Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Radical Markets

"Radical Markets" is a 2018 book by Eric A. Posner, an American law professor, and E. Glen Weyl, "a political economist and social technologist seeking to harness computers and markets to create a radically equal and cooperative society. I am Founder and Chairman of the RadicalxChange Foundation, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft and I teach at Princeton University." It is subtitled "Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society". It is 356 pages with a preface, an introduction, 5 chapters, a conclusion, and an epilogue.The eBook was $23.99, ouch. The 5 chapters each cover a different idea for a "radical market" and are somewhat unrelated to each other.

I think that I read this book based on a recommendation by Jaron Lanier in a recent issue of Wired. Lanier is a iconoclast and somewhat of a contrarian, but he has street cred out the wazoo.

I was concerned before I started by blurbs to the effect that the book talks about extending markets to places where they don't exist - the opposite of that I have come to believe. I like the formulation of Kate Raworth in "Doughtnut Economics":

Instead of immediately focusing on making markets work more efficiently, we can start by considering: when is each of the four realms of provisioning—household, commons, market and state—best suited to delivering humanity’s diverse wants and needs?
Yes, markets are great for many things. I like Posner & Weyl's musings in the epilogue on markets as distributed, parallel computing systems with human brains as the nodes.
Markets elegantly exploit distributed human computational capacity. In doing so they allocate resources in ways that no present computer could match.
But, I believe there are domains where moral peril dictates that for-profit markets are not the way to go: healthcare, war, prisons, education. I think that putting actors in situations where they are financially rewarded for keeping people sick, prolonging conflict, locking up as many people as possible, or creating a generation of debt slaves is a very bad idea.

So, I did not come into this book with a very open mind. Additionally, they start each of the 5 chapters and the conclusion with a "vignette" - a few pages of very stilted, unbelievable, bad science fiction.

As we will see, they are also huge fans of Homo Economicus - in fact, Homo Economicus on steroids. And we learned in "Doughnut Economics", way #3 of the 7 ways to think like a 21st century economist is to put Homo Economicus behind us.

I almost quit reading after Chapter 2, but I pretty much always finish books I start, and the last 2 chapters actually had some good ideas. So, here we go.


The preface is titled "The Auction Will Set You Free". [When eBay 1st started up, I bid on items in auctions a few times. I lost the auctions, and concluded they were a waste of my time. So I am not particularly a fan of auctions.] They open with a quote from the Gnome of Chicago, Milton Friedman, whose economics I regard as 1 of the greatest intellectual disasters of the 20th century. Oh well. Posner's & Weyl straight up tell us their core belief.

Our premise is that markets are, and for the medium term will remain, the best way of arranging a society.

...

An auction is the quintessential Radical Market.

[Ha, ha. The Kobo desktop reader does not have a copy function. So I highlight text, then use the "Look up on Google" function and copy the text from the Google input buffer. Kludgy, but it works. The 1st quotation above got a hit from Google - for this review on the Mises Institute website. They didn't like the book much either.]

Posner & Weyl several times in the book basically say, yes, this would be an incredible time suck for the entire human race, but, hey, there will be an app on your smartphone to help out! So, no worries! Well, maybe ...

let us assume for the moment that the auctions are conducted via smartphone apps that automatically bid based on default settings
Posner & Weyl identify the two thinkers who seem to be their heros:
  • Henry George, "whose ideas helped launch the Progressive era and who may have been the most widely read economist of all time". I didn't recognize the name, but searching this blog I found out we had met him in Peter Barnes' "Capitalism 3.0". [Reading a little of that post, man, I like those ideas much better than these.]
  • William Spencer Vickrey, who I had not run into before.


The introduction is titled "The Crisis of the Liberal Order". This opens with a quote by Keynes, yay! They discuss the current economic malaise, and introduce the term "stagnequality—lower growth combined with rising inequality rather than inflation." They point out how this is leading to right-wing populism, with all its fascist trappings.

They discuss the concept of the "moral economy", which I had not heard of. It is the economy of the small medieval village. It does not scale.

moral economies break down as the scope and scale of trade expand.

...

A modern market economy—which combines government support for trade (contract and property law) along with government protection against abuses (tort law and regulation)—generates value far beyond the capabilities of a moral economy.

So, modern markets good. But
market power—the ability of companies and individuals to affect prices in their favor—permeates the economy. We claim that market power is omnipresent and intrinsic to the current institutional structure of capitalism and that it is one of the two dominant sources of stagnequality and political conflict.

The other primary problem, we believe, is that, at the same time that some markets are clogged with market power, many areas of human life are lacking in markets that could vastly improve people’s well-being. This problem is most acute for goods and services usually provided by governments, like policing, public parks, roads, social insurance, and national defense: what is needed is a market for political influence.

Hmmm. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Posner & Weyl are definitely "in for a penny, in for a pound" kind of guys.


Chapter 1 is titled "Property Is Monopoly", subtitled "Creating a Competitive Market in Uses Through Partial Common Ownership". Our opening vignette is the story of a guy who wants to build a hyperloop, so he gets on his smartphone app, and, just like that, buys up all the property he needs! Easy!

The idea of this chapter is that private property as such is abolished, and replaced by a COST (common ownership self-assessed tax). You assign a value to everything you "own" (with maybe some exemptions, but definitely not land), and you are taxed based on this value. Meanwhile, anyone can buy "your property" for your assessed price. So if you want to keep something, you better assess it way high - meaning you will pay higher taxes on it - and hope some real rich guy (or hyperloop developer if it is land) doesn't buy it out from under you.

They work their way into this by a review of the concept of property, starting with Aristotle. We learn about "investment efficiency" (no Wikipedia entry); Ronald Coase and "the transaction costs of the market"; William Stanley Jevons ("Property is only another name for monopoly."); Léon Walras ("Declaring individual land ownership … means … thwarting the beneficial effects of free competition by preventing the land from being used as is most advantageous for society."). The bugagoo of The Tragedy of the Commons is of course invoked:

As ecologist Garrett Hardin observed many years later, land without a single owner often becomes overgrazed, eroded, and polluted in what he labeled the “tragedy of the commons."
As noted in the post linked to just above, Garrett Hardin appears to have been a pretty serious asshole.

So everyone gets to determine prices for everything they "own" - in the name of "allocative efficiency".

Only a true, continuous auction in uses can solve the monopoly problem and hence produce allocative efficiency.

...

Full allocative efficiency is achieved: every asset passes to the hands of the person best able to use it and invest in it.

We encounter our old friend Richard Thaler, with some objections his "endowment effect".
Some recent evidence shows that the endowment effect is less a fundamental psychological attachment and more a heuristic used to jockey for position in bargaining.

...

The endowment effect seems to be a characteristic of people who lack the time and ability to navigate the complex pricing decisions required in a market society.

Hmmm, "people who lack the time and ability ...". How about those who lack the interest - who feel that there are many more fulfilling things in life to do in place of being a Superpowered Homo Economicus who - with their trusty sidekick smartphone app - must constantly monitor and maintain the database of everything they "own"?

Posner & Weyl have more love for the - in my estimation - 95% of the human race (including me) who do not have time, ability, or interest in their scheme.

Economists tend to neglect three other impediments to trade: laziness, incompetence, and malice. Private property allows lazy or misanthropic owners to hoard assets and to do so not for gain, but out of sloth.

...

A COST disrupts the quiet life of a lazy monopolist by forcing her to generate the income to sustain a high valuation or turn her assets over to someone who can better use them.

So add add laziness and maliciousness to the attributes of those who have better things to do with their life than participate in COST.

The authors recommend a (perhaps commendable, and possible trending upwards with our younger generations) Buddhist attitude towards property.

Wouldn’t it be better if people invested less of their emotional energy in objects and more in their personal relationships?

...

Increasing economic evidence suggests that excessive attachment to homes is inhibiting employment and dynamism in the US economy,

The authors provide numbers - without much support - supporting contentions that COST would be structured to help reduce inequality; lead to the lowering of asset prices; and boost the economy by maximizing the use of resources. They do realize that there may be problems with their plan.
Later in this chapter, we will address an objection that surely has already occurred to you—that the stability of everyday life would be upended by the Vickrey Commons. [They don't, particularly.]
OK, enough.
  1. 95% of people would not want to fool with this. 1/2 the population doesn't bother to vote. People struggle with balancing their checkbooks as it is. My wife and I have lived in our current house for 28 years. Even though we are, I am sure, not making the most efficient economic use of the property, we still are planning on living there until we die or can no longer maintain the property. Meanwhile, I'd like to keep our taxes down, as I am retired and living on a fixed income. What should I set the price at? I have no idea! And I'm not likely to trust a smartphone app to tell me.
  2. In "Capitalism 3.0", Peter Barnes proposes paying universal dividends from the proceeds of use fees on The Commons, administered by fiduciary trusts. He estimated that common assets, natural and social, were at least 50% larger than private and government assets combined. [I guesstimated that this might be low by a factor of 10.] So let's use that as a source of dividends to fight inequality rather than trying to replace the concept of private property. Barnes also points out
    The reason I stress property rights is that, in America, property rights are sacred. They’re guaranteed by the Constitution.
  3. I really liked the 7 Basic Goods defined by Robert and Edward Skidelsky in "How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life". Basic Good #2 is Security: "An individual's justified expectation that is his life will continue more or less in its accustomed course, undisturbed by war, crime, revolution or major social and economic upheavals." I would add "undisturbed by all your property being purchased by someone else." COST destroys any idea of Security.
  4. It seems to me that Barnes' commons trusts, income tax rates restored to Eisenhower era levels (94% max), a Piketty wealth tax, microtaxes on financial transaction, etc. would be much easier ways to address our inequality problem.
  5. How many constitutional amendments would COST require?
  6. The overall economic thinking involved here - that scarcity is the rule, and as such efficiency is the goal - seems way retro to me. 20th century economics, not 21st century. Scarcity economics (Capitalism 1.0, per Peter Barnes), not post-scarcity economics (Capitalism 2.0 or greater).
In this blog I have referenced a quote that I can't find: that "ownership was only invented because we didn't have good tech to do sharing". So yes, I think we will see a lot more sharing of property in the future. But getting rid of ownership pretty much altogether seems pretty improbable to me.


Chapter 2 is titled "Radical Democracy", subtitled "A Market For Compromise In Our Shared Lives". It's basic idea is that of QV: Quadratic Voting. They don't like democracy, because sometimes minorities get suppressed. Ha ha, one of their examples:

Controls, aimed at reducing violence, on weapons that are typically used in military contexts but that may also be used for hunting and militia training.
"Militia training"??? In what country??? Sure seems like a RW gun-nut dog whistle to me. Plus, their vignette for this chapter involved a gun-deprived Japanese man who uses QV judo to get some pro-gun legislation passed, so he can hunt the wild animal that killed his father?!?!?

So instead of 1P1V (1 Person 1 Vote), they propose, based on some academic papers, Quadratic Voting.

Every citizen is given a budget of “voice credits” every year, which he may spend on referenda that year or save for the future ... To convert voice credits to votes, a voter can dip into his budget and spend as much of the balance as he wants to buy votes—but the cost of a number of votes is its square in voice credits.
Voters can now hoard their influence and save it for something they really care about - like banning abortion, say - ha ha, the authors reference this example. Well, abortion does seem to be defining divisive issue of current US politics. Ugh, the patriarchy.
But when citizens are not perfectly rational and selfish, QV may run into greater problems.
So QV has problems if citizens are not members of the species Homo Economicus? Oops.
A similar problem may arise from collusion, vote-buying, or fraud, just as in 1p1v systems. As with 1p1v, guarding against such possibilities will require strict legal enforcement against fraud and abuse; social norms against pressure, vote-buying, and collusion; and a sense of a civic duty to participate in proportion to one’s knowledge.
Good luck with those "social norms against ... collusion". You cannot tell me that, if such a system were in place, abortion opponents, for example, would not immediately begin colluding and figuring out how to game the system to get what they want.

In that last quotation, the authors do something that is repeated for all their proposals. They basically say "Yes, our new system would be at risk from this and that, but, the current system is too." ??? If you are proposing such radical (their word) system change, I would think you might try to do something that is noticeably better than the current system. Otherwise, it is a case of "the warts I know vs the warts I don't know" - not a rousing endorsement.

I really don't know what to say to this. Maybe it might work, but it sure seems like it could and would be gamed - and/or hacked, as such a system would pretty much have to be computerized. And again, how many constitutional amendments would it require?

They don't compare QV with ranked voting. I for one would be much more interested in simplifying the voting we have - say going with automatic opt-out registration and mailed ballots, like Oregon. Or do like Australia and require citizens to vote. Let's see how that turns out before giving up on democracy.

But, the authors want to uproot democracy - it's in the book's subtitle. I am of course reminded of the Churchill quote

democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
They reference Condorcet’s “Jury Theorem”, which seems to say, the more people involved in a decision, the better - so yay, democracy. We learn about Kenneth Arrow's impossibility theorem, which seems to imply problems for ranked voting - I surmise, tho, that with large enough numbers, this would not be an issue.

They also talk about using QV in polls, which is probably much more workable. There's an app for that, weDecide, of course. ;->


Chapter 3 is titled "Uniting the World's Workers". It is subtitled "Rebalancing the International World Order Towards Labor". The idea here is to sell immigration visas at auction. Additionally, just as corporations can sponsor immigrants with H-1B visas and parents can sponsor nannies/au pairs via J-1 visas, a new visa type would allow everyone to sponsor immigrants. The citizen sponsors get the $$$ that the immigrants put up. They call this Visas Between Individuals Program (VIP).

The subtitle reflects the well-known fact that capital moves between nations much more easily than labor does - the authors feel their proposal could help rectify that. Plus it would provide a source of income for the sponsors, and decrease inequality.

They make this statement:

because the Continent has been less successful in fostering entrepreneurship than the United States, fewer high-skilled migrants relocate to Europe than to the United States.
But recently I have seen more than once statistics which contradict this assertion - googling immediately turned up this article. Yes, we have tons of VC $$$, but percentage-wise the US is towards the bottom of OECD countries with regard to entrepreneurship.

They point to the Middle Eastern Arabian states as examples of how large numbers of immigrant workers can work out. They note that there will of course be great opportunity for exploitation, which would have to be vigorously policed. Their proposal also calls for these new migrants to be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage, and for immigration laws to be enforced more strictly. They don't talk about what happens to immigrants, like our current caravan, who are seeking asylum, fleeing oppression or terror.

The most unbelievable thing about this chapter is their expectation that 1/3 of US families - 100 million of them - would want to take part in the program. But they think 1/3 might be conservative.

If most citizens, rather than just a third (as we envisioned), chose to participate, migration could nearly double the population of the host country.
Seriously??? 100 million? I frequently see signs "Foster Parents Needed - Call This Number". Foster parents are subsidized by the state, so an income source like VIP. But I think it is common knowledge that there is a shortage of foster parents. I googled to get some numbers: 400,000 children in foster care, with 100,000 waiting for adoption. So, 1000x fewer people needing sponsorship, but still there is a shortage. I would be forced to characterize the authors' expectations for their VIP to be wildly unrealistic.


Chapter 4 is titled "Dismembering the Octopus". It is subtitled "Toward a Radical Market In Corporate Control". This chapter surprisingly contains some interesting and important information, which I was very surprised I have never heard of before. The contention is that the very large institutional investors - BlackRock, Fidelity, Vanguard, and State Street in particular - by dint of owning significant stock in all of the corporations in a given market segment, are engaging in monopolistic practices and discouraging competition in favor of higher profits.

Their proposal to address this seems like a good, straightforward idea - although the current environment in which the SEC and the FTC seem to almost never bring antitrust suits like in the good old days might make it unlikely to be enforced.

A simple but Radical reform can prevent this dystopia: ban institutional investors from diversifying their holdings within industries while allowing them to diversify across industries.
Hah, I was thinking there wasn't anything radical in this chapter, but apparently the authors think this is a "Radical reform". A bit of shoehorning perhaps.

I tweeted Robert Reich.


Chapter 5 is titled "Data as Labor". It is subtitled "Valuing Individual Contributions to the Digital Economy". The main idea is that consumers should be paid for the vast amounts of data we are generating for Google, Facebook, et al. This is a good idea. They state that many of the ideas in this chapter were inspired by Jaron Lanier his 2013 book "Who Owns the Future?", and mention in the Acknowledgements that Lanier "has been Glen’s partner every step of the way in Data as Labor." Hence the Lanier recommendation, I guess.

There is a discussion of data as capital vs. labor - they favor the labor interpretation. There is an interesting suggestion that consumers should unionize, and that Facebook, for example, would have to go through the union to get the data. Creating unions could have other beneficial effects - maybe this is the layer that does fact-checking and other quality control?

Furthermore, to realize the gains from data as labor, data workers will need some organization to vet them, ensure they provide quality data, and help them navigate the complexities of digital systems without overburdening their time. These triple roles, of collective bargaining, quality certification, and career development, are exactly the roles unions played during the Industrial Age.
I like the term "siren servers".
the siren servers have occupied the central piece of real estate in a “digital commons” that has room for only a few players, and their interests are now opposed to paying technoserfs who are at present voluntarily tilling this land.
Ha ha, what happened to our Superpowered Homo Economicus?
users will not want to have to make a cost-benefit analysis of the monetary value versus the hassle cost of every online interaction.

...

it would be impractical for most users to think through the financial value of every digital choice.

I like that they end the chapter giving props to gamers. Go gamers! [I am not a gamer but I know many younger people who are very serious about gaming.]
Most people derive a sense of self-worth from making a contribution to society. In a world where individual digital contributions were appropriately valued by society, many video gaming young men could convert their enjoyment of gaming into a productive skill. Given the trend toward the “gamification” of many productive tasks, it is not hard to imagine that the skills these young men have acquired in their life as gamers might help them earn a living if data were treated as labor. The untapped capacity of expert gamers deserves more respect, and more attempts at harnessing it for the social good, than it receives today. This would encourage gamers to develop their ability in a more socially valuable manner, yielding a sense of both personal dignity and political responsibility.
A related topic that they could have discussed here: I think I have stated several times that consumers should be compensated for watching advertisements. Of course, I recently found that Peter Barnes proposed this in "Capitalism 3.0" in 2006.


The conclusion is titled "Going to the Root". They double down on COST, proposing it could also be applied to labor as well as capital, i.e., to human beings. Each of us self-assesses our value, and we - or our services - are then up for auction.

a COST on human capital might be perceived as a kind of slavery—incorrectly in our view, at least if the COST were properly designed.

...

A COST on human capital would ameliorate this form of unequal freedom by requiring the talented people to pay a tax if they do not want to work in a job that is most efficient for society.

In a similar over-the-top extrapolation, they propose that, in their QV voting system, people who aren't interested in politics (in a perfect world, all of us) could sell their votes to those who are! Sure, no problems with that!
The benefit of monetized QV would be to allow people to express their preferences for public goods in a very precise way—since they would give up their ability to spend money on themselves in return for the power to influence a public decision. Such a system would also be fairer than the version of QV we suggested in chapter 2, because citizens for whom public issues are more important than private ones would be able to fully express themselves rather than being stuck with a fixed budget of voice credits. While the system gives those with high incomes more power than an ideal, nonexistent egalitarian system, it gives them less power than in real-world systems, where they exercise influence through donations. Moreover, in the QV system the rich pay the poor for political influence—since the money is redistributed—rather than pay politicians.
More on COST - they mention some of my concerns.
What could go wrong? One possibility is that people will not be able to handle the additional burdens that these schemes would impose on them.

...

The opposite problem is that our proposals can be gamed by sophisticated people, who figure out ways to undermine them.


The epilogue is titled "After Markets?". I mentioned at the start that I liked their musings on markets as distributed, parallel computing systems with human brains as the nodes. They open the epilogue with this quote:

The market process … may be considered as a computing device of the pre-electronic age.
—OSKAR LANGE, “THE COMPUTER AND THE MARKET,” 1967
But, now we have vast numbers of electronic computers, whose computational capability will soon exceed that of all the humans on earth. So can markets be replaced by a centrally planning via this vast computer network? They explore some of the history of these concepts, which came to be associated with socialism.
The brilliant economist Ludwig von Mises argued that the fundamental problem facing socialism was not incentives or knowledge in the abstract but communication and computation.
Searching this blog for "von Mises" came up with a reference in the review/summary of "Postcapitalism" by Paul Mason, 2016. Rereading that post, it covers "The Calculation Debate" - from von Mise to Hayek to Lange, as this epilogue recounts.

Homo Economicus wakes up briefly:

prices are the “minimum” information necessary for rational economic decision-making.
In real life, a lot more goes into economic decisions, particularly purchasing. Price is usually a 2ndary or tertiary factor to me.

They speculate on a world where our AI assistants make all our purchasing decisions - like NetFlix or Amazon recommendations on steroids.

People will not make choices but simply accept goods and services sent to them by computer programs.
Well, maybe not real soon. People like shopping - it allows them to exercise those hunter/gatherer instincts. When I first used Pandora, I was blown away at how good it was, but I still enjoy curating the 20,000 tracks in my iTunes. And there is no way I would ever let software pick my next guitar for me.

But in the end, the authors, for the near future at least, put their faith in markets.


Except for chapters 4 and 5, this whole thing struck me as la-la-Libertarianism. As Steven Pinker stated, "no developed country runs on right-wing libertarian principles, nor has any realistic vision of such a country ever been laid out." Once we get to a socialist, anarchist, post-scarcity utopia, the Libertarian BS will be moot anyway. So my recommendation is, read "Capitalism 3.0", or "Postcapitalism", instead of this book. Barnes' and Mason's works are full of good ideas and concepts.

Phew, I'm glad that's over with. I hate writing negative reviews.

On a personal note, chapter 1 reminded me that maybe 4-5 years ago I looked into writing an app to track my guitars. I was also thinking of getting a SME on guitar pricing to help maintain a price database. I would have tried to build it as a template so it could be extended to other types of property. I found an app for "tracking your stuff" called Trōv. It was crap. I just checked it out again, Trov has pivoted and now is about insuring your stuff. So I tried to put in my 1978 Fender Telecaster guitar (which I am looking to sell or swap for a Tele with a whammy bar). It had music as 1 of 4 supported categories. It knew Fender, but not Telecaster, which is Fender's 2nd best selling electric guitar. So I input "Telecaster", my choices for year were 2016-2018. I emailed their support, they said "Sorry, we can't quote you on that now". My feel is that tracking and valuing personal property is going to be a highly non-trivial exercise.

The person who was going to be my guitar value SME - Lindsay Olive, our alpha guitarist - told me recently that the "bluebooks" on guitar value that he used to use have gone by the wayside. Now he goes to eBay and looks at the price of completed auctions. So, maybe auctions are The Way ;->

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Guitar Rack Is Full

The Tuesday Night Blues Jam presented by Sherman House at Lynagh's has been doing pretty well: good turnouts of musicians (8-12), and some turnout of listeners. I have enjoyed being 1 of the house band guitarists/vocalists, with Brent Carter also on guitar and vocals, Matt Noell on bass and vocals, and Roger Barber on drums. We probably tried out 10 or so new songs since we resumed in early September, that has been fun.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Blues and Groove Jam at Squire's has also been doing well. This past Sunday, I had my 3 venue day: Backstretch Bar & Grill jam from 3-7, Listen Locally Open Mic at Twisted Cork from 5:30-9 with Steve on harp, and Squire's from 7:30-10:30. I played my latest guitar at all 3.

This guitar is the St. Vincent Signature from Sterling by Music Man. Music Man is Ernie Ball's guitar company, Sterling is their Epiphone cheaper version - $600 vs $2200 - made in Indonesia. I watched St. Vincent (Annie Clark)'s most excellent show on Austin City Limits and was struck by the guitar she was playing. She played red, matte black, and (vincent) blue versions. I checked it out and found that it was her signature guitar. So I got one - my 1st signature guitar and it is from a female guitarist?!?!?

The guitar is such a thing of beauty. The design is very geometrical: a triangle, a parallelogram, and a trapezoid. The difference of size in the 2 quadrilaterals is set by the width of the neck. I tried to draw it, the proportions are not quite right (the trapezoid that runs from top right to bottom left is off), but you get the idea.

It's light, fits the body well. It has the thickest neck of any of my guitars, but it still plays well, and the intonation up the neck is excellent. The whammy bar is like a Strat. I had to adjust it to whammy up as well as down, after which I had to adjust the string lengths and heights - I think I have got it set up pretty well now.

It took me 2 tries to get this guitar. The guitar has 3 pickups with a 5 position switch like a Strat. But it's not wired like a Strat. Pickup switch position 1 is the neck and bridge pickups; position 2 is all 3 pickups; position 3 is neck only; position 4 is middle only; and position 5 is bridge only. The 1st one I got came in with position 5 wired as bridge and middle. This is no good, you definitely want a bridge only setting for having the treble to cut through on solos when needed. I returned the 1st 1, the 2nd 1 came in wired correctly, yay!

As stated in the title, my 7-guitar rack is full - it actually has 8 guitars on it.

Not shown is the Flying V, which would not fit in the rack. Additionally, I have loaned it on a semi-permanent basis to the most excellent young guitarist Harlan Cecil of Fresh Cream Band. With the classical electric I added ~6 months ago, I think I'm good for a while.


Music In goes back to early August.

  • Spud Cannon, "Next Time Read the Fine Print", 2017, 12 tracks. Recommended by my son, who compared it to The Cure. They're out of Vassar College. Very nice peppy alternative tunes, 4 stars. Here's "Thrum a Dum".

  • Van Halen, "Fair Warning", 1981, 9 tracks. I read an interview with my friend, internationally renowned guitarist, the inimitable Ben Lacy, where he named this as his 1 album for a desert island. Great guitar work by Eddie Van Halen, one of Ben's seminal influences, but not particularly in my sweet spot. 3 stars.
  • Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, "One Size Fits All", 1975, 9 tracks. Ben also mentioned this as his 2nd desert island pick. I really far prefer the earlier Zappa, from the beginning up through maybe "Apostrophe". 3 stars.
  • Aretha Franklin, "Spirit In The Dark", 1970, 12 tracks. After the death of the Queen of Soul, I realized I had no Aretha in my collection. One article about her referenced this album as a high point so I got it. 4 stars. Here's "Don't Play That Song", a catchy Ben E. King tune. Wow, she really has long fingers!

  • Death Cab For Cutie, "Thank You for Today", 2018, 10 tracks. The 1st I have heard of them in a while. Nice tunes but no real standouts. 3 stars.
  • Interpol, "Marauder", 2018, 13 tracks. Interpol was 1 of the 1st alternative bands I started listening to when I restarted music ingestion around the turn of the century. A distinctive sound, but this album, like the other 5 of their albums I have, gets 3 stars.
  • Tash Sultana, "Flow State", 2018, 13 tracks. I think my weekly Amazon music email recommended this. Very catchy stuff. Australian, they sound like a woman, but their Wikipedia page consistently uses the gender-neutral pronoun "they" in referring to Sultana. At some point the article got edited and now under Personal Life says "Sultana identifies as nonbinary and prefers the pronoun "they"". Quite a variety of music, 1 track reminds me of a Kaki King guitar special. Here's track 1, "Seed (Intro)". I'm such a sucker for these major and minor 7th chords.

  • Iron & Wine, "Weed Garden", 2018, 6 tracks. This guy continues to put out great tunes, 4 stars. Here's "Last of Your Rock'n Roll Heroes".

  • Paul McCartney, "Egypt Station", 2018, 16 tracks. At this point I feel I'm committed to buy the works of the old guys like Paul. A decent album. Some of his lyrics may be a bit inappropriate for someone in their 70's, but I guess he's entitled. 4 stars (just barely). Here's "Happy With You".

  • Muddy Waters, "Hard Again", 1977, 10. Last year my friend from Ottawa harp player Owen Evans wanted to do the song "Crosseyed Cat", which had a unique lick and was fun to do. This year he wanted to do "Deep Down In Florida", which may be the slowest song I have ever heard - I clocked it at 62 bpm. Turns out it was the song before last year's on this album - so I decided to get the album. It was produced by Johnny Winter. A lot of times I'm tired of the blues after listening to a whole album, but this one has a really good variety of styles and tempos. An enthusiastic 4 stars. Here's "Deep Down In Florida".

  • Willie Nelson, "My Way", 2018, 11 tracks. Well, I almost didn't follow my rule of getting old guy albums, but, when I saw that there was a duet with Norah Jones, I had to buy it. I loved their duet of the now politically incorrect "Baby It's Cold Outside" - but their version here of "What Is This Thing Called Love" didn't do much for me. 3 stars.
  • CAN'T HOLD WAFFLES, "SPARE CHANGE CHICKEN INCIDENT", subtitled "Studies for Piano and Burning Kitchen Appliances", 2018, 9 30 second tracks, 1 2:31 track. This came from "The Weirdest Band in the World" website - I follow their blog. 30 second tone poems? I found it remarkably interesting to listen to.

  • Jim & Marie Howard, "Dreaming Of A Little Cabin", 2014, 10 tracks. Our bug guy plays mandolin and his wife sings. He gave me this album of old-timey country songs, recorded with some very good local musicians. 3 stars.
  • Eric Gales, "Middle Of The Road", 2018, 11 tracks. My harp player Steve Konopka and his wife took me and my wife to the Ribberfest Blues Festival in Madison, IN in August. 3 acts on Friday and 5 acts on Saturday for $30, with $10 in food tickets if you ordered in advance. We stayed at a Super 8 ~10 minutes away. Parking was no problem, and if you got tired of a band, it was a short walk to the downtown area that had restaurants, shops, and an excellent music store, Crawdaddy Music. Ha ha, the owner of Crawdaddy had been a judge at the BBQ contest - 8 entrants each pulled pork, ribs, pulled chicken, chicken, brisket, variety (rabbit, venison, other) - he said it was like being waterboarded.

    Eric Gales was the penultimate act on Saturday. He absolutely blew me away - like Jimi Hendrix had a cousin in another dimension. Incredibly fast and fluid, and beautiful, bright chords. In addition to bluesy stuff, he did variations on "Don't Fear The Reaper", and then went from "Voodoo Child" to Beethoven to "Kashmir" to "Back In Black". Just incredible. He had a really hard-working band too: his wife on vocals and percussion; drums; and bass (who also played some keys).

    The headliner was Ronnie Baker Brooks, an excellent bluesman, but we left after 1 song - Eric Gales was so unique and inventive we all wanted to keep him in our head. My wife bought this CD there. We also saw him in October in Lexington at Willie's Locally Known (now defunct as of last week) and had seats right below the stage FTW!

    I normally prefer studio to live albums, but I don't think a studio album can do him justice - the man really knows how to get a crowd worked up. 4 stars for the album, here's "Boogie Man", featuring Gary Clark, Jr.

  • Madeline Kenney, "Perfect Shapes", 2018, 10 tracks. I discovered Ms. Kenney by accident at The Burl. I really liked her Strat playing, emphasizing the low strings. On this, her 2nd album, she opens up the orchestration quite a bit, and I really like the results. I read an article where she said she was afraid her fans wouldn't like the new direction - this fan thinks it is great. 4 stars, here's "Cut Me Off".

  • Jimi Hendrix, "Both Sides of the Sky", 2018, 13 tracks. The last of 3 posthumous albums released over the last 5 years or so. The 1st was OK, the last 2 were fairly unremarkable. 3 stars.
  • Amanda Shires, "To the Sunset", 2018, 10 tracks. Not a bad album - I read a review which commented how non-countryish it was - but, I don't enjoy Ms. Shires voice all that much. I prefer her as a harmony singer, and, of course, fiddle player. 3 stars.
  • Jason Isbell, "Southeastern", 2013, 12 tracks. I think this was Isbell's 1st solo album after Drive-By Truckers. He is definitely a great songwriter. 4 stars. Here is a moving track about death, "Elephant".

That makes us current through mid-October. The _unrated playlist currently has 111 songs. Had a bit of a drought of new music for a while, but it has picked up recently, ysy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

1.5 + 1.5

1st, "Ball Lightning", by Cixin Liu, 2018, 384 pages. This winds up being a prequel to the "3-Body Problem" trilogy (now in production at NetFlix), blogged here and here. Like the trilogy, the speculative physics in this book is very interesting. We are again reminded that the author lives in communist China. For the majority of the book the principals are engaged in weapons research, and a brief war does break out between China and the US and others. There is also reference to the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979, which I definitely don't remember. This is another well-paced read, with understandable, if occasionally somewhat off, characters.

2nd, the latest (9th) Laundry Files novel from Charles Stross, "The Labyrinth Index", 2018, 368 pages. Around installment 5 of this series, I think I said that Charlie seemed to getting tired of this series. Then the next couple seemed to be a lot better. This 1, the 9th, seems tired. The players are mostly 2nd-stringers. It seems like they used to do this in comics sometimes, have team-ups of 2ndary characters. There's still more to come in the series though. I'm counting this as 0.5 sci fi and 0.5 fantasy. The Laundry Files stories actually are a mix of spy and horror - but they read more like sci fi to me, so, whatever.

3rd, "The Monster Baru Cormorant", by Seth Dickinson, 2018, 464 pages. This is the 2nd book of a series which began with "The Traitor Baru Cormorant", blogged here. I went back and read that post to remind myself what this novel was about. I found I had liked the novel's title, but the novel itself not so much. Characters with nothing but bad choices, and the civilization that discovers science, medicine, rational government, etc. happens to be eugenics-practicing fascists.

The 2nd novel is more of the same: intrigue, poisoning, double-crosses, plus we get a new set of actors who seem to worship cancer - ugh. These are well written, but really kind of unpleasant. A suggestion, there are so many characters with non-English names, the next one could really use a "Cast of Characters" preface to help us keep them all straight. I will finish the series - hopefully there's only 1 more coming - but it is really not pleasant reading.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Au Revoir, FaceBook - plus, What Are Our Rights?

Leaving FaceBook Friday, November 23, 2018. Here's proposed alternatives - I will update the post as others pop up. I am not going to pursue these anytime soon. I am thinking that Twitter will scratch my itch for online social media well enough.

https://www.kialo.com/

https://steemit.com/

I billed this as my Last FB Post - in response to some typical Libertarian pulled-out-of-their-ass bullshit about what their "rights" are.

??? A right to me is defined as, something about which you say "If you try to take this away from me, I will fight you to the death." [Edit from FB comments: "I will fight" => "me and my friends will fight"] I cannot think of any other logically defensible definition. Which means that rights, according to this approach, are completely malleable, and defined by your testosterone level.

I far prefer the idea of a Basic Good, as defined in the book reviewed in the post linked to below. Basic Goods are things we can decide how to define together, and then decide what they are together, rationally. Their definition has 4 components, from which they define 7 Basic Goods. No testosterone required, just logic! I apologize for asking you to read so much, but, this seems to me to be something that is reasoned out, rather than just plucked out of the air.

Here's the link: "How Much Is Enough?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Kim Stanley Robinson For President of the Householders' Union!

"Red Moon", 2018, 464 pages, is the latest novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. Robinson is one of our greatest living (science fiction) authors.

The novel is set in 2047. There is one reference to "Red Moon" in the text of the novel, referring to rare earth element lunar regions that have a reddish hue. But early on I concluded that "Red Moon" actually referred to "Red Chinese Moon". The Chinese have aggressively colonized the south polar regions of the moon, and are expanding north on the terminators. There is also a privately developed lava tube on the dark side. The US and other countries have a much smaller presence in the north polar regions, but have at least 1 cool covered crater. The majority of the story takes place in the Chinese lunar settlements and China, and a good majority of the characters are Chinese.

The novel is set against a time of turmoil in the world. China is getting ready to elect a new party chairman and president, and various social inequities are creating massive unrest. In the US, Robinson has (yay!) decided to move the events of "New York 2140" (blogged here) forward 100 years. The vast left-behind majority of US citizens has formed a Householders' Union and has declared a rent (in the economic sense) strike - everyone stops paying their rent and credit card bills. This has thrown the financial system into a 2008 type crisis. But this time, instead of bailing out the banks, we nationalize them - the financial system now belongs to the people! No more obscene salaries and bonuses for derivative traders and hedge-fund managers! A robin hood tax on all financial transactions! As I said talking about "New York 2140", fighting money with money seems like the only way to go.

The story follows a young, somewhat autistic US quantum computing geek, a Chinese poet and travelogue blogger who befriends him, and a young, pregnant revolutionary daughter of the Chinese Minister of Finance as they attempt to escape the clutches of reactionary forces. The most science-fictiony thing we have is a fledgling AI who tries to help them.

As you would expect, there is a lot of interesting detail about living on the moon. There are also good descriptions of China, both Beijing and Hong Kong. We get most major plot threads tied up by the end of the book, but the ending seems to definitely indicate more to come. Yay!

Robinson really seems to have some good ideas about how we can attempt to address our oligarch/plutocrat/kleptocrat problem. I addition to the rent strike, he talks about cryptocurrencies as a means of transferring financial power from institutions to the people. He specifically mentions carboncoin, which turns out to be a real thing?!?!? I have been very afraid of bitcoin because of its environmental downside, here's a cryptocurrency with an environmental upside, yay! There is 1 line in the last chapter with a tantalizing possibility that I would love to quote, but I will avoid the spoiler.

Robinson seems to really get what's going on, and has so many good ideas! Kim Stanley Robinson For President of the Householders' Union!

Friday, November 09, 2018

With MMT, Can Every Day Be a Jubilee?

A couple of FB posts I wrote with some links I wanted to save.

The national debt is basically a scam serving 2 purposes:

  1. Pay interest to the investor class;
  2. Provide a reason to gut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the entire social safety net. I still for the life of me cannot figure out why they want to do this, aside from just plain meanness.

The Fed could totally do what the Japanese are doing ... #jubilee.

What the Japanese are doing is that the Bank of Japan is buying up their national debt. Nice!

This next I have not posted yet.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is fun! I don't think they have it 100% correct, but they are totally heading in the right direction.

If Congress does not spend more money into the economy than our real resources, our productive capacity (our capacity to produce) can handle, then there is no inflationary risk.
So, for example, Congress could direct the Fed to print the money to pay everyone's medical bills and student loans. Those represent already used resources, so absolutely 0 risk of inflation.

And, as I have mentioned a few times before, in 2009 during the quantitative easing (QE) program, the Fed tripled the amount of $$$ in circulation, and, despite dire warnings of hyperinflation from conservatives, of inflation there was none!

This video seemed like a good intro. I definitely need to check out MMT more fully.

I also wanted to include this snippet from Star Trek: Next Generation (STNG) that I have often referenced. It isn't quite as I remembered it, but, close enough. Yes, I want to live in the future!

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Including a Reread

1st up, I read "The Consuming Fire", by John Scalzi, 2018, 320 pages, book #2 of "The Interdepencency" series. Pretty standard space opera. An interstellar empire, founded by marketoids and supported by a cynically created state religion, faces challenges as the branches of the interstellar river system they use for FTL start to dry up. Lots of scheming and politics. Scalzi has some, what, refreshingly vulgar/smartass characters, as you would expect. A page turner, as always from Scalzi.

Next, a short story collection by relative newcomer Tobias S. Bucknell "Tides From the New Worlds", 2010, 293 pages. Bucknell is the author who emailed me the ebooks 3 of his novels when I wasn't able to get them on Kobo - man, I love living in the future! These are interesting stories. Bucknell grew up on a yacht in the Caribbean, mostly anchored at St. Thomas. A lot of these stories feature Caribbean settings and culture. It reminded me of some of Lucius Shepherd's stories set in Central America, but mostly not nearly as dark. A good variety of stories.

I was going to read something else, but then the 1st novel in 6 years from Richard K. Morgan came in: "Thin Air", 2018, 544 pages. This is set in the same universe as his 2007 novel "Thirteen", blogged here: around 100 years in the future, with humanity on Mars and Jovian and Saturnian moons, and various new techs. Their AIs aren't very smart. The protagonist is a genetically modified human. In "Thirteen", the modifications were to recreate pre-agricultural humans: antisocial (psychopathic), and very violent. Here the main modifications are for hibernation for long space flights - but they have to wake up quickly in case of a serious problem, and are very violent during this period. Morgan's heros are generally males who are very violent. The books also have more sex in them most current sci-fi does. The plotting and dialogue are great - I watched the Netflix series of "Altered Carbon", his 1st novel, 2x.

This one, like "Thirteen" has 54 chapters with 2 of the chapters in a coda. I wonder if this is a design artifact?

I had thought about doing it a few times, so after finishing "Thin Air" I went on and reread "Thirteen", 2007, 550 pages. Wow, this is so prescient of the current malaise gripping much of white maledom, particularly in the US. This is well before the opioid epidemic and subsequent increasing death rates of recent years.

You got a first world where manhood’s going out of style. Advancing wave of the feminized society, the alpha males culling themselves with suicide and supervirility drugs their hearts can’t stand, which in the end is suicide, just slower and a bit more fucking fun.
I, for one, welcome our new female overlords. I don't think it will take very many decades with women at the helm to get Planet Earth headed in a more survivable direction.

Here's what I said about it when it came out in 2007. Note that the real name of Jesusland is the Confederated Republic of America.

After that read "Thirteen" by Richard K. Morgan, his 5th novel. Aside from some pacing problems in its 550 pages, a very good read. But, very depressing. Morgan is a Scot. The novel is set in ~2105. The northeast states and the west coast have split from the US in the mid 21st century, leaving the rest as a country known popularly as Jesusland. It's main characteristics are its poor education system, legislated morality, and its willingness to do dirty jobs for cheap, and its suspension of the rule of law, habeus corpus, etc. The truth hurts, don't it?
1 thing I realized in passing from this book is that 1 bonus "southern value" from banning abortions would be more drugs to add to the War on Drugs, and hence more prisoners for private prisons, one of the south's great growth industries.

I think the Jesusland scenario was 1st explored by Bruce Sterling in "Distraction" 20 years ago. We seem to be getting closer and closer. Sigh.