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Archive for December, 2008

Apology

Hi All,

Sorry I haven’t written anything for the last couple of weeks.

Between Xmas and moving home I just haven’t been able to manage to get anything posted.  And of course trying to get the internet set up at a new address is always a bit of a challenge.

I am all settled now, so should have something new up very soon.

Looking forward to getting some writing done and hope too that you all enjoy reading it as well.

Cheers  R.

(Tues 30/12/08)

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(follow up to “Sufficient conditions”, part 2)

Revolutions don’t happen by accident, no matter what the public story may be.  There is somebody’s hidden agenda at work, and most likely several at once.  Sometime also over the first couple of years there will be a consolidation period and one faction or another will win the internal leadership power struggle and expel, or terminate(usually with prejudice), the competition.  Which only goes to illustrate that there was planning and organisation involved.  ‘Malice a’forethought’ if you will.  There is inevitably a lot of opportunism  and spontaneity involved as well, naturally, but to borrow a military aphorism – arriving first, with the most, counts.  Who-so-ever can get their act together best, building mass and momentum, gets the First Mover advantage.  First to gain control of the management of the revolution, and then to direct, focus and sustain the struggle/fight for power against the established institutions.  It is a very complicated task and requires better than average planning, coordination and information. 

It must also be accepted that there is an element of the random and spontaneous to a revolution, on a number of levels.  There needs to be a public appetite/sentiment to flock to the flag of the revolution(sufficient conditions). Certainly that can be enhanced by a good PR campaign, but it can’t be conjured from nothing.  That will come in its own way and in its own good time, all you can do is be prepared – grasshopper(boy-scout?).   Also, in any fluid changing dynamic, opportunities will arise, gifts will fall in your lap, people will demonstrate unexpected talents.  Take advantage of course of the unexpected, the random and the spontaneous.  But appreciate too, advantage and chance favour the prepared mind.  You have to be able to recognise/perceive  the opportunity, and be prepared to snatch it up.  Perception + preparation =  planning.

Planning extends to a lot of other levels as well:  preparation is a whole subject in itself, but further, a revolutionary movement is looking to either take over the machinery of government or supersede it(or both).  That is not a trivial task and is not done over a few drinks in the bar and on the back of an envelope.  The logistics alone will be staggering, thousands of people will be needing to be moving and completing tasks simultaneously.  Strategy and tactics will be needed to be thought through before hand, practiced and rehearsed.  Money, material, personnel, it is all needed and a lot of it.  In a way, a ‘revolutionary government in waiting’ needs to be able to demonstrate that it is at least as capable of mobilising the components of government – as the government.  And so it should… who would want to be involved or saddled with an regime that can’t get its ducks in a row or organise a piss up in a brewery.  In order to be credible, you have to be organised and demonstrably capable.  At that point, you might also have a chance of succeeding. 

People have actually studied all this sort of thing.  Academics of course, but interestingly the people who have the best theoretical and practical knowledge of this is the CIA.  They have been running intelligence programs and actual operations on the ground worldwide for decades.  Surprisingly effectively too.  The CIA were prime instigators in Chile with General Pinotche, and in Iran with Shah Reza.  Both fairly crude affairs, albeit successful, and also arguable coups rather than revolutions – witness an actual genuine revolution subsequently in Iran.  But they have got rather more sophisticated since then and their latter day efforts have been pretty impressive.  The recent “Colour” revolutions in eastern Europe had heavy CIA involvement(cold warrior don’t really fade away).  Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, all previously in the heart of the soviet bloc and all suddenly now with pro western governments.  Its not an accident, albeit not something that could have happened without a commensurate will of the people either.  So a subtle blend of circumstance, opportunism, preparation and manipulation.  And experience too, if the Colour Revolutions were achieved with some panache and reletively minimal violence, it certainly didn’t hurt having clever and experienced spooks to call upon.

Now the CIA isn’t about to sell you How-to handbooks – “Revolutions for Dummies”.  But there is a pretty substantial body of literature in the public domain that analyses past CIA operations and suspected operations.  And there is also just general civilian analysis of what is a pretty common historical, sociological and political phenomena.  It has all been done before, no need to reinvent the wheel, just go spend some time and read up on it.  Some of the more interesting literature probably isn’t going to be in English, but there are often surprising open discussions by equally surprising sources.  George Soros was openly involved in helping finance the Eastern European  movements, and any number of think-tanks in Washington have published papers adding their 2c worth.  The now rather maligned Neo-cons were particularly active in research, social networking and publishing.  To what extent any or all of these were connected to the CIA is an open question, but the fact remains their information is out there and available.  Take advantage, a little reading and thinking is a lot less costly than trial and error at game time.

 True, it is going to take more than a little reading and thinking (and thinking is the hardest thing in the world to do, thats why so few people do it) – it is going to take a LOT.   How much?   How long is a piece of string?   It will take what it takes.   If you succeed, you did enough, if you don’t, then you didn’t. Now there is a general lesson for life huh.  And in that vein, apply some more of the general lessons for life.  Cross your bridges as you come to them, take things one step at a time, and break any big task up into easier chunks.  So… consider:  Get your head around the idea first; find like-minded support; organise a core cadre, maintain internal discipline;  establish clear objectives; have a PR plan; have an action plan; get financial; know your enemy; plan for obstacles and setbacks; know your weaknesses; what are your means/your ends/your determination to achieve them…   And so on and so on.  Planning and planning and more planning.  

Ohh – and hard work, energy and determination – but thats another story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sufficient pain

 

(follow up to “Sufficient conditions”, part 1 )

So what constitutes sufficient motivation, sufficient pain, for people to change what they are doing?  The answer to that comes in many parts, maybe as many parts as there are individual situations.  And inflection points wont be especially predictable, it will be more of a case of, “I couldn’t describe it exactly, but I will know it when I see it”.  However, for all the randomness of each persons individual circumstances, there are gross trends as well.  Sentiment indicators/public psychology, unemployment statistics, GDP growth/contraction, Balance of payments surplus/deficit, prices -inflation/deflation, mortgage foreclosures/debt defaults.  When the statistics, or indicators, on any of these flip to negative, then there is pain coming to some-one.  When the whole lot turn negative, there is a whole lot of pain coming for everyone.  Are we at that point?   Well it remains to be seen how long and how deep the current recession will be.  If it is shallow and short, then we will be back to business as usual in due course, painful but not sufficient.  Sufficient is Screaming – not just grumbling.

I just read a commentary by Charles Hugh Smith(‘Of Two Minds’) that I have taken an edited extract from, if you are interested, the whole article can be read at: http://www.oftwominds.com/blogdec08/govt12-08.html

   “In every case, [people take on] burdens in the belief that their career will be enhanced and they will make more money/gain more prestige. Yes, we all understand this. But they also must believe in the structural fairness, justice, opportunity, security, meritocracy, etc. of the machine they willingly serve–even if their belief is subconscious or rarely in their conscious thoughts…  [Yet] You see the alienation, the bitterness, the disbelief, in factory workers when the factory shuts down, and their livelihoods are gone(and all too often too the pension and benefits they were promised)…  You see it in the face of an academic who worked long hours for years “on the tenure track” carrying much of the department’s teaching load, when she/he is ultimately denied tenure. Thank you for working for $40,000 a year for years alongside people doing the same work for twice the salary; good night and good luck…   When the most dedicated servants of the system awaken to the realization that they are not benefitting from their service as they’d once believed, that their near-religious faith in the System has been bruised by the grim knowledge that the few are benefitting from the lives and sacrifices of the many, then they simply quit, or move down the chain to an undemanding position…  At some point, the pressures on the people …reach a point where the person realizes, “This isn’t worth it.” That is, the sacrifices made … are not being compensated by either the inner rewards (sense of purpose, sense of being appreciated, prestige or respect factors, etc.) or the tangible rewards (financial compensation, security, etc.)…  Many in high-stress … jobs … feel the asymmetric burdens…  carry huge responsibilities, and …raise the same question: “Is it worth it?” …Even though it’s devastating for an entrepreneur to close the business they’ve dedicated their life to, it’s also an enormous relief; the long struggle to maintain solvency is over...

   Note to commercial landlords and local government: you think we need to operate this business? Well guess what, we don’t. Here’s the bankruptcy papers, have fun trying to collect a dime. We’re too tired to care how it all pans out, we’re moving on to a life without employees, rent, regulations and taxes… Now multiply this scenario by a million and you get a taste for what lies ahead. Beneath the headline-grabbing greedfest of the past 20 years, one bubble after another in the make-believe debt-fueled world of high finance … those struggling to make a living in small business have seen the rewards decrease and the hassles, taxes and other costs increase…  Government is about to discover “the impossible” is happening: nobody’s paying taxes anymore because they no longer have a job or formal small business”.

It is a great article and touches on a number of the issues I am talking about.  When people get over worked and underpaid to the point they can’t continue and give up, then there is sufficient pain.  When the rewards they expected for serving the system  fail to materialise, then there is sufficient pain.  When you are forced out of business by impossible burdens, then there is sufficient pain.  When it is happening to millions of people simultaniously, then there is sufficient pain for a Revolution to begin.  (Interestingly, when the “impossible happens” and nobody is paying taxes, then too the State take a mortal blow to its lifeblood and  becomes suddenly vulnerable.)

But returning to the core question, “are we there yet, or will we be back to business as usual in due course, painful but not sufficient?”  The answer is NO – not yet, and maybe never.  The economic system may stumble and then recover before any significant harm is done – who knows.  But only if the indicators start to turn back to positive.  If they don’t then the State is in deadly danger, because the pain of the people WILL get visited upon the State.  That much as a general principle is clear enough to anybody and everybody with an interest in the matter.  And as a matter of course, the institutions of Government will try their best to ameliorate and influence the trends and the indicators.  Well, best of luck to them, I am guessing their chances are no better than 50/50.  New Zealand is a pygmy amongst giants, whatever we may do here is going to be swamped by macro economic trends in the global economy.  We gain our prosperity from a pretty limited range of activities. What we do and how we do it can be cut out from underneath us with spectacularly rapidly.  A 1/2 dozen – dozen globalized contrary trends can easily devastate our economy, lifestyles and national consensus.

The factors we should watch include:  oil, tourism, capital/debt, commodity prices, deflation/inflation, exports/imports – (in no particular order).  We are very vulnerable to all of these factors and we are in control of none of them.  What happens to New Zealand over the next few year is in the hands of other much larger players.  And it all comes back to money, because money is what makes the world go around, and because we have actively constructed things that way.  There are some(few) people who don’t measure themselves against money, but the vast majority do.  Our self esteem, our success, our contentment is a reflection of our financial status.  Take away the money and the psychological impact is devastating, let alone any practical considerations.  I suspect relatively few people appreciate just how vulnerable our financial situation currently is, or how painful that could be.  It has been a long time since the Great Depression.  Regarding the factors I listed above, I don’t know the exact stats in anything more than a general sense, and the specifics will be important, but so too will the general trend.  

Firstly, oil – we have already had this year a sharp indication of what dramatically higher oil prices mean.   We have benefited since from a bounce back from those highs, but I am not expecting that to last.  Low prices force high cost producers out of the market, that is happening, and extreme price volatility  will discourage market participation too.  Low or even stable prices I expect are a thing of the past, ‘Peak Oil’ is real enough, whatever other factors may be in play.  Oil flows through into every aspect of the economy and I expect the pain to resume flowing sooner rather than later too. My guess is oil to return to over US $80 barrel.

Tourism – is vulnerable to a lot of factors, including oil.  But more to the point, NZ has a huge exposure to tourism economically.  With tourism making up something in the order of 30% of our  GDP, a 50% drop in visitor numbers chops a big chunk out of our income.  Is that at all realistically possible?  Well, who is going to come here if the rest of the world is in a Depression?  Make your own judgments, but consider the impact if it is true. What sort of unemployment would that cause?

Capital/Debt – NZ is essentially under capitalised.  That was a big part of the rational for Kiwisaver.  It has a lot less to do with securing you a halfway decent retirement income – that was only ever marginally possible at best, it is a lot more to do with eventually having a significant domestic savings base for commercial investment.  In the meantime NZ imports capital and always has.  The implication of that is that we are all extremely vulnerable to global capital markets.  So in-spite of all the Central Banks racing each other to zero % interest rates, that isn’t actually going to affect what you end up paying, regardless of official Monetary policy and jawboning by bureaucrats.  For the moment interest rates are coming down, but your deposit required is going up, and so too could interest rates at any time.  House prices and debt of all types is in danger and our whole economy lives on debt now.  For more information on this topic there are a lot of sources available on the net.  Also, check out the article “Falling houses” in my sidebar.   The upshot is that  middle class wealth is invested in housing(real estate), falling prices = falling wealth.  Opps!!!  The ramifications of that are multi-fold and painful. 

Commodity prices:  The major part of our national income comes from exporting agricultural commodities.  A significant fall in prices has a significant impact on our national income.  likewise a significant change in the exchange rate has a significant impact on prices as well.  Interestingly enough though, it is probably not an absolute fall or rise that is the most damaging thing, but volatility.  That is what will actually make it difficult to remain in business, when your whole basis for projections and modeling becomes a lottery.  There is a huge global re-pricing phenomena underway at the moment and it has a long way to run.  Volatility will be the name of the game for a long while yet and it will hurt all businesses sooner or later, one way or another.  Right at the moment, it is meaning a cut to rural sector incomes and they are something like 50% of our economy.  Ouch!!!  Where to, the future?

Deflation/inflation:  Neither of these is good under the circumstances.  Volatility is going to be evident here too.  For the middle class it is going to show up increasingly as depreciating assets and inflating costs.  What you own is worth less and going lower, what you owe and must pay for is going higher.  Is that guaranteed – No, thats just my guess at this stage.  Care to bet against me?  It also has some nasty implications for businesses and employment too.

Exports/imports:  At the moment everyone is saying, “we must not repeat the mistakes of the Great Depression, we must not raise trade barriers and tarrifs, that is the route to beggering your neighbour and ultimately, yourself”.  Care to bet what the outcome will actually be when the blowtorch really comes on?  There is an expression for it – Real Politik – self interest by the biggest players will trump any other consideration(“there are no permanant friends – there are only permanant interests”)   NZ lives and dies by exports – and imports too for that matter (oil, capital, vehicles, machinery/tooling, computers, medicines, skilled immigrants…).  If our exports are blocked from markets by self-interest at the other end – and our ability to pay for imports is choked, painful doesn’t begin to describe it.  

It is all a matter of degree of course.  All of these things could happen – to a little degree – and we would suffer a little, and then recover.  Or……!!!  Watch this space…!  (should that be, ‘watch out below’?)  Where is the inflection point where a little pain becomes – a lot of pain – becomes – too much pain?  Pain enough for people to spontaneously flock to a flag of Revolution.

Maybe soon – maybe a while – maybe never.  Que Sera.  But I foresee a clear and present danger.  How about you?  And what are you doing about it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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In order for a Revolution to succeed, or even get started, the conditions need to be propitious.  Things need to be sufficiently bad that change is preferable to the status quo.  Of course this is all relative, even when most people are suffering badly, some people will be doing OK, there is no particular reason for them to agitate or push for change.  In fact they may actively resist it, Communists called this “Reactionary forces”.   But it all comes down to people power, or as I call it, Mass and Momentum.  You need enough mass and momentum to squash any opposition and forge a new direction.  It is never easy though and is an up-hill battle, people just inherently don’t like change.  

We just recently had an election here in New Zealand.  This country is a stable western democracy and we are used to that and comfortable with it. So we went to the polls and finally after a decade in power, the incumbent party was removed and succeeded by the opposition.  It was an all very orderly and polite  process and a government of the centre was replaced by a different government of the centre.  Pretty much all the same people who were in parliament before are still there, there was a reshuffle of offices and then it is back to business as usual.  The previous party in power hadn’t really done anything too wrong, and the new government hadn’t done anything spectacular to write home about.  Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumb.  But there was a a sufficient mood for change due to discontent with a long serving government that people bestirred themselves long enough on a weekend to wander along to the polling booth and put a tick in a box.  Hmmm…!  Thats a long way from raising arms, putting your life at risk and storming the barracades.

No revolution imminent here then.  Whatever the fall-out from the global economic crisis, it clearly hasn’t yet been of sufficient moment to alarm, pain or distract people from their latte’s and La Vida Loca.  The closest we came was about mid year when petrol prices rose to the point where it was costing about $100 to fill the car, that genuinely did seem to have an impact on lifestyles.  For a short while – until the price dropped back again during this latter part of the year.  So will the economic malaise grind on and on and get very much worse, or will it just stagger along for a while and then slowly return pretty much to business as usual?  One thing for certain, unless the pain increases dramatically and most peoples lives are seriously disrupted, then a revolution wont even get under races orders, it is a dead duck before ever getting into the starting gates.

People have to be forced to change.  Until the pain of doing nothing is more than the pain of doing something, nothing will happen.  Yes there will be voices in the wilderness, prophets of doom – they are always there, calling for action and change to head off the coming apocalypse.  The problem of course is that the apocalypse never comes and the prophets are just raving nut cases.  Well, never say never….  very very occasionally the catastrophe does come(and the prophet gets stoned for being a know-it-all).  So what are the odds that we will be assailed by a momentous crisis, statistically – slim to none.  People are right to ignore the prophets and would be leaders.  What crisis?  And anyway, the costs of a revolution are huge, even for a modest one.  It is a cost benefit equation, even a pretty dysfunctional existing system is preferable to laying waste to the established order and then cobbling together something new.  You are only going to go there if you have run out of other options.  Specifically, you have tried all the other options, and they have failed.  Clearly we are not(yet) in a crisis that is sufficient to force change.

But we probably are in a situation where we are running through our list of options.  Will any of those succeed sufficiently to continue to keep the ball in the air?  There is the $64,000 question.  Clearly our monetary/economic situation is in jeopardy.  Is it inherently fatally flawed and wounded, and with it our polity?  Apropos to that, is anyone prepared for what comes after a collapse?   A collapse is the pain, the motivation for change – what is needed at that point is a plan.  Incoherent, spontaneous mass protest is a riot, even long running riots burn out and dissipate.  Planned, guided (manipulated?) mass protest is a revolution.  Just ask the architects of the “Colour” revolutions in eastern Europe.  By fair means or foul, coordination is  needed to aggregate enough mass and momentum of people to become an irresistible force.

So, a sufficient crisis is necessary to provoke action, and  sufficient planning and leadership is also necessary to focus and sustain it.  It is all a bit unquantifiable and random.  But one thing is for certain, a revolution will be a lot harder work than you ever imagined, even assuming sufficient conditions.

 

 

 

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13 Months

What self respecting Revolution would pass up the opportunity to re-draft the calendar.  The French did it, and I believe also the Chinese, Khymer Rouge, Iranians, Libyans… (correct me if I am wrong)   Anyone else?

(well… Christianity and Islam of course, do they count?)

Who could resist the opportunity to reset the calendar to zero and then set up the rest of history with your own impreteur.  It is classic, you instantly become the most important event and people in history.  Well in your own little corner of the world at least.  Legends in your own minds.

However, that’s not to say there wouldn’t actually be some very practical reasons for re-ordering the calendar… and a few asthetic ones as well.  The French did come up with some lovely names for their months – not entirely sure why they junked it all in the end.  But back to the practical reasons for contemplating a change: being a complete atheist I am in no way wedded to a calendar that is based on and structured around religious consideration, so that’s good, I can contemplate a utilitarian structure serving practical considerations.

So… what would it be like.

I have got to be honest, I didn’t actually think of this one myself  (but if you dont tell, I wont either  😉

The basic structure is 13 months.  All made up of 4 weeks totalling 28 days.  So the first day of every month would be a Monday and the last day of every month would be Sunday the 28th.  Each week day always fall on the same date of the month.

So, just checking the maths:  13 x 28 = 364.

There are 365 days in the year .  So that leaves one day left over (2 days every leap-year) not part of a month, and that can be New Years day (or Revolution day, or whatever).  And can be slotted in between any 2 months you like.

Make it a public holiday too, why not (between Dec – Jan,  New Years Day?).

Talking of public holidays, with a calendar structure like this, you can also ensure that by decree – all national/bank/anniversary day holidays etc, will fall on for instance the 3rd monday of the month.   That gives you up to 13 holidays to play with, they all fall on exactly the same day of the month (easy to plan for) and who wouldn’t enjoy having a certain amount of guaranteed 4 day weeks.

See –  Brilliant.   🙂

Now all anyone would have to fight over would be what to name the months. But hey, make it a national competition to come up with names.  Everyone gets to join in the fun and be invested in the outcome.  Perfect Revolutionary politics!

(additional thought:  slot the extra month in between June and July and call it Solstice.  Result – minimal disruption to the existing months on either side.  Albeit, it might be a bit confusing internationally if not everyone changed…)

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Clowns

I was in the car listening to the radio this morning and once again, just about the most stupid debate imaginable, came up for discussion… again…!

Some clowns want to change the road rules because they are convinced that that will be some huge benefit to us all. The fact that they want to change the rules back to something that was changed in the first instance for exactly the same reasons they are now advocating seems to have escaped them.  Morons!

“Ohh dear, we have to change the free turning rule because it will make intersections safer, wha wha wha.”

Yes, but that was exactly the reason that was given for changing to the current system in the first place.  Let me inform you of something – changing the road rules wont change the morons behind the wheel.

But it will cost 10’s of millions of dollars, that at the very least we can be assured of.  Once the bureaucrats get onto it, we can guarantee it will cost and cost and cost.  But maybe that was the whole idea all along – gotta justify all those jobs at the Ministry of Transport don’t we!!!

For Gods sake, they even admit that there is no real quantifiable data to support the proposition.  But no doubt it satisfies some pet peeve of some busy-body know it alls’.

Well there’s one bunch of clowns that will be amongst the first against the Wall come the Revolution.   Grrrrr.

firing-squad

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Infamy

Off Topic – and random, but…

It is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour today (7th Dec).

Or as it was called, “A day that will live in infamy”.

Well, not being American, I don’t have such strong feelings about it.  But Americans certainly did (do?).  It provoked outrage, “awoke the sleeping giant” (sic), and instilled a steely determination to settle the score with that dastardly enemy.

Even not being American, I grew up inculcated with the mythology of the event. But this year I had occasion to re-examine my perspective.  And you know what, that perspective now throws a somewhat different cast on the situation.  

As much as the attack – and Imperial Japanese attitudes and actions in general – were reprehensible, America’s response and attitude in hindsight look a little less like righteous outrage, and rather more like rascist outrage.

“how dare those slanty eyed, jumped up pigmies, trespass against our god blessed providence… bastards….  we don’t let them Niggers get ideas above their station… we certainly aren’t going to let a bunch of Gooks step over the line… time for a lynch’n.”

… just saying!

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