Links 10/28/10

Bird Hunted to Near Extinction Due to Infuriating “Fuck You” Call The Onion (hat tip Cedric Regula)

Chinese Supercomputer Wrests Title From U.S. New York Times

Automation Insurance: Robots Are Replacing Middle Class Jobs Good Business (hat tip reader May S)

Republicans Win House, Get No Mandate in Poll Favoring Clinton Bloomberg. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Republicans won’t care much about voter wishes if they do win the House.

Obama’s word cloud lambert strether

Panetta and Obama Gut CIA Oversight Truthout (hat tip reader May S)

Adviser to Consumer Agency Had Role in Lending New York Times. Reader John M noticed this looked like a hit piece, and it was: Raj Date Is The Best Thing To Happen To Consumers Since Elizabeth Warren Our Future (hat tip reader May S)

More on the media’s Pentagon-subservient WikiLeaks coverage Glenn Greenwald (hat tip reader Francois T). Wow, even by Greenwald take-not-prisoners standards, this is a brutally effective takedown.

Russia raises its price to rescue Nato from Afghan quagmire Independent (hat tip reader May S)

Euro stress links courtesy Richard Smith:

Talks on Portuguese budget collapse Financial Times

Irish Parliament To Debate EUR15B In 2011-2014 Budget Cuts Wall Street Journal

Checking in on the Hellenic Patient FT Alphaville

Foreclosure Lawyers Go to Max’s Farm for Edge Bloomberg. Where has the MSM been? We mentioned Max Gardner first nearly three months ago

Blackrock VP Editorial on Bankruptcy Reform for Foreclosure Fraud Crisis, Junior Lien Problems Mike Konczal

Bond Investors to Complain About Robo-Signing Costs Bloomberg. This is getting interesting.

Antidote du jour:

Picture 2

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  1. dearieme

    Ain’t WKPD wunnerful?
    “Toucans in their nests agree/Guinness is good for you/Try some today and see/What one or toucan do.”

  2. Toby

    Re: “Automation Insurance: Robots Are Replacing Middle Class Jobs”

    An important article, but this paragraph parroting orthodoxy caught my eye:

    “Economists will remind you that new technologies create new jobs as they destroy old ones. That’s true. When you have robots, you need robotics engineers. But those aren’t going to be mid-range jobs.”

    It’s not untrue, it’s just that the amount of work needed from robotics engineers, relative to the amount of work that can be performed by the robots, is the important factor. The ratio that matters is what proportion of exclusively human labour do we now need to power the economy, to provide humanity with what it needs, and how is that ratio changing?

    The rest of the article details important advances, which together spell the end of the current labour-for-wage system. Seeing as perpetual GDP growth is also untenable; seeing as the human world desperately needs a new money system; seeing as we could massively simplify law, tax, and much else besides to render even those lawyer and accountant jobs ever less needed; seeing as a saner and healthier society would necessarily mean less sickness doctors too (in all their forms) would be less needed, and so on, the time for profoundly radical change is upon us. TPTB will not deal with this. They cannot, since it spells their end. But neither can they stop it.

    Rough weather ahead, folks…

    1. Keenan

      RE: Robots in the workplace

      See the HRP-4 bipedal factory robot.

      So, how do humans compete with machines? By genetic enhancement? By merging with them, which then begs the question: Would that enhanced entity still be human?
      The future increasingly looks to be that envisioned by Sun Microsystems’ Bill Joy, in his landmark WIRED Aug 2000 article: “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”

      1. alex

        “So, how do humans compete with machines?”

        We need more humans like John Henry, but I admit it’s hard to compete against those new-fangled steam hammers.

      2. Cedric Regula

        I think initially in the US, bipedal robots will replace football, baseball, and basketball players because economic payback can be achieved in 1-2 months. As their prices drop, they will eventually gain notice from the defense industry. But see Sci-Fi channel’s remake of “Battlestar Galaga” for the potential downside of building indestructible military robots. Or the movie, “The Terminator”.

    2. alex

      And those new powered looms and spinning machines are going to put lots of people out of work. Calling Ned Ludd …

      Not that technological displacement isn’t a problem that has to be dealt with, but when in the last two hundred years would the phrase “new technology imperils jobs” not have been true?

      And please don’t say that this time it’s different. The Luddites would have said the same thing. How many teamsters (real teamsters, driving teams of horses) and bargemen were put out of work by the railroads? How many craftsmen were put out of work by the factory system of the latter 19th century? How many work hours were saved (and hence at least potential jobs eliminated) by the all-time biggest innovation in factory productivity, the assembly line? How many jobs are there for switchboard operators these days? The introduction of direct dialing put them out of work. How many industrial workers lost their jobs because of the new-fangled numerical controlled tools of the 1950’s?

      The idea that this time it’s different or that the pace of technological change has dramatically increased recently comes from a combination of historical ignorance and egocentricism. Past generations saw changes like railroads, steam ships, mechanical harvesters, the telegraph, electrification, factories and airliners whose effect was at least as great as, and arguably much greater, than computers, robots, cell phones and the Internet. It doesn’t seem that way to people today because they grew up with what were “disruptive technologies” to previous generations. One generation’s revolution is the next generation’s ordinariness.

      1. Toby

        This time it is different. Except it’s not that it’s ‘different,’ it’s that the process is continual, though fitful, and ever-changing. You’re right, it’s always different. It’s an ongoing battle presenting different challenges every time. The degree to which human abilities are automatable/replaceable is increasing, and the human has a finite range of abilities, as an economy has a limit to how far it can grow, certainly in terms of goods, probably also services. Unemployment is increasingly a problem at levels and stickiness which are new. Back in the early 1900s unemployment over 1 or 2% was quite uncommon, now that would be an impossibility, without radical adjustments to how we organize economic activity.

        Another aspect of this which is new is the monetary incentive for creative work does not work (see e.g. Dan Pink at Money motivates manual labour and non-creative work effectively, but the type of work remaining for humans as this process progresses will be increasingly creative, which is a ‘new’ challenge. Technological unemployment/displacement happens, as you accept, and brings about challenges which require adaptations. I don’t believe humans are going to become redundant to themselves, that would of course be plain silly, but I do believe the challenges presented by robotics and other high tech developments require very deep adjustments indeed. Because this will not be addressed sufficiently openly, this transition will be particularly rough, and global too.

        1. alex

          “I do believe the challenges presented by robotics and other high tech developments require very deep adjustments”

          That’s likely true, but it was also true of past changes. In the 19th century we went from a world in which almost all food was produced by local farmers harvesting by hand, to one in which staples like grain and meat were routinely shipped a thousand miles or more. Those midwestern farmers and western ranchers sold most of their product to folks back east, and that arrangement was only practical because of the railroads. Similarly for craftsmen being largely replaced by the factory system. The Old West was actually on the economic cutting edge – they shipped food thousands of miles and brought in factory made goods from just as far away. In fact many markets were international and trans-oceanic. The western ranchers were often bankrolled by British financiers who imported food into Britain.

          “the type of work remaining for humans as this process progresses will be increasingly creative”

          Depends on what you mean by creative. Isn’t being a stage actor creative? How many were put out of work by movies and TV? How many local storytellers were displaced by inexpensive mass-produced books read by a newly literate population?

          1. Toby

            I agree with everything you say, even that each time is different, but to make myself a little clearer, this is the most profound challenge to the labour-for-wage model yet faced, and it comes at a time when other aspects of capitalism/socialism/scarcity-based models are under similarly weighty challenges. I’m not saying; “poor us, machines are taking over, boo hoo!” I’m saying the depth of change needed to deal with this aspect, and others of even greater import, is unprecedented, and they all feed into one another.

            Where I strongly disagree with you is in the implication of your apparent position that the one thing that won’t change is labour-for-wage, because society always found new employment in the past. As you well know, that does not mean it will continue that way for ever, or even this time. In fact, that’s not an argument, it’s merely the pointing out of an historical pattern.

            The other issue I have is this: you seem to be saying it’s not a problem because it’s always a problem, which is a contradiction.

          2. alex

            “this is the most profound challenge to the labour-for-wage model yet faced”

            That boils down to “this time it’s different”.

            “and it comes at a time when other aspects of capitalism/socialism/scarcity-based models are under similarly weighty challenges”

            And that’s new? 1848. 1870. 1917. 1949. Socialism, communism and anarchism were often seen as the unavoidable way of the future in the latter 19th century.

            One place that I do agree is different is the adverse ecological impact. Not so much resource exhaustion, as we’ve dealt with that many times. A wood shortage led to the use of coal, a magnetite (iron ore) shortage led to the use of taconite, etc. Rather I’m more concerned with wholesale ecological devastation, as in global warming, destruction of the oceans, soil erosion, etc. Ecological devastation has often occurred locally (Easter Island anyone) but it’s a lot worse on a global scale. For all the sci-fi stories told, we still only have one earth available.

            “Where I strongly disagree with you is in the implication of your apparent position that the one thing that won’t change is labour-for-wage”

            I never implied that. In fact I’ll note that labor for wage was a far less widely used model before the 19th century. There is nothing historically “normal” about labor for wage. Independent farmers and craftsmen were far more common than today, and the hired help were either people working their way up or considered ne’er-do-wells. I don’t know what comes next. The problem was averted for decades by reductions in working hours. Will another one do the trick for a while? When will we move to a new model, and what will it be? I don’t know.

            “In fact, that’s not an argument, it’s merely the pointing out of an historical pattern.”

            You can argue anything you want, and if you’re good at debate, you can always convince some people. Historical patterns though are the only empirical evidence we have when dealing with history, and hence the future. As in any attempt to view things scientifically, clever theories are a dime-a-dozen, but ones that jive with many examples of reality are a lot harder to come by.

            “you seem to be saying it’s not a problem because it’s always a problem, which is a contradiction”

            No, I’m saying that it’s not a _new_ problem, although it’s often portrayed as such. Because it isn’t novel, and it’s been dealt with before, I have more confidence that we can deal with it again than if it was a completely novel problem.

          3. Toby

            This might surprise you Alex, but I think we agree generally–we can overcome these challenges in all sorts of ways–but disagree in tone as to the depth of the “this time” element. Each time is unique, that’s a given, as each time is challenging, else it wouldn’t be a problem to be overcome. On this particular occasion though, the breadth and depth of challenges confronting the current model are unprecedented. I stand by that assessment.

            Because we have ecological destruction, because we have peak oil conjoined to vested interests who do not want to give up any of their power, because we have a global monetary system which necessitates perpetual GDP growth regardless of the health of ecosystems, our chances of pulling through this problem-cluster are lower than before. That’s my general point. We also have a very dumbed-down populace, pretty much the world over, and that does not help. That technological unemployment is likely the least of these challenges, does not mean it is insignificant. Your counterarguments strongly imply it is nothing to worry about, but that may be a problem of internet debate, which is always bitty and bumpy.

            That said, in this exchange, all in all, I feel I’ve come to understand your position a little better, and have learned from you too. That’s a good thing! (-:

        2. Keenan


          I suggest one aspect of the world today that is “different” than that of past crises is the absence of a frontier – a new horizon with potential resources to harness and opportunities for the adventurous and those seeking a second chance. Kennedy may have had some idea of this in his reference to space as the “new frontier”. Unfortunately that frontier is less accessible and more inhospitable than Antarctica.

          1. alex

            I don’t think those frontiers were as much of a safety valve as they’re sometimes made out to be. The number of people who moved to the Old West was relatively small, for example.

          2. Keenan

            Not initially, of course. But the pioneers homesteaded and discovered the resources, the army displaced the natives, infrastructure was built, the resources were developed, etc. Each phase motivated additional settlers to exploit new opportunities.

          3. alex

            In other words, there was economic growth. To go back to my Old West example, there was also enormous economic growth in the east.

      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        You have to wonder if they didn’t succeed with railroads, steam ships, mechanical harvesters, the telegraph, electrification, factories and airliners the last time, perhaps they will this time with computers, rogots, cell phones and the Internet.

        If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

        It’s with dedication like this that Luddites’ technogological opponents, the Anti-Luddites, hope that it will be different this time…that this time, they really can put a lot of people out of work.

        And if they don’t succeed, well, they will try again.

        Eventually, they dream on, one day, under the Grand Unification Theory That Explains Everything, one self-repairing/self regenerating machine and its Anti-Luddite inventor can provide everthing humans will ever need. There will be no need for human labor, not even its inventor.

        (PS, that would make a good sci-fi. All I ask is recognition and perhaps a little compensation)

        In any case, it’s quite possible that we are not dealing with a linear phenomenon here but a curvilinear one, and as the Anti-Luddites get less clumsy with their schemes, at the end, one Anti-Luddite will succeed and it will really be different that time, and one machine will replace us all. This would be one reductio ad absurdum scenario.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            General ideas like that.

            I am thinking more along the line of a specific novel where you have a machine that can make everything you want…food, medicine, etc., and looks at what the world would be like with such a machine – it makes and dispense aspirin, bread, milk, etc.

            There is no work left for anyone.

            Do we have peace or do we have chaos?

            Does its inventor use it to rule the world? Do people rise to make sure resources are distributed equally after gaining control of the machine? Will some want to steal it back to rule the world again?

          2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            It would like even though the idea of black idea is already there, you could still have a new idea for a sci-fi novel blending in the idea of black hole.

        1. alex

          “the Anti-Luddites, hope that it will be different this time”

          Who are these evil people? Nobody wants to put people out of work, they just want other people to work for dirt.

          P.S. Are you game for reverting to a pre-industrial revolution way of life? Much fancy spending 12 hours a day in the hot sun behind the business end of a horse drawn plow? Come to think of it, that new-fangled horse technology could put a lot of people out of work too, so better you just get a hoe.

          “one self-repairing/self regenerating machine … that would make a good sci-fi. All I ask is recognition …”

          Sorry, that’s been done many times. Maybe you owe royalties for using that theme?

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            ” Nobody wants to put people out of work, they just want other people to work for dirt.”

            Maybe someone can tackle this one.

  3. Ina Deaver

    Who watches the watchers? Who will point out, on a national stage, what has happened with the New York Times and all of the other corporate papers? Why do we get these hit pieces, one after another, of anyone who threatens the bad guys even remotely?

    I’m with you: it’s starting to feel like someone who was conspiracy minded could make a case. Of course, I firmly believe in never attributing to malice what can be amply explained by stupidity. I suppose it’s the old adage about not understanding something that would destroy your job if you understood it: the corporations that own these outlets wouldn’t be happy if their reporters suddenly understood where their interests should lie.

  4. LeeAnne

    Automation Insurance: Robots Are Replacing Middle Class Jobs

    Addressing this challenge requires a response more profound than tweaking the tax code or extending unemployment benefits. But it also provides us with an exciting opportunity.

    WRONG: tweaking the tax code has been very profound and continues to be. Skewing and destroying rule of law, particularly securities law and election law and the supreme court seems to have benefited the top 1% to an obscene level on the backs of hundreds of millions of consumers in America and worldwide who have been given the power to tear up the American constitution and rape its legacy so a few guys and gals can build $35 Million second homes with an army of laborers around to manage it.

    It doesn’t get more profound -or stupid than that.

  5. Timmy

    This is the first time I’ve seen Elizabeth Warren’s name in print in weeks. It’s like she joined the Obama administration and then fell into a black hole.

    1. Jack Parsons

      She is speaking tonight in Berkeley, CA. Possibly it’s a ground game.

      If she wants to evade Brooksley Born syndrome, she’ll need to be a really brutal bureaucratic infighter. Power is not given; it is taken. I hope she has a new way to take it.

  6. i on the ball patriot

    For Bob and Skippy on the Stewart thread, comment would not go through …

    Lackey sell out rich boy ASSHOLE Jon Stewart has always been a shill for the hijacked system. That so many view him as an ally and a champion is testimony to the power of Mr. Global Propaganda and the Aggregate Generational Corruption of the rich.

    I wonder if any Nazi comedians helped Hitler gloss over the numbers of those being driven to the death camps …

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  7. dianeb

    The New York Times has a piece on Spain’s foreclosure process and how the buyers are on the hook for the sale price plus court fees and other foreclosure costs. They’ll be working for the banks forever, as mortgage debt is specifically excluded from bankruptcy.

    What really caught my attention was the interesting line, expressed by Zapatero and others in the article, that these personal guarantees kept the banks from going through the same crises as happened in the US. That has got to be one of the biggest examples of asinine reasoning I’ve ever read: “we destroyed the people to save the banks–smoke and mirrors, us?”

    I’m thinking the Spanish economy is about go into a long, slow period like no other they’ve seen–if you’re paying off a house you lost 25 years ago, then you’re not buying much else.

  8. LeeAnne

    Well –I read all the comments -they were so interesting that I decided, against my instincts to avoid it, to look at the videos myself.

    A few seconds in as Obama grinned and Jon motioned for him to have a seat I couldn’t take it. This lack of dignity is unacceptable and makes the US look ever more stupid and irresponsible.

    Much as I enjoy Jon Stewart and believe in his work with its ability to show truth in an entertaining way with the added punch of satire, seeing the POTUS putting himself in the position of being interviewed on a comedy show, regardless of the merits of the show, puts me in the same extremely uncomfortable position, the same feeling of nausea produced over the denigration of the office of the presidency by Republicans against Clinton porno perverts.

    NO dignity -no authority- no real power other than to mock the constitution, the country, its legacy and the American people before the whole world. REVOLTING.

  9. EmilianoZ

    The Glenn Greenwald piece is great. Shows you what an utter piece of trash the NYT is. Can’t wait for the day it declares bankruptcy.

  10. Anonymous Jones

    Brutally effective is correct, Yves. Greenwald just *destroys* Burns. If it were a fight, they would have stopped the thing in the third paragraph, and even then, the paramedics would have been racing into the ring just to make sure Burns was still alive.

    Of course, none of this matters. Most people, Burns included, are too attached to their perspective to let mere facts and logic get in the way. That’s what so interesting about a thrashing like Greenwald gave. It couldn’t be done better, and it’s still almost totally useless. I wonder if anyone who didn’t already suspect the truth was convinced by the piece. I doubt it. The universe is a strange place indeed.

  11. Thomas Barton, JD

    The NyTimes article on the chinese supercomputer is another echo of the early 1950’s Bomber Gap and the late 1950’s Missile Gap. Neither actually existed except Grossly in Our Favor. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory leads much research on maintaining our Nuclear Stockpile. They employ supercomputers to do this. Much of their ability is classified. They do publish a good newsletter and from this alone their work will leapfrog the Chinese by the spring.

    1. alex

      No, the problem with an arms race is that leaves neither side better off. Other technology races have the potential to leave everyone better off. Competition is useful, as long as it’s not a competition to see who can destroy the world first.

    2. DF

      Not to denigrate China’s accomplishment (this looks like a very impressive accomplishment), but you might be right to an extent.

      A lot of the peak performance is due to the heavy use of GPUs in this system. More realistic applications might not perform nearly as well on this machine as they would on more “conventional” supercomputers.

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