“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Brief and Important Video

What puzzles me most is The City's support for ride share companies and its clear intent to run traditional taxi companies out of business. The only explanation apparent to me is that the city government has been bought. I wonder how many spouses/partners/children or other relatives of local politicians have been given jobs at Uber.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Money in Politics

I am not the first to note that our country has the finest congress that money can buy.

I have heard many people whom I respect and admire complain of “the corrupting influence of money” on our politics.  I used to make the same complaint myself.  The huge amounts of money spent by individual campaigns, by the parties, and by other groups and organizations, along with the largess afforded politicians by lobbyists, all seem to mean that our government responds primarily to the needs and desires of the rich.  

I have recently, however, come to doubt the premise that our government is being corrupted.

The idea of corruption implies that something innocent (or, if not innocent, at least something virtuous) existed at one time and that this good thing has been or is being spoiled.  In the case of the government of the United States, complaining about corruption suggests that our Federal institutions were established to ensure equality among all citizens in their relations with the state. The fact that the wealthy have a greater say in how the country is run than do ordinary folks is therefore called corruption.  But I see no evidence in our history or in the constitution itself to suggest that things were ever different or ever meant to be different. The Founding Fathers clearly believed that government was properly the business of wealthy men.

Indeed, what is government for if not to function as a mechanism for the protection of property?   I think that most Americans would agree that government should set and enforce the rules governing economic interactions but that it should not meddle with our familial and our social interactions.

Government establishes weights and measures and issues currency.  For example,  it is often said that “possession is 90% of the law,” which means that 90% of our laws are devoted to defining who possesses what.  Disagreement over ownership has led to violent conflict throughout history,  and we want these thingsto be strictly controlled.  

But Americans also believe that government should have little to say about most social interactions.  We are free to love whom we choose, hate whom we choose, and play cards with whomever we wish, and we can worship the god of our choice.

Since governments exist to set and enforce rules governing economic relations, and since in this country, those relations are mediated through the exchange of money, the U.S. government’s reason for being is to make and enforce the rules governing interactions that involve money.  After all, our constitution explicitly denies to government the right to regulate most other social interactions, such as speech, assembly, religious affiliations, etc. So what else would the government be for? 

Our government was instituted by people who had money, and never in our history have the people who have money instituted a government that would take it away from them.  The Founding Fathers clearly intended the government to be an exclusive club:  their “democracy” was means-tested, and only those who had a penis and a certain amount of land could vote.

I find it hard to believe that they did not intend money to influence politics.

Shannon Alley

I discovered this alley, which connects O'Farrell to Geary between Taylor and Jones, while walking in the Tenderloin early one morning during my dark days.  I later returned to take pictures and here, on Veteran's Day, I share them with you.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Blog Posts as Email

A couple of months ago I noticed that Google had stopped sending my posts as email to those of you who signed up for the service.  I kept writing and kept posting in the hope that you would check the site from time to time.
Now,  it seems that Google has fixed the problem and is sending my posts to you as email again. Please keep reading as there are probably many posts that you have missed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Law and The Profits

Rules of Life #4 :  Willingness to Break the Law is both a Tactical and a Strategic Advantage

Anyone who has courted investors, whether raising capital to start a new venture or soliciting investment in an ongoing enterprise knows that one of the most fundamental considerations as to the value of a business is whether there are "Barriers to Entry" which will effectively prevent or at least limit competition.

The shibboleth of the law is such a barrier.  For example, no business could be easier than selling illegal drugs.  Buyers will seek out the seller, pay any price, and return  again and again no matter what the quality of the product.  No advertising, no promotional effort, and no quality control are necessary.  The only thing that allows the seller to command high mark-ups, often in excess of 100% to 150%, the only thing limiting competition, that is, is the law.  Most people are too afraid of the consequences of getting caught to follow such a career.  Those too timid to break the law can only sit on the sidelines and watch with envy as the courageous rake in fortunes without any serious effort or skill.

Similarly, anyone with a two-bit piece of software developed for a smart phone can take on an entire existing industry which is itself bound by laws and regulatory bodies, capture their business, ruin them, and condemn their workforce to unemployment:  governments, whether municipal, state, or federal, refuse to enforce the law against new companies that use mobile phones connected to the internet to effect transactions formerly effected in person, by correspondence, or by telephone.  Shortly after I began my career as a stockbroker in Manhattan, businesses began using a new technology, "fax machines" to send documents over telephone lines, rather than sending them physically through the mail.  For a while we were forbidden to accept a fax in lieu of a signed document; then we could accept a fax and act on it as long as we were assured that an original was to follow by mail immediately.  Finally laws were amended to allow us to accept a faxed document as if it were an original.

Such coy legalities are ancient history now.  New companies blithely violate all manner of laws and are allowed to proceed by acquiescence on the part of government.  Today I heard on the BBC an interview with a man who has started a business transferring funds among countries all over the world, completely circumventing existing financial institutions by charging money against one mobile phone and crediting it to another.  If you thought the "mortgage meltdown" of 2008 brought the international banking system close to catastrophic failure, wait until money moves freely around the world without paying any fees.

No business or industry is immune to this threat of outlaw internet raiders.  It began, so far as I know, a couple of decades ago when Napster destroyed the recording industry.  How quaint that its founder had to face trial and eventually punishment for violating copyright and other rights belonging to an artist.  Nowadays piracy, theft, corruption, and all manner of lawlessness are de rigueur for any young entrepreneur.

Don't be a sap:  if you want to succeed, turn to crime.   After all, why be a man when you can be a success?*

After all, with enough money, you can easily get away with murder -- just ask O.J.

*  I have seen this rhetorical question attributed to Bertold Brecht, but cannot cite a specific source.  Note that the word for man in German is "mensch" and that it denotes not just a gender but a noble sense of righteousness and honor as well.  That sense, though largely lost from the English word, survives in such phrases as "be a man about it" or more currently, "Man up!"

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Mayor of Money

San Francisco has a long and rich history of corruption, and the current administration, that of Ed Lee, is no exception. The machinery of city government is up for sale -- or rather, has been sold to the highest bidder.  If I thought that being a San Franciscan should be a matter of pride, I would be outraged at the hypocrisy and the venality of His Honor and those who benefit from his patronage.  But a city as deeply avaricious, as superficially self-absorbed, and as blithely ignorant as San Francisco does not even have enough of a moral foundation to make it worth calling the city out on its multitude of sins against the woman, the man.

The Mayor at the time of the Great Earthquake in 1906, Eugene Schmidt, was a paragon of greed and graft.  My favorite example of his leadership is his selling of "French Restaurant licenses", which allowed the holder to operate a brothel unmolested by the SFPD.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.


Mayor Ed Lee's panegyric on the "Sharing Economy" is rhetorical nonsense.

The "Sharing Economy" is anything but.

Remember learning to share with others?  You probably don't, as I don't, because that lesson is one of the earliest we are taught.  You don't remember toilet training either.  They both happen so early in life that we have no concrete memory of learning those lessons.  Parents and teachers, however, know that both lessons are crucial to the development of human beings as social animals.  And sharing in particular is fundamental to the most basic virtues humans profess.  You might say that all morality begins with sharing.

Sharing is not trading.  If I have a peanut butter sandwich in my lunch box and trade half of it for your cupcake, we are not sharing.  If I give you half of my sandwich because you have no lunch at all, then I am sharing my sandwich with you.

If you are homeless, and I let you sleep on my couch, I am sharing my home with you.  If I sublet my apartment or a room in my house to you through Airbnb, we are not sharing.

If I rent my car and myself as driver to you through Lyft, Uber, or Sidecar, we are not sharing.

The "sharing economy" so eagerly abetted by our corrupt city government has nothing to do with kindness, charity, generosity, or hospitality.  The business leaders and their lackeys, such as the Mayor, try to wrap their activities in the mantle of those ancient virtues, but their business is not the sharing of things at all:  their business is the monetization of things.

Airbnb hosts and Uber drivers are not sharing anything.  They are making money off their assets -- a car, a room, or even their time.

No politician concerned with the people of his community would champion the ability of some people to earn a return on their assets over the opportunity for other people -- people who might have no assets -- to find work or housing.  Our city officials clearly do not care about people:  they care about money, which they call "the economy" and which they credit with "creating jobs." According to their mythology, the assets of the rich "trickle down" to the poor through the mechanism of "job creation."  You might say that this "Job Creationism" has about as much validity as that other kind of "Creationism."  The problems with this false logic are manifold, but I want to be very clear about one.

Capital does not "create jobs."  Money is not necessary for people to work.  In fact, it is labor, people working, which creates capital.

This truth is obvious to anyone who knows what has happened in this country since the "Reagan* Revolution." The increased concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people, Reagan's goal and legacy, has not created jobs.  The idea that the rich invest in companies that create new jobs has been decisively disproved in a real-world experiment that has ripped American society apart and is leading to social tensions that may well erupt in violence.  It is in this atmosphere that we live today.

The living San Francisco will either rise up against the powers that be, as it did in 1934, or, having already been drained of so much of its life blood by the exodus to Oakland, Richmond, and beyond, it will die.  In place of the Grand Old Dame, of the Paris of the Pacific, of Baghdad by the Bay, will stand a very wealthy gated community, at whose gates tolls are charged to cross bridges into a jumble of towering architectural monstrosities, the soulless hive of worker bees tending to the bloated queens of capital.  That shadow city, the hulking ghost of the city that was will stand, that is, until the next big shake.

I used to say that "Willie Brown is not Mayor of San Francisco:  he is Mayor of Real Estate."

Ed Lee is not Mayor of San Francisco:  he is Mayor of Money.

*Actually, the old hack actor does not deserve to have his name attached to such a wrenching change in policy since all he did was shill for the business interests and wealthy individuals who wanted to Thatcherize America.