Spotlight

. . , now the rich hold all the aces up their sleeve. This is why the issue of intellectual property rights has acquired such a huge importance today: Rich countries want to make sure they get money for their inventions. Poor countries see it as just another obstacle to their development. To appreciate the irony of it, note that Disney Productions loudly demands protection against “piracy” of their DVDs while some of their most successful films are based on stories created precisely in the countries about whose “piracy” Disney complains. But the intellectual property rights for One Thousand and One Nights have long since expired (or rather never existed), while Disney’s rights are very much alive.

How does one claim rights to something one never created?

The real median wage in the United States has been stagnant for twenty-five years, despite an almost doubling of the GDP per capita. About one-half of all real income gains between 1976 and 2006 accrued to the richest 5 percent of households. The new “Gilded Age” was understandably not very popular among the middle class who saw their purchasing power not budge for years. . . A way to make it seem that the middle class was earning more than it did was to increase its purchasing power through broader and more accessible credit. People began to live by accumulating ever-rising debts on their credit cards, taking on more car debts or higher mortgages. . . Thus was born the great American consumption binge that saw the household debt increase from 48 percent of GDP in the early 1980s to 100 percent of GDP before the crisis [of 2008].

Branko Milanovic gives us a good dose of reality in his book The Haves and the Have-Nots, more than most want to come to terms with. It’s more of the same warnings we’ve been hearing for years, but still haven’t learned the lessons. Debt props up the growth economy. It’s a false growth. The other irony of this is that the rich, who invested in the debt products that bolstered the boom, were actually betting on (they call it “investing in”) bad debt. Then they were bailed out by taxpayers, and then they blamed the consumer for taking on more debt than he/she can handle. Please, Wall Street, make up your mind, do you want consumers to be responsible or do you want them to go into debt to make you rich? Oh, wait a minute, irresponsible consumers rely on irresponsible lenders. This is not a “chicken or the egg” conundrum, it starts with irresponsible bankers knowingly lending to consumers incapable of making the payments.

It’s no coincidence that the peak of public education’s success, and the peak of the peace movement, and the peak of income equality coincided in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s. It’s no coincidence that since then public schools have been gutted, that the income gap has widened to pre-depression levels, that attitudes towards war and patriotism have rebounded. Unlike the past though, there’s a big difference in how the new inequality survives. There are new means to keep the masses quiescent—hundreds of TV channels and thousands of vacuous videos, games, and websites to keep people distracted from the slow sapping of their power that’s happening right in front of their eyes. Distract the people with war and trivia. This keeps them voting against their own best interest, and keeps the asset spread widening without inciting revolt. Keep ’em fat ‘n’ happy ‘n’ stupid.

If you’re looking, if you’re paying attention, there are voices of reason to be heard. Here are words to express what happens when the economy crashes. Its a video, a history lesson, a pile of basic economic principles we need to understand. Be sure to watch to the whole program. He will undoubtedly say something to piss you off, but his message must be taken in its entirety. Bits and pieces, out of context, will inevitably cause misunderstanding. Richard Wolff is telling us the facts we may not wish to acknowledge. It’s a story the press won’t tell us. It’s a subject the media giants won’t give 30 seconds of airtime to cover. This failure is not by accident. Why? Richard knows why, and he opens his big mouth to let you know why, too. And it’s time people open their big ears to listen. Here’s what happens when the [. . . Hits the Fan].

The Haves and the Have-Nots, Branko Milanovic, Basic Books, 2011

Capitalism Hits the Fan, Richard Wolff, Olive Branch Press, 2009

[Gini Index]

With all this to chew on, I’m taking a break. Happy New Year. . .

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Finding Your Way

Let’s imagine I know nothing about audio. I have a nice computer, but I’m looking to get better sound for my music collection. In the UK, I might:

1. Read the brochure for the UK’s largest hi-fi retailer, Richer Sounds, complete with some of the most incomprehensible subjective recommendations for each piece of equipment, courtesy of What Hifi?.

2. Head over to some PC enthusiast sites (which I trust), where I find, amidst reviews of computer components that they wouldn’t dream of comparing outside the numbers, a professional reviewer complaining about the “turbidness” of an expensive sound card’s output and other such subjective gems.

3. Go Googling and likely end up on a forum surrounded by people debating the different sounds of USB cables.

I did all three, give or take, upon first getting into audio. It wasn’t so much that I weighed up any evidence or made a conscious decision to buy into BS: it never occurred to me that there was anything outside the BS. The BS was simply the facts of audio reproduction, unquestionable in their ubiquity.

I almost ended up buying an amplifier with a fatally flawed topology (God knows how it would measure) and some esoteric DAC with an overheating problem, both of which would have cost not inconsiderable sums of money. It strikes me that the only reason I didn’t buy these things is due to the slightly obsessive amount of research I did, which most normal/sane/busy people would not undertake.

If you ask a random person with little interest in audio about, say, audiophile speaker cables, the response tends not to be one of “That’s silly,” but “Caring about differences that small is that silly – I bet they’re really hard to hear.” That there are audible differences between all these things (excluding the differences from things like impedance) is now taken as fact.

From that perspective, how do you see audio returning to sanity? Audiophilia has succeeded in not so much skewing the ridiculous “Woo vs Science” argument, but rendering it irrelevant to 90% of consumers by removing the choice as to which to believe. You believe what you are presented with, and by the time you are aware of other views you’ve very likely bought into (in a very literal sense!) the silly belief system, and a whole array of powerful cognitive drivers come into play to keep you onboard.

How *can* audio return to sanity when the *intuitive* position, for someone who is new to it, is one of “Everything sounds different and the best way to judge it is by sitting down and casually listening”, reinforced at every possible turn by virtually everything?

By the time it transpires what a terrible position the intuitive one was, all is lost, if you’ll pardon the hyperbole…communities that even approach HydrogenAudio’s stance seem destined to remain a minority.

—from The Counterintuitive Nature of Audio Sanity

Once you read past the rather awkward writing, there’s not much for me to add. It’s all been covered before, many times, by many people, yet still there are knowledgeable, educated, high level professionals, even electrical engineers that have fallen into the mystery bag of nebulous thought patterns and gotten lost in the electron cloud of quantum uncertainty. It happens almost imperceptibly. The tool used is repetition. Repeat something long and loud enough, and soon enough it becomes an everyday, ordinary idea accepted without question. It’s the power of suggestion; little mentions that you may at first ignore, but you hear it again, and again, and once more, and over lunch, and the next time you read a magazine, and then it gets slipped into another conversation, and soon you can’t ignore it anymore. Soon, without your awareness, it’s taken hold. You accept it as true, argue with those who doubt, and dig in your heels.

Clue number one for detecting a false claim that’s become a standard belief is controversy. The more controversial the subject, the more likely it’s a fabricated debate.

Number two is confusion. The established and verifiable facts will be presented as undetermined, incomplete, or inconclusive. To see through the falsehoods, look carefully at the evidence. Much of the time the evidence isn’t even weak, it’s nonexistent. Sometimes the false argument relies on the absence of evidence, or an argument from ignorance, either of which is a logical black hole. Another trick of the trade is blinding you with science. Yes, they may use real, true, factual science to “explain” the product, but never once actually show you the measured results, or if they do, won’t explain whether those measurements are audible by normal human ears. They are hiding behind the science. But the bigger deceit is hiding behind omissions. The science they’ve left out is critical. The consequence of these tactics is more confusion, more controversy, more divided opinions.

The third clue is denial. When they can’t get around the established and verified facts, the irrefutable double-blind tests that have been repeated many times, they simply deny the facts. They insist that there are mysteries we can’t understand (argument from ignorance, again), or that our ears are so miraculous that the most sensitive scientific instruments can’t compare. It’s a baffling mindset.

To find your way through the haze, step back, take a breath, and use your higher functioning prefrontal cortex. Sorting through it all is a pain. We shouldn’t have to do it, but as long as people let themselves be overrun by the wrong motives, e.g., money, power, fame, we’re going to have these issues. We won’t be able to rely on experts, because some, who knows which ones, are going to exploit others lack of knowledge, and then blame the victim for not knowing better. Keep your skepticism on high alert. And when someone accuses you of being closed-minded, keep in mind, there’s a giant difference between openminded and gullible.

So special wires and fuses are ONLY critical in audio sound quality? Nobody else has a need for special performance tuned $50 110 volt AC fuses. Nobody else has a need for better performance from $1000 wires to run 3 feet?

Seriously, how could anybody buy into this kind of logic? It is predicated on audio equipment being somehow different from all other electronics. Why wouldn’t your digital camera provide shaper images and better color from a better USB cable. Why wouldn’t all printers or PCs perform that much better with a better fuse? Why do people upgrade RAM in PCs but nobody buys special digital performance PC fuses so that the digital bits have rounder zeros and sharper 1s? Why wouldn’t your car run better and faster with a different fuse or specialist battery cablesafter all modern cars all run on electronics?

—from another a’phile forum in response to those who support the validity of burn-in, high-end wire, and other audio x-factors.

p.s. I did an internet search for “audio woo.” Out of the top 100 results, one was for Wallaby Woo. Huh? One was Anthony Hamilton performing “Woo.” Another was Mai Woo Chand audio download. Ninety-four of the results referenced a company so guilty of audio woo that it uses woo in its name. Is that ironically brilliant marketing, or just plain stupid? Only three results out of one hundred linked to a page on the subject of audio woo. Ninety-seven percent of the search results were irrelevant. Makes you wonder. . .

p.p.s. Just read this one on an a’phile forum, “If you can hear a .001 ohm difference behind a power supply and a transformer, can you also hear the capacitance of the squirrels on the power lines?

p.p.p.s. High-end is not equivalent to High Fidelity.

If you’d like to read the entire thread, here’s the link : [The Counterintuitive Nature of Audio Sanity]

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