Tags: the root of all evil


spawn more overlords!

Game industry, I love you, but you're bringing me down.

Do you remember when the Xbox 360 launched at $400? And the PS3 at $500? It never crossed my mind to buy either of those consoles at launch. Not because the launch titles were disappointing (promises of then-distant Lost Planet, Halo 2, and Gears of War for Xbox and Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet, and Mirror's Edge for PS3 would have been more than enough to justify a purchase), but because those price tags were so out of my range that, lifelong passion aside, it was inconceivable that I could ever drop that kind of money on something that wouldn't get me through school or kept me fed and sheltered. Collapse )

the free market is adorable

Today I bought a huge oatmeal raisin cookie for 75 cents from a table of shivering children in parkas and woolen hats. A large crayoned banner above their table, impeccably spelled but crookedly written, read "Park Slope 1st Grade Philanthropists for Haiti Relief." As I bit into the cookie--mmm, applesauce--it was hard not to smile.

Capitalism works.

I wonder what the socialist equivalent of a charity bake sale would be? Would you get a bunch of kids into the kitchen and say, "Okay, guys, we're going to make some cookies, and each of you can make as many or as few as you'd like, but we're going to share all of them--no dibs--and it's up to you whether we make enough for everybody?" Even outside the political allegory, it'd be an interesting (and somewhat cruel) social experiment.

If the kids fail to make enough cookies for everyone, due to short-sighted planning or a few kids failing to pull their weight, you will create a tiny microcosm of an actual planned economy. Fingers will be pointed! Grudges will be had! Kids will blame each other for not producing enough cookies, for consuming too many, for exercising power disproportionate to the benefits of their leadership; arguments will break out over whether or not some children should be forced to give up more than others for the sake of the common good. Perhaps a few children, in an heartbreaking and unintentional allegory of the hardships of their ancestors, will share or sacrifice their own cookies so that there will be enough for everyone else. Many tiny hearts will be broken! Even when you bring out the tray of backup cookies you secretly prepared in advance (yay government bailout) so that no one will be left miserable and crying, the sting of social responsibility will last them a lifetime. A cookie just isn't the same when you haven't lovingly molded the dough in your own hands.

If the kids succeed in making enough cookies for everyone to share, they will learn nothing except that cookies are delicious. But your faith in humanity will be restored.

skipping stones

This photograph was taken today by Paul de Souza for Agence France-Presse and Getty Images. It depicts an angry London anarchist, surrounded by a crowd of journalists and fellow protesters, hurling a widescreen LCD monitor through one of the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland, an institution that, in danger of collapse due to the credit crunch and executive mismanagement, is being bailed out at enormous cost to the British taxpayer. News that the recently dismissed head of RBS is going to continue receiving the equivalent of one million dollars a year in pensions from the bank has not gone over well with the British public. The protest was timed to coincide with the G20 summit, in which world leaders are gathered to discuss an international plan to end the recession. Notably, these guys aren't picketing the actual site of the summit (which is heavily guarded anyway), but the area of London called the City, where the Bank of England and RBS keep their headquarters. The protests were organized by a loose collective of anarchist groups; the plan was to have an Oberlinesque circus-style parade and some crazy art shit to garner media attention. That fell apart quickly when things got violent, and now we have this fellow ruining a perfectly good piece of technology.

Is anyone surprised that this image has become the face of the G20 protests? Disregarding the dramatic composition, the crowds of cameramen, the utterly stereotypical assailant in his patterned neck hanky and anarchist-symbol baseball cap--there's something downright provocative about it. The shards of red and black brick on the ground, the dust and fingerprints visible on the monitor, the perfect smooth reflectiveness of the windows violently shattered by the impact--the spirit of the moment. Sitting here in my office, just a couple blocks from Wall Street, typing this into a monitor like the one being thrown and casting the occasional glance at the glassy monoliths outside,it is hard to suppress the urge to rip out this monitor from its PCI socket, tear off my dress shirt, run outside and smash it against a building. It would feel so good to destroy one of those perfect mirrored walls, reflective but not transparent, and expose the hollow metal skeleton underneath. I know this guy would probably see me as the enemy, as a representation of the institutions he is standing up against, and I don't care. If he wants to attack me as a scapegoat of the system he is entitled to it. There is so much anger, so much despair; there are so many friends and acquaintances and strangers I see every day who have gone from dreaming about the future to struggling to make it through today, just because these people in those glass towers across the street were just so proud of being able to ride their bikes with no handlebars, look, mommy, look at what I did, look at how much money I made with so little. Look, mommy, I cheated the system, I gamed the market, I screwed America out of billions of dollars and came out of it a millionaire. Aren't you proud of me.

Fuck. I just remembered...my mother really is proud of me. She keeps telling me over the phone. My son, she tells other parents, my son didn't go to Harvard or Yale or MIT, but he finished two majors and lives in New York all by himself and works for a financial company near Wall Street. Ooooh, they all say. Instant Asian mother cred.

My mother shouldn't be thinking of me and saying, I'm so proud of him. My mother should be thinking of me and saying, when is that boy going to do something with his life other than deliver news to usurers and swindlers.

I don't envy the man in this picture. The police are probably looking all over London for him now--his image is on every newspaper in the UK--if they haven't caught him already. Whatever notoriety he has earned among his fellow anarchists will be eclipsed by the damage this will do to his reputation in the rest of society and his ability to find work. He came to the City to protest capitalism, homelessness, unemployment, and global warming (the protest website is unambiguous about its values but unclear about its goals), and come April 2 he will be facing a stiff fine, a possible jail sentence, some bruises from the police batons--for what? A ruined monitor and a broken window? Not one corrupt banker will be denied his bonuses, not one homeless person will be given the opportunity to live a normal life, not one unemployed worker will have a job and not one drop of petroleum will be conserved. April fool! The joke is on him. All he has succeeded in telling the world is that one of four thousand perpetually angry people with no definite plan for acheiving their objectives is angry, and incensed his fellow Londoners by inconveniencing them. And yet if I were in that street, right now, holding that monitor, I'd chuck that fucker through that window too. Because, damn it, life isn't fair and there are no easy solutions, and the fates of the many are determined by the will of the few, and sometimes all you can do about it is irrationally destroy things. Especially if they belong to the smug, detached, Starbucks-sipping fucks who brought you into this mess and now choose to behave like they can ignore it.

I am sitting on the wrong end of the riot line. Why? Why am I still here?

The Herald says there are claims that before the protests turned violent, bank employees leaned out of windows and taunted the protesters by dangling ten-pound bills. I hope the London police arrested those fuckers for inciting violence, just as they are inevitably sweeping the streets now looking for kids in purple scarves.

god money why don't we go dancing on the backs of the bruised / god money's not one to choose

Okay, I am sick of talking about money and you are probably sick of hearing me talk about money but this is more important than all the money bullshit I have previously written put together.

Money is power. The more money you have, the more you can get other people to give you things or do stuff for you. That $20 bill sitting in your wallet right now? Everyone wants it. Bed, Bath, and Beyond wants you to give it to them in exchange for towels. Guitar Center wants you to use it to buy guitar strings. Barnes and Noble want you to spend it on books. Until it is gone, folks are going to try to persuade you to give them that money, and the more money you have, more of them are going to try harder to persuade you. If it is clear that you are not going to give them money if they do not change their behavior they will change their behavior. This gives you a tiny amount of control over the institutions you do business with, and is the entire point of voting with your wallet--buying free range eggs, boycotting Coca-Cola, refusing to buy anything with meat on it, and so on. Big corporations may not give a shit about your opinions but they have to listen to the market. And every dollar you spend, in theory, has an effect on the market that, in aggregate, industry cannot ignore.

The problem with this approach is the worth of a currency is relative to how much of it exists in the market. Right now, as I understand it, the vast majority of American dollars are being held in the hands of a very small minority. It does not matter if every American and every one of our trade partners who buys American decides to stop buying eggs, for example, if Bill Gates one day decides he wants a ten billion egg omelette. Granted, that's a silly example. But you see how this is problematic for things like lobby groups, luxury goods, and industrial pollutants. Sure, you can vote with your dollars--but what's the use if you have a couple thousand votes and your rich neighbor has twenty million? It's not any more democratic than an election in a banana republic. Add shareholder activism and hostile takeovers into the mix, and you have a market almost exclusively at the mercy of the rich. In recent years, the only thing your money has been good for is keeping yourself fed.

All that has changed with the recession. Fortunes have shrunk, the market has imploded, dollars are hemorrhaging in people's bank accounts instead of being circulated through the economy. CNBC today (always on where I work) did a human-interest spot called the Shrinking Billionaire's Club. Everyone across the board is worried about job security and no one is spending money. Prices have taken a nosedive. Sure, the distribution of wealth is still an L curve and the guys on top still have absurd amounts of money to use as market power. The big thing, though? They're not spending it. Or, they're spending it on settling their debts, or trying to steer Wall Street back to sanity, or fixing the recession.

This presents the dwindling number of securely employed middle and upper class Americans with a unique opportunity: If you have money you are willing to spend right now, it is worth more than it has ever been.

Think hard on the repercussions of this. In the pre-2007 economy, what happens when you buy an ice cream cone at Ben & Jerry's? B&J take the cash, put it towards getting new ice cream machines, maybe starting a new factory or a new franchise. What do the profits on a $5 pint get them? A new ice cream scoop, maybe. Wages for their workers. Whatever it takes to run a B&J's, and keep them competitive with Haagen-Dazs across the street. Now let's say it's post-2007, and for the sake of simplicity, let's say the price of ice cream hasn't change--folks are still going to eat ice cream in a recession. It's cheap, it's a low-end luxury, you can buy a cone on minimum wage. But operating costs have gone down in the recession, because ice-cream making machines are the kind of investment companies are less likely to make if they're doing poorly. You get a cone at B&J's , suddenly they can use the profit to buy two ice cream scoops--if you your friends get one too, and you keep coming back, maybe they can hire a new dude. Their business grows more with the same amount of money. Also, let's say that thanks to the recession there is suddenly only a market for one ice cream store in your area. You get a cone from B&J's instead of Haagen-Dazs, B&J's invests the profit into making better ice cream, Haagen-Dazs can't compete. Haagen-Dazs closes, and B&J's is now the leading ice cream chain in your suburban mini-mall. This is what your money does.

Let's say we're not talking about ice cream. Let's say we're talking about, say, the Red Cross. Or Doctors Without Borders. Or Common Ground's free clinic in New Orleans.

Remember how UNICEF's junk mail always says things like, "A donation of $10 will buy tetanus shots for one impoverished child. A donation of $50 will buy a water generator for a small African village. $200 will buy shelter for a week for a family of four..."

That junk mail was based on pre-2007 prices for those goods. Think about how much that same amount of money could buy now.

If you are one of the few Americans out there who are fortunate enough to have a steady income and live within your means--if you have any amount of disposable income, beyond what it takes to keep you fed and sheltered and happy and sane, beyond what is saved in your bank account for a rainy day--that disposable income, even if it is a tiny amount compared to what the rich have stored away in hedge funds and equities, bears more market power now than it ever has, and more likely ever will once the recession is over. That same share of market power, pre-2007, could have been used to buy a Ferrari. Or dumped into a campaign fund to get someone's buddy into Congress. Or invested in a flashy new LED display outside the AIG building. You hold that market power now--at least, for the first time, a meaningful chunk of it. What will you choose to do with it?

Sure, you might not have enough money to fix the recession. Sure, you might not have enough money to buy and sell corporations at a whim, or corner the stock market, or even sit in at a stockholders meeting and make your voice heard. Getting us out of the recession is still the domain of the rich. But big things are afoot in corporate America right now, and giants are falling. Today's market belongs to the rich, but tomorrow's market belongs to us.

2,773 companies enter. How many companies leave? How many will survive the contraction of the market? The rich can buy and sell and merge these companies all they want, but after the dust settles, if and when we come out of recession, which ones die and which ones stay afloat is ultimately up to us.

Are you vegan? Are you an opponent of the military-industrial complex? Are you against nonrenewable energy, cruel practices in the meat-packing industry, genetically modified organics? If so--this is the time to make your voice heard. This is the time when your money can best bring about change in this country.

Or, if you're like me, and you distrust the corporate system altogether--you can do even better. You can take that money out of the trade in goods and services altogether, and give it, unilaterally, to those who need it most. Take it out of the free market and put it into bread. And medicine. And shelter. And civil rights, and alternative energy, and protein folding and One Laptop Per Child and social justice and textbooks. If you must get something for your money, go see a local theater production. Buy drinks at a place where a musician friend is playing. Order some T-shirts from a webcartoonist. Spend it on anything you want the post-recession world to be.

By the time Wall Street has settled its debts and is ready to play poker with the market again (and I assure you, it will), it will have to do so on our terms.

My friends--if you are worried about making ends meet, paying health care costs, keeping up your cost of living, cutting out luxuries like movies and comic books just to get by, I implore you, spend the money on yourself. That money is best spent on you. But if you, like me, are looking at a steady paycheck once a month, and you've got a rainy day fund and few debts and fewer obligations, and you consistently come out at the end of the month with more money than you started with--bear in mind that that money, which you were going to take to the mall and spend without a second thought as to where it will go once it leaves your wallet--that money has, for the duration of this recession alone, the power to change the world.


If you know other reputable, societally beneficial organizations (not necessarily charities) that could benefit from a donation-fueled recession spending spree right now, please list them in the comments.

stewart vs. cramer: this is armageddon

Don't know how I missed this, but yesterday hilarious raging ogre Jim Cramer of CNBC's "Mad Money" appeared on the Daily Show to argue with Jon Stewart in a highly epic infotainment duel. Haven't seen it myself yet, but initial reports claim that most of it was Stewart skewering the fuck out of Cramer with his usual barrage of video clips, pointed sarcastic questions, etc., accusing Cramer of buying into corporate propaganda, not using his leverage as a commentator to try and save the market as it was collapsing, and not making clear the distinction between comedy and news--and Cramer passively agreeing. While I can hardly disagree, this is, for the most point, disappointing. What's the point of having the Hulk of financial news appear on your show if he's just going to sit on the sidelines and take shit as Bruce Banner?

Could be that Cramer's just feeling guilty about the whole recession thing. I mean, yeah, he did infamously scream "THIS IS ARMAGEDDON!!11!1" on live TV months before most of America realized the subprime crash was a big deal. But his proposed solution was to have the Federal Reserve restore liquidity to the banks by cutting its emergency lending rate. Which it did. Which flooded the housing market with credit, transforming the impending recession from a shitstorm to the Shitstorm to End All Shitstorms. Not that he meant to destroy the American economy, of course; he did promote Bear Stearns stock three weeks before it went under. It seems that, despite all the doomsday rhetoric, he genuinely had no idea just how bad things were going to get. NO IDEA!!

In tribute, the test machines at work now file the following headlines automatically:


Okay I am ready to talk about anything other than money damn it please.

killing gatsby

One little thing before I go back to writing.

Read lots of news sites with comment threads and you will see, dozens of times over, earnest right-wing commentary of this ilk: "Hey Obama, when are we going to get our bailout? We're losing our jobs and trying to make ends meet while Wall Street is getting billions of dollars. Why don't you take money from them instead of the American taxpayers? I'm sure none of them are losing any sleep over the recession."

Speaking as someone who serves the Wall Street establishment, and observes it from a distance, my response to this oft-repeated sentiment is twofold.

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