Tuesday, February 24, 2015

That's a nice Silicon Valley you've got there, shame if something happened to it

Make them an offer they can't refuse
The Google Self-Driving Car is a project by Google that involves developing technology for autonomous cars, mainly electric cars. The software powering Google's cars is called Google Chauffeur. (...)The project is currently being led by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View. Thrun's team at Stanford created the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and its US$2 million prize from the United States Department of Defense.(...) On December 22, 2014, Google unveiled a fully functioning prototype of their driverless car and planned to test it on San Francisco Bay Area roads beginning in 2015. Wikipedia 
If I were looking for the best example of the social/political tone-deafness, the lack E.I., of IT folk, it would be the "Google Self-Driving Car". 

To me it is perfectly obvious that the name "Self-Driving Car" is a red herring, because I don't think that there is much of a market for a driverless car, simply because Americans love to drive their cars, it is one of the last places where they can enjoy the sensation of freedom and control. 

What I think that industry, specifically the transport industry might be very interested in is "Self-Driving Trucks" (buses, taxis, etc.). Eliminating truck drivers means that big companies, like Wal-Mart wouldn't have to deal with pesky unions like the Teamster's union...  Without truck drivers, there would be no Teamster's union. Wouldn't that be great? I mean they have all sorts of nasty Mafia connections, don't they? If we eliminated the truck drivers, we wouldn't have to worry about the Mafia anymore, would we?

Whaddaya, whaddaya... ya outta ya fuckin' mind?

No, really, does Google understand exactly who they are trying to put out of business? To put it more bluntly, do Larry Page and Sergey Brin have an algorithm that can locate Jimmy Hoffa's body on Google Maps? DS

Saturday, February 14, 2015

21rst Century Populism: the New "Us" Against the Same Old "Them"

Mark Bittman published a very important article last week in the New York Times, entitled, "What is the Purpose of Society?".  Important, because in just a few words he gets to the very heart of political action.

He begins with the most basic problem imaginable: food:
The world of food and agriculture symbolizes most of what’s gone wrong in the United States. But because food is plentiful for most people, and the damage that conventional agriculture does isn’t readily evident to everyone, it’s important that we look deeper, beyond food, to the structure that underlies most decisions: the political economy.(...) Think about it this way: There are two kinds of operating systems, hard and soft. A clock is a hard system. We know what it’s for, we know when it isn’t working, and we know that 10 clock experts would agree on how to fix it — and could do so. Soft systems, like agriculture and economics, are more complex. We don’t all agree on goals, and we don’t agree on whether things are working or in need of repair. For example, is contemporary American agriculture a system for nourishing people and providing a livelihood for farmers? Or is it one for denuding the nation’s topsoil while poisoning land, water, workers and consumers and enriching corporations? Our collective actions would indicate that our principles favor the latter; that has to change. Mark Bittman - New York Times
Toward the end of his article comes a paragraph which, in my opinion  could be the political strategy that "connects the dots" between many heterogeneous groups and issues in a way that might finally articulate a serious progressive challenge to today's floundering "conservative revolution".
It’s clear to most everyone, regardless of politics, that the big issues — labor, race, food, immigration, education and so on — must be “fixed,” and that fixing any one of these will help with the others. But this kind of change must begin with an agreement about principles, specifically principles of human rights and well-being rather than principles of making a favorable business climate.
I find this striking because it connects with what Podemos, the wildly successful, out of the blue, political movement that is shaking the foundations of Spain's establishment is saying these days.
Podemos originated in the aftermath of the 2011–12 Spanish protests against inequality and corruption. It is a left-wing populist party that seeks to address the problems of inequality, unemployment and economic malaise that followed in the wake of the European debt crisis. (...) Podemos is currently the 2nd largest Spanish party by number of members; it became the 3rd largest party within the first 20 days it allowed membership, with 100,000 signing up in that period, and currently has more than 344,000 members. Wikipedia 
Basically their message is that today's problems are not so much a question of "left versus right", but more a question of "up versus down"; "down" being defined as "la gente", a less political buzzword for the people than "el pueblo". This is a demographic smorgasbord that ranges all over the political system but who are united, perhaps unknowingly, in their mutual suffering, the common adversary of all of them being "La casta" (the "caste"), defined as a tiny minority of amazingly wealthy and powerful corporations and individuals who control and manipulate the financial, political and mainstream information systems to their benefit and to the detriment of the vast majority of their fellow citizens.

Finally we are talking about finding a common denominator shared throughout most of the population. Those suffering could include anyone from a civil servant trying to fix the climate or guarantee the purity of what Americans eat or a small, "main street" businessman smothered by the "big boxes", all the way to someone flipping burgers in McDonald's, and every imaginable minority: all could feel oppressed by the system as it stands.

The "casta", then, is the common adversary of all "la gente", the people, that is to say, everybody that is not super-rich and powerful.

In American terms it would sound something like "everybody against the one percent".

What sort of mentality are "we the people" facing? Let's ask Bloomberg:
It's not necessarily natural to act selfishly. Decades of research suggest that humans are hard-wired to reciprocate kind deeds because doing so offers an evolutionary advantage. Yet being at work seems to strip people of a desire to help people. "Organizations are more future-oriented," Pfeffer says. "They emphasize calculation, rather than morality and duty." He and Belmi cite prior research showing how companies have increasingly walked back promised pension benefits, cut retirees' medical insurance benefits, and laid off staff in the absence of financial strains. Even though research suggests the obvious—that being stingy about reciprocation can make employees less productive and more likely to quit—companies still seem to have no qualms about screwing over workers. Bloomberg Business
Clearly then, contrary to much that "they" would like "us" to believe, (understatement warning) the corporate model cannot serve the well being of the community as a whole.

As Mark Bittman says,
Shouldn’t adequate shelter, clothing, food and health care be universal? Isn’t everyone owed a society that works toward guaranteeing the well-being of its citizens? Shouldn’t we prioritize avoiding self-destruction?
You could say it louder perhaps, but I doubt if you could say it more clearly. DS

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

A European "Red Spring"?

Podemos Demonstration - Puerta del Sol, Madrid, 1-31
If it was conventional wisdom that a bunch of unelected bankers looking out for rich people were the reason everyone was out of work, politicians would be forced to explain to angry voters why we had this crazy system and might actually consider doing something about it. The late Aaron Swartz
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Albert Einstein 
The economic slump in much of the EU has encouraged the rise of populist parties of the right and left. The sense of insecurity on which the populists feed has been further encouraged by the spillover from the conflict in the Middle East — whether in the form of terrorism or mass illegal migration. Gideon Rachman - Financial Times

We must end austerity so as not to let fear kill democracy. Unless the forces of progress and democracy change Europe, it will be Marine Le Pen and her far-right allies that change it for us. Alexis Tsipras - Financial Times 
Tens of thousands of people have massed in central Madrid for a rally organised by radical Spanish leftists Podemos. The "March for Change" is one of the party's first outdoor mass rallies, as it looks to build on the recent victory of its close allies Syriza in Greece. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias told the crowd a "wind of change" was starting to blow through Europe. Podemos has surged ahead in opinion polls, and has vowed to write off part of Spain's debt if it comes to power.(...) Several of Madrid's main avenues became a sea of people and purple, the party's colour, he says, after its supporters travelled from all over Spain.(...) Broadcaster TVE reported that hundreds of thousands were at the demonstration, but there was no official tally. BBC News
Before we get started, it would be useful to remember that the founding "parents" of the "conservative revolution" or "neo-liberalism" as it is known in Europe, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both died of Alzheimer´s disease... This might not be the cause of the ongoing disaster, but it sure is a nifty metaphor for the situation we are in.
 
Regular readers of this blog know that one of my favorite hobby horses is criticizing the blockheadedness of post Cold War politicians who seem to have totally lost their fear of popular wrath.


Those who are cheerfully going about the work of dismantling the welfare state seem blissfully unaware that the welfare state was created by men as, or even more conservative then themselves, (Bismark, for example) in order to avoid revolutionary social movements which would destabilize and jeopardize the entire economic system and society itself. This was a strategy that was so eminently successful that it practically has destroyed revolutionary praxis. 

In my opinion endeavoring to dismantle the welfare state at the collapse of the Soviet Union is similar to a person who has successfully survived an operation for lung cancer and endured the ensuing chemotherapy and then, finding himself now in  remission, decides that it is ok for him to go back to smoking, the very thing that caused his cancer in the first place: idiotic.

It occurs to me that this tunnel vision, expressed in the obsession of  placating the financial markets, a vision which  ignores popular anger, is the result of the rise and predominance of the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) economy and the diminishing influence of manufacturing and agriculture.

The financial sector works with platonic mathematical models: money in the abstract moves with the speed of light. Fortunes that buy admiration, sex and luxury are made by simply tapping the key of a computer in a cubicle or on a trading floor.  All very clean and a bit autistic.

Reality, unfortunately, in as much as it touches living organisms, is never that clean and neat.

Thus farmers and manufacturers understand how the world of living creatures works better than financiers do.

They understand better, because both farmers and manufacturers exploit living creatures for profit and, leaving ethical question aside, to do this they need to have what farmers call "stock sense": an understanding of the animal off of which they make their living. It is this "stock sense", for example, that leads German manufacturers to have union representatives sitting on their boards of directors

Politics is not about numbers, it is about human beings. Numbers are rational and humans are animals that are  rational enough to get themselves into terrible trouble, but not really rational enough to extricate themselves from the trouble they can create. That might be the signature of our species and the epitaph of our planet.  DS

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Like 9-11, the Paris massacre is not about "Us"



Just as in the aftermath of 9-11, the endless commentary following the Charlie Hebdo massacre all seem to be reworkings of George W. Bush's "why do they hate us?" speech with its long list of our democratic virtues and the perpetrators' lack of the same:
They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
The western commentators then and now, just as Bush himself did, mostly ignore the elementary, basic, central, core truth in next paragraph of his speech:
They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
That is really what this is all about. What Al Qaeda and ISIS want is quite simple and our role in their getting it is merely instrumental.

Coming from a culture as self referential as ours it is very difficult to get our minds around the idea that neither Al Qaeda or ISIS care a fig about our "values" as lived in our countries, they care about their values as lived in their countries... This is not about "us", it is about "them" and our values and our power are to be exploited to change those "existing governments".

If these attacks cause anti-Muslim sentiment in western countries, so much the better... France's Marine Le Pen and Germany's Pegida movement are some of radical Islam's most valuable western assets as they prove to the masses of "Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan" the Islamist message that their unelected rulers are collaborators with the enemies of their religion and culture.

Thus, we in the west are only tools, levers, in their struggle to take power away from rulers such as the Saudi royal family, who Islamist activists see as apostate, libertine, puppets and tools of western kafirs (unbelievers), and then taking power from them, create a Islam-wide caliphate with its capital in the holy city of Mecca toward which devout Muslims pray five times a day.
As the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of Muhammad's first revelation of the Quran (specifically, a cave 3 km (2 mi) from Mecca), Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in the religion of Islam and a pilgrimage to it known as the Hajj is obligatory for all able Muslims. Mecca is home to the Kaaba, by majority description Islam's holiest site, as well as being the direction of Muslim prayer. Mecca was long ruled by Muhammad's descendants, the sharifs, acting either as independent rulers or as vassals to larger polities. It was absorbed into Saudi Arabia in 1925. Wikipedia
At bottom both 9-11 and the Paris massacre are both examples of what 19th century anarchists called  the "propaganda of the deed" and "we" are not the target audience, the people of Saudi Arabia are.

As I wrote in a previous post a few days ago:
Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca and Medina. No Islamic Caliphate could pretend to represent all Muslims without controlling the two holiest sites of Islam. Obviously conquering Saudi Arabia would have to be ISIS's final goal as it has always has been Al-Qaeda's... and there is wide, popular support for their views in the country.
Since Osama bin Laden was killed, and more importantly since ISIS has been able to carve out something alarmingly like a sovereign state in Syria and Iraq, Al Qaeda was looking rather washed up.

With the attack in Paris and at the cost of only three of their "mujahedin", they have been able to push ISIS clear out of the headlines worldwide and regain some of their previous relevance... western media are only the echo chamber. And there are quite a few eager to listen. There are probably many people in Saudi Arabia, who are applauding the Charlie Hebdo killings and they and not westerners are Al Qaeda's real audience.
There is a broad category of Saudis who agree with the extreme interpretations of religion and the call to jihad espoused by Osama bin Laden, and they're also in agreement with Bin Laden's political perspective — accusing the Saudi royals of being puppets of the West, attacking the U.S. for support of Israel and its invasion of Iraq, opposing the U.S. troop presence in the region. There is a significant section of Saudi public opinion that is supportive of Bin Laden. Time
All that stands between the Islamist and power in Saudi Arabia are the Saudi royal family and again, as I said in my previous post, the gerontocratic Saudi royal family is at a critical juncture:
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is suffering from a lung infection and has been breathing with the aid of a tube, Saudi officials have said. The monarch, who is said to be aged about 90, was admitted to hospital on Wednesday for medical checks. King Abdullah, who came to the throne in 2005, has suffered frequent bouts of ill health in recent years. His age and condition has led to increasing focus on the issue of the Saudi royal succession. Crown Prince Salman, who is in his late 70s, is next in line to succeed the king, though questions remain over who will follow. BBC News
Here are a couple of clippings to give you a clear idea of what is at stake for the world economy of having the world's largest oil producer in the same country as Mecca and Medina:
Saudi Arabia has 16% of the world's proved oil reserves, is the largest exporter of total petroleum liquids in the world, and maintains the world's largest crude oil production capacity. U.S. Energy Information Administration

Light crude oil receives a higher price than heavy crude oil on commodity markets because it produces a higher percentage of gasoline and diesel fuel when converted into products by an oil refinery.(...)The largest oil field in the world, Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field, produces light crude oils Wikipedia
If Islamists took over Saudi Arabia and, for example, mined the oil fields, making western military intervention impossible, then ceased pumping oil... it would be hard to imagine the knock-on effects to the world economy and to world peace.

Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr once famously said that "shouting fire in a crowded theater" couldn't be considered "free speech". This is certainly not an invitation to government censorship, but rather an invitation to our using some simple common sense at perhaps the most critical juncture in the 21rst century to date.  DS

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Why is Saudi Arabia bringing down the price of oil?

Getting directly to the point: why is Saudi Arabia, perhaps the major contributor to the continuing fall of oil prices pumping more and more oil, while losing a huge amount of revenue in the process, apparently "cutting off their nose to spite their face"?

Some say they are doing it to hurt Iran, others to cut investment in fracking...

In my opinion it could be quite simple: the kingdom is in real danger of being destabilized by the Islamic State (ISIS) and the "caliphate's" main financing comes from selling bootleg oil.
Four heavily armed men from Iraq attacked a Saudi Arabia border patrol early Monday(...) The early morning clash(...)was likely to raise fears of jihadist infiltrations in the Saudi kingdom from Iraq and Yemen — another radical Islamist breeding ground that shares a border with Saudi Arabia, which controls access to Islam’s holiest sites. New York Times
This was the oil situation only as far back as September of 2014.

Experts estimate that the Iraqi oil fields under ISIS control may produce 25,000 to 40,000 barrels of oil a day — worth a minimum of $1.2 million in the underground market. Sept. 16, 2014 - New York Times 
And the situation now:
I am unable understand the logic of the Saudi Oil Minister’s statement “Whether oil goes down to $20, $40, $50, $60, it is irrelevant”. Statements like this only gave speculators in the oil futures markets a licence to make a multi-billion dollar killing at the expense of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer and owner of 25 per cent of the planet’s crude oil reserves.(...) No energy journalist in the world can ignore Saudi Arabia’s oil policy shifts and I am no exception. Six months ago, every oil executive, bank economist and oil trader I talked to assured me that $100 Brent was Saudi Arabia’s price for two reasons. One, Ali Al Naimi publically said so. Two, the Saudi budget break-even price had risen from $65 to $90 Brent due to the increased social welfare spending. Both these assumptions were flawed.(...) the Saudi Finance Ministry conceded that the crash in oil means a $89 billion revenue loss to Saudi Arabia in 2015. Hellenic Shipping News
Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca and Medina. No Islamic Caliphate could pretend to represent all Muslims without controlling the two holiest sites of Islam. Obviously conquering Saudi Arabia would have to be ISIS's final goal as it has always has been Al-Qaeda's... and there is wide, popular support for their views in the country.
There is a broad category of Saudis who agree with the extreme interpretations of religion and the call to jihad espoused by Osama bin Laden, and they're also in agreement with Bin Laden's political perspective — accusing the Saudi royals of being puppets of the West, attacking the U.S. for support of Israel and its invasion of Iraq, opposing the U.S. troop presence in the region. There is a significant section of Saudi public opinion that is supportive of Bin Laden. Time

We must not underestimate ISIS, although many think it is a gathering of fanatic madmen. ISIS is a developed model of al-Qaeda and it has extraordinary military and administrative skills. ISIS is also distinguished by its propaganda practices(...) Unfortunately, and although we defeated al-Qaeda in the past, its ideology was not uprooted. This is why a new organization surfaces every time an old organization is eliminated. The ISIS ideology inside the country remains a lot more dangerous than that which lies beyond its borders. Abdulrahman al-Rashed - Al Arabiya
That leads me to believe that the real difference between ISIS and Saudi Arabia is not the people or the culture of the country but merely the Saudi royal family. Here is what I mean:
An Associated Press tally of announcements from the official Saudi Press Agency shows 83 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia in 2014(...) The kingdom follows a strict interpretation of Islamic law and applies the death penalty on a number of crimes, such as murder and rape, as well as apostasy and witchcraft. (emphasis mine). New York Times

So the question is, if the Saudi Royal family is all that is standing between Saudi Arabia and ISIS, what shape is the Saudi Royal family in?

Here is the latest:
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is suffering from a lung infection and has been breathing with the aid of a tube, Saudi officials have said. The monarch, who is said to be aged about 90, was admitted to hospital on Wednesday for medical checks. King Abdullah, who came to the throne in 2005, has suffered frequent bouts of ill health in recent years. His age and condition has led to increasing focus on the issue of the Saudi royal succession. Crown Prince Salman, who is in his late 70s, is next in line to succeed the king, though questions remain over who will follow. BBC News
A 90 year old man suffering from pneumonia to be succeeded by a Crown Prince in his late 70s... and after that nobody is really sure what comes next.
Sooner or later, of course, the crown will have to move to the next generation. At that point, things may get a little dicey. Under Saudi succession law, the king has to be a male descendant of Abdulaziz, but beyond that, the incumbent king has wide latitude to determine his successor. Given that many of the brothers took after Dad or even exceeded him—King Saud, the second king, had 53 sons—there are now thousands of these descendants, many of whom have senior government positions, and the potential for palace intrigue is high. Slate
For me then it seems logical to think that allowing Saudi Arabia to lose many billions of dollars, which can be made up in the short term by the country's massive cash reserves, is (you should pardon the expression) some reasonable sort of a "Hail Mary pass" to keep ISIS at bay, while sorting out the family quarrels. 

For the Saudi royal family it would be vital to weaken ISIS any way they can short of confronting them directly in the ground fighting in Iraq,  which, given the ideological affinities, is something that might cause serious blowback, in the form of a successful internal rebellion against the royal regime at home. DS







Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 - I can't breathe... Can you?


My clearest reading of 2014's tea leaves is "instability": worldwide instability and in my opinion this instability has its origins at the heart of the most developed economies of the western world. The causes? We are undergoing a technological revolution and process of globalized outsourcing, combined with a reduction of the welfare state that is severely degrading the middle class in developed countries and converting them slowly, but surely into working-poor. Anyone who has read a bit of history could tell you how dangerous that is.
I will stand on that this year too and I think things are going to get worse, perhaps much, much worse. The Reuters year end wrap gives a rather useful shopping lists of potential disasters.
"Normally after a year like this you might expect things to calm down," said John Bassett, former senior official with British signals intelligence agency GCHQ now an associate at Oxford University. "But none of these problems have been resolved and the drivers of them are not going away." The causes are varied - a global shift of economic power from the West, new technologies, regional rivalries and anger over rising wealth gaps. Reuters
I would add to that the possibility of an airborne pandemic, a sort of sneezing "Ebola", which is going to happen sooner or later in today's interconnected world... or (much more likely if the US-EU pressure doesn't let up) some very, very nasty surprise from Russia, because as Dimitri Orlov says,  "The Russians don't threaten, they act".

But as I stressed a year ago, at the heart of everything is the ongoing collapse of the middle class in the most highly developed countries. This is something that is destabilizing precisely those countries whose role has always been to stabilize the rest. That is the multiplier of all the other instabilities.

Here is a comment from a conservative commentator.
The great middle-class fear today is that the connection between personal aspirations and societal opportunities is breaking down.(...) The middle class is thinning. Belonging is a matter of self-identity, and fewer Americans buy into its defining presumptions. Robert Samuelson - Washington Post
After you read something like that, from someone like that, news about the militarization of urban American police forces begins to look like the "good and the great" are getting ready for some serious, social unrest on the order of "urban warfare".
During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. New York Times
The federal government shipped nearly 4,000 more assault rifles to local law enforcement agencies in the three months following the Ferguson riots, marking a huge surge in the amount of lethal firearms being doled out to police and sheriff’s offices.(...) The Los Angeles School Police Department decided it didn’t need grenade launchers, but did figure it should keep the M-16 rifles and the armored vehicle it had previously received. Washington Times
Eric Garner, a harmless man, who was strangled to death by a brutal police officer, has given me a simple answer to a question that other Americans have often asked me over the years, "why do you live abroad?". 

When people ask me why, being American, I don't like living in the USA, I usually find myself launching into some cumbersome, wordy-nerdy explanation, filled with dangling clauses and so forth... but now poor Mr. Garner has given me a three word answer that says it all... When I'm in the USA (or even think about being in the USA) I can't breathe. DS

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Sony hack... (warning: pure speculation to follow)

The FBI said technical analysis of malware used in the Sony attack found links to malware that "North Korean actors" had developed and found a "significant overlap" with "other malicious cyber activity" previously linked to Pyongyang. Reuters
It's obvious that North Korea is behind the attack on Sony in retaliation for making "The Interview"...

In fact it is so obvious that it makes me suspicious.

The North Koreans say they didn't do it... I believe them.
Much of North Korea’s hacking is done from China. And while the attack on Sony used some commonly available cybertools, one intelligence official said, “this was of a sophistication that a year ago we would have said was beyond the North’s capabilities.” Fareed Zakaria - Washington Post
I think they have been set up for the fall by a much more sophisticated attacker, one who doesn't want to take "credit" for the attack. There are two prime suspects in that case: China and Russia.  In my opinion it was the Russians. Here is a recent report of their work:
Russian state-backed cyber spies are behind coordinated, sophisticated digital attacks in the past two years against sensitive political and military targets, including Nato, the EU and government ministries, according to a security analyst. “Up until now the focus has been on China – but Russia is really the far more advanced player. Russia has been more effective at integrating cyber espionage into a geopolitical grand strategic campaign – not just a military one, but economic and political. They are more tactical too. More targeted in the institutions they go after . . . and more accomplished.” Financial Times - October 28, 2014
For me the Sony hack shows a very deep knowledge of the American economic and social system's weak points, where the celebrity culture intersects with the insurance/financial/complex and the communication infrastructure that supports it... and the rest of corporate America. I believe the Russians accumulated this kind of "reverse-Kremlinology" during the decades of the Cold War and that neither the Chinese or especially the North Koreans, would know how to touch so many of America's raw nerves simultaneously.
 
Why would the Russians pin it on the North Koreans?

They would for the same reason that Sony made the film: the North Koreans are comic book villains that are seen as crazy enough to do anything and it's precisely the the craziness that has made this incident so viral, where the comments about Angelina Jolie's possible insanity take precedence over the plus $90,000,000 that Sony stands to lose by pulling the film or the uncountable, confidential, corporate information, now in hostile hands. Russia certainly wouldn't want to provoke a hostile confrontation with the United States over something so "comic bookish", but the "comic bookishness" is an essential part of the incident's power. An attack on JP Morgan is probably much more serious than the Sony hack, but that would never grab the public's attention in the same way.

That leads us directly to the following questions:

What has the attack achieved? What would Russia have to gain by this attack?

The answer to the first question is the answer to the second.

The Sony hack has shown the fragility of America's complex system in a way that even the least technical person can understand it and because of the celebrity gossip involved the entire country, ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages have seen it and talked about it.
And what if the next target for the cyber attackers is not a film corporation but an electricity grid, or gas suppliers, or water pumping stations? Then what? Call this a comedy? I'm not sure there is much to laugh about. BBC
Russia is at this moment under tremendous pressure from the "West"; it would even appear that the Obama administration is bent on "regime change" in Moscow. The logic of the Russians acting under the cover of the wackos of Pyongyang would be the following: in the light of the Sony hack and seeing the damage that puny North Korea could do to a major corporation, the "good and the great", the "serious" people in corporate America might pause to ask themselves: if Kim Jong-un could cause such havoc, what might Vladimir Putin be able to do, it sufficiently backed into a corner? DS