Climate Change Damns Capitalism

This is a really good Kim Stanley Robinson interview in support of his new book, Sixty Days and Counting, third in a trilogy I haven’t even started reading yet. Here’s a very telling passage from the interview:

There is a Gotterdamerung attitude abroad in the world that says, we’d rather destroy reality than admit we were ever wrong about anything. That’s rather startling and awful, but we live in a capitalist system and by and large capitalism calls the shots – literally in that it controls the armies and police forces. So it will become a very serious question for us, now and in the immediate future, and really for good: how real is democracy? And, if science as a cultural force needs to stand up for the creatures of the Earth against capitalism as a cultural dominant – who wins? This is a big question. I have hopes that despite the immense power of capitalism (which is not “creation of capital” but rather “feudal control of capital”), the real productive capacities of science, and the way science has to an extent “scientized” the workings of society in the last century, will mean that science will prevail in the end; meaning the scientizing of capitalism into some post-capitalist order that is more just than the current one.

And this is just the lead in to the real take-away:

We use “global warming” after all as code to speak of a much larger environmental crisis, and that crisis is in part the result of too many humans on the planet using a destructive technology to live by, and so human population is a crucial issue, not always linked to the other problems, when actually it is central. And human population drops to replacement rates or below when social justice prevails, especially when women have full legal rights to their lives, along with a minimally acceptable standard of living. So social justice, impossible in capitalism because of capitalism’s basic hierarchical power structure, is necessary to environmental health and human survival. So these forces, democracy and social justice, align with science in a larger project of survivability of the species. But it is an anti-capitalist project in the end.

So here’s our choice: engineer a post-capitalist permaculture society or die.

Radical and yet obvious. Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Now That’s Some Seriously Sour Dough

OnlineVia SASE(!), you can buy get for free 150-year-old sour dough starter from the Oregon Trial. But reading this boingboing post about it, the question that comes to mind for me is… Hold on, there were Basque sheep camps in Oregon in the 1940s? (cue sounds of feverish wikipedia-ing–okay, apparently yes)

What’s the snail-mail equivalent of being Slashdotted? Because it just happened to these poor people. If you’re going to take advantage of this offer, I’d strongly urge you to liberally interpret the “cost” section of the order page:

Occasional unsolicited donations offset costs of distribution and production to allow us to carry on Carl’s tradition of not requesting a fee.

Go ahead an include a fiver, eh?

New York to Ban iPods?

Last year I thought blogging was the new smoking, but now it seems that electronic devices will receive the dubious honor of being the once ubiquitous thing you can no longer do in public. At the very least, a senator wants to ban iPods and other gadgets while crossing the street.

Logically, however, they’ll need to ban them in cars as well, because you could take someone out just changing songs. And probably subway platforms, because you might stumble onto the track while checking your email. And probably on sidewalks, since not only does an iPod mute your situational awareness but it actually attracts muggers as well. I’m pretty sure after that they’ll have to ban the deaf–after all, they can never hear the traffic that’s about to mow them down. And just to be safe anyone with any visual impairment or mental handicap, because that’s sort of like checking your Blackberry. And, statistically, I think you’d have to ban old people. And baby strollers.

Did Poor Customer Service Really Kill Dell?

This blogger believes that customer service, or the lack thereof, has been the deciding factor in Dell’s decline. He cites “low cost and high operational efficiency” as not being enough. While I’ve personally considered Dell a disappointment in terms of hardware performance and reliability, I’ve never heard anyone complain about the service (aside from having to call them all the time because the systems keep breaking). Certainly no more than I’ve heard complaints about Sony or Apple (and reliability has been an issue for these manufacturers as well).

I’d like to present an alternate theory: that rather than rebel against poor customer service, what customers have really shied away from is Dell’s “directness.” I think that increasingly consumers have been pushed (back) toward retail computer buying. There are many reasons for this. Bundling and 0% financing options are one big one. The perceived value of a free printer or scanner at retail usually far outweighs the cost of delivering it. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to wait for the “0% on all Computers until 2008” insert in the Sunday paper than it is to wade through the shady 10% coupon deals for Dell on eBay.

Proliferation of choice may also be a factor: I think consumers have become less confident in their ability to choose the right system and components online, and Dell’s plethora of models and configuration options works against them in this regard. Intel vs. AMD (how many cores do I need? 32- or 64-bit? And don’t even get me started on the “processor number” debacle), a half-dozen different kinds of RAM (DDR? DDR2? what’s PC-3200 in Mhz? and how much do I need?!), three or four generations of hard drive technology all currently available, XP vs. Vista, CD vs. DVD.

And then there’s the sales aspect–dragging people squirming and clutching their wallet that last few feet to the register. Should I wait for Vista? What if BlueRay suddenly languishes and I can get an HD-DVD drive for $50 next month? In an almost perverse reversal of the status quo, I think the geek at Best Buy and the WalMart sale flier are actually keeping the PC unit sales flowing at this point with gentle hand holding and impulse buys. Conversely, anyone confident and patient enough to shop online has been in a holding pattern for at least six months.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Dell making some deals for retail placement this year. Given that they already have a rivalry/relationship, WalMart/Sam’s Club is the obvious first step. Costco is always a possibility. But to really make a go of it, Dell is going to need to get in bed with one of the big chains: Best Buy or Circuit City. Or, if they want to really hit it out of the park, Target. This strategy helped pull Gateway out of the fire when their online business dropped off (which, ironically, did have something to do with customer service). Adjusted for the 21st century, it could work for Dell too.

First Wiki Novel: Just as Bad as You Imagine

Penguin’s massively collaborative novel experiment–A Million Penguins–seems to be off to a rocky start. It’s a wiki, so it could easily self-improve at any moment, but I wouldn’t count on it. Right now it’s execrable. I mean truly ghastly.

“Big Tony,” a voice said, “There’s a call for you.”

Big Tony carefully put down his cards and looked at the bartender, slightly raising his left eyebrow. “For you? But everyone knows not to call me here?”

“They’re calling your mobile – how would they know where you at?”

“Of course,” said Tony, nodding meaningfully as he took the cell phone out of his pocket. He might be “mean and dumb as a man can come” but he was also a little slow.

“Hello” said the voice on the phone, “Is that Huge Tony?”

“No, this is Big Tony.”

“Sorry – wrong Tony.”

I know, rather than complain I could simply edit it. In fact, just snipping it out like this makes it sound slightly funny–like maybe it’s trying to be a little madcap and ironic. It’s not.

Start editing this? Might as well piss in the ocean on a rainy day.

Read the Fine Print

For some reason, I utterly fail to develop any sympathy for this allegedly screwed-over Lycos customer, regardless of the fact that the story percolated to BoingBoing(*). It seems like what this blogger was asking for (in a passive-aggressive and not particularly polite or artful manner) was to be treated as an exception to the terms of use (which are, as argued, one click off the homepage). The terms of use may suck, but that’s a reason to not use the service in the first place, not an excuse to whine when they enforce them. The final response from the “manager of all of Customer Service” (clearly a Howard Stern fan) is refreshingly honest:

“I’m sorry, no one here has any intentions of helping you with anything.”

Fuckin’ A man! Stick to your guns and don’t sugar coat it.

On another note… Lycos still exists?!? Well there’s your problem right there.