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18 Jul 19:38

Guerra Civil y objetividad histórica

by Mariano Cruz

El hecho histórico del enfrentamiento

«Consideré que no debía escribir los hechos sucedidos en la guerra tomando la información de cualquiera, ni tampoco según me parecía a mí, sino que he relatado los hechos en los que estuve presente y aquellos otros cuya información recibí de otras personas con la mayor exactitud posible en cada caso. Fue laboriosa la investigación porque los que habían estado presentes en cada una de las ocasiones no decían lo mismo acerca de los mismos hechos, sino según su simpatía por unos o por otros, o según su memoria.»

Tucídides, Historia de la guerra del Peloponeso, Madrid, Gredos, 1990, I, 22, 2-3

«A diferencia de lo que ocurre con Heródoto no encontramos en Tucídides dos informaciones diferentes como fuentes para determinar la veracidad de un hecho. No nos ofrece la dificultad real en la elección entre dos datos diversos. Él ha hecho ya la elección. Cuando nos dice "... los tebanos afirman eso y dicen que ellos [los plateos] lo juraron, pero los plateos ... niegan haber jurado", no se trata de dos opiniones entre las que el historiador pueda seleccionar la verdadera. El hecho histórico como tal es precisamente la existencia de esas dos opiniones.»

Julio Calonge Ruíz, Introducción al anterior
23 May 15:25

Daniel Dennett's seven tools for thinking

by S. Abbas Raza

Daniel Dennett in The Observer:

ScreenHunter_207 May. 23 16.39RESPECT YOUR OPPONENT

Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticising the views of an opponent? If there are obvious contradictions in the opponent's case, then you should point them out, forcefully. If there are somewhat hidden contradictions, you should carefully expose them to view – and then dump on them. But the search for hidden contradictions often crosses the line into nitpicking, sea-lawyering and outright parody. The thrill of the chase and the conviction that your opponent has to be harbouring a confusion somewhere encourages uncharitable interpretation, which gives you an easy target to attack.

But such easy targets are typically irrelevant to the real issues at stake and simply waste everybody's time and patience, even if they give amusement to your supporters. The best antidote I know for this tendency to caricature one's opponent is a list of rules promulgated many years ago by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport.

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

1. Attempt to re-express your target's position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says: "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way."

2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.

4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

One immediate effect of following these rules is that your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment (you agree with them on some important matters and have even been persuaded by something they said). Following Rapoport's rules is always, for me, something of a struggle…

More here.

23 May 13:38

The Critical-Theory Guide to that Time Zizek Pissed Everyone Off (Again).

by Sir Giggleton


Zizek is one of the more controversial authors of our time. He seems to have no problem calling vegetarians “degenerates” or shoeing away most of his fans. So it’s no surprise that he’s gained a lot of fans and a lot of critics. One fan, a nice fellow named Santiago Zabala, published a nice long love letter to Zizek’s philosophy entitled “Slavoj Zizek and the Role of the Philosopher.” And, like the start of any good flame war, the article was summarily shit on by most post-colonial critics everywhere. Why?  Well, Zizek is pretty damn Eurocentric.

If you’ve been confused by a recent spat between Zizek and, well, everyone, you’re not alone. We previously spoke about Zizek responding to his critics, but without proper context, you may have been lost. We therefore present the Critical-Theory guide to that time Zizek pissed everyone off (again).

This war of words occurred mainly over Al-Jazeera’s opinion blog, with the exception of Zizek’s public lecture at the Birbeck Institute for the Humanities, because he’s too cool for Al-Jazeera. Folks featured are Santiago Zabala, Hamad Dabashi, Slavoj Zizek, Walter Mignolo and Michael Marder.

Initial Salvo: Santiago Zabala

In: Slavoj Zizek and The Role of the Philosopher

Santiago Zabala begins this dispute by long ode to that man that is Slavoj Zizek. He describes Zizek  as one “fuse together Martin Heidegger’s “fundamental ontology”, Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” and Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” in order to undermine our liberal and tolerant democratic structures … a practice few intellectuals are capable of”. His engagement with the specific struggles of Slovenia, Julian Assange and Palestine and the broader theoretical horizon of communism are what makes him, in Zabala’s words, a “thinker of our age”, able to delve into the mundane sequence of political and cultural events and artifacts and integrate it into the theoretically complex worlds of the theories of Marx, Lacan and Hegel.

The Reponse – Hamid Dabashi


In: Can Non-Europeans Think?

Hamid Dabashi takes with the uh, geographically specific, nature of Zabala’s philosophical shout-outs. Zabala’s piece reads:

There are many important and active philosophers today: Judith Butler in the United States, Simon Critchley in England, Victoria Camps in Spain, Jean-Luc Nancy in France, Chantal Mouffe in Belgium, Gianni Vattimo in Italy, Peter Sloterdijk in Germany and in Slovenia, Slavoj Zizek, not to mention others working in Brazil, Australia and China.

This,  Dabashi argues, is a location of thought in the global north, and a degradation of the value of thought emanating from the global south. He argues that the fact that the European intellectuals receive the distinction of being named while the others are merely clumped into a large category portrays a larger bias in which these philosophers are declared ethnic and are discounted or sectioned off into an independent area of study, whereas the European’s work is declared philosophy. Rather, he argues that philosophy such as Zizek’s, Critchley’s or Butler’s should be offered as European philosophy, not the universal depiction of reality which he claims Zabala attempts to sell Zizek’s approach as.

Then Zabala is Like “Communism is Alive! Long Live Communism!”

In: “Zizek and the Communist Horizon”

Zabala responds to Dabashi’s contention that he is Eurocentric by arguing that Communism, as offered by Zizek, is a universal lens through which to interpret reality. Against the particularity, he argues that we can engage with the communist analytic method of dialectical materialism in everyday life and act through that lens. This is not through the application of stale maxims, but of the adoption of a certain approach or way of engaging with reality that lends coherence to the scattered sequences of events such as 9/11 or the Financial Meltdown of 2008. In response to the real conditions of the oppression by capitalism and the impending extinction due to capitalistic exploitation, we are called to resist this in a universalistic, communistic manner. Instead of acting to curing the symptoms of capitalisms domination in totalitarianism, instability and terror, we have to get to the root of the problem: capitalism.

And Then Walter Mignolo Chimes In


Lol, wut?

Walter Mignolo argues that the work of these de-colonial philosophers who are underrepresented in the original article are more relevant to the concerns of their people. He begins by arguing that Zabala believes in a hierarchy of work and struggles rather than a non-hierarchical relationship between struggles, which he believes is embodied by Dabashi. He then responds to Zizek’s article “A Leftist Plea for ‘Euro-centrism’”, and specifically quotes Zizek’s  first line:

When one says Eurocentrism, every self-respecting postmodern leftist intellectual has as violent a reaction as Joseph Goebbels had to culture – to reach for a gun, hurling accusations of proto-fascist Eurocentrist cultural imperialism. However, is it possible to imagine a leftist appropriation of the European political legacy?

Rather, Mignolo responds:

“A self-respecting decolonial intellectual will reach instead to Frantz Fanon: ‘Now, comrades, now is the time to decide to change sides. We must shake off the great mantle of night, which has enveloped us, and reach, for the light. The new day, which is dawning, must find us determined, enlightened and resolute. So, my brothers, how could we fail to understand that we have better things to do than follow that Europe’s footstep.’”

To Mignolo, the relevance of Zizek’s ideas is not universal but is rather so only to the European intellectuals from which these ideas originated. Rather each population requires its own solutions to its own problems, which can be a disengagement from capitalism or communism or both. He cites Bolivia where “communism” is a problematic social arrangement for the Aymaras and Quechuas of the area.

And Bam! Zizek Tells Mignolo “Fuck You”

In his public lecture at the Birbeck Institute of Humanities, Zizek responds to Mignolo’s arguments.
He begins by disputing the ability to solve the problems of capitalism of the philosophers Mignolo elevates. He specifically takes issue with Wang Hui, who he characterizes as a “Left Friedman” who decenters the struggle against capitalism from capitalism itself, but instead to the evil monopolies which destroy proper free-market exchange. Zizek reads this as the apologia that thought not centered upon the rejection of capitalism makes for it.
He proceeds by contesting Mignolo’s invocation of Fanon. Rather than a sanitized Fanon who simply opts for symbolic acts and is a true expression of an Algerian de-colonial agency, he emphasizes the violent, universalizing Fanon who utilizes the “Eurocentric” work of Lacan and Hegel. He uses an extended quote by Fanon to make the argument that when he faces “de-colonial” intellectuals like Mignolo, he reaches instead for Fanon:

I am a man and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world, I am not responsible only for the slavery involved in Santo Domingo, every time man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving some black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past. My black skin is not a repository for specific values. Haven’t I got better things to do on this earth than avenge the blacks of the 17th century?

I as a man of color do not have the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystallization of guilt towards the past of my race. I as a man of color do not have the right of stamping down the pride of my former master. I have neither the right nor the duty to demand reparations for my subjugated ancestors. There is no black mission. There is no white burden. I do not want to be victim to the rules of a black world. Am I going to ask this white man to answer for the slave traders of the 17th century? Am I going to try by every means available to cause guilt to burgeon in their souls? I am not a slave to slavery that dehumanized my ancestors. It would be of enormous interest to discover a black literature or architecture from the 3rd century B.C, we would be overjoyed to learn of the existence of a correspondence between some black philosopher and Plato, but we can absolutely not see how this fact would change the lives of 8 year old kids working the cane fields of Martinique or Guadeloupe. I find myself in the world and I recognize I have one right alone: of demanding human behavior from the other.

What is rather the proper path of these struggles is to recognize the universalizing possibilities of communism and the truth of dialectical materialism, according to Zizek.

Parting Shot: Michael Marder

In: A Post-Colonial Comedy of Errors

Marder largely responds to the article from Dabashi by arguing that Dabashi’s chutzpah sets him at the center of the world while ignoring that Europe itself is full of divisions and minorities such as Southern Europeans and Balkan states, where Zabala and Zizek hail from, respectively. He also argues that the general depiction of the list of authors as Eurocentric ignores the variations of each author and their anti-hegemonic orientation which demands a more individual analysis and respect to the work actually put out rather than location. As Anti-Eurocentrism has oriented itself away from these “grand narratives” so too have these thinkers. Rather, much as in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors where Dromio is beaten for deeds not committed, these philosophers are accused of crimes not committed.

The Authors

Santiago Zabala is a professor at the University of Barcelona. He’s published books such as Hermeneutic Communism and the Remains of Being.

Walter Mignolo is a professor at Duke University whose work focuses on semiotics and literary theory. He has authored books such as The Darker Side of Western Modernity and The Darker Side of the Renaissance.

Slavoj Zizek is Slavoj Zizek. His books include The Year of Dreaming Dangerously and Living in the End Times.

Michael Marder is a professor at  the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz. His books include Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life and The Event of the Thing.
Hamid Dabashi is a professor at Columbie University. His books include The World of Persian Literary Humanism and The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism

23 May 13:19

Dear God, Why? Nietzsche Pops

by Eugene

nietzsche pops

We’ve known for a while now that breakfast cereal is a microcosm of imperialism, ableism, and speciesism. Ever wonder why rabbits can’t eat Trix? Because the human-animal binary is necessary for the formation of an able-bodied white masculine subject in the service of capitalism and imperialism. Maybe.

Diatribes against children’s cereal aside, is this video some drug-induced commentary on cereal’s inextricable link to fascism? Also maybe.

The video is the work of Ben Hillman, whose website describes himself as “a film maker, designer, author and illustrator who loves subatomic particles and Betty Boop.”

It features a small child consuming Nietzsche Pops before transforming into a world-conquesting ubermensch.

The video’s original description reads:

Do you wake up in the morning feeling more like a Klärk Kent than an Aryan Superman? Getting left behind in the Master Race? Tired of the same old genetically-inferior morning meal?

Then try the first breakfast cereal that is not afraid to proclaim that “God Is Dead.” This great new product has the bold new taste that will keep you satisfied for a thousand years. In fact, it’s already causing quite a Führer. So stare into the Abyss! Stare into a bowl of Nietzsche Pops!

It also somehow got tons of international acclaim (probably for being awesome):

Ben’s independent animation Nietzsche Pops was screened on Bravo and the Independent Film Channel and was aired on MTV’s Liquid Television, PBS, La Sept Arte and Kanal 4. Featured in over 40 film festivals around the world, “Nietzsche Pops” has won numerous awards including the Cine Golden Eagle in Washington DC, and First Prize in the Philadelphia International Film Festival and the New Orleans Film Festival.

Found via Reddit.

22 May 15:45

Xbox One: The Most Restrictive Game Console Ever Made

by Nick Statt

If the Xbox One is the future of gaming, then that future is as grim as everyone feared.

In an event Tuesday morning that felt like a casual bar conversation compared to Sony's brain-exploding extravaganza back in February, Microsoft unveiled the next-gen Xbox — not in a giant conference center, but in a tent set up on a soccer field at its Redmond campus.

With a hard-line focus on the One's television connectivity and a smart decision to actually show off the physical console, Microsoft pulled off a tight one-hour presentation that glazed over the trickier undercurrents at play. But the devil is in the details, and it's now apparent that while the Xbox One will not require a constant Internet connection [Note: this point is now in dispute - see update further down], as many had feared, it's still the most restrictive console ever made.

(See also: Sim City Launch Disaster Should Kill Online-Only DRM)

As the event highlighted, the One is an aggressive grab for the living room from the get-go. But for gamers, long the core market for the Xbox, two really important questions remain. How much of the hardware we buy do we really own, and how far can and should a manufacturer go in telling us how to use our console?

Microsoft drew some very serious lines in the sand today. It's up to consumers to decide whether or not to play ball. 

Microsoft's Iron Grip

The rumor of a universal always-online requirement was finally quelled, but even more mysterious news boiled up in its place. Microsoft openly revealed that the One will require users to download all games to the console's hard drive to play, but Wired's Chris Kohler reported that to do this a second time with the same disc will require a player to pay an unspecified fee.

(See also: Xbox One: Microsoft's Big Bid To Pwn The Living Room)

Microsoft quickly responded by saying that the Xbox One will "enable customers to trade in and resell games" and that the company will have more details to share later, likely at the Electronic Entertainment Expo next month. But the same spokesperson also added this ominous note in a comment to the game-news site Polygon:

Xbox One’s support for used games and these other scenarios may not look like they have on previous console generations, and that’s what we’ll be explaining as soon as we’re able.

That's as clear as mud, of course. But tacking on fees for re-using an already-purchased game disk could seriously damage the used game market, or even kill it entirely. Not only would used games get more complicated to rebundle and price, resellers would likely offer less for used games in the first place.

That would antagonize retailers and consumers alike. It would be a giant step backward in an era where a game that provides maybe 8-10 hours of gameplay will still cost $60. Such a policy could even boomerang on game developers themselves, since many gamers finance their purchase of new games by trading in their old ones. If the trade-in market vanishes, so does that source of cash for new purchases.

The good news here is that a used game fee was "a surprise" to GameStop President Tony Bartel when he spoke to Polygon. Bartel went on to call the fee requirement "speculation." In a separate statement to ReadWrite, the company replied, "GameStop is working closely with Microsoft to ensure there is an opportunity for customers to take advantage of our popular buy-sell-trade model and provide a seamless transition for consumers to enjoy the next generation of console gaming." 

(See also: Xbox One Photo Gallery)

While the Xbox One will be able to operate without an Internet connection, the always-online issue won't go away entirely. Microsoft announced that it will be handing that ability over to publishers, who can designate certain game functions that will only work on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform — in other words, effectively requiring an Internet connection to play.

This isn't great news, especially considering Electronic Arts took the stage at the One unveiling. EA, voted the worst company in America two years in a row, recently tried to play nice with its consumer base by discontinuing its insane Online Pass program, which charged gamers a fee to access some online levels or items via a used game disk. But you can bet the company will be near the front of the line when it comes time to bake core game functions into the cloud to make an online-only gaming world an unavoidable, and unpleasant, reality.  

Say Goodbye To Your Current Collection

So what about that huge library of Xbox 360 games you've collected so far? Sorry, those won't work on the One. (PlayStation 3 games won't work on Sony's upcoming console, either, so there's plenty of blame to go around on this front.)

But what about all those awesome indie games you've downloaded through Xbox Live Marketplace or the full 360 titles you bought digitally? Those will carry over, right? Nope. It turns out that only music, movies, and TV shows purchased through Xbox Live will follow you to the One. [Note: Microsoft's Don Mattrick has responded to this aspect - see update further down].

Then there's the Kinect. While it sports very impressive voice recognition and motion control, reports quickly surfaced that the updated camera-sensor combo will need to be plugged in at all times to use the One. For starters, that's both annoying and a bit creepy, considering the Kinect will be on all the time watching everything you do. But this bit of news also suggests that the One itself might be pretty pricey, if it comes with the next-generation Kinect bundled.

Your Move, Sony

To be sure, Sony's PlayStation 4 could be equally bad, or even worse; we won't know until Sony really unveils it at E3 next month. For the moment, though, Sony at least stands a chance of offering a more consumer-friendly future for console gaming.

Is it inevitable that both the software and hardware we buy in the gaming realm, be it the new SimCity or the next-gen Xbox, are simply no longer ours to own, let alone to hack and mod and use in the way we're most comfortable? Microsoft may not have come out and said so outright, but it's certainly taken quite a few steps down that gloomy manufacturer- and publisher-dominated road.

Updated 10:15am on 5/22: When asked directly by Kotaku whether or not the Xbox One would have a time limit on its ability to play games offline, Microsoft Vice President Phil Harrison offered these fateful words: 

Kotaku: If I’m playing a single player game, do I have to be online at least once per hour or something like that? Or can I go weeks and weeks?

Harrison: I believe it’s 24 hours.

Kotaku: I’d have to connect online once every day.

Harrison: Correct.

The company immediately backpedaled on Harrison's statement, telling Polygon Wednesday morning that the comments represent only "potential scenarios," adding, "...we have not confirmed any details today, nor will we be."

Updated 11:40am on 5/22: When asked about backwards compatibility by The Wall Street Journal, Don Mattrick, head of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, said that only 5% of customers play old games on a new system and developing technology to accomdate those players was not worth it. “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards,” Mattrick added.

Photos by ReadWrite's Taylor Hatmaker for ReadWrite

22 May 14:45

Diablo 3: A Case Of Virtual Hyperinflation

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Peter C. Earle via the Ludwig von Mises Institute,

As virtual fantasy worlds go, Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo 3 is particularly foreboding. In this multiplayer online game played by millions, witch doctors, demon hunters, and other character types duke it out in a war between angels and demons in a dark world called Sanctuary. The world is reminiscent of Judeo-Christian notions of hell: fire and brimstone, with the added fantasy elements of supernatural combat waged with magic and divine weaponry. And within a fairly straightforward gaming framework, virtual “gold” is used as currency for purchasing weapons and repairing battle damage. Over time, virtual gold can be used to purchase ever-more resources for confronting ever-more dangerous foes.

But in the last few months, various outposts in that world — Silver City and New Tristram, to name two — have borne more in common with real world places like Harare, Zimbabwe in 2007 or Berlin in 1923 than with Dante’s Inferno. A culmination of a series of unanticipated circumstances — and, finally, a most unfortunate programming bug — has over the last few weeks produced a new and unforeseen dimension of hellishness within Diablo 3: hyperinflation.


Austrian Economics and Inflation

In casual use, the term “inflation” is used in conjunction with price increases. From the perspective of the Austrian School of economics, though, that phenomenon is a secondary effect of increases in the money supply. As Henry Hazlitt wrote,

When the supply of money increase[s], people have more money to offer for goods. … Each individual dollar becomes less valuable because there are more dollars. Therefore more of them will be offered against, say, a pair of shoes or a hundred bushels of wheat than before. A “price” is an exchange ratio between a dollar and a unit of goods. When people have more dollars … [goods] rise in price, not because [they] are scarcer than before, but because dollars are more abundant.[1]

Furthermore, inflation is not simply an increase in the supply of money within an economy; it is the increase in that portion (if any) not backed by a commensurate increase in specie: most common in history, market commodities like gold or silver. Thus fiat currencies are, unless tightly controlled as to the amounts being created versus being destroyed (with the latter typically only occurring due to wear), notably susceptible to inflation.

As virtual currencies are digitally-created and not commodity-backed — therefore, not particularly dissimilar from real world currencies in this day and age — those such as Diablo 3’s gold are de facto fiat currencies.

Sinks, Faucets, and Inflation

In virtual economies, the primary instruments used to control the money supply are “faucets” and “sinks.” Faucets are ways through which game currency is injected into the game. This generally involve players receiving currency from the game system itself, as opposed to other players. In such situations, the received currency is created anew. Sinks are ways through which game currency is removed from the game. This generally involve players paying currency into the game system itself, as opposed to other players. In such situations, the paid currency is destroyed.[2] Examples of faucets and sinks in Diablo 3 are included below:


  • Drops — When a player defeats a foe, they often receive a reward of virtual gold or a good saleable into virtual gold;

  • Rewards — The game involves the player undertaking “Acts,” and within each act are a number of “quests.” For completing these, players are typically awarded virtual gold;

  • Buyers — Players can sell items to “in-game” (computerized, non-human) buyers, receiving virtual gold.


  • Repairs — Over time, a player’s equipment will become damaged in combat and suffers wear-and-tear, requiring periodic restoration from an in-game craftsman in exchange for virtual gold;

  • Forging — Players pay virtual gold to an in-game blacksmith for weapons;

  • Rakes — Using the gold auction house costs players both a listing fee and a transaction fee, removing virtual gold from the economy;

  • Consumables — Players can purchase potions, scrolls, and other items from vendors for virtual gold.

Diablo 3 was rolled out in May 2012, and there seem to have been early concerns among players that gold sinks within the game were insufficient. One site noted,

[M]ost of us (probably including Blizzard) assumed that the Blacksmith would be widely used — he was, after all, the only major gold sink in the game … but dropped items alone selling in the [auction house] have been enough to satiate the appetite [of players] and crafting is … a waste of [gold] when one could easily buy an optimal item from the [auction house] rather than pumping 50 to 170K of gold into [a Blacksmith-crafted weapon.][3]

The establishment by Blizzard of a real money auction house (“RMAH”) alongside a virtual gold auction house in the game provided players with an incentive to both farm the game for real world profits and to pursue arbitrage opportunities. The RMAH was also created, at least in part, to disincentivize players from patronizing third party markets outside the game. Nevertheless, bots — automated game participants whose sole purpose is to farm the game world for items to sell — quickly emerged.

Although its anonymity may make it subject to skepticism, several weeks after the game’s debut a source claimed that there were at least 1,000 bots active 24/7 in the Diablo 3 game world, allegedly “harvesting” (producing) 4 million virtual gold per hour.[4] Most of the gold generated by the ruthlessly productive, rapidly adapting bots found its way to third party vendors in a black market which undercut the prices in the sanctioned, in-game auction houses.

The combined effect of heavy bot activity and insufficient sinks immediately impacted the gold markets, and inflationary pressures were soon apparent. An exasperated player complained in August 2012:

I purchased most of my gear for around 5 mil [gold] early on. I’ve been farming for awhile [and] have saved around 30 million gold [but now] I can’t upgrade the gear I have ... Where is all this money coming from? Why is everything so expensive?[5]

And as in real world economies, the price effects of money inflation often arise unevenly. With gold prices falling, prices began spiking in certain goods. Another player noted with curiosity:

[Y]esterday Fiery Brimstone was 150K, now almost 300K. Each time I hit refresh it seems to be going up a bit[.][6]

Gold Floors vs. Black Markets

The RMAH had minimum and maximum dollar amounts for in-game gold transactions: $0.25 minimum, $250 maximum. Market participants were also limited to dealing in increments of a certain size, called a “stack.” The “stack” was initially set to 100K gold. But as gold prices fell owing to rapidly building supply, the stack size was changed in August 2012 to 1 million. This practice, known as redenomination, is a fairly standard (if cosmetic) method of addressing inflation, but was viewed by some players as tacit devaluation.[7]

If you’re changing the [price] of gold from 0.25 per 100,000 to .25 per 1,000,000 I would like to cancel my gold auctions before you do that. You’re completely shifting the market in less than a day, and those of us that have auctions listed that will be affected by this change cannot cancel them until after the patch hits, which is potentially too late.[8]

To be clear, at the time at which the redenomination was introduced, gold was still trading above the floor rate. But being artificial, caps and floors not only prevent markets from clearing, but give black markets a target to undercut, to say nothing of offering players an opportunity to avoid the 15 percent fee — another intended gold sink — levied upon transactions within the auction house. Another player predicted,

[T]his [change] will likely have 2 effects … [it] could kill the private 3rd party market for gold and hopefully discourage botting … [but] because the real money price of gold is decreasing on the RMAH … [g]old will become cheaper as botters flood the market in an attempt to unload their massive surplus of gold before it becomes absolutely worthless. … This decision will further destabilize the economy [as in the gold auction house] prices shoot from 100,000 gold to 1,000,000 gold … [or] 10,000,000 gold to 100,000,000 gold. … The same would happen if the [Federal Reserve] decided to suddenly release a flood of currency into the U.S. economy[.][9]

By early 2013, the gold price had fallen to the exchange floor set by the game managers — $0.25/million — and players began to show signs of concern. One asked,

[Are] there any plans of lowering the floor of gold[?] … It has been at .25 for about 2 weeks now … should I sell my gold now before it gets lowered?[10]

A Delirium of Stacks

Hyperinflation is the economist’s equivalent of an astrophysicist’s quasar cluster or a marine biologist’s dolphin “stampede”: a rare exhibition of a unique set of circumstances which arise infrequently and are closely studied when they materialize. Such events are exotic enough that they become legendary: many individuals knowing little about monetary policy are aware of the recent outbreak in Zimbabwe, or familiar with the defining instance in the post-WWI Weimar Republic.

Economically, the tipping point in the transformation of inflation into hyperinflation is characterized by a profound drop in the outstanding demand for money: when holders of money expect the supply of money to increase — particularly without any sense of timing, bounds, or other guidance — monetary demand in the present drops in favor of surrendering money for vendibles.

The focus of possessors of money, therefore, devolves into an effort to capture known, present purchasing power against the likelihood of its decline in the near future. Saving, in any event, delaying consumption, is chastened; and if a cycle of declining purchasing power and rapidly rising prices ensues, ultimately the propensity to hold money declines precipitously and may fundamentally disappear.

This was demonstrated when, in a message board entry prefaced by stating “Sell Equipment before Patch 1.0.5 Hits!” (a patch is a piece of software added to an operational program or application as bugs are found, changes desired, or ways of improving performance discovered), a player warned that,

Blizzard just announced that the drop rates for [certain] items are going to be doubled … if you haven’t already, you should consider converting your current gear to cash … since real $ [are] the best hedge against gold devaluation[.][11]

If historical cases of hyperinflation — real, and now virtual — have one thing in common, it is the instinct among its victims to blame the symptoms rather than the disease. The Austrian economist Hans Sennholz noted that during the German hyperinflation, “intrigue and artifice” were believed to be at work.[12] Similarly, a handful of Diablo 3 players, frustrated about the decimation of their purchasing power, expressed increasing suspicion of manipulation and conspiracy theories.

[W]hy [are] certain items priced [s]o astronomically high? Many of them are not even that good yet cost 100’s of millions of gold. … I have about 45,000,000 gold saved up [and] check every few days to see if I can get any upgrades that are worth the gold, but … everything is vastly overpriced … clearly controlled by the gold sellers.[13]

And, predictably, any number of baleful remedies were proposed.[14]

While RMAH prices for virtual gold rallied occasionally, the prevailing direction of black market prices for virtual gold was inexorably lower as third party sellers undercut the in-game gold floor. In February 2013, Patch 1.0.7 was rolled out, introducing a range of new gold sinks intended to sop up ever-increasing virtual gold; they included new weapons and items not eligible for sale on the RMAH. One month later, with gold prices continuing to decline, a player made the following diagnosis:

[A]dditional gold sinks [are] unfortunately comparable to spitting on a fire ... [they] do nothing to limit the core issue which is that players are earning gold faster than they [want] to spend it. Repairing is not a … good gold sink as it works best [for] players who are [dying]. … Crafting is the same, works well on players who can get the items to craft with … but leaves players with limited gold supply out of the picture. … The amount of gold that drops … needs to be nerfed, and not softly.[15]

The effort appears to have been futile, as the growth of the virtual gold supply continued to grow.

Several competing definitions for hyperinflation exist, with the strictest — an increase of 50 percent in one month — defined by economist Philip Cagan in his 1956 book The Monetary Dynamics of Hyperinflation. By his definition, the Diablo 3 economy appears to have entered hyperinflation between February and March of 2013, when the black market price of gold fell from $0.20/million to $0.05/million — a decline of over 75 percent in a few weeks. At around that time, a player commented that he was

watching the markets collapse and gold become worthless. … So you feel rich that you have a billion or two in gold[?] … [W]ell guess what, you aren’t … there is nothing you can invest in to hold value. The only thing worth anything has become $$$.

With a sardonic irony that markets sometimes display, real world currencies had assumed the role of commodity gold, and virtual gold had gone the way of all flesh and fiat currencies.

This, however, was still only the penultimate stage. On May 7th 8th, 2013, Blizzard rolled out Patch 1.0.8, which contained the seeds of the last, hyperbolic surge of gold superabundance. One change was the altering of the gold stack size from 1 million to 10 million per $0.25: a simultaneous redenomination and 90 percent devaluation (sitting, as the price was, at the RMAH floor) of virtual gold, targeting black market rates of roughly 4 cents per 10 million. In addition, a bug within the patch allowed users to cancel transactions in the auction house before completion, essentially allowing them to double their gold on demand.

In just a few hours, the already gold-swamped economy saw trillions more created: a mammoth deluge of, by then, worthless virtual gold chasing finite goods, driving prices upward in leaps and bounds. It was, at last, the hyperbolic blow-off characteristic of real world hyperinflationary episodes. Some of the price increases (in Diablo 3 gold) are shown below:

  2013 avg price 1-6 May avg price 7-8 May price
radiant star amethyst 17.4M 41.2M 85.8M
radiant square ruby 187K 260K 337K
flawless square topaz 491 5,170 8,700
star emerald 764K 1.1M 1.6M
tome of jewelcrafting 694 3,400 3,100

And in a noteworthy departure from real world hyperinflation, rather than resorting to barter (which frequently takes the form of food for skilled labor), as runaway inflation became hyperinflation, many chat channels — through which some measure of trade was consummated — seem to have fallen empty: without a need to eat or clothe oneself in the virtual world, some players simply appear to have turned away


Blizzard quickly closed the in-game auction houses and audited transactions which took place during the blowout, banning players who took advantage of the bug and donating the proceeds of certain sales to charity. The gold stack size was also moved back from 10M to 1M. One week later, on May 15th, the above-cited items were quoted at the following, approximate virtual gold prices: radiant star amethyst, 26.1M; radiant square ruby, 375K; flawless square topaz, 8,600; star emerald, 797K; tome of jewelcrafting, 1,350.

In May of 2012, the price of virtual gold was approximately $30/100,000 or $0.0003/gold. As this article was completed — and bearing in mind that these prices may be erroneous, stale, or merely indications of interest — one site showed Diablo 3 gold being offered by four third party sellers at an average price of $1.09/20M, or $0.0000000545/gold: one ten-thousandth its market price one year earlier.In the RMAH, virtual gold was priced at $0.39/1M.

Remembering that game economies are private and players are voluntary members, there’s no explicit mandate to ensure rigid inflation control as one often sees (however rarely pursued) in public economies. That said, knowing that gaming experiences can be upended by economic missteps, there is a clear business interest for gaming firms in keeping virtual currencies and the greater economies as a whole stable.

Frequently, hyperinflationary episodes have ended by substituting a currency outside the political and central banking control of a nation for the sovereign currency. During the early 1990s, during Serbia’s hyperinflation,

[t]he authorities could not print enough cash to keep up. On Jan 6th, 1994, the dinar officially collapsed. The government declared the German mark legal tender … [which] end[ed] the hyperinflation.

Two obvious solutions for managers of virtual economies include more vigilant bot restrictions and close — indeed, real-time — monitoring of faucet output, sink absorption, prices, and user behaviors. More critically, though, whether structured as auctions or exchanges, markets must be allowed to operate freely, without caps, floors, or other artificialities. Unrestricted (real) cash auctions would for the most part preempt and obviate black markets.

One also surmises, considering the level of planning that goes into designing and maintaining virtual gaming environments, that some measure of statistical monitoring and/or econometric modeling must have been applied to Diablo 3’s game world. The Austrian School has long warned of the arrogance and naïveté intrinsic to applying rigid, quantitative measures to the deductive study of human actions. Indeed; if a small, straightforward economy generating detailed, timely economic data for its managers can careen so completely aslant in a matter of months, should anyone be surprised when the performance of central banks consistently breeds results which are either ineffective or destabilizing?

By no means does this analysis intend to equate the actions of virtual gaming firms with the policies of governments or central banks, or to malign their indisputably talented managers, designers, and programmers. While their actions may ultimately generate similar outcomes, central planners seek and wield power whereas the actions of commercial gaming interests are undertaken to compete with other online entertainment providers by delicately balancing opportunities for newer players with the need to continually challenge experienced players.

By all accounts Diablo 3 is a great game; one hopes that with this episode passed, it will reacquire its former glory. But while decision-makers at online gaming firms can and should be forgiven for not anticipating the perilous and unpredictable torsions of rapidly expanding money supplies, the events of the last week provide a stark reminder of the power and inescapability of the laws of economics.


21 May 13:45

RPG Golden Age Syndrome - Editorials

We all love the feeling of nostalgia, but is it a double-edged sword? When we hold the past in such high regard, is our vision of the present skewed?
20 May 16:17

Brassier in NYC

by (..)
20 May 15:31

The Most Dangerous Country In Europe

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Mark Grant, author of Out of the Box,

One of the primary focuses of "Out of the Box" is on where you might get hurt and, more importantly, seriously hurt. "Preservation of Capital," the first ten rules of my thinking, has reached epic seriousness in a world with interest rates at unsustainable lows and underlying economic fundamentals that cannot support today's yields. The irrational game goes on based upon one thing and one thing only which is the creation of capital by all of the world's central banks. The money must go somewhere and so it does but the disconnect between the equity markets and bond yields from the real world is frightening.
"Begot of nothing but vain fantasy."
                   -William Shakespeare
Nowhere on the planet is it scarier than in Europe. Made-up numbers, un-counted liabilities, four years of inaccurate projections from the ECB and the IMF and securitizations parked at the European Central Bank that have all of the credit worthiness of an empanada restaurant in Lisbon. Money flows in, yields go down, the amount of debt increases and few pay any attention to the entire equation which states that what must be paid is the interest rate times the amount of debt as the Draghi bravado overcomes everything. Scant mention these days of the total amount of debt accumulated by the sovereigns as the 3.00% debt limit has become the most elastic of road signs or a trivialized fairy tale by many accounts.
With the banking system in Europe now posting non-performing loans that have reached all-time highs while the recession on the Continent deeps and worsens with the passing of each week I have cast a weathered eye at Europe. Most of us are aware of the dangers in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain but a careful analysis reveals that these are not the most dangerous of countries. They have problems, they are in dire straits but they do not hold the title of the greatest risk in Europe.
That title, in my opinion, belongs to France.
The Germans ballyhoo and point fingers at Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta and the like as being financial centers where the banks are much larger than the economy. Yet nowhere in Europe is this issue so pointed as in France. The French banking system is 400% bigger than the economy of France and this is the worst ratio in all of Europe. Please compare this to the American situation where our banks are roughly equivalent (100%) with our economy.
The combined tax rates for wealthier people is not the 75% number that we have seen bandied around but more than 100% for the richest of France. Even the Supreme Court of France has declared this not taxation but confiscation. Mr. Hollande does not want any more austerity but wants to increase social programs, add more sovereign debt, raise their equivalent of social security payments and lower the retirement age. Whatever political niceties that have been bandied about it is clear that Germany and France are in diametric opposition.
Then as France slips further into recession and as their non-performing loans increase and as their massive amount of securitizations rapidly decline in value; their banking system will come under extreme pressure. Much is hidden and cloaked in France but bills that must be paid will begin to take their toll and the uncounted liabilities do not disappear just because no one adds them up correctly. France, in my view, is a powder keg waiting for some fuse to be lit and it will not be a Belle Epoch Ball at Versailles when it does. There will be fireworks aplenty but no cheering crowd to accompany them.
If there is any good news here it may be that Chateau Petrus may once again be affordable.


16 May 13:16

Accelerationism: Questions for the Accelerationism of today

by Tristam Vivian Adams
Just thought I'd outline a few of my thoughts and questions around Accelerationism today. I tried briefly to outline these sentiments at our first Accelerationism workshop, but today I feel that a clearer outline of my concerns is needed. My question concerns the aesthetics of Accelerationism and the role of technology: what does technology (be it electrical, chemical or social) do for an Accelerationist praxis today?

The more vehemently materialist and pseudo Neil Cassidy/Neuropath strands of thought on the topic may feel that a question about aesthetics is unhelpful – but after hearing Peter Wolfendale's presentation about Hegelian beauty as a somewhat inspirational and emancipatory force I feel my concerns are bolstered. Both Nick Srnicek and Peter Wolfendale presented questions and thoughts that traced vectors of aesthetics and freedom. Peter’s introduction of art as a creativity representing freedom from purpose and an opportunity of social imagination that inspires and can augment freedom was particularly reassuring; reassuring in that the concepts fortified my concerns around Accelerationst aesthetics and technologies.

Without any naïve nostalgia or fetishism for Landianism I want to briefly outline my rearview mirror perspective. Technology played a massive role in shaping many of the aesthetics that bled into 90’s accelerationism. The internet was newly deployed and spawned an intense jargon of cyber-theory. Cyberpunk fed into the technologist anti-capitalist modes of Accelerationism, the cold sweat stench of William Gibson, the uber-masculine petroleum and semen sojourns of Ballardian dystopia and Burroughesque hallucinations inspired much of the prose and language that was many peoples introduction to accelerationsim. The occult, numerology, dystopic sci-fi films and horror all contributed to the text-cocktail too. As did the Lyotardian venom for critique (I feel Libidinal Economy is a pre-cursor to theory-fiction in many ways) and Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus subjective decentralization. I doubt I am alone in approaching accelerationism though a giddying triptych of Hyperstition blog posts, Nick Land texts (Thirst for Annihilation or Fanged Noumena) and Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia. I bring this up not to look backwards but to accept that an aesthetic was synthesized, an aesthetic that was as intrinsic to technologies as much as it was an inorganic reaction to them. Sound pieces (that don’t sound dated today) and Jungle/the rave scene were playing in the background – but these are both sonic forms of creative expression and social interaction that owed their aesthetic to technologically afforded possibilities. Take, for instance the infamous sound pieces that removed all the vowels from a the recording of a speaker to create a jittering tic-talk monologue. Also Jungle, although being shackled to an amen break base, used the new technology of time-stretching to flood raves with a metallic and inhuman glottal drawling. Both of these sonic forms were impossible without the emerging technology of the 90’s.

But there is another technology that fed into the forms of social engagement, sonic manipulation and hyperspeed cyber-gothic prose; the technology is chemical. Chemical modulation of aesthetics affects and the creative and social feedback loops play a part in all aesthetic shifts and social changes – this is not news but the technological resources (both electrical and chemical) are what I want to pursue in this question. It is a large part of the New Accelerationism manifesto to emphasize the potential of the former technology, but I feel that both technologies are liable to operate in a suppressive mode rather than as potential for emancipatory aesthetics or creative fruitfulness. This is not ludditism but rather a reaction to understanding that technologies (both electrical and chemical – and sadly I do not have the time nowadays to pursue either for aesthetic inspiration) have continued to change and progress since the 90’s – whereas creative engagements and relationships with these technologies has been waning. I am not saying that it ended in the 90’s, there have been many creative and emancipatory technological engagements since then, no doubt (not least in context with another technology: social technology); but I feel all technologies are increasing and progressing whereas the creative and positive utilization of these technologies is decreasing. In many instances I fear that these technologies are operating as machines of control – but whereas previously there was the cyberpunk and black shades cunning of Case et al, today there is only the fort-da trauma of endlessly looking back and creating the past for the present over and over again – an impasse – manifested through absurd folk politics, retromania and social lethargy. Artistic conservatism is rife in music and cinema: the newest thing today is a more retro version of yesterday.

Shaviro’s Post Cinematic Affect looks at the few creative endeavors that reach towards a new aesthetic. Boarding Gate, Southland Tales, Corporate Cannibal and Gamer are posited, I feel, as an index of what Accelerationist aesthetics could be today. But there is no new technologically afforded creativity in any of these films; in some more than others the cinematic aesthetic (most notable in Southland Tales – a work which spills out of the traditional cinematic framing into publishing and music) is pushed and explored but intriguingly without any debt to an emerging or innovative technological change.

Accepting technological potentials, either electrical, mechanical, chemical or social is vital (and the manifesto reiterates the Marxism inherent in this), but the question is how to accelerate, how to navigate, to a new technologically catalyzed change (social/political and/or aesthetic) without falling prey to the paralyzing forces of technologies that I feel are ordering aesthetics and societal dynamics today. It is a question of avoiding firstly rose coloured nostalgia for nihilist inhumanism trajectories and secondly ludditism whilst hoping for a better exploration of the vital practical and social potentials that technologies harbour. What is the creative politcal Case of today?
15 May 19:09

Get A Tiled, Option-Stacked & Customizable Start Menu In Windows 8

by Waqas Ahmed

Whether you like it or not, the new Start Screen in Windows 8 is here to stay. But if you’re having a hard time getting used to it and prefer to get things done the old way such as accessing applications, shortcuts and files, you just need to install a Start Menu replacement app. We’ve already covered a handful of Start Menu apps and Start Screen modifiers for our readers, including the likes of Pokki, Classic Shell and Start8. Today, we’re bringing to you yet another similar application called Start Menu Reviver. It’s a great option for those avid Start Menu users who think that the Start Screen simply slows them down. It offers almost all the features of Start Screen and lets you access your programs and favorite websites right from the desktop.

So what makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd? That would be its elegant interface and a horde of features, I’d say. The first and foremost of these is its ability to let you create tiles for websites and apps. Start Menu Reviver features Start Screen-like tiles that let you open your apps and other items. It also carries a navigation bar to the left that provides quick access to user accounts, network and sharing center, recent apps, start search, tasks, run console, and of course, your apps.

Start Menu Reviver

The Settings button here comes handy for quickly opening different configuration areas of Windows such as Control Panel, Device Manager, Scheduled Tasks, Services, Action Center, Start Menu Settings, Windows Firewall and Updates, and more.


Let’s now take a detailed look at one of the most interesting bits of the app: adding tiles. The application allows you to add Start Screen-like tiles for programs, files and websites of your choice. For doing this, simple right click on the app and click Add Tile in the context menu. In the proceeding window, you can specify the tile name, shortcut (either file or application’s path, or URL), color and tile icon. There’s a whole variety of icons included in the app for popular apps like Photoshop, Firefox, Chrome, Google Earth, Picasa etc. Alternatively, you can also add a custom icon if you wish.

Create Tile

The app also allows you to open or search desktop and Modern UI apps without opening the Start Screen itself. You can conveniently access apps, files, folders and other items using the search box. When you hit the Apps button, the drop down menu at the top-right lets you specify the type of items you want to open, for instance Desktop apps, Metro apps, Documents etc. Likewise, you can also sort these items if required. There are also minuscule battery and clock buttons on the top-right, but they may be rather redundant considering this information is already visible in the Taskbar.

Start Menu Reviver_Apps

Users often complain about the unintuitive placement of power options in Windows 8. Start Menu Reviver takes care of this annoyance by giving you instant, convenient access to power options i.e. log off, switch user, lock, sleep, hibernate, restart and shutdown from a single power menu.

Start Menu Reviver_Power

To make application-specific changes, right-click the Start button and access the Settings window. Apart from making some generic changes like language, system startup behavior, and auto update, you can select between different Start button styles, disable the Dashboard tile (which basically gives access to the Start Screen) and customize further UI elements by changing the color scheme.

Start Menu Reviver_Settings

Start Menu Reviver is designed to work on Windows 8 only. Testing was carried out on Windows 8 Pro 64-bit.

Download Start Menu Reviver

Read Get A Tiled, Option-Stacked & Customizable Start Menu In Windows 8 by Waqas Ahmed on AddictiveTips - Tech tips to make you smarter

15 May 17:35

A Brief History of Cycles and Time, Part 1

by Charles Hugh Smith
"If I’ve learned one thing over the last 12 years from following markets, economics, and geopolitics is this: no man can push the Wheels of History. It unfolds in its own time and no other."

I am honored to publish a deeply insightful two-part essay by longtime contributor Eric A. on long-term cycles, and how they shape our spectrum of responses in periods of crisis and transformation. This essay has profound implications for our individual choices in the years ahead, and I believe it helps explain my own political/ financial philosophy outlined in my books: 

Here is Part 1 of Eric's essay. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.

Many of you may be familiar with the Foundation series by Issac Asimov. In it, mathematician "Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistor. Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale."

In practice, we can see that this would be theoretically correct: we study history precisely because human nature is relatively the same and the same events recur with the same predictable responses. If history really were chaos--a muddle of events appearing randomly and being resolved in unpredictable ways--there would be no point in studying it.

Using this same method, in “Foundation” Hari Seldon uses his model to predict with great accuracy the unfolding of the human universe hundreds and thousands of years in the future.
But that’s sci-fi, right?

Not exactly. Like many sci-fi stories, “Foundation” takes a true premise and extrapolates it into the future. In the 30’s “Buck Rogers” hypothesized the existence of rockets and trips to Mars. Star Trek hypothesized the wide use of lasers--a laboratory curiosity--and phasers, similar to the microwave technology we use every day. Science Fiction by definition thinks ahead to ask “what if?” We know what is possible, but what if we could harness, refine, perfect it? By definition, it must be ahead of its time, or it wouldn’t be “Sci-Fi” but “Contemporary Fiction.”

Foundation originally appeared in Astounding Magazine in 1942. So how are we doing?

As it turns out, pretty good. There is a “Hari” working on exactly this problem: Harry Dent, of demographics research. “Demographics are destiny” he would say. As each generation is born, it demands support in housing and schools, then is productive in their middle years, creating the most wealth right on cue in their 50’s, then retiring and drawing resources until death, and so on through time. It cannot be changed except with mass epidemic or calamity of war. And this is provably true: demographics of the Boomers in the U.S. are measurably slowing the economy as they retire, precisely the way that Japan’s earlier baby boom slowed their economy into a Depression 20 years earlier.

There is Robert Prechter’s “Socionomics” study, which states that markets and governments don’t create human moves, but are instead the consequence of them. That is to say, human emotions and behavior run in cycles of set period. Obviously humankind cannot become infinitely more optimistic forever into the future. In the same way trees don’t grow to the sky, at some point human expectation must reverse and become less optimistic, more conservative and pessimistic until it reaches an opposite extreme.

And this theory has a lot going for it: if governments truly controlled stock markets, economies, nations, then why would they ever decline? No government or market would ever voluntarily get smaller, less powerful, and prosperous. And yet despite everything they can do to prevent them, markets and economies always, always DO reverse. Always. And what’s more, they move in predictable cycles over time, from the 4-year business cycle to the 70-odd year Kondratieff Cycle.

This 70-year cycle of human lifetime is what Strauss and Howe refine in their work The 4th Turning. The idea that there are four generations that proceed in predictable order: Prophet, Hero, Nomad, Artist that occur over and over again in western history since at least the 16th century. Imagine a kitten being born, living half its life in winter, never seeing spring until they are full-grown—how that affects their behavior, their perception of life.

This is the same for the generations, being born in turns in a stable, expanding world or an unstable, contracting one markedly alters the perception and behavior, the demands outlook, and skills of a 20-year generation. This not only meshes with the Kondratieff Cycle but explains the expansions and contractions, breathing in and breathing out, the ebb and flow of optimism and pessimism that are easily so predictable in aggregate, just as Asimov predicted.

There is one additional candidate: market timer Martin Armstrong. Armstrong doesn’t just follow cycles, but like Hari Seldon, has made a complex computer model of all factors, and has made a career predicting precise turns in timing, often to the day, as in the market crash of 1987.

How can he do this? Because people in aggregate do not have as much free will as they believe they do. We as people are not only our own observations and desires, but we exist as an integral part of a larger ecosystem – a social, economic, political, thermodynamic, and mathematical ecosystem that we cannot escape. Just as the kitten above, living in a world that has always been snow leads you to simply BE different than who you might have been only knowing the ease of the summer sun.

What could possibly create human cycles with such predictability in time and frequency? Although everyone from Ecclesiastes to Machiavelli to Munehisa Homma remarks that they exist, no one really knows. But how about something like this?

Or other, longer cycles, from the sun, the stars, the weather, the planets? We don’t know. Like gravity or time, we can only see and measure the effects, we cannot yet hypothesize their cause.

Back to charts, many of you may be familiar with this chart by market commentator Karl Denninger, from 2009:

What does this tell us? GDP, the real economy theoretically rises by let’s say 3% a year. However since 1971, debt has risen something more like 9% a year. Any 5th grade student recognizes the law of simple exponents. That GDP, that is, economic “Reality” is falling ever further behind economic fantasy, that is, all the undelivered paper promises represented by “debt.”

This is the mathematical system we live in that also largely represents the thermodynamic reality of the U.S., and critics have been bringing this to public attention since the budget debates of the ‘80’s. The injustice, the irrefutability, and impossibility of avoiding the sudden collapse of the market--indeed the real world of politics, war, death, and human action—back to the lower line. They have been warning the public since before the first crash of 2001 that this MUST happen, and must happen badly.

So why hasn’t it crashed? Why, 14, 24, 34 years later is the economy still limping along, the illusions still firmly in place despite every evidence and warning?

It isn’t time.

We in the blogosphere have been warning people about impending collapse for over a decade, and for the most part we’ve been right: tech on the Nasdaq crashed from 5000 to 1000, never to recover. Housing crashed never to recover. The Dow fell from 14,000 to 6,600. Every bank nationally and worldwide is insolvent. Most developed nations are also insolvent along with their debt, which is the de facto currency and blood of the very system of human exchange. We predicted this and were correct.

Yet seen another way, nothing has changed. Instead of falling to 7 PE and 4% dividend ratio, the Dow rebounded to 14,700. Instead of over-correcting beyond a 3:1 income ratio, below $126,000, U.S. housing remains levitated at roughly $200,000, far above what the young can afford, stranding 20M houses in vacancy and decay. With market proof, mathematical proof, proof of financial action such as the hundred Trillion in bank bailouts and the political red flag of the Cyprus bail-in, how can this be?

It isn’t time.

If I’ve learned one thing over the last 12 years from following markets, economics, and geopolitics is this: no man can push the Wheels of History. It unfolds in its own time and no other.
Look at the Generations: at this time, the Boomers are still in undisputed control of the US, economically, socially, and politically. They own a quorum of all wealth.

They have a supermajority in Congress. Economically, attention is largely focused on only this demographic which still has some remaining money—the Viagra and prescription drug ads, the focus on investing and retirement, even the age of the actors in movies, TV, and commercials tells us so. The young, although now larger in numbers, have no effective political power. This will change, but it only changes when it does, on the strict schedule of demographics.

Socially, we saw the markets crash into ’01 and ’08. But like the matching dates of 1921 and 1929 these were sudden extremes in human pessimism which could not be sustained. It matters not at all whether they are “true,” or whether fundamentals support them: human emotion cannot remain at extremes of either optimism or pessimism; it cannot move in one direction all at once. They must and will fluctuate, and the time it takes for the mood of an aggregate population to fluctuate is a predictable quantity, at minimum the 4-year business cycle.

Speaking of 1929, the inflation-adjusted Dow:

Or as inflation is notoriously difficult to measure, you may prefer the in vs out flows to gold as a money-standard:

Although noisy, note one thing in both these charts: the highs and lows tend to occur with a set frequency. The Dow with a small frequency of 4 years, a larger of 8, then 40, and so on, giving us times of 1929, 1968, and 2008. In Dow:Gold ratio, we have something only slightly more complicated, neatly marked by 14 year Bear markets, followed 20 year Bull markets. There are very few ultra-long historical charts, but here is one:

For context, in 1344 A.D., gunpowder was a new invention, The 100 Years War was beginning, Joan of Arc hadn’t been born, and America wouldn’t be discovered for another 150 years.
Yet note the chart above shows the same similar periods of highs and lows, for both 8 and 40 years. Why?

Hari Seldon’s phychohistory. The waves of human emotion, of optimism and pessimism both long and short term haven’t changed. Short-term it can only persist for 4 years while longer term only for sub-40 years, or exactly one-half one generation. Divide your four 20-year generations in half and you’ll find that same turning.

So why are the markets still going up? Why can’t people respond to warnings of the blogosphere, or warnings of collapsing economies and accounts right before their eyes?

Answer: Because they can’t. It isn’t time.

by Eric A.

Part 2 will be published tomorrow. 

Things are falling apart--that is obvious. But why are they falling apart? The reasons are complex and global. Our economy and society have structural problems that cannot be solved by adding debt to debt. We are becoming poorer, not just from financial over-reach, but from fundamental forces that are not easy to identify or understand. We will cover the five core reasons why things are falling apart:

go to print edition1. Debt and financialization
2. Crony capitalism and the elimination of accountability
3. Diminishing returns
4. Centralization
5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economy

Complex systems weakened by diminishing returns collapse under their own weight and are replaced by systems that are simpler, faster and affordable. If we cling to the old ways, our system will disintegrate. If we want sustainable prosperity rather than collapse, we must embrace a new model that is Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable (DATA).

We are not powerless. Not accepting responsibility and being powerless are two sides of the same coin: once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

Kindle edition: $9.95       print edition: $24 on
To receive a 20% discount on the print edition: $19.20 (retail $24), follow the link, open a Createspace account and enter discount code SJRGPLAB. (This is the only way I can offer a discount.)

Thank you, Steve R. ($100), for your outrageously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership. Thank you, Trenna L. ($10), for your much-appreciated generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Go to my main site at for the full posts and archives.
15 May 17:35

A Brief History of Cycles and Time, Part 2

by Charles Hugh Smith
Part 2 of the guest essay by Eric A.: "Because it's time."

I am honored to publish a deeply insightful two-part essay by longtime contributor Eric A. on long-term cycles, and how they shape our spectrum of responses in periods of crisis and transformation. This essay has profound implications for our individual choices in the years ahead, and I believe it helps explain my own political/ financial philosophy outlined in my books: 

Here is Part 2 of Eric's essay.

Let me ask you something: Do you really think your ancestors didn’t see the Depression coming in 1921 or in 1929? Of course they did. The Balloon Option-ARM mortgage had just been invented, creating a housing boom larger and even more groundless as our own, immortalized by the Marx Brothers in The Cocoanuts. They warned the world then just as we do now, and no one listened then, just as they don’t now. Why? It wasn’t time.

Likewise, do you think Hoover and Roosevelt didn’t do everything they could, whether legal or illegal to stop the endless economic decline after 1929? Of course they did. Roosevelt confiscated the entire money supply, packed the Supreme Court, and took control of the entire US economy to no avail. Henry Morgenthau, Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary, admitted,

"We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work... We have never made good on our promises. I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. And an enormous debt to boot."

And the media failing to report? I’ll show you just three graphics:

1. "We will not have any more crashes in our time." - John Maynard Keynes in 1927 (1)

2. "I cannot help but raise a dissenting voice to statements that we are living in a fool’s paradise, and that prosperity in this country must necessarily diminish and recede in the near future." - E. H. H. Simmons, President, New York Stock Exchange, January 12, 1928

"There will be no interruption of our permanent prosperity." - Myron E. Forbes, President, Pierce Arrow Motor Car Co., January 12, 1928 (2)

3. "No Congress of the United States ever assembled, on surveying the state of the Union, has met with a more pleasing prospect than that which appears at the present time. In the domestic field there is tranquility and contentment...and the highest record of years of prosperity. In the foreign field there is peace, the goodwill which comes from mutual understanding." - Calvin Coolidge December 4, 1928 (3)

4. "There may be a recession in stock prices, but not anything in the nature of a crash." - Irving Fisher, leading U.S. economist , New York Times, Sept. 5, 1929 (4)

5. "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. I do not feel there will be soon if ever a 50 or 60 point break from present levels, such as (bears) have predicted. I expect to see the stock market a good deal higher within a few months." - Irving Fisher, Ph.D. in economics, Oct. 17, 1929

"This crash is not going to have much effect on business." - Arthur Reynolds, Chairman of Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago, October 24, 1929
"There will be no repetition of the break of yesterday... I have no fear of another comparable decline." - Arthur W. Loasby (President of the Equitable Trust Company), quoted in NYT, Friday, October 25, 1929

"We feel that fundamentally Wall Street is sound, and that for people who can afford to pay for them outright, good stocks are cheap at these prices." - Goodbody and Company market-letter quoted in The New York Times, Friday, October 25, 1929 (5)

6. "This is the time to buy stocks. This is the time to recall the words of the late J. P. Morgan... that any man who is bearish on America will go broke. Within a few days there is likely to be a bear panic rather than a bull panic. Many of the low prices as a result of this hysterical selling are not likely to be reached again in many years." - R. W. McNeel, market analyst, as quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, October 30, 1929

"Buying of sound, seasoned issues now will not be regretted." - E. A. Pearce market letter quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, October 30, 1929

"Some pretty intelligent people are now buying stocks... Unless we are to have a panic — which no one seriously believes, stocks have hit bottom." - R. W. McNeal, financial analyst in October 1929 (6)

7. "The decline is in paper values, not in tangible goods and services... America is now in the eighth year of prosperity as commercially defined. The former great periods of prosperity in America averaged eleven years. On this basis we now have three more years to go before the tailspin." - Stuart Chase (American economist and author), NY Herald Tribune, November 1, 1929

"Hysteria has now disappeared from Wall Street.” - The Times of London, November 2, 1929
"The Wall Street crash doesn’t mean that there will be any general or serious business depression... For six years American business has been diverting a substantial part of its attention, its energies and its resources on the speculative game... Now that irrelevant, alien and hazardous adventure is over. Business has come home again, back to its job, providentially unscathed, sound in wind and limb, financially stronger than ever before." - Business Week, November 2, 1929

"...despite its severity, we believe that the slump in stock prices will prove an intermediate movement and not the precursor of a business depression such as would entail prolonged further liquidation..." - Harvard Economic Society (HES), November 2, 1929 (7)

8. "...a serious depression seems improbable; [we expect] recovery of business next spring, with further improvement in the fall."- HES, November 10, 1929

"The end of the decline of the Stock Market will probably not be long, only a few more days at most." - Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics at Yale University, November 14, 1929

"In most of the cities and towns of this country, this Wall Street panic will have no effect." - Paul Block (President of the Block newspaper chain), editorial, November 15, 1929

"Financial storm definitely passed." - Bernard Baruch, cablegram to Winston Churchill, November 15, 1929 (8)

9. "I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or warrants pessimism... I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring, and that during this coming year the country will make steady progress." - Andrew W. Mellon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury December 31, 1929

"I am convinced that through these measures we have reestablished confidence." - Herbert Hoover, December 1929

"[1930 will be] a splendid employment year." - U.S. Dept. of Labor, New Year’s Forecast, December 1929 (9)

10. “For the immediate future, at least, the outlook (stocks) is bright.” - Irving Fisher, Ph.D. in Economics, in early 1930 (10) 

11. "...there are indications that the severest phase of the recession is over..." - Harvard Economic Society (HES) Jan 18, 1930 (11)

12. "There is nothing in the situation to be disturbed about." - Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, Feb 1930 (12)

13. "The spring of 1930 marks the end of a period of grave concern... American business is steadily coming back to a normal level of prosperity." - Julius Barnes, head of Hoover’s National Business Survey Conference, Mar 16, 1930

"...the outlook continues favorable..." - HES Mar 29, 1930 (13)

14. "...the outlook is favorable..." - HES Apr 19, 1930 (14)

15. "While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed through the worst — and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There has been no significant bank or industrial failure. That danger, too, is safely behind us." - Herbert Hoover, President of the United States, May 1, 1930

" May or June the spring recovery forecast in our letters of last December and November should clearly be apparent..." - HES May 17, 1930

"Gentleman, you have come sixty days too late. The depression is over." - Herbert Hoover, responding to a delegation requesting a public works program to help speed the recovery, June 1930 (15)

16. "...irregular and conflicting movements of business should soon give way to a sustained recovery..." - HES June 28, 1930 (16)

17. "...the present depression has about spent its force..." - HES, Aug 30, 1930 (17)

18. "We are now near the end of the declining phase of the depression." - HES Nov 15, 1930 (18)

19. “Stabilization at [present] levels is clearly possible.” - HES Oct 31, 1931 (19)

20. "All safe deposit boxes in banks or financial institutions have been sealed... and may only be opened in the presence of an agent of the I.R.S." - President F.D. Roosevelt, 1933 (20)

Source: Colin J. Seymour, June 2001

                Man of the Year, 1938                                     Man of the Year, 1939

Poor enough reporting for ya? I’m sure you’d find the same reporting in the Great Depressions of 1837 and 1870, while many of you personally remember the W.I.N. buttons and pro-American quotes in the Depression of 1968-1979.

History never changes. Or, at least it changes very slowly indeed.

So here we are, like those before us, warning of our own Great Depression, of our own World War, or of even larger cycles like the fall of the English, Spanish, or Roman empires. And so far as we can tell, few listen and nothing changes. Why?

Because it isn’t time.

You think they didn’t see the rise of Fascism and WWII in the 30’s? What was the Lincoln Brigade about? You think the people of 1930 didn’t also inform each other, stall and delay the day of reckoning, and struggle to prepare? Of course they did. Just as much as we ourselves and our present government have. The delay due to their ability and willingness to intervene is already factored into the cycle.

So why didn’t war break out in 1932, 1936, or for the U.S., in 1940? It wasn’t as if people didn’t see it coming, just as we see our own war and challenges now.

Because it wasn’t time. What I mean by that is, no matter how far seeing, History, as Hari Seldon would say, is made up of the aggregate, not the individual. No individual-- not even Churchill chafing under Chamberlain in 1938—could change it.

It only happens slowly, when one by one the great mass of the population have changed their minds and their behavior. Only then can history unfold. You, me, even Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke, or George Soros cannot push the great Wheel of History around because it is made of all 6 Billion of us, the whole planet, the whole market, and the sum of human understanding.

To me, this the cardinal sin of the blogosphere, or indeed of the times: that we know what is best for everyone, as writers, pundits, politicians. That we need to make the other guy "wake up." We need to make them see as we do, act as ourselves, obey our will. Isn’t this the very defect we attribute to our enemies? That they’re always galumping around telling everybody what to do and how to live?

"They"—your family, your neighbors, your country--need to wake up? Let me ask you: "How did YOU wake up?" I can answer that without knowing you: a little at first, then all at once, in your own time. Neither is the journey for any of our "waking up" complete.

Telling people what is going on is one thing, it’s free speech, expressing our opinions on where we are and how the world works. Forcing others to believe something, become something, act in a way we believe they should is the first step to violence. If you believe in and value Liberty and the free exchange of ideas as I do, don’t do it. Changing the other guy is not your job.

Given that we can’t change history, and it’s reprehensible to force yourself on others, one might ask what good is it to talk about it? Screw the other guy if he won’t learn. Ride the stock market up for every dollar. "Eat, Drink, and be Merry, for tomorrow we die." To which I would respond as Dorothy Parker, "But alas, we never do." We may not be able to change the world or the course of history, but we can prepare on our own, individual level. And that’s the key, the individual level.

Markets, governments, wars, they are aggregations that will only change on schedule after some series of remarkable events forces them to respond and adjust.

This is part of Charles Hugh Smith’s discussions of fiefdoms, feedback, and the status quo: by definition the status quo can’t change, because if it could it wouldn’t be a status quo mired in internecine wrangling; it would be smoothly evolving into a new stable system. The system as we know it can’t change, but YOU can.

And as this is the only effort that’s going to effect any change in your life vs. the tide of history, it’s also the only one you have control over and the only one that’s going to do you any good. Dmitry Orlov has mentioned this many times regarding the collapse of governments and empires, in his case, the Soviet Union.

Did the U.S.S.R. disappear overnight? No. It took time, the exact amount of time for people to recognize, test, explore, and adjust their behavior. For some slower, and others more quickly. That is to say it took years, each piece unfolding one person at a time, one personal realization and event at a time in their own order. Once the nation collapsed, did it suddenly reform into the functional and rising state Russia enjoys now?

No. Again, it took time, decades of unfolding from 1991 until 2013, another whole generation, one "turning." Not until those who carried the template of the old ways passed away and new, younger people with new thinking replaced them. Not one of them could have stopped it or hurried it along although many tried, no different than any other time in history. As for the other guy, it’s always been clear that we’re all in this together. If your neighbors have a problem, then you have a problem whether down the street or in the world. This is why we all help each other best we can according to our abilities, in our own time.

What we as bloggers and far-seers have been trying to do is to change the aggregate, which cannot be done. The aggregate WILL change, but it can only change in its own schedule. We can continue to tell the truth, but after decades of status quo, we should not expect our words to change the world, our nation, or to some extent even our community. The only thing we can realistically change is ourselves with our own actions, and that is where all real change comes from, one person: one action at a time. 6 billion tiny events, tiny tipping points, changing minds who realize themselves one by one.

So what revolutionary act can you make today? If you read, or similar sites, you already know the direction of history and what may be needed by you and the nation in the years ahead. What can you do to fill those gaps and prepare in your own life? Because the Wheels of History, although grinding exceeding slow, do get there in the end, made up of the decisions of billions of human actors. You may not be able to change your nation or the desperate situation we find ourselves in, but each of you can change yourself. You can make your own lifeboat in the midst of our own national challenge or "collapse." Only through that individual preparation could we find a million safety nets which prevent collapse.
And if that is all that’s asked of you, it’s good, for that’s all that’s possible.

Start today. It’s time.

by Eric A.

Thank you, Eric, for sharing your analysis and conclusion. Understanding is waking up.

Things are falling apart--that is obvious. But why are they falling apart? The reasons are complex and global. Our economy and society have structural problems that cannot be solved by adding debt to debt. We are becoming poorer, not just from financial over-reach, but from fundamental forces that are not easy to identify or understand. We will cover the five core reasons why things are falling apart:

go to print edition1. Debt and financialization
2. Crony capitalism and the elimination of accountability
3. Diminishing returns
4. Centralization
5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economy

Complex systems weakened by diminishing returns collapse under their own weight and are replaced by systems that are simpler, faster and affordable. If we cling to the old ways, our system will disintegrate. If we want sustainable prosperity rather than collapse, we must embrace a new model that is Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable (DATA).

We are not powerless. Not accepting responsibility and being powerless are two sides of the same coin: once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

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To receive a 20% discount on the print edition: $19.20 (retail $24), follow the link, open a Createspace account and enter discount code SJRGPLAB. (This is the only way I can offer a discount.)

Thank you, Christopher T. ($75), for your outrageously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership. Thank you, Alexis V. ($10/month), for your stupendously generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Go to my main site at for the full posts and archives.
15 May 13:14

A North American’s Guide to the Use and Abuse of the Modern PhD

by S. Abbas Raza

by Colin Eatock

Slide1You applied to the program, and you got in. Then you spent the next four, six, eight or more years stroking the capricious egos of professors, jockeying for position within your peer group and marking bad undergraduate essays for the minimum wage. You completed the research, the grant applications, the writing, the comprehensive exams, and finally the defence.

You got through it all, somehow – and now it's yours. You walked across the stage at a graduation ceremony, and an Important Person in a robe gave you the paper scroll that made it official. You are no longer a Mr. or a Ms. Now, you are a Doctor. You have a PhD.

A PhD isn't just something you've acquired, it's something you've become. It's part of who you are – and you're proud that you've transformed yourself in a way that's meaningful to you. Now that you can hold it in your hands, you feel you are someone special, and you want to tell the whole world.

But can you – or should you? And if so, how?

This is where it gets tricky. Indeed, knowing when it is professionally and socially acceptable to "use" your PhD – to call yourself Doctor, and to hope to be addressed as such in return – is a minefield where values, conventions and contexts intersect in fluid and intricate ways. And nowhere has the question ever been more perplexing than in North America today.

Ironically, this issue is often less troublesome in parts of Europe, Asia and Latin America. In many societies, scholarship and professional rank are highly respected things – and terms of address are an art form, requiring subtlety and precision. It would be tantamount to an insult to fail to address any kind of a doctor as Doctor.

But in North America – where traditions are discarded, hierarchies are flouted, and everything is supposed to be so much easier as a result – the rules surrounding the PhD designation are as clear as mud. Today's freshly minted scholars stand on shifting sands, and often have no idea when or where – or even if – it is acceptable to casually slip the initials Dr. in front of their name.

Google "PhD etiquette" and you'll find a clutch of anxious academics who have turned to the internet for advice. Timidly yet earnestly they raise the issue in chat rooms and on bulletin boards, begging an opinion about the use of Doctor from anyone who cares to offer one. However, the responses are an unhelpful mishmash – ranging from you're fully entitled to it at all times to what kind of jerk would even ask such a question?

Moreover, there's no consensus among the professional advice-givers. The late Letitia Baldridge (whose credentials as Jacqueline Kennedy's press secretary made her a prominent expert on social propriety in America) thought it was fine for PhDs to publicly lay claim to the salutation of Doctor. On the other hand, the newspaper columnist "Miss Manners" (a.k.a. Judith Martin) has expressed the view that in social situations only medical practitioners should use the title.

The main thrust of Manners' argument is that there's a risk that a PhD who goes by Doctor might be confused with a medical doctor – which could lead to an embarrassing mistake at a cocktail party. (Presumably, MDs needn't concern themselves about the inverse likelihood.)

As well, she suggests that there's something "uncertain" in the demeanour of a PhD who expresses a preference for Doctor. She draws a fanciful analogy between a scholar who has attained the highest academic degree and a woman who likes to wear silk underwear. "She must derive her satisfaction from knowing she has it on, and perhaps the knowledge of an intimate or two. To let everyone know cheapens the effect." To Manners, a PhD is a naughty personal indulgence.

However, these concerns and caveats are just the tip of a large and multifaceted iceberg floating in the cultural sea. For many people in North America, there's something downright deceitful about a person who goes by Doctor – and who turns out not to be a "real" doctor, equipped with tongue depressors and a stethoscope.

This attitude seems to lie behind some of the hostility that's been directed at Laura Schlessinger, who dispenses advice and opinions on her Dr. Laura Show radio program. She is not a MD, nor does she hold a PhD in psychology. (Her graduate studies were in physiology, and her dissertation was on the effects of insulin on laboratory rats.) Her critics have argued that for her to call herself Doctor, when her doctorate is so tangential to her on-air work, is pretentious at best and fraudulent at worst.

Those who invoke their PhDs in the wrong time or place may find themselves quietly yet firmly labeled with every damning adjective in Roget's Thesaurus: vain, superior, pompous, egotistical, arrogant, conceited, condescending, and so on. It's no wonder that nowadays some North American PhDs give the issue a wide berth, by never calling themselves Doctor. In a world where the slightest hint of one-upmanship is regarded with suspicion, it's better to be safe than sorry.

But are these people happy? And is there really no alternative to deeply burying the shameful secret that one has excelled in scholarship, demonstrating exceptional commitment, perseverance, analytical skills and capacity for critical thought?

These questions can and will be answered here. But, in true scholarly form, let's digress with a little history lesson.

The doctorate owes its origins to the world of Islamic scholarship, in the ninth century, as a kind of licence to teach law and theology. The idea was imported into Europe, and the continent's first doctorate was awarded in Paris in the year 1150. Medieval European scholars studied the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy), and a doctorate was awarded after gruelling examinations in these subjects.

However, it wasn't until the 19th century that the process of granting a doctorate began to bear a resemblance to today's PhD programs. Berlin's Humbolt University is often cited as the source of the modern PhD, as this institution required its candidates to present specialized and original research in the form of a dissertation. In the USA, the first PhD was awarded by Yale University in 1861. Canada belatedly followed suit in 1900.

Until World War II, the PhD was a rare designation – and anyone who had one could count on being addressed as Doctor. But in the post-war years, this changed with the rapid expansion of universities and colleges. Between 1945 and 1975, as the number of American undergraduates grew 500 percent, the number of graduate students rose by a staggering 900 percent. Furthermore, new kinds of doctorates entered the field: the Juris Doctor (JD) for lawyers, the Doctor of Education (EdD) for pedagogues, and the Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) for bureaucrats, among many other – to say nothing of honorary doctorates, awarded with ever-increasing generosity.

This brings us to the current state of affairs. Doctorates are much more common than they used to be, and the coinage has been debased. As well, many PhDs who hold the degree today do not work in universities or other institutions that have traditionally honoured the salutation of Doctor. The PhD has been forced out into the real world, where the degree is not always understood, valued or even welcome.

So what's a scholar to do? Let's dig around for some research, and also talk to a few culture-savvy pundits – who make it their business to keep their fingers on the pulse of the current trends in professional and social environments. (Again, the discussion here is focused on North America. More specifically, the following information and advice was sourced in Toronto, Canada, where this writer lives and works. Perhaps things are a little different elsewhere on the continent – but probably not much different.)

To begin, here's some statistical analysis. The University of Toronto's Career Centre has conducted a poll of employers, asking if they would hire a PhD for a job that someone with a Bachelor's degree could do. Seventy-one percent said yes they would, and twenty-nine percent said no they wouldn't.

This is both good and bad news. The fact that most employers claim to be open-minded where PhDs are concerned suggests that the situation for those seeking work outside academia is by no means hopeless. On the other hand, it appears that some employers regard a PhD as the equivalent of a criminal record: solid grounds for immediate rejection. "Overqualified" is the handy word that's invoked – and to justify this practice, employers responded to the U of Toronto's survey with the concern that an overqualified worker will leave as soon as a better job comes along. (Speaking personally, this rationalization calls to mind a clever Yiddish saying: "If you want to beat a dog, you can always find a stick.")

Now let's talk to a couple of experts.

Paul Copcutt is a "personal branding architect." He runs a consulting business called Square Peg Solutions, and coaches people on the best way to position themselves in the marketplace. For him, the question of the PhD designation all about finding the right context.

"Like any professional designation," he begins, "it relates to your brand and your positioning. Does it have relevance to your target audience – the people you're trying to reach and influence? If it does, then there's value in promoting the fact that you're a PhD. But in some cases, it could be a turn-off for people."

So who's likely to be turned off? Copcutt checked his own LinkedIn account to see which people among his extensive network had added some kind of doctoral designation with their name. He found that most were in academia. (No surprise there!) And those who weren't academics were, in his words, "positioning themselves as experts in business functions or areas that do not directly relate to top or bottom line revenue." In other words, in the business world, the people who get down to brass tacks with serious money either aren't likely to have a PhD or aren't trumpeting the fact.

But even if the context is right – if you're in a professional field where it's deemed beneficial to have a PhD, such as research or administration – what's the best way to make sure people know you have a doctorate? Copcutt proposes that PhD as a suffix on a business card may go down more smoothly nowadays than Dr. as an affix. This also has the beneficial effect of eliminating confusion with MDs and other kinds of doctors. (Miss Manners would be pleased.)

Anne Sowden, an image consultant whose business Here's Looking At You helps clients with both personal and professional self-presentation, agrees that the PhD can be advantageous – provided that its owner considers the message it communicates.

"Any time you have any letters before or after your name, it sends a message," she states. "So you need to think about the message, and where that message is going. You have to know your audience."

She continues: "A PhD who goes out looking for a job in the ‘real world' should have the PhD on the résumé. But I would not use the term Doctor. That can be intimidating."

Interestingly, Sowden has noticed that the anxieties of people who fear they have too much education can be strikingly similar to the worries of those who fear they have too little. "There are some really smart and accomplished people who don't have PhDs," she points out, "They may just have a high school diploma, and they're uncomfortable about what people will think of them if they know it."

At this point, it's tempting to re-purpose Marshall McLuhan's dictum that "Art is what you can get away with." So what might a PhD hope to "get away with" when trying to invoke the degree as a self-promotional tool? If used with sufficient tact and discretion, the letters PhD can be strong indicators of intelligence, thoroughness, self-motivation and several other virtues. It doesn't have to be kiss of death.

However, the Doctor salutation has become problematic in North America – outside from a few special situations such as academic conferences. It is sliding into the realm of obsolete etiquette, like a gentleman tipping his hat to a lady. If that's not the way things should be, it's the way things are.

But if you really must, consider this. In social situations it's better to have someone else introduce you as Doctor than for you to use the title yourself. The world is much more likely to indulge a proud parent, spouse or friend than it is to forgive someone it sees as a self-aggrandizing snob – especially when the doctor-in-question turns out to be "just" a PhD.

Furthermore, avoid the double whammy: "Dr. John Smith, PhD." This kind of overkill only encourages Miss Manners and others like her, who have keen noses for any whiff of insecurity or awkwardness.

Finally, while it may be fun to circle Dr. on tax returns, census documents and credit-card applications, don't do it on your passport application. If you do, you may be called upon to revive a heart-attack victim in a jumbo jet halfway across the Atlantic. That really would be embarrassing.

Colin Eatock is a freelance writer. He may or may not hold a PhD in musicology from the University of Toronto.

09 May 19:13

Solidarity: A word in search of flesh

by Zygmunt Bauman
Who will outsmart who, who will be kicked out first? This is the job market, and probably society at large, reduced to the level of reality TV, writes Bauman. However, though the spirit of solidarity is in exile, it would be premature to give up on the prospect of its return just yet.
08 May 18:50

The Next Big Thing: Profiting From The Fear Of Climate Change

by testosteronepit

Wolf Richter

The last big thing was green tech – from wave-power generators to the smart grid. It was hyped in the bipartisan stimulus bill, promising gobs of jobs, billions in revenues, and untold riches through the eventual market capitalization of these outfits. Private investors plowed in billions too. It ended up in a massive pileup of capital destruction. Fatalities were everywhere.

One was Solyndra that – after devouring close to $1 billion, including $385 million from the Federal Government and $25 million from nearly bankrupt California – declared bankruptcy in 2011. There were scores of other boondoggles. Some were startups. Others were projects run by mega-corporations like GE and Siemens. But the euphoria has since hissed out of the construct. Private investors and taxpayers alike grabbed what they could and fled. And not just in the US.

The PEW Charitable Trust reported that in 2012, G-20 green-tech asset financing dropped 20% from 2011. Within that, venture-capital and private-equity funding plunged 34%. And public-market funding plummeted 55%. I know several people with PhDs in arcane fields whose jobs evaporated in 2012 when their startups were shuttered or became mere skeletons. That industry was so ravaged that they had to move on to other industries.

Sure, the industry lives, but without the hype. Investors have jumped on to the next big thing: rather than profit from preventing climate change, they'd profit from climate change per se – or rather, the fear of climate change.

There are a few problemitas. One is the nature of climate change. It moves at snail’s pace for investors who have a quarter-to-quarter attention span. Many generations of tidal gauges in the San Francisco Bay, first installed in 1854, have recorded an 8-inch rise in the coastal sea level over the last century. Now the extrapolation starts. By 2050, as global warming melts glaciers and polar icecaps, coastal sea levels might rise 18 inches, some experts predict. It would threaten airports, neighborhoods, commercial districts, and farmland situated on reclaimed land. The Bay Area would have to deal with it: fight or flight. Climate adaptation. It would be costly. Some intrepid experts predict that the Planet would warm 3° to 8° Fahrenheit by 2100, by which time the sea level in the Bay might have risen six feet.

Whatever the outcome, for investors, it’s a tough sell. They want to profit now, not after they’re dead. The emphasis has to be on milestones, next year, ongoing profits, or an exit down the line; and on big issues happening now, like Superstorm Sandy. Climate change is mentioned in the same breath – thus immediacy. Let the money flow!

And it’s flowing, according to Bloomberg. “Climate risk is something people are paying more and more attention to,” said Barney Schauble, managing partner at Nephila Advisors, the US branch of an $8 billion Bermuda hedge fund that gambles in weather derivatives. In January, private equity goliath KKR acquired a 25% stake in it. “More volatile weather creates more risk and more appetite to protect against that risk,” Schauble said.

“Climate change for us is a driver,” said Marc Robert, Chief Operating Officer of hedge fund Water Asset Management in New York. It acquires water rights and invests in water treatment companies. For them, drought is a godsend. “Not enough people are thinking long term of [water] as an asset that is worthy of ownership,” he said.

“The cities that are close to the waterline continue to grow and have more money and need for protection; it’s almost a natural growth market,” said Piet Dircke of Arcadis, a Dutch company with $3.3 billion in revenues. The company calls him a “global expert in flood protection and climate adaptation for coastal and delta cities”; he’s now leading Arcadis' post-Sandy damage assessments and recovery plans. He said his phone was ringing nonstop after Sandy. “The climate is changing. Sea level is rising. That’s quite obvious,” he said.

San Francisco, dreading any further rise in sea level, is also on the company’s client list, as are other US cities. Entire industries have mushroomed around this concept of climate adaptation. A Google search for "adaptation conference" brings up thousands of relevant results. Like “green tech conference” used to. The UN believes that the infrastructure and technology needed to deal with the consequences of climate change will cost $130 billion a year by 2030. Accurate or not, it’s too far out for investors. For now, it’s the fear of climate change that is the next big thing, and they’re all scrambling to get their slice of that pie.

The Dow and S&P 500 are stumbling like drunken but determined sailors from one all-time high to the next, despite lousy employment and economic data, and declining corporate revenues. Bonds have done the same. And their 100-year graph has assumed the terrifying shape of open crocodile jaws, worse even than in 1999 and 2007. Read.... “The Mother Of All Shorts”


08 May 16:00

What Do Scientific Studies Show? How seriously should we take them?

by S. Abbas Raza

Gary Gutting in the New York Times:

CorrelationAs any regular reader of news will know, popular media report “scientific results” nearly every day. They come delivered in news reports and opinion pieces, and are often used to make a variety of points concerning important matters like health, parenting, education, even spirituality and self-knowledge. How seriously should we take them?

For example, since at least 2004, we have been reading about studiesshowing that “vitamin D may prevent arthritis.”  A 2010 Johns Hopkins Health Alert announced, “During the past decade, there’s been an explosion of research suggesting that vitamin D plays a significant role in joint health and that low levels may be a risk factor for rheumatologic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.” However, in February 2013, a more rigorous studycalled the previous studies into serious question.  Similarly, despite many studies suggesting that taking niacin to increase  “good cholesterol” would decrease heart attacks, a more rigorous studyshowed the niacin to have no effect.

Such reports have led many readers to question the reliability of science.  And given the way the news is often reported, they seem to have a point.  What use are scientific results if they are so frequently reversed?  But the problem is typically not with the science but with the reporting.

More here.

08 May 15:09




Mi nuevo libro, El veneno de la Geisha, está en todos los puestos de periódicos del Perú, gracias a EPENSA.

Nos seguimos leyendo.