Freesteel Blog » California 2002


USA West Coast skid. Summer 2002

The Long Awaited Dive

We showed up in San Diego in the week when the two people I knew in that city were jetting away on business trips. One of these was for half a day meeting in Washington DC. It had something to do with awarding government science grants. I am reminded that we are living in the era of long-distance telecommunication. Conference call video-phones do exist. It’s not hard. If they can manage the split-second timing to coordinate a live TV or radio program between sites in England and Australia, a private meeting where “um”s and “ah”s are allowed should be perfectly easy. Who knows, such meetings might be more efficient (even factoring out the air-fare, hotel costs and jet lag), were they to be held entirely electronically. When people are not speaking face-to-face, the stronger personalities might not find it so easy to dominate the discussion to the detriment of good decision making.

A quick day dive out on the Coronados Islands ten miles out to sea and on the border between the US and Mexico. COLD!!!

Of course, the stronger personalities tend to get themselves into positions of authority in these organizations. It is on their word whether the twenty people on their subordinate committee can either conduct the process over the network, or all have to jet to one location on expensive “expenses” (which he has the power release) to have a meeting that can be dominated by him, and thus preserve his authority. That’s why he favours it. Businessman travel on the business of beating down autonomy, and all challenges to their authority. Also, it is a reward for good behaviour. Travel is fun. It makes you feel you are being productive when you are being nothing of the sort. You’re eating restaurant meals and sitting on planes. This is not work. It’s travel to work, and therefore a waste of time.

When I was working I got to go onto business trips to the machine tool factory in Germany. We always stayed in the same Gasthof which was an enormous farm building, the bottom floor of which was an intensive pig farm. It didn’t smell because the units were so well sealed like on a space ship, but you could peer into the windows and see the sow stalls and piglets being raised on bare metal floors like lab rats. (Actually, even lab rats get to live on a bed of sawdust to curl up in.) During the day we’d get shown around the factory (the machine tool factory, not the pig factory) and be told how bad our software was for so many examples, and asked when we would get it fixed. This was a working trip. We were workers. We were there to discover what we needed to work on. We were not doing business. We were not negotiating a system of authority over sets of workers. That’s called buying and selling subsidiaries.

When we got to the Greyhound station, Becka got on the case of finding us a hostel. She did all the phoning and taking us around to the Tourist Information stuff. She found Ocean Beach Lodge. They offered free pickup from the Greyhound station. This was in the form of a taxi. We had to pay the taxi ourselves because he couldn’t drive it to the door since there was a street market going on. Ocean Beach Lodge refunded the charge and it all but wiped out our room tariff for our first night’s accommodation. There is a city bus line that goes from the city centre to the same block as Ocean Beach Lodge for a dollar fifty. We would have been happier had they given us the directions to that.

These two guys are participating in the National Surf Life Saving championships. Can you guess which of the two is the rescuee? Right. It’s the one running in front because he is holding the floaty thing. The rescuer gets delayed on the way out of the water because he has to sit down haul off his swimming fins which he can’t run in. Here’s an idea: why not make the teams exchange rescuees with each other. Then they would actually play dead and we could see how strong these guys really were at hauling them up the beach.

On the street we bought all kinds of interesting veg and made a big salad in our room based on one huge tomato (a variety called a pineapple tomato), and drank a bottle of wine. The next day we toured around on the city busses and got up as far as La Jolla for lunch with one of my business trip friends. It was sunny and idyllic and the sea was heaving with human bodies. We are a successful species. There were no other animals out there in the waves. Not even sharks. I bought another memory card for my camera, having declined to buy enough in Salt Lake City just before the two weeks in Utah where there was no access to a computer. Another thing that got sorted out for the day was the dive trip to the Coronados Islands. We’d have to meet in the marina at 6 in the morning. Fortunately, the marina was only three miles from Ocean Beach Lodge, so we could walk. I had also sorted out another treat for Becka: an evening game of Underwater Hockey at the pool on Mission Beach, a mile further than the dive centre with the local club I had contacted from Michigan by email.

At what point does a barbeque become so convenient we start calling it a gas stove? There must be some sort of linear continuum of devices. This device has as much to do with a naked fire in a ground pit as a luxury caravan does with camping, as opposed to sleeping in a house. The only difference is there are wheels under it. The wheels serve no purpose when the device is in use. My computer is a lap-top if I am willing to use it on my lap, which I am not because it’s too heavy. If I put it on wheels I could call it a portable.

On the way back from La Jolla we screwed up with the busses and got onto an Express rather than a local service. I didn’t know what “Express” meant; I thought it just drove a bit faster and missed out every other stop. What it in fact does is behave like a local bus until it gets to 5 miles of the centre, and then goes into the freeway and misses everything else till it gets to the centre, well past where we wanted to get off. When we did get to Ocean Beach Lodge we were a little late and would have to run to get to the Underwater Hockey I had arranged. Becka ran out of puff, but her real excuse was she was too shy. I carried on (though I am shier) and managed to join them. Playing with the local underwater hockey club is a good way to meet people. It’s a group sport, not mainstream enough to be unreasonably popular, and they’re often just short of people to make a good game. Also, there is a natural overlap of players and scuba divers, so it’s a handy place to look for advice and/or possibly get offered a free place on a trip. No such luck this time. They put me in a game as the centre forward, and I tried to impress them. I scored two goals. However, there was none of this ebullient American back-slapping for scoring goals (huh?), not even a mention, and I soon got leg cramp from trying too hard. I went back to the hostel for an early night. Becka bought an alarm clock to get us up in the morning.

Many people were at the shop in the morning adding to a huge amount of faffing and fitting people out with wetsuits and other gear, which wasted time. You had to try your suit on in the shop, then take it off, shovel it into a bag and take it round the back and onto the boat. The wetsuits were thin, had holes in them and didn’t quite fit. What about gloves? Becka asked. We have a wide selection of moderately priced diving gloves for purchase, they said. We felt somewhat short-changed on this full wetsuit hire deal. Hey-ho, on the boat we go.

There’s been a drought in the Southwest States for four years. Lakes are drying up, rivers are feeble, the golf courses are still green. The problem is, with all this water plumbing technology, you can make withdrawals from your water supply as easily as getting money from a bank. There is no difference in fluidity when there’s ten billion or ten thousand gallons in the water account, so it’s easy to ignore the problem. Unfortunately, the water bank, based as it is on something physical, cannot proffer a loan. Never mind. As long as you have saved enough money when you were selling the water to other people and not rationing the flow, you can burn gas to ship it in by road when it runs out. When will we see our first all-astroturf golf course? People might find that it is superior to the real thing. So is playing golf on concrete: you get a much better bounce than on this crappy grass stuff.

All the time I had been surfing the net from my room in Michigan for nice dives in San Diego, I had read that the Coronados Islands were the place to go, right out in the Pacific near Mexico. The second place I wanted to go was Scripps Canyon off La Jolla Cove, because I had been reading about all these interesting shore dives you could do down there. Like Monterrey, La Jolla was unusual in that it had a deep submarine trench that came in almost to the shore which all sorts of strange organisms could sneak up from the deep ocean without getting mired on the sands of the continental shelf. However, all the people I spoke to said that the visibility off that beach was attrocious. The best close diving was the Coronados Islands. But far better diving could be had at Catalina Island, half a day away and off the coast of Los Angeles. Catalina Island, part of the “Channel” Islands (because they form the boundary of a channel between them and the mainland, not because they are in a channel) is a marine nature reserve. At the Coronados Islands nothing is reserved. There were virtually no fish and the underwater rocks were as barren of life as the concrete divide of a freeway. In addition, there was the most vicious thermocline I have ever experienced. There’s a thermometer on my dive computer. It said that above eight metres depth the water was 18 degrees C. And below it, through one of those wobbly water-mixing layers, the temperature went down to a painful 12 degrees C. It set you rigid like an iron bar. You could barely twist your ankles to kick your fins for the movement sucked fresh cold water into the holes of your wetsuit. The second dive was to a boat wreck. We followed the directions across the sea floor using our cheap hiking compass and found the sagging remains of one of those poncy cardboard and fibre-glass motor boats rich people buy these days. Good boats should be made of iron girders to provide something for life to anchor onto when they sink. This was candy-wrap litter. We swam back in disgust and hovered above the eight metre layer until our air ran out. You don’t get thermoclines like this in England, the awful weather mixes everything up, including loads of silt from the bottom. This was not like anything at home.

I don’t know how this happened. A hedge shaped like a piece of sheepshit.

Once back, paid up, dry, and in the sun, we decided to walk up the California beach front as far as we could go. We were going to get picked up in La Jolla, about eight miles up the coast later on in the afternoon, so we took in the scene. The swarms of people on the beach were endless. We paused for a while to watch the National Surf Rescue championships with teams from as far away as Florida all looking exactly alike. The competitions were combinatorial in number: men’s/women’s/mixed teams, youth/adult/senior, singles/doubles/triples, multiplied by all sorts of different boat forms from inflated logs to wooden boats with holes in them to let the water out. I can’t remember if we found any ice cream.

At last, back at our friend’s house, somewhere up in the desert hills of Rancho Santa Fe, we settled down. I was tired of all this rushing around and wanted a rest. I spend three hours clearing my email. Becka had cleared hers back at the free internet in the hostel using her simple webmail provided by the university. I couldn’t do that because my webmail was provided by British Telecom who, not only charged me lots of dosh per month to run an account, but their webmail was stuffed full of overblown adverts capable of crashing other people’s computers.

The Hair of the Hound

That old Golden Gate view. But the bridge isn’t golden. I’ve never known: Do you cross the threshold of the gate by crossing the bridge, or is the bridge the gate so that the threshold is crossed by steaming under it in a boat?

After a day or so of resting in the blinding sunshine, Becka said it was time to move on. There were lots of people I wanted to meet and greet in the state of California, but this would try her patience, so when I phoned my friends in Los Angeles and found they were going to be away for about a day, we fast forwarded past that bit, and went straight for San Francisco. This was an overnight Greyhound which let us out at 6am in Oakland. A friend, called S., needed visiting. He had visited us a couple of times in Liverpool because he liked our house (at least the outside of it is okay, I’m sure). As usual, the bus station was in the worst area of town with no cafes nearby. I’m always surprised by this, the lack of cafes, because the rent must be cheap and there is a ready supply of people bring trucked into a town they don’t know, hungry, tired and pissed-off enough to buy any old rubbish. Yet they are always absent.

We dragged our bags down a few blocks of the murder capital town of the West Coast (as it happens) until it got a little less dodgy, and found a place to have coffee.

Time to leave California, Becka said.

Man! Why can’t we just relax and enjoy seeing people for a change? Why do we always have to be walking up mountains until our knees drop off? Yes, dropping in on people’s houses always puts you on edge a little bit. You feel awkward. It’s a form of stage fright. It’s natural. Get over it. It’s a sign of good sociability if you are nervous. The real sort of Guest from Hell is one who has no fear and makes himself more at home than a family of rats. At least rats know they don’t belong there. That’s why they hide and steal your food only at night when you’re not looking. They don’t go into the fridge when you’re in the kitchen, and they don’t expect to get fed at your table at mealtimes. Their only problem is they don’t realize that you do notice them scratching around in the floors and leaving droppings on your bed. If they were aware and had a little social ettiquette, keeping quite at night and pooing elsewhere, we’d gladly put up with them. We’d probably even look after them and cut a little rat flap in the door so they could get in and get out. The could roam around the neighbourhood and do their gnawing and pooing in other people’s houses, not their own. People who kept killer cats would be the outcasts in society.

It’s great visiting other people’s homes where they’ve decorated it all properly with good looking artwork on the walls, proper floors, inset bookshelves and other good appliances. Meanwhile, back at home, we’re missing plaster on the kitchen walls which we don’t notice now because it’s been five years. It’s only humiliating when we have people to stay and they tell us “This house will be brilliant when you get it done.”

We called S. at 9am, hoping he would be up since he claimed to be a retiree from some sort of investment bank thing, and should be catching up on healthy sleep from all those high powered years of horse trading, I mean trade betting. Market dealing.

It turned out he’d been up since 5:30am since he’s not given up the habit. Being up that early lets him be online to play that multi-user trading game hosted by the New York Stock Exchange we call “Investment”. He plays it like a pool shark, using his inside experience to understand the “dynamics of the market”, sometimes known as the “psychology of the suckers”, to out-play day-traders at the game.

A common game-play, for example, is the “double-dip” gambit. Suppose the share price of company X goes down a lot on a particular day. This could be on the back of some news like, say, a judge just ruled that the directors of company X can’t raid the employees’ pension fund in quite the way they had been intending. So the share price goes down by some measure, having to do with what the dealers in the investment institutions each feel like paying for the consequence of this profit not being available for grabs. None of them knows much information about what other tactics the company directors have up their sleeves to get at the employees’ money. Nor do they know how pissed off the employees probably are, and willing to commit secret acts of sabotage over this. They’re just guessing and following each other’s cues. There’s some kind of theory about how the average of all these guesses will settle around a precise, true measure, as might happen if a thousand experienced people guessed at the height of a tree and you took the average across all of them. But this is baloney. A tree has a definite height. A share price is in theory an integration across a vast spectrum of “wealth”-potential probabilities and therefore is even less likely to exist than the location of a single electron. Not only that, the necessary information simply is not there, even collectively, between the people influencing the market.

Unlike quantum theory, which is about probability fields, the share price is a fixed value that changes in time. Allegedly, the share price dancing around, forming a squiggly line in time, supposedly simulates this uncertainty, the probability that the company directors are going to get away with their latest swindle, but that’s not how probability works. A probability field exists in space, not time. Trying to simulate it by a variation in time is ridiculous, since the probability field is supposed to say something about the future. If it has used the time from now to a point in the future to tell us about the future, we’ve already got there by the time we’ve worked out what it was calculating!

Do you think this will look good on me? At last a teeny tiny bit of kayaking off the California coast from one beach where we were forbidden to get out of sight of the boat rental owner. Had we had a car with a roofrack, we’d have been able to hire canoes from a shop on the highway and take the exactly where we wanted. What is the difference?

If you were betting against a pool shark on whether he would pot the red ball at a particular point in the game, you’d want to imagine him setting up the pool table with the same arrangement of balls and taking the same shot a thousand times to get the average in space. You do not let him play on and look at the frequency of red balls being potted throughout the game. This is an average in time, and no use at all. Remember, he’s clever. Every shot he makes he leaves the table to his advantage. He might be terrible at getting the hard shots.

Anyhow, after a large drop in stock price of X, there’s always a little up, which is supposedly a “recovery” back towards the “true” value since the traders, in their rush to trade, overcompensated on the price. Of course there is always an up. If there wasn’t, the price would go down to zero and the company would close (although I don’t see why it must just because of that).

At the end of the day, the day traders, ordinary people who hold jobs during the day and are keen to make a bit of money on the side and only have time to log on once a day, come home after work, check on their shares of X, and see they’ve fallen massively. They go: “Oh shit”, and sell them quickly. The share price dips down a second time, below the value that the real “market” (the clever people in the investment banks who actually decide on the price) thinks is good. So, S. harvests these cheap shares and sells them back to the institutes at a better price, thus performing a great service to the economy by gathering from the poor and delivering to the rich.

Unfortunately, S. didn’t let me into his office when he was doing his morning trading because I might have put him off. I would have promised to keep absolutely silent if necessary because I have not yet seen how the process works. I get the notion that share trading is done on some kind of automatic haggling system where potential bids and sales for specified numbers of shares at specified prices are thrown in the pot and the computer matches up the ones that overlap, and clears the deals. Each cleared deal is plotted on a graph against time, generating the squiggly line. I think you have to delete bids where the graph has wandered too far away. And if you put in a high bid to sell, ahead of where the graph is going up, say, and it races there too quickly, you delete it and move it further up to get a better price. I think. It’s all done real time, at speed. The one who reads and interprets the press releases the fastest to set his bids ahead of the direction of the market is going to go takes the money. You are rewarded for getting your bets in ahead of other. It has nothing to do with sound judgement or the effective flow of capital in an economy.

Frequently, the game degenerates into a what looks to an outsider like nothing more than a “Pass the Gold Plated Bomb” game where each player gets to unwrap and keep layers of golden wrapping paper on a big package for as long as he likes in the most tempting way he can, before passing it on to the next person. The guy who unwraps the final layer explodes the bomb.

Repacking our sacks of crap yet again. It didn’t get any smaller.

As you may have noticed, I believe this whole stock market idea is completely and utterly shit. Nowhere in any economic theory was it suggested that kicking around electronic tokens of ownership at the speed of light would actually be any use. But no one in the business, who is making money as things stand, will ever change it since they have been trained in the belief that it is morally wrong to question one’s own profit interests. They can’t do it, no matter what.

There is strong evidence that the vagaries of the stock market are used to direct the economy, that is the setting of work and price paid for it, be it writing pointless software for a doomed dot-com, or scrubbing floors in a large hotel. But since the stock market does not really have any information about these activities, it has no right to have the effect it does over them.

Here’s how a system could be. Consider a freight network. This is a complex structure with stuff going on trains, roads, sea. Some stuff, like fruit, is time sensitive because it can go rotten. Other stuff, like sand, is not important and can be stockpiled in advance in certain places if you know it’s going to be needed nearby. The whole system of distribution could be organized on the computer screen, as is the stock market. There’d be bids for commodities in different places. you’d buy stuff up in one warehouse from whoever was selling there, order space on the train or truck, pay the unloading fees, and deliver the goods to the buyers at the agreed price somewhere else. Maybe it would change hands many times. This is a vast optimization problem. The big buyers would hire agents to work the system and get their goods delivered to their doors effectively. To save costs they’d look for materials to send back in the empty trucks in a sort of automatic ride-sharing. People would cooperate to look for savings. Maybe the need for a new paper mill at a particular location would emerge from the pattern of distribution. The price of things would vary in space in a representative way, rather than only in time.

That old redwood forest. Some of these trees had been struck by lightning right down to the ground.

This game, were it designed properly and played in market based scenario, would arguably be productive. You can imagine a thousand people (many of them employees of distro-investment houses) working the system and making money out of it. Some of them could be doing it at home for four hours each morning on their computer, and that would be great. The more minds the better. We would know what the heck was going on. There is a shipment of cheap cabbages on the way in two days. Better get the saurkraut jars prepared.

But contrast the situation today. A thousand people throwing around tokens of ownership of a collection of freight carrying/logistics companies and setting their “market” values. These people are contributing nothing. They are playing one company against another. Somewhere deep down inside each of these freight companies is possibly a low level committee which works out a flow of goods, but it may not be all that efficient. It doesn’t matter to them on the outside. There’s more profit to be gained by raising prices where possible than by putting much effort into lowering wastage, because it’s too complicated for the upper management to understand, and the savings invariably get passed back to the customer when he finds out how much he’s being overcharging for his route. No. The money instead goes to glitzy advertising. Those thousand people dealing in shares up at the top, who are directing the system, have done work that’s entirely useless. At the end of the day they’ve worked out some prices. You can write them down on the back of an envelope. It’s a joke. These numbers evapourate when the market re-opens the next day. Nobody cares what it was the day before. Sometimes, a thousand people do a lot of genuine work and the result does boil down to a single number that fits on the back of an envelope, but in such a case the number is probably an eternal physical value, like the gravitational constant. That’s something which is a challenge to work out precisely. It’s lasting. Most of the time, when a thousand people do what can be called work, the result is heavy, like a building that’s been built, or a valid architectural plan for a building that’s going to be built. If this is not case, these people have been playing a sport. There’s nothing wrong with sport, unless it messes up a lot of people’s lives.

What really bugs me is that I can’t completely blame these small private “investors” for playing the stock market in an attempt to win a bit of needed cash. They have no alternative. There is no equivalent system, like the one I mentioned for optimizing the flow of freight, which would allow people to log on and perform sessions of genuine work for some sort of pay. A heck of a lot of work is conducted on computer. The possibilities are wide open. Suppose there was an open repository and interface for copy-editing documents. The person who finds the most mistakes in the week takes the full fee. Same could go for scanning for defects in X-rays of pipe welds. There are all sorts of classification projects of images, species, fragments of DNA, cancer cell scans. Why isn’t work on these open for participation? Why can’t I go on a course, pass a test, get a license to analyse weather satellite images, and do paid piecework at my computer whenever I want to? If my work is no good, the license gets withdrawn, simple as that. I’d be free to get licenses for other activities too, so as to spread my dependence and widen interest.

But no, that’s not how it works! You can go on a course to learn how to deal stocks and shares, and someone will set up your computer so that you can log on to the market and do dealing with the big boys. But freely accessible honest paid work? Forget it. It doesn’t exist. Paid work is too dangerous to be available for easy access to the public. It’s far to empowering. We don’t need that around here. To work, you must sign a contract and give up “everything” to the company, as it is perceived in the current context, before they will allow you to earn a penny. Otherwise, they don’t want you involved no matter what your talents, or how cheap your rates. Power must be preserved at all costs.

I noticed this little note was on a gas pump. California voted to ban this toxic additive from the gasoline, but the company who makes it sued the state for a billion dollars of lost earnings under NAFTA rules. These are the same rules that are being proposed by the WTO to the world to overrule the threat of democracy (ie the right of the majority to decide they don’t want to be poisoned) to big business.

When the government changes the rules, due to political pressure from powerful individuals who hold lots of shares, and allows the dismemberment of working conditions or pension funds, share values increase. Share values reflect the power of the company directors over the workers employed by the company. The power is exercised by their ability to take a greater slice of the wealth generated by each worker. If there is a change and the workers gain the power to demand a greater slice of the wealth they create, the share price goes down. If it ever got to the stage where the workers took all of the wealth they created — as should be their right once all debts have been paid — the share price will diminish to zero. In reality, another “investor” would have bought these shares just before they dwindled to nothing, and closed the company. He would have divested it of all its workers and services and stripped out its assets. This so-called “investor” performs an important function. His job is to clean out the rubbish from the economy. Rubbish is defined as those companies, or organizations of workers, that are not delivering enough profits to the stock market to keep the hungry beast satisfied. Such companies may be giving their workers decent wages and conditions as well as providing good value for money to the community. As a consequence they are offering unfair competition, and must be systematically eliminated from the system.

The mystery of power, what it is, how it’s measured, when it’s applied, is an important theme in fiction. Once you are aware of the question you see it popping up everywhere. Back to the economics. Why is it that the workers can’t at any time buy up the company they are working for and take control of their own conditions? Answer: they can’t afford to. If they tried to buy their company off the market, the people selling it would jack up the price until they couldn’t afford it. Now, the workers would be completely screwed. They would be holding onto a whole bunch of shares in the company in which they are employed. Now they can easily be threatened by the owners of the rest of the stock with a price drop. If you want better working conditions, the main owners, who hold the balance of power and therefore control everything, say, We’ll drop the price and you’ll lose a lot of money. Encouraging employees to own shares in the company in which they work is a great way to persuade them to use their own rope to hang themselves. Stock options were offered, but they never ever extend to giving up a shred of power to the employees. Power is 51% or it is zero. That’s pretty sneaky. A very important quality of power is to never let it be diluted.

This is Sacramento, capital of California. People can wander freely around the building, into the senate and house of representatives rooms (not sitting at the time). Each state is run almost like a mini federal government with almost the same constitution. The governor is the president. He has the power to veto bills that have been passed by the representatives. This is a vigil on the steps by the Union of Farmworkers petitioning the governor to sign a piece of legislation that would force the farm owners to actually negotiate with the workers in binding arbitration over rates of pay and conditions. The farm owners threatened that if they had to pay living wages to their workers they would close the farms, go out of business, and no one would get any food to eat. In a sane world farm owners would not have the right to close farms that were providing food and employment to the people just because they couldn’t extract enough profits from them. Therefore they couldn’t threaten it. All they could do was resign from their management position, go away and let the workers elect someone else to that role. But this is not a sane world.

I can imagine living in the sixteenth century and realizing that I was an athiest. I would be appalled with religion and the corruption of the Christian church. It’s twisted message was no truer then than it is now. I can imagine my mother telling me to knuckle under and use my wits to work within the system, appeasing it for my own ends so that at least I and my family would live the good life by catching the trickle-downs of the wealth ripped off from the land by the elite. If everyone with brains had not taken this attitude we might have gotten rid of Christianity’s dominance fifteen hundred years ago, including many the wars fought in its name during that period. How willing would people be to go to war if they did not believe that (a) God was on their side, and (b) there was an afterlife? Not at all, I presume. Athiests don’t laugh at death, neither their own, nor other people’s. It is forever. But even in the nineteenth century, atheism was blowing against the wind. And that was the age that God made the mistake getting in the way of “progress”. There was a lot of really cool science going on that was a hell of a lot more interesting than those crusty old creation myths.

Now, as an economic athiest in the twenty-first century, events make a whole lot more sense when we see it as a system that doesn’t work to our benefit. The politicians try to stretch the economic dogma around plainly contradictory evidence. They are not trying to explain a complicated situation to simple-minded people like us. They are trying to complicate a simple situation so we don’t see what’s going on. The bottom line is that once a company has generated enough profits to pay off the investment of the initial investors sufficient to cover their risk, it must pay no more to non-working participants. The relationship to the shareholders must terminate. If it persists, as it does now, for eternity, then a growing class of parasites will develop whose sole purpose is to drain wealth from the system through this eternal relationship. This class will appear to do work, but it won’t be work. It will be a trading game, playing for who controls the right to take this wealth, now in advance, or hold and wait for later.

In a sane economy, company ownership would revert back to control of the workers, and cease to be profitable once it had paid its debts. A company would then exist for its workers who would set their own conditions of employment and might discover that they can make a comfortable living from three days work a week instead of six. That leaves a lot of spare time for “economically unproductive” activities, such as raising children or looking after old people. The facts are, however, the market sets the share price too high for meaningful ownership by the workers, jobs overwhelmingly default to full time occupations no matter what technological advances have occurred in the workplace, and that the cost of property rises to the limit of afforable debt. These three are ample grounds for suspicion that the system is absolutely rigged.

Work should set you free. In the current system, only ownership of someone else’s work appears to set you free.

Don’t be so arrogant, my mother would say. One man, and not a very useful at that, cannot change the world. The best you can do is make your own life good and work within the system in such a way as to further strengthen it.

Anyways, I decided I had to quit my job. Much more about this later, I’m sure.

Hopefully this will have gotten all my economic ranting out of my system and all in one place. Now I can get back to writing more interesting web pages that people want to read.

Are we supposed to mention friends in web pages by name, or keep them anonymous because their identity is not ours to give? S. lent us his car to visit Mendicina, the fancy coast of northern California where there were redwood forests and cliffy coastlines. Kayak hire was not as laid back as we had hoped. It never is. I didn’t see much of an opportunity to go diving either, at least not quickly enough for Becka. The parks were chockablocked up for camping. Becka whined at the gate keeper of one of them and they let us park in the slot reserved for disabled campers directly in front of the bogs, since there were no wheelchairs in residence that day. If I were retired in Oakland, I’d rent a room over here and move to it for the autumn. We rushed back to SF Bay area, dropped off the car sooner than S. had expected and caught the bus north via Sacramento, completely ignoring my intended visit to an aunt, two uncles and a couple of cousins. The next time I go to California I will be travelling on my own. Woman pressure is a force that cannot be reckoned with. You suffer immensely, and then you lose. It reminded me of the time I tried to carry a cat to the vet. It won’t go where it doesn’t want to go, no matter how much it will improve things after the visit. It made great clawmarks on my chest and got away. I put it in a sports bag, and it pushed its way out around the zip. In the end I had to use one of those hard plastic suitcases, but then everyone insisted that it wouldn’t have enough air to breath, which of course it did. A simple calculation of volumes proves that a cat can last half a day easily in the air of one of those cases, were it actually air-tight, which they aren’t or else they’d explode in the luggage compartments of airplanes. The least grievous way to get to where you want to go is to leave the cat behind.

Seattle Joke

This is a science fiction writer, Amy Thomson’s, office. Note how all access to a view through the window has been blocked off. This desk screams at you: “Get to work!”

We finally hit Seattle where my sister has been living for the past 6 months. You can piece together her story from her web page listed below. My theory is that she has been experiencing an identity crisis, as do we all at around the age of thirty, if life is not being sufficiently harsh on us. She decided to tour round the United States, picking up on all her friends and relations she had last seen and diverged from when she was seven and in school in New Jersey before being so rudely moved to England due to a parental break-up. This looks like an ideal starting point in a quest for identity: consider a clear point of change in your life and ask the question, What would have happened had it gone the other way? The obvious way to answer this is to visit the people who developed on the other side of that change. And so she did, doing a circuit of the United States, down the east coast, across the south (with a diversion into Mexico due to the inevitable picking up of sub-plots along the way), and then up the west coast all by herself on busses and trains in the way that properly brought up ladies are not supposed to do. It drove our mother bananas, not because of the physical danger. She just doesn’t believe in the concept of her own children going on a quest for their identity, because that puts them at risk, the risk that they might pick up the wrong identity, one that is not “economically viable”. That would be a disaster. Quests for identity should be put off till no earlier than the age of sixty-five when people are safely out to pasture, living off their pensions, and can make no further blunders. What was that large sucking sound? That’s the sound of everyone’s pension “entitlements” getting sucked away. I think we should live for today.

Once in Seattle, Becka swung round the town centre once and was ejected on the first Greyhound out towardsMontana. I bought a train ticket to Whitefish, Montana three days hence to meet up with her and continue into the mountains far away from the risk of meeting anyone we knew, and having to go through all that tortuous task of being friendly to people and having a good sociable time. I stayed behind and had to “waste” the day till Clara came back from some sort of pop concert in the hills. I thought she was coming back in the evening. After scoring a movie seat to watch “The Runner” (3 hours; cheaper than paying entry to two films of half the length), I supped some fine ale in a student bar (it really was good beer, unlike what I’d normally expect from student venues) and tottered over to Clara’s address on 54th street. It was eleven o’clock at she still wasn’t back. Fortunately it was a student house, shared by students, so they let me in to sleep on her floor, which was cool. I like this type of household communism.

Clara showed up later the next morning. It was an all camping pop concert with David Bowie. We did practically nothing for three days, except chat, go to cafes, visit friends (including one fine evening with one of the Clarionites who had a house up on the hill with tonnes of books and a steaming hot tub for not reading them in — that’s the problem with hot tubs as opposed to bath tubs). And I bought some books. I was so busy doing nothing, and revelling in it, that I had no time to visit any of the tourist traps, and only just made it onto the train.

Whilst waiting for the train I discovered how difficult it is to get coffee in Seattle. The city is the centre of the “Starbucks” brand, to the people’s eternal shame and embarrassment. But there are many other wanabee coffee chain brands all working the city, but which did not manage to break through to the big time by convincing the stock market that they had the winning formula of staff oppression, brand advertising while delivering the least value for money to their customers who don’t know they’re being cheated, even though they are willingly. We must not give these evil establishments our money. We would prefer no frothy coffee with chocolate on top than to provide them with one additional cent of economic power. But we found something. Not sure what it was. Clara bought me a chai, which was a sort of grey liquid. If I had bought a normal coffee I would have forgotten all about it by now, so what good would that have done me? I slept on the train as it snaked its way up the Washington coastline and then inland to Montana.

Sushi in Seattle. Not quite as good value as it is in Vancouver (or was in 1999, I haven’t been back since) but okay all the same. Around the block from Clara, though, was a top quality hippie vegan cafe I discovered just hours before I left the city. Bum! Must pay more attention. All that time I’d mistaken it for a nursery school because it was painted in bright colours.


Julian Todd 11/2002.