Archive for April, 2012

27
Apr
12

Worth Reading

Surprise, surprise: firing people doesn’t help with unemployment, and reducing taxes doesn’t help the state budget. After some 50 years of experimenting with that, even the capital-loving New York Times realizes it.

Why, congratulations, New York Times: if your staff keeps figuring things out at this rate, within a couple thousand years, they’ll all be Marxists.

21
Apr
12

More Waste

Discarded smartphones

Discarded smartphones


These are discarded smartphones. They come from two different, major, producers, and cover at least three different models. There’s a couple of interesting things about this stack. The first is its (theoretically) temporary nature: phones that are found to be defective are either repaired, disposed of or, most often, sent back to the producer for replacement; this is usually done within a week. The other is a mere number: all these phones come from a pool of less than 100 employees. I counted the wrecks quickly–the system administrator in charge of them was getting suspicious–but I think there were at least 12 of them.
The company these phones belong to is not doing well. Because of this, it buys the cheaper models, and doesn’t change them as often as other companies do. This combination brings out the full flavour of lemon technology: incredibly complex pieces of machinery, requiring maybe 35 litres of oil to produce, not to mention dwindling resources such as copper and ones with such ethical problems as tantalum, are produced to last even less than the traditional year and a half.
This is the nature of capitalism: if it can’t charge you twice today, it’ll sell you the same the same thing tomorrow.

18
Apr
12

Karl Marx Bashes the Chinese Communist Party

And just to convince you all that I am not the only communist disapproving of the Chinese approach:

Karl Marx Bashes the Chinese Communist Party.

Incidentally, this is also a good video for your average red-scared who has no idea about what Marxism is about.

16
Apr
12

An Encounter in Eastern Europe

A few months ago, I found myself in Warszawa, talking to a bitter old man. Said bitter old man was some kind of vice-president at a local semiconductor factory He wasn’t cheerful: his factory, with its about 200 employees, had been bought by a Danish group, which had put in charge of the whole place a Dane with half his years, and ten times his salary. To add insult to injury, I read between the lines, the youngster had married the factory’s choicest laska. Crisis had then hit the Danish group as well, and people were being fired. But, the bitter old man declared (once he had learnt I was living in Denmark) the worst was when they were under communism. I thought I’d enquire. Maybe semiconductors weren’t popular with Russians: after all, their computers sucked. The following, actual dialogue was rather surreal:

TCS: How so?
BOM: We worked for the military…
TCS (surprised): Didn’t they put a lot of resources in it?
BOM: Oh yes, we had more than 2500 people working here!
I couldn’t quite get out of him what made the factory worse during communism–particularly for the 2300-and-counting unemployed. I suspect many in Eastern Europe say this kind of thing to get Brownie points: it has usually absolutely nothing to do with why they don’t want communism back. The real reason is that capitalism is, as hinted before, a religion. But this will be the subject of future posts: stay tuned.

15
Apr
12

Capitalism, the Religion of Waste

Floss box and printer cartridge

Floss box and printer cartridge

What do a floss dispenser and a printer cartridge have in common? The answer is apparent to anybody with a brain, a scale, and some free time: they are two of the most common and shameless tokens of the culture of waste capitalism has created in the richer countries. Let’s look at the numbers:

  • A xerographic (that’s “laserjet” for the HP-brainwashed) cartridge weighs 684 g when new. Of these, only about 100 g are “ink” (a mix of carbon black and a little resin, a very low-impact product). The rest is plastic and metal, which is actually a lot more expensive and carbon-consuming. It costs 94 €.
  • A floss dispenser weighs 14.06 grams; about 5 of these are floss (basically, nylon, with a little wax), the rest is plastic (polypropylene, I’d say) and a little metal. It costs 4 €.

Nobody, to my knowledge, sells spools of floss, although the right kind of sewing thread would probably do. On the other hand, people have, repeatedly, tried to reload all kind of printer cartridges. The industry answered by placing dedicated circuits that make sure that you only use new ones, and of their brand. It doesn’t even stop here: when buying my cartridge, I was informed that a new printer of the same type, a clump of plastic and circuitry far too bulky for my home scale, actually costs less (some 30%)  than a cartridge, which it purports to include. The poor sod buying it, however, would soon discover that only a fraction of the included cartridge is full, and be sucked back into the waste loop within a few months.

Why create such waste? The reason is mainly psychological: people will not part from 4 Euro for a  quarter reel of sewing thread, nor from 94 for a quarter pint of soot without an excuse.  The gigantic high-tech, disposable wrappers of capitalism are this excuse: they increase the raw material expenses by tenfolds, but allows the producer to multiply the price tag by a hundred. If cars were made the same way, you’d have to buy a new windshield every time you buy a window sweeper. If software were made this way, you’d be forced to buy a new operating system every time you change your word processor. Yeah, right, “would”.

These are not the only examples. When you buy a light bulb, the filament is designed to only last a limited time; after that, you also have to buy a new glass bulb and fittings, whereas what you really need is a few fraction of a gram of tungsten. If you are more environmentally conscious and buy LED lighting, you are no better off: little known to laymen, these consist of a rectifier–a fundamentally immortal piece of circuitry–and a hysterically sensitive diode. When the latter burns, you have to buy both again.

Even when you buy a computer, if you are not very careful, it will be sold to you with a processor many times more powerful than you ever will need, a graphic card that can recreate Avatar in real time, and about a quarter of the memory you should get. Since the size of programs regularly swells with time, at some point, your machine will become tragically slow, at which point you will be sold another one with an even faster processor and an even more fantabulous graphic card–and just enough memory to steady you up for another year and a half.

The examples never end: in order to milk your wallet, hundreds of items one buys will be wrapped in the wasteful constructs of capitalism; hell, even to read this simple blog you have probably loaded such a digital Behemoth as Facebook.

How does this relate to communism, the naive might ask? Well, if communism provides you with floss, it is because it wants your teeth to look good and, if it provides you with toner, it is because it wants you to write something sensible. It will give you, as occasion calls for, thread, carbon black, or Party discipline. Nothing more, nothing less!

Aside from helping save the World from an impending ecological catastrophe, that is.