A silver lining. Sort of.

Since hearing a lecture by Laurence Kotlikoff, author of The Coming Generational Storm, it’s been pretty clear to me that:

  1. The political future of the United States is going to be colored significantly by generational conflict, with the needs of the various generations pulling the country in very different directions.
  2. My generation, Generation X, is basically totally screwed in such a conflict because, among other things, we are flanked by generations that are much larger than us.

One battle in this generational war is almost certain to involve social security and other entitlements. In the coming years, the Baby Boomers will do what they have proven over and over again that they do best: look out for themselves. Amid anti-aging treatments and doses of viagra, a good number of them will scream like hell at any attempt to reform the current entitlement system to their detriment and support any change that helps them, regardless of the long term cost. In spite of the fact that any such reform would have needed to start years ago to really be effective, their massive voting clout will ensure that it doesn’t happen at all, even when entitlements start unraveling.

And unravel they will, all over Generation X. By the time the Boomers die off, Gen X will be ready to reap the rewards of the giant Ponzi scheme that is social security, right when it starts to collapse. They will try the same tricks that the Boomers did to get what they were told was coming, but it won’t matter: not only will the money be gone, but Generation Y will massively outvote Gen X, and see to it that whatever comes out of the wreckage will benefit themselves, at the expense of Gen X. (To add insult to injury, a lot of the “moral justification” for this will probably involve a sort of “guilt by association” with the selfishness of the Baby Boomers.)

So, what chance does Gen X really have? Well, its best bet is to engineer (or at least hope for) some situation that radically reduces the voting power of the Baby Boomers. One sure thing that would do this is a massive reduction in their population. Since the Boomers have repeatedly shown a willingness to do nearly anything to avoid unpleasantness, or even inconvenience, it might be possible to manipulate them into extinction. With the right ad campaign and marketing, we could probably make offing yourself for the benefit of the following generations “dying with dignity” cool enough that many would volunteer. An opening strike would be a campaign to eliminate laws against assisted suicide. If done right, we might even get some kind of trial Logan’s Run mandatory death law, that expires shortly after most of the Boomers.

None of this will happen, of course. So, if the Boomers themselves cannot be eliminated, the next best thing would be to severely reduce their spending power. They would still have the bodies to vote, but without a lot of cash, it may be possible to outspend them for political influence, even if their candidates get elected.

To do this, we’d need to generate some kind of economic situation where the Boomers are convinced to invest and save their earnings in certain ways and then, right when they retire, pull the rug out from under the markets to erode their investments. This is something of a “scorched earth” policy, as it would hurt everyone else as well, but Gen X would still have time to replenish their funds, while the Boomers’ sources of income would have dried up.

Engineering this would be a massive undertaking, but fortunately, it’s happening already. The silver lining of this whole economic downturn is that the massive market losses are eroding the wealth of the Boomers as we speak, right as they are starting to retire. This is especially true since many Boomers couldn’t afford to retire, even before the current downturn.

Gen X couldn’t have planned this better. And, to think; they called us slackers.

Dreaming an SNL sketch

I had a dream the other day that seems like exactly the right concept for an SNL sketch. (Meaning, it’s initially funny, but would go on too long.) The dream goes like this: my wife and sit down to eat in a fancy restaurant called L ’Idiot (my subconscious pulling a reference from L.A. Story). We’re dressed well (yes, this is a dream) and it’s all very proper. Then our waiter comes, and it is this guy:

Billy Mays

In his typical loud voice, he says “Hi! Billy Mays here for L ’Idiot, the last word in restaurant pretension!” The dream is a bit cloudy in my memory, but he goes on to tell us about the specials. I remember lines like “You get it all! The linguine! The clam sauce! All for just two easy payments of $14.95!” and “But wait! If you order now, you’ll also get L ’Idiot’s world famous chocolate mousse, absolutely free!”.

It was weird, man.

No bias. No bull. No information.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, it will probably come as no surprise that I don’t consume much mainstream news, particularly the televised variety. Having dinner with my CNN-addicted in-laws a few days ago exposed me to an episode of Campbell Brown: No Bias. No Bull.

The particular segment to which I paid attention focussed on the U.S. government’s impending interventions into the auto industry. To the show’s credit, they did seem to give more air time than the average show to a single topic. Unfortunately, they didn’t fill it with much other than prattle. There were some words you heard repeated over and over, such as “bailout” and “billions”. One word that I didn’t hear at all, however, was “loan”. (I looked for transcripts of this show to verify this, but couldn’t find any. Leave a link in a comment below if you know where they are kept.) You couldn’t be blamed for concluding from the coverage that the government was contemplating giving free money to GM, rather than providing them the federal loans that they are actually requesting. You know, loans that would mean we’d be getting the cash back, with interest. Now, while giving loans to GM is stupid enough on its own, it doesn’t need any media trickery that makes it sound like something stupider, like just giving them free money.

Given that the auto-industry is a powerful lobby, it may turn out that they can weasel out of these loans at some point in the future, so maybe no one actually believes the idea that these would be loans. But if so that is the story, and you’d expect at least a passing comment on it.

While the difference between a loan and gift seems rather fundamental to me, mainstream media seems to either not understand the difference, not care, and/or assume that their audience doesn’t know or care either. They (and this particular CNN show is far from alone here) appear to be happy essentially screaming “billions of your money! billions of your money! billions of your money!” over and over for a bit, then cutting to a talking head who screams “billions of your money! billions of your money! billions of your money!” a bit more. When covering the “$700 billion bailout” the government is engaged in now, nearly every media source I watched or read seemed to go out of their way to give the impression that this money was just being pissed away. Some of it surely will be, but mostly the idea is to buy things. While the government will probably overpay for these assets—hard to tell for sure, because the main problem is no one really knows what they are worth—but they are certainly worth more than zero. Most of the money buys instruments that are ultimately backed by houses. This might force the government to be something like a landlord to get value out of these assets, which, gee, seems like a fairly important story for journalists to cover to me. Or, how about the story that, while the plan calls for buying things (and thus, the possibility of recovering losses), the lawmakers that did as much as anyone to cause this mess in the first place are now screaming that this money shouldn’t be used to buy things, but rather to just give money to citizens who can’t add in order to allow them to shirk their obligations. That seems like a good story, too.

Or, how about a story detailing people that saw this collapse coming and how Wall Street will never look the same again. That would be interesting.

Or even just pieces that help inform the viewer, such as a metaphor for what’s causing the credit crisis or what the hell these freaky instruments are that caused all the trouble. Those would be welcome stories as well.

Fortunately, such stories exist. You just won’t find them on television.

Blame

In the film Rising Sun, Sean Connery’s character claims that “the Japanese have a saying: ‘Fix the problem, not the blame.’ Find out what’s f—- up and fix it. Nobody gets blamed. We’re always after who f—- up. Their way is better.” While this is not universally true (sometimes fixing the problem does mean assigning blame), it’s true enough: Americans, particularly American media, are much more fixated on pointing fingers than solving problems. With the current financial crisis, there is no shortage of culpability to go around, and the standard blame orgy is in full swing. Unfortunately, almost no one, least of all the media, is even mentioning one of the largest culprits: the American consumer. Far from assigning even a tiny bit of the blame there, most noticeably exclude them from analysis. In the debate last night, McCain went so far as to call them “innocent victims of greed and excess”.

Wrong.

The American public, that is currently raising such a stink about this crisis, did as much to cause it as anyone. They are not the sole cause, to be sure, but they are not innocent and it disgusts me they they (we) are getting a pass. One of the few to even mention this is Chris Plummer, who recently provided a menu of blame that included the general public, twice:

Consumers

Railing against greedy thieves in the financial industry ignores how readily Americans availed themselves of the cheap credit that same industry offered them. If there’s honor among junkies, it’s that they don’t blame their drug dealer for their addiction.

American workers

Employees across all industries suddenly fear for their jobs and resulting financial hardship as the nation appears headed into a recession of considerable depth. The ones most at risk are the millions who lived beyond their means and failed to steer earnings into savings for just such potential emergencies. They sadly face just desserts for feasting high on the hog.

That may be harsh, but it is largely true. It’s clear that the trigger for this crisis has been home loans made to people who ultimately couldn’t pay them back. Yet, in a society of finger pointing, somehow no one seems willing to even mention that, just perhaps, the people that agreed to take such loans might have, just perhaps, helped to totally screw us all.

The common rebuttal to this is “but there was criminal, predatory lending! Those people didn’t know what they were getting into! They were being lied to!” But, even if there was outright fraud in every single case, “those people” still signed the paperwork. Essentially, this rebuttal is saying that consumers who suck at math and reading comprehension are automatically innocent. This argument doesn’t hold up in any other venue. I’d like to believe that a small outlay of cash to a rich Nigerian in exile would net me millions but, if I fell for this scam, no one would call me an innocent victim. They’d say I got what I deserved for being so stupid and greedy. Blame certainly falls on the scammer, but also on the willing participation of the scammed. It takes two to tango.

When you are out and about, and a bomb set by a complete stranger goes off and kills you for no reason, you are an innocent victim. If you willingly enter a contract that fully explains what will happen, you are not innocent, no matter what anyone told you the contract said. That isn’t how contracts work. If you don’t understand a contract, you don’t sign it. Especially for something as large and important as a home.

You hear a lot of demand for “accountability” from the public, the media and politicians regarding Wall Street, government, the banking industry and so on. But this same public seems pathologically unable to be accountable themselves. We demand responsibility from others, but shown none ourselves. Why would we? We have no end of talking heads telling us we are the innocent victims.

Now, as mentioned, “Main Street” isn’t the sole culprit in this. There are a lot of other forces at work (which samaBlog lucidly explained). The point of this post is not to lay the blame solely at the public’s feet, but rather to act as one of the only places that assigns them any blame at all.

I tend to agree with the sentiment from a bad Michael Crichton movie that started this post, that blame just isn’t particularly useful. But, if you must point fingers, make sure you point them in the right direction.

An overabundance of doughnut gravy

Apple has rejected a number of iPhone applications from their store recently, because they “duplicate functionality” of Apple applications (or, evidently, of apps Apple might write). Apple is now adding a new wrinkle: they now warn that notification of these rejections is included in non-disclosure agreements.

So, forget for a second that this whole process is stupid, bad business, insipid, and almost certainly illegal. Instead, imagine that you are a developer who gets an app rejected like this. In addition to being angry and disillusioned, you also have a problem: you now can’t tell your fans why the app they are waiting for will never come without violating the NDA. About all you can say is “we have stopped work on this application”. If anyone demands an explanation, all you can say is “we can’t tell you”.

I suggest an alternative solution. Rather than say “we can’t tell you”, explain it with a phrase that has no actual meaning whatsoever, but one that will come to be known to mean “Apple screwed us over with their idiocy but we can’t tell you that”. I offer up the following phrase (which, I must stress, has absolutely nothing to do with the iPhone, Apple or the app store, but is merely a way of stating the inexplicable): “an overabundance of doughnut gravy”. So you might say something like: “We regret to inform you that we have canceled all work on application X. We found we could not continue after suffering from an overabundance of doughnut gravy.”

Spam gets three times funnier

Spam filters are now good enough that they suck away the evil crap without me noticing. It’s been a long time since I cared enough to look to see what it was filtering out. On a whim, I did so today and noticed that subject lines have graduated from spelling out the names of erection medicine in fifty million different ways to using provocative “headlines”, which look like over the top news/gossip events. The idea being, I suppose, that if the headline is compelling enough, you take the time to read (or, at least, render) the spam.

I still haven’t read any of the actual mails, but some of these headlines are hilarious. I’m guessing they have some sort of random context-free grammar thing generating them. Sort of like they fight crime, but more obsessed with media whores. Some examples of what I got today:

  • Britney Spears Ditches Music Career, Enters Car Racing
  • Britney Spears Admits “My Vagina Made Me Shave My Head Bald”
  • Angelina Jolie’s Lips Explode
  • Britney Spears’ New Hair Extensions Are Lindsay Lohan’s Pubes (that one’s for you, Rob)
  • Britney Spears Shoots Down American Spy Satellite With Her Vagina
  • Britney Spears Not Bipolar – New World Order Conspiracy Afoot
  • Britney Spears: “Yes, I tried to suck the shine off a bumper”
  • Paris Hilton denies screwing Ron Paul
  • Britney heartbroken as Diana’s Butler beds Winehouse
  • Paris Hilton To Poses For Playboy, followed immediately by another mail claiming Paris Hilton Becomes Nun. Your call on which would be more shocking.
  • Paris Hilton’s Vagina Bites Penguin

The Weekly World News wishes they could make these headlines. I can almost see the “photo” they would use for that last one.

Evil genius

The year is 2035. Joe Smith stands in front of the United States Senate, subject of a confirmation hearing for the post he has sought all his life:

Camera cuts to Senator Archibald Huffenpuff [R], looking self-important and slightly bored.

Huffenpuff: Mr. Smith are you now or have you ever been a member of the web site called [checks notes] MySpace.com?

Cut to Joe Smith, in a sharp suit.

Smith: Yes sir.

Huffenpuff: In what capacity?

Smith: Well, while running for office several years ago, we used myspace.com/joe-smith-in-30 as part of our grassroots campaign to…

Huffenpuff: Have you ever used any other usernames on this site?

Smith looks moderately confused by the question.

Smith: I don’t particularly recall, Senator.

Huffenpuff: Have you ever used the name el-guapo-suave?

Smith smiles.

Smith: Ah, yes. I used that name during school.

Huffenpuff: Do you recall comments made then about circuit judge Mary Jones?

Smith blanches, clearly confused

Smith: Back then? I didn’t even know who she was then, Senator.

Huffenpuff: Let me refresh your memory. In 2008, she was fifteen years old and went by the user name meow1kittens15.

Smith: Uh…

Huffenpuff: You left comments on her page when she posted a picture of herself in her cheerleader uniform.

Sensing Smith’s discomfort, the camera slowly zooms in.

Smith: Uh…

Huffenpuff: Specifically, you said of the then underage Mary Jones, and I quote “I’d tap that” and “omfg u r so h0ttt!!!11!1”. Are these your words, sir?

Smith: Uh…

Camera cuts to a closeup of a white cat with blue eyes and a diamond necklace, being pet by Rupert Murdoch (indirect owner of MySpace) in his orbiting space station.

Murdoch: Bwah-ha-ha-ha! You should have paid up, Mr. Smith.

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are already being used for blackmail, but I can’t help but suspect that blackmail is actually their entire reason for existence. This is the only reason I can find to explain why Faceberg still gets investment capital in spite of having no visible business plan or prospects. It may also explain why Facebook removed a third-party application that let its users stab each other: it was cutting in on Facebook’s action.

Expect to see this type of thing show up in government more often, along with services that will eliminate incriminating web evidence. One interesting aspect of this will be the collateral damage created. For example, in my fictional example above, a plot intended to take down Smith would probably also take down Mary Jones by also exposing her teenage escapades.