Friday, August 29, 2008

virtual gold

They call them 'playbourers'.

Maybe you already know about gold farming for the massively multiplayer online role-playing games, known as M.M.O.’s, but I didn't and my friend, susan, didn't so I thought I'd tell you a little about what I found out. This week it was announced that more than 500,000 Chinese people are working in the industry, grinding (also known as leveling) in on-line computer games for pay. They don't make much money - an average of $0.30 an hour, 12 hours a day, seven days a week and this is all so that gamers elsewhere can have powerful game characters (it costs $250. for a fully powered up character for Final Fantasy XI).

World of Warcraft, produced in Irvine, Calif., is one of the most profitable computer games in history, earning close to $1 billion a year in monthly subscriptions and other revenue. More than eight million people around the world play World of Warcraft. They share the game’s vast, virtual world, looking for enemies to kill and coins to gather. Every WOW player needs those coins, and mostly for one reason: to pay for the virtual gear to fight the monsters to earn the points to reach the next level. And there are only two ways players can get as much of this virtual money as the game requires: they can spend hours collecting it or they can pay someone real money to do it for them.

"Economics sees value wherever humans decide that some
construct of theirs has utility but is scarce. Synthetic world
goods have utility and are scarce; thus they have value that
can be measured in terms of real dollars." (Castronova 2006:52)

It turns out that gold farming is actually a very big business since there are now more than 80 MMO's released or currently in development. As would be expected it's the company owners and brokers who make the largest part of the income from the sale of real labor in the virtual worlds. Naturally, it wouldn't feel like such a weird thing if you happened to know someone who'd be willing to spend the time leveling up your main character or collecting coins by killing hundreds of enemy monsters and could pay them directly. Perhaps you could even hang out at the end of the day and talk about the adventures and challenges that person had faced while you were in your cubicle somewhere doing something similar but being better paid.

Survivalists are those who have no choice but to take up the income-generating activity because they have no other source of livelihood. Income provided may be poverty-line or even sub-poverty-line. Most "entrepreneurs" in developing countries are of this type, "supply-driven": forced into enterprise by push factors related to their poverty and lack of alternatives.

This isn't a new story but it is about something that's continuing to grow outside of mainstream knowledge. It's all very strange for a corvid like me to contemplate but I'm wondering if it might not portend a future way of life for people outside of third world countries. Or will the third world sneak into the first world in dribs and drabs as people grab whatever opportunities the virtual world provides? Has it done so already?

Just a thought.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

at last.. another story

There's always more than one reason for making the decision to 'up sticks' as my parents used to describe it and this is the story of how a group of friends who met in Montreal eventually decided to start a city commune on the other side of the country.

I hope you enjoy it. I'm considering just drawing a group of pictures next time and letting people make up their own stories. It might be more interesting and it would certainly be a lot more relaxing for moi.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

a hard landing

Crow here. I just waved goodbye to my comely niece Aspidistra who's been visiting from her home in New York.

She told me about a man she overheard being interviewed for a magazine article that's more likely to be found on the bottom of a cage somewhere than read by many people. So I thought to give you a brief summary while susan mutters away in her corner drawing something or other.

One of the best quotes I've heard recently regarding the FDIC bailout of the Indy Mac Bank and more portentously the potential bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is this - 'Profits are privatized and losses are socialized'.

Nouriel Roubini is Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business at NYU and is also known as Dr. Doom. His prognostication for the American economy is a decidedly gloomy one after a close study of upheavals in worldwide emerging economies throughout the 1990's led him to the conclusion that the US would be the next to fail.

"Throughout the 90's, one emerging economy after another was beset by crisis, beginning with Mexico’s in 1994. Panics swept Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and Korea, in 1997 and 1998. The economies of Brazil and Russia imploded in 1998. Argentina’s followed in 2000. On the eve of the crises that befell them, he noticed, most had huge current-account deficits (meaning, basically, that they spent far more than they made), and they typically financed these deficits by borrowing from abroad in ways that exposed them to the national equivalent of bank runs. Most of these countries also had poorly regulated banking systems plagued by excessive borrowing and reckless lending. Corporate governance was often weak, with cronyism in abundance".

Does that remind you of anything? Over the long haul he's not quite so pessimistic but he does see the writing on the wall for the collapse of the hegemony of the American empire. Maybe that long hoped for time will come when the Pentagon has to hold a bake sale to finance a new weapons system.

I'm probably dreaming but it would be a fine thing for the animal kingdom (which has no borders) if the most heavily armed, most paranoid country the world has ever known just kept a military for border protection and UN mandated peace keeping missions.

(artwork by Rudi Herzlmeier)

Monday, August 18, 2008

nothing else to say

Rankings August 18, 2008

Education Olympics Medal Count

United States 0
Finland 32
Hong Kong 16
New Zealand 11
Estonia 08
Republic of Korea (South Korea) 08
Japan 07
Canada 06
Australia 05
Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 05
Total medals awarded: 117

Olympics Medal Count

United States 72
China* 67
Russian Federation 36
Australia 33
France 28
United Kingdom 27
Germany 23
Republic of Korea (South Korea) 23
Japan 20
Italy 18
Total medals awarded: 581

* Is not competing in the 2008 Education Olympics

I may have mentioned previously that Finland ROCKS!!!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

kick ass? not really..

I should have done this several days ago but I haven't been around much and besides, it's been too HOT. When the ambient temperature outside and in closes on or above my body temperature I'm pretty much good for nothing. After all, I really am a Canadian.. and one who was born in England at that - so I wilt.

While I was working in an environment cold enough to freeze sperm in it's home surroundings or home lying in front of the biggest fan we own three very cool people separately nominated me for the 'Kick Ass Blogger Award' shown here. My fine artiste friend Randal whose poesy and acuity with sardonic visual images and comments are a constant delight sent the first one. The next surprise arrived soon after when the witty and wise fast talking Okjimm left me a message that he'd nominated phantsy too. Then, just yesterday (or was it the day before?) another fine visual artist Steve Emery left a comment on the last story I posted to tell me he'd given the award to Adventures, Ink. I'm pretty overwhelmed and very glad you like my stuff.. what little there is most days since I know I'm not prolific by any stretch.

Anyhow, now I will post the rules and my choices. Please forgive my delay.

Do you know any bloggers that kick ass?
Maybe they’ve got incredible, original content. Or they’re overflowing with creativity. Is it someone that helps you become a better blogger? Or a bloggy friend you know you can count on? Or maybe it’s someone who simply inspires you to be a better person… or someone else who sends you to the floor, laughing your ass off.
Whatever the reason may be, I’m sure you know at least a couple of bloggers that kick ass. Well… why not tell ‘em so?
The rules to this are as follows:1) Choose five other bloggers that you feel are "Kick Ass Bloggers"2) Let them know that they have received an award.3) Link back to both the person who awarded you and also to Visit the Kick Ass Blogger Club HQ to sign Mr. Linky and leave a comment.

First - Zee at Sunburst Gem. He's a wonderful artist and sculptor who's also a stranger in a strange land in the United States of the latter days. He's a passionate proponent of fairness and humanitarianism and desrves more awards than the one I can give.

Second - Gary at Withinsight. Gary is Canadian and lives in the beautiful Okanagan Valley in BC which I think is a pretty essential condition for someone who's been an executive member of Amnesty International for a long time. He's kind, charming, unflappable (at least in a public forum) and has wonderful pictures.

Third - Ingrid of Blogger Round Table - a blog devoted to understanding the current world situation from the uniquely European viewpoint of someone who now lives in Austin. She's very wise and has a great heart.

Fourth - Lindsay of Lindsay's Lobes, an Australian friend who takes a lot of time to investigate and explain his perspectives regarding the economics, culture and political system of the United States. His thoughts and hope for all of us are inspiring.

Fifth - Gfid , also known as Granny Fiddler, North of Sanity. It's true too. Gfid lives so far north she's hardly been around this summer because when you live that close to muskeg it's best to get all the sun you can when it's available. She plays violin, teaches and tells wonderful stories.

I hope you'll visit them all and maybe we'll see each other there too.

Friday, August 15, 2008

do you have air?

is the first question people ask around here when it gets hot which I could see being a reasonable question if this was Phoenix.. but it's not. It's Portland where mostly the summers have that Camelot like quality of warm dry days and cooler breezy nights. We get a few times a year of hot days that stay that way all night long and then I don't cope too well.

Last night I'd intended to visit my favorite blogs and perhaps do a post but the laptop was hot. Once I'd answered those kind enough to leave comments I just had to shut it down.

How comfortable we've become in our climate controlled environments, eh? Even though we knew thirty years ago the dangers of huge parking lots, sealed buildings and giant gas guzzling cars you just have to look around wherever you live to see that nothing was done.

They could very easily have built all the mall parking lots underground. They could have used the extra land for trees, ponds, play areas or just left it as wilderness for crying out loud. There could have been windows that open, fans in the ceilings, indoor recirculating waterfalls and fountains or maybe just buckets of ice cubes for shoppers to stick their feet in. I don't just mean malls either since a paradigm shift in our thoughts about climate then would have changed everything.

I don't know anything but that the temperature's going up to 103 again for the next few days and no, I don't have air. I don't want air. I think part of the reason it's so unusually hot is because we're keeping every indoor environment at 68-72 degrees no matter what's going on outside and that's likely not good for us and certainly isn't good for the planet.

Sorry, I'm grumpy because I can't wear my usual urban black camoflage gear right now. A couple of years ago I bought some white linen clothes just in case I got to take that trip to see the pyramids but when I put them on yesterday morning I felt like I was wearing pj's and had to change.

Ah well, this too shall pass. I'll be at work and since it's a hospital it's very cool there but I'd rather be outside under a tree near a babbling brook. Wouldn't we all?

(artwork by Virgil Finlay)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

cleveland rocks

What with everything going on these daze a girl could lose her sense of humor so I just sat back tonight and reminisced about one of my favorite bar bands. One night we saw Lux Interior body surf the crowd we were part of while Poison Ivy stayed cool and played. Remember to Stay Sick.

Knowing what's fun is the only way to beat the bastards, eh Randal?

*Ooops! First video unavailable this morning so here's another. You really had to be there to appreciate them.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

hitler lied, millions died

On Friday a woman at work was eager to tell me that John Edwards had been caught in a lie. From what I could tell he'd obviously told the truth about his lie and had therefore become fodder for the holier than thou attack machine that masquerades as the major news media in this country. Didn't this happen recently with another prominent liberal.. Elliot Spitzer? Do I detect a pattern here other than the obvious one of the tendency of male humans to enjoy the intimate company of attractive female humans? It happens regularly. But I worry about that woman who was so excited to inform me about a sexual misadventure of a leading liberal political figure but who will not listen to anything that might spoil her mindless enthusiasm for the regime currently in power. So having thought about this for a day or two I'm writing my rebuttal here for my own benefit:

Tyrants tend to be congenital, brazen liars. Bush lied about Iraq’s threat to America just as Hitler lied when he claimed Poland attacked Germany first in 1939.

Tyrants engage in outright suppression or manipulation of the news. Cynics may wonder about any item of interest in the news and how it serves the continuation of tyranny.

Tyrants will use a “crisis” to grab total power. In 1933, Hitler declared a "state of emergency” after the Reichstag fire, which likely was set by the Nazis.

Tyrants torture. Pol Pot ordered the torture and murder of millions of his own countrymen. Idi Amin was known as the Butcher of Uganda.

Tyrants tend to make serial wars. Stalin attacked Finland, Poland, and Hungary. Imperial Japan struck Korea, Manchuria, China, America, and the UK. One war is never enough for a tyrant. Napoleon invaded nations to liberate them from kings, only to put his relatives on their thrones.

Tyrants will not suffer criticism. Ghenghis Khan sportingly offered enemies a choice: surrender or die. All who disagreed died. I wonder if Paul Wellstone ever spurned an attempted seduction?

Tyrants don’t respect the sovereignty of other nations. Bush rationalized his attack on Iraq as “preventive war” -- a euphemism for the supreme war crime, “a war of aggression.”

So please, lady at work, excuse my complete lack of interest in the scandal that so titillated your Friday afternoon but I'm in the market for a leader who won't be a tyrant once we get the current one out of office. Yes, tyrants lie and it's part of their nature to trick their way into public office by manipulating the fundamental prejudices of fools like yourself.

A vote for Jood/Nunley is a vote for white lies so someone you love doesn't suffer for your mistake. It will be a vote totally AGAINST TYRANNY.

(Candidates, please notify author if this is not a Fifth Party position.)

(artwork by Michael Sowa)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

lying low

I've been reading a lot these past few days about Ron Suskind's book 'The Way of the World' and the death of Bruce Ivins, the bio-terror expert who worked for the Defense Dept. Thinking about the ramifications of both stories is enough to give someone a headache.

What's certainly true is that here we have more of the same old thing and whether we're talking about the Downing St Memo or Stephen Hatfill who just won a lawsuit against the FBI it matters little if the media continues to play these revelations as though they're purely partisan issues and therefore not seriously worthy of investigation.

There is a crudity to the machinations of the current regime that make it all too plausible that the White House (and I don't mean GW) really did forge a backdated letter in 2003 that would incriminate Saddam Hussein as having masterminded 9/11 AND having a nuclear weapons program. How convenient.

Next we have the alleged suicide of Bruce Ivins who, while under 24 hour surveillance in a mental hospital, somehow managed to get hold of enough drugs to kill himself. One can only imagine the conversation, 'Where is he now, Bob?' 'Well, he just came out of the pharmacy again but he looks okay to me'. The problem here is that the man is dead and there will never be a trial.

I can't help but think that nothing short of having live television coverage of George Bush and Dick Cheney molesting babies on the White House lawn would call down enough anger that an impeachment hearing would be demanded nationally. I'm afraid even that would be greeted by the talking heads as an opportunity for digression - 'We haven't heard the babies side of it yet, Jack, and we might just have to wait a few years until they learn to talk.' 'Why that's right, Bimbette. Let's get the famous child psychologist Dr. Jerkoff on the screen right after these messages from our sponsors'.

It's all broken.

(drawing by Aubrey Beardsley)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

ready to Crow

I flew by to discuss recent developments with Susan but she's not here - probably out buying hummingbird food or staring at her color wheel, waiting for inspiration. She gets like that sometimes but it's okay. One of her pets is here to keep me company and meanwhile I'll talk to you if you have a moment. I've been doing some long distance traveling and need a break.

Where was I? Well, since things are a bit difficult in the US these days I thought I'd scout out a few other places just to see if there's anyplace 300 million people can go until the political, social and economic problems resolve. There are already 7 or more millions of ex-patriot US citizens living in other countries. Many of the younger ones have headed south of the southern border to places like Panama and Costa Rica for fun, adventure and entrepreneurial exploits. If Susan wants to see hummingbirds that's really the place to go but if Americans are leaving the United States, Canada is certainly one of the most convenient places for interim relocation. It may be a little chilly at times, but it’s right across the border and most Canadians speak English. Many of the major issues that divide people and political parties in the U.S. seem resolved in Canada. They have a lower crime rate, universal health care, and reportedly better education. Their medical doctors can dispense marijuana and they officially recognize same-sex marriages. On top of all that, the rest of the world isn’t mad at them.

Things have reached the point in this country that one of the best economic indicators is the 'pizza index' - the skyrocketing price of 'recession-proof' foods: pizza, hot dogs, bagels and beer. The major presidential candidates grumble about each other and just how fast or slow the US military can tiptoe out of Iraq while still leaving the oil giants, six huge permanent bases and the world's biggest 'embassy' in place but they don't talk about the fact the economy as a whole is collapsing. Individuals need help but we all need change. Is this just another market mistake, the latest bubble gone bust in a volatile business cycle? Can we solve all this with an Alka-Seltzer-like infusion of new taxes or regulations? I don't think so. We're talking big time crony capitalism here and not party politics.

If you're not quite ready to immigrate (which would probably only encourage the jerks who got you into this mess), I heard about the Fifth Party candidacy of Divajood and Nunley and stopped by to talk over the issues with my old friend David Korten who had some advice for those hoping to establish a progressive democracy. He says that the best way to start would be to envision the following changes:

1. Instruments of war to health care and environmental rejuvenation.
2. Automobiles to public transportation.
3. Suburban sprawl to compact communities and the reclamation of forest
and agricultural land.
4. Advertising to education.
5. Financial speculation to local entrepreneurship.

'There is significant evidence that for all the apparent differences, most all the world's people want the same thing: happy healthy children, families, communities, and natural systems. Properly understood, the imperative creates an unprecedented opportunity to unleash long suppressed potentials of the human consciousness to bring forth the world for which humans have long shared a deep yearning.'

Remember, humans are Pleistocene people with a 600,000 year history of being nomads. My people know because we were there with you when walked, ran, danced and rode through mighty, mysterious forests and endless grasslands. You sailed the seas in reed and wooden boats long before steel hulls and engines were invented. Wars were fought killing untold numbers of my people as well as yours but your inventiveness should provide the evidence that minds and hearts can evolve beyond destruction to something better for all of us.

Now I'm off to see if I can find something decent to eat around here and I don't mean hummingbird nectar either. Yuck.

(artwork by Rudi Herzlmeier)