess and wouldn’t instil in his children.

The point is the people who make these things don’t really use these things. Paris Hilton doesn’t watch reality TV, but she wants you to watch her reality TV show. Larry Page and Sergey Brin don’t read or click Adsense, and Zuckerberg – who reads ancient Greek and Latin – doesn’t spend his time telling Facebook “what’s on his mind today.” And Chang doesn’t want his daughters turning over their wardrobe every two weeks shopping at Forever 21.

They make things they'd never use in the way they want you to use them. This is the hypocrisy at the heart of consumerism, and it has been this way since the beginning, but it has never been so nakedly obvious. Consumerism is a carny hustle. A game. Ask yourself why the people who run the game generally don’t play the game. Then ask who really is winning the game.

And, bloody hell, use a pseudonym on Facebook. Not your real world identity. I fail to see how that is a problem for anyone but Facebook.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s latest film Dunkirk is a Rorschach test.

For some viewers, the movie was grey, boring, deafeningly loud while the dialogue was muted, sparse and hard to follow. For others, the film was gritty, realistic, claustrophobic and showed war in its properly confusing context. Others saw Dunkirk as a beautiful dream strung together from half-remembered tales told to schoolboys rather than a depiction of a realistic situation, let alone an account of an actual historical event.

Is Dunkirk about soldiers, or the civilians who aided in their rescue, or is about something larger? No character in the film is defined beyond basic traits - first names and rank. We know nothing about them. But we still care because the film inspires empathy. What kind of empathy exactly? And for whom are we supposed to feel it?

Everyone will answer this in different ways. But they can only see what they want to see. And then there’s this guy:

“...But Dunkirk’s presentism means that it’s inadvertently a film about the present. It’s a Brexit movie: Nolan was adamant about casting actors exclusively from the British Isles; contemporary English icon Harry Styles offers a moment of light xenophobia when he argues that a Frenchman should be the first to die; the first spoken line of the film is “I’m English!” Curiously, Nolan has been applauded by critics for subtracting Nazi identity throughout—no German soldiers or German insignia are depicted—as if this abstracted enemy refashions history into a story of general human survival. But a faceless enemy means that anyone’s face can be inserted, a useful tactic in the buildup to war. Meanwhile, the good soldiers all speak the same language: “All we did,” says Styles, “is survive.”

This sort of paragraph can only be written by an aristocrat. Jonathon Sturgeon would probably recoil from being called an aristocrat, but his review oozes the thoughts of a member of the ruling elite who doesn't quite know he just watched one of his fellow aristocrats depict how the peasants live. Nolan has been smuggling these messages into his films for decades. His movies are a series of attempts to metaphorically explain to elites what it feels like to be constantly assaulted and called backwards, evil and bigoted for respecting traditions and rituals.

The broken memories in Memento (2000) are a motif for the chaos of collective Western memory under attack by the resentful and envious revolutionary activists who weaselled their way up society to pull on the levers of power. The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) is a personification - almost an anthropomorphisation - of chaos introduced into a harmonised and ordered Western system by the same spiteful people. Elsewhere in Nolan's catalogue, the character Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) is a mimicry of a specific moment in European history when a member of the socialist elite stirred up the people and let them loose on Russia to destroy a tired and stumbling monarchical regime which had forgotten how to rule. Bane's message of freedom and equality to the prisoners was a lie. He wanted only for them to enact their murderous thoughts in the required direction.

Batman is the representation of the individual who, apprehending the chaos, must rise above mere good and evil to embody both and reintroduce order. He knows the harmonised structure of society is more important than the consequences of risking one's life to defend it. Yet the order Batman seeks is elusive in Gotham because order has not returned in the real world. The movies end without reconciliation because there is no reconciliation out here, where Nolan lives. Chaos is everywhere, tearing down walls and ripping people and institutions apart. The forces represented by Bane encourage new twisted revolutions just as the previous cycles slow down, for revolution's sake. The Joker is unleashed, again, searching out diminishing and vestigial orders to poison. And so more traditions are lost down the memory hole every day.

Finally, there is that strange example of the gravity planet in Interstellar (2014), where everything temporarily slows down. It beautifully depicts the psychology of being caught up, concentrating intensely, pushing one's finger into a hole in the bulging dyke of society, trying to hold back the chaos one argument and "good fight" at a time. But the moment the gap is plastered, you lift your head out from that gravity back into the real world, only to find those who drive this relentless resentful chaos have moved on, ten or a thousand times faster. The exhaustion of it all...

Sturgeon and his fellow elites won power by weaponising their resentment and spite. They know they are weak in reality, so all they have is words. Hollywood movies are generally written for these people, but not Nolan's. Sturgeon castigates Dunkirk, but only with vague political nomenclature and artistic fudging. Dunkirk's meaning is over his head, so he defaults to assuming vulgar, low-brow and underclass - perhaps even seditious - interpretations. Some types of semiotics are unavailable to the elite. Not because they don't know them. Quite simply, they refuse to believe their lying eyes.

Consider the bullets crashing through the hull of a beached fishing boat. They were shots fired for effect, not malice. But to the trapped soldiers, the sledgehammer sound animalised their fear, turning them against each other. Their panic stole away all but two choices: band together or find a safety valve to release the pressure. And then a foreigner was bullied into leaving the boat so the rest could survive. You bet your ass this was a metaphor. Was it horrible? Racist? Bigoted? Sure. All of the above.

But who cares? It didn't matter to those trapped boys who could never plug the bullet holes and keep afloat. Their false safety as rounds slammed into their seclusion is precisely how the concerned and worried traditionalist sections of society feel to the daily practice shots by the progressive elites. Nolan's audience knows what it feels like inside that boat. Closed in from all sides, they turn to deeper human nature and traditions. Few can tell the difference between being targeted and being part of target practice.

On Dunkirk beach, the soldiers form queues. They are surrounded, waiting for their turn to leave on boats they were promised will come. Outside the theatre, everyone knows what these "boats" are. They are the retirement plans, pensions, grandchildren, directorships, houses, travel plans, medical care, etc. The enemy is destroying those boats systematically out of spite because they cannot achieve them on their own strength, and so no one should have them. Everyone can feel this attack. Yet still, the tired people stand in columns on the beach and in our streets, hoping those promises will arrive.

Sturgeon sees none of this. He spots the anarchy and fear in the movie but projects his own movement as standing on the beaches fighting for good while the nasty Tories threaten his heavenly utopian project. Sturgeon's elitist narrative is a mishmash of cognitive dissonance in which his movement is the clear overdog but continues to think of itself as the underdog, taunting Brexit voters, Tories and anyone who respects traditions as "boring," "craven" and stupid.

Nolan isn't stupid. He put Sturgeon's elites in the film too. They are the dive-bombers and U-boats, screeching down from unearned perches in the clouds and slipping silently through dark waves. They refuse to meet their foe in fair battle preferring to snipe, snipe, snipe at unarmed medical shipping or thin beached vessels covering cowering soldiers. It's the same outside the theatre too. Sturgeon's comrades hide in gated communities while they chip away at the traditionalists, who are now forced to live at the margins of the system their fathers created.

But even as defeat nears, the soldiers still form those pathetic queues, waiting, breathing quickly, not knowing why or for what reason they continue to follow their traditions. The dive-bombers strafe the wounded and healthy alike, slowly, methodically. And over those dunes, the enemy gathers on hills and plains, stretching now to the ends of the earth, having conquered every facet of a system built by generations of those broken soldiers. The game is lost for them. How can a dive-bomber or a torpedo be fought with a .303 rifle? How can social resentment and insanity be turned back by facts, reason or clear argument?

In similar shell-shocked desperation, traditionalists helplessly watch the progressive movement destroy the society their grandfathers died to protect on Dunkirk. This realisation is made more difficult knowing their ancestors were duped. The real enemy was not "over there" at all, but quietly capturing the fabric of their society behind their backs. Sturgeon's comrades erase every tradition until even the memory of the memory of Dunkirk fades. They applaud the retreat of Western civilisation with cackling glee as they pour gasoline on the fires scorching millennia-old institutions.

What remains is a small, wet, grey beach next to oblivion. We huddle there, wondering what to do next, while the enemy marshals to finish the push.

Those are not just Brexit or Trump voters on that beach. They represent a mosaic of a broken civilisation forced out of its resplendent social system. This civilisation's defenders are few, corralled into messy corners across the Western world and constantly hounded by a ruthless progressive elite salivating over the thought of driving the traditionalists into the sea.

Nolan's films document this transition of power in the West from one form of Christianity to the next - from traditionalists to the progressive communists. He is a pirate director, operating in plain sight from inside the new empire. Did you have this thought? If not, it's not your fault, some people are trained not to have it while others were trained to have it immediately.