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Friday Trivialities

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.06.19

1. Trump's sharpie-map to include Alabama in the path of Hurricane Dorian is really a breathtakingly bizarre level of pettiness and smallness, even for a man who is the utter supreme leader of pettiness and smallness. (His pettiness and smallness are much funnier to me than his bottomless greed and racism.)

2. Are fake eyelashes having a moment? It seems to be happening more and more often that I find myself talking to someone with enormous Snuffleupagus eyelashes.

3. (Really? It's not Snuffleufagus? I've misheard this for forty years? Now I'm imagining our international readers sounding out Snuf-fleu-pagus or Snuf-fleu-fagus.)


 

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Doodoo Dudes

Posted by Ogged
on 09.04.19

I was checking out 4chan today, which used to be voyeuristically entertaining when I thought they were all 14-year-old trolls, and is now horrifying when I know they either always have been, or have become, sincere 20-somethings. And it reminded me of what I call the Piece of Shit theory of contemporary radicalization.

You have millions of young men who don't build anything, don't make much money, don't create anything of cultural value, barely even consume from what's left of shared mass culture, don't know how to talk to women, and have a very limited language for describing their own situation. They're pieces of shit. And they know that they're pieces of shit, because they can see guys much like themselves who have money, hope, and girlfriends.

These guys are incredibly angry, and alienated from society and its norms. And why wouldn't they be? They've been let down in every way: they haven't been molded into functioning adults*, and there's no safety net or do-over for them. And in each society where they exist, they direct their anger at the universal scapegoats (Jews and women) and the local outgroups (blacks and Hispanics in the US, and e.g., the Roma and Middle-Eastern migrants in Hungary). It's interesting that they don't direct their anger toward the people most responsible for the state of things: rich white guys, but I figure that's because the pieces of shit still aspire to be rich white guys.

I don't know what we do with these people. I start to think, "well, the WPA worked," but those guys weren't alienated, they were just living through hard times (crucially, mostly shared hard times). It takes some very optimistic imagining to see 4chan denizens building a dam and calling it good. It may be that we just have to deal with a lost generation and try to bring some work and dignity back to swaths of America that have been screwed over, and that takes us back to regular political questions. I'm not sure.

* Reading about Joe Rogan, and Jordan Peterson, and watching some of this guy, I'm struck how much these audiences crave fathering.


 

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Guest Post - Glimmer of Hope?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.04.19

Chris Y writes:

Colleagues from Deliveroo's rivals, Uber Eats, swiftly followed suit, and began taking advantage of a promotional offer within the app that granted new customers £5 off their first order. By repeatedly creating new accounts and ordering low-value meals to be delivered to the picket line, the strikers amassed both a mountain of free food at Uber's expense and a steady stream of fellow riders, who would turn up with the order only to be met by a sea of radicalised peers cheering their arrival and chanting "Log out, log out!" In the words of one Deliveroo rider, the very technology that was designed to control workers was now being turned against their managers, allowing riders to "occupy the system in a way". Not unlike the assembly line of the last century, and the auto strikes in Flint that subverted it, a tool engineered for capital was being hacked by the labour force. "It's like a sit-in," the Deliveroo rider told Woodcock.

...

This has changed my whole life, because for my whole life no one listened to me, and now they do," she had told me earlier. She brought the umbrella down with a crash on the piñata again and again, until it burst open and a flood of brightly wrapped lollipops and ticker tape and glitter spilled forth in the rain. Amid the celebrations, one of the ministry's outsourced security guards who had been ordered to contain the strikers sidled up to a UVW organiser and asked for their contact details. He and his colleagues were fed up with their pay and working conditions, he explained quietly, and they wanted to join the union.

Heebie's take:

In the US, Amazon has been granted patents for ultrasonic wristbands that, when attached to workers, are capable of tracking their every hand movement and providing "haptic feedback" (ie vibrations) if a worker is carrying out their tasks suboptimally. As far as monitoring goes, such wristbands may already be outdated. In 2017, a vending machines company in Wisconsin made global headlines by microchipping dozens of its workers who volunteered; when paired with a GPS app, anyone with the appropriate authorisations can track the wearer's location 24 hours a day. "We decided to put it in employees as a form of convenience for them," explained CEO Todd Westby. "We do not plan on taking it out."

what?!

But mostly the article is fascinating and uplifting:

As Jamie Woodcock, a sociologist of work at Oxford University, puts it, the digital outsourcing model on which Uber and Deliveroo are built throws up a double precariousness: one for workers, and another for bosses - who, with virtually no human managers overseeing their workforce, have few tools at their disposal to deal with organised resistance.

...

New apps abound that allow workers to log abuse by managers, read up on their rights, organise their workplace and compare pay rates both with those in similar jobs in their industry and with their own company's financial results, a powerful weapon for agitating colleagues and rejecting management explanations for low wages. The information asymmetry at the core of digital platforms such as Uber is gradually being undermined by a vibrant network of driver forums with hundreds of thousands of members sharing stories, advice, communications from Uber received through the app and payment details, including screenshots of receipts and monthly income tallies. These enable drivers to collectively gain an understanding of how the app's secretive ratings systems and dispatch algorithms actually operate. Among other things, this sort of crowdsourced information provides drivers with the opportunity to game the system, for example by agreeing to log off from the app simultaneously, thereby tricking Uber's algorithms into thinking there is a shortage of drivers and implementing surge pricing to tempt them back.

 

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Guest Post - A report from shit creek

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.03.19

Nworbie Renwro writes: The great dirty secret of British politics at the moment is not about Brexit, or only indirectly. It is that very few people believe that Jeremy Corbyn can win an election against Boris Johnson. Corbyn himself is presumably one of them, as are the members of the tight-knit clique around him and the true believers in the comment sections. But the bulk of the parliamentary Labour party doesn't believe it, the polls don't suggest it will happen, and the Conservative party would never have chosen an unprincipled, incompetent bastard like Johnson for its leader if it did not believe he could beat Corbyn like a gong.

This has very little to do with the policies they'll run on. No one believes that Johnson will try to keep his promises, nor that Corbyn be able to keep his. The sums don't really add up in either case, although Corbyn's regime would be less disastrous that Johnson's.

Corbyn had a speech to give this morning. He, and the whole country, is facing something that is turning into a constitutional crisis as well as a political, social, and economic catastrophe - and he read it out like like a station announcement for the semi-fast train to Clacton and the apocalypse. For all the denunciations of him as a Leninist monster, if you led him to a barricade he'd only plant carrots there.

In the evening, Johnson appeared outside Number 10 to give a speech, and he was just as bad. It was like the rough sketch of a Telegraph column to phone in. We were all expecting him to announce an election and he didn't even threaten one. Had he not said, twice, that he didn't want one, I'd be confident that he was now afraid of calling one. As it is, the cynics are convinced that he will call one on Wednesday.

Before then, Tuesday, London time, Parliament will vote on "the Benn amendment", a beautifully crafted motion that should make no deal impossible, and, in effect, takes power back from Johnson and Cummings. At least 20 Conservative MPs, including 8 former cabinet ministers, have said they will vote for this. I think it will now get through. Anyone who reads the masterly and essential piece by Ivan Rogers, who was our chief negotiator in Brussels until he resigned in despair, will know what a disaster we are heading for if it does not.

But what if the Benn amendment passes? Here things get really hairy. It only postpones the decision for another three months. And though Parliament may thus reject no deal, there is no majority in the present parliament for any particular deal, nor for revoke and remain.

I can only see two alternatives. One is a new election. This would require Labour to vote for it. They'll look cowards if they don't and fools if they do. Cummings will "purge" (his word) the Conservative party of all the parliamentary rebels so it will united in its determination for national suicide. God knows what the outcome would be. On today's showing, both Corbyn and Johnson might lose. If we end up with another hung parliament it is simply impossible to foresee what will happen.

The other choice is even worse: that Johnson simply ignore the parliamentary vote and continues as if nothing had happened. That really would be a constitutional crisis, and an attempted coup.

Heebie's take: Thanks, Nworb.


 

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Guest Post - Can you blame them?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.02.19

Mossi Chari writes:

"What Mauritius is providing is not a gateway but a getaway car for unscrupulous corporations dodging their tax obligations,"
[...]
"The potential exists to explore new avenues and to look for new markets," he argued before the Mauritius Parliament in 1992, pushing a bill that would make possible the island's first shell companies and allow some firms to pay zero taxes on profits and capital gains. [...] An opposition member objected, saying the bill would create at least the appearance that Mauritius was benefiting at the expense of poorer neighbors.
"It is a tough world," retorted another government minister in support of the law. "We cannot waste time."

Heebie's take: A bit of a longread, but interesting. At first I was like, "Isn't this how it always works?" and to an extent that's true:

The Mauritius finance minister at the time, Sithanen observed that Luxembourg, Switzerland, Hong Kong and other, more obscure jurisdictions had grown into financial powerhouses by serving as low-tax gateways to wealthy nations nearby. He said Mauritius should do something similar, offering itself as a stable, corruption-free bridge to Africa and other less developed regions.

The part I found most interesting was the history of tax treaties, and how bad they are for developing countries:

Starting back in the 1920s, "double taxation agreements" were adopted to protect businesses with international operations from being taxed twice for the same transaction. Two nations simply agreed on dividing one set of taxes between them. To encourage investment, tax treaties also limited the tax rate governments could apply to certain cross-border transactions.
Tax treaties surged as global trade blossomed after World War II; a second wave came during decolonizations in the 1960s and 1970s. Under the umbrella of the Western-dominated Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, richer countries pushed for treaties that awarded most of the tax revenue to themselves, not the poorer countries where the business activity took place.

...

Lately, tax treaties have begun to fall out of favor. A growing chorus of government officials, academics and international institutions have concluded that the treaties are responsible for siphoning vital tax revenue from the world's poorest nations and are a key driver of global wealth inequality.
Research on 28 treaties signed with the Netherlands found that they cost poorer countries collectively at least $1 billion a year in lost tax revenue, and probably much more. Another study found that 40 treaties Belgium signed with former African colonies and other countries cost them a total of $44 million in 2012, while providing only modest increases in investment. Studies of Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Denmark also showed that treaties exacerbated tax avoidance in poorer countries.

 

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