Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Always Look on the Bright Side of Subsidies


Part 3 of a series.

When Brian was nailed to the cross in the 1st century Roman province of Judea, a thief is alleged to have told him to cheer up, and remember to "always look on the bright side of life".

With that thought in mind, lets review some of the effects, or affects as it may be, of international subsidies and tax exemptions on the industry of visual effects and try to find our silver lining. Sure, the American industry has been crushed and there is massive unemployment in this country and misery. But its not all bad. Here are a few ideas I have come up with and submit for your consideration why this might have some "socially positive" aspects.

1. The tax exemptions and subsidies may result in better films.

It is possible that many of these movies that are made under this system are better because of these subsidies and tax exemptions. Often movies want more visual effects than they can afford. With subsidies, which result in a lower price for the effects, it is possible that producers choose to spend the same amount of money as before but get more work for their money. In the rare case where visual effects actually contribute to the quality of the film instead of being merely stupid, this could result in a better film. To the extent that you believe that the cinema has a role to play in our culture and civilization, then certainly having better films is good for all of us.

2. The tax exemptions and subsidies may result in more films.

The same argument as above but elaborated to include that some films which may not be completely financed and would not ordinarily be made, but under this system do get made either because the discount given to effects encourages the investors to believe that the film is less of a risk, or maybe just lowers the cost of the effects element sufficiently to make the entire budget achievable. In any case, under this scenario, we would get some films that otherwise we would not see at all under the free market, and if the films are good, then we all, theoretically, benefit.

3.Through adversity, character and moral fiber is enhanced.

How lucky are the poor for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven!   Of course they will be dead by then, as I understand the way this works, but still its something to look forward to.  They will have an opportunity before that to learn new skills and work in new industries!  This is America so anything could happen.  They could learn to clean out old sewage lines while their wife and children work in under-regulated garment production, showing great initiative by working 12 hours a day 7 days a week for less than minimum wage.  You know, like minority groups in this country have to do.  Their children could drop out of school and help support their parents by programming stupid web pages for the Internet.  Anything could happen because this is America and both initiative and hard work are ALWAYS rewarded, I hear.

4. Relentlessly competitive, they live by the sword and die by the sword

The companies that went under were not always the nicest companies, made up of decent human beings, or anything like that.  These are/were fairly vicious competitors in a field that shows or showed no mercy.  So they got outmaneuvered and destroyed by structural elements beyond their control, but some of that is their responsibility for failing to deal with the political issues.  We should not weep bitter tears for them.  These companies were for the most part not centers of idealism, good will or progressive anything.     Most of them were snake pits of politics to say the least.    

5. The government subsidies may lead to a more stable industry.

Everyone knows that visual effects companies are (or were) flaky.  The studios would brag about how they put their subcontractors out of business.  So why not just use companies that are supported by other people's tax dollars or supported by large corporations?   These companies are likely to be more reliable and they will complain less than the whiny locals.

6. Failure to organize was a strategic mistake and you lost.

The failure of the digital artists to organize and stand up for their rights,  to get the government to pay attention to them the way their British, N. Zealand and Canadian comrades were able to, led inevitably to the doom of the American worker in this industry. See what "not making waves" gets you. To this day the American worker, the so-called "digital artist", still have not organized.  Of course, at this point getting organized probably would not help, but it couldn't hurt.  Compromised, confused,  and unwilling to do the right thing, so now they suffer what the "free market", quote end quote, under Mercantilism (I mean Globalization, excuse me, I must have forgotten), buys them: a one way trip to the unemployment line. (1)

7. Why not emigrate ?

Why not apply for a junior position in England? Sell your house, leave your kids, or uproot them from school, live in a shared, shitty apartment in London.  After spending 20 years of your life working your way up in the field, you are now unemployed and unemployable in an industry that arguably you helped invent.   Why not apply?  What do you have to lose?  You might get the job. Maybe. Probably not, though.

So what is the problem here? Maybe no problem at all. The "free market" (wink wink) just has winners and losers and overall maybe the industry is stronger and the films are better. After all, the government of those three countries are pouring big money into it, putting their wallets where their mouth is so to speak. So if the US of A fails to respond and it screws the little guy, who cares? The big film companies still make money, more money than ever in fact, and if it is at the expense of the worker or of the people who invented the field, well in America that is just too bad.

In Hearts of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, our narrator says to himself, "He wanted no more than justice. No more than justice!"

Grow up, you're in Hollywood now, and this is what we call justice in this town.

_______________________________________________
The Roman Province of Judea

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

________________________________________________

Notes:

1. A corollary to this is the failure of "magical thinking".  I have had 20 year professionals in the field tell me with a straight face that studios were going to start giving points of their films to visual effects studios "just because".   Thats just crazy, completely disconnected from reality.  Thats my point, the so called digital artists here, who along with the local production companies are now unemployed, are guilty of the worst kind of magical thinking.

Revised 1/12/2014

Sunday, December 29, 2013

More Procrastination Ideas: The Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States


The Atlas of Historical Geography of the United States was written by Charles Paullin, a historian for the US Navy, between 1912 and 1932 and is considered a classic of the genre. The University of Richmond (yes, Richmond Virginia) has put it online for your enjoyment.


Presidential Election of 1892

You think you know American history?  You think you know where this country came from and how it has acted in the past?   Ha, I say.   Although this atlas will not reveal all the dirt, not by any means, many of the complications and contradictions that make America the great, misunderstood, and completely weird place that it is are present in this atlas, if sometimes between the lines.

There are several areas that are particularly valid for this self-study of your own nation, but lets examine two of them: the section on political elections showing who voted for whom in a presidential election, and the section on the American territories as it evolved.

These maps must be read with a nuanced eye.   Recall that we are a representative democracy, so they say, which means that we elect people to represent us in Washington indirectly, we do not elect the President directly, for example.  Although somewhat true this picture has changed over time and you may wish to review the rules by which the Senate and the POTUS (president of the United States, as it is abbreviated in certain circles) are elected.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate

Now, my fellow citizens, go to the Atlas and review the various presidential elections and who voted for whom.   Consider as you do so some of the following: the history of the so-called Blue and Red states, who or what was the Anti-Masonic party, why were there two Democratic candidates in 1860 who split the vote and elected that Republican Abraham Lincoln (yes, the man who "freed the slaves" quote end quote was a Republican, kindof hard to believe, isn't it), what was the Progressive Party and why was Roosevelt running under that Party label?

Notice how many elections the name "Roosevelt" appears.  So far as I know there were only two Roosevelt's in the history of the Presidency, yet between the two of them, Theodore and FDR, we get quite a few elections.   Bully !  Maybe what we need today is a third Roosevelt?

For your information, the "Anti Masonic" Party was our first third party in America and was devoted to exposing and removing the secret influence of "Freemasonry" on our government.  Ha. Obviously, they failed.

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Masonic_Party

On a more practical level, and for those who are interested in military history, the Atlas has such gems as the state of the transportation and postal routes right before the War of the American Revolution.  Its remarkably sparse, basically a single route from north to south.

Probably the subject with the most potential for nuance (e.g. hidden crimes) involves the territorial expansion of the United States and the issues of the Native Americans. Or is it the issue of our relations with Mexico?   There are so many to choose from, I don't where to begin.   

So be sure to check out this website and keep your favorite search engine handy for research.  Its for your own good.  Trust me.


States, Territories and Cities, long ago


The University of Richmond

The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond

Recent Events in International Finance and Visual Effects


This is part two of a series on recent events in the area of international finance and government subsidies that affect the business of visual effects.   This process has been going on for at least 15 years and it has severely affected the existence and survival of visual effects companies.  The events that I describe here, some of them a continuation of older policies and some of them new initiatives, will have a structural impact on the visual effects industry in the world for years to come.

It is probably helpful to recall that it is only since the early 1980's that visual effects has been significant enough to attract government attention.  It was Star Wars (1978) that started the process, but it was sometime in the mid-1980's that the scale of the industry started to increase.  It was the tsunami of shit that came from the digital take-over of visual effects in the early 1990's that increased the scope of visual effects and trendiness thereof such that this industry was seen as a likely subject of tax exemptions and subsidies to increase and control employment within a national film community.  Keep in mind, that at various times over the last 15 years, there have been thousands of people paid roughly $100K / year working in this industry.   Perhaps as many as 5-7 thousand people, although this number is not formally known to the best of my knowledge, and it includes to some extent the people who were working in "feature length computer animation" as distinct from visual effects.  Thus, the real numbers are probably not as high as suggested here, but are very substantial.  We are talking about 1000's of people in the Los Angeles and San Francisco area who have lost their jobs as a result of these subsidies.

So keep in mind as you read about these events that the story did not begin this year, but that all of these events probably have a background and history that I know nothing, or very little, about.   Also, we are relying on the popular press to describe these events and so we can be sure that the information is at best incomplete, if not entirely misleading.

All of these events described below have had or will have a very negative impact on the existence and future of visual effects in this country.  However, every silver lining has a cloud and in another post in this series, I will go over some of the reasons that these subsidies and tax allowances can be seen in a positive light, as long as you have no intention of working in the field in America or to make a living here.  Only a very few people in this country should be expected to work unless they are a visual effects supervisor, if then.

1.  The European Union extends rules on subsidies

The European Union has decided to extend and expand their rules on subsidizing domestic film production. Now up to 50% of a film may be financed by that government. Governments may require that 50 to 80 percent of the subsidized amount be spent within the country. A few months ago, France threatened to boycott talks between the US and the EU until this sector was exempted from the negotiations. In other words, they will not permit discussions with the United States in this area. How that boycott fits in with other international trade agreements on economic subsidies will require more investigation.

Read more:


2. The UK Special Effects Industry gets a tax relief plan

The UK Government has agreed to change the rules to make it easier for American producers to receive tax credit for work done in the UK. I don't believe these are new subsidies per se, but I think it addresses the issues whereby certain producers were not qualifying for the credits even though they were doing some of the work in the UK. The article in the Guardian seems to think that it is primarily the visual effects sector that will benefit.  The amount of rebate seems to be about 25% reduction in taxes for eligible projects, so the kind of numbers we are talking about here are significant.  See


3. Jim Cameron receives large New Zealand subsidy for 'Avatar 2 and 3', will do all visual effects work in New Zealand

The Avatar films are huge and would normally be broken up among many facilities. But now that New Zealand has put in a large chunk of cash, both films in their entirety will have their effects done at WETA in New Zealand, at least as large a project as Lord of The Rings was for them.

Read more here:


To these events we need to recall that (a) the ongoing Canadian rebates for work done in their country, up to 40% of the amount spent, (b) Other countries such as India and China have made substantial efforts in this area although not formal subsidies to the best of my knowledge (India has very liberal "intern" laws that allows entire crews to be hired and not paid in order to "get the experience"), China has set up a 2,500 person 3D studio in Beijing in order to educate their own workers), (c) special subsidies by the New Zealand government to the Peter Jackson projects, all of which are major visual effects projects done at WETA in New Zealand.

From the point of view of a film producer, this is all good.  Talking some innocent investor out of their money to help finance a film, especially when they get nothing in return (e.g. no points in the film), is part of the Producer's job.  If New Zealand wants to give Mr. Cameron 500 million dollars over 6 years (or whatever the amount will be) why not ?

These events, which all represent long term structural changes to the "free market", means that in the fiercely competitive visual effects industry, any company that lacks one or more of these advantages will not be able to compete.   Which is exactly what we see today.   Asylum, Rhythm and Hues, VIFX/Video Image, The Orphanage, most of Sony Imageworks not to mention many other smaller companies have gone away.   Others, such as Digital Domain and Tippet, are clearly marginal.

ILM is a bit of a mystery to me.  They seem to be hanging in there, and of course they have the new Star Wars films from their parent company, Disney.

Here are some conclusions and questions:

1. The collapse of visual effects in this country is a result of structural changes in the international community which are beyond the ability of any company to deal with.  

2. This collapse has resulted in the unemployment of thousands of people on the West Coast, some of whom have moved to other industries, some have gotten jobs overseas if they could.

3. You should expect this process to continue with more visual effects companies in this country going out of business or moving overseas.

4. Any discussion of unemployment or the "business model being broken" that does not take into account the primary cause of government subsidies and tax exemptions is worthless.

5. Globalization is just Mercantilism by another name.  Our government could do something about this if they cared, but they do not care.

For those of you who believe that there is nothing our country could do to change this situation, please take the time to read any economic history of the last few hundred of years.  There are many things that countries can do in these circumstances, if they care to.

_____________________________________________________

1. In the early days of computer animation, many of us were not aware that "computer animation" and "visual effects" were completely different industries.  To us it looked nearly the same thing with a tremendous overlap of technologies and skills.  Well, yes and no, but mostly no.   I will write a post on the issues here at some point.  They are not subtle and its an example of how naive some of us were.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The American Tradition of Christmas and the Mystery of the Aluminum Christmas Tree


Since most of what American's think they know about this tradition of Christmas is mostly wrong, I am repeating a report on the topic, the history of the American tradition of Christmas.  It should not surprise anyone to know that this tradition as we know it is rather recent, even though it contains some much older elements.



http://globalwahrman.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-american-tradition-of-christmas-and.html

Monday, December 23, 2013

Vast Government Subsidies Are as American as Apple Pie

[Do not forget that the VFX Bake Off will be Jan 9 at the usual place and the usual time].

There has been a lot of discussion recently about various government subsidies and tax incentives to filmmakers who do certain kinds of production or post-production work in that country. The country that offers such benefits is in effect co-financing a film with their tax dollars, and in return, sees employment and other benefits brought to a very prestigious industry in their country that might not otherwise be able to compete internationally.

As always, in matters of this type, subsidies are not the sole cause of the situation. None of this would really happen if the industries in the subsidized countries did not demonstrate skill in the areas involved. In many cases, such as the case of the UK and London, there is a long-standing community there that is highly esteemed. Nevertheless, that industry is greatly nurtured and supported by their government's actions on their behalf.

Furthermore, let us not be naive.  This did not just happen.  The local industries have been working with their respective governments to get these advantages.  And can we perhaps suspect that producers and studios have also used their persuasive ways to encourage these governments to shower their beneficence upon them?  Yes, of course they have.  That's their job.  (2)

In the last month or so, three major events have occurred that will likely determine the fate of the motion picture visual effects industries in various nations for the better part of the upcoming decade. All three events are structural and examples of how governments manipulate trade and industry in their perceived national interest.  This is something we, the USA, does whenever it is convenient for us to do so, a topic I will expound upon in an upcoming post.  (1)

The net result over the medium term is that the American effects industry will continue to be destroyed, and that work will pass to three other nations which will develop the technology, employ the people, receive the money, the awards and the careers that come with it.

The issues involved in this matter are far too complicated to put in a single blog post at this time. The best I can do, with my other responsibilities, is to break it into about 5 posts on various topics in this larger subject. The topics will include (a) what has just happened that will set the stage for the next decade, (b) what the effect the actions will have on the domestic visual effects industry, (c) some of the history of international trade and preferential subsidies and other means and (d) the argument will be made that change will only be possible by organizing and working within the political system that exists in this country.

Failure to organize and express our interests politically, which is the current state of things, will result in the destruction of the American industry. Actually that destruction is nearly complete as it is, so the best that could be affected is perhaps a renaissance of those industries.

Without political action, there is not a prayer of success.

Next: Three recent events

___________________________________________________________

1. But if you want a taste of it, see to what extent our government is involved in the creation and current success of the aerospace industry.  This is not subtle.

2. Their job, generally speaking, is to make money by making entertainment product.  They make money a number of ways, but one way is to lower the costs of any given production.  If someone wants to give money, why not?




Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stupidity on the Internet: Is Quora the New Stupid?


This post is part of a series on the topic of Stupidity on the Internet.   There is so much material there to discuss!

One of the great things about the maturing of the Internet and the creation of vast wealth for a small number of criminals like the guy who runs Facebook, is that we no longer have to worry about any bullshit from right wingers about how "capitalism rewards merit".   Theft of ideas, sure, always rewarded.  Bad user interface design, absolutely.  Rewarded a billion times over.   Criminally stupid and obnoxious?  You bet!

But how stupid are people who are financed with hundreds of millions of dollars to steal money on the Internet?  Very stupid indeed.

Take for example, Quora.  No link provided, you want to talk to these morons, type in the link yourself.

I am surprised that Quora has not gone public and made 100 billion dollars like Facebook. They are eminently qualified.

Quora spammed me to tell me that a friend had provided an answer to a question about the future of Bitcoin. Ok, I said, I'll bite. Lets go see what my friend has to say. So I click on the link and ... Quora starts demanding answers to questions. Here are fifty topics we think you are interested in: Dick size in pygmies, dress lengths in Zimbabwe, How to Roast Pig, How to Castrate Pigs, How to Spam Your Friends and Make Money. All topics that have nothing to do with the link. And this goes on and on, without an option to "skip".

But best of all. Best, best, best of all:

It refuses, absolutely refuses, to let me see my friend's response.

So Quora, lets be clear: Fuck you. Never talk to me again.

This leads me to a practical suggestion for web browsers.   I need an easier way to block sites, and an easier way to suggest to friends that they also block web sites.   I understand that stupid companies are what the Internet is all about.  I understand that stupid companies is what Wall Street throws money at.  No problem there.  I just want to make it easier to make it clear I want them to go away and never, ever give a web hit to support their stupidity.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The North Korean Style of Insult


It would seem that the art of insulting people and character assassination has gone downhill in recent years with nowhere near the elegance and power that it has had in the past.   This great art is a pale shadow of its former greatness, at least here in the West.

A repetitive use of simple slurs, repeated over and over again, has become the standard fare when insulting someone's personality, ethics and morality. The same old watered down insults generally applied in a very generic form merely demonstrates the intellectual bankruptcy and shallowness of the would-be character assassin.   How many times have we heard "He's an asshole. What a shithead. Scumbag!   Moron!"   These insults have no originality, they are mere placeholders for what used to be an honored part of rhetoric.

This decline may or may not be of practical importance depending on what field you are in, as some fields make more use of the insult and verbal backstabbing than others.  The culturally important field of visual effects and animation is known throughout the world for the shallow insults members of the field shower on each other.  Only paleontology is believed to be more verbally vicious and cutthroat.

This decay of this formerly great artform is just one example of the general collapse of America which can be seen in so many areas of our culture.  Whether the area is pop music for underage girls, pulp novels, sexist imagery or drive-in movies, all of these genres have lost much of their integrity and vigor.   Still, we must do what we can to shore up what is left and try to move on.

As is often the case when we have a civilization in collapse, the collapse is fortunately uneven and there continue to be regions that have maintained the art and sciences of the past with great integrity. Although the American style of insult and sarcasm have not been preserved to the best of my knowledge, other cultures have preserved their own traditions in this area.   If we are willing to let go of some of our pride we can learn from some of our neighbors to our benefit.

One esteemed style of insult, one of the greatest in history, was created during the Cold War by the various Communist governments. Although almost all the former practitioners of this style have abandoned their own traditions in their haste to embrace capitalism, one country has stood firm and maintained its traditions.  And that country is none other than the proud but misunderstood nation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as led by their Dear Leader Kim Sung-un.

Just recently I came across a fine example of this art when I read about the purge of Kim Sung-un's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, formerly the second most powerful person in the DPRK.   Tears came to my eyes as I read the announcement of Jang's execution so struck was I by the sincerity and venom of the text.


Despicable Human Scum

Here are some excerpts: 

Every sentence of the decision served as sledge-hammer blow brought down by our angry service personnel and people on the head of Jang, an anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional element and despicable political careerist and trickster.

However, despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.

Jang encouraged money-making under various pretexts to secure funds necessary for gratifying his political greed and was engrossed in irregularities and corruption. He thus took the lead in spreading indolent, careless and undisciplined virus in our society.

He let the decadent capitalist lifestyle find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic pictures among his confidants since 2009. He led a dissolute, depraved life, squandering money wherever he went. 

The era and history will eternally record and never forget the shuddering crimes committed by Jang Song Thaek, the enemy of the party, revolution and people and heinous traitor to the nation.

You can read the full text of the announcement on the execution of Jang here.

I think this is truly a magnificent example of a classic Cold War style of character assassination in all its glory and it is certainly much more eloquent and impressive that merely calling Jang a scumbag or a shithead. I hope that our own nation can rise to this example. I particular hope that my field of visual effects and computer animation that puts so much store on attacking other people's character, yet does so in such a boring and stupid way, can also learn to do a better job.  (1)

Thank you, Dear Leader Kim Song-un for showing us the way.


Dear Leader


The Democratic People's Republic of Korea
http://www.korea-dpr.com/

______________________________________________________

1. But keep in mind, if attempting to apply these techniques of rhetoric to the field of visual effects, that many of the practioners in the field do not know the meaning of most words over two syllables or at least pretend to be that ignorant.  So keep it simple for them, pithy and filled with color, but only simple words.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Prophesy of John Hendrix (1865 - 1915)

This post is part of the "Archaeology of the Cold War" series.

From time to time, we will review entertaining stories of anomalous events, events which are unlikely to have occurred but would be very interesting if they had as that would imply unknown physics or stand as examples of phenomena such as time travel, ghosts, predicting the future and so forth. This category is in opposition to another topic of discussion on this blog, which is the creation of entertainment fiction that purports to predict the future. That however is a different topic from the one in this post. This topic is more in the nature of oral history that, if true, would mean that someone long ago had predicted the future.

The story goes something like this...

Once upon a time, in a very rural area of Tennessee, there lived a man named John Hendrix. Mr. Hendrix, who was born in 1865 and died in 1915, became distraught after the death of his daughter and his separation from his wife and the rest of his family. He became very religious and started to report having visions. Supposedly he told everyone about his visions and nobody paid much attention.

As silent as the grave

Hendrix described the vision that was given him as follows:

In the woods, as I lay on the ground and looked up into the sky, there came to me a voice as loud and as sharp as thunder. The voice told me to sleep with my head on the ground for 40 nights and I would be shown visions of what the future holds for this land.... And I tell you, Bear Creek Valley someday will be filled with great buildings and factories, and they will help toward winning the greatest war that ever will be. And there will be a city on Black Oak Ridge and the center of authority will be on a spot middle-way between Sevier Tadlock's farm and Joe Pyatt's Place. A railroad spur will branch off the main L&N line, run down toward Robertsville and then branch off and turn toward Scarborough. Big engines will dig big ditches, and thousands of people will be running to and fro. They will be building things, and there will be great noise and confusion and the earth will shake. I've seen it. It's coming.

Of course no one believed him, John was being just a little crazy, they thought. Well maybe more than a little crazy and it seemed that he was institutionalized for a time. But the years went by and there was no great city in Bear Creek Valley or up on Black Oak Ridge. There was a great war but the war got fought and won without any thousands of people running around in Eastern Tennessee or new railway lines or earthquakes either. John died before what we now call World War I ended and that was all there was to say about the matter until 1942 when the government came to kick the people of the four rural communities of that part of the world off their land.

Army Corps of Engineers picture of the old Hendrix home before they tore it down

About 60 years after Hendrix first started having his visions, the US Army Corps of Engineers began researching potential sites for several very large, experimental industrial plants that needed to be built on a rush basis for some project they would not talk about.   The plants needed to be far enough away from population centers and industrial areas so in the event that they exploded, the damage would be limited. They wanted to find a place that was sparsely settled so that they could quickly evict the people who were there and get started immediately.   They also hoped to find a place that had physical barriers in the case that one plant exploded it would not cause others nearby to also explode.  Access to a dam for water and a lot of electric power was critical.   The further out in the country it was the easier it would be to keep secret.   It needed to be near a rail line and existing road network because that would save time.

So one day the people of the four rural communities in this part of East Tennessee came home to find eviction notices nailed to their door. Some of them were out in the rain within two weeks, some in six weeks. They got a small amount of money for their land, but it was not enough to buy its equivalent somewhere else. And to their amazement, thousands of workers were bused in, a city with hundreds and hundreds of houses and dozens of stores and restaurants was built seemingly overnight, security fences were put up and, strangest of all, very large factories were built behind those fences that had armed guards who promised to shoot you if you did not go away.

These new people chose a name for what was now their community and they chose to modify the name of part of the countryside thereabouts.   They named their town for the same Black Oak Ridge that crazy old John Hendrix had talked about in his visions.  

Only they left out the "Black" and just called it Oak Ridge.


Scarboro?   Never heard of it. 

So as time went by, people remembered crazy old John Hendrix and his visions. You can read more about them in the links below. People marvelled at the amazing story of the man who saw the future and predicted the project that may have won the war.

So what are the possible explanations. On the one hand, Hendrix may have seen the future as described. Who knows, it wasn't particularly written down, it was just something people remembered. Hendrix certainly lived and he was on record for having been institutionalized and people can point to his grave. Maybe he did see the future, or maybe when the future imposed itself so violently on the peaceful citizens of that valley in Tennessee, the pissed-off locals chose to repurpose a member of their community, now deceased, who had truly lived when they said he did and died when they said he did and who had been a little crazy and got put away for a time because of that.  All true, all part of the public record.   Maybe, now that you mention it, this was one of his visions, I seem to recall.

Maybe it was and maybe it wasn't, ain't too many people around these days who were around then and would contradict us, so you are going to have to take our word for it, I reckon. And maybe we can make a few dollars selling trinkets and entertaining all those thousands of gullible people who are running to and fro on what used to be our land up there on Black Oak Ridge.


Monday, December 9, 2013

My Letter to the President of the United States Requesting a Bailout


As a few of you know, I have been working with my representatives in Washington in order to prepare the way for a government bailout of one area of computer animation, research and production, in this country.  The particular bailout that I have been working for is, of course, for myself, but I have no doubt that once this first effort is approved, that others will be able to apply as well.  The following is the letter that was mailed to President Obama.


_____________________________________________________________________


Michael Wahrman
Rancho Rincon del Diablo, California 92026
michael.wahrman@gmail.com





President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC

December 9, 2013


Dear President Obama,

I have hesitated writing this letter for many years now but recent events have forced my hand. I hope you will understand.

Not to beat around the bush, so to speak, I have decided to request a government bailout.

My circumstances are that having done many years service, and having helped to create a billion dollar industry, computer animation, I find myself unemployed due in part to government policies (policies of globalization and of other government subsidies which our government does not protest). There are other reasons as well, but the impact of government action and inaction is certainly significant. Because of this, my financial well being has been severely damaged.

But I have hope. The US Government had no problems bailing out the malignant and incompetent financial industry in their time of need a few years ago, and I am neither malignant nor incompetent, merely guilty of misplaced enthusiasm and incorrectly assessing risk, just like Wall Street.

And lets be honest here, the US Government and society encourages people to be entrepreneurial without emphasizing the terrible risk of failure and the financial implications thereof. It seems only fair that the Government should therefore pick up some of the costs of risk just like they do for large corporations when it is convenient.

I know that times are tight in Washington these days, what with Sequester and the right wing Republicans out of control and on the warpath, but I feel certain that my request is so just and reasonable that you can find the money out of one of your discretionary funds. I feel certain of it.

So shall we say ten to twenty million $US? Too little and we might have to come back a second time which would be annoying.    Too much and people would think we were being extravagant. Lets split the difference and go for a clean $15M US. What do you think?

I know you are very busy, so feel free to assign the details of this request to one of your assistants for the details of the money transfer and other paperwork issues.

Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask. Probably email is the best way to reach me.

Congratulations on your reelection, keep up the good work.   By the way,  my family has been loyal Democrats for at least three generations.


                                                    Sincerely,


                                                   Michael Wahrman

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Redacted or Retracted Who Cares ?


For a brief time I had two posts online that described being poor in America.  It so shocked some of my readers, and so lowered me in their self esteem, that I have withdrawn the posts.  I have enough problems without having people who are, dare I say, empathy challenged, being shocked by reality.

Its too bad because it was some of my best writing.

Maybe when I am wealthy I can publish them again so that my privileged and self-entitled friends can learn what life is like.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis


Update 12/5/2013.  The Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have created a petition to protest the attacks on Pope Francis by Rush Limbaugh.  Although not a Catholic, which I made clear in the comments section, I signed this petition and I encourage you to consider doing so as well.  Rush's attack was delightfully stupid, and we should take advantage of this opportunity which he has so unintentionally provided.   http://www.catholicsinalliance.org/limbaugh


One of the interesting things about the second decade of the 21st century is the complete silence among the political classes of America regarding poverty and its impact on its citizens. Complete indifference, absolute unwillingness to discuss either the causes, the effects and potential cures. Some of them fall back on bankrupt misunderstandings of discredited economic theory. Some deny the problem exists. Some acknowledge some of the problems but propose no policies to address the issues. Some propose policies or changes that at their best might address a few percent of the problem.

None of our civic leaders seem willing to discuss the issues honestly and address some real plans about what needs to be done. There is no Roosevelt or New Dealer or Tolstoy (1) among them.

But of all the leaders in this country and the world there is one who is willing to speak out on these issues: the issues of poverty and its effect on people's lives and of reliance on an economic theory that has no evidence to support it.

And that is "our" new Pope, Pope Francis.


A very photogenic Pope, it seems to me.

In his "Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World", we have a very amusing jeremiad, so to speak, against injustice and greed in the world. Among other things we have the use of entertaining terminology such as kerygma and mystagogical. (2)

The complete statement can be found here.

Here are some excerpts

No to an economy of exclusion

53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

Or .... 

191. In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor. This has been eloquently stated by the bishops of Brazil: “We wish to take up daily the joys and hopes, the difficulties and sorrows of the Brazilian people, especially of those living in the barrios and the countryside – landless, homeless, lacking food and health care – to the detriment of their rights. Seeing their poverty, hearing their cries and knowing their sufferings, we are scandalized because we know that there is enough food for everyone and that hunger is the result of a poor distribution of goods and income. The problem is made worse by the generalized practice of wastefulness”.

192. Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”.  This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative,  participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.

But this is my favorite ...

54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

When was the last time we heard a presidential candidate speak clearly about economic disadvantage, dismiss the obviously failed principles of the rich helping the poor and advocate such unselfish goals? Any politician that did so would be crucified, so to speak, by the right-wing and the moneyed interests.

In a world of compromise and the failure of ethics, what a relief it is to read by a member of the power elite such an unambiguous call for improving the world. The obvious question is, should we call for Pope Francis to run for President?

[See this link for our discussion of what Atlantean Crystal Wisdom predicted about Pope Francis.
http://globalwahrman.blogspot.com/2013/03/using-esoteric-knowledge-to-see-future.html]

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1. Tolstoy famously wrote an essay about the starving poor of Moscow whose title was "What then is to be done?". Later, when Lenin called for the Bolshevik revolution, his essay title was the same in homage to Tolstoy.

2. Kerygma is used in the New Testament to refer to preaching and its later use seems to refer to the larger body of what it is that Jesus was called upon to preach, what was his "program" so to speak. A mystagogue is one who initiates others into the mysteries of a religion.

Dr. Willis Ware 1920 - 2013


I was devastated yesterday to hear of the passing of one of the most interesting people I have ever met or worked with, Dr. Willis Ware formerly of the RAND Corporation.

Dr. Ware passed away at the far too young age of 93 years old.

Most people at RAND had no idea what he did, just that he was very senior.




I met Dr. Ware at the RAND Corporation when I was just 21 or so years old, and Willis was already some sort of Scientist Emeritus at RAND and while no one seemed to know exactly what he did he, suspiciously, had a three window office and a full-time secretary/assistant. With this information we knew he was powerful beyond measure. They said that he testified before Congress on the issues of privacy, and that of course was important but seemed to only add to the mystery.

Several clues revealed themselves as time went by.

Clue #1 He knew my interest in graphics and he wanted to show me a film he had with a user interface that he thought was interesting. It turned out to be none other than one of the famous films of Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad thesis work at MITRE when he was a graduate student at MIT. To this day I consider that user interface to be one of the top five or so I have ever seen.

Clue #2 We were chatting about nothing in particular and he told me the story of how he had worked to bring Dr. von Neumann to RAND after the war and when he was bored at the Institute at Princeton. von Neumann, whose computer architecture you are using while you read my blog, most likely, was going to come to RAND and UCLA and split his time between them. But unfortunately he died suddenly of brain cancer.

Clue #3 Somehow it came to my attention that Willis had received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Princeton in 1939. Look up 1939 in history, recall that the new Intelligence agencies (really the proto-agencies, the ones we know were formed after WWII from these proto-agencies) recruited heavily from the Ivy League and imagine what someone with a PhD in EE might do in the upcoming conflict.

Clue #4 Although Willis did not seem to work on any run of the mill projects at RAND, he did travel every six months and spent a week somewhere in Maryland. Fort Meade, Maryland, as it turned out. In fact, I saw above his secretaries desk an agenda and it said he attended the "SAB" at Ft. Meade, Maryland. Now, what is at Ft. Meade? Well, the National Security Agency is. And what might the SAB be ? Well, it is something called the "Scientific Advisory Board" which meets every six months.

The Scientific Advisory Board of the NSA is the body responsible at a very high level for advising the NSA on technologies of interest and issues that they should be addressing. In short, Willis had some sort of very serious position advising the NSA. A senior spook, at least in part.

Clue #5 Willis and I were discussing WWII and Enigma one day and I told him that I was guessing that there were still secrets from WWII that had not been revealed. And he said to me that he knew for a fact that there were secrets and events from WWII that had not been released and that, in his opinion, they should be.

Clue #6 At random intervals, maybe once or twice a year, Willis would travel on a short trip to Washington, DC. No one knew what he did there, but it was suggested to me, by someone who knew Willis well, that he was used by various elements of the Intelligence Community when it was necessary to liason with another part. In other words, he was some sort of prestigious messenger when some sort of issue or discussion needed to take place. Now, I may have that wrong, or incomplete, and of course it is vague, but I think it still has valid information.

Clue #7 In 1967, DARPA commissioned a report on "Security Controls in Computer Systems".  The report was reissued in 1979.   Written by Dr. Ware, you may find this report on the Cryptome site at http://cryptome.org/sccs.htm

And so, who was Dr. Willis Ware ?

I think he was a pioneer of computing and information technology, and a recognized authority on the impact on policy, particularly the policy of privacy, at very high levels of government. I think he was in some sense a spook during WW II and that he maintained his relationship with the primary user of computers in intelligence, the NSA, and was on their advisory board. He maintained an office at RAND and did his own work because it was a useful platform that kept him in touch with Washington, yet outside the beltway madness that so many succumb to. RAND gave him a certain long term cachet, and RAND management of course loved him because their very raison d'etre is to influence policy in Washington, and clearly Willis did just that.

I also suspect that there is more public history here than I know and will no doubt discover over the next few weeks. Willis was probably involved in the Mathematics Division of the RAND Corporation back when RAND had two mathematics-related departments: abstract and applied.   Computer science, such as it became, came from the applied math department.   When I was with RAND, we had a small computer science department that was in some way derived from these much larger efforts of the past. Today, RAND has no computer science department although there are individual computer scientists and programmers lurking in the hallways. (1)

Finally, Willis is one of the reasons that I am so screwed up today. You see, back then, at RAND, I was treated as a real human being, with intelligence and something to contribute. Today I am treated like garbage by nearly everyone but especially in my own field and it was those expectations that got set at RAND that led inevitably to my downfall.

I will really miss you Willis, wherever you are.

[The NY Times has an obituary of Willis at 
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/02/technology/willis-ware-who-helped-build-blueprint-for-computer-design-dies-at-93.html?_r=0]

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1. Part of the reason that RAND had a computer science department(s), was because RAND believed it was of strategic importance to the US Government. As time went by, computer science spread to the more traditional venues of University and Industry and so RAND no longer needed to do that. There were other things that were more important and more in line with their specific missions in the context of Congressional limitations on the maximum size of the annual budgets of places like RAND.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Feminist Shaving Theory and Internet Porn


Warning: the following post is rated R and discusses sex on the Internet

Our research confirms that the sex drive is strong in mammals.   Even Steven J. Gould said so and he should know.   In its small way, the Internet has helped reveal this enduring truth by providing easy access to a vast amount of pornography of all types, as well as commentary on this porn deluge by outraged or not so outraged consumers.

Porn is one of the boom industries of our civilization.  It is international, multicultural, omnipresent and profitable beyond the wildest dreams of the most exploitative or idealistic of the pornographers. Very few industries can compete with it in scope and economic importance.

We recently came across a commentary on the phenomena of Internet pornography by two feminist authors on the New Statesman web site.   What particularly caught our attention was the free expression of commentary on the editorial by readers who felt the need to share their reaction and personal experiences with us.


That hussy!  Shaving again!  Has she no shame?


The authors, Rhiannon Cosslett and Holly Baxter of Vagenda Magazine, bring up a number of topics in their essay  "The Big Question that the Generation Raised on Porn Must Answer",   It begins with the provocative statement: 

        Porn often shows a submissive woman, stripped of all of her body hair, undergoing ritual
        humiliation in the name of sexuality, and twenty somethings must ask whether that has
        wider implications about how our peers view us socially, politically and professionally.

Apparently the whole issue of who shaves and who does not is an important feminist issue.   But we do wonder if the authors have looked at the broad range of porn that is out there, or perhaps have focused on one particular aspect of it.  But nevermind, the helpful Internet, with its social networking and online commentary, comes to their rescue.

One man wrote in response something along the lines of: he personally watches a lot of pornography on the internet and it generally involves big hunky men doing nasty things to other big hunky men and he absolutely guarantees that there are no women involved, shaved or otherwise.

Then a woman commented that she likes watching pornography of shaved women being used by big hunky men and so do a lot of her friends and is this editorial saying that they should stop watching it because that isn't bloody likely.

A second man wrote in to share with us that he felt that this editorial was absolutely correct and that men were being awful here and that if she wanted to step all over him with her boots in punishment or maybe spit on him, that would be ok with him because he certainly deserved it.  All men deserved to be beaten by women, he seemed to be saying.

But here is the coup de grace: many people felt that this last comment (on being abused by women) was "creepy" and made them uneasy. In other words, their sexual preference was ok, but his... well, not so much.

At Global Wahrman we want to go on record to say that we are happy to hear that people are enjoying themselves and want to encourage this type of behavior as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and takes a shower afterwards.

For another more amusing slant on the issue of sex from what may be a feminist point of view, consider In Defense of Bad Sex by Laurie Penney

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Impressions of NYC, November 2013 (revised)

[revised 11/26/2013]

This was my first trip back to NYC since about 2004 or so. For my benefit more than anything else, these are my notes about what has and has not changed in the city from my lowly point of view.

1. It was shocking to me how quickly my knowledge about how to get around had deteriorated. You forget which streets are one way, you forget which is the uptown/downtown entrance to the subways. You stop at crosswalks instead of blasting right through with an eye on the incoming traffic. I reached for my little fold out map maybe 200 times in 8 days. When I lived there, I never needed a map. You spend a LOT more money on taxi's because at some point you just say, "fuck it, get me there", where a local would just walk or take the subway. I got lost maybe a dozen times and I never used to get lost in Manhattan.


There is obviously some backstory here

2. There continues to be a disturbing trend towards branded nationwide chains in Manhattan.

3. The taxis have done away with the celebrity greetings, which were there to try and make tourists feel better about using taxicabs. I miss hearing Rodney Dangerfield remind me to take my bags as I left. There is in its place a nice GPS map of Manhattan showing you where you are if you knew how to get at it on the touch panel display. Oh Brave New World !

4. Pizza has gone from being $1.50 for a slice of plain to $2.50.


My barber in Little Italy

5. People in NY, or at least my friends in NY, are constantly visiting people, galleries, parties, and/or other social events. Constantly. I know one person in LA who lives that way, but no one else. There are no social events worth speaking of down where I live.

6. The perceived expense of visiting NY is real. NY is much less expensive to live in than to visit assuming you have a reasonable place to live. The money is spent on hotels (or whereever it is you stay), transportation and to some extent on food depending on whether you eat out all the time. Is this worse than other cities? Not really, I think. Maybe hotel rooms are more expensive overall. But taxis are less expensive in NY than in LA, although of course you tend to use them more in NY.

7. Taking a taxi from LAX to Culver City is nearly $40.00 today.

8. More of NY is going upscale, and some of the older neighborhoods are changing. Broome street, where I was staying, is midway in the process of becoming a trendy, soho-like place.


Tom Brigham in front of House of Vegetarian

9. The new "world trade center" is just ok. Its a nice enough building except for the stupid tower on top to try and make it seem taller than it is. It is not the WTC in either scale or impressiveness, but I don't think anyone will really care in a few years. Lets see how they do with the monument. I am not holding my breathe.

10. Little Italy is much reduced. Apparently this happened long ago, when I was still living there, as a way of reducing the influence of certain Sicilian families, they tell me.

11. Chinatown is still there and as weird as ever.

12. But most of all what impressed me is that NYC is drop dead beautiful. The architecture, the lighting, the weather and the people all makes for a dramatic and fascinating place to live.

13.  As always when in NY one should buy a Metrocard, which is a little card which keeps subway and other transit fares, like a phone card.    You can put any amount of money on the card, but when one buys a certain amount you get a decent discount so you should do that.   What the Metrocard does for you is to make any of the mass transit systems in NY easier to use.  No fumbling for money, no exact change, no waiting in line for a ticket.  You just swipe your card through the turnstile and it lets you through and tells you your balance.

On this trip I was staying in a part of town I rarely spent much time in (Broome street near Christie, near Chinatown) and I did not know how it really fit into the subways.   I needed to go to B&H Photo at 34th street and as I was pondering whether I felt like walking 30+ blocks, a 3rd Avenue bus went by.   So I took out my Metrocard and I was on the uptown bus, which stops at 34th street.   Ok, admittedly, I got a little lucky here.  But the idea behind a well-designed and run transit system is that tourists and residents should get lucky now and then.

14.  I always have conversations with my cab drivers.   I dont know why, maybe it puts me at ease, but they are almost always interesting people to talk to, usually recent immigrants (where recent can be as much as 10 years or so).  Usually pretty fluent in English.

15. I found that after a while, I enjoyed staying at Arlene's Home for Wayward Children, where I had a couch and shared the bathroom with six other people.  Everyone was well behaved and easy to get along with, even Arlene when you calmed her down.   I could live there for a while and be perfectly happy.  If only I could afford it.   Not a giant fan of that part of town (Broome and Christie) but there are people who swear by it.  I am more of an upper west side kind of guy, I suppose.

16. Its nice to see a technology community thriving in NYC.  I hope it persists and continues to thrive, it gives me some hope that I would be able to find suitable employment there one day.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rodents of Unusual Size Found in Ancient Italy


When life imitates art, one must ask how the artists knew what they knew and when they knew it. Did they just make a lucky but inspired guess, or were they diligent enough to research the topic and talk to a specialist and then make a considered and informed extrapolation of what is known into the unknown? (1) Movies about the future and the distant past know in advance that they must make predictions where certain knowledge is missing, but even in these cases the filmmakers shrug off an obligation to make solidly grounded predictions and lapse into the cheap or predictable.

I would say that cheap and predictable is Hollywood's metier.

However it occurred, in the case we have here the filmmakers have unexpectedly triumphed when they probably just thought they were creating an inexpensive but exciting moment in a film that has a certain reputation for being unusually entertaining. I am referring here to the "rodents of unusual size" in the esteemed movie The Princess Bride (1987).

To refresh your memory, the kidnapped princess and the Dread Pirate Roberts, revealed to be her former servant and lover, Wesley, try to escape their pursuers in the Fire Swamp, known to be inhabited by horrible ROUS, which are "rodents of unusual size". Of course they are attacked by ROUSes (ROUSi?) in the swamp and a terrible battle ensues before they are able to defeat the ROUSes and escape the swamp. The ROUSes are not a shining moment in the history of visual effects, being somewhat cheesy and, well, ratty in appearance.






Although filmgoers of today demand the highest quality in visual effects, the best that technology can imagine for their quota of zombies, giant robots, and superheroines, it wasn't always so. Back in the day, long ago, movies were often about telling a story and made economic use of the resources available. The effects only had to be good enough to move the story forward. In some cases, one could even accuse the filmmakers of being tongue-in-cheek cheesy. The gopher in Caddyshack (1980) comes to mind.

So we might dismiss the ROUSes as being merely enlarged and fictional examples of an imaginary rodentia, until science made the following amazing discovery. Apparently, in ancient italy, rodents of unusual size, giant hedgehogs, roamed the countryside, eating and otherwise annoying the other flora and fauna of its time. Although this is probably just a lucky guess on the part of the filmmakers, I think you will agree that it is an amazing resemblance.


It may be a hedgehog but it certainly looks like a rodent to me


Since one of the theme's here at Global Wahrman is to analyze the process by which one can successfully predict the future, we plan to use this example in our case studies of successful, if inadvertent, predictions.

Read more about the Ancient Rodent

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1. In this case, I think we can rule out the use of Atlantean Crystal Wisdom. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the filmmakers were aware of and using the Esoteric Knowledge.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NY Tech Meetup and the Delusion of Optimism


When I was in New York, I had the opportunity to attend the November meeting of the oddly named "New York Tech Meetup" at NYU's Skirball Center. The November meeting is reserved for academic presentations, e.g. presentations of new technology (or old technology) by universities and schools, professors and students. We had 20 presentations and each lasting about 3 minutes long.



High School students frisbee throwing robot that failed to throw frisbees


We had one set of students who had used image understanding software to cheat at completing jigsaw puzzles. Another group of students (high schoolers) had built a robot that threw frisbees. We had a Harvard based group of people who showed their website that allowed programs to be written with a visible programming language from MIT that allowed you to snap pieces of programs together. And we had our own NYU Media Research Lab show the current status of a very inexpensive immersive reality system that used about $500 in parts.




Backstage at Skirball with Ken Perlin and Students getting the immersive reality demo to work


But the audience was the most impressive part.  Maybe 500 to 600 people, all enthusiastic, all well dressed, all maybe 25-45 years old.   All of them ready to do that big tech startup and get rich!

When it was all over, we had a reception hosted by, I think, Google.  On the 10th floor, a view of Manhattan, and filled with enthusiastic people "networking".

So you know me, Mr Reality here.  Mr Sourpuss here.  I go and find the organizers and complement them, but mention one little issue I had:  "It was all so upbeat" I said. "It was all so optimistic"

"Well, whats the matter with that?" they asked.

You do realize that there is 25% unemployment in this country, right? That there are more people on food stamps today than have ever been, and it is not because of some stupid right wing craziness about lazy people. That 9 out of 10 startups fail, right? You know that, right?

They just looked at me in horror and turned away.

Sorry to spoil their party, I guess.

NY Tech Meetup:
http://nytm.org/
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This PS may be unnecessary, it may actually be in a comment.  So read the comments!  -- MW

P.S. Ok, the point has been made by one of our NY correspondents that this is a bit too negative.  In fact, even if 9 of 10 fail, the 1 surviving may end up hiring all the others. Also, we should not fail to encourage those who might improve themselves by their own initiative.   OK, sure, I agree with this, but let us not on the other hand have unbounded optimism either.  Many will fail, and failure can be painful and destructive.

Also, I feel rather strongly that if you want to succeed in America, it is helpful to have a lot of money. It is possible to succeed without a lot of money, but it is a lot harder.