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Welcome to Bliterati

Bliterati is now going into beta mode. That means I'm inviting a select group of users to come and try the site out. You can think of the current site as a rough draft. I need some fresh eyes and people to bounce my ideas off of. I will continue to add several features a week and to repair bugs as quickly as people find them. If you have ideas for new features, or about how I could improve the existing functionality of the site please leave a feature request or bug report on the meta page.

I've started a Frequently Asked Questions page (FAQ) and written a short essay explaining some of the ideas behind the site. I'm working on a couple more essays that will go deeper into what I hope to achieve with the beta phase of the site and how I expect users to interact with the final product. I'll put a link to those here when they're ready.

If you'd like to recieve emails notifying you when new essays are published (as well as gain a lot of other powers) click the register button above.

Thanks for coming!

Recent Documents

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May 10, 2012- mamadoodled
Wisconsin can show that big outside doesn't always buy elections.
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April 18, 2012- hank
Using government to solve everything is so 20th century. We can do better.
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March 29, 2012- hank
Some good reasons why cloud computing is the future and what that is likely to mean.
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Feb. 21, 2012- mamadoodled
Are our myth-understandings causing our problems?
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Jan. 24, 2012- hank
The world is changing. In the new economy, ideas are everything. The ratio of thinkers to workers needs to change.
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Nov. 18, 2011- mamadoodled
call for an national acceptance of mortality
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June 5, 2011- mamadoodled
why not abolish Mother'sFather's Day?

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Recent Comments

[Thu Jun 7 14:10:11 2012] mamadoodled wrote:

I guess it was the big outside least it appears that way.  I'm not sure they persuaded people to vote for their candidate's ideas it feels more like they buried us under and mudslide of garbage and made people hate the whole idea of the recall and the bickering so much they're ready to scream. 

I don't know how this state is going to tolerate another whole round of political mud slinging with almost no pause. It makes enduring the whole process so onerous and damaging.  It seems to me that the only real winners (if there are any) are those who make their living off of political spending.

[Fri May 25 02:28:19 2012] hank wrote:

I agree with a lot of what you're saying. A society without violence is inconceivable. That's the fundamental logical flaw in anarchism. People will always be tempted to use force to get what they want. Those people living on the island in harmony are really just a hypothetical construct. Inevitably people would have heated disagreements and somebody would knock someone else down, or take what some other person thinks is rightfully her own.  Things would come to a head, the strongest would prevail, and a government would thus be established. A state of anarchy (the absence of established power) is unstable and can never last long. Where one person or group of people is stronger than another (that is, everywhere) there is government.

I think good government should be designed to act like a referee. It should stand watch over the guns and stop people from pushing each other down and taking their things. I know that a government that follows this principal entirely is not really possible. Governments are, after all, composed of people, and even the best people are by nature partial to their own interests. Institutions like democracy, and property, and contract, and law, and rights all play the role of locks on the box. They make people go through longer and more laborious processes in order to get access to the guns. They are the true innovations in government. They give people confidence that they will be allowed to live in peace and thus the incentive to build fruitful lives and communities.

Really what I'm saying is that, although the ideal of a totally free society is unattainable, our objective ought to be to make those locks as numerous and obstructive and difficult to open as possible. While the intent is to create a level playing field, you may be right that it would handicap one side. But I think it would be the economically powerful who would be handicapped. I think that the same skills and savvy that make some people and groups winners in the sphere of liberty (by which I mean all nonviolent human interaction) are likely to also enable them to be winners in the sphere of government (they're clever, ambitious, they have resources, concentrated interests, and good lawyers). If we loosen control over the guns, they will likely be the ones who end up in control of them. As governments grow stronger economic mobility declines because the winners can use the coercive power to lock in their gains.

I would frame it as competing default responses to inequalities of power. If group A is overpowering group B we could either strengthen group B or weaken group A. Should we open the box up and hand more guns to group B or confiscate some of group A's guns and put them back into the box? I'm saying that setting the latter default is socially optimal (both because coercion is a negative sum game and because it's more work for group A to get the guns back out of the box than to steal the new guns from the feckless group B).


[Thu May 24 17:43:29 2012] mamadoodled wrote:

Today's poll shows a dead heat. I think that is good...? I have always preferred to be an optimist, I hope the results don't prove me wrong.  I can't bring myself to make phone calls or canvass because my personal experience of these approaches has seemed counter-productive but I am feeling a lot of anxiety about it all. I just want the voters pay attention and to judge from the facts on the ground. If that is too much to ask then what?

replied to About bliterati
[Thu May 24 09:32:33 2012] anonymous wrote:

This is a really nice initiative,


[Thu May 24 02:42:59 2012] joe wrote:

First, I should say I generally agree with the idea that we should consider whether private or public action most efficiently addresses any particular issue (though I have some criticisms there that I may write about separately).  However, your hypothetical above gets to my central criticism of this essay (and most libertarian theories for that matter):  Someone will always open that box and take the guns.  The temptation is too great.  Even if you didn't want to wield them against the others, you would want to have some to defend yourself in case someone else decided to open the box.  Well, perhaps you can envision a (somewhat utopian) scenario where the island is populated by highly educated modern people with sensibilities about violence and coercion who could resist that temptation.  Even so, the real world is contingent upon our past.  And in our past every society larger than a tribe has opened the box.  Consequently, our choices have been about how to shape something that already exists, not about whether it should exist.

When you say that government hasn't solved any problems, I have to strenuously disagree.  Government has evolved over the last several hundred years in ways that have yielded vast benefits to human welfare, producing direct benefits and promoting the ability for private sector actors to innovate and prosper.  You might counter that much of what government has done over that span has been to change course from prior government policies that were, in hindsight, oppressive, unfair, cruel, and stupid.  And that would be mostly correct, insofar as it goes.  However, that leans on the assumption that there is a scenario where our ancestors did not open the box.  If, on the other hand, you take the view that is inevitable in any sufficiently large social group someone will open the box (which, again, history seems to support), then efforts to reform government from something that is brutal, autocratic, and oppressive into something more enlightened can yield massive benefits.

Thus my overriding criticism of libertarian theory:  The power of coercion exists and will be exercised.  The only real questions, to my mind, are by whom and to what purpose. Tightly constraining the coercive power of democratically-managed actors does not eliminate the exercise of coercive power, it merely shifts it to other, non-democratic actors.

It is generally accepted (perhaps especially by libertarians) that people will generally seek to exercise whatever resources they possess to their own advantage.  I believe that many people would, if they possess the power to do so, exercise coercive power to their own advantage.  This is not always bad.  Contracts, for example, borrow the coercive force of government to enforce private actions.  And contracts are a necessary feature of a prosperous economy.  Moreover, people do exercise coercion to enforce them.  Until we went all soft and allowed people to declare bankruptcy, there were prisons for people who did not pay up on contracts. 

Additionally, I would argue that wealth is a form of coercive power.  Wealth can pay for the direct exercise of coercive power, legal or not (see Pinkerton Guards).  In many places in the world (including arguably in the United States), wealth can purchase government policies and favorable legal decisions bending coercive force of government to its ends.

I know I'm cutting this far shorter than it should be, but I have other things I would like to get to tonight and want to cut to the chase -- my basic view is this:  unless government takes an active role in promoting social welfare and limiting disparities in economic power, economically powerful parties will find ways to co-opt and/or circumvent the government and exercise coercive force to their own advantage, thus undoing the central benefit that the libertarian approach is intended to provide.  You get all of the coercion, but less (or none) of the accountability and democratic management. That struggle between those who possess private wealth and power and institutions embodying public power has always gone on and will always go on.  All the libertarian approach does is handicap one side of the fight.  And I, alas, am not nearly rich enough to favor the private side in this struggle.


[Thu May 24 01:12:02 2012] joe wrote:

The Wisconsin brand of pragmatic progressivism is something the nation direly needs these days.  I'd hate to think a punk like Walker could hold it down.  It has been interesting seeing Wisconsin become one of the hottest political battlegrounds in the country.  I'm sure the coverage will be pretty intense between now and November.  And I agree that there is a threshold at some point where advertising money has a diminishing (or even negative) return.  It seems to be a pretty high threshold though.

[Mon May 7 16:29:46 2012] hank wrote:

I've often thought of government as being Pandora's Box. Imagine a bunch of people on an island with crate of guns in the middle. It's tempting to break out the guns and use them to get something you want. But what if you lose control of the guns? There will be no putting things back. 

We tend to create government power to get something we want, but others don't, and are then surprised when those others turn around and use the same power to get something they want that we don't. In any society, the more powerful government becomes, the more that society devolves into a perpetual wrestling match for the control over it.

[Sun May 6 16:57:30 2012] mamadoodled wrote:

In rereading this essay...I am struck by it's potential to appeal those who might think of themselves as Tea Party types.  I am not saying this as a criticism of the essay or necessarily the Tea Party but as an attempt to understand what these people have stuck in their craw.  The threat of raw power to tax and create policy and law embodied in government can be scary to us all when we see it taking actions with unconsidered consequences (think the financial bailouts or Iraq war).  I certainly felt that way when Bush and the Republicans held the White House and Congress.  At that time it seemed like anything that could be done to stop more Government action would have been good.

Instead of taking from these things a lesson that a more centrist, less partisan form of govt. is better many people have taken the lesson that more idealogical warfare and extreme partisanship was required.  This has only mucked things even more.

hank replied to Phase Shift
[Thu Apr 19 18:31:26 2012] hank wrote:

I think that genuine returns to scale are in decline. I hadn't appreciated just how in vogue the ideas I talked about in this essay were when I wrote it, but I saw this on the Economist today. It shares my opinion that the advantages of scale are gradually evaporating.

Beyond actual efficiencies coming from scale there are other forces that drive companies to scale up. I think that CEOs have the same incentive as government bureaucrats to grow the empire under them since their compensation is strongly correlated with the overall revenues and profits of the company they run. I would argue that this self-interest runs contrary to the interests of the shareholders. When companies spin off divisions, the combined share prices of the parent company and the spinoff are usually substantially higher than those of the combined shares were. When companies make acquisitions on the other hand, it usually enriches the managements of both companies while impoverishing the shareholders (the acquiring managers expand their empire, the acquired owners get rich on a flood of goodwill).

Historically CEOs have consistently been able to push their interests over shareholders, but as the diseconomies of scale grow I think the risk to CEOs of pursuing this strategy will rise. That is, as the differential between the value of a company as a whole versus in pieces rises, so do the rewards of a hostile takeover. If CEOs are too greedy they can still lose their jobs.

I agree with your last paragraph but I think it supports the fragmentation model. Big ideas are what matters, not small marginal improvements. Bureaucracies aren't all that bad at small marginal improvements, but they tend to be terrible at cultivating new revolutionary ideas. If a big company has one big monolithic in house marketing division, innovation will be hard to cultivate and hard to measure and reward when it is cultivated. If on the other hand the managers of different products are free to contract marketing services from many different dedicated marketing firms, there will be a framework for innovation and competition. New big marketing ideas will be more likely to arise, more likely to be recognized, more likely to be rewarded, and easier to scale. Companies that plug into this marketing cloud will get better marketing service cheaper than those that try to maintain in house divisions. And because we're talking about big ideas not marginal improvements, better is an exponential concept.

Virtually all of the big ideas in computing for instance have come from small start-ups. When Apple tried to maintain tight control over it's hardware market, it nearly died. Only when they decided to join their competition in using the hyper-competitive hardware industry cloud did they experience a revival. It wasn't an option. Decentralization was a force of nature like the tides. The realities of the market were saying that any company that wanted to create it's own hardware was doomed.

I think that information technology is the key to making this process go critical. It makes the kind of loose connections, just in time contracts, and rapid communication between contractor and contractee that this kind of system thrives on possible.

Even if a company doesn't actually choose to fragment itself, I think it should virtually fragment itself. It should, for instance divide its hundred person marketing division into ten ten-person teams. Then those teams should act like independent units. They should contract with the business units that use their services. The teams will compete with each other for the best employees and try to make the most competitive bids. The teams that do the best job will get the most work, earn the most money, and end up hiring new people and scaling automatically. The teams that don't work well will eventually dissolve due to lack of contracts and their best marketers will find work on other teams. Skilled marketers with their own ideas could create their own start-up teams. It would create a market within a company.

I think this is pretty much what Google tries to do. They try to run their company more like a constellation of start-ups than as one monolithic enterprise. They give their employees substantial amounts of time to work on projects of their own choosing. Some of those projects become something cool and attract more and more people and funding. Others burn out and disappear. It's all about simulating the sort of creative trial and error that a market would give you.

Steve Jobs may have gotten his god-like reputation from doing the opposite of this. If he had created an entrepreneurial atmosphere we would have seen Apple's products as having emerged from a hothouse of innovation.  But we see Jobs as having been a genius because he was a dictator and all ideas had to be funneled through his desk. Jobs may have picked the winners and tweaked the vision and plotted the grand strategy, but to suggest that 99% of what Apple produced didn't come from the employees is to take a skewed perspective on how new technologies are created. Jobs appears to have been very good at picking winners, but it's impossible to know how many winners he missed. I can totally believe that Apple actually has an incredible talent pool. There's probably no other company in the world that has as many passionate devotees. How many of these very intelligent people would prefer nothing more than to work for Apple even if that meant being an anonymous cog in the machine of a dictatorial strong man.

It's conceivable to me that even the employees of Apple, which I admit is probably the best example of synergy in the corporate world, could produce more value divided than united.

replied to About bliterati
[Wed Apr 18 13:03:28 2012] anonymous wrote:

On further thought, I think maybe it should be <title><rating><author>