Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Monday, March 31, 2003day link 

 Original Affluence
picture Marshall Sahlins is the author of Stone-Age Economics, which is an interesting read, in part about gift economies and how pre-historic economic systems weren't as miserable as they're commonly believed to be. Here is something from the article The Original Affluent Society:
"There are two possible courses to affluence. Wants may be "easily satisfied" either by producing much or desiring little The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way- based on the concept of market economies- states that man's wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although they can be improved. Thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that "urgent goods" become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, which states that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty - with a low standard of living. That, I think, describes the hunters. And it helps explain some of their more curious economic behaviour: their "prodigality" for example- the inclination to consume at once all stocks on hand, as if they had it made. Free from market obsessions of scarcity, hunters' economic propensities may be more consistently predicated on abundance than our own."
Sahlins explains how typical hunter-gatherers work 3-5 hours per day on acquiring food, and they have plenty of time for leisure. For that matter, they have a schedule that most civilized people would be sort of envious about. The more 'civilized' we become, the harder we tend to work, and the less time we have for leisure. He also makes some interesting distinctions between primitive living and poverty. In hunter-gatherer cultures starvation would be pretty much unthinkable.
"The world's most primitive people have few possessions. but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilisation. It has grown with civilisation, at once as an invidious distinction between classes and more importantly as a tributary relation that can render agrarian peasants more susceptible to natural catastrophes than any winter camp of Alaskan Eskimo."
I'm not sure what we can learn here, other than that it is possible to successfully live very simply and modestly. There must be some kind of point that applies also to a technological civilization. A just-in-time kind of thinking. We could very well arrange our world so that nobody ever has to starve and so we only work a few hours per day. From what I hear, only 2-3 percent of our work relates to actual production, and from my own observation, the majority of human work is inefficient or unnecessary, just arranged to keep people busy. So, why can't we have a an efficient and productive, but leisurely and relaxed, high tech society, where it would be unthinkable that basic needs wouldn't be filled?
[ | 2003-03-31 06:18 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 NBC fires Peter Arnett
NBC has fired veteran reporter Peter Arnett because he told Iraqi television that the U.S. war plan against Saddam Hussein had failed. In 1998 he was fired from CNN after the Pentagon complained about a documentary he did on how the U.S. used Sarin gas on American defectors in Laos. And Arnett both times apologized and sort of withdrew what he said. Would be better if he just stuck with the truth he said in the first place, I think.
[ | 2003-03-31 08:51 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Call for war crimes tribunal
The head of Indonesia's highest legislative body today urged the United Nations to bring George W Bush and Tony Blair before a war crimes tribunal for launching the war against Iraq. Yeah, that would be a good thing. But probably not likely unless they mess up much more badly.
[ | 2003-03-31 09:02 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 BitTorrent
BitTorrent is a new peer-to-peer distribution mechanism for large data files. It makes it possible to share a file without being bogged down with traffic if it happens to become popular. Each person who downloads it becomes a new source of it. Files are both uploaded and downloaded to many places at the same time. See an introduction here on Slashdot. There's apparently not any snazzy graphical interface to it yet, so it still mostly for techies.
[ | 2003-03-31 12:46 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 File compression detects life
picture Scientists have discovered a way of recognizing the signs of life in rock formations. Essentially: create a digital image of the rock; then compress the image file. The more the file shrinks, the more likely it is that life was responsible for building the layers.
Although biological stromatolites and non-biological stromatolite-look-alike structures appear similar to the human eye, the biological origin of stromatolites makes them more ordered, more highly patterned. And it is this patterning that, while hard for the human eye to discern, is readily detected by the compression algorithm. Non-biological stromatolite-like structures are more random, less patterned and therefore less compressible.
An online test is here. Hm, interesting. Is higher life forms more or less compressible? Would the ultimate life forms be the most compressible and embeddable? Does all of life reduce to a beautiful little formula?
[ | 2003-03-31 13:26 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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