Climategate

Reprinted below is a response to a “climategate” editorial published in the Wall Street Journal by Kimberly A. Strassel.

In the article Strassel quotes Rep. Jim Inhofe’s claims that “Cap and Trade is dead”.

With the CRU leak, many are holding Scientists to a ridiculous standard of behaviour that we wouldn’t even expect from Priests, Politicians or anyone else. Wow, you mean Scientists can be back-stabbing arseholes? Big surprise there! You mean they have pride, and occasionally massage results? Holy Obvious-Burgers Batman!

Reader thoughts welcome, though I do recommend you read the original article for some context.

Response continues…


It’s a real shame to see legislation on a globally important issue such as climate change treated with the same kind of partisan rhetoric as anything else.

Despite your accusations that the leaked emails are “damaging”, not one scrap of evidence has been unveiled that indicates that the published data is wrong, that the models are incorrect, or indeed that the planet isn’t warming and that this warming is caused by humans.

Human-caused climate change is real, and it is a genuine threat to continued prosperity and stability in the world. A few scientists blowing off steam or even hiding some results that they think don’t support their theories is nothing new. It does nothing to damage the credibility of the climate science field as a whole, unless journalists allow it to.cloud the issue.

In over 900 papers published on the issue of climate change between 1993 and 2003, precisely none disagreed with the hypothesis that climate change is real and man made (cf. Oreskes, 2004). Such a consensus is practically unheard of in the history of scientific endeavour.

Yet in the mainstream media, over the last 5 years, we have seen 53% of articles published raising some doubt over the existence and causes of this phenomenon.

And while these scientific papers may disagree on the details, and individual scientists may let their egos and pride occasionally get in the way of professionalism, the same can be said for any industry. The overall trend is clear and unequivocal.

Even as the arctic disappears before our eyes (it will be GONE in summer some time between 2012 and 2015 – the entire arctic ice shelf!), and we witness the greatest extinction the world has ever seen, and sea levels are rising faster than even the worst-case scenarios published a few years ago, these articles continue to appear and set back the movement to really do something about this problem.

It is a shame that we may have to wait until it is too late before some people see fit to acknowledge the problem. Life is probably going to get quite uncomfortable, and your “economy” will not be able to save you when the planet no longer supports life the way it once did.

World leaders delay climate agreement beyond Copenhagen Summit

Today at the APEC summit, President Obama announced that top world leaders would not form a binding, global agreement on CO2 emissions reduction at the Copenhagen Summit this December.

They didn’t give any firm dates, beyond saying that such an agreement is not likely before the second half of 2010, which basically means 2011.

This is both disappointing, and an opportunity.

Disappointing because a binding agreement, even one that is a deep compromise, would at least establish momentum towards a low-carbon global economy.

An opportunity because citizens worldwide have more chances to press for strong action at the time a decision is finally made.

We should now shift our focus at Copenhagen, though not diminish our energy. The message is clear: the scientific community that has brought us so much progress and wealth over the last century are now telling us to drastically cut CO2 emissions or face terrible consequences. The community of the world overwhelmingly backs these conclusions and is ready to take action to switch to a new, sustainable way of living on the planet.

As Mr Gore rightly says, the only thing missing is political will.

Laughmageddon II: The Copenhagening

Over the last few months I’ve been gradually putting together a new comedy show. This will be my biggest ever, at a huge two-story venue at Trades Hall, Melbourne.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: Laughmageddon II: The Copenhagening.

Fundamentally, it’s a bunch of top comics performing standup and a version of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, in madcap, tag-team style. Expect music, sketch, animation, stand-up, surprise guests and more.

Here’s the details:

When: Friday, 20th November, 8pm

Where: “New Council Chambers”, Trades Hall, cnr Victoria Street and Lygon Street, Melbourne

How Much: Tickets are $25 full-price, $15 concession. All proceeds donated to the Australian Conservation Foundation for their “Road to Copenhagen” campaign.

For tickets and more information, head to the web site: http://www.laughmageddon.com.

Laughmageddon_Poster

Shifting the bar for Fabulous

Seth Godin claims the Internet is “raising the bar for fabulous” globally. I tend to agree. The increased competition to stand out in a global online community should produce “higher highs” of creativity.

There’s a conundrum here, though. Is this phenomenon purely due to the network enabling us to find more things that are “cool”, or are more & better fabulous things actually being produced as a result of this competition? Or some combination of the two?

And, in a broader sense, are we rewarding glittery, fabulous, attention-seeking works of creative genius at the expense of some of the more boring-but-important stuff?

I think Godin’s assertion needs more data, but it’s thought-provoking…

ACN serves up a piping hot nonsenseburger

So an affiliate of ACN has commented yet again on my original post about their pretty lame video phone. I have no idea why. Well, some idea why – for some time I was the first or second google hit for “acn video phone“.

This comment is such a rich vein of comedy gold, such a teetering shambles of ideas and insults, that I feel it is my moral duty to reply sentence-by-sentence.

You are a fool no offense my friend but you don’t understand the concept of the video phone or the way the business works and that’s a shame.

If you don’t want to cause offense, start by not prefixing your apology with an insult.

I’m pretty sure I understand the concept of a video phone. It’s like a phone, but with video. However, the way ACN has built it, it’s like a phone that will only call other phones that belong to the same phone company, i.e. completely shit and useless.

I also do know way that business works. Or, at least, the way it should work. Businesses should be built on quality, competitive products and services, and not by playing on people’s fears and insecurities or by misrepresenting your entire business model. *cough*

It is not a pyramid scheme because pyramids are illegal in a lot of countries including my own.

That’s absolutely right. It’s a multi-level marketing scheme, which is basically a pyramid scheme that’s been set upon by lawyers who tune its parameters until it barely falls into the category of “legally acceptable”, but still no further towards to golden chalice of “socially acceptable”.

I don’t know about yours but this company is in 20 different countries all around the world and i have had no complaints with my customers and people who have chosen ACN as there provider.

Awesome, you should have your customers leave positive feedback somewhere, anywhere online. This blog perhaps? Because all I can find is complaints about both the product and the company. The only positive comments are universally left by ACN representatives themselves, who obviously have a financial motive for doing so.

Also, your comments about my company  (“I don’t know about yours”) not being in 20 countries are utterly irrelevant. You know what else is in at least 20 countries? Al Qaeda. Scientology. Herpes. It’s not exactly a sign that you’re a force for good. And the implications that my opinion isn’t worth anything because I don’t have a sprawling global organisation are just as tenuous. You don’t know anything about me, so how about you engage with my arguments on their own terms rather than shooting the messenger?

This is not a get rich quick so if that’s what you were looking for right off the bat then i am sorry to say that nothing in life is that easy.

It certainly isn’t a get-rich-quick. By all accounts it’s a never-get-rich-at-all. But it paints itself as something far more insidious – a path to financial independence and personal success. It is not that. Like virtually all MLM or pyramid schemes, it is a path to social isolation, stress, and ultimately depression. In the introductory video, Donald Trump claims that video phones could one day be bigger than the property market. It’s this kind of unfounded claptrap that misleads people into thinking they’d better jump on the bandwagon. I’m sure Mr Trump is a great guy, but I’m not sure he’s really examined this product or market in great detail. He was just a piece of acting talent. You paid him to read from a script.

This is simple you sell EXISTING services wireless, local and long distance, TV etc. If you recall way back bell was the only option for Internet and home phone, do to deregulation it opened up the doors for other companies like Sprint, Rogers, AT&T etc…. ACN is just another one of those options.

So you sell highly commoditised products into a saturated market? WIN!

The difference is they have a method that bypasses advertising, marketing and mass mailing which costs millions a day to allow people like myself and others to acquire customers themselves and by doing so putting themselves in a position to earn a percentage of there customers bills every time they pay them.

This is one of those equations that just doesn’t balance. If regular telecommunications providers have to spend millions of dollars a day advertising and building customer relationships, and ACN doesn’t, then that means ACN must be getting millions of dollars a day in free labour. It’s just a fact. What’s more, the act of talking to people one-on-one is so inefficient compared to a television ad or billboard that reaches thousands or millions of people in one shot that ACN is probably getting several multiples of the money spent by traditional telcos in terms of free labour. And how is it getting this free effort? On the back of its new signups, frantically calling family members to reach their sales quotas and get more deeply embedded into your organisation. To finally, maybe, one day make the big bucks. Meanwhile, ACN rakes in hundreds of dollars in signup fees, and its members scrape by on the meagre profits of deeply commoditised and mature markets.

And the cruelest part is, you won’t let your own affiliates advertise themselves in any way. So they always have to resort to direct contacts – family members, friends, new relationships – which inevitably results in social isolation. It’s sad.

This is legit the start up fee is basically a license to sell telecommunication services and telus phones and plans, like any license you want to acquire there is a fee.

That is just a lie. ACN profits from these fees. ACN has already paid its own licensing fee to the government (whether on credit or outright), and it is a fixed amount, not one that scales up with each new member. Therefore each member that is added pays just as much money for an ever-shrinking share of this “license”.

If your offering is so compelling, I dare you to stop offering your members a share of revenues or commission from anyone they sign up to be a reseller. Watch your company dissolve immediately. The money your members are making should speak for itself, but it doesn’t. Because it’s not there.

There will be exceptions, of course. I bet 5% of your members make a living. The inner 5%.

ACN takes care of all customer service all technical service and all the things nobody wants to do when they open there own business.

Unfortunately for your members, customer service is by far the biggest differentiator in a commoditised marketplace like telecommunications. And, again unfortunately for both your members and customers, your customer service and technical support sucks.

Try opening up your own Telus phone booth and see how much it costs you i guarantee that it is nowhere near $500. This is your own business you have the ability to sell all the services that you use today and the services of the future, your going to pay for them anyways why not make some money off of it.

You will categorically not make some money off of it. Not enough to pay for your time and heartache, anyway. Look at the market in Australia and you’ll see it flooded with ex Allphones or Telstra reseller franchises as everyone exits this increasingly unprofitable market (and don’t go thinking that all your free labour makes your model “profitable” – for you, maybe). Nobody is making money from just the telecommunications services any more – it’s the add-ons, headphones, smartphones, etc.

I use airlines all the time too. I’m not thinking of starting an airline. I wouldn’t make any money. Same goes for telecommunications, including your lame-ass, locked-down “video phone”.

My first Google Wave Robot

So last night, powered by half a bottle of cheap plonk, I wrote and deployed my first Google Wave Robot. It’s not perfect yet, but it kinda works. All it does is replace emoticons with pictures. Right now, they’re pictures of my girlfriend.

To try it out, you’ll need a Google Wave account. Currently they’re invite-only, alas.

Simply add “wavesmiley@appspot.com” to any conversation where you want the smileys to be converted. Any “blips” you edit will have emoticons replaced, in “near real time”. Currently only 🙂 🙁 😉 and 😀 are supported. :-/ coming soon.

Awesome! wink

Experience importing an existing Drupal site to Aegir

(Cross-posted from the Aegir group on Drupal.org. Aegir is a brilliant new framework for managing web sites built in Drupal – upgrading, migrating, enabling, disabling and so, SO much more.)

Hi all,

I just wanted to share my experience migrating an existing site to Aegir, in the hope that others will find it illuminating and it will help them avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered.

Firstly, I made sure my site was completely checked into Subversion, and then checked it out on the Aegir host in the platforms directory as “mysite-1.0”. I had decided after reading the available documentation that the best way to bring an existing site into Aegir is to import the whole Drupal distro as a platform and then migrate the “default” site into another existing platform (the latter step isn’t really necessary, but I wanted to avoid having dozens of platforms for all my existing sites – defeats the point of Aegir somewhat).

Secondly, and before I imported the site, I renamed the “sites/default” directory to “sites/mysite.client2.gravityrail.net”. Aegir ignores the “default” site. I then created a symlink, “sites/mysite.com”, because that’s how Aegir does it.

Third, I imported my database. Of course.

Now it was time to import the platform in Aegir. I crossed my fingers, toes and eyes (then uncrossed my eyes because I needed them to see the screen… and my fingers because I needed to type… so at this point only my toes were ensuring good luck came my way, and clearly toes aren’t enough because…)

BAM! It worked!

Wha..?

Awesome!

Time to import the site. Breathe. Breathe. It can’t be this easy, can it?

It wasn’t.

Okay, here I’ve hit my first problem. I wanted the site to have a generated alias to mysite.com, but I think I either forgot or didn’t see the entry box because this wasn’t baked into the generated Apache config in config/vhost.d, and my site (I later found out) wouldn’t appear when the DNS got changed. Whoops!

Lesson 1: Make sure you enter your domain aliases when you import the site in Aegir.

Secondly, the import task failed because of a missing file on a mysqldump, “/dev/fd/3”. Turns out on Debian Lenny you need to make sure you’ve got udev installed so the smart mysql script can create temporary devices containing mysql credentials.

Lesson 2: On Debian, make sure you have udev installed.

But my script was halting at another point now. It was complaining that I wasn’t using a password for MySQL! That’s weird… checked my settings.php, all seems well. Turns out the issue is that my password started with a “#” symbol. Turns out one of our components here doesn’t like certain punctuation in passwords. Similar problems will occur if your password contains } or ) or various other symbols that could be interpreted as PHP/shell/MySQL delimiters of various kinds.

Lesson 3: Don’t include punctuation in your passwords, for now. Hopefully this will be fixed shortly.

Ran it again. Got a bunch of permissions errors on files, typical stuff and I fixed it.

So, finally I got the migration script to run but, critically, by this point I was running it from the command line so I could see this debug output. This has ramifications later.

When the migration script completed, there were a lot of errors to do with missing packages. See, I’d assumed that drush or provision or one of the other smart tools underlying this system would detect the modules in the source platform and, if they were missing in the target platform, it would automatically download them.

Whoops, nope, turns out that’s not the case, for a whole bunch of really good reasons.

Lesson 4: Make sure you have all the required packages installed on your target platform before you migrate.

At this point I decided to flex my Unix command-line muscles and concocted a simple command line to port and enable the packages. As we’ll find out, I’m not as smart as I thought I was.

cp -R source-platform/sites/all/modules target-platform/sites/all
ls target-platform/sites/all/modules | xargs -y enable

See, this assumes there is just one module per directory name, and that the name of the module is the name of the directory. As y’all in Drupal-land know, this just ain’t so. Chalk one up for Java-guy-learning-Drupal.

So, thinking I was done and readying my martini, monocle, slippers, and wallet for the inevitable glory and prestige, I pointed my browser at the site: mysite.clientX.gravityrail.net.

[GARBAGE FILLS THE SCREEN]

I dropped the martini, the monocle fell out, and my crossed-toes drew blood inside my tartan slippers as I surveyed the damage. Missing images, ill-rendered Javascript, formatting completely gone, fonts in TIMES NEW BLOODY ROMAN. This was no good, no good at all. I was building a professional site, not MySpace. Back to the typing-board.

Okay, time for a few more lessons:

Lesson 5: Copy the themes, not just the modules. I had forgotten that my site’s theme was a Zen subtheme, and you can’t have a subtheme without the super-theme.

Lesson 6: As above, enable all the modules you need. Though this shouldn’t be necessary if the modules are actually present in the target platform when you migrate – Aegir was clearly making a good-faith effort to enable everything when I ran the migrate script.

Lesson 7: If you don’t migrate using the web interface, then your site will be copied as the Aegir user, not as www-data. Then you’ll find that suddenly imagecache can’t create thumbnails of your images, for example. At the very least, do a “chgrp -R www-data sites/mysite.com/files”. Hopefully this will be enough.

Lesson 8: There are plenty of Drupal modules that hate having their site renamed. ImageAPI / ImageCache is one of them. Moving from “default” to “mysite.com” meant that I had to go into the database (shudder) and do an “UPDATE files SET filepath = REPLACE(filepath,”sites/default”,”sites/mysite.com”);” so imagecache could find the files. This is a design flaw in the way that Drupal or this module handles files, and multi-site should be fixed to handle it. I strongly believe no files should have their paths stored relative to the system root in a multi-site framework, for obvious reasons.

So, after fixing permissions, filepaths, enabling required modules, testing and re-testing, I had my site imported and migrated onto Pressflow 6.14.56 and working well.

Then my client changed their DNS, and the site didn’t appear, and they got angry and changed their DNS back. Because on my final successful migration, Aegir rewrote my apache configuration without the Site Alias of mysite.com.

We re-launch today. Second time lucky. Aegir still has some rough edges for newbies, but I feel really excited that I finally have a consistent way of managing all my sites. Migrating your existing sites into Aegir is totally worth it, and I hope that my lessons above help a few people to get into this wonderful new world.

The Number One Hit for “Arsehole”

(Cross-posted from Tawtof)

Ah Google. Any company that can have three copies of the Internet just kind of lying around is awesome to behold.

And Google Image Search is a modern marvel. All the speed and power of Google Search, now with the nerve-rattling immediacy of images.

However, despite the best efforts of thousands of PhD graduates, image searching is still flat-out wonky.

Text? Ooh yes, we can search text! Is the word I’m looking for in your page? Yes/No. Done.

(I am over-simplifying. The job of then ranking every page on the internet in order of relevance is absolutely horrifying to contemplate, but nevertheless kind of a solved problem.)

And we all know that typically the number one Google hit for a particular word is a definition of that word, or the home page of a company called that word, or very often a serious Wikipedia article summarising the complete history of human endeavour around that word. Serious, relevant, useful.

But image search is another beast entirely.

There is no canonical image for anything. Not even close. Unless it’s an image of an image, and even then it could be a forgery.

And for images of concepts it’s even worse. In text-land, we could point to a bunch of dictionaries for the definition of “wind”, and perhaps even highlight the best definition. By contrast, trying to ascertain the top 10 photos that describe “wind” would be basically pointless.

Same goes for “nancy“, or “shape“, or “old“.

The photos that appear may all contain those things, but they’re hardly the canonical definition of them. The idea that you could rank all the images in the world by relevance to a single word is so painful to contemplate that the very thought would send most PhD graduates flinging themselves off the nearest definition of “balcony”.

All of which is why I love typing “arsehole” into Google Images.

Because – no matter the consequences – whatever comes up is still, by definition, the number one arsehole on the planet.

According to who?

According to machines.

The machines that decide for us that Wikipedia has great definitions (it does), that you have new email and that this is the only new email you have, because we have decided all this other stuff is spam and there’s no need for you to even look at it.

So, what do the machines think is the number one hit for Arsehole?

A young black man on the London tube, looking a lot like he doesn’t want to be photographed.

The story that accompanies the article is hosted on Samizdata.net, a self-described “blog that brings you news & views from a critically rational social individualist perspective”. The Samizdats are a crew of London-based Civil Libertarians that sprang out of libertarian.co.uk led by Perry De Havilland, a “trans-Atlantic Entrepreneur” who casually reels off phrases like “The core of what makes this so wrong lies as usual at the meta-contextual level”.

The whatty-what-what?

When you can discredit the core of someone else’s argument using a word and concept you invented then you’re not just dealing with meta-context, but meta-language and possibly even meta-credibility.

Person A: “You can’t say that. You’re a blurglefincher.”

Person B: “A what?”

Person A: “Blurglefincher. It’s a word that means ‘the person who just lost this argument’.”

Perry rightly dismisses a purely-Utilitarian view of the world (as one must with a purely-anything view of the world – cf. Quantum Mechanics), but the cognitive momentum carries him way out into into the intellectual deep-end where every edifice that society has constructed to keep us fed, educated, safe and healthy has to be disposed of because it somehow affects individual liberty.

For example, they refuse to discuss the Second Amendment in the US in the context of gun control because they reject the very notion that a State should be granting us “rights”. Uh oh.

So, back to the black kid who appears when you search for “arsehole”. It appears at the top of an article.

The article (helpfully titled “Does anyone know who this asshole is?“) asks for help finding the young black man, as he is alleged to have assaulted a Samizdata community member called Jackie.

This act has incensed the Samizdata community, who rail against the unhelpfulness of Police, the lack of civility in society, and the fact that they’re not legally allowed to carry around weapons to they could defend the woman’s honour in the most direct possible way.

So what was the nature of the assault? They helpfully provide a link to Jackie’s blog where she details the attack. In point form:

  • She just spent hours detailing the attack to the Police
  • The attack was unprovoked
  • She said that there was some “physical violence”, but didn’t to go into detail
  • She said that the perps followed her down some stairs shouting abuse, and then caught the same train as her (which is how she took the photo)
  • Later, the police apparently arrested one of the men.

Now, at no point do I want to imply that there was no physical attack or that it wasn’t completely awful. I actually feel terrible for this woman even for the details she did describe (the verbal abuse).

The point I want to very very carefully make is that we have absolutely no idea what happened, not even from Jackie herself. No details on whether they had weapons, how the attack came about, whether it was a nudge or whether it was rape.

Hey, you know what? That’s completely okay. It’s a private matter for Jackie, her family, and the police.

And also, apparently, hordes of gun-toting new-Libertarians who want to bring their own brand of hate-filled vigilante justice down upon the head of this chubby black kid for [INSERT CRIME HERE].

Because it turns out that they’re a bit odd.

Turning briefly to the comments on the original article, we find plenty of thinly-veiled racism.

Hmmm. It just struck me that Baker Street is the stopping off point for many heading to and from the Baker Street mosque. You dont suppose……?

Nah.

And a dash of homophobia along with brutal and luridly-ironic vengeance:

Sickening. He looks like a pansy and pantywaist just waiting for someone to chin jab his flabby ass in unconciousness.

I hope he dies while painfully violated.

And then downright weirdness, like referring to Somalians a “dirt-scratching savages”, or asking that the police force “DOES ITS FRICKIN JOB INSTEAD OF ATTENDING DIVERSITY LECURES”.

But it gets worse than the threats.

I was in Barbican market this afternoon (3;30pm) and saw someone who I thought looked like a spitting image of the shitbag in your picture. As I walked by him, staring as I tried to figure out if I really was looking at the piece of trash, he gave me a hearty and somewhat aggressive “Alright mate!?” About 5′10″ 150kg. I would say he’s about 15yo. I suspect he studies in the Barbican area and just finished with school.

Okay, so now we’ve gone from “let’s find this person” to the very brink of “kill all people that look like him”. He certainly fits the description though: black, male, and reacts badly to being stared at in a crowded place. Get him!

Imagine what could have resulted if, as many of the bloggers and commenters claim, everyone in Britain should be allowed to carry concealed weapons? Not only would the crime have been worse, the retribution could have been catastrophic.

If this is the alternative to Government, I’d rather live in Myanmar.

There are so many ironic twists to this story I feel dizzy. For example, if it wasn’t for justice-crazed civil libertarians we would have such a need for governments and police to protect us from their vigilante whims. If it wasn’t for people demanding the free trade of deadly weapons there would be a much need to have one. The fact that they encourage a “meta-contextual” view of the world that respects each person’s point of view, yet pay no heed to the fact that this kid might have his own story to tell about what happened. And so on.

So in the end, in a weird kind of way, Google was absolutely right. The top hit led to biggest pack of arseholes I’ve ever seen.

The Internet is an amazing place. Just to cleanse the mental palate, I leave you with the number 2 hit. Goodnight.

 

Mah Finance Sector Is Too Big

[Note: Credit for these ideas must go to many people, particularly Joshua Zeidner and Matthew Slater, both of whom are working on mutual credit, LETS and other alternative currency systems. Check out the Matt’s Complementary Currencies module for Drupal and, shortly, Josh’s JUNO API for connecting these systems together]

I’ve kind of tuned out of my daily Huffington Post emails, but today one arrived that I found pretty interesting (The Dominance of the Financial Sector Has Become a Mortal Danger to Our Economic Security). The title is a bit overblown and the article is selective and shrill, but most of the facts speak for themselves.

Some context: In recent months (well, longer than that really) the Republican party in the US has been trotting out the tired Reaganite “tax and spend liberals” rhetoric to attack every policy Obama tries to implement: the “Cap and Tax” policy for regulating carbon output, the “Socialist” medical system that will push up taxes and several even less creative redefinitions of what’s actually happening.

Meanwhile they crow about the stifling effect of regulation on the financial industry, complaining that the reversal of Reagan’s deregulation and Bush’s nails in the coffin will also roll back America’s prosperity to the mid-80’s.

Two problems here:

  • First, that much of the prosperity created after deregulation isn’t real. That’s why they call it a bubble. It’s built on unrealistic speculation.
  • Second, that the US Financial industry is so bloated and powerful that around $1 out of every $12 spent in the US goes to the financial sector, an industry, by some measures, produces very little.

You want to talk about tax? How about an 8.5% tax that goes straight into private hands instead of funding the public interest? A tax paid by every man, woman and child in America every day on everything, and one that disproportionately affects the poor.

Or how about the tax imposed on every US citizen by the private medical industry? The amount of money spent on prescription drugs in the US is rising by 20% every year, yet it would be impossible to argue that each year sees a 20% improvement in their citizens’ health.

There is a place for regulation in both the financial and medical industries. There is a place for government institutions that genuinely advocate and, yes, manipulate these markets on behalf of the common interest, because time-and-again history has shown that completely unregulated markets quickly become distorted by vested interests and that the perceived “wealth” created flows disproportionately to private hands rather than the public good.

I call this effect “trickle-up economics”. See what I did there?

So why not just start regulating?

Have you seen what’s happening in the US and other capitalist economies? Now that they have become deregulated, these industries (and I haven’t even touched on the energy sector yet) have become so powerful and tightly controlled by a few large companies that they can buy political influence and prevent the reimplementation of regulations. Here in Australia, our weak-kneed politicians dare not offend large industries with forward-looking legislation to protect the environment, and so we get pathetic half-measures. Just this week our conservative opposition party almost imploded over the question of whether they should even debate legislation to combat climate change. And this in an age when the overwhelming public and scientific consensus says act now.

So what can the little guy do?

Stop using Money… WTF?

We’ve tried protesting. We’ve tried writing to our representatives. We’ve tried to shop thoughtfully and buy Australian, buy Green, buy Ethical. We’ve subscribed to MoveOn, GetUp, Facebook groups, YouTube channels, mailing lists of every political stripe. Yet political rhetoric, and particularly legislation, is completely, provably out of touch with what people actually want.

I think the time has come to devalue money. Think about it: How often do you use actual cash? Me, not that often. At least half my expenditures are on cards, using credit. My speculative ventures (I have a few) use Australian Dollars to subdivide shares in companies, nominating value. Most of the money I shift around is not real – it’s credit in one system flowing into another. It has ceased to be important whether it’s measured in Australian Dollars, US Dollars, Rupees or bottle-caps. Yet I pay fees to move all this non-existent money around. I am paying the bank some insane amount of money just to decrease a number on one computer and increase it on another, only to have it flow back the other way a week later.

What’s more, modern currency systems are no longer backed by physical resources such as gold – they are all Fiat Currencies. Money has become, for better or worse, simply an accounting system – a way of mutually determining who owes who what.

So what’s to stop me and my friends from adopting our own currency for a particular project? Say, for example, we want to build a web site (I’m a programmer). It’s a club with membership fees. The site needs to be designed, built, documented and maintained and all these things take time, and this is before we have any members.

So we create a pool of credits, say a million credits. Let’s call them SiteBucks. This is just like shares in a company. We allocate SiteBucks to particular tasks – 2000 for a design, 10000 for programming, and so on, as decided by the founders of the venture. The people who work on the site accumulate SiteBucks, and we store each person’s tally in a register. When the site is built, we may have expended 20% of the available SiteBucks, spread around everyone who did the work.

So far, this has operated just like any other kind of speculative venture.

The interesting part comes next. How much longer can you sustain your “virtual” currency? How else could you spend it? As membership of the site grows, or offshoots are created, could you continue to use SiteBucks to pay for stuff?

The answer is, surprisingly, yes. The only thing you need is an exchange rate. Some notion of how your SiteBucks translate into other things, whether it’s currency or apples.

This is where computers come in. Computers are insanely good at storing registers of numbers, lists of members and, most importantly, modelling complex systems like exchange rates. Thank you financial industry – you’ve invented suites of tools that can balance hundreds of currencies off against each other. Now let’s scale that up to thousands or even millions of currencies. Easily done – computers are fast and cheap.

But wouldn’t this just result in chaos? Surely most currencies will not be traded enough to have a stable exchange rate against every other currency

Well, yes, but even so most speculative companies fail before they hit the market anyway. Just because you’ve invented a currency doesn’t mean you’ll grow to the size that it can be meaningfully exchanged.

Also, when your venture reaches a size where it’s producing mutually-agreed value, you can swap your unstable currency for a more stable one. Over the last 40 years or so that would typically have been US Dollars. Now it can be anything. I mean, fuckit, it could be WoW Gold. It doesn’t matter.

Or you can continue with your private market in your private currency and only trade for other goods “at the edges”, for goods and services that can’t be produced internally. This is what’s called a Community Currency or LETS (Local Exchange Trading System). A great site discussing issues around community currencies is OpenSourceCurrency.org.

But isn’t this illegal? Actually, no. Creating your own physical currency is illegal. Creating a “points system” that a closed group uses to track mutual credit levels may be in a gray area, but I’d love to see a government try to detect and eliminate it if it’s all happening inside a private computer system.

What about tax? The basis for a Fiat Currency is that it’s the means by which the government demands tax payments. Creating your own currency is a neat way of avoiding paying tax on things like Capital Gains or sales taxes because no money is changing hands. Republicans and Libertarians rejoice! Overdoing it may land you in jail though.

What effect will this have on the Real Economy(tm)?

Oh, a whole bunch! Some positive, some negative. In real terms (i.e. productivity) the economy should grow because of the reduced friction for capital to enter speculative ventures. But the one effect I’m interested in is this: there will be a huge shift in the balance of economic power. The general population will be empowered to shrink the Dollar-economy because Dollars won’t make up as much of the traded currency. This will reduce the influence of companies that have spent most of their energy accumulating financial and political power and not so much of it actually helping people.

In other words, more of the energy you expend working will go towards actual value, and less into hidden, private taxation by banks and other large, opaque, private industries that have flourished in the past 20 years.

I’ll sign off now – no doubt I’ll come back and edit this at some point. Interested on people’s thoughts on this though. I’ve begun meddling in a few virtual currency projects, so if anyone’s interested in hearing more let me know.