The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'a modest proposal'
Second Livestock, something which purports to be a company using virtual reality with “animal-centric design” in animal husbandry, allowing chickens to live happy and fulfilling “virtual free range” lives in efficiently small, tightly-packed spaces, much like the urban office workers who will eventually eat them:
The enclosures are built to provide a comfortable and healthy home. Omni-directional treadmills provide livestock with the freedom to move freely in the virtual world. Each enclosure has independently filtered air to keep communicable diseases and parasites from spreading throughout the facility. The birds are fed a diverse, organic free range diet.
The small and lightweight Animal-Computer Interfaces are designed to fit comfortably and allow chickens a full range of motion.
The design of our facilities allows them to be located anywhere, even in urban centers. It is even possible to retrofit an empty office building. After all, Second Livestock is modeled on human activities such as the layout of the common corporate office. A networked grid of cubicles with internet access is not far removed from the enclosures we build for our chickens. However, our chickens likely get more exercise while on the job.Second Livestock is, of course, not (yet) an actual product, but a social experiment by an associate professor from Iowa State University, intended more to start a discussion about the social implications of technology.
The impeccably economically rational minds in Australia's Productivity Commission has denounced artisanal food producers, “international style” bakeries and small winemakers as a drag on Australia's productivity and economic efficiency:
“Bakery product manufacturing is likely to have contributed to lower measures (or productivity),” the commission says ... “Lifestyle considerations, tax arrangements, and alternative sources of income may have reduced the incentive for small wine-makers to leave the industry.”
If one looks at it from a certain perspective, they have a point. Certainly, spending $5 on a loaf of artisanal bread when a $1 loaf of Tip-Top will provide the same amount of calories is an expensive frippery which isn't doing Australia any favours when competing in the Global Race that one keeps hearing about. After all, while we're demanding the money and leisure time to savour a sourdough ciabatta washed down with a nice glass of cab sav, the developing world has billions of people who are willing to work 90-hour weeks on a bowl of gruel a day and be grateful for it. That's to say nothing about the establishments in which these decadent luxuries are consumed. Taking up valuable space all over inner urban areas, these squander resources on quirky décor, and not only neglect but actively sabotage their throughput by encouraging the patrons to linger, rather than quickly getting and consuming their food and going back to productive work. Replace them all with McDonald's-style drive-throughs and not only would Australia's workers be able to get more work done, but, paying less for their lunch, could do so for more competitive wages. Think of all the extra iron ore we could load onto ships, and the higher profits remaining at the end of the day.
But why stop there? While pointing out the grotesque inefficiencies of small-scale foodstuffs and gratuitous luxuries (and, implicitly, wages high enough to create demand for such fripperies) drives a point home, it misses the broader point implied in such economic-rationalist (or, as they call them these days, neoliberal) critiques, that of what Australians should and shouldn't be doing. Australia, it would seem, has one core business: digging Australian ore and coal up and shipping it out; it's the one thing we do better than anyone else in the world, and everything else that doesn't tie into that or its support industries is superfluous, and thus, by definition, a drag on the national economy. (With the exception of cricket, of course; panem et circenses, as they said in Rome.) If you divert resources to baking artisanal bread, or, say, building cars or televisions (which the Chinese can do far more efficiently), those are resources which cannot be used for digging up every lump of coal that can be sold.
Another example: if you go to any of the aforementioned inner-city cafés with their inefficient ciabattas and fairtrade flat whites, you are likely to find several people in their 20s and 30s with fashionable hairstyles and MacBooks; some of them will be working on mobile games or social websites, editing short films, writing novels, mashing up phat beats, or doing other things atypical of the inhabitants of a mining colony. Given the high Australian dollar (due to the world wanting our iron ore and coal, which we can't dig up fast enough), it makes no economic sense for anyone in Australia to be doing these things, given that similarly fashionably attired MacBook owners in Berlin or Brooklyn could do the job for less (that's to say nothing of the DJs and designers of Beijing or Bangalore). Nonetheless, the young and hip in this mining colony maintain the pretense of being part of a “Creative Class”, one of limited economic purpose and often importing its symbols and touchstones, from trucker caps to taco trucks, from bars named after parts of Barcelona to the very idea of using bicycles to get by (itself a pretentious, and un-Australian, affectation according to a significant segment of the population). Meanwhile, tonnes of iron ore remain tragically unmined and unsold.
So the question posed by the critique seems to be: perhaps it's time for us to, as our heroic Prime Minister would put it, stick to our knitting, put aside all these foreign lifestyle pretensions and concentrate on what we do best: digging stuff up and shipping it out. After all, we all want to live in an efficient, dynamic economy, don't we? Those who don't fit in with the country's business, who can't find a job as a minerals engineer or contract lawyer, can try their luck with the US visa system or see if they can wangle a European passport through where their grandparents came from.
Of course, that's one point of view; that from the top of the pyramid, from where everything is a resource to be managed efficiently (which is to say, profitably), and the profits are to make their way to the top of the pyramid, unmolested by the little people's economically irrational desires for artisanal nutrition, or the notion that Australia might be a complex society rather than, as that other metaphor used by the current government goes, a team with a single national focus. But increasingly, this is the point of view which counts.
The federal Justice Ministry in Germany has decreed that all state bodies should use gender-neutral language; something which is somewhat more complicated in a strongly gendered language such as German, in which it is generally impossible to mention a person without disclosing their gender:
The changing nature of German is particularly noticeable at university campuses. Addressing groups of students in German has been problematic ever since universities stopped being bastions of male privilege. Should they be sehr geehrte Studenten or sehr geehrte Studentinnen? In official documents, such as job advertisements, administrators used to get around the problem with typographical hybrid forms such as Student(inn)en or StudentInnen – an unfair compromise, some say, which still treats the archetype of any profession as masculine.Some speculate that these changes will ultimately lead to the same process that stripped other Germanic languages such as English and Swedish of their gendered nouns; the process could take centuries, though gender-neutral pronouns could be adopted from existing regional German dialects such as Niederdeutsch (Low German), where nouns of all genders get the definite article de:
In the long run, such solutions would prove too complicated, linguists such as Luise Pusch argue. She told the Guardian that men would eventually get so frustrated with the current compromises that they would clock on to the fundamental problem, and the German language would gradually simplify its gender articles, just as English has managed to do since the Middle Ages.This is neither the only recent proposal for modernising the German language nor the most radical: the writer Ingo Niermann suggested radically simplifying the language into what he termed "Rededeutsch", a language both comprehensible to speakers of old-fashioned German and easier to learn than English. Rededeutsch goes further than the modest proposals discussed recently, eliminating the definite article altogether, along with non-present tenses, irregular verb forms and the multitude of plural forms.
While Rededeutsch is more in the spirit of artistic bricolage, or perhaps a Swiftian modest proposal, than a realistic suggestion, the debate about gender-neutral forms does highlight the fact that the languages we speak were formed in far different social circumstances, and these assumptions are carried in them. And as living language does evolve, this does take a while, often being dragged into public debate and becoming a front in the rolling culture war between progressives and conservatives. (The same, of course, happened in English some decades ago, when suggestions that words like "chairman" were problematic were met with cries of "political correctness gone mad!")
Along similar lines, two years ago, the government of France deprecated the word "mademoiselle" from official use, allowing Frenchwomen to keep their marital status private when filling in forms.
A modest proposal from security commentator Alec Muffett: Could we replace marriage with incorporation of private limited companies?
in the UK the biggest hurdle would be IR35 and certain aspects of expense policy, but you’d have a contract between the directors, clear dissolution clauses; all income could be directed to the corporation – taxed differently and offset against OPEX like nappies and so forth – and salaries paid out, plus it would own and depreciate shared assets like houses and cars. You could avoid much income tax by taking dividends – I know tax avoidance is infra dig at the moment, but I’m thinking of the future here – and you could offshore your marriage for better breaks.
But there would be no gender issues – no incorporation is between a man and woman – plus you could have more than one company director, have corporations that outlast their founders, and in extreme circumstances outsource large chunks of the whole enterprise.
In 1995, the state legislature of New Mexico passed a law requiring psychologists and psychiatrists to be dressed as wizards when giving evidence in court:
When a psychologist or psychiatrist testifies during a defendant’s competency hearing, the psychologist or psychiatrist shall wear a cone-shaped hat that is not less than two feet tall. The surface of the hat shall be imprinted with stars and lightning bolts. Additionally, a psychologist or psychiatrist shall be required to don a white beard that is not less than 18 inches in length, and shall punctuate crucial elements of his testimony by stabbing the air with a wand. Whenever a psychologist or psychiatrist provides expert testimony regarding a defendant’s competency, the bailiff shall contemporaneously dim the courtroom lights and administer two strikes to a Chinese gong…The amendment passed unanimously, but was removed from the final law, to the detriment of the theatrical beard and Chinese gong industries.
Margaret Thatcher is still alive, but sooner or later, she will go the way of all historical figures, and when she does, it's likely that she will have the first state funeral of any British Prime Minister since Churchill. As part of their repudiation of socialism in all its forms, New Labour pledged a state funeral for the Iron Lady, who arguably vanquished socialism as Churchill did Nazism, and it's unlikely that the Tory-led coalition will argue (though some Lib Dems may sputter and fume theatrically about it, especially if a punishing election is approaching).
Now a petition has been set up for Thatcher's state funeral to be privatised, in what the petitioner says is an appropriate tribute to her legacy and philosophical principles:
In keeping with the great lady's legacy, Margaret Thatcher's state funeral should be funded and managed by the private sector to offer the best value and choice for end users and other stakeholders. The undersigned believe that the legacy of the former PM deserves nothing less and that offering this unique opportunity is an ideal way to cut government expense and further prove the merits of liberalised economics Baroness Thatcher spearheaded.And here is some commentary from the Grauniad's Sunny Hundal, suggesting that the stakeholders in the funeral could sell memorabilia, such as photographs of Thatcher with her close friend and ideological compatriot Augusto Pinochet, that the proceeds from the television rights could be used to build a private memorial library, and that, when Tony Blair's time comes, the exercise should be repeated.
Charlie Stross posits a hypothesis about the sudden rise in apathy among voters, and the perception that all the options are virtually identical:
The rot set in back in the 19th century, when the US legal system began recognizing corporations as de facto people. Fast forward past the collapse of the ancien regime, and into modern second-wave colonialism: once the USA grabbed the mantle of global hegemon from the bankrupt British empire in 1945, they naturally exported their corporate model worldwide, as US diplomatic (and military) muscle was used to promote access to markets on behalf of US corporations.
We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals. They have enormous media reach, which they use to distract attention from threats to their own survival. They also have an enormous ability to support litigation against public participation, except in the very limited circumstances where such action is forbidden. Individual atomized humans are thus either co-opted by these entities (you can live very nicely as a CEO or a politician, as long as you don't bite the feeding hand) or steamrollered if they try to resist.
In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion.Also, on a similar note: an essay which asks are the American people obsolete? I.e., the American ruling class no longer need them as workers or soldiers, and their usefulness as consumers is threatened by the coming age of austerity (the deeply indebted and the working poor who are struggling to avoid foreclosure don't make very good consumers, and the Indians and Chinese are looking more promising these days).
Thanks to deindustrialization, which is caused both by productivity growth and by corporate offshoring, the overwhelming majority of Americans now work in the non-traded domestic service sector. The jobs that have the greatest growth in numbers are concentrated in sectors like medical care and childcare.
Even here, the rich have options other than hiring American citizens. Wealthy liberals and wealthy conservatives agree on one thing: the need for more unskilled immigration to the U.S. This is hardly surprising, as the rich are far more dependent on immigrant servants than middle-class and working-class Americans are.
If much of America's investor class no longer needs Americans either as workers or consumers, elite Americans might still depend on ordinary Americans to protect them, by serving in the military or police forces. Increasingly, however, America's professional army is being supplemented by contractors -- that is, mercenaries. And the elite press periodically publishes proposals to sell citizenship to foreigners who serve as soldiers in an American Foreign Legion. It is probably only a matter of time before some earnest pundit proposes to replace American police officers with foreign guest-worker mercenaries as well.So what is to be done? Well, one option is to bribe the poor to leave and bribe other countries, such as India and China, to accept them as a new underclass of guest workers without rights:
If most Americans are no longer needed by the American rich, then perhaps the United States should consider a policy adopted by the aristocracies and oligarchies of many countries with surplus populations in the past: the promotion of emigration. The rich might consent to a one-time tax to bribe middle-class and working-class Americans into departing the U.S. for other lands, and bribing foreign countries to accept them, in order to be alleviated from a high tax burden in the long run.
Once emptied of superfluous citizens, the U.S. could become a kind of giant Aspen for the small population of the super-rich and their non-voting immigrant retainers. Many environmentalists might approve of the depopulation of North America, because sprawling suburbs would soon be reclaimed by the wilderness. And deficit hawks would be pleased as well. The middle-class masses dependent on Social Security and Medicare would have departed the country, leaving only the self-sufficient rich and foreign guest workers without any benefits, other than the charity of their employers.
In this economic downturn, spare a thought for the British royal family; the costs of heating all those palaces are becoming so burdensome that the Queen asked ministers for a handoud from the state poverty fund to heat them; a request which was, eventually, politely rebuffed:
Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to "adverse publicity" for the Queen and the Government.
Taxpayers already contribute £38m to pay for the Royal Family. Yet some of the buildings which would have benefited from the energy grant were occupied by minor royals living in grace and favour accommodation on the royal estates. Surprisingly the Government offered no resistance to the proposed application and cleared the way for the Queen to take advantage of the handout.Though to be fair, those palaces are appallingly inefficient to heat:
Last year thermal imaging technology, used to identify and measure energy waste, showed heat pouring through the closed curtained windows, the roof and cracks in the walls. A team of energy surveyors labelled the Palace "shocking and appalling", the biggest "central heating radiator" in the capital and gave it a score of 0 out of 10.You'd think that Prince Charles, that great ecologist, would take some time out from promoting homeopathy and waging war against nontraditional architecture to get some insulation installed, but alas, it doesn't seem to have happened.
Perhaps another argument for moving to a Dutch/Scandinavian-style "bicycle monarchy", in which the Royal Family earns its own keep? (A republic may be attractive to the more left-wing at heart, though it can be argued that the Royal Family is a cornerstone of British cultural "soft power", and its loss would weaken Britain's standing in the world. Having said that, one could say that the accession of Prince Charles may well end up doing that.) The Royal Family occupy that curious space between government institutions and popular entertainment; they have vestigial constitutional functions (mouthing whatever words the government of the day pens, opening Parliament), for which they are richly compensated, but the rest of their functions are providing fodder for celebrity gossip magazines and enticement for foreign tourists to visit these "quaint" isles. Perhaps if it was acknowledged that the Royal Family are part of the tourism and entertainment industries, they could be paid by these industries, in return for giving them more value for money than under the inefficient old system. Minor royals could become "tourism ambassadors", doing everything from international tours to viral video spots to get Japanese and Americans over here; a US-style surcharge on tourist visas to fund tourism promotion could help with the civil list. Meanwhile, one palace could be given over to a reality-TV company, with the royals spending a specified period of time in it, in front of the cameras, giving the paying public what they want; the revenue could be used to maintain and heat all their palaces.
Please Rob Me is a web site which aggregates Foursquare location data shared by Twitter users and presents it as "new opportunities" and announcements of users having "left home", to demonstrate the risks of sharing location data with strangers.
While Please Rob Me is a proof of concept, and not particularly useful to burglars (you'd have to map Twitter IDs to names and addresses, and also work out whether there was anybody else living at the premises), there is speculation that social web sites offer a wealth of information to burglars, from users' locations to party photos set inside homes and showing off stealable goods. Of course, these days, the dominant web site is Facebook, which, by default, hides users' posts from people outside of their friend list; however, a significant proportion of Facebook users will gladly friend people they don't actually know, undermining this common-sense measure. (Intuitively, the risk of being burgled or spammed must seem insubstantial to them next to the promise of meeting hot chicks or getting invited to cool parties.) An even larger proportion use Windows PCs which are susceptible to viruses. There is already malware which spams Facebook with phishing links; malware which harvests useful information about all of a user's contacts (real names/identifying details, addresses, links to other social sites, &c.) and uploads them to a criminal-owned server could be just as plausible.
Of course, this makes little economic sense if one imagines one team of burglars going to all this effort to identify easily reachable places likely to house unattended PlayStations or plasma screens. However, if one follows the advice of Adam Smith and introduces division of labour (a practice seen in other criminal enterprises, such as phishing gangs and Nigerian 419 scam operations), it becomes more plausible.
Imagine, if you will, a criminal business intelligence service, much like the ones serving marketers, only specialising in selling leads on potential targets to burglars. This business would have a server somewhere with lax law enforcement, algorithms for harvesting and unifying information from a range of sources (possibly supplemented by human intelligence) and a site for offering bundles of this information to prospective burglars, searchable by geographic location, likely richness of pickings (determinable from the target's employment information, credit ratings and such) and likelihood of them being out of town. The algorithms would pick through a number of public sites, such as Twitter, Foursquare and others (photo sharing sites could be useful; if someone's address is in New York and they just uploaded a fresh photo geotagged in Gran Canaria, they're probably not home), and use them to pick out the likelihood of a target matching various criteria. (The algorithms could be fairly advanced, but as we have seen from the botnet arms race, there's no shortage of ingeniously talented coders of, shall we say, above-average moral flexibility.)
Of course, the real rich pickings are in walled gardens such as Facebook, where people have a sense of security and post their real names, locations and photos; while this is not public, a criminal site could harvest it by using malware (in which case, it'd get not just the details of the owner of the infected PC, but of all their friends), rogue viral Facebook apps or by hiring humans to set up profiles and, using a specially modified browser, friend random strangers ("MAKE MONEY AT HOME SURFING THE WEB!", the recruitment ads could read). The data would go into the criminals' data centre and would come out the other end as searchable packages offered for sale ("Your search of current vacationers making $50k+ near ___ has yielded 37 results, for $100 each. How many would you like to buy?")
Given precedents both in computer crime (credit-card fraud is a big one, having both black-market web sites and highly specialised economies with divisions of labour) and social software, I would be surprised if nobody tries setting something like this up.
Two New Zealand academics who specialise in sustainability claim that keeping pets has a catastrophic carbon footprint. In a book titled Time To Eat The Dog?, Professors Brenda and Robert Vale claim that a medium-sized dog has the carbon footprint of two SUVs driven 10,000km in a year, a cat is slightly less environmentally damaging than a Volkswagen Golf, and two hamsters are equivalent to a plasma TV (though, alas, wouldn't generate nearly enough electricity to actually power one).
"If you have a German shepherd or similar-sized dog, for example, its impact every year is exactly the same as driving a large car around," Brenda Vale said.The sustainable thing, the Vales claim, would be to only keep animals you intend to eat:
"The title of the book is a little bit of a shock tactic, I think, but though we are not advocating eating anyone's pet cat or dog there is certainly some truth in the fact that if we have edible pets like chickens for their eggs and meat, and rabbits and pigs, we will be compensating for the impact of other things on our environment."
Professor Vale took her message to Wellington City Council last year, but councillors said banning traditional pets or letting people keep food animals in their homes were not acceptable options.
The Official Chart Company, which runs Britains's music charts, is reviving the indie charts, updated to reflect the changing definition of "indie":
The initial criteria defined an independent release as any record which was released by a label with independent distribution, in an era when major record companies were self-distributed and smaller labels used alternative routes. Today, however, with even majors outsourcing their own distribution to independent operations, this criterion has become less relevant.
Under the new rules, a download or CD will be eligible for the Official Independent Charts if it is released on a label which is 50% or more owned by an independent (or non-major) company, irrespective of the distribution channel through which it is shipped or delivered.So now joint ventures with the Big Four major labels are officially "independent".
I think, however, that they missed the big picture. When the word "indie" is used to refer to musical product (bands, labels, records), it seldom refers to the business model under which the product was released. Typically, when a band or record is described as "indie", this refers partly to what they look or sound like (which is to say, to a greater or lesser extent like the independent bands between post-punk and the rise of Britpop), but more saliently, to the target demographic. "Indie" means sort of what "alternative" meant in the 1990s; a conspicuous badge of not being "mainstream" that doesn't require any more effort to obtain than being in the mainstream would, with its sounds and styles (not to mention the word "indie") borrowed from the original independent bands, only stylised and streamlined for easy mass consumption ("Note: lose all that stuff about Marxism and Fluxus and existentialism, and pump up the sex.")
As such, looking at the ownership and distribution of a record label when assessing whether a record is "indie" is woefully inadequate. A more suitable criterion would have to be based on a points system, with bands or releases being awarded points if they fulfil certain criteria, i.e.,
- band is on an independently-owned label: 2 points
- At least 50% of the band wear skinny jeans: 2 points
- At least one band member has an asymmetrical haircut: 1 point
- 1 point for each of the following influences cited (with proof): The Clash, Joy Division, XTC, Gang Of Four, Neu! (maximum 3 points)
- band's sound has been described by music critics as "angular" - 1 point
To keep the criteria relevant, a committee of industry, media and marketing types would convene every six months to update these rules to take into account recent trends. (For example, in light of the recent trend towards hipster-folk, the committee might now be debating allowing one point for band members with rustic-looking beards, or for bands having ukuleles in their instrumentation.)
The latest novel application of technology from Japan: DVDs to help train socially-challenged otaku to make eye contact, predominantly with women:
His disc features 50 people standing in front of a blank white background. They're all women, which Ito swears is just a coincidence. They stare into the camera and occasionally say stuff like "I want to leave" or "That's enough."
Try to look this person in the eyes for a full minute. Tip: when interacting with a fellow human being in the real world, it is considered rude to break eye contact in order to look at other physical attributes.Perhaps that will be Nintendo's next big hit; we had Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Wii Music, now perhaps it's time for Wii Date. It'd come with a gaze-tracking camera, and would play a lot like the zazen meditation game in Wii Fit, only instead of sitting absolutely still staring at a candle, you'd have to gaze into the eyes of a pretty girl in a revealing top, and if the system noticed your gaze straying below her eyes, a buzzer would sound and the session would come to an end.
Analysis of street cocaine found in Britain has shown that your typical sample is about 10% pure, with the rest being made up, essentially, of anything white and powdery, including some rather nasty chemicals:
Much of the seized cocaine is found to have been cut with phenacetin - a pharmaceutical drug banned some years ago in Britain and most other nations for causing kidney failure and cancer.
Other drugs used for cutting or "bashing" cocaine include lignocaine (a dental painkiller), tetramisole (used for de-worming pets) and boric acid (used to kill cockroaches).Not that such revelations are likely to dampen demand for what is essentially Britain's national drug. After all, the risk of an agonising death from cancer hasn't put many people off bacon, and cocaine feeds into the celebrity-obsessed, superficially success-oriented bling culture of Blatcherite Britain; and even if people know that the £2.50 line of coke they do is unlikely to be like anything their footballer/WAG/indie-star idols touch, suspension of disbelief is a powerful thing.
The problem, of course, is that cocaine is, by definition, sold by criminals, and there is no incentive for anything remotely like fair dealing. One answer, of course, would be to legalise cocaine and regulate it as stringently as alcohol and tobacco are. As soon as that happened, coke dealers would go the way of bathtub gin merchants and the quality and reliability would go up; Waitrose would carry organic, fair-trade cocaine from day one, and for those on a budget, £3.79 would get you a line of Tesco Value coke (3% purity, but cut with thoroughly innocuous substances). Lidl would undoubtedly come to the party with a janky-looking faux-authentic store brand; "Medellin Hills", perhaps, or "Mr. Montana's"?
Of course, legalising drugs is the sort of thing only somebody with an excess of common sense would advocate, and there is no way that it would ever happen in the real world. Thankfully, there are other, more politically viable, possibilities. Given that the majority of the active ingredient in street cocaine is not actually cocaine but various tranquillisers (hence the feeling of numbness which many naïve cokeheads assume as proof of the drug's authenticity), the next logical step would be to do away with the illegal substance altogether and sell perfectly legal pseudococaine. It'd have the right colour, texture and consistency for doing a social line at a party, would function excellently as a prop for one's fantasies of celebrity glamour, and would even give one a mild buzz, though would contain nothing more dangerous (or illegal) than a few stimulants and tranquillisers, heavily diluted.
Icelandic artist and product designer Hafsteinn Júlíusson has come up with a technological solution to the global obesity crisis: zero-calorie crisps made of flavoured edible paper, allowing one to happily consume lots of tasty, crunchy stuff. Or, as Júlíusson puts it, it's like eating tasty air:
It is not clear whether the chips are being marketed or whether they're just a piece of conceptual art.
Júlíusson's web site also has information on his other projects, including laptop bags which double as pillows, which are hand-sewn in Reykjavík and sold in the local Apple Store there:
(via Boing Boing Gadgets)
Charlie Brooker weighs in on the issue of product placement, with a modest proposal of his own:
Let's say you're trying to launch a new soft drink. Traditionally you'd have to spend millions on a commercial, and millions more booking airtime for it. Screw that. Here's what you do: put up one billboard. Just one. Somewhere on a route near Buckingham Palace or Downing Street. Point a camera at it 24/7. Then simply pay a sniper to assassinate someone of global importance when they pass in front of it. Bingo! The clip will run on an endless loop on every news channel in the world, for eternity. Even as viewers gasp in horror watching the victim's head explode like a watermelon, they'll simultaneously be thinking "What's that? New Plum-Flavoured Pepsi? Cool!" each time a chunk of skull flies past your logo.
US Department of Homeland Security convenes a group of science fiction writers, dubbed "SIGMA", to brainstorm ideas for defending the nation; writers, instead, go off on bizarre tangents:
Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.
“The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.
(via Boing Boing)
Scientists have developed a vaccine against cocaine, which permanently reconfigures the immune system to attack and destroy cocaine molecules before they can reach the brain:
The developers of the new cocaine vaccine, known as 'TA-CD', are doing essentially the same thing by cleverly combining a deactivated cocaine molecule with a deactivated cholera toxin molecule. The deactivated cholera toxin is enough to trigger the immune system, which finds and adapts to the new invader.
If effective, you can see that some parents might want to vaccinate their non-addicted, perfectly healthy children, so they are 'immune' to cocaine. The difference here, is that once given, the 'immunity' may be permanent. In other words, you would make the decision that your child will never be able to experience the effects of cocaine for the rest of their life.Another option (and one with a whiff of authoritarianism about it, though perhaps not much more than the militarised, prison-filling War On Drugs) would be a compulsory mass vaccination programme, perhaps of all school-aged children. Implemented on a large enough scale, this could be the only way of killing off the cocaine cartels other than legalising the stuff (politically unpalatable) or rendering coca extinct by biological means (an ecological non-starter).
A vaccine against heroin may also be possible, though one wouldn't want to ever be in need of strong painkillers if one has had one of those.
(via Mind Hacks)
Right-wing contrarian Jeremy Clarkson (he's sort of The Times' version of Charlie Brooker, or perhaps a very English P.J. O'Rourke) weighs into the question of sustainable food production:
Already the Atlantic has fewer cod in it than Elton John’s bath, so we are having to import fish fingers from China. And you may think this is fine. Your underpants come from the Far East, and your mobile phone, so why should we not import our watercress and beef from those industrious little yellow fellows on the banks of the Yangtze? I’ll tell you why. Because China’s population is growing, too, and soon they won’t be able to send us their fish fingers because they will have been scoffed before they get to the docks.
Obviously, one solution is to burn the entire Amazon rainforest and turn this rich and fertile place into the world’s pantry. But unfortunately this is not possible because Sting will turn up on a chat show with some pygmy who’s sewn a saucer into his bottom lip, arguing that the world’s “indigenous tribes” are suffering because of the West’s greed.
I fear, too, that if we all became vegetablists, the world would smell of halitosis and we’d all start to vote Liberal Democrat. Furthermore, all the veg-heads I know are sickly and grey and unable to climb a flight of stairs without fainting.Clarkson's modest proposal is simple: you know all those exotic species you see on BBC nature shows? Well, we could eat those. And no need to worry about endangered species, as the free market will take care of that issue:
I believe that if enough people demanded blue whale for supper, garnished with the ears of a panda and the left wing of a juicy great bustard, it wouldn’t take very long for big business to move in.
When there’s a quid to be made, pandas will be having babies with the regularity of hens and you won’t be able to go to the shops for all the leopards you’ll meet on the way.
Anti-corporate culture jammers The Yes Men recently infiltrated the Gas And Oil Exposition in Calgary, Canada, posing as oil company representatives and putting forward a modest proposal to turn the bodies of all those who die in the oil crash into fuel:
As security guards led Bonanno from the room, Bichlbaum told reporters that "Without oil we could no longer produce or transport food, and most of humanity would starve. That would be a tragedy, but at least all those bodies could be turned into fuel for the rest of us."
Noting that "150,000 people already die from climate-change related effects every year," he added, "That's only going to go up - maybe way, way up. Will it all go to waste? That would be cruel."
(via Boing Boing)
Earlier this week, a nutter obsessed with the Columbine massacre gunned down a bunch of people in Montreal, killing one, before being shot dead by police. Afterwards, his online journal came to light, being hosted on a site named Vampire Freaks, which seems to be something like DeadJournal crossed with MySpace, with extra Goth. In other words, unlike the Columbine killers (who were erroneously associated with the Goth subculture despite not being part of it), Kimveer Gill vociferously identified himself as a Goth.
Before this leads to reprisal attacks (the torching of industrial clubs, assaults on Goths, punks, hessians, Hassidim, ninjas, or random chromatically-challenged individuals by clueless rednecks), an important distinction must be made. The enemy are not Goths but Gothists. Goth is a subculture of peace, and explicitly prohibits violence against the innocent. Gothism, however, is a militant, intolerant ideology committed to the annihilation or subjugation of all jocks, preppies, "normals" and "mundanes" across the world, and the ushering in of a global reign of darkness. The vast majority of Goths do not subscribe to the extremist beliefs of Gothism, and indeed consider it to be a false ideology, a sick perversion of the tenets of their subculture. It is clear that peaceful coexistence with Gothism is impossible, and this ideology must be uprooted and neutralised before it causes any more damage; this is something which we will need the cooperation of moderate/liberal Goth leaders in achieving.
Having said that, Goth community leaders should be more outspoken in condemning atrocities carried out in the name of their culture, and the Goth community needs to take action to prevent its marginalised youth from being radicalised by the agents of Gothism.
Air transport authorities are warning that increased security measures, including cabin baggage restrictions and extra screening, will be permanent, with restrictions on liquids and bans on certain types of cabin luggage remaining in force. Passengers may next have to surrender belts and trousers (or wear special pocketless flight suits, yet to be introduced) as such could be used by terrorists to smuggle explosives undetectably. Though even that won't stop terror mules with bombs inside their bodies:
"Quite frankly, that kind of experimentation has been taking place. We know that they have been testing strapped-on explosives on animals in the Middle East for years and it's not a magical leap to try inserting it into the rectum," he said.
Terrorists have already used mocked pregnancy prosthetics to slip bombs aboard planes, but no one has tried the mule approach yet, according to Harvey "Jack" McGeorge, a former Marine Corps bomb disposal specialist and a former Secret Service security specialist.
By smuggling explosives inside one's body, a suicide bomber would likely foil all of the current airport scanning technologies, as well as many future ones.Perhaps the solution for air travel in the age of perpetual terror will be to anaesthetise all airline passengers, place them in coffin-like life-support pods for the duration of their journey and reawaken them at the other end? That would also allow more passengers to be carried on a plane and eliminate the costs of food, drinks and in-flight entertainment, further cutting costs. Either that or resign ourselves to a certain proportion of flights being downed by terrorists (much in the way that people accept that a certain (much greater) proportion of road journeys end in fatal car accidents) and just regard it as the luck of the draw.
If you think you've had a bad week, spare a thought for Kate Moss. 48 hours ago, she was a supermodel; now, her career is over (three sponsors have dumped her like a hot potato; most recently, Burberry dropped her from their campaign, presumably to keep the evil of cocaine from being associated with the wholesome chav/townie culture), and now it looks like she stands to be prosecuted (after all, there is photographic evidence of her committing a crime, and not prosecuting her would send the message that celebrities are above the law, or at least above the drug laws), and possibly lose custody of her daughter. And now that the party's over, Pete Doherty is apparently no longer interested; I wonder if he helped himself to a few valuables on the way out the door.
Of course, the argument for not treating Moss leniently is that celebrities, being role models, should be held to a more exacting standard of conduct, and those who fall from this standard should be made examples of to deter impressionable youths from following in their errors. Of course, the current scheme, which depends wholly on tabloid newspapers sneaking in to studios to take surreptitious photographs, is somewhat patchy and inadequate. I modestly propose a better solution: random drug testing of celebrities.
Under this scheme, anyone who is a celebrity (defined by making more than a number of media appearances in a certain period) would be subject to random drug tests, much as athletes are. The tests would be administered by a new agency, which would be called something like the Celebrity Drug Authority or the Public Conduct Authority or somesuch. Testing positive for drug use, or failure to show up for testing, would result in disqualification from a number of professions, including top-tier fashion modelling, acting in films over a certain budget or performing in venues over a certain size; additionally, any recordings by those disqualified would be struck off commercial-radio playlists, and the press would be prohibited from giving publicity to them (so now, if the NME editors ran another piece on Pete Doherty, Dionysiac Genius of Rock, they could be prosecuted for contempt of court). Which sounds harsh, but it may be the only way to protect impressionable youth. Won't someone think of the children?
An Indian singer without a record deal is financing his career by selling shares in himself on eBay. £3,000 will get you 0.25% of Shayan's total earnings in music (including copyright and writing royalties).
"If you put £3,000 in me, and I sell 100,000 albums, you double your money," he added.
He pointed out that, while the investors were taking a big risk, they were getting investment in the copyright, which exists 70 years after his death in the UK, and 60 years in the US.Which sounds like an argument for perpetual copyrights; there is no reason for an artist to have the rights to their works for 70 years after their death, though if they can trade part of those rights away, they can make money earlier. And the longer the rights last, the more they're worth being traded away.
Though before embracing the new share-selling future, it may be worth considering the implications of such a model spreading. Imagine, in future, if instead of government-funded education (please stop laughing,
Americans Australians in the audience) or student loans, students wishing to undertake expensive university degrees sell shares in themselves. The shares entitle shareholders to a slice of one's future income. To protect their investment, shareholders have power of veto over lifestyle choices which may impair income; this can include everything from the ability to sue an asset who decides to get a tattoo to, if you're majority-owned by others than yourself, the ability to relocate you to a highly profitable hellhole where their investment can be maximised. Which sounds rather like a finer-grained slavery, though think of the efficiencies it'll bring into the marketplace.
Prediction: the next thing after Digital Rights Management will be Attention Rights Management.
Advertising is increasingly everywhere; the number of surfaces without advertising is diminishing. In the U.S., apparently petrol pumps have video screens which show ads now. They are even experimenting with advertisements printed on potato chips. And it is to be expected; any corporation that does not seek to extract the maximum value from its assets (including advertising opportunities) can expect to face lawsuits for negligence or mismanagement from shareholders. This means that, even things which are nominally paid for by a consumer (such as films, video games and, yes, potato chips) are being peppered with ads and product placement, because otherwise that would be an economic opportunity wasted, a big no-no under the dominant Reaganite/Thatcherite ideology of our time.
The next step will be for lawmakers to recognise that there is an implicit contractual obligation by consumers to view and pay attention to advertisements attached to any advertisement-supported service they receive, and to enshrine this in law and international treaties. After all, the business models of ad-supported content are dependent on the implicit agreement of the consumer to pay attention to the advertisements; if consumers were to systematically shirk this obligation, the industry would collapse. In other words, ad evasion is equivalent to intellectual property piracy (which is equivalent to currency counterfeiting, which is equivalent to economic terrorism, but I digress).
At first, this will be used to ban, DMCA-fashion, ad-blocking software and rogue ad-skipping video players. Then it will become more subtle; browser windows will go dark if the ad panes are covered by another window, for example. The technology of denying benefit to ad-dodgers will attract as much venture capital, startups, patents and snake-oil merchants as the quest for the perfect uncopyable CD has. Ultimately, computers and TVs (which, by then, will have converged, possibly on a centralised broadcast model) will have gaze-tracking cameras as standard, and Microsoft Windows 2012 or whatever will have a gaze-tracking API specificially designed to be useful for ad attention enforcement.
The BBC's online magazine invited readers to propose just punishments for social infractions:
Groups of three or more people who insist on occupying the entire width of the pavement and expect everyone and thing to manouvre around them should be forced to be hand-cuffed together for a further 24 hours. - Neil D, London
People who choose to sit right next to you on the train when there are free seats all around should be forced to have a fellow traveller accompanying them wherever they go for a day. - Lucy Larwood, UK
People who ware Burberry should have it tattooed onto their skin. - Alan Bowden, UK
An economic-rationalist arguments for why writing computer viruses should be punishable by death; it basically comes down to society getting more economic benefits from executing worm writers than from killing murderers. It reminds me a bit of the argument in K.W. Jeter's Noir about why copyright violation had to become punishable by death, and worse. (via Techdirt)
gonzo rant about critique of where the Forces Of Good's Iraq strategy falls down, and why attempts at recruiting idealistic young peacekeepers is exactly the wrong way to go about it:
The last kind of person we need in Iraq is a young, idealistic intellectual. These people make lousy conquerors, as was proven repeatedly in Vietnam. In colonial wars, what you really need to get the job done are efficient professional killers, like the French Foreign Legion or the Korean mercenaries we used in Indochina. People like this, when they go into a "problem" village, they dont spend a lot of time with the Inspector Closeau search for the hidden insurgents among them. They just chop everyones heads off and move on.
If you want to recruit killers for foreign conquest, you need to be able to offer them the three basics: treasure, murder and pussy. This is why Iraq is a dead end. There is no pussy in Iraq, absolutely none. No "me so horny" scenes will be shot in the inevitable Iraq movies. There is treasure, but the soldiers dont get any; you cant steal a sack full of oil. Impotent white guys in Texas get all the treasure, which must really piss off the soldiers. That leaves murder as the prize. And as is made clear in the Klein column, we are not making murder part of our sales pitch.
Mind you, actually conquering Iraq may be the wrong way to Win The War(tm):
A much simpler and significantly more profitable strategy would be to invade France and Germany and leave Afghani and Chechen sentries there to keep the peace. No more worries about Airbus contracts or the euro in that scenario. And with Shamil Basayev sitting in Jacques Chirac's office, it is hard to imagine domestic unrest being a serious problem. Beyond that, we wouldnt need to pay a ransom for our new mercenary security force: The women of France would be sufficient compensation for at least the first few years.
Was the UK's catastrophic loss in the Eurovision contest the result of European resentment of Britain's strong ties to the U.S.? The Graun suggests it might be. But what is Britain (the birthplace of laissez-faire capitalism, spiritual home of the Anglosphere and to America what Greece was to Rome) doing hanging around with those cheese-eating communist surrender monkeys in the first place?
Perhaps this is a clear sign that a closer union between Britain and the E.U. is a bad idea, and Britain (most of whose economy is run from the U.S. anyway) doesn't belong amongst the Euroweenies and should, in the immortal words of Vanilla Ice, ditch the zero and get with the hero: sever its ties with Brussels, make the pound sterling a denomination of the Greenback and seek union with the mainland of America. (Mind you, chances are only the crackpot fringe of the Conservative Party would actually advocate that; Washington certainly wouldn't, as London is useful for relaying orders to Brussels where it is right now. Besides, if Britons got the vote in Congress, they may object to their island being used as a missile shield for the continental 48 states and such, or even push to abolish the death penalty, liberalise drug laws, restrict assault rifle ownership or do other such outlandishly un-American things. 59 million new Americans would tend to skew things quite a bit, and possibly even threaten the Republicans' winning streak.)
Renaming French fries to "Freedom fries" is for sissies; why not eliminate all words of French origin from the English language, asks the Christian Science Monitor? (via MeFi) Ðough if we're going to do someþing like ðat, I prefer ðe idea of modernising Old English to bypass ðe Norman influence; ðat way we get ðose doovy þ and ð characters back. (Why should ðe Icelanders have ðem all to ðemselves?)
A left-wing thinktank in the UK has stated that parents should be given extra votes to cast on behalf of their children. (Which would have the effect of further disenfranchising non-breeders, who already subsidise the genetic vanity of the breeding majority with increased tax rates, but that's a different rant.) The Demos thinktank also proposed lowering the voting age to 14.
Under the "baby ballots" proposal, children would get voting rights from birth - with their parents choosing how to use their offspring's vote. When a child reaches 14, he or she would then cast votes for themselves.
(In the US, it is rumoured that the Bush administration is working on a similar plan, only votes will be given to fetuses from conception and automatically allocated to "pro-life" candidates. The Hagel Voting Machine Co. is believed to be involved at a high level.)
To commemorate the September 11 attacks and impress the might of America on all those who may seek to challenge it, a US radio talk show host has proposed moving the Prime Meridian to New York, and redrawing maps and calendars.
"I recommend that the Prime Meridian be moved to New York. Let's put it right down the middle of Ground Zero so all our enemies will know where our time begins. Instead of a polite English voice announcing the hour, we will use voices of the survivors of the terrorist attack. And every year, on the precise anniversary of the attack, we will stop time for a few minutes to honor the dead and force the whole world to mourn with us, whether they like it or not.
Which reads rather like Jonathan Swift combined with Ed Anger. (via bOING bOING)
Charlie Stross has a modest proposal: swap George W. Bush with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, for the mutual benefit of Britain and America.
An interesting piece about the dominance of English, and the efforts made to preserve other languages from its encroachment:
In Hong Kong, by contrast, the new, Chinese masters are promoting Cantonese, to the concern of local business. And in India some people see English as an oppressive legacy of colonialism that should be exterminated. As long ago as 1908 Mohandas Gandhi was arguing that "to give millions a knowledge of English is to enslave them." Ninety years later the struggle was still being fought, with India's defence minister of the day, Mulayam Singh Yadav, vowing that he would not rest "until English is driven out of the country". Others, however, believe that it binds a nation of 800 tongues and dialects together, and connects it to the outside world to boot.
(Psychoceramic speculation: perhaps someone should try something like that in Australia; what's the point of becoming a republic if we still speak the tongue of our colonial oppressors? It may be politically correct to adopt and adapt an Aboriginal language (as has been done with Hebrew and Icelandic) as "Australian"; a committee of fashionable academics, bureaucrats and special-interest groups could be appointed to supervise the development of the language.)
[T]he Icelanders have readily adopted alnaemi for "AIDS", skjar for "video monitor" and toelva for "computer". Why? Partly because the new words are in fact mostly old ones: alnaemi means "vulnerable", skjar is the translucent membrane of amniotic sac that used to be stretched to "glaze" windows, and toelva is formed from the words for "digit" and "prophetess". Familiarity means these words are readily intelligible. But it also helps that Icelanders are intensely proud of both their language and their literature, and the urge to keep them going is strong
[M]ultilingualism, a commonplace among the least educated peoples of Africa, is now the norm among Dutch, Scandinavians and, increasingly, almost everyone else. Native English-speakers, however, are becoming less competent at other languages: only nine students graduated in Arabic from universities in the United States last year, and the British are the most monoglot of all the peoples of the EU . Thus the triumph of English not only destroys the tongues of others; it also isolates native English-speakers from the literature, history and ideas of other peoples. It is, in short, a thoroughly dubious triumph. But then who's for Esperanto? Not the staff of The Economist, that's for sure