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Why We Can't Solve Big Problems | MIT Technology Review

I highly recommend this thoughtful piece on technology by the editor-in-chief of the MIT Technology review. Its serious, concerned and informed tone is a very welcome antidote to the vacuous bullshit we're continually  showered with by the spin-doctors of the IT/Communications Complex, and by the frothing ranters of the Republican Billionaire Climate-Change Denier axis:

Why We Can't Solve Big Problems | MIT Technology Review

A New Age of Sabotage

I haven't posted much recently because every time I think of something to say, the extraordinary pace of events makes it sound lame by the next morning: New York under water, Obama re-elected, News International in the dock, rockets falling on Tel Aviv, and that's even before we reach the Mayan apocalypse on Dec 21. However I've finally plucked up courage to wade into the torrent of the miraculous-horrific thanks to a fortunate discovery on the web. In this previous post I confessed an increasing interest in the radical Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen, but that interest was quite narrowly based on reading only three of his works, namely The Theory of the Leisure Class, The Theory of Business Enterprise and his important essay The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His Followers. This wasn't just due to laziness but to the difficulty of obtaining many of Veblen's books, which have been out of print for a long time.

But I re-read Veblen's Wikiped…

All Downhill

This graph, based on one printed in Stewart Lansley's excellent book "The Cost of Inequality: Three Decades of the Super-Rich and the Economy" (Gibson Square 2011), tells you almost everything you need to know about the roots of our current crisis.

It depicts the percentage of UK GDP paid out as wages from 1955 to 2008. It starts around the ~59% level that prevailed almost from the end of WWII until the 1973 oil crisis, then shows the sharp spike up above 65% during the union militancy of the mid-70s (whose impact on prices and profits drove the country into the arms of Thatcher). In effect it's a graph of the British class struggle over that crucial half century.

A steady downward trend following 1979 as labour lost out more and more has taken it below 54%, a level at which demand in the economy is severely curtailed. The answer is not more QE to put cash into the banks, but to put cash in people's pockets, restore this measure to around 59% and restart the ec…

Elders of Zion >> Zinoviev Letter >> Innocence of Muslims

Given the current febrile state of the world the temptation to succumb to conspiracy theories is very strong indeed. Nevertheless I can't restrain myself from saying this: doesn't this Arab rioting, and killing of the US ambassador to Libya, just two months before the US presidential election, smell of a provocation to anyone else? In the grand old tradition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Zinoviev Letter? Remembering what happened to unpopular Democratic president Jimmy Carter after the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1980? All the usual suspects are involved: petty criminals with pseudonyms, bogus consultants, mad evangelical pastors. But no connection to the Republican Party (yet).

Higglety Pigglety Pop

Finally we have the answer to the nature of Matter, the Universe and Everything (and it isn't 42 after all). It's all a vast herd of quarks (some strange but many charming) milling around in Peter Higg's field until they get heavy. Now we know, can we please shut the fuck up about it and concentrate on the real problem, which is to prevent a tiny elite of greed-crazed rentiers from stealing our grandchildrens' lunch money.

A Sad Canticle

A Sad Canticle is a computer-generated tune I created using Ableton Live with a vocoder filter that gives a no-language/all-languages or Esperanto effect. Its punning title is deliberate, alluding to the horrors being perpetrated in Syria. Readers new to this blog might form the impression that I'm only interested in politics, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In particular I've been passionately interested in music for most of my life. I started listened to, then playing, black American music - blues, R&B and soul - in the early 1960s, progressed to jazz, particularly bop, post-bop and '60s free jazz, which lead me onto modern composers like Debussy, Stravinsky and Bartok . From there I explored backwards in time to absorb the classics from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to Wagner and Richard Strauss. I've spent many, many nights at the opera and concert hall and am a regular patron of the Wigmore. My tastes in popular music are highly eclectic an…

Hemmed in by Language

Charles Rosen is one of a handful of living writers whose work I always look forward to reading, which for me mostly means articles on music that he writes for the New York review of Books. Rosen is a first-class pianist who had a professional career on the concert platform (his recording of the Goldberg variations is one of my favourite interpretations). He writes marvellous articles on the appreciation of composers like Chopin, Ravel and Liszt: since the arrival of Spotify I may sometimes spend a whole evening reading one of these pieces while concurrently listening to each of the performances he mentions (I hope music schools have discovered what a great resource Spotify is).

Rosen also has broader interests beyond music, and occasionally writes about philosophical matters and art theory, with a special interest in Romanticism. For example in the latest NYRB (May 10th 2012) he has a piece called "Freedom and Art" in which he typically digs far deeper than the guff one no…

Thought Prompted by the Petrol Strike Debacle

"We are likely to find ourselves as intellectuals or political philosophers facing a situation in which our chief task is not to  imagine better worlds but rather to think how to prevent worse ones."
Tony Judt In a week where cabinet ministers appear to be urging voters toward Buddhist-style self immolation, I thought that perhaps an automobile metaphor might be apposite. If you imagine society as a motor vehicle then the capitalist market is its engine and social democracy is its braking system. Hands up everyone who wants a car without brakes. OK, just Osborne and Clarkson then...

A Very British Coup?

David Cameron is likely to be questioned about his friendship with Mrs Brooks by Lord Justice Leveson as part of his inquiry into press ethics Photo: REUTERS/GETTY







In 100 years time the last week of February 2012 will be remembered as a turning point in UK history, for three events that don't seem all that remarkable at first sight.

The first event was the appearance of Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan police Sue Akers at the Leveson inquiry, where she claimed that there was a "culture of illegal payments" at the Sun newspaper, in which police officers and other civil servants were not merely paid for specific information but were in effect kept on retainer to leak regularly. Akers testimony coincided with James Murdoch finally resigning the chairmanship of News International, the Sun's holding company. 

The second event was the announcement that the West Midlands and Surrey police authorities have invited bids from G4S and other major security com…

New Year message?

New Year message?, originally uploaded by dick_pountain. These spent fireworks boxes seem to contain a not-so-subliminal message about the prospects for the world economy this year. I've devoted many posts on this blog to proclaiming my belief that social democracy is the only possible civilised form of government, and the one which most of the so-called 99% of the world's people would aspire to given the chance. It appears they are not to be given that chance - the workings of the neo-liberal economy and its hard-line ideologues conspire to bankrupt all the world's states and return us to a Hobbesian state of nature, while supine politicians are powerless to stop them.

Social democracy is in essence an armistice in the class war - labour agrees not to rise up and expropriate the owners of capital if those owners reciprocate with fair wages, good working conditions and paying taxes to support a welfare state. The benefit to both sides is that it minimises the need for coer…