December 2005

Thu Dec 01 00:24:54 PST 2005

Traditional Values and Small Towns

I could make many comments on this:

Shop-local advocates say this is a critical juncture for American towns. The rise of discount mass-market merchandisers like Wal-Mart has siphoned shoppers away from mom-and-pop stores, forcing many to close and leading to the decay of downtowns across the country, they say.

“There’s a danger we’ll pass a point of no return and lose that part of the fabric of American life,” said Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher in Maine with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an organization focused on community-based economic development.

The one that comes to mind is how it shows just how incorrect the oft-repeated mantra that small towns preserve traditional values (and big cities erode them) is. Chains find it much easier to dominate small-town retail markets.

Reason is their model falls apart in the big cities. That model is based on erecting buildings with standardized designs on raw land at the edge of town (with big parking lots because there’s no alternative to driving there). Raw land at the “edge of town” is dozens of miles away from the inner city. Save for the occasional brownfields site that can be redeveloped, there’s simply no place to put big box stores in the city. All the room is taken, and the existing retail buildings were designed for mom-and-pop stores.

Sure, the big box stores get built at the edge but they mainly serve the suburbs; they fail to capture much of the inner-city market because their locations are simply too inconvenient for inner-city residents. And many of us don’t own the cars needed to drive out to them anyhow.

Thu Dec 01 15:30:47 PST 2005

The Real Problem with Buying Your Way through Airport Security

It’s not how the rich will get special treatment, though that is a problem of its own. The really worrying thing is alluded to in the second, not the first, part of the following paragraph (emphasis added):

The cost is likely to be about $80 a year per passenger — the amount charged in a test program at Orlando International Airport — and applicants would be required to submit 10 fingerprints and photographs of both eyes and pass a federal “security-threat assessment.”
It’s easy to imagine a world where this test project is proclaimed a success and implemented widely. It’ll be announced that “thanks to economies of scale” the fees are being cut. Instead of hiring new personnel to process the express lanes, personnel will be directed away from the existing ones.

What is the logical consequence of waits getting longer while the price for avoiding them gets lower? One guess.

It will then be announced that “the market has spoken” and “in response to consumer demand” for express services, more personnel are being devoted to them so as “to serve customers better.” Also, “for convenience” the fees will cease to be billed separately and offered on a per-trip basis, billed as a ticket surcharge.

Eventually, the old-style checkpoints will vanish altogether. End result is a world where everyone who flies has to be fingerprinted and submit to intrusive background checks. In the words of Jello Biafra, “Shut up, be happy. The conveniences you demanded are now mandatory.”

Full article here.

Fri Dec 02 17:04:31 PST 2005

Eat Your Heart Out, California

I have arrived in Seattle for house-hunting and job orientation. The current plan is to spend a week or two doing that, then return to Portland to pack up and move my possessions. It’s a decision motivated in part by the difficulty of finding quality housing in this city and part by my boss’s preference to have me start in person.

It was forecast to be snowy and windy in Portland yesterday. Instead, the low pressure center tracked north, the screaming cold easterly gorge winds failed to materialize, it didn’t even snow on the hilltops (I rode up and verified this), and the winds streamed through the passes in Washington and made it snow in western Washington instead. Portland just got lots of cold rain.

I was watching the in-train movie when the snow on the ground caught my attention. I then divided my attention between the movie and the postcard scenes outside of woods and fields, farms and towns, all under a blanket of white. Cold fog hung over the ground and smoke curled up from the chimneys. You’d never get this sense of seasons further south. It was a continual irritant of mine when living in the Bay Area.

Yes, yes, I know: California isn’t all subtropical. I’m familiar with some of the temperate parts of that state. In fact, they’re by and large very nice places I wouldn’t mind living in. But the major cities (where all the jobs exist) are all in the subtropical regions. So as a practical matter, moving to California does mean leaving a temperate climate.

And yes, I know most people would prefer to live in tropical or subtropical climates. So what. Let them. I prefer to experience the changing light levels, and scenery a temperate climate offers.

The best thing about this part of the world is that while it does usually get cold and snowy each winter, it’s a fleeting phenomenon. The rest of the winter is cool but not cold, usually in the forties. Cool and dark to know it’s not definitely not summer but warm enough so there’s green grass, moss, and ferns even in January. Even as I type this, the temperature is in the forties outside. The snow here in Seattle is all the green grass underneath. It will never get to the stage of being dirty, drab, bleak, boring, and unwelcome.

Fri Dec 02 17:28:27 PST 2005

A Train Station that Tells All

Seattle’s King Street Station says a great deal about Seattle.

For openers, dysfunctional politics. It’s hands-down the ugliest train station in the Pacific Northwest. It’s been a civic embarrassment for decades. Yet it never got fixed.

Sure, there’s all sorts of reasons offered for this, such as complicated negotiations with the railroad. News flash — all locally-funded station renovations require such negotiations. Everyone else managed to prioritize them to the point where the city and the railroad reached a deal acceptable to both. Seattle’s station stayed in limbo for years, while a new freeway and two new professional sports stadiums were built. The local politicians had plenty of resources and time available — they just decided to spend them on other projects.

Finally, the station is starting to get fixed up. Slowly. Most likely because there “isn’t enough money” (translation: it’s not important enough to the political establishment) to do it faster.

And now that some actual work has been done, a second revealing non-verbal statement is made. The new men’s room has a beautiful patterned hexagonal tile floor… and modern, aluminum-framed windows and a low ceiling with recessed light fixtures. Make no mistake: they’re definitely high-quality windows and light fixtures.

In other words, given the chance to do an authentic historical restoration and do an inauthentic one that shows off one’s wealth and trendiness, Seattle opted for the latter. Must appear like a sophisticated big city, after all. (Make no mistake, however, the new station that’s materializing is both much more pleasant and more historically authentic than the butchered monstrosity that it’s replacing.)

The irony is that a sophisticated big city would be just the sort of place to do a painstakingly authentic restoration, and would have done so already. Instead of following someone else’s trends, the truly sophisticated places set them and leave the following to lesser, more self-insecure places.

It’s precisely that sort of insecurity about not being a big, first-class world city that caused the political establishment to wet its pants in sheer horror over the possibility of sports teams leaving because their stadium is (gasp!) over twenty years old. And the money spent on those boondoggles is probably one reason why there there isn’t enough to have fixed up King Street Station already.

Fri Dec 09 18:01:47 PST 2005

Fuck Seattle

I quit.

I’ve been intensively looking for a place to live for a week. I’ve lowered my standards. I’ve upped my budget.

And I’ve managed to locate nothing that I’d feel good about signing a lease on. Even if I go way over my budget, all I get is more square footage (that I don’t need) or lots of yuppie amenities like a pool, an exercise room, a concierge, a parking space, etc. (that I don’t want).

There’s a few things in progress still percolating through the system, but other than that, I quit. No more effort at finding something I can call “home.”

Snooty white settlers and travelers in Africa coined a phrase “Africa Wins Again” or just AWA for short. Robbed by bandits? Extorted by corrupt officials? Held up by needless red tape? Roads washed out and impassable? Peace treaty between warring factions just went down the tubes? Africa wins again.

I say: Seattle wins again.

Street maintenance? Streets were awful when I lived here. They’ve just gotten worse. Many asphalt side streets are as rough and potholed as poorly-maintained gravel roads, with the result that on a bicycle your speed is impaired and it takes much longer than it should to get places. Seattle wins again.

Bicycle routes? No new signage since I lived here, trail pavement getting worse, trail segments are actually getting closed instead of new ones getting built. Following a bicycle route is a challenge for those not intimately familiar with them. Seattle wins again.

Waterfront streetcar? Closed, because the art museum and the transit agency couldn’t coordinate the replacement of the car barn. Seattle wins again.

Public spending? Nothing in the budget for street maintenance, but plenty to be found whenever some capitalist wants the public to build a stadium for his sports team. Seattle wins again.

Housing? Despite it’s size, it’s a city dominated by suburban supremacy. If you can’t afford (or don’t desire) to buy a single-family detached home, you’re relegated to living in the noisiest and most polluted locations; they’re the only places new apartment construction has been allowed for decades. There’s a horrible shortage (compared to any other place I’ve lived) of multifamily housing in clean, quiet areas. Seattle wins again.

Forget it. My most pessimistic thoughts were spot-on. There’s nothing here for me except a career opportunity. Given I’m doomed to hate whatever I spend my housing dollars on here, I think the best approach is to spend as little as possible on something I hate.

Find a room in a shared house somewhere. Add the $500 or so cost for that to the cost of my place in Portland and you have a number that’s still within the range of rents for 1 bedroom apartments here (crummy ones, since all available Seattle apartments are crummy). At least I’ll have a nice place to spend weekends at, and I’ll save on the moving costs when I leave Seattle, which will happen within two years (I certainly plan on seeing to that).

Maybe I’ll be surprised and some of the few things in progress will pan out. But pay careful attention to the start of the previous sentence: I’ll be surprised. I certainly don’t expect it.

Sat Dec 10 20:21:06 PST 2005

Well… That Was Amusing

…And not surprising in the least.

That, of course, being the final (well, not quite, see below) batch of apartments I looked at. It’s a testament to the correctness of my decision to give up (at least for the time being) on finding a home in Seattle that I find it amusing and not frustrating.

Because I’m free. I don’t have to choose which crummy property I sign a lease on. I choose not to. I toured a passably nice boarding house this evening. It costs as much to stay there as to rent an unfurnished studio, but there’s no pesky lease to contend with and no need to bother with moving any of my furniture up from Portland or put any of it in storage.

Sure, it’s not a space I’d want to sign a lease on, but I’m not signing a lease on it. If I come across something I like, I’m free to walk away with no penalty. It costs about as much to do this while holding on to my Portland condo as it would to rent a super-high-end one bedroom apartment here. And that latter apartment would still probably be on a noisy, smelly street I don’t want to live on. The guest house is in a quieter locale.

Somewhat tellingly, the manager of that establishment said mine was a familiar story; a lot of folks moving to Seattle get disgusted with the poor quality of rental housing and decide to stay in her guest house and wait out the search for the rare nice unit.

The landslumlord who showed the units I looked at (she owned both buildings) was so slimy that she practically oozed along, slug-like, leaving a mucus trail behind her.

She gave me a bad impression before I ever met her. She almost never returned her calls or got back to me as promised. (Why does this not inspire confidence about being reachable when something needs repairing?) She showed up a full half-hour late this afternoon.

The first building featured but a single closet, and a small one at that. The bedroom was barely larger than a closet as well. The landlord had thoughtfully installed electric baseboard heat so the tenants could have the privilege of paying for heat, but had been too cheap to remove the old steam radiators from the place. There was no water pressure at all in the bathroom (I’m not making this up), and it was clear from trying the faucets on the sink and tub (which from the looks of it had their last major maintenance circa 1965) that they were broken. She lied like a rug and claimed they “worked fine last week.” The hardwood flooring was warped and damaged. On the way out she spouts some garbage about the “three large closets” in the unit. I mention only seeing one. With a straight face she points to a (small) built-in linen cabinet with two doors, as if the cabinet space behind each door counts as a closet!

The second building actually featured working bathroom faucets… and a broken medicine chest. Little Miss Slime went on about how wonderful and in move-in condition the unit was. I noticed it was somewhat chilly inside and no baseboard heaters were visible, making me wonder if Ms. Slimy Slumlord was skimping on her gas or oil bill by not firing the boiler enough. Unbelievably, this bedroom was even smaller than the first. In fact, Ms. Slime here was actually breaking the law by calling it a bedroom, as it had no closet whatsoever. Under virtually every housing code I’m aware of, it’s illegal to rent a room as a “bedroom” unless it has a closet. There isn’t a grandfather clause here, either — one can see older buildings whose bedroom has obviously been retrofitted with a closet to make it legal. But that would require spending money on a building, something that’s obviously a foreign concept to Ms. Slime. She then babbles on about how older buildings have smaller bedrooms. Which is complete bullshit — my place in Portland is thirty years older than that dump and my bedroom is twice the size that oversized closet was. I resist the temptation to say (while in the bedroom) “Yes, this is a large closet!” when she’s waxing eloquent about a completely average hall closet in the front room.

Names will not being changed to protect the guilty here. In case you’re wondering, the slumlords in question call themselves “The Stratford Group, Ltd.” Be warned.

There’s one more apartment I may look at, a two-bedroom I have an offer of a rent break on. It’s more space than I want (or need), but I’d explore sharing it. I’d lose the rent break if and when I did, but then the savings of splitting costs would kick in. It just turns out that via Craigslist I’ve managed to locate a straight vegan (which is important; I’m not thrilled about the smell of charred flesh in my home) couple who might be interested in sharing with me.

Otherwise, there’s always the guest house. Pursuing that option while holding on to the Portland place would give me an incentive to use it as a weekend getaway and maintain ties down there. Either option beats signing a lease on the absolute crap I’ve so far had the displeasure of looking at.

Wed Dec 14 10:10:52 PST 2005

A Sleazy Seattle Landlord Lexicon

Yes, I’ve really run into all of these, sometimes multiple times. I’m not making any of them up.

1 BR
Studio. The BR refers to “bathroom,” not “bedroom.”
Large closet
Cabinet with over 5 cubic feet of interior capacity.
Very large closet
Small closet.
Huge closet
Average-sized closet.
Convenient to everything
Within a city block of the freeway.
Garden level apartment
Basement apartment.
Partially or mostly carpeted, with at least a token amount of hardwood flooring left uncovered.
Quiet residential street
Any arterial with less traffic than Aurora Avenue.
Square foot
The Sleazy Seattle Landlord Square Foot (sslsf) is equal to approximately 0.75 standard square feet.

Wed Dec 14 12:22:50 PST 2005

New Programming Language Feature: Weak Exceptions

I just thought of this when trying to deal with warning messages while translating a stand-alone program into a callable class.

It would be really neat if there was something called a weak exception. Weak exceptions can be raised and caught like normal exceptions, with two important differences:

  1. If a weak exception is not caught, throwing it causes nothing to happen.
  2. If a weak exception is caught, execution resumes not with the statement after the catch block, but with the statement that would have been executed had the weak exception not been raised.
In other words, consider the following Python code:
class IntegerException(Exception):
    def __init__(self, message):
        self.message = message

class WeakIntegerException(WeakException):
    def __init__(self, message):
        self.message = message

class SillyInteger:
    def init(self, v):
        self.value = v

    def add(self, v):
        if v == 0:
            raise WeakIntegerException('This add will do nothing!')
        self.value += v  # This always gets executed.

    def div(self, v)
        if v == 0:
            raise IntegerException('Thou shalt not divide by zero!')
        elif v == 1:
            raise WeakIntegerException('This division will do nothing!')
        self.value /= v  # This sometimes gets executed.
three = SillyInteger(3)
This will silently divide by one then abort execution with an uncaught exception:
While this will emit some babble about doing nothing, then execution will be aborted with an uncaught exception:
except WeakIntegerException, e:
    print 'Weak exception: ', e.message

Sat Dec 17 10:04:11 PST 2005

The Old Hurry Up and Wait

It’s almost a classic. The cab didn’t come when I called it this morning, so I had to call again, and it came late that time. One of my hosts was on the verge of driving me to the station when it finally arrived.

So quite naturally, after all that drama, the train is unexpectedly delayed. Yes, unexpectedly. While it’s not unusual for Amtrak to be many hours late, such delays are almost always the result of things that happen en route. The trains usually leave their starting point on time. Seattle being the starting point for this train, I naturally assumed it would be on time.

Wrong. First there’s mechanical problems in a car, then they have to add another car to the train to handle extra passengers getting on at Olympia. Given that their reservations system should have made them aware of the latter need well in advance, there’s simply no excuse for this latest delay.

Anyhow, here I sit in the station. At least there’s nothing that I definitively have to be in Portland for at a fixed time.

Sat Dec 17 12:46:45 PST 2005

Winter Wonderland Both Ways

On the way up to Seattle from Portland, there was snow on the ground between about Centralia and Olympia. No snow today, but ever since going through the tunnel under Point Defiance, there’s been a fog bank to the south. We entered it around Nisqually, and as we neared Olympia everything became covered in hoarfrost, which is probably the prettiest winter weather phenomenon (can’t call it a form of precipitation) of them all.

Sat Dec 17 22:51:38 PST 2005


Temperatures have been colder than normal the past two weeks, with many nights of hard frosts and freezing fogs. Several recent mornings on the way to work in Seattle, I had to ride carefully because of numerous frosty patches on the pavement.

Despite being further south, Portland is often colder than Seattle in the winter, both as a function of it being inland and away from salt water, and as one of being on the west end of a sea-level passage through the Cascades.

As the train left Kelso, I noticed the bare branches of cottonwood trees waving in an east wind. Then I observed that the ponds in the wetlands along the Columbia River were either frozen over or on their way there. The icy gorge wind was obviously blowing.

Uh-oh… isn’t a storm supposed to be coming in pretty soon? Indeed one is, and a winter storm warning for freezing rain has already been issued. I have to be here Monday to attend to some business. I was planning on leaving Monday, but I may have to stick around. If the ice storm hits, it’s going to be almost impossible to get a cab to the train station.

Sat Dec 17 23:38:31 PST 2005

An Outrage, but Hardly a Surprising One

Blatant racism and classism are alive and well in New Orleans. FEMA emergency funds are going to be spent to not only repair the Superdome, but to spiff it up for the benefit of the sports teams that play in it, and not to repair or enhance any infrastructure to enable the structure to serve as an emergency shelter.

Because, of course, it’s far more of an emergency to the system when rich capitalist sports team owners don’t have the business facility of their dreams than when the poor die in hurricanes for lack of proper shelter.

Which all begs the question asked by this banner.

Sun Dec 18 13:54:11 PST 2005

Not Fooling Around

Last night, it was still a question whether or not the ice storm would happen.

This morning, the east wind had increased. The day dawned sunny, but the sun did not warm things up; instead, the wind intensified and got colder. Warning Number One. A band of clouds appeared on the southern horizon, spreading across the sky. They had the color of winter storm clouds. The sun disappears behind the overcast and the temperature drops another notch. Warning Number Two, and it’s no longer a maybe. It will happen; the only question is how major an event it’s going to be, and some inner knowledge (most likely, experience gained from past storms) tells me it’s probably going to not be a minor storm.

Within two hours, the first showers of sleet were falling. It’s not even dark, and the pavements outside are already whitening with ice. The storm is upon us.

Sun Dec 18 16:13:50 PST 2005

Really Not Fooling Around

Japanese pine in the snow. Click to enlarge.

Well, that didn’t last long… the sleet, that is. It quickly changed… to snow.

That means the layer of cold air is much thicker than forecast, because both sleet and freezing rain imply it’s above freezing aloft. Snow implies contrary. That means there’s more cold air than the weather forecasters thought, it’s still getting stronger and not weaker, and so it’ll probably take longer than they thought for it to get cleared away by the marine air.

And the immediate result of the cold air layer getting cleared away will be for things to get more treacherous, as sleet and freezing rain are on the way as the cold air gradually gets eroded from above.

Oh well. I have no control whatsoever over it all, so might as well enjoy it. Just took a delightful walk in Washington Park as the snow sifted down, making a light hissing sound as the flakes filtered down through the trees and hit last summer’s dried leaves on the forest floor.

Mon Dec 19 11:24:27 PST 2005

Well, That Was a Surprise

In the wee hours of the morning I awoke to the sound of water running off the roofs. Instead of the expected freezing rain, the temperature had risen into the mid thirties and a cold drizzle was falling. The day dawned with plenty of slush, but no ice. So here I am at the train station, leaving on time after all.

I’m here an hour early because any amount of snow or ice messes up transportation incredibly here. Even though the streets are mostly clear, it wouldn’t have surprised me if it was very difficult to get a cab. I thought that suspicion would be borne out when I waited listening to a tape that played “your call is very important to us” over and over. I was about to hang up when a dispatcher answered. Imagine my surprise when the cab rolled up only a few minutes later.

Mon Dec 19 11:31:07 PST 2005

Reason to Celebrate

This, that is. Anyone who describes himself as an anti-imperialist and promises to make life hell for the biggest imperialist in the world can’t be half bad in my book.

Even though it is, in the final analysis, simply a battle won and not a struggle won. The seats of power tend to corrupt whomever happens to sit in them. But that hardly means it matters not who sits in them; some occupants enter with idealistic motives while others have no compunction about engaging in gross servility to power, and furthermore some have arms that are more easily twisted by pressure from below than others.

I wonder how the Establishment media in this country is going to spin it. If it’s true that Morales won an outright majority, it presents the extremely inconvenient fact that a leftist just won the most decisive electoral mandate in the history of that country. Bolivia being a relatively small and obscure place, I’ll wager a guess that the reaction will be to basically ignore the news.

Ignoring it just makes it all the easier to later insinuate how Morales is yet another Castro-like dictator in the making, after all.

Thu Dec 29 17:25:56 PST 2005

Update after a Month

Well, nearly a month. In Seattle, that is.

I still haven’t found acceptable housing. That’s no real surprise after the first two futile weeks. Enough folks told me that it would be a hopeless cause until the new year that I really didn’t expect to have found anything by now.

Considering that, I haven’t done too bad in the search. I have a lead on something that sounds very nice (top floor, hardwood flooring, gas heat and range, Capitol Hill neighborhood, under $900/month). I’ve looked at and turned down two units that could definitely have done in a pinch (one because it was further than I’d like from a natural foods co-op, the other because it was deficient in closet space).

It is still amazing how consistently sleazy Seattle landlords are. That’s not to say that all of them impress me as sleazy, just that most of them do. Sleaze is definitely the rule rather than the exception here. I’m no longer surprised when I encounter it; quite contrary: I expect it, and am surprised when I don’t encounter it.

As for the job, it’s a job. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how unacceptably full-time employment dominates one’s life. The silver lining in it all is that I have spent far less time in wage slavery than most adults my age. I’d prefer to have accomplished it by working about 20 hours a week. That’s not been possible, but I have managed to have several long gaps in my employment. Some (such as my most recent one) longer than I’d like, in fact.

I’m still in the process of getting settled in at work, but after I do that I really need to start poking around in the code that drives the site. What I’m doing is unusual enough that it’ll be hard to find my next job; I really need to focus on getting more experience coding.

Or maybe not. Seattle is the home of the University of Washington, which has a very good biology department. The plant world has been a long-time interest of mine. Maybe it could actually hold my attention in a way computers can’t. Then again, maybe not. And I really have a huge reluctance to getting involved in any formalized educational system ever again.

I’ve just about gotten used to living with all of Seattle’s dysfunctional aspects (the traffic, the inadequate mass transit, the worst street maintenance this side of Mogadishu, etc.). Yet those aspects are all still there, I know it, and I don’t have a terribly big desire to spend the rest of my life experiencing it, So I doubt if I’ll be staying in Seattle super long-term. It’s one reason I’m focusing on renting housing here instead of buying it.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to grass pollen season in Portland. So, as much as I love so many aspects about the place, I doubt I’ll be moving back anytime soon. I’m holding on to my condo there mainly because I want to keep a significant chunk if my net worth invested in real estate as a hedge against inflation.

My vision at this point is to figure out a way to earn a living either on the coast (either in northernmost California, Oregon, or Washington) or in one of the mid-sized cities in the interior of western Washington (i,e. Olympia, Tacoma, or Bellingham).

Fri Dec 30 09:22:47 PST 2005

The Memos the UK Doesn’t Want You to Read

[Note: this entry essentially replicates a section of my SCN home page.]

Tony Blair, that mendacious lapdog of imperialism, wants to censor some memos written by an ex-ambassador with a sense of conscience posted to Uzbekistan. So I’ve mirrored a copy on my SCN home page and adjusted the meta tag search keywords accordingly.

Fri Dec 30 09:31:47 PST 2005

Nothing New to Report

There’s nothing particularly new or original in this piece by Holly Sklar. So why bother linking to it?

Simple. As timeworn and recycled as many of the facts Ms. Sklar cites are, they apparently have the potential to be fresh news to many. There’s still amazingly many dupes out there who parrot lines like “there was a time when unions were useful, but things have tilted so much their way that they’re now obsolete.”

And it’s things like organized workers — i.e. pressure from below — that will change things. And nothing else.

Any doubters should consider the mansion Bill Gates had built for himself. I’m sure it offers its owner some very comfortable living conditions, but really now, at 40,000 square feet and an estimated 97 million dollars cost, it’s highly doubtful if it offers any additional comfort over a house a fraction the size and cost.

It’s clear from the plans in the US News & World Report link that most of it is concerned with entertaining guests. Actual living quarters constitute only a fraction of the square footage. It’s actually understandable — I don’t think any human’s mind could wrap around a definition of “home” that’s so huge. The natural reaction is to just use part of it as an actual home on a daily basis.

In other words, Gates could have quit accumulating wealth long ago and suffered nothing in terms of material quality of life. Yet he persisted earning income. Gates is an extreme example, of course, but one could say the same about most of the wealthy: their continued pursuit of wealth isn’t giving them additional material comfort.

Yet, like Gates, they persist. So clearly something else must be motivating them other than a desire for personal comfort. I suggest that something else is power: more wealth always correlates with more power. The more money you control, the more power you have in a market economy. The diminishing returns one gets with material comfort never kick in.

So, back to the apparently damning facts mentioned in Ms. Sklar’s article. From a pursuit-of-power standpoint, they’re irrelevant. Capitalism, remember, is about the pursuit of individual goals (power, mostly, as we have seen). To the powerful, it matters not if that power comes from a tide that lifts all boats or a wave that sinks the small ones. What matters is the accumulation of power over others. And that’s being facilitated amply by the latter wave.

Pressure from below can change all that, if the pressure includes direct questioning and attacks on the class system itself. Perhaps it will, against the odds, eventually prove successful. Before it does, or even if it doesn’t, it’ll provide the wealthy an entirely new dynamic: either concede some power now or face the certainty of losing all power in the future.

Anything less will basically be ignored and fail to effect significant change.

Fri Dec 30 19:30:47 PST 2005

New Toy

Today I bit the bullet and replaced my aging Pismo PowerBook with a shiny new 15-inch G4 PowerBook.

I confess a certain feeling of guilt over this, as computers are incredibly resource-intensive to manufacture yet really can’t be considered full durable goods because of the speed at which they get replaced. In many respects, I would have preferred to repair the old system. Alas, it was getting increasingly unreliable (and every time I fixed something, something else would break). Laptops seem to have a shorter life expectancy than desktops as a result of everything being engineered to the bleeding edge of miniaturization and low power consumption.

I will say that it is very nice to have a screen with greater than 1024 × 768 resolution, and the whole data transfer process made me glad I’m a Mac user and not a Windoze luser. I was aware there was a way to turn one Mac into a firewire disk client of another, but couldn’t remember how. I gave up after a little googling and decided to instead focus on installing the developer tools on the new system. I turn it on and it asks me if I’m already a Mac user. I answer “yes,” both because it’s true and because I want to skip a stupid interactive introduction that tells me things I already know.

And then I proceed to get pleasantly surprised when the next question is whether my old Mac has a firewire port, followed by an offer to use firewire to transfer my data to the new machine.

Why is it not a surprise that the only package I’ve (so far) discovered didn’t transfer seamlessly was — you guessed it — Microsoft Office. The new laptop apparently came with a test drive version of Office pre-installed. Clicking on a Word document caused that version to fire up automagically. It then proceeds to pester me about purchasing a non-crippled version of that package. Which of course I have no need to do — I want to transfer the version I already have from my old machine to the new one. In fact, I already have transferred it, it just doesn’t work right.

Helpfully, the unwanted version of Office mentions on startup a “Remove Office” application that can be used to make the test drive version go away. I fire it up, expecting a clear choice between the unwanted test drive version and the desired one I’ve already paid for. Instead, I get an absolutely confusing choice between removing “Microsoft Office 2004 (including Test Drive)” and “Microsoft Office X (including Test Drive).” And there’s no way to determine any additional information about which version will zap the unwanted junk and which will zap what I just copied over. And Murphy’s Law being what it is, I will choose the wrong one. You can count on that. Charming, simply charming.

Thankfully, dragging the test drive version’s folder into the Trash seems to have gotten rid of it.

Sat Dec 31 08:53:50 PST 2005

Recommended DIY Site

I discovered this site when looking for disassembly instructions for my old laptop. (I was hoping to uncover a simple loose antenna connection and fix the dead-AirPort problem myself. No such luck.) It's surprisingly comprehensive, and best of all the instructions are offered at no charge.

Monthly Index for 2005 | Index of Years

Last updated: Tue Sep 13 16:14:09 PDT 2011