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Federico Viticci: ‘The Practicality of Art in Software’

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Federico Viticci:

We can’t talk about art in software in a vacuum. As a computer maker or app developer, you have to strike that balance between the aspirational and the practical, the artistic and the functional — the kind of balance that, by and large, Apple is achieving on the Mac. Unfortunately, when it comes to iPadOS, I feel like Apple has been prioritizing the artistic aspect over the functional, and it’s not clear when that will be rectified.

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45 days ago
Washington, DC
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Fani Willis to Judge McBurney: Give Us Time, Please

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Tuesday is a big day for the Fulton County criminal probe into 2020 election interference. After eight months, the “special purpose grand jury” investigating Trump and Co.’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia has issued its final report. Now, at noon in the Lewis R. Slaton courthouse in downtown Atlanta, Judge Robert McBurney will hear arguments on whether the final report should be released to the public. 

If, that is, the prosecutors ever show up. 

It’s bad form as a prosecutor not to show up to your hearings, but it’s 11:58 a.m. and Judge Robert McBurney has just entered the courtroom. Two attorneys, Tom Clyde and Lesli Gaither, sit quietly at a table on the left side of the room. They will argue in favor of publication of the report on behalf of a broad coalition of media organizations, including the New York Times, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, and the Wall Street Journal. (Lawfare was not asked to join the motion, and we’re feeling aggrieved about the slight.)

The rest of us—mostly reporters—are perched on the wooden pews in the gallery. A videographer stands in the corner, pointing his camera lens at the door. 

But the district attorney and her team are nowhere in sight.

To be fair, it’s a busy week for Fulton County prosecutors. Just down the hall, jury selection is underway in a high-profile RICO case against Grammy-award winning rap artist Young Thug and other members of “Young Slime Life,” an alleged “criminal street gang” and record label based in Atlanta. That might explain why Judge McBurney, who has a penchant for punctuality, is willing to wait a few minutes for the prosecutors to arrive. “You all can talk a little bit, it's all right,” McBurney instructs the audience. 

We don’t have much time to chat, because the prosecutors soon make their appearance. To my right, a group of four young men breeze into the courtroom. Leading the pack is Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor who was hand-picked by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to assist with the 2020 election probe. He is joined by three other members of the election investigation team: Donald Wakeford, Will Wooten, and Adam Ney.

Still no District Attorney Willis, however; she remains conspicuously absent. 

“Mr. Wade, are you ready?” McBurney asks as Wade arrives at his designated table on the right side of the room.

“Judge, if we could have a moment,” Wade says. 

“Like, settlement negotiations, or…?” McBurney jokes, employing the characteristically quippy banter that Fulton County court watchers have come to expect from the grand jury’s supervising judge. 

“I’m missing one document,” Wade responds, shuffling papers atop the table where he sits on the right side of the room. 

“Well, there’s really only one that matters,” McBurney retorts. “I hope you haven’t lost that,” he says, alluding to the grand jury report that brings us all to courtroom 8D on this chilly Tuesday afternoon. There is only one copy of the report, the hearing later reveals, so McBurney’s joke has a particular zing.

Ignoring McBurney’s quips, Wade rises from his seat and hurries toward the exit. Presumably, he’s on the hunt for his missing document—or maybe his boss.

When Wade fails to reappear after a beat, McBurney turns his attention to the next most senior prosecutor remaining in the room: Wooten. “It’s noon and we’re supposed to start,” he observes. Wooten, taking the hint, makes a beeline for the door. He’s on a mission to retrieve Wade from wherever he disappeared to moments ago. 

And then there was one: Assistant District Attorney Adam Ney. Ney starts to follow Wooten out the door, but he freezes at the sound of the judge’s voice. “Uh, you need to stay,” McBurney commands. “We need to keep at least one ADA here.”

Again, courtroom advocacy tip: Don’t ghost the judge. Bad idea. 

And probably best to leave someone in the court who can actually argue your case if need be. While Ney is a core member of the Fulton County election interference investigation team, he tends to operate in the background. In the months since I began covering this case, I haven’t once seen him argue a motion. I suspect that explains the panicked expression on his face when McBurney instructs him to “get going” without his colleagues. 

This is the nightmare: You have to argue a case you haven’t prepared at all to argue. At least Ney is wearing pants.

But just as he is about to “get going,” Wade and the rest of the team suddenly reappear; they are also wearing pants.

After introducing himself, Wade informs the judge that Willis “will be making an appearance as well,” but the “bulk” of the argument will be delivered by Wakeford. Like Wade, Wakeford is a veteran prosecutor on the Fulton County election probe team. He’s argued—and won—several key battles in the case, including the Lindsey Graham subpoena litigation in federal court and the Brian Kemp subpoena litigation before Judge McBurney. 

With introductions now behind us, Judge McBurney kicks things off with some background. “I hand delivered to the district attorney the copy of the final report soon after it was available,” he says. “That’s the one copy I’m aware of that’s in circulation.” Today, he announces, we’re here to discuss whether the final report should be shared more broadly, either in whole or in part.

Next, McBurney turns to the legal issues raised by publication of the report. He notes, first, that the special purpose grand jury voted to make their report public pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80, which authorizes a grand jury to recommend publication of their “general presentments” and requires the judge to order publication as recommended. In other words: If that provision applies, the law requires McBurney to release the grand jury’s report—or at least some version of it—to the public. But the “unresolved question,” as McBurney wrote in a Jan. 9 order, is whether the grand jury’s report constitutes a “general presentment.” Accordingly, McBurney instructs the parties to talk about whether the report is the “equivalent” of a general presentment. 

Additionally, McBurney continues, “we need to talk about how this report might be viewed as what the courts refer to as ‘court records.’” If the report is a “court record,” he explains, it enjoys a presumption of public access under Rule 21 of Georgia’s Superior Court Rules. 

As McBurney speaks, Willis finally appears through a door to my right. She is clad in a charcoal suit and a tan blouse; she makes her way toward the seat next to Wade. 

McBurney, now finished with his preamble, invites the district attorney’s office to provide its perspective. Willis rises from her seat and strides toward the lectern. This marks her first appearance at a public hearing in the case since May, when she oversaw the selection and empanelment process for the grand jury.

Announcing that she will provide an “overview” of the situation before handing things off to Wakeford, Willis begins by noting that the special purpose grand jury was intended to function as an “investigative tool.” And at this point of an investigation, she says, prosecutors find themselves in a position in which they need to ensure defendants’ rights are protected, too. “Sometimes it’s a very selfish interest,” she continues. “You don't want the case overturned.” 

“In this case, the state understands the media’s inquiry and the world’s interest, but we have to be mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights,” Willis stresses. If the report is released, she continues, putative defendants could argue that it impacted their right to receive a fair trial in Fulton County. “For future defendants to be treated fairly, it’s not appropriate at this time to have this report released,” she urges. “Decisions are imminent,” she concludes. 

Having made her position clear, Willis retreats to her seat next to Wade. Now her colleague, Wakeford, is up. He springs to the lectern, where he announces that he has a question for McBurney. The court’s Jan. 9 order noted that the grand jury asked for publication under O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80. But “mention of 15-12-80 is not in the report,” Wakeford claims. What, then, was the source of McBurney’s reference to O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80?

“You’re correct, it’s not in the report,” McBurney responds, adding that the grand jurors themselves requested publication under O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80. “It’s something that they did after they completed their work.” 

Next, McBurney attempts to “focus the dialogue” by asking Wakeford about some “threshold questions.” To start, he wants to know more about the basis for non-disclosure of the report. He notes that the principle of grand jury secrecy is “fairly limited” in Georgia, especially when compared to grand jury secrecy in federal practice. Georgia grand jurors are prohibited from talking about their deliberations, but not the outcome of those deliberations. “Unless we stretch to say the final report is their deliberations, I think we’re already outside the statutory realm of what’s secret,” McBurney says.

Wakeford responds by attempting to draw a distinction between special purpose grand juries and regular grand juries under Georgia law. But before he can get to the substance of that argument, McBurney cuts him off. He notes that the special grand jury statute and the regular grand jury statute aren’t totally independent. Another part of the statute, O.C.G.A. 15-12-102, provides that the rules applicable to regular grand juries apply to special purpose grand juries, too. As such, McBurney continues, the statutory framework that applies to regular grand juries must serve as a “guide” for special purpose grand juries. And that includes the relatively lax rules around secrecy.  

Wakeford replies that the actual content of the report should provide some guidance on the secrecy of the report. Noting that the special purpose grand jury was requested specifically by the district attorney for the “sole purpose” of investigating possible criminal activity, he rattles off a list of elements the report could theoretically contain: a summary of the grand jury’s factual findings, a list of statutes that grand jury believes were violated, or a list of individuals with accompanying “activities” that the grand jury believes could have broken the law. 

Moreover, Wakeford continues, records that are part of an ongoing criminal investigation are not subject to public scrutiny. At this time, he says, the report remains part of an “ongoing criminal investigation.” And “if that report contains charging recommendations, that is certainly solely for the use of the district attorney,” he contends. 

Now Wakeford turns to whether the grand jury’s report must be published under O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80. He contends that the statutory provision does not apply because the report does not amount to a “general presentment.” He acknowledges that Georgia law recognizes two types of presentments: a “general presentment” is an informational report, while a “special presentment” is a document that formally charges a person with a crime. According to Wakeford, a special purpose grand jury report can include aspects of both. “The content of a special purpose grand jury report can contain elements of a general and a special presentment, making it a third kind of thing: a special purpose grand jury report,” he asserts. 

McBurney wonders aloud if a report that contains elements of both could be partially published under O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80. That is, if the report includes elements of a “general presentment,” why not publish those parts and redact the parts that amount to a “special presentment” or something else? 

Holding his ground, Wakeford says that parts of the report could not be published in that scenario. “At that point, if it’s not something that can be considered solely a general presentment, then it’s not a general presentment under the law,” he claims. “Where the choice of words is “report” and the “report” can take on this strange hybrid form, you cannot presume that O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80 applies.” Instead, he urges, the content of the report should guide the court’s analysis.

Now Wakeford pivots back to the “discretionary” aspects of McBurney’s decision. Observing that the report was only issued ten days ago, he asserts that the district attorney’s office has had “no opportunity” to incorporate anything in the report into its ongoing criminal investigation. “We think immediately releasing before the DA has even had an opportunity to address publicly whether there will be charges or not…is dangerous,” he says. “It’s dangerous to people who may or may not be named in the report, for various reasons. It’s also a disservice to the witnesses who came to the grand jury and spoke the truth to the grand jury.” 

In response, McBurney raises a comparison to the Jan. 6 Committee report. That report, he says, was released to the public even amid an ongoing criminal investigation. And there is no indication that it has hindered the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation related to Jan. 6. “A parallel process happened in Washington, DC and the world kept spinning,” McBurney contends. “That hasn’t caused the wheels to fall off the bus.”

Wakeford rightly replies that we actually do not know the impact of the Jan. 6 Committee’s report on the Justice Department’s investigation, because the department operates in secrecy. And he notes as well that the congressional hearings were mostly public, which is different from how the grand jury has operated in this investigation. Ultimately, he claims, the time for a conversation about publication should come after the district attorney has had a public opportunity to say that she is or is not pursuing charges. At that point, he says, the court will have a much better “roadmap” to pursue publication.

Moving on, Wakeford expounds on whether the grand jury’s report is a “court record” that is afforded the presumption of public access. He contends, first, that records related to ongoing criminal investigations are excluded from the presumption of public access under Rule 21. And, further, he argues that the grand jury’s report is not a “court record” under Rule 21 because it was not presented in open court; instead, the final report was delivered directly to Judge McBurney.

As Wakeford’s time at the lectern wanes, McBurney doesn’t appear to be swayed. “I appreciate that I could do things to help maintain the investigation and not get it prematurely derailed,” he says at one point. “But . . . I’m not interested in entering an order that we know is DOA—dead on appeal.” 

Undeterred, Wakeford ends by urging McBurney to consider the “content of the report” when making his decision, and requests time to submit written briefing if necessary. “The main point is that today is not the time, now is not the time, but eventually we will have a better idea of when the time will be,” he concludes. 

Now Tom Clyde, an attorney for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, makes his way to the lectern to argue on behalf of the Journal-Constitution and the group of media organizations from which Lawfare was cruelly excluded. “We believe that the report should be released now and in its entirety,” he begins. “And that approach is consistent with the way the American judicial system operates.” 

While acknowledging that grand jury operations are subject to a veil of secrecy during its investigation, Clyde says that the grand jury has now completed that investigation and produced a report. The jurors themselves have asked for it to be published. And there’s “enormous” public interest in the findings of that report, he stresses.

It’s not unusual for a district attorney to be uncomfortable with the release of information about an ongoing investigation, Clyde explains. “That occurs all the time.” But courts only allow judicial records to be sealed in the most “extraordinary situations.” 

McBurney interjects to ask why this isn’t an “extraordinary circumstance” that would justify keeping the document sealed. He notes that the grand jury’s investigation was requested by the executive branch—the district attorney. What’s more, he observes, there were no public hearings like there would be during a trial. “There’s not even a court filing that we’re talking about,” he exclaims. McBurney’s point is that the grand jury's process is different from a “normal” judicial process in which records are presumptively subject to public scrutiny. 

Doubling down, Clyde responds by saying that the output of the special purpose grand jury is a “court record” under Rule 21 and subject to the presumption of public access. The process of the special purpose grand jury can’t be properly characterized as a “conduit” of the executive branch. It required the jurors to come to court each week to devote their time and energy to the investigation, during which time they were supervised by a judge. “It’s actually an extraordinary exercise of judicial power,” Clyde stresses. And that is the kind of environment, he continues, in which the case law has required the presumption of public access. 

Pivoting to arguments raised by the district attorney regarding the risk of prejudice to potential defendants, Clyde notes that other documents in a criminal case are subject to public scrutiny. And some of those documents, he explains, are significantly more prejudicial than the grand jury’s report. As an example, he continues, documents that are the subject of evidence suppression hearings are routinely disclosed in public filings. “So, I don’t think there’s a compelling case for protecting other people’s rights,” he says. Even if there were, Rule 21 requires that prejudice to potential defendants must significantly outweigh the presumption of public access. That’s simply not the case here, he claims. There is genuinely “overwhelming” public interest in this report, which involves the conduct of public officials in a national election. 

Turning to whether O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80 applies, Clyde points to two examples of prior special purpose grand jury reports that were published in local legal gazettes pursuant to that provision of the statute. He notes that the reports also criticized the conduct of public officials–yet those criticisms were not withheld or redacted. What’s more, he adds that publication could not possibly invade the grand jury’s deliberations by releasing the fruits of those deliberations, since it was the grand jury itself that asked that the report be published.

Clyde finishes by asking Judge McBurney to order publication of the report under O.C.G.A. § 15-12-80. He says he will submit a written response to the district attorney’s position, which it is articulating for the first time at this hearing. 

Then McBurney turns back to Wakeford for the DA’s office: “I see the post-it notes flying,” he observes. He invites Wakeford to provide a brief rebuttal.

Wakeford trudges back to the lectern. He argues that the media intervenors have strayed too far from the language in the case law that determines what constitutes a “court record” for purposes of the Rule 21 presumption. Wakeford touches on language about records that fall within the “traditional” records accessible to the public, and attempts to argue that the grand jury’s report is categorically not “traditional.” The document is better understood not as a court record but as a piece of an ongoing criminal investigation, he contends. Moreover, Wakeford reiterates his belief that McBurney has discretion to determine timing of the report’s release because the grand jurors did not stipulate when the report should be published. 

Finally, Wakeford stresses again that the district attorney is grateful to the grand jurors for the time and sacrifice they provided. He says she wants to honor their wishes, but is also the steward of an ongoing criminal investigation. The time will come for publication, he says, but “it’s just not the time.” With that, he strides back to his seat at the table with Willis.

Now McBurney is ready to wrap things up. He proposes thinking about it all a bit, and suggests that he will contact intervenors or the DA’s office if he has questions that require a response. “As I said early on, there will be no rash decisions,” he says, assuring everyone that the report is not going to drop in the public’s lap with no warning. “I will circle back and we’ll figure out the best way to move forward with this.” 

Willis says she has nothing further, and she thanks McBurney. Before we end, however, Clyde returns to the lectern to talk about the possibility of appeal—if things get that far. If there is a ruling of non-disclosure, he asks McBurney to reach the issue of Rule 21 in particular. In reply, McBurney says that any order he issues will include each of the bases raised at today’s hearing. 

With that, McBurney summarily concludes the hearing: “That’s it, everyone.” 

Willis practically bolts from her chair and out the door to my right.

Anna Bower
Anna Bower is Lawfare's Fulton County correspondent. She hails from Georgia.
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53 days ago
Washington, DC
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Pluralistic: Why the Fed wants to crush workers (19 Jan 2023)

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A vintage postcard illustration of the Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC. The building is spattered with blood. In the foreground is a medieval woodcut of a physician bleeding a woman into a bowl while another woman holds a bowl to catch the blood. The physician's head has been replaced with that of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Why the Fed wants to crush workers (permalink)

The US Federal Reserve has two imperatives: keeping employment high and inflation low. But when these come into conflict – when unemployment falls to near-zero – the Fed forgets all about full employment and cranks up interest rates to "cool the economy" (that is, "to destroy jobs and increase unemployment").

An economy "cools down" when workers have less money, which means that the prices offered for goods and services go down, as fewer workers have less money to spend. As with every macroeconomic policy, raising interest rates has "distributional effects," which is economist-speak for "winners and losers."

Predicting who wins and who loses when interest rates go up requires that we understand the economic relations between different kinds of rich people, as well as relations between rich people and working people. Writing today for The American Prospect's superb Great Inflation Myths series, Gerald Epstein and Aaron Medlin break it down:


Recall that the Fed has two priorities: full employment and low interest rates. But when it weighs these priorities, it does so through "finance colored" glasses: as an institution, the Fed requires help from banks to carry out its policies, while Fed employees rely on those banks for cushy, high-paid jobs when they rotate out of public service.

Inflation is bad for banks, whose fortunes rise and fall based on the value of the interest payments they collect from debtors. When the value of the dollar declines, lenders lose and borrowers win. Think of it this way: say you borrow $10,000 to buy a car, at a moment when $10k is two months' wages for the average US worker. Then inflation hits: prices go up, workers demand higher pay to keep pace, and a couple years later, $10k is one month's wages.

If your wages kept pace with inflation, you're now getting twice as many dollars as you were when you took out the loan. Don't get too excited: these dollars buy the same quantity of goods as your pre-inflation salary. However, the share of your income that's eaten by that monthly car-loan payment has been cut in half. You just got a real-terms 50% discount on your car loan!

Inflation is great news for borrowers, bad news for lenders, and any given financial institution is more likely to be a lender than a borrower. The finance sector is the creditor sector, and the Fed is institutionally and personally loyal to the finance sector. When creditors and debtors have opposing interests, the Fed helps creditors win.

The US is a debtor nation. Not the national debt – federal debt and deficits are just scorekeeping. The US government spends money into existence and taxes it out of existence, every single day. If the USG has a deficit, that means it spent more than than it taxed, which is another way of saying that it left more dollars in the economy this year than it took out of it. If the US runs a "balanced budget," then every dollar that was created this year was matched by another dollar that was annihilated. If the US runs a "surplus," then there are fewer dollars left for us to use than there were at the start of the year.

The US debt that matters isn't the federal debt, it's the private sector's debt. Your debt and mine. We are a debtor nation. Half of Americans have less than $400 in the bank.


Most Americans have little to no retirement savings. Decades of wage stagnation has left Americans with less buying power, and the economy has been running on consumer debt for a generation. Meanwhile, working Americans have been burdened with forms of inflation the Fed doesn't give a shit about, like skyrocketing costs for housing and higher education.

When politicians jawbone about "inflation," they're talking about the inflation that matters to creditors. Debtors – the bottom 90% – have been burdened with three decades' worth of steadily mounting inflation that no one talks about. Yesterday, the Prospect ran Nancy Folbre's outstanding piece on "care inflation" – the skyrocketing costs of day-care, nursing homes, eldercare, etc:


As Folbre wrote, these costs are doubly burdensome, because they fall on family members (almost entirely women), who have to sacrifice their own earning potential to care for children, or aging people, or disabled family members. The cost of care has increased every year since 1997:


So while politicians and economists talk about rescuing "savers" from having their nest-eggs whittled away by inflation, these savers represent a minuscule and dwindling proportion of the public. The real beneficiaries of interest rate hikes isn't savers, it's lenders.

Full employment is bad for the wealthy. When everyone has a job, wages go up, because bosses can't threaten workers with "exile to the reserve army of the unemployed." If workers are afraid of ending up jobless and homeless, then executives seeking to increase their own firms' profits can shift money from workers to shareholders without their workers quitting (and if the workers do quit, there are plenty more desperate for their jobs).

What's more, those same executives own huge portfolios of "financialized" assets – that is, they own claims on the interest payments that borrowers in the economy pay to creditors.

The purpose of raising interest rates is to "cool the economy," a euphemism for increasing unemployment and reducing wages. Fighting inflation helps creditors and hurts debtors. The same people who benefit from increased unemployment also benefit from low inflation.

Thus: "the current Fed policy of rapidly raising interest rates to fight inflation by throwing people out of work serves as a wealth protection device for the top one percent."

Now, it's also true that high interest rates tend to tank the stock market, and rich people also own a lot of stock. This is where it's important to draw distinctions within the capital class: the merely rich do things for a living (and thus care about companies' productive capacity), while the super-rich own things for a living, and care about debt service.

Epstein and Medlin are economists at UMass Amherst, and they built a model that looks at the distributional outcomes (that is, the winners and losers) from interest rate hikes, using data from 40 years' worth of Fed rate hikes:


They concluded that "The net impact of the Fed’s restrictive monetary policy on the wealth of the top one percent depends on the timing and balance of [lower inflation and higher interest]. It turns out that in recent decades the outcome has, on balance, worked out quite well for the wealthy."

How well? "Without intervention by the Fed, a 6 percent acceleration of inflation would erode their wealth by around 30 percent in real terms after three years…when the Fed intervenes with an aggressive tightening, the 1%'s wealth only declines about 16 percent after three years. That is a 14 percent net gain in real terms."

This is why you see a split between the one-percenters and the ten-percenters in whether the Fed should continue to jack interest rates up. For the 1%, inflation hikes produce massive, long term gains. For the 10%, those gains are smaller and take longer to materialize.

Meanwhile, when there is mass unemployment, both groups benefit from lower wages and are happy to keep interest rates at zero, a rate that (in the absence of a wealth tax) creates massive asset bubbles that drive up the value of houses, stocks and other things that rich people own lots more of than everyone else.

This explains a lot about the current enthusiasm for high interest rates, despite high interest rates' ability to cause inflation, as Joseph Stiglitz and Ira Regmi wrote in their recent Roosevelt Institute paper:


The two esteemed economists compared interest rate hikes to medieval bloodletting, where "doctors" did "more of the same when their therapy failed until the patient either had a miraculous recovery (for which the bloodletters took credit) or died (which was more likely)."

As they document, workers today aren't recreating the dread "wage-price spiral" of the 1970s: despite low levels of unemployment, workers wages still aren't keeping up with inflation. Inflation itself is falling, for the fairly obvious reason that covid supply-chain shocks are dwindling and substitutes for Russian gas are coming online.

Economic activity is "largely below trend," and with healthy levels of sales in "non-traded goods" (imports), meaning that the stuff that American workers are consuming isn't coming out of America's pool of resources or manufactured goods, and that spending is leaving the US economy, rather than contributing to an American firm's buying power.

Despite this, the Fed has a substantial cheering section for continued interest rates, composed of the ultra-rich and their lickspittle Renfields. While the specifics are quite modern, the underlying dynamic is as old as civilization itself.

Historian Michael Hudson specializes in the role that debt and credit played in different societies. As he's written, ancient civilizations long ago discovered that without periodic debt cancellation, an ever larger share of a societies' productive capacity gets diverted to the whims of a small elite of lenders, until civilization itself collapses:


Here's how that dynamic goes: to produce things, you need inputs. Farmers need seed, fertilizer, and farm-hands to produce crops. Crucially, you need to acquire these inputs before the crops come in – which means you need to be able to buy inputs before you sell the crops. You have to borrow.

In good years, this works out fine. You borrow money, buy your inputs, produce and sell your goods, and repay the debt. But even the best-prepared producer can get a bad beat: floods, droughts, blights, pandemics…Play the game long enough and eventually you'll find yourself unable to repay the debt.

In the next round, you go into things owing more money than you can cover, even if you have a bumper crop. You sell your crop, pay as much of the debt as you can, and go into the next season having to borrow more on top of the overhang from the last crisis. This continues over time, until you get another crisis, which you have no reserves to cover because they've all been eaten up paying off the last crisis. You go further into debt.

Over the long run, this dynamic produces a society of creditors whose wealth increases every year, who can make coercive claims on the productive labor of everyone else, who not only owes them money, but will owe even more as a result of doing the work that is demanded of them.

Successful ancient civilizations fought this with Jubilee: periodic festivals of debt-forgiveness, which were announced when new monarchs assumed their thrones, or after successful wars, or just whenever the creditor class was getting too powerful and threatened the crown.

Of course, creditors hated this and fought it bitterly, just as our modern one-percenters do. When rulers managed to hold them at bay, their nations prospered. But when creditors captured the state and abolished Jubilee, as happened in ancient Rome, the state collapsed:


Are we speedrunning the collapse of Rome? It's not for me to say, but I strongly recommend reading Margaret Coker's in-depth Propublica investigation on how title lenders (loansharks that hit desperate, low-income borrowers with triple-digit interest loans) fired any employee who explained to a borrower that they needed to make more than the minimum payment, or they'd never pay off their debts:


Hey look at this (permalink)

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This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Robbie Williams: “‘Piracy’ is great” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/2673983.stm

#15yrsago Florida school board approves McDonald’s report-cards and school-bus audio ads https://web.archive.org/web/20080121065543/https://consumerist.com/346745/bus-radio-advertises-to-school+bound-kids

#15yrsago World of Warcraft limits your wealth to 2^31 copper https://web.archive.org/web/20080117214357/http://www.wowinsider.com/2008/01/16/apparently-you-can-have-too-much-gold/

#10yrsago How the vile Daily Mail handles Creative Commons licenses https://memex.craphound.com/2013/01/19/how-the-vile-daily-mail-handles-creative-commons-licenses/

#5yrsago Trump’s “consumer protection bureau” will let the $50B payday lending industry gouge the poorest Americans with triple-digit interest rates https://www.latimes.com/business/lazarus/la-fi-lazarus-cfpb-payday-lenders-20180119-story.html

#5yrsago The Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s 18th District is a torture advocate who worked at Abu Ghraib https://theintercept.com/2018/01/19/gop-candidate-for-pennsylvania-special-election-is-a-former-abu-ghraib-interrogation-consultant/

#5yrsago It’s Poe’s birthday, so here’s Neil Gaiman reading The Raven https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jSHKPp-66w

#5yrsago America’s large hospital chains will start manufacturing generic drugs in order to beat shkrelic price-gouging https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/01/peeved-by-price-gouging-and-shortages-hospitals-will-now-make-their-own-drugs/

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

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Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

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56 days ago
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60 days ago

The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits

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I love books. If I go to the bookstore to check a price, I walk out with three books I probably didn’t know existed beforehand. I buy second-hand books by the bagful at the Friends of the Library sale, while explaining to my wife that it’s for a good cause. Even the smell of books grips me, that faint aroma of earthy vanilla that wafts up at you when you flip a page.

The problem is that my book-buying habit outpaces my ability to read them. This leads to FOMO and occasional pangs of guilt over the unread volumes spilling across my shelves. Sound familiar?

But it’s possible this guilt is entirely misplaced. According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, these unread volumes represent what he calls an “antilibrary,” and he believes our antilibraries aren’t signs of intellectual failings. Quite the opposite.

Umberto Eco signs a book. You can see a portion of the author’s vast antilibrary in the background.

(Photo from Wikimedia)

Living with an antilibrary

Taleb laid out the concept of the antilibrary in his best-selling bookThe Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. He starts with a discussion of the prolific author and scholar Umberto Eco, whose personal library housed a staggering 30,000 books.

When Eco hosted visitors, many would marvel at the size of his library and assumed it represented the host’s knowledge — which, make no mistake, was expansive. But a few savvy visitors realized the truth: Eco’s library wasn’t voluminous because he had read so much; it was voluminous because he desired to read so much more.

Eco stated as much. Doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation, he found he could only read about 25,200 books if he read one book a day, every day, between the ages of ten and eighty. A “trifle,” he laments, compared to the million books available at any good library.

Drawing from Eco’s example, Taleb deduces:

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. [Your] library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary. [Emphasis original]

Maria Popova, whose post at Brain Pickings summarizes Taleb’s argument beautifully, notes that our tendency is to overestimate the value of what we know, while underestimating the value of what we don’t know. Taleb’s antilibrary flips this tendency on its head.

The antilibrary’s value stems from how it challenges our self-estimation by providing a constant, niggling reminder of all we don’t know. The titles lining my own home remind me that I know little to nothing about cryptography, the evolution of feathers, Italian folklore, illicit drug use in the Third Reich, and whatever entomophagy is. (Don’t spoil it; I want to be surprised.)

“We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended,” Taleb writes. “It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations.”

These selves of unexplored ideas propel us to continue reading, continue learning, and never be comfortable that we know enough. Jessica Stillman calls this realization intellectual humility.

People who lack this intellectual humility — those without a yearning to acquire new books or visit their local library — may enjoy a sense of pride at having conquered their personal collection, but such a library provides all the use of a wall-mounted trophy. It becomes an “ego-booting appendage” for decoration alone. Not a living, growing resource we can learn from until we are 80 — and, if we are lucky, a few years beyond.

Book swap attendees will no doubt find their antilibrary/tsundoku grow.

(Photo from Flickr)


I love Taleb’s concept, but I must admit I find the label “antilibrary” a bit lacking. For me, it sounds like a plot device in a knockoff Dan Brown novel — “Quick! We have to stop the Illuminati before they use the antilibrary to erase all the books in existence.”

Writing for the New York Times, Kevin Mims also doesn’t care for Taleb’s label. Thankfully, his objection is a bit more practical: “I don’t really like Taleb’s term ‘antilibrary.’ A library is a collection of books, many of which remain unread for long periods of time. I don’t see how that differs from an antilibrary.”

His preferred label is a loanword from Japan: tsundoku. Tsundoku is the Japanese word for the stack(s) of books you’ve purchased but haven’t read. Its morphology combines tsunde-oku (letting things pile up) and dukosho (reading books).

The word originated in the late 19th century as a satirical jab at teachers who owned books but didn’t read them. While that is opposite of Taleb’s point, today the word carries no stigma in Japanese culture. It’s also differs from bibliomania, which is the obsessive collecting of books for the sake of the collection, not their eventual reading.

The value of tsundoku

Granted, I’m sure there is some braggadocious bibliomaniac out there who owns a collection comparable to a small national library, yet rarely cracks a cover. Even so, studies have shown that book ownership and reading typically go hand in hand to great effect.

One such study found that children who grew up in homes with between 80 and 350 books showed improved literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology skills as adults. Exposure to books, the researchers suggested, boosts these cognitive abilities by making reading a part of life’s routines and practices.

Many other studies have shown reading habits relay a bevy of benefits. They suggest reading can reduce stress, satisfy social connection needs, bolster social skills and empathy, and boost certain cognitive skills. And that’s just fiction! Reading nonfiction is correlated with success and high achievement, helps us better understand ourselves and the world, and gives you the edge come trivia night.

In her article, Jessica Stillman ponders whether the antilibrary acts as a counter to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias that leads ignorant people to assume their knowledge or abilities are more proficient than they truly are. Since people are not prone to enjoying reminders of their ignorance, their unread books push them toward, if not mastery, then at least a ever-expanding understanding of competence.

“All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people,” Stillman writes.

Whether you prefer the term antilibrary, tsundoku, or something else entirely, the value of an unread book is its power to get you to read it.

The post The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits appeared first on Big Think.

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77 days ago
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Bring back personal blogging

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Twitter is creaking. Social media seems less fun than ever. Maybe it’s time to get a little more personal.

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78 days ago
As I've said more or less all of this before, i'll just say Hear hear, let's get to it.
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Misogynist internet grifter arrested after humiliating tweets gave away his location, or why you don't mess with Greta

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Andrew Tate, a misogynist jerk I had not heard of before he took his shot at Greta Thunberg and got his faced rubbed in it by the no-nonsense environmentalist. The universe, in turn, put its boot up Tate's ass, and the pizza boxes in his rebuttal video gave away his location to authorities, resulting in his prompt arrest for human trafficking. — Read the rest

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81 days ago
*chef's kiss* May he be convicted and rot in prison, the shitheel.
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