PayPal arbitration opt-out

Bob Glickstein
[address]
[phone number]
[e-mail address]
13 Oct 2012

PayPal, Inc.
Attn: Litigation Department
2211 North First Street
San Jose, CA 95131

To whom it may concern,

I am a PayPal user at the e-mail address above. I do not agree to the Agreement to Arbitrate as delineated in your Amendment to the PayPal User Agreement and Privacy Policy dated Nov 1st, 2012. By this letter I hereby reject it per the opt-out procedure described in section 14.3 (e). Kindly exclude me from the Agreement to Arbitrate.

I further request that you consider dropping the arbitration clause altogether, for all your customers, as a matter of principle. Hand-wringing about frivolous lawsuits notwithstanding, citizen access to the public court system is one of the things that makes America great. I invite you to read my fuller thoughts on the matter at www.geebobg.com/2008/09/20/the-sue-s-of-a/

Timely written acknowledgment of this request sent to the above address would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

[signature]

Bob Glickstein

Who are the real monsters?

A British film about Americans in Mexico. That seemed odd. But it didn’t stop me from watching 2010’s Monsters on Netflix recently, and enjoying it.

It’s six years after a NASA probe to Jupiter’s moons crash lands on its return to Earth, “infecting” an area of Northern Mexico near the U.S. border with samples of alien life, which thrive there and multiply, growing huge and destructive. The U.S. has erected an enormous wall along its Mexican border and its military makes regular incursions across it to suppress the creatures and limit their spread. Our two main characters have to make it back to the U.S. while traveling dangerously near, and eventually through, the infected zone. Their journey has a vérité feel and is full of suspense, with a few moments of terror and some interesting character development. By the end I found it compelling enough to go online and see what opinions others had written about it.

I was disappointed by what I found. Without exception the reviews and opinions that I read evaluated Monsters as a conventional monster movie — that is, as a mere shocker — and by that metric many critics found it lacking in terms of horror and body count and creature biology and so on, though everyone commended the guerrilla filmmaking techniques and how far the tiny budget was stretched for the sake of producing credible special effects. The principal filmmaker, Gareth Edwards, is now being talked about as a hot new talent for directing sci-fi epics.

All of which was missing the point. Not one writer commented on the glaringly obvious subtext, the very reason the film was made and the answer to why a British filmmaker chose Mexico as his setting and Americans as his characters: it’s a story about the failure of America to adapt to a changing world.

[Spoilers follow.]

Continue reading “Who are the real monsters?”

Glickstein’s law of legislative intent

Glickstein’s law of legislative intent:

When someone insists we need new powers to outlaw an activity that another perfectly good law already makes illegal, follow the money.

I’m looking at you, SOPA.

Make money the old-fashioned way

Dear film industry, music industry, and all other trade associations that lobby Congress for laws to protect their revenue streams:

You are not entitled to your profits. You are required to earn them anew, every single day.

If new competitive pressures come along and you’re unable to adapt, we the people are under no obligation to help you keep earning profits by tilting the playing field. In fact, quite the opposite.

Homeopathic democracy

What was the cry of the Boston rioters in 1773? “No taxation without representation.” What would they have said about taxation with just a teensy amount of representation?

Before George Washington became the first chief executive under the U.S. Constitution, he presided over the Philadelphia Convention at which the Constitution was drafted. Throughout the entire proceedings — which had its fair share of passionate disputes — Washington spoke up exactly once on an issue under debate. The proposed size of the U.S. House of Representatives was too small, he said. It would have meant one congressman for every 40,000 citizens. He insisted that one per 30,000 would produce a better, more responsive democracy, and so the change was made.

Within thirty years, as new states were admitted and the population grew, the ratio had grown to the level against which Washington had argued: 40,000 citizens per congressman. Four decades later and it more than tripled: 127,000 to 1. By this time the population of the country had grown from under two million to over 31 million, and the House of Representatives had gone from a cozy 65 members to a rowdy 241.

In 1912 the House of Representatives swelled to 435 members — roughly one for every 212,000 citizens — and there it was capped by legislation in 1929, by which time the ratio was more than 280,000 to 1.

If we had maintained that ratio, today the House would have 1,093 members. If we had maintained Washington’s ratio, today it would have 10,291 members. As it is we’re stuck with 435 — fewer than one congressperson for every 700,000 people. Some U.S. citizens have proportionally more Senate representation than House representation.

What was the cry of the Boston rioters in 1773?1 “No taxation without representation.” What would they have said about taxation with just a teensy amount of representation? No wonder our democracy is presently working about as well as a course of Oscillococcinum (the flu remedy so dilute that one dose contains none of its so-called active ingredients).

A ten thousand member Congress would probably be unmanageable. But a nation of three hundred million is (I think we can conclude from current events) ungovernable by a legislature so relatively small. Perhaps it’s time to reconstitute our national government. Here’s one idea off the top of my head for bringing representation closer to the people: add a level of hierarchy between the state and federal levels, according to the ten regions of American politics.

  1. No evocation of the modern day Tea Party is intended. []

O say can God bless America the beautiful

It was Little League day at AT&T Park yesterday, and when we got to the Giants game against the A’s it was already the fourth inning. (We’d spent the morning at Maker Faire.) So we missed the ritual singing of the national anthem at the beginning of the game.

I was therefore surprised when, at the beginning of the seventh inning stretch, fans were asked to stand and remove their hats for “God Bless America.” (My infrequent visits to the ballpark led me to expect only “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.”) The whole stadium dutifully complied as Kate Smith’s recorded voice echoed from the loudspeakers.

The whole stadium except for me, that is. I was disturbed that citizens would treat that song, patriotic though it is, with the same respect that is due the national anthem — which, for the record, is “The Star-Spangled Banner,” not “God Bless America.” For one thing, it diminishes the importance of the national anthem. But more importantly, it trains people to regard anything concerning national identity with unthinking veneration. A little patriotic pride is a fine thing, but the clearest lesson of history is that an excess of nationalism is poison.

Besides, neither of these is the best choice for a song that obliges its listeners to stand at respectful attention. “God Bless America” is merely a plea to God, with nothing in it about America per se other than that the singer lives there, gladly. “The Star-Spangled Banner” commemorates a battle and a flag, not a nation or its people or its ideals, and it’s notoriously difficult to sing to boot. But “America the Beautiful” is full of praise for our wonderful country, and it’s so easy to sing even a Muppet can do it.

Star-spangled scanner

O say can you see
By the flick’ring blue light
What the news channels hailed
From a TSA screening?

Whose broad thighs and bright scars
As he boarded the flight
Were so easily watched?
Even though it’s demeaning

In his bowels, some methane
Could have brought down the plane
If he’d saved that fart
Just to set it aflame

O say, isn’t it better
To submit and behave
Than be the land of the free
And the home of the brave?

Greatest hits: Ground Zero mosque

A relative circulated to my extended family an e-mail chain letter linking to an anti-Ground-Zero-mosque YouTube video, so I wrote this reply:

A mosque at Ground Zero is a great idea, whether you’re an anti-Muslim bigot or not.

If you’re not a bigot, then nothing could be a more powerful affirmation of America’s acceptance of all races and creeds than to turn the other cheek and honor the peaceful adherents of that noble religion, millions of whom were victims of 9/11 in more profound, longer-lasting ways than almost anyone else.

If you are a bigot, what could be better than a great big juicy target, right at the scene of the crime, for all the Judeo-Christian zealots bent on Biblical-style justice?

Personally, I’m offended that they keep letting Catholic churches get built. That was the religion of Timothy McVeigh!

You can’t spell leisure without (some of the letters in) socialism

The future, as seen from the 1920’s through the 1960’s, was one in which automation of ever-increasing ubiquity and reliability would liberate humans from every manner of drudgery: cooking, cleaning, driving, working. Thus liberated, the “permanent problem” of humanity, as celebrated economist John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1930, would be “to occupy the leisure” time that would be the inevitable result of consistent technological and economic progress.

Well, here we are in the future, and in spite of a conspicuous dearth of hovercars and Mars colonies, things are indeed fantastically more automated than they used to be. Those of us old enough to remember changing typewriter ribbons, getting up from the couch to turn the channel knob, and painstakingly placing the tone arm in the shiny stripe between songs would never go back. Cars aren’t driverless — yet — but some of them do unlock when their owners approach, and some of them tell you when you’re about to back into the car behind you. Robots vacuum your floors. Satellites tell you how to get from point A to point B. And don’t forget the Internet, which allows you to shop, work, communicate, renew your driver’s license, look up airline schedules, and be informed and entertained without ever leaving the house, licking a stamp, picking up the phone, or indeed engaging any muscles north of your elbows.

And yet, I don’t know about you, but figuring out what to do with our copious leisure time doesn’t appear to be the problem of anyone I know.

Here in the era of Google and PDF files I am much more productive than I ever could have been in the bad old days of filing cabinets and mimeograph machines, and the same is true for pretty much everyone else, everywhere in the developed world. And after various innovations or outright revolutions in manufacturing, construction, supply chain management, materials science, agriculture, finance, chemical engineering, electronics, and plenty more, the cost of meeting our basic material needs is much less than it used to be.

So at first glance it seems like there should be lots more slack in our economic system, and that we ought to be able to distribute that slack to the benefit of everyone.

But when robots displace thirty percent of a factory’s labor force, the increase in productivity does not result in a life of leisure for the workers that were sent home. They’re just plumb out of work. When simpler delivery systems for news and for classified advertising come along, employees in the crumbling newspaper industry don’t kick back, job-well-done, satisfied at achieving their own obsolescence.

The investment blogger Brad Burnham recently pointed out that “Craigslist collapsed a multibillion dollar classified advertising business into a fabulously profitable hundred-million-dollar business” — an example of a phenomenon common enough to have a cool new name: the “zero-billion-dollar business.” Herein lies the problem that seems to have escaped the mid-century futurists: when dramatic efficiencies arrive in an industry, lowering its overhead, that industry doesn’t suddenly become more profitable, pocketing the difference between the new lower costs and the same old price for its goods and services, able to retire its laid-off laborers with cushy pensions. No: the industry passes the savings along to you, the consumer, according to the inexorable pressures of capitalism. Any company that didn’t would find itself undercut by its competitors. As a result, the entire industry deflates, occasionally to the vanishing point: witness the fate of horse-drawn buggies, ice vendors, and more recently, consumer-grade photographic film.

Disruptions like these are great for the majority (else they wouldn’t happen) but disastrous for those who become idled by them. In the past, the people affected would slowly filter into new positions elsewhere, but as is often observed, we’re living through a period of accelerating innovation and upheaval. It’s possible that entire job categories are disappearing faster than the remaining ones are able to absorb the jobless, and if we haven’t quite reached that tipping point yet, chances are good that we will soon. Technology and the enhanced productivity it brings means society is learning to get along — thrive, in fact — with far fewer people working, period.

Which begs the question: is this kind of progress ultimately good for humanity? Yes, it lowers the cost of our material needs, increases abundance, and lengthens and improves our lives, but only for those who remain employed and can afford the fruits of progress.

Take this trend to a plausible extreme. When driverless cars are perfected, there will be no more need for bus, truck, and taxi drivers. A coffeemaking robot in my office portends the demise of the barista. Voice recognition keeps getting better and keeps putting phone operators out to pasture. The postal service appears to be at the beginning of what promises to be a lengthy contraction.

It’s not hard to imagine a future in which only a small fraction of the eligible workforce is actually needed to do any work. Is the resulting wealth destined to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands? What will the rest of us do?

In our march towards a shiny future of leisure we have overlooked one important ingredient, probably because it’s been taboo even to mention it. In a 2,500-word article about the world to come, written soon after the 1964 World’s Fair (which depicted that future temptingly and convincingly), and not coincidentally at the height of the Cold War, Time magazine glosses over the missing ingredient almost completely, giving it just three words at the beginning of this remarkable sentence (emphasis mine):

With Government benefits, even nonworking families will have, by one estimate, an annual income of $30,000 — $40,000 (in 1966 dollars).

(That’s about a quarter million today.)

That’s right: at the same time that Americans were getting worked up about the Red Menace, ironically they also embraced (without quite thinking it through) a vision of the future that depended fundamentally on socialism — the redistribution of wealth, by government, from those whom society needs and rewards to those whom it doesn’t but who stubbornly continue to exist.

Unfortunately, even as we’re headed towards a workerless society that will depend more and more on government assistance, we are abandoning our traditional values about civic responsibility and the common good. We are becoming a nation of selfish graspers who by and large would rather demonize the unemployed than provide for them (even if we could afford to, which isn’t at all clear). Too many Americans are opposed in principle to any form of welfare, even though it’s right there in the Preamble of the Constitution, even though they rely on social programs themselves, knowingly or not.

These folks cling to two soundbites from the 1980’s — “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” and “Greed… is good” — in lieu of any reasoned philosophy. An entire generation’s worth of politicians and civic and religious leaders have built their careers around these empty ideas, all but precluding rational debate on the subject, a debate we desperately need to have. We are barreling towards that efficient, workerless future, that’s for certain. But when the merest suggestion of government assistance prompts mobs to equate President Obama with Hitler or Satan, what hope is there that that future will even be livable?