Bring on “Spiderman in a Can”

Happy Week!

Blogging at Happycrow’s Eyeball Factory is light this week, as Real Life(tm) has strong demands, deadlines, and an overwhelming assertion that Happycrow *does* indeed have a crack-like addiction to food and shelter that needs his undivided attention.

But I wanted to point out an article on the excellent blog Next Big Future for consideration:  wearable electronic sensors may be able to give people “spider senses” and potentially avoid a lot of accidents (or social dangers). 

“Pin the tail on the ninja” will never be the same.

If Happycrow were a character in a sci-fi novel, they’d call me a “mild pre-cog”:  I’ve always had a “spider sense” of the type they’re describing here.  While not having anything so world-class-cool as synaesthesia (jealousy jealousy jealousy), my nervous system has always been good at putting together sensory cues that were far too subtle for me to have picked up consciously.  Examples:

  1. Knowing out of the blue that my boss was behind an office door down the hall.
  2. Picking the same straw, out of a hundred, that my twin had picked twenty minutes earlier (when I was in the basement), because I “recognized it.”
  3. Instinctively dodging careening objects that I didn’t know were coming.
  4. Blocking punches in pitch darkness when I had absolutely no clue that somebody was planning to deck me.
  5. Getting a sense of where the other(out of sight) paintball team was by “feeling” the environment — and being right about where they were, even when the notion was dismissed because technically where I was “pointing” was out of bounds for the scenario (our paintball was small-unit recon and tactics, rather than capture-the-flag).

On the one hand, outside of freaking out my parents and getting mocked by AP English teachers in high-school for having cat-like reflexes (but he was always kind of a prick anyway), some of these are pretty useless.   On the other hand, that sort of thing tends to guarantee you hang out with the “geeks, nerds, and other” on the high-N side of the Meyers-Briggs test.  After all, everybody gets hunches.  The difference between “Sensing” and “Intuiting” isn’t just that the high-N people have hunches, but that those hunches are usually right, often enough that it’s more than simply confirmation bias, and they come not only to rely on them, but rely on them successfully…what the nervous system is doing winds up shaping the personality.

Bit of a no-brainer, that.  But psychology often tends to dismiss neurology rather than saying “you’re like this because you’re like this.”

On the gripping hand, “spider sense” saves lives and keeps people from being smacked with heavy moving objects.  And any competent self-defense guy will tell you that the most important self-defense skill in the world isn’t the hop-sockey ability to break a man’s forearm and twist his head off like a peach from a tree, but simply knowing what’s going on around you.  Awareness, awareness, awareness.  Especially the kind of awareness that keeps you from winding up on worker’s comp because the pile of bricks fell on your head.  Yes, people DO die because a ton of bricks falls on their head — Chez Happycrow lost a great-great-uncle that way, and similar workplace accidents wipe people out every single day.

Bring on the future, as fast as they can get it here.

Upending Neurological Apartheid

About the time I was posting “One Nation, Under (Two) Law(s),” some other bright bulbs were taking on the same issue, but from different tacks:

  • Sarah Hoyt noted that “revolutions are bad,” and proposes Building Under, a process that has been a hallmark of her career as an indy writer sidestepping the blatant abuses of the NY publishing houses.
  • Professor Codevilla summarized what by now has become obvious to anyone paying attention to the political scene from the outside:  those who do not favor activist government (20% of Democrats, 70% of Republicans, nearly all independents) have “nowhere to go” politically, as neither major party’s leadership cares to cater to this demographic.  (Warning — webpage is unstable and may require a reload or two)
  • Samizdata’s post “We want to rule you because you are stupid and powerless and we are wise” has an excellent money-quote from “Against Autonomy,” a book apparently written for the explicit purpose of telling the Little People to sit down and shut up.
  • Megan McArdle has a discussion up, stemming from her observation of the ridiculous degree inflation required to gain even menial jobs (a college degree to be a file clerk?  Really?) regarding the widespread restriction of upward mobility in a number of professions to those with high-end blue-state backgrounds and credentials.  Who tend to marry… other people with the same background.  What was a ladder of opportunity has devolved into a de-facto caste system where the “elite” pretend to honor achievement, but are in actuality protecting a patronage network of the country’s “commanding heights.”

McArdle dreads what she calls the Mandarization of America, where access to the good life is predicated upon getting the right educational credentials, and she’s rightly concerned about the pitfalls of such a system:

All elites are good at rationalizing their elite-ness, whether it’s meritocracy or “the divine right of kings”.  The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments.  They really are very bright and hard-working.  It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for….

The even greater danger is that they become more and more removed from the people they are supposed to serve.  Since I moved to Washington, I have had series of extraordinary conversations with Washington journalists and policy analysts, in which I remark upon some perfectly ordinary facet of working class, or even business class life, only to have this revelation met with amazement….

In fact, I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system, and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses–ones outside glamor industries like tech or design.

They’re fruity, but they’re smart.

There are a lot of people who agree with her, even if they have no idea who she is: home purchases are frequently assessed in terms of access to “good” schools, rather than for their intrinsic value (take a stroll through this lovely forum for hundreds of examples).  If you don’t get into the “good school district,” so the thinking goes, your kids’ chances to get into “elite society” with its finance, consulting, and BigLaw paychecks is radically reduced.  This isn’t a red-state/blue-state affair, either.  Put bluntly, your average blue-state schools suck.  It’s easy to get a great education in blue-state-land, as long as you’re white and upper-middle-class.  Stuck in a shitty school district with no money and a union educational establishment whose explicit mission is to crush any other alternative?  Not so easy.

Let’s be clear.

None of this comes as even the foggiest surprise to anybody in the real world. 

But Hoyt’s “building under” idea isn’t just a political screed (much as I may agree with most of its sentiments); it’s also the country’s salvation.  She’s describing something that’s already happening.  Right.Now.

Pretty cool.

This is a 3d-printing pen: the evolution of a hot-glue gun towards actually making art and creating interesting structures freehand by additive manufacturing, as opposed to most crafts, which involve cutting, stitching, and punching holes in things (and thus a lot of waste).  Imitators and competitors will surely come along soon, but let’s take a look at something:

  1. It’s an entirely new class of item for most “crafty” people, and can be used to freehand light-duty mechanical parts and tools.
  2. It’s gotten a lot of financial money from backers.
  3. Not one of whom is a TBTF Banker or high-dollar Venture Capitalist.

Give this thing a quiver of extrusion options (line, fan, block), and an ability to vary the rate at which feedstock enters the system, and this thing goes from “really awesome tinker’s gadget” to “honey, I’m going to get a ladder and print ourselves some new siding — there’s a spot that looks like it needs a patch.”  Give it the ability to produced sintered metal from powder….and it’s Brave New World, Baby.  We’ve already got the bulky, standalone model — any Joe with a computer and some patience can, for instance, learn TinkerCAD and design their own ceramic-ware.  Or their own historical replicas.  Wanna design something?  Why go to a major design house, when you can model something in your pajamas and then take it to i.materialise?  Or Shapeways? Or ponoko? Or sculpteo?  Or, do it on a random Thursday evening in your garage, with your own 3d printer.

Close replica of a 10th-century arrowhead.
Modeled in about half an hour on TinkerCAD. While supervising a toddler.

Kickstarter and its peers are revolutionizing small startups.  You don’t need to talk to somebody in the NY Publishing scene (who wouldn’t get it anyway.  Contrary to their protestations, the Big 5 put out a lot of crap, too).  You just have to convince enough of your peers that your idea (for a new gadget, book, comic, living-history-exhibit, what-have-you) is worthwhile and that  you can deliver on it.  It upholds the libertarian dream of making awesome things happen without coercion.

This is important.  Those of us who are neurologically and ideologically disposed to live in The Hive and to do what they’re told don’t need to do anything but follow the dictates of their gradually-declining ruling caste — they can jockey for position inside it and thus influence its direction.  Those of the other ilk keep looking for options — they’re the Outsiders who historically gravitated towards frontier (we here at the Eyeball Factory think the massive emigration during colonial times does much to support the later concepts of Turner’s Thesis), vote with our feet (or in Thiel’s case, with their hedge funds and ships).  Well, there’s something else going on, and those of us who “think freedom” need to think seriously about the innovation frontier.

And so, at the end of the day, I’m not much worried about cultural gatekeepers and how the cognoscenti attempt to “capture the culture.”  That may concern social conservatives who see themselves fighting a retrograde battle against immigration, gay marriage, etcetera, but those aren’t Happycrow hotbuttons except insofar as we’d like our gay friends to be able to marry and adopt and give blood (!!), and we’re happy to compete for as many productive people as are willing to come here.

In the end, we’re not worried about the Mandarins’ power, and certainly not worried about their culture.  BigLaw?  What thinking person right now would want to go into an industry in decline?  Software and paralegals are going to be doing 90% of what full-bore lawyers do now, and while there will always be a need for fullbore lawyers, it’s not a growth industry.  Finance and consulting?  Lots of money; terrible lifestyle.  The smart ones make their bank and get out; what’s left is charitably-described as “ethically challenged.”

Culture?  What culture?  In short, to paraphrase Nadia C’s classic, “Mandarins, your culture is boring as fuck.”  TV is a wasteland.  Hollywood is, famously, out of ideas:  us nerds and our video games make more money than your unethical and tawdy industry. 

Literature?  Don’t flatter yourself.  It’s a wasteland, mostly populated by predictable victim-narrative-porn, and speaking of porn, the deliberate attempt to paint trashy romance novels as “literature.”  C.f. E.L. James, who actually thinks 50 Shades of Grey operates on the same literary plane as, get this, Tolkien.  Dude, my grandmother had trashier but better-written stuff all over the basement bookshelves where polite company couldn’t see them. They were on separate shelves from the Reader’s Digest novels and proto-feminist romances like Doctor Merry’s Husband, let alone the actual good stuff like King Solomon’s Mines and Balzac’s Works.  What my grandmother was doing with Balzac I have no idea, but at least she knew the difference!  Unfortunately for the Big Five publishing houses, even this smash hit didn’t really come from them: it was repurposed fan-fic which got picked up by a Blue-World-connected author.

In the end, I think Ms. McArdle can relax — Mandarins only survive when they can stifle innovation.  And, thank God Amazon.com, thank God Kickstarter, thank God Makerverse, that train has left the station.  The Powers That Be can still jack with the currency and otherwise screw up the economy, but that’s about the only “commanding height” left worth talking about as long as you’re not doing something that gets you on the national-security radar. 

In terms of determining the future, they’re not elites — they’re the last bastion of a “gatekeeper culture” trying desperately to convince themselves that the world hasn’t outgrown them.

The 21st-century problem: “having it all.”

So it looks like modernity is whacking another culture upside the head demographically.

Are we supposed to celebrate Chinese women’s independence, even if they’re not getting married and are likely to wind up on the “high achievement cat-lady plan” just like so many women in NYC?  Or should we shudder in anticipation of how brutal the greying of China is likely to be on its elderly, since there is likely to be only one grandchild per family to sustain them?

This is “the problem of our time.”  As noted by “Spengler,” (among many others), modernity doesn’t bode well for some cultures’ survival, demographically or even physically.

Happycrow himself can’t talk much — life sent him into high-orbit and strange places, and we have only one Happychick here in the nest.  Anyone unfortunate enough to have made our acquaintance knows that this is something that’s more UnHappyCrow than the other way — in this respect, we are like many of our peers, who are living under what some have called the middle class’ “unofficial one-child policy.”  But it’s just the way the ball bounced. 

People who consciously choose to go extinct are a different species entirely.  We know a number of them, love them fiercely….but I can’t understand them in the slightest.

No matter one’s cultural predilections, however, we’ve changed worlds, and the way the world changes shapes us.  A decade ago it looked like America would gradually turn into a demographic juggernaut… but that’s seeming less likely now, because much of the birth rate was supported by immigrants.  They’re no longer coming, and the party’s over.  I know a lot of people who will breathe a sigh of relief — those of us who are psychologically disposed to moderate populations and open spaces often feel distinctly overcrowded already.

As we look towards the new society and discuss what its new governance might look like, we run into trouble.  Female hypergamy is real: women do not like to marry someone they consider their inferior, and tend to be unhappy with someone they consider merely their peer (For those protesting, please google “NAWALT”):  there is a “standards floor” under which they want nothing to do romantically with a guy, though what the standards themselves vary, and that floor generally equates to “at least my level.”  Like Susan Walsh and others, at Chez Happycrow we consider this a description of business as usual, rather than something to be upset about.  There are good reasons for men and women to (tend to) see the world of romance differently.  High-achieving women by definition tend to find a smaller and smaller pool of men as acceptable mates, thus resulting in some nasty competition. c.f. the New York City dating scene.  That’s affecting the behavior of the men being chased, too.

High-achieving Chinese women, breaking the mold on what they can do themselves but still acculturated to marrying up, are not going to want to settle.  Like their western peers, they too are going to wind up in the Mommy Wars, trying to determine if they can pursue both high achievement AND sufficient family to keep the human species going.  There are definitely high-achieving women who’ve achieved it, and we know a lot of them.  But we also know quite a few for whom romance came, if at all, late in the game when children were essentially a non-starter without vast amounts of money and medical expertise.

I don’t know what the solution is — smarter people than us at Chez Happycrow (that’s more or less everybody reading this) have failed to figure it out, but it’s going to be the fundamental reality of the next sixty years.  The future belongs to those who show up (which gives the SAHM side of the Mommy Wars a fundamental advantage that feminists dismiss at their ideological peril).  There are, however, some ideas worth exploring:

  1. College kids of moderate achievement have empty wallets but plenty of time on their hands.  Having a kid in college (or grad school) may not be the disaster that my generation was told it would be.  There are good ways we can change schooling to be far friendlier to family-oriented students while actually boosting academic achievement, too.  That would require a total revamp of school to be student-focused rather than faculty-focused, however, and we’ll cover that in a future post.
  2. Learning to filter aggressively for “keepers” and getting married during your college years might not be a bad idea, either — if you’re not getting hitched until you’re in your 30s, well, by then, most of the guys who are single….are single for good reason. (And this applies doubly to women in their forties, as even a casual perusal of dating sites demonstrates quite clearly).
  3. Break the traditional hypergamy and decide that it’s okay to date somebody who’s your peer, or even a little bit behind, on the achievement/earnings ladder.  Those who are already committed pro-natalists will find that an easy sell… the Betty Friedans and Amanda Marcottes of the world, not so much.  That may not be a problem, since by definition the former are going to shape future society, whereas the latter shape only their peers.
  4. Radically extend lifespan, female fertility, and the degree to which men and women can hold their beauty as they age.  Part of the current scene’s problem is that it desperately denies a very old truth:  most women “hit the wall” at a certain point, after which their natural beauty (and thus ability to attract mates) declines precipitously and they are generally able to attract only older men.  Going onto “the elf plan” with long lifespans and relatively low reproductive rates may not be the best solution, but if we can minimize the amount of care a person needs as he or she ages, then society can grey gracefully rather than with misery.  (Plus, this is a goal worth pursuing in and of itself – if you’re starting to “feel your age” and are not  familiar with the SENS movement, you should seriously consider giving it a read.)

Either way, if modern societies are going to stave off demographic collapse, something has to got to be done.  And that fundamentally means making kids and career materially possible without neglecting either.

Libertarians should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Multiplier

(Warning: This Post is Snarky and Juvenile)

Ah, the Keynesian Multiplier.  It’s magical.  It says that government jelly beans are better than anybody else’s jelly beans, and that if your GDP unexpectedly grew more than you thought it did, that was clearly because the government’s jellybeans were awesomer.

Shut up, that’s totally a word. 

Leave aside the fact that both major parties are completely full of shit when it comes to taxes and the economy, including all those supposed “Tea Party candidates who talk small government like it’s a phone-sex job on campaign, only to govern like Republicrats once they’re elected.”  Of course, this disappoints Republicans, but that won’t keep them from getting played for chumps again in 2016 while begging for libertarians to swallow the kool-aid.

But let’s not argue Keynes vs Hayek here.  That’s old.  Nobody listens except people who actually read the books and follow the arguments.  And if liberals and conservatives did that, they wouldn’t be liberals and conservatives.

Let’s try a different argument instead:  Yes, I agree, there’s a multiplier.  How much is it?

After all, the whole point to “the multiplier” is that it’s not a constant.  It’s a variable.  It varies

  1. At different times
  2. In different places
  3. For different programs

So when the President offers to “invest in the future” (read: “fulfill my campaign pledge to be the tax and spend liberal that liberals voted for”), rather than getting all upset and trying to argue with somebody who doesn’t understand the very first lesson of economics, we can simply say “how good an investment is that?”

  • Medicare?  That’s a pretty crap investment.  It’s riddled with fraud, about to be bankrupt, and unable to make payments when it has a negative balance.  By 2016, barring emergency changes, Medicare’s toast except as an accounting gimmick and failed Ponzi scheme.
  • Education?  That perennial chestnut wears thin.  If throwing money at education (read:  cuts in faculty numbers accompanied by increases to cushy administrative positions) worked, California would have the best schools in the country.  As opposed to, say, being disaster areas salvaged only by affluent coastal facilities.
  • More cops?  Well, sure, so long as they’re not throwing people in prison for life for smoking a joint, or gunning people down at random or beating the shit out of citizens  just because they can.
  • X,Y, or Z?  Well, we need some things.  If they don’t really bring a return (Multiplier > 1), then they’re not investments: they’re costs.  And libertarians should describe them as such, and talk about ways to greatly streamline and improve them.  People understand efficiency.

Taking the Republicrat media head-on is a fool’s game.  But if you present the actual data underpinning many of the assumptions, you can hamstring the beast and win the most fundamental argument of all:  convincing the people with whom you’re talking that we should be judging spending based not simply on party bromides, but on the fundamental real-life questions:

  1. “Does it Work?”
  2. “Is it worth the cost?”

Start with point 1, move to point 2 not in the abstract, but, per Bastiat and Mister Brokenwindowman, in contrast to some other good the money can be spent on.  If you’re talking to a Republican, contrast with Red programs.  A Democrat, with other Blue Programs.  If they decide against #2, THEN we can start discussing “well, if that program’s not a good way to do it, what would a better choice look like?”

You won’t win any friends among the Blue Team Zombie Voter Armies, or the Red-State Moron Crack Suicide Squads, but that’s besides the point.  Those people are worshipping their political ideology, not actually discussing real-world choices.  What  doing this does is give you a way to discuss spending with people who get all their news from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh (or NPR and Ezra Klein) and who are ready to debate because they think of themselves as well-informed voters.  They’re reachable.  But only if they feel like you’ve come onto their ideological turf to talk.  We can bring up the Fed and Fiat Money later, once they’ve decided there’s something to their worldview past what they’re getting from their Media Tit of Choice.

No Ricardian Equivalences were harmed in the making of this blog post (mostly because the entire theory is horseshit, and proven as such every single time a state raises taxes).

So, an evolutionary theory bites the dust. Let’s play pop-paleo!

Apparently we DIDN’T learn to walk because the primeval forests disappeared.

So why did mankind start walking upright?  If seeing long distances on the savannah wasn’t a reason for change, but simply a benefit (and by itself it’s hard to see how that could be a survival-determinant, given the ability to see further simply by sitting on a rock), what other explanations could there be?

Theory One:  Boobs

<No image.  Seriously, this is the INTERNET: go find your own boobs.>

Humans have buoyant boobs. It may not have been walking upright that improved survival chances so much as the ability to stand upright.  In a pond. 

C’mon, baby, let’s evolve together.

Most animals are horribly vulnerable to ambush when drinking water:  they come to the edge, put their heads down, and BAM!  One visibility-impaired zebra-burger.  But we do know that climate change and increased heat were factors:  if your womenfolk can hang out in the pool, feed the kids, and keep an eye out for strangers with sharp claws… that’s potentially a winner.  Going vertical means you can get further out and into deeper water than some of your terrestial killing machines may want to deal with.

Monkeyburgers, again?! Aww, mom!

Downsides:

  1. We don’t actually know how stacked Lucy was, and whether it would have made much of a difference.
  2. The whole crocodile thing.

Come to me, my little monkeys….

Theory Two:  Rocks

We don’t know an awful lot about what Lucy & Co. ate, but we’ve got a pretty good idea that she had a varied diet, and one thing we know is that pretty early in the game, and earlier than we initially suspected, meat got onto the menu.  Contrary to the freaks over at PETA, it’s pretty clear that humans were never really into the whole “grazing vegetarian” thing, and that early humanoids who were didn’t make it.  That means that either early man was really into murder-food, or that we were spending a lot of time around dead bodies.

Early man could throw rocks.  Rocks may seem humble compared to other options….

such as the dreaded “exploding rock.”

…but rocks kill.  Other creatures know this.  If a dog is barking at you, raising a fist like you’re going to hit it won’t get a reaction.  Making an angry face and raising your arm like you’re going to throw a rock at it, on the other hand, gets an instant reaction.  In lots of dogs, this is a hardwired reaction, even if nobody’s ever abused them with rocks before.  Somewhere deep in its little doggie brain is a little flashing sign that says “this is how the magic monkey kills you.”

Well, let’s say it’s early days, and you’re hunting for some small, inoffensive creature you can eat. Like a groundhog, savannah-squirrel, or “bird that got too close.”  Who’s going to be the better hunter?

  1. The guy who can stand up for a moment and throw a rock?
  2. The guy who always stands up, and can throw two rocks without having to bend over and look for another one?

My money’s on MagicMonkey#2.

Downside:   What did Monkey#1 hunt with such pitifully short range?

Oh. Yeah. Good one, Kubrick.

Theory Three:  Agility

Maybe prior to Kubrick’s space-monkeys, we’ve got a period where we don’t know if MagicMonkey was actively hunting creatures, but we DO know that he was using rocks to get at marrow inside of bones.  Don’t wince — that, with a vegetable and a stewpot, is basically what every granny on the planet serves you for soup.

That comes with a problem: you’ve got to dodge all the other creatures chowing down on that zebraburger.  Eventually, they’ll leave the bones alone and you can get to them, but if you’re scrappy and quick, you could sneak away some bones that still have meat on them.  That means more nutrition for you and yours.

Jack be nimble, or Jack be dessert.

Well, walking upright does come with a very significant advantage for scrapping around:  a low moment of rotation.  When you stand vertically, your horizontal measurement is pretty narrow.  That means you can turn in place really fast.

Fast turns. Not just for disco and ballerinas.

If you can duck and dodge, then you stand a much better chance of coming away with something tasty, or maybe even catching one of those nasty vultures, and braining it with a rock.  Hey, meat is meat, right?

Downsides:

You’re scrapping with a bunch of big nasty creatures for a bit of meat, and screwups hurt.

Ouch.

The French Get a Slap in the Face on Productivity

Not only was it a slap in the face, it was backhand, with a ring on:

“The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three,” Taylor wrote on February 8 in the letter in English to the minister, Arnaud Montebourg.

“I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!” Taylor added in the letter, which was posted by business daily Les Echos on its website and which the ministry confirmed was genuine.

 “Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one, pay less than one Euro per hour wage and ship all the tires France needs,” he said. “You can keep the so-called workers.”
Well, sacre merde on a stick!  In the words of the Great Turqsidian Muse, “that’ll leave a mark.”
Now, anecdotally, this comes as very little surprise.  Happycrow worked in Europe for several years and was always amazed at how hard-working his European peers thought he was.  We at Chez Happycrow are absolutely no strangers to taking the weekend to monomaniacally obsess over a project until it’s done and done right (need a freelance copy-editor, we are totally your guy, though you probably can’t tell that from this casual, error-ridden blog), but on any given Tuesday, working smart rather than hard is the order of our day, and we just plain avoid jobs where we can’t do that (need a guy to  run up and down a drill rig for sixty hours and then negotiate purchasing contracts for another seven, we are totally not your guy).
 
Why?  Because compared to many, many Americans, Happycrow is a lazy butt, that’s why.  Paul Harvey wouldn’t approve.  This superbowl ad isn’t lying, by the way.  Happycrow knows people who work that hard every week, and they’re not even farmers.
But let’s look behind the scenes for a moment.  Just how productive are French workers?  Here’s what wikipedia says:
 
Country GDP (PPP)
per hour 2009
Rank
2009
Norway Norway 76.8 1
Luxembourg Luxembourg 74.5 2
Netherlands Netherlands 65.1 3
United States United States 59.0 4
Belgium Belgium 58.5 5
France France 54.7 6
Republic of Ireland Ireland 54.0 7
Germany Germany 53.5 8
Austria Austria 51.9 9
Australia Australia 51.6 10
 
And, not to slight the French, here’s some folks on a European forum discussing the same issue: on THIS list, France is sitting right at #2.
 
Luxembourg : 57.5
France : 56.6
Belgium : 55.9
Ireland : 51.8
Italy : 50.3
Austria : 46.4
Germany : 45.0
Netherlands : 44.5
Sweden : 42.6
Finland : 42.6
 
Now, let’s set any Asian comparisons from the top list aside for a moment.  Happycrow’s sum total experience of working in Asia was moving furniture in Japan for a summer, and that hardly counts: the vast majority of the workers were Japanese, but  the company was a US-Japanese public/private partnership designed to get furniture made for the Air Force in the 1950s in and out of third-floor apartments made for the Japanese in the 1980s.  A colorful experience?  Absolutely.  An experience that gives him a keen awareness of Asian productivity?  Uh, what’s an eight-letter word beginning with ohHELLno?
 
So, just sticking with Europe, let’s ask a question.  Is there anyone in Europe who actually believes that the French are more productive than the Germans?
Anyone?
::cricket noises.  In the distance, a dog barks.::
 
Yeah, that’s what we thought.  GDP is a terrible way to measure per-worker productivity, because GDP measures a nation’s government spending as fully equal to the real value created by its society.  That, of course, would come as no shock to Frenchmen, for whom Bastiat, arguably one of the world’s greatest economists, is a mysterious and shadowy figure that few have heard of and to whom fewer still pay any attention.  But for the rest of us, that’s a no-brainer.  It’s not even a tiny surprise that the private sector produces real goods, and the public sector spends money sloppily, wastefully, and frequently, corruptly. 
 
That’s not to say that people working for various governments don’t work hard.  But find me somebody who works for a government and doesn’t say that it pisses money down the drain left and right, and I”ll find you a man who’s either hallucinating or a hardcore bureaucratic turf-warrior who’s thinking of running for office or getting into lobbying.
 
Gross Private Product (GPP) is a much better tool for the job.  Not that government doesn’t produce anything, but that by definition, what government spends is resources which have already been diverted away from other things that its society would have produced.  States produce things other than what the people in their societies would have produced if they still had those resources available.  That’s why GDP adds it in.  But GDP, unlike the private sector, can’t measure whether the resources the government spends have any actual value, or whether it’s just busywork.  You’d need to argue for years over what multiplier should be applied to government spending — and then argue over whether said multiplier was constant, or else varied based on the kind of spending undertaken: cue “NASA vs Entitlements” forever.  Helpful hint: pace Kahn, said multiplier, because it does involve waste, is less than one, and the French aren’t more productive than the Germans.  Back to Bastiat, a little economic lesson called “what is seen, and what is unseen.”
 

Ben, please, learn this lesson.

 
Above all that, there’s another lesson to be drawn here, and that’s one of arrogance.  The fellow producing tires for Goodyear is getting beaten up for talking to the french government arrogantly, and he’s apparently got a well-known reputation for “harshing your mellow” as a negotiating tactic.  But it’s not really arrogance — it’s math.  And the new math isn’t simply that expensive, poorly-productive workers get edged out by cheap, more-productive workers in Asia, but that hiring people to work is expensive, and it won’t be done unless the math adds up.
 
In a global marketplace, offshoring jobs are just as likely to be brought back “inshore” if that’s what productivity versus employment costs dictate.  That’s not because employers are bad guys, but because simple math says that if your worker doesn’t produce significantly more value than you pay him, you can’t afford to hire him.  And if your job can be done in the form of software and mechanical actuators, then the math says you don’t hire anyone:  you just lease a robot to do the work for you.  Robots don’t need pensions.
 
Employment is a zero-sum game:  if one person gets the job, another person has to lose the job.  It’s an unfortunate reality, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. And if the French unions choose not to provide a quality product, then not only will they not be hired, but companies will simply leave.  It’s already happening, and the era when unions could dictate terms to business is over.
 
So, yes, it’s a slap in the face.  Or a bucket of cold water in the face.  Either way, if the French don’t take a long look at their culture and step up to the plate, they’re going to fall into the kind of economic irrelevance that characterizes so much of the rest of the Mediterranean nowadays.  It’s a Red Queen’s Race:  you have to run as fast as you can, just to stay still.

IQ, Straitjackets, and the Mommy Wars

JudgyBitch has a whopper of an observation today, but unfortunately draws exactly the wrong conclusion from it.

See this kid?

jack

He is 15 years old and his name is Jack Andraka.  He built a particle accelerator in his basement, and it sits next to his brother’s homemade furnace, which can reach temperatures hot enough to melt steel….Oh, he also invented a simple test to detect pancreatic cancer at the earliest stages, winning the $75 000 Grand Prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.  His test will save thousands upon thousands of lives, and just might make death from pancreatic cancer a relic of the past.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Jack-Andraka-the-Teen-Prodigy-of-Pancreatic-Cancer-179996151.html

He’s 15 years old.

To whom she contrasts another very bright and talented kid:

See this kid? Her name is Lauren Marbe.  She has an IQ higher than Einstein, Hawking, and Bill Gates.  She is 16 years old…..

She “ loves fake tanning, having blonde highlights, manicures and getting glammed up for TOWIE parties with her friends.”  Her ambition in life is to be a show girl in the theatre.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2277493/Girl-IQ-161-Lauren-Marbe-Essex-blonde-whos-smarter-Albert-Einstein.html

HER AMBITION IN LIFE IS TO BE A SHOWGIRL!

At this point, JudgyBitch falls prey to the classic Platonic error, in which The Philosopher disdains the works of The Poets.  Intelligence is not the end-all and be-all of a person’s value.  Happycrow is of average intelligence, and has the IQ tests to prove it.  So is Happycrow’s Dad, who just happened to be a nuclear fucking engineer.  Happycrow’s thoroughly average IQ comes as a great shock to coworkers who know him as “that admin guy who plays  with swords and does all the scholarly stuff with the Latin.”  Chez Happycrow is responsible for a small number of fairly obscure scholarly papers.  In the food chain of scholarly achievement, Happycrow is plankton — but if you deal with my subject, motherfucker, than you’re going to see my ass in your footnotes — my work has greatly influenced how we go about the subject.  There are a lot smarter people than me (pretty much everybody I went to college with), who haven’t done anything anywhere near this nerdy with their brains.  Shit, there are birds who are smarter than I am

Quoth the Raven:
N=R*(Fp*Ne*Fe*Fi*Fc*L)

Intelligence is actually pretty overrated, and the human race can actually get a lot of value from the poets, dancers, and artists among us, and that includes showgirls.  It’s not surprising that a teenage girl cares about teenage girl things. What’s unusual is Mr. Andraka:  that kid’s already done more to save lives than we here at Happycrow’s Eyeball Factory ever will.  The proper reaction here isn’t to trash-talk Ms. Marbe (though the Jezebel article is fair game), but to praise Mr. Andraka to the fucking sky.  If we want more Andrakas, what we need to do is to

  1. Tell kids “hey, this kid is cool.”
  2. Back it up by making him stratospherically rich.  Because a cool kid is meh (there’s lots of them, and “cool” is subjective), but a cool kid who made himself rich by saving thousands of fucking lives will get imitators.

This is what a hero looks like.
Please imitate.

Now, to be fair, JB’s error here isn’t coming in out of the (Platonic) ether:  it’s ammunition being used as part of JudgyBitch’s campaign in “The Mommy Wars“, in which JB comes down as a Happy Warrior in favor of women staying at home and having tons of kids, especially male ones who will go out and invent all kinds of cool shit.  JB’s position is that woman’s greatest gift to humanity is in continuing humanity.  With lots of cute babies.

Awwwwwwww

And we can’t really fault that in the abstract, because somebody has to stand up for the side of women who stay home to be mommies rather than chasing after a career. 

But in the process of righteously indicting the Maureen Dowds of the world, she slaps around plenty of perfectly deserving women who aren’t wrecking society, too, and that’s unfortunate.  Because in the process JB is accidentally continuing one of the ongoing class prejudices of upper-middle-class feminism.  That’s because the choice of whether to have a career or stay home is generally not a choice that most women have:  as has been conclusively demonstrated, the tax burdens on most middle-class families mandate a two-earner family.

Working-class women, of course, have never had the option to stay home:  simple necessity says “put bread on the table, or you won’t have bread.”  JB’s disdain for the world of secretaries is, however unintentional, disdain for women who are making a very smart compromise — just enough work to earn the bread, but not enough career responsibility to get in the way of taking as much care of the kids in the process as possible.  And that’s unfair.

You WILL, of course, buy those girl-scout cookies.

As is the idea, promulgated by most Happy Warriors of the Mommy Wars, that this has to be a binary affair.  Yeah, I know a lot of cool people who’ve chosen not to spawn, and that’s tragic.  But I also know lots of cool gals who have, in fact, had their cake and eaten it, too.

  • My aunt has three kids, a slew of grandkids, and is a high-level ER-and-post-ER nurse at a well-known hospital.  If you go into that hospital hurt and come out alive, there’s a good chance she was part of saving your ass
  • My cousin, who’s fourteen times smarter than I am and has worked for the NIH.  In addition to a gorgeous kid and the likelihood of several more, she’s got more footnotes than I’ll ever get.
  • Angela Zhang, who’s now 19 years old, and, uh, sorry JudgyBitch, created a Nanoparticle that Kills Cancer.

What another hero looks like.
Please imitate.

At the end of the day, it’s not IQ that’s going to be the end-all-and-be-all.

Though in this case I’m guessing it’s a factor.

I like JudgyBitch.  A lot.  But however fun it is to see somebody puncture the bloviated groupthink that passes for original thought at Jezebel, the extreme position she takes is contributing to the problem rather than helping.  The answer isn’t to demonize women who put food on the table or shove the world into a straitjacket where if you’re smart, you must therefore be a Left-Brain High Achiever(tm).  A really smart showgirl might create all kinds of artistic beauty that may not leave us living longer, like what Andraka & Zhang are up to, but artists of all stripe can enrich our lives fabulously in the process.

A better way to say it would be “you’re worthwhile, please breed,” and in the process, back that statement up by praising people when they go into exercising the talents they have, whatever talents they happen to be.  Not everybody goes all Mad Science:  some people wind up being more Abba.

and everybody knows that scientists measure human happiness in micro-Abbas.

One Nation, Under (Two) Law(s)

Much digital ink has been spilled over recent findings that political affiliations may have a neurological basis.  When making decisions, Democrats show a strong tendency to activate the left insula, and Republicans an even stronger tendency to activate the right amygdala.

The Democrat is arguing based on how he feels;
The Republican is arguing based on threat-assessment.

In doing so, it has been determined that the typical slander of each side towards the other is actually correct.  Classical conservatives are indeed dealing with a reaction based on warding off perceived threats — when Democrats say that Conservatives are fear-mongering dogmatic bigots… the neuroscience tends to agree.  Conservatives, on the other hand, typically say “there’s no point in arguing with a liberal; they don’t bother listening to anything you say.”  And neurally, that seems to be supported, too.  The liberal is arguing based on an internal emotional self-assessment — his mind is, in fact, made up long before the argument ever begins.

Each of the two sides has used this study to lob harpoons at the other, but that misses the point.  Neural differences like this are as much a feature of biology as being left or right-handed, and every bit as much biologically-determined as having black hair or blue eyes.  Biological differences such as this have to be adaptive if they’ve survived.  In short, when a liberal wonders what planet a conservative comes from, and a conservative wonders how a liberal can possibly be a liberal, neurally speaking all they’re doing is recognizing that there’s something fundamentally different about “the other side” that IS, in fact, alien to their own experience. 

The names may be off, but they sorta have a point.

That offers interesting possibilities.  In previous times, governments have handled two fundamentally-incompatible cultures by allowing each to live under its own set of laws, with mediating rules between them allowing the power exercising suzerainty to maintain political control and thus peace.  This is a fairly common feature of pluralistic empires in both the ancient and modern world (c.f. Persian and Austro-Hungarian empires).

Could this be done in the United States?  I think the answer is a resounding “no.” 

  • Amercians are simply not emotionally-mature enough to live amicably side-by-side with people who are living under a different set of laws.  Conservative thought offends liberals, and vice-versa, and the libertarian “live-and-let-live” position offends each side even more than their opponents do. (Liberals are horrified that we sometimes agree with them, conservatives feel betrayed that we don’t always agree with them).
  • Who gains the spoils, politically speaking?  Neither group will tolerate the rule of the other, and it is difficult to see how a moderating group could arise which was not either based on pure power (psychopathic European aristocrats), or else faux meritocracy masquerading as a technocracy of the elite (“non-political” mandarins such as Imperial China).

The Freeper Vision is equally mono-maniacal,
but tends to point to the same reality.

  • Such a division couldn’t be made as suggested over on Addicting-Info, because when one checks counties, one finds that these differences tend to equate strongly with the urban/rural divide (No suprise, conservatives are bigoted hicks who can’t survive in a cosmopolitan atmosphere.  No surprise, liberals are cosseted weenies who can’t survive outside except inside their comfortable urban blankies, etc etc ad nauseam infinitam.)
  • Us libertarian types, who tend to light-up neurologically in an even different way, are skrood.  We’re too tiny to get represented well and would be forced into a straitjacket that fits badly no matter which side we wound up with.

So, if we can’t create a “two laws” modus-vivendi that recognizes the inherent legitimacy and dignity of “the other side,” then we have a real problem.  We effectively have regionally-competing tribes who cannot recognize themselves within The Other, and thus have no reason to avoid acting in ways which are actively detrimental to the other tribe.  So what we have is long-term political proxy warfare as a cover for neurological biological diversity.  That’s a depressing thought, and leads to an inescapable conclusion:

If one cannot readily convert a liberal to a conservative, and vice-versa, the only way to gain long-lasting political dominance is for one side to out-breed the other.

Welcome to our dark future, where we’re resigned either to long-lasting political gridlock…or else engaging in open demographic competition.

Opening Your Eyes Again (A Guest Post by Sarah A. Hoyt)

We here at Chez Happycrow proudly number ourselves among “Heinlein’s Children,” and are pleased and flattered that Sarah Hoyt, who actually knew Ginny, was gracious enough to swing by and say hi.  Ms. Hoyt is the author of the Prometheus-winning Darkship Thieves, and its recent sequel, Darkship Renegades, which we recommend highly.  Needless to say, that’s not the only thing she’s up to — Ms. Hoyt keeps herself quite busy.

Just go buy it already. Seriously.

——

Opening Your Eyes Again

Pratchett (What are you going to promote Pratchett now?  Shud up.  We’ll get to me.) in one of the Tiffany Aching books has a classic line in which he says “open your eyes” and then “now open your eyes again.”

This is because of course, when you first look at something – physical or not – you have a tendency to not see it as it is, but as you assume it is going to be.  Even on a mundane level, this can be dangerous.  Get me tired and in low light and move something in my room, and you’re going to get me to do something funny, like run straight into a chest of drawers.

This is something in which we’ve all had experience.  You swear your eyes are open, you swear you sort of see what is right ahead of you, but…

But you don’t.  You run into the newly purchased blanket chest.  Or, as I did in childhood, when my mom moved my bed, you open the door to the closet, convinced it’s the door to the bathroom (okay, I might have been sleep walking) and only realize you’re wrong when you’ve made a mess of the blankets in storage.

It’s even easier to make a mess of a country – which is one of the reasons that I’m strongly against top down control.  It’s very hard to get around what you “know” to be true.  You don’t realize it’s only an assumption, because you “assume” you have backing to it.  After all, all your teachers told you…

All that and fifty cents will buy you… okay, not a cup of coffee because people at the top have assumed that they can run the printing presses night and day without creating inflation, and they’ve lied in their own statistics to make it appear there is no inflation, and then they believe their statistics and…  You see where this ends?  It ends with the country looking much like those poor blankets.

This is one of the useful things about science fiction: it pulls the assumptions out from under how you view reality.  It changes everything around so that you can examine your assumptions in another light.

Take for instance the idea that if we could just get the perfect ruler then top down control would be fine.  Well, science fiction allows you to play with that – and I actually had fun with it, in Darkship Renegades, which came out in December – and it allows you to ask “what is perfect?” and “how do we ensure they stay perfect with our imperfect methods of raising” and “if perfect doesn’t mean omniscient, how would they know what the people really are thinking/needing, as opposed to what they want to hear (and their bureaucrats tell them?”

If you try to debate this with someone who tells you “It would work if only we had the right people in charge” you’re just going to get screamed at.  But wrap it in a story that poses the questions, make them think, and next time they hear themselves say that about the perfect people, they’ll stop and go “Now, wait a minute…”

This is, of course, where the science fiction establishment (NYC establishment) has failed us.  The only things you are allowed to question is what they want questioned.  So Science Fiction becomes just one more voice in a chorus of “distrust all authority but ours” – another voice reinforcing the chorus of wrong.  (Hey, remember the stories about the ice age engulfing the planet, followed in close succession by novels and stories about global warming, all of them demanding more government control as a fix?  I do.)

They’ve become, to quote Pink Floyd “Another brick in the wall.”

Which is why I’m glad there is Baen – which has never kowtowed to anyone’s opinions, though they prefer you ask your questions with plenty of firepower and explosions and some pretty fast plotting.  I have two books coming out from Baen shortly: A Few Good Men, the story of the Earth Revolution (well, the first book.) which comes out in about two weeks, and which explores the questions of “What is worth having a revolution for” and “What is faith?” and “What regime is best for outliers” and “is Freedom worth fighting for even if you lose?”  and “Is an imperfect but free regime better or worse than a dictatorship that guarantees safety and stability?”

It answers all those questions with plenty of explosions and tons of fights, of course. [Not to mention some serious beefcake on the cover — Happycrow]

Noah’s Boy, which comes out in July, mostly answers the question “How different can reality be from our perceptions?”  No, I’m fairly sure reality TRULY isn’t dragons and were-panthers, but it could be something like that and you’d never know.  Which is what the book is all about.  Okay, okay, that and nefarious being from the stars, and a were dragon becoming a country singer.

BUT in the end, all of my books are about pulling up the veneer of “everything is normal” and looking beneath.  Because what you assume can kill you – particularly if you don’t even know you’re assuming it.

How about the Olymp-IAN Games?

So, it looks like we lost wrestling from the Olympics, in favor of Synchronized Pole-Dancing, or whatever it is they’re up to nowadays.  Because wrestling shouldn’t be a “core sport,” but Tae Kwon Do should?  The Olympics are a mess, because everybody wants their two-bit sport or game included, and in the process, modernity is crowding out what the Olympics ought to be standing for, with the classic events being shoehorned out because the IOC has to coldly calculate what will get the ratings.

Screw that noise.  We can do better than that.  Here at Chez Happycrow, we propose something different.  The Olympian Games.

  • Frequency:  it’s to be held every five years, and you can’t compete if your country is engaged in hostilities during the games.
  • Competition: it’s restricted to sports, and very specific ones.  No talent contests or other events that are judged purely on aesthetics.  Sport isn’t about showing up at a talent show.  Sports are about cutting the other guy’s heart out.  That’s why they don’t show Olympic Ballroom Dancing in the official video.
  • Stable Events:  it’s held in Olympia, and includes ancient events performed in the ancient styles only.  None of this “every country trying to get the games IT happens to be good at in while shutting everybody else’s out” business.  Much as we at Chez Happycrow think longsword and heavy sabre fencing would make for fun times, no. 
  • No weight classes, no age or gender divisions.  The events are the events, period.  Equipment is minimal and standardized — no equestrian events that are financially out of reach of 99.44% of the entire world’s population.  If you can get there (and your nation isn’t at war), you can compete.  In deference to modern mores, throw on a speedo.  You’re a woman and tough enough to mix it up?  Go for it. Throw on a sports bra, and get in there.  Just the basics, and gear-to-train is as cheap as it gets. 

Come as you are, compete as you can.

  • One athlete, one coach.  None of this crap about entourages that outnumber the competitors.  That one guy is your coach, masseur, nutritionist, drinking body, whatever else.  The coach wears a sandwich-placard with the name, country, and flag of his athlete.
  • Doping:  we don’t care.  Sic transit gloria mundi.  If you care about the games so much that you’ll risk shortening your life to get a leg up… you go for it, buddy. But this ain’t cycling:  skill plays a significant role in these events, and just having a physical edge isn’t going to cut it.

Media gets to stay in their media space, thoughtfully rented to them by… the people who live in Olympia.  I expect a bloody free-for-all and bribes aplenty.  It’s their bloody games, mate.  You bet they’re gonna make a buck off you.

Here’s the events.

The Pentathlon

  1. Running the stade.  It’s run in heats.  Last runners standing duel it out at the end to see who’s fastest.
  2. Discus:  standardized weight, for distance
  3. Javelin:  Everybody uses the same javelins. It’s an accuracy competition at long range.  Three throws, closest to the center of the target wins.  Ties are determined by a throw-off amongst the winners until one person comes out on top.
  4. Jumping:  Long jump, stone weights allowed.
  5. Wrestling:  Competitors matched by lots in single elimination until there’s a winner.  No striking, biting, or attacks to the groin.  Broken fingers legal, just like in the old days.  All wrestling to be done upright-style: you’re trying to THROW your competitor.  Three falls wins.  Your style of wrestling comes from Mongolia rather than Iran?  We don’t care.

The Heavy Events

Armored Running:  Ten stade lengths in a bronze helmet and breastplate simulator (with leather side panels to allow for easier sizing).  Various sizes to be provided by the officials for fit, all breastplates will weigh the same.  You’re going for speed, strength, and endurance, wearing gear that is trying its damndest to give you heat-stroke.  Run in timed heats until one winner emerges.

Boxing:  Competitors matched by lots in single elimination until there’s a winner.  Cestus mandatory (leather thongs, not that Roman gladiator shit with the blades and concrete), and will be provided by the officials.  Eye and groin strikes are illegal. It goes until you either can’t box any more, or you admit that the other guy’s beaten you.  YOUR style of boxing happens to look like Tibetan White Crane?  We don’t care.

Pankration:  Competitors matched by lots in single elimination until there’s a winner.  Cestus optional.  This is the original “mixed martial arts”:  no biting, eye strikes, or groin pulls, everything else is legal.  You happen to do wushu?  Catch-wrestling?  Muay Thai?  Whatever you happen to call your collection of techniques, do it in the Pankration.  It goes until submission, or until the judges declare a winner or tie.

And there’s one extra rule, in the spirit of the pentathlon: 

ALL athletes compete in ALL events. 

No specialization:  you wanna compete, you have to be athlete enough to eat the whole enchilada, and fit enough not to simply wear out after the second day.  You overtrain, you lose.  Just showing up to compete is an act of raw physical bravery that no smack-talking couch potato can contest.  That’s why the “heavy” events that are injury-prone come at the tail end of the games.  Whoever wins the most contests wins.  In the very unlikely event that there are ties and four athletes each take two events — that’s what happens.  Each of them takes home the prize.

What’s the prize, you ask?   An olive wreath.  And the adoration of billions.

Liberalism 5.0, redux: How to make a liberal/libertarian synthesis work.

Jack Whelan and I are going back and forth.  We agree that Liberalism 5.0 has to happen, but we disagree on what it looks like.  He thinks “bigness” is here to stay; I think “bigness” is a crude 20th century relic, about as relevant to the future as the dinosaurs. 

These are fairly predictable biases, on both our parts, and is partly generational.  He’s a Boomer Humanist from Greater New England and the Left Coast (the dude headlines his blog with a money-quote from Niebuhr, so you gotta figure the humanism isn’t just an accident).  He trends Big-System Blue, and has political heroes to match.  Here at Chez Happycrow, we’re Gen-X, more flyover-country-ish, and our ideal looks a lot more like anarcho-capitalism and a human future in which we have governance free from coercion, though that being entirely contrary to history (pirates notwithstanding)  we incline towards pragmatism in real-life, as the conditions which will allow that probably will not prosper until we can open the high frontier.

That makes us two excellent people to try to find common political and future ground, as our built-in social biases happen to be reflected in big chunks of the population at large.  At an impersonal political remove, we’re opponents:  if Whelan and I can hammer out common ground, a lot of other people can, too.

Getting a grip on “Bigness” is absolutely critical for understanding what governance will look like.  Whelan is as dismissive of libertarians as we at Chez Happycrow are of the Blue Bureacracy (particularly given that we’ve been victimized by it more than once).  Fortunately, we and those who agree with each of our predilections don’t have to simply yammer at each other:  “Bigness” is a testable hypothesis, and Whelan is seriously on to something with another concept which comes into the mix:

Good order obtains where the principle of subsidiarity reigns.  ‘Subsidiarity’ is a fancy word that describes a common-sense American democratic ideal:  local communities should be trusted to organize and govern themselves. The people who make the most important decisions should be the people who are most directly affected by them.  Real life is lived by people in their local communities, not in central headquarters. Central authorities are there to support local communities, not to micromanage or impose their centralized agendas. They intervene only when egregious problems arise that the local community hasn’t the capability or the will to solve on its own.

There’s a lot to praise there.  The lower the level of government, the easier it is for any citizen to find out what it’s doing and to fix things going wrong.  Now, where Whelan predictably identifies this virtue with Blue-State hero Jerry Brown, what he tends to miss is that the libertarian types whose motives he impeaches also agree with this concept, and agree with it wholeheartedly — it tends to protect “right of exit” as a supplement to “voice” for the redressing of grievances.  As Lawrence Lessig has so aptly observed, the average citizen is a politically insignifcant speck who no longer retains any voice:  “Voice” has been entirely capture by the institutional corruption of the lobbying cycle.   We can therefore take a pragmatic approach to subsidiarity, by testing any given issue for the degree of government required.

For this to work for all sides, though, the bottom of the pyramid needs to be opened up by the degree to which an individual can meaningfully buy into the process.  After all, if he can’t buy in, he has priveleges rather than rights, and is not a citizen, but a subject.  So rather than starting with local government, it would look more like this:

  1. Perfect Human Dignity:  Citizen Governance rather than solutions imposed by government.
  2. Excellent Voice/Easy Exit Level:  City Government
  3. Easy Voice/ Good Exit Level:  County Government
  4. Moderate Voice/Exit Level: Regional (infra-state) Government
  5. Low Voice/Exit Level:  State Government
  6. Federal Government – Minimal individual Voice, Zero Exit except in extremis.

This requires compromises on both sides.  There are liberal/progressive voters who object to any individual action that is not regulated in the name of “social justice.”  In the same vein, there are libertarians who object to the Federal Government doing anything except minor interstate commercial regulation and National Defense.

That said, there is also a constituency for action here.  Liberal and libertarian voters alike, for instance, regard the War on Drugs with disdain:  it achieved little more than to ruin millions of lives.  There are also plenty of liberals who have no problems with the concept of non-coercive citizen governance — Homeowner’s Associations are a prime example of just that.

On the other hand, this requires libertarian types to compromise as well.  There are some issues where we cannot fix problems by establishing property rights (to avoid the Tragedy of the Commons), nor can we easily circumvent said issues with low-impact solutions based on Perfect-Voice-Governance.  Some problems are based on common usage and require actual coercion by government.  Air pollution is one example of this type.  The solution for that may be viable at the state level, but is just as likely to require Federal regulation.  Unless we’re basing our solutions on counter-factual fairy tales and unicorn farts (looking at how people ought to behave, as opposed to how they actually do), there’s little way to get around that.  Now, once we’re off this rock and provide our own air, that’s another story.  But in the mean time, it’s much more likely that we avoid poisoning the air via federal or state regulation than by common agreement.

We can test these hypotheses, and say “okay, how much government do I need, and what level,” and then answer that question not with pointless partisan invective, but simply by seeing what works.  I think that Bigness has had its day, and that Khan Academy and an organization of cooperating parent-educators can match much of what absolutely required a County school system when I was growing up.  Might that fail some students?  Sure.  Just as the Prussian Model of educational warehousing is failing literally tens of millions of students today, something that I have witnessed first-hand teaching in community college.  70% of community college effort goes to simply trying to get the students up to where they should have been their senior year of high school.  But maybe I’m wrong

Maybe the solution for better schools is mandatory government-paid daycare and a cradle-to-grave educational-credential program administered by the Department of Education.  We won’t know, until we agree to start by allowing those parents to do their thing and see if homeschooling really does live up to its recent (stellar) reputation.  Not every city will privatize its services well, and some bureacracies will do a fantastic job — trial and error will be part of the process.

This isn’t a panacea for politics: it won’t solve huge societal debates over social issues.  But it will tend to make politics more clean (it’s easier to have a transparent local government than a federal one), and also make it significantly more responsive to its citizens’ needs.  And those are things that liberals and libertarians can both agree on.

Love: Austrian Economics Edition

A lot of digital ink has been spilled in the last decade or so into understanding “who goes home with whom” from the club, bar, or what-have you.  And it’s almost Valentine’s Day. 

So, let’s talk love and see how many eyeballs we get here at Chez Happycrow.

The metaphor of the sexual and marriage marketplaces has become common lately in blogs discussing “game,” sex, and relationships in general (I’ve linked the bare tip of the iceberg here).  One of the considerations is that every person has a relative 1-10 value of attractiveness — from the lesser deity who you almost can’t help but look at, to those who, well, have a great personality. 

SMV (Sexual Marketplace) value may differ from MMV (Marriage marketplace value), but most people have a pretty good idea of whether somebody finds them attractive, and whether someone they meet is a “date,” or else a “keeper.”  The way people with “different values” behave is often easy to predict.  It doesn’t take a social genius to know that very attractive men generally have an easier time with women than butt-ugly ones.  Neither is it a surprise that very attractive women generally have a  lot less casual sex than those who are less attractive and have to be willing to put out if they’re going to land the same guy at the local “meat-market” club.  Also, as noted here, alpha wolves mate for life — while the ability to create attraction is a factor of high-status, alpha behavior is strictly oriented towards quality rather than quantity.

True to life: tragically for the hopes of those raised on Sex and the City, the male ’10’ doesn’t even notice these gals. Bet his wife has, though.

Similarly, a woman who’s a goddess at the local bar or club may radiate a gigantic aura that says “damaged goods, not a keeper” in bright neon.  Her SMV is high; her MMV is in the basement, and people will tend to wind up like with like — guy next door with girl next door, wildly beautiful womanwith attractive and wealthy man, etc.

Taking this as a starting point is okay, but these values are deeply flawed. Not necessarily because they’re fallacious in and of themselves, but because they’re predicated upon a fundamental pretense of knowledge regarding the actual SMV/MMV of the man or woman involved in the hunt for love.  It’s not who you are, it’s what you do about who you are, that makes you or breaks you in your relationships.

Dweebs: still out-happying Maureen Dowd every goddamned day.

Love is an emergent phenomenon. I.e., it arises not from the man and woman (assuming straight for discourse, b/c the vocab is simpler to type), but from the interactions between the man and the woman.  This shocks nobody. Take the same man, and the same woman, and on different days and different moods, they ignore each other, they hate each other, or they fall madly in love with each other.   This fact alone accounts for 144% of all chick flicks ever made.  No way to predict it; you can merely describe the likelihood of something continuing based on the quality of the interaction.

Otherwise, if you forget that it’s about the interactions, rather than just the person, you get the famous dating phenomenon where two people have interests in everything  — except each other.  If the passion of the interactions is high enough and in the right vector, it turns into love. (Contrary to stereotype, men and women can be friends even if they have chemistry. They just have to be mature enough to acknowledge it and move on).

You think Arthur Miller landed this babe because of his looks?

You can be a stone-cold 10, and yet lose all hope the moment you open your mouth.  Stunning looks, low-quality interaction.  This is no surprise — the hot but socially clueless guy, or the gorgeous but aggressively-stupid woman are just one of numerous stereotypes describing this situation. 

Paris Hilton:
America’s plan for global facepalm dominance.

Like other emergent phenomena, it is also subject to hysteresis, and when these interactions reach a certain level, the passions can develop systems which lower the overall affection.  Not only can this value be reduced to its original value (no affection), it frequently can drive the value below its originating point — into active disgust/hatred.  This, again, surprises nobody. Nobody on earth hates a man or woman like the person who has been involved in a bad divorce or catastrophic love-affair with that person — the very process that initially created love then turns into a system which drives the Total System Affection (I’ve resisted the urge for acronyms because there’s already too much gropey love in our airports, and I don’t want to wind up on a list) down into the bedrock.

Yeah, I’d say it’s over.

Similarly, mis-allocation of affection within a ONS or other infatuation-based attempt to create love frequently results in a love bubble, which can swell to enormous heights before it pops. But it’s not real — it’s the substitution of artificial feelings for the authentic thing:  afterwards, the amount of love in the system is still zero, and while some people have demonstrated a history of continuously reinflating their supposed love-bubble, this is a poor substitute for actual spontaneously arising and self-sustaining love. “Serial monogamy” is a term meaning “cannot maintain a relationship.”

Her personal ads are looking for a “real man.”
But real men won’t have anything to do with her.

A good relationship consistently pays dividends in constantly awesome interactions.  And contrary to Chris Rock, you don’t have to be that couple that’s constantly only one step away from appearing on CNN.  But only if you remember – you never stop taking her coat.  You never stop bringing him coffee.   Once you get that love is an emergent phenomenon, you have to acknowledge that “love is forever,” means “love is constantly.”

Why “Invest” in a home, indeed?

Rober Schiller just destroyed one of the hottest and stupidest fads of the early 2000s:

“Housing traditionally is not viewed as a great investment. It takes maintenance, it depreciates, it goes out of style. All of those are problems. And there’s technical progress in housing. So, new ones are better.”

That’s right.  There is one, and only one, economically rational reason to buy a house, and that is because it provides you the opportunity, with enough time and patience, to no longer pay a landlord or bank money every month just for the privelege of taking up space.

Yes! I got in with no closing costs!

 There’s a lot of rationalization going on in real estate, and it’s bad.

  1. Investment?  Not unless you’re in a bubble and you can and flip.  That’s not investing: that’s trading.  And if you’re good at that, you can make a stupid amount of money by doing it.  Chances are, though, that if you’re reading this…you’re not good at it.
  2. Good schools?  You can get into a good school district in a rented apartment.  And if your monthly take-up-space-bill is zero, that pays for a lot of private schooling, too.
  3. Safe place to play?  Any place worth living in usually has kick-ass parks, and most apartments have green spaces that are safe, too.  If they’re too young to play unsupervised in an apartment greenspace, they’re too young to play unsupervised in the back yard, too.
  4. Bad things happen to houses.  Bad and expensive things.  Foundation repair.  Termites. Hail damage.  Plumbling breaks and water damage.  They have to be fixed, and the lawns have to be maintained, or else the Zoning Nazis will be all over you and your neighbors will stare daggers at you.
  5. Expensive houses in “good neighborhoods” usually means long commutes, which is a tremendous cost in both money, and your most valuable asset, TIME.  Time is not money.  You can always earn more money, but once your clock is punched, the game is over.
  6. The quality of construction of most “tract mansions” near the “good schools” is frequently abysmal.  A half-million-dollar house built out of chip-board is a poor investment compared to a house that costs a third of that, with the rest in stocks, bonds, and precious metals.  Just because a house is big, doesn’t mean that a house is good.

Here’s your strategy:  get the cheapest house you can possibly bear to live with.  Pay it off, as fast as you possibly can, especially while interest rates are low and saving is a chump’s game anyway.  Then, once you’re used to dropping that huge chunk of change on the mortgage, saving will be a breeze — you just transfer the same amount of money…not to a bank, but to an account you already own.  THEN, once you’ve got six months’ of your total income (meaning, if you’re married, what you both earn in six months), and ONLY THEN is it safe to look at this little thing called “investing.”

 Investing is the hallmark of the middle class.  And the first rule of the middle class is “don’t be a rent-serf.”

Less is More…is Less.

Much of my time is broken up into two thoughts, lately:

  • I have to get out of North Texas.  I like Texas and love my friends here, but this is allergy central, and we’re fighting an epic rearguard battle to keep my wife’s lungs from melting.  Outside of the emergency steroid shots, it’s actually a federal crime to sell the medicine she needs to function except from a compounding pharmacy — that’s how bad the situation is.  She and I both love this state, but if I try to retire here it will eventually, and quite literally, kill my wife.  That sucks: I’ve got a lot of very good friends here I’d rather not say good-bye to.

The last line of defense; comes with side effects.

  • My entire financial strategy has been built around having no debt whatsoever of any kind, using the current period of fiscal repression (when the fedgov uses artificially low interest rates  and crushes savers in order to help its crony banker friends) to pay off debt and be able to start racking four digits into savings every month thereafter, when interest rates inevitably make their rebound and the “usual strategies” actually provide some benefit.  This has been a tremendous success — dodging the CW and getting a variable mortgage when everybody was panicked to get out of them has let us chop the mortgage to the point where we’re only a year or so away from it being permanently gone, even counting emergency dentistry, foundation repairs, and all the other things life throws at you that you’d rather not have to spend money on.

“How to shaft every retiree in America,” in one easy-to-understand chart.

Needless to say, these are mutually exclusive goals.  Any relocation is inevitably going to involve eating up seed-corn to pay for the move and one way or other, “starting over” on the move.  Gah.  This is why I overwatered my office plant this morning.  I’m a bit of an aesthete, and like having plants in my workspace.  It helps to humanize the weird minty glow of the office’s flourescent ceiling lights.

 

Water us or we’ll kill you.

Neat trick about paper towels — you can use them over and over again.  You don’t have to put it in the water and just throw it away.  A lot of folks don’t realize that.  You can clean up almost any casual spill with exactly two paper towels — one to get up the majority of the water, squeezing the water out into a sink/trashcan like a sponge, over and over again, and one dry “reserve” cloth for “final cleanup” to make the surface truly dry rather than damp.

But how many of us spill a big container of liquid, or accidentally pour half a pint of water through a houseplant, and just throw down WAYYYY more than they need?  I know I have.  So I wonder sometimes if most of our problems, speaking collectively, come from not expending too much effort in one direction, and not getting enough mileage from the effort we put in another.

Example:  I’m a very good copy-editor, and have done it for academic clients for years when the needs arises, both paid and volunteer.  It’s not shabby work in the slightest, and I have the discipline to do it without a deadline constantly hanging over my head (a lot of folks don’t).  That’s “easy” work (for me), and if set up right, has a lot of flexiblity in terms of location for a good freelancer.  But for years I’ve had blinders on and never thought to exploit that for a job in the private sector, having assumed it was just an “academic thing,” when actually it’s a very real saleable skill.  I’ve held myself back by not exploiting it.

I think I need to return to one of the old themes of this blog, and that’s The Study of Dangerous Assumptions.  Have you made a dangerous and/or counterproductive assumption lately?  If so, what did you learn when you woke up?

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