Sunday, October 28, 2012

Children Do Not Get To Choose

Posted this to Facebook the 23th. Figure it's long enough to go here. This blog I clearly see as my external memory. Not sure what I see FB as. Man, I am definitely cutting way back on FB and Twitter after the election.

Begin post:

Poor people "entitlements" vs rich people "entitlements" == blue collar crime vs white collar crime.

Blue collar crime == bank robbery, net $5-10k, 5-10 years jail time.

White collar crime == embezzlement, net $1-5M, 6-12 months in a country club jail.

$$$billions in preferential tax treatment to corporations and "investor class", but heaven forbid we should try to feed the 20% of children in the richest country in the history of the world who are hungry. That would be SOCIALISM!!!

Children do not get to choose to be born, nor do they get to choose their parents. If our basic goal is, "maximize the outcome of every child", how can that possibly be wrong for our country?

The game is rigged. We need above all else campaign reform and repeal of AU so our democracy is not for sale!

Next, try, try to rein in the military-industrial complex, so that the US can quit being, by a large factor, the biggest arms dealer in the world.

Finally, my greatest disappointment in my BFF Barack Obama, get rid of indefinite detention, ground the drones, restore the rule of law and constitutional rights, and in doing so, restore the US to being a shining beacon for the rest of the world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tiger! Tiger!

There was an interesting article in Scientific American about the many psychological characteristics shared by successful CEOs, top surgeons, and psychopaths: "fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused".

BTW, you can see if you are a psychopath by taking the handy, online test here. I was 44th percentile for primary psychopathy (a lack of empathy for other people and tolerance for antisocial orientations) and 12th percentile for secondary psychopathy (rule breaking and a lack of effort towards socially rewarded behavior). And I did not game the test, I answered honestly, I swear.

A while ago, I was thinking about Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged", and "Going Galt". First off, the whole "Going Galt" thing is such a complete crock. All you misunderstood and unappreciated executives, don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out. There are plenty of ambitious people who would be more than happy to take your jobs. I have blogged before about "The Great Man Theory" and concluded that it is completely bogus.

We are all Atlas. Every one of us, from Bill Gates to an armless, legless veteran homeless somewhere.

But the SciAm article reminded me of the thing I realized thinking about "Going Galt" -- that the main message of one of my favorite stories of all time is the exact opposite of "Going Galt". The story says that all of us have the seeds of greatness within us, and will step up if necessary, as opposed to, what, being handed "greatness" by your parents, and stepping down when you don't feel appreciated enough?

That story is "The Stars My Destination", by Alfred Bester, 1956, blogged about my me here. The anti-hero protagonist is an everyman whom events push into becoming "ruthless and focused". If you have not read this, I highly recommend it. It is very commonly mentioned as one the greatest sci-fi novels of all time. It is amazing that, despite first coming out in 1956, it still has edge. And it comes in at only around 180 pages. I include an except at the end, after the "SPOILER ALERT"s.

After review, I stand by my conclusions from "The Great Man Theory":

"If they decided to opt out, the forces of memetics and history would push someone else into the role."
So, moving into a better, more equitable world of the future, we should all us be ready at all times to tell the "job creators" who are "Going Galt" with themselves or their money, "don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out." And, "Here, have some nice new taxes!"

So psychopath/normal or alpha/beta males? I've talked before about alpha vs beta males in humans here. I think that the alpha/beta male difference is more physical, and probably has a genetic component. The psychopath behavior seems to be newer, more software/mentally based. Maybe less of a genetic component?

The title of this post is a poem of Blake's that opens "The Stars My Destination". In Britain, the novel's title was "Tiger! Tiger!".

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
And here's Gully Foyle's identity poem that he recited to himself attempting to keep his psyche from unraveling:

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
(And death's)/(The stars) my destination
Here's another bloggers read on the SciAm article. I like his conclusion:
"The problem is keeping the psychopaths under control of people with normal moral intuition."
i.e., a strong government with strong regulatory powers. When the psychopaths have $$$ billions, nothing else will have the power to do it.

* * * * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * * * *

* * * * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * * * *

* * * * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * * * *

Here's Gully Foyle's rabble-rousing speech from the end of the book:

"You pigs, you. You rut like pigs, is all. You got the most in you, and you use the least. You hear me, you? Got a million in you and spend pennies. Got a genius in you and think crazies. Got a heart in you and feel empties. All a you. Every you...

Take a war to make you spend. Take a jam to make you think. Take a challenge to make you great. Rest of the time you sit around lazy, you. Pigs, you! All right, God damn you! I challenge you, me. Die or live and be great. Blow yourselves to Christ gone or come and find me, Gully Foyle, and I make you men. I make you great. I give you the stars."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Twitter Digest: #biking

#biking Car turns right in front of me, I backpedal to engage my coaster brake like I'm 8YO. #LikeRidingABike #MuscleMemoryFail
I was in the bike lane heading north on Newtown Pike, a car turned right in front of me onto Short St. After noticing I didn't have coaster breaks, I did hit the hand brakes. I would say that the reflex failure cost me 0.4-0.6 seconds in hitting the brakes.
OH #biking. 5YO: "Why is the ninja riding a bike?" (A: To keep his face warm.) #SheAskedTheWrongQuestion
Ha ha. At the Legacy Trail start at the Loudon Ave YMCA, there was a pee-wee football game in progress, with lots of kids around. Head warmer really helps nose and cheeks when temperature is below 50. I like that this is a classification error: for the 5YO girl, ninja overrode cyclist.
#biking past Lexington Fed Prison. Late 1978 installed a DEC PDP-12 there for data analysis on dream deprivation of prisoners dosed w LSD.
In response to a query from my brother, I thought about this more. Actually it was in late 1977. I started working for DEC (Digital Equipment Corp) in July 1977. This was the 1st time I went on site -- and I did not install the system, I tweaked a magtape driver to attach a magtape for backups. The PDP-12 was a kind of 12, kind of 24 bit minicomputer -- a dual PDP-8, which was a 12 bit minicomputer. About as powerful as a current garage door opener.

This was some NIH study being run by a UK professor. I would guess that the prisoners volunteered in exchange for perks. Congress shut down this kind of research a few years later.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Music In

Time once again for our favorite feature, Music In. We have some great contestants and fabulous prizes, so let's get started!
  • Block Party, "Four". One of my oldest daughter's fav bands. More rock than dance as I remember their earlier stuff being. Very good quality. 3 stars.
  • Tom Waits, "The Heart of Saturday Night" (1974). After how much I loved Tom Waits' 1st album "Closing Time", I was a little disappointed with this one, his 2nd album. But it did grow on me the more I listened. 4 stars.
  • CHRY, eponymous. Three tracks from the latest band of my nephew Max in Portland ME. Very good quality, good tunes. 3 stars.
  • Deerhoof, "Breakup Song". Every time I get something by these guys, I look them up on Wikipedia and remember again: San Francisco group, 2 guys and the singer who started with them right after she got to the US from Japan 10 years ago. They consistently produce very unique and excellent music. 4 stars.
  • The xx, "Coexist". Very nice tunes, ethereal male and female vocals. 3 stars
  • David Byrne & St. Vincent, "Love This Giant". Much anticipated collaboration between 2 of my favorite artists. No real breakout fabulous tunes, but some nicely catchy ones that capture both their quirkiness. Their voices work well together. They featured horns for all the orchestration, and one of the arrangers was Lexington native Kelly Pratt. I like this nicely surreal video. 4 stars.
  • Tom Tom Club, "Downtown Rockers". Another Talking Heads descendant. First thing from them in a long time. I think that basically Tina Weymouth and her sisters like to get together and sing cheezy dance tunes in unison. 3 stars but just barely.
  • Aimee Mann, "Charmer". What a mature and accomplished artist Ms. Mann is. She cannot but write a good song. No real standouts tho. 3 stars.
  • Ben Folds Five, "The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind". Ditto for Ben Folds. Great to see the Ben Folds Five recording together as such again. They do a good job of recapturing their early energy. 4 stars.
  • Rickie Lee Jones, "The Devil You Know". Hmmm, this reminds me a of a remark I made about Cat Powers "Covers" album: "don't do smack before going into the recording studio". This is an album of covers, which Ms. Jones has done before, but, ouch, these are so low energy. 3 stars, but only because I am such a fanboy.
My iTunes music has passed 16,000 tracks.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hi? Hi!

Two weekends ago, I was in NYC seeing my oldest daughter's (fabulous) new Brooklyn apartment, and attending the World Maker's Faire in Queens. My son, daughter-in-law and grandaughter Lucy came up from NC for the Faire and a visit as well.

The Maker's Faire was cool -- great to see so many people wanting to do and make things rather than just consume. The 3d printing stuff was a little disappointing -- kind of seemed like PCs in 1980, still waiting for the killer app.

But the main reason for this post is Lucy. She was great for the two days they were there. She was 19-1/2 months old at the time. So fascinating to see her young mind growing:

  • She knew and could say peoples names.
  • She knew the name of everything she liked to eat. She learned about "mini-kiwis" over the weekend.
  • She knew colors and shapes.
  • She knew animals and the noises they make. A trip to the Brooklyn Zoo was great fun.
  • She knew cars, bicycles, and airplanes. She pointed at a plane flying overhead and said "airplane".
  • She knew "walking", "running", "spinning", "dancing", "right side up", "upside down".
  • Her dancing moves included arm waving, hip swiveling, bouncing, and waving her upper body back and forth from the waist.
And she sang:
  • The Wheels on the Bus;
  • Two alphabet songs;
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star;
  • Ha Ha This-A-Way;
  • Old McDonald;
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider.
After dinner on Saturday, we took turns walking with her outside the (mediterranean) restaurant. She is a great eater, but after she was full she was ready for action. When I was walking with her, she wanted to go up the steps of a brownstone. At the top she said "Open". I showed her the door was locked, got out my keys, showed her that they didn't work. "Please" she says. Too cute.

But the real reason for this post was to note how she did "Hi? Hi!". Her mind would wander and she would just be running subconscious processes. Then, her consciousness, her "narrative I", would wake up. "Hi?", she would say -- hunh, what's this, what's going on here? Then her consciousness would remember herself, and "Hi!" she would say -- it's Lucy, I'm back, I'm alive, how cool! Woo-hoo!

Complete and utter joie de vivre. She would do it every hour or so. It was so, so cool.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Economy of Plenty, Part 3

The article by the two professors "In Praise Of Leisure" says maybe everything I am trying to say:
Keynes's essay challenges us to imagine what life after capitalism might look like ...
But so accustomed have we become to regarding scarcity as the norm that few of us think about what motives and principles of conduct would, or should, prevail in a world of plenty.
Keynes was well aware of the evils of capitalism but assumed that they would wither away once their work of wealth creation was done.
It is only our culture's poverty of imagination that leads it to believe that all creativity and innovation—as opposed to that specific kind directed to improving economic processes—needs to be stimulated by money.
Quoting economist Harry Johnson, 1960:
we live in a rich society, which nevertheless in many respects insists on thinking and acting as if it were a poor society.
End of quoting.
That was not the ancient view of things. Athens and Rome had citizens who, though economically unproductive, were active to the highest degree—in politics, war, philosophy, and literature.
The beginning of sanity in this matter is to think of scarcity in relation to needs, not wants.
Considered in relation to our vital needs, our state is one not of scarcity but rather of extreme abundance.
Interesting, this definition of the science of economics:
Economics, says a recent text, studies "how people choose to use limited and scarce resources in attempting to supply unlimited wants."
So if economics is based on the assumption of scarcity, maybe we need a new science? Even the noun "economy" has as synonyms "thrift - husbandry - saving - frugality - parsimony". So "economy of plenty" is maybe an oxymoron.

Of course, there will always be the rich and the ultra-rich. They just need to realize that we don't need to have the poor. Everyone can have enough to eat and they can still have their yachts, airplanes, helicopters, and multiple estates.

Maybe a positive sign as we look for the Death of Capitalism? In the tech world, we now have Kickstarter, where you can raise millions of dollars to start a company or create a product without having to beg for money from -- and indebt yourself to -- banks or venture capitalists. (Weird, "indebt" is not a word, but "indebted" is ??? WTF???)

Well, much to think about. How do we get there? I guess next thing for me is to read these guys' book, "How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life" and see if has any action items. I will be sure and report on it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Economy of Plenty, Part 2

Despite spending almost 2 months thinking about last week's post, "Economy of Plenty", I still rushed to get it published. I think I did not address the questions raised with possible answers. Instead, I just listed three things to make taxation in the US more equatable, which is a first step towards putting a birth-to-age-21 social safety net in place. So let's look more at, what an Economy of Plenty would look like.

So the goals are:

  1. More equitable distribution of wealth and a universal minimum standard of living.
  2. No child left behind, ever.
  3. 20 hour work week.
  4. Full employment if desired.
So, the 1st and 2nd goals are what the 3 points at the end of the last post addressed. Also, let's look at the minimum wage. How would you level wages? I saw a post somewhere that if income were distributed evenly, the average salary in the US would be around $196K per year. That's around $98/hour if you work 50 40 hour weeks. So that is probably an upper limit on the minimum wage. If we target $50K/year for a living wage (with usually two wage earners per family), that goes down to $50/hour for two 20 hour work weeks.

How would we get to a 20 hour workweek? We got to our current 5 day, 40 hour workweek with paid holidays pretty much solely based on the efforts of labor unions. Unfortunately, unions have been stripped of much of their power thanks to "right-to-work" states. Maybe the internet could lead to a resurgence? Somehow I don't think so.

So many of the new, information age jobs don't seem like they would be amenable to unionization. Say software development, where there is a well know factor of 10 difference in productivity between the best and worst developers. If I'm one of those high-end developers, am I going to agree to the same wages as a low-end developer?

Additionally, there is so much startup activity and entrepreneurship going on in technology companies, that often workers have equity in the company and put in far more then 40 hours, hoping to build the company to a level of success that they would have a liquidity event which would result in a huge windfall for them -- millions to billions of dollars.

But, there is a trend among startup companies who are in it for more than the money to organize as cooperatives, where, after 1 year of work, you become an equal shareholder in the company. So all employees share equally in the success of the company. 37signals is the poster child for this. Such a company might reach a point where it chooses quality of life over more money and created a shorter work week.

There is also very much a "reputation economy" in the software world, particularly where FOSS (Free Open Source Software) is concerned. Having dozens of heavily-used libraries on gitHub earns you the respect of your peers -- and is now also quite often the basis of getting paying jobs.

For big technology companies, offering a shorter workweek might be a recruiting advantage. Can they afford it? Look at Apple (probably a bad example): last year, $25B profit after taxes, 60,000 employees => $433K profit per employee. If they doubled those employees, at a $100K salary, that would be an additional $6B overhead, so say, $17B profit for 120,000 employees => $141K profit per employee. That's still pretty decent profit. And they could still afford to pay CEO Tim Cook his $378M, which I am sure he earned.

Currently there is negative unemployment for software developers. So if we can retrain people from older industries, there will be some jobs for them. But, as the robots do more and more, are the other options than everyone working for software companies?

What about employment in virtual worlds? I read recently that gold farming (grinding your way through lower levels of role-playing games to build up characters that you then sell) is now a $3B industry. I know many young people who would like to work in World of Warcraft, or Call of Duty. Can where be other types of jobs created there? Say maybe, that after a certain level, you go on salary to the game company as a guide or mentor?

But, come on you say, do you really believe that this can work? The long and the short of it is: money is software. We haven't been on the gold standard for 50 years. So getting this stuff to work is just a question of getting the parameters of the money machine tweaked. Inflation is not a problem of having too much money, it is a problem of having a scarcity of goods. And our premise is, in an Economy of Plenty, there is no scarcity of goods.

An immediate exception to that is land/property/housing. So everybody won't be living in a McMansion. But they should be living in an apartment or house with enough bedrooms for their family members. And they should have enough food to eat, universal health care, merit-based educational advancement through college, and, of course, a smartphone, to help make them smart.

Going back to the Bertrand Russell article, there was one quote I will take exception with. The quote is:

... a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.
I would say instead:
... a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in whatever amount is required to make the system work.
So I am convinced that the Economy of Plenty is totally doable. And I think that the alternative is a dystopic plutocracy, where all power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of an ever fewer number of people, particularly as life spans lengthen. But the question is, how do we get there?