Thursday, December 15, 2016

3

Novel + novel + novel.

As I mentioned last time, 1st up was "The Chemical Wedding" by John Crowley. The full cover says "The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz A Romance in Eight Days by Johan Valentin Andreae in a new version by John Crowley". Phew! So Andraea wrote this allegorical, alchemical tale, 1st published in 1616 in Germany. It is written as a journal being kept by a monk named Christian Rosencreutz - German for Rosy Cross, also known as Rosicrusians, which has been a popular name for christian ceremonial magic / mystical sects apparently since the 15th century. Crowley retells the tale, updating the language and commenting. A lot of Crowley's comments dwell on how bizarre the story is. I totally agree, it is completely off the walls, but generally in somewhat of a charming way.

The book was only 211 pages, it was an odd, quick read - but fun. I got most of the references to ceremonial magic symbolism as I had studied it some during my "explore all religions" phase when I was maybe 21-23 YO. Most of what I read then was early 20th century Rosicrusianism, Waite, Crowley, Tarot. Interesting, I remember that the red fluid and white fluid mixed to create the elixir of life / philosopher's stone were female and male respectively. In this book red is masculine and white feminine. I guess you shouldn't expect consistency with made-up stuff.

The book was illustrated, and I found the illustrations mostly unappealing. They really didn't do much for me - I guess I was spoiled by Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, and Edmund Dulac. Also, some of them just seemed inappropriate - like the picture of a statue of Venus sleeping which has hair curlers.

Next up, "Babylon's Ashes", by James S. A. Corey, The Expanse #6, 544 pages. Wow, it didn't seem like that long a book. It started out slow but then picked up pace well. The ending, tho, I thought was weak - it somewhat fell into the old sci fi "deus-ex-machina" trap. But it was a relatively happy ending.

I think the novels are now being influenced by the SyFy screenplays. The addition of 2 new crew members to the 4 we knew well from the 1st 5 novels I like, but it somehow seems influenced by TV.

I thought this novel totally broke my "100 pages per narrative thread" rule for novels - but I didn't realize it was 544 pages long. Let's do the math anyway. Here's the chapter count per narrator - there are 53 chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue featuring characters who take no part in the main action of the book.

  • Pa 10
  • Filip 7
  • Holden 11
  • Salis 1
  • Clarissa 1
  • Dawes 2
  • Avasarala 3
  • Prax 3
  • Alex 2
  • Naomi 4
  • Jakulski 1
  • Fred 1
  • Bobbie 2
  • Vandercaust 1
  • Amos 1
  • Marco 2
  • Roberts 1
So the 100 page rule would say each narrator should get 10 chapters. Only Pa and Holden make that. 17 total narrators? Seems to make it harder for the reader. Roberts is introduced as a narrator in chapter 44. Maybe this is more screenplay thinking? I wonder what these numbers are like for Game of Thrones?

Finally, "Broken Monsters", by Lauren Beukes, 2014, 449 pages. From urban sci fi to time-traveling serial killer, Ms. Beukes has wound up now writing full-bore horror. I reviewed this in Kobo, here's that review:

This is a very well written book, very well paced with great characters and great background development. I suspect the internet tech overlay will become dated quickly, but it works now.

But, it is definitely horror, and it made me realize I really don't like horror novels. I was totally creeped out the 2nd 1/2 of the book, and I really don't like being creeped out. Too old maybe. I'm more of a bright shiny future kind of guy.

If you like horror, then Joe Bob definitely sez, check it out.

Her prior novel, "Shining Girls" was somewhat headed in this direction, but did not totally creep me out the way this one did. This novel also has more police procedural overtones to it. It seemed to be exceptionally well researched. I guess I just don't like horror as a genre.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Lots + 1 + 1

I'm still attempting to ignore reality for a while, so, more science fiction!

I had not read any short stories for a while and noticed I had Just Over the Horizon The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear (Book 1) so I went for it. Greg Bear was one of my favorite authors in the 1980s, particularly his "Eon/Eternity" books and "The Forge of God/Anvil of Stars", "Blood Music", "City of Angels", and his fantasy series "The Infinity Concerto/The Serpent Mage". Lots of good physics. I have read all of these books multiple times. Hmmm, he is 73 days younger than me.

The short stories were OK, but I think he is much better at longer form writing. The short story version of "Blood Music" was fun to read again. Some of the things that dated some of the stories were interesting. One example, a cafeteria in a medical facility that had a smoking section. Ha ha, of course all medical campuses that I know of now are completely smoke free.

I then noticed I had a short story by John Scalzi, "An Election", 24 pages. The eBook was $0.99. I hadn't read any Scalzi in a while. The story really didn't do much for me. I think it was supposed to be cutesy, not so much to me. In a finger to the eye of the puppies, the protagonist is married to another man. Progressive SF is definitely in favor of LGBTQA inclusion.

Finally, I noticed a novel that seemed to have come to the top of my eBook reader: "Among Others", by Jo Walton, 2011, 304 pages. This book won the Hugo and Nebula for best novel. I guess since the protagonist is 15 YO, it is yet another YA novel that makes excellent reading for all ages. It is a fantasy, but I liked that it wasn't until 3/4 of the way through the book that you knew that for sure. Up until that point, it could have been a mainstream novel about a troubled young woman with schizophrenia including as a symptom extreme pareidolia.

The protagonist is also a voracious reader, mainly of science fiction. There is much discussion of various authors and titles, all pre-1979/1980, when the story is set. This reminded me of some movies about movie-making, where the gist seems to be "We make movies, movies are magic, we're really cool!" In this book, though, this did not come across as nearly so self-congratulatory. It wound up being fun, as the authors were mostly among my favorites from Back In The Day, and I had read most of the titles discussed - but 40 or so years ago!

I have been (exercising in the morning,) reading in the afternoons, and watching movies at night. I powered on through this book last night and finished around 11:00. With about 10 pages to go, my iPad ran out of juice - the charging cable had come unplugged! So a slight delay to reaching the very satisfying conclusion. This was a very enjoyable book.

Next up to read, "The Chemical Wedding" by John Crowley. I really enjoyed much of John Crowley's work, going back to the late 1970s. Very self-referential - I remember a couple of his novels where the characters gradually come to understand that they are characters in a fairy tale. I hadn't seen anything from him for a while, so I backed this kickstarter.

My reward was a hardcover copy of the book, which came last week. But, somehow, my reward also included 5 x 500 page hardcover books (9" total thickness) - The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, 17th-21st editions (2004-2008). I had the 4th and 8th editions of this series, so there was a place for it on my bookshelves. I guess the publisher had a bunch of these in a warehouse somewhere and wanted to get the space back, but still, when I saw what had been included, I was definitely like "post-scarcity utopia"!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

2 + 1

I continue to evade reality reading science fiction. 2 novels and 1 novella since last time.

The 1st novel was "Death's End", by Cixin Liu. 608 pages. This is the 3rd novel of the "Rememberance of Earth's Past" trilogy. I recently blogged on the 1st 2 in the series. The novel starts out mostly backfilling events of the 1st 2 novels, but then does carry the narrative forward aggressively. Like the 1st 2 novels, the physics is the best part of the story. Some very creative invocations of aspects of modern thinking in physics. I think the series could continue on to more books, I have not read if that is intended or not.

Next up, the novella, "Everything Belongs to the Future", by Laurie Penny. 128 pages. Near future, very expensive drug regimens allow lifespan to extend to 150 years, with youth and vigor. Our current economy seems to be becoming increasingly an experiment in social darwinism, it only gets worse when life itself is involved. Extended lifespan seemed to be something to hope for, but, as I have mentioned before, when the 1% or the 0.01% claim it exclusively for themselves, they will have at last succeeded it out-feudaling the feudal ages. This is a good (and short) read.

Finally, "Palimpsest", by Catherynne Valente. 2009, 367 pages. I seriously thought about not finishing this book. It is very wordy. Palimpsest is another world, a fairyland where everything must be described in excruciating detail. You get there by having sex with a person who has a portion of the map of Palimpsest on their skin. Then you get a piece of the map on your skin too. So the 1st part of every chapter is working into a sex scenario, of pretty much every combo of male/female, followed by the rest of the chapter concluding in Palimpsest. Once I get an ebook in my iPad, I feel like I need to read it at some point. So this one I wish I hadn't got in my iPad. Ms. Valente writes very well, but, way too many words for the value delivered.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tennessee, Land of Crazy People

* * * * * RANT ALERT * * * * *

I am of course extremely depressed by the election result. I am trying to ignore it as much as possible. I'm definitely taking a few months off. I've unsubscribed from maybe 50 political mailing lists - my inbox is much smaller now - and muted most political tweeters for 30 days.

Only time will tell whether this election will be the turning point in history which puts us on a direct line to Hunger Games, or maybe a good correction in the US as the world's only superpower, or who knows what. Meanwhile ...

My wife had some time off work, so we decided to spend a couple of nights (November 17 & 18) in Nashville. We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel downtown - very nice, old detailed architecture that my wife loves. The first afternoon there we walked around downtown and wound up at the Tennessee Bicentennial Mall State Park. We were taking a rest sitting in front of a fountain feature when we were approached by 2 women. They were in their 30s, white, attractive, well groomed and well dressed. The younger 1 was pushing a stroller with a baby in it. Here's the gist of our conversation.

Older of the 2: "Can we talk with you?"

Me: "Sure."

Older of the 2: "We wanted to share stories of faith and spirit with you. We are both ministers."

Me: "Arrggghhh! I'm an antitheist, I definitely do not want to share stories of faith with you."

Younger of the 2: "What's an antitheist?"

Me: "It's someone who believes that religion harms the human race - that we would all be better off if people quit including nonexistent supernatural beings in their decision making. Please go away and leave us alone." I was at this point making "go away" motions with my hands.

Older of the 2: "OK, well then, where are you from?"

My wife: "Lexington, KY"

Older of the 2: "OK. Have a nice day."

These 2 women's affects were both very laid back and spacey - kind of like they were stoners. I guess they were high on religion. My wife and I were both annoyed at this intrusion of unreality into what had heretofore been a pleasant afternoon.

That evening we had dinner in the hotel's restaurant, the Capitol Grille. The dinner was OK but nothing special. We were eating at 6:30 and the place was pretty crowded. Our server told us that it was because there was a 7:30 performance of "Book of Mormon" at the Tennessee Center for the Arts, which was 2 blocks up the street.

A few tables over, a couple in their late 30s or early 40s came in. The couple was fairly attractive. The woman had very expensive looking thick curly blond hair past her shoulders and was wearing an evening dress. After a while they were joined by another similarly aged and dressed couple. The woman in this couple was a brunette.

My wife and I both noticed that both men seemed to be totally focusing in on the blond, who is expounding vivaciously. We kind of felt sorry for the brunette. Then during a lull in other conversations, we hear some of what she is saying: "with Jesus's love", "ephesians" ...

At that point, I'm like, crap. Are these people all crazy? This is what is important to them???

And I immediately flashed on this behavior as evolutionary sexual selection. I usually characterize sexual selection as "because chicks dig it", but here we have a woman, proudly flashing her peacock's tail of all the brain cycles she apparently can afford to waste on theories of imaginary superfriends. She was doing it in what appeared to be a courtship / mate selection environment. And the males seemed to be eating it up!

A "peacock's tail" is the archetypal example of a feature of a species that is an extravagant waste of energy, which serves to demonstrate how fit the individual is to be able to waste that much energy, implying that they are obviously superior breeding stock.

Year's ago, I got really discouraged and cut way back on following evolutionary psychology and cognitive science as I kept seeming to find that so much of what we hold dear - our minds, language, music - were all peacock's tails. They were all sexually selected. They may have had some species survival value but that was overwhelmed by the "because chicks dig it" aspect. So it really is all about who are the cool kids in middle school. I found this very depressing. So I think we can add religion to this list.

I have speculated in the past that religion may have species selection effects, in that it increases the survival potential of a group by creating a mechanism which allows for the justification of killing other humans. This may be more or less significant than the sexual selection effect.

This was particularly painful after the presidential election. 80% of white evangelical christians voted for Trump, who appears to be mostly amoral and completely lacking in common human decency. So these same people wanting to share "stories of faith and spirit" and expounding on "Jesus's love" probably voted for this evil man. If I ever had any doubts about evangelical christians being full-of-shit hypocrites, they are all gone now. I'll also bet that most of the audience at this performance of "Book of Mormon" were evangelical christians, who would laugh uproariously at this completely blasphemous play. Blasphemy, the victimless crime.

For many of them, the abortion issue overrides all else. This is yet another example of the harm caused by delusional thinking based on religion rather than facts. Driving in the south, you see the billboards with a fetus thinking, "My heart is beating at 14 days." Well, in pretty much every animal with a heart, it starts beating fairly early in development. So what? The question about development that has meaning is, when is there enough brain to support a human personality? The answer to that question is, around 20 weeks, which is around the time that abortion decisions do indeed become harder.

Oh wait, I'm forgetting the soul. Once the zygote? blastula? fetus? has been given a soul by god, then terminating the pregnancy is murder. I believe Steven Pinker has pointed out that is a totally slippery slope. Who exactly can identify the time of soul implantation? If you take the extreme case and posit that is at the time of fertilization, you still have problems. The genetic material of sperm and egg does not fuse instantaneously. And once it has fused and formed a zygote, a large percentage of zygotes fail to implant in the uterine wall or otherwise spontaneously abort. So I guess god wasted those souls? Or murdered them? Well, we know god does not have any problem with letting children die in countless horrible ways.

My overall conclusion is, believing in nonexistent beings and nonexistent souls makes it much harder to make rational decisions. It reminds me of my older brother, who was an officer in the US Navy for 20 years. He is a bright guy, but at other times seems to be somewhat of a doofus, which I have always attributed to his time in the military. When you belong to an organization where refusing to follow the orders of a superior, no matter how stupid or irrational, can lead to imprisonment or death, I don't believe you form the best problem analysis and decision making skills. Religion is 10x worse than that.

I generally avoid being stridently antitheist. Of me and my 6 siblings, only 1 of us still practices religion, despite having been raised by a devoutly catholic mother. But I have cousins and a few friends who are religious, and, overall, I try to avoid poking sticks in people's eyes. But this election really drove home to me how harmful religion mostly is. The good news is, Pew Research says that 20% of Gen Xers are unaffiliated religiously, and 26% of millennials. So once again, it's on the youngsters to save our old white butts. Come on kids, you can do it!

Friday, November 04, 2016

New Stuff

The Old Fart's Blues Jam had been going on Sunday evenings, primarily outside, at Shamrock's on Patchen Drive. The attendance wasn't that great, I think primarily due to the fact that it was so damn hot through July and August. They quit having the jam when football season started.

To get my playing fix, I started playing as a duo with Steve Konapka, aka Fuzzy, at Coralee Townie's Monday night open mic at Willie's Locally Known. They have a great house PA and a soundman working the board - what a luxury to not have to worry about levels.

Steve is an incredibly versatile harp player. He's been coming over most weeks for a 2 hour session where we work up songs. It is so interesting to see how he will try 2 or 3 different harps to figure out which one sounds best. He also plays a chromatic harp ala Stevie Wonder. We've got around 30 songs worked up and add another 5-10 every time we get together. It's been a lot of fun, and we will probably audition for a paying gig at Azur, and maybe other places.

Meanwhile, the Jam has restarted at Life BrewPub off of Richmond Rd. They also have a board out front. I've only been once, sang some killer harmony with Brent Carter and Matt Noelle on "Thunderbird".

Prior to that, I talked to Willie about having the jam at his place. A little receptive, but not too much. They have live music 7 days a week, and he seemed discouraged at the level of local support they are getting. I think we have a problem with not enough music buzz around Lexington. The Herald-Leader music critic Walter Tunis has been here forever - he started in 1980, we moved to Lexington in 1981. He does a great job, but I think we need like 4 of him. I may have some ideas on that.


I have a new source of music in - Steve has been loaning me some CDs. Just what I needed.

  • Jeff Beck, "Loud Hailer". The world's greatest living rock guitarist teamed up with a new female songwriter and vocalist for this effort. The songs don't do much for me. 3 stars.
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim, "Jobim", 1973. I ripped this from vinyl after talking with fabulous young guitarist Jeff Adams about how the 1st track "Águas de Março" was basically a list of nouns, and the last track "Waters of March" is the same song in English rather than Portuguese. Many years ago my daughters listened to both several times and decided they liked the Portuguese better. This is probably my favorite Jobim song. 4 stars for those 2 tracks, 3 for the rest.

  • Thank You Scientist, "Stranger Heads Prevail". Not sure where this came from. Prog rock performed with great virtuosity, a little Zappaesque. A little more energetic than I really like at this point, but still, 4 stars. Here's a live version of "Caverns".

  • Poco, eponymous, 1970. Continuing with our Poco theme, I think this album came out right after "Picking Up The Pieces", blogged last time. Here's a fast and a slow, both of which I remembered well.

  • Of Montreal, "Innocence Reaches". The disco / glam just keeps on keeping on. Maybe not as good as some earlier work, but still very good. 4 stars. Here's a very instructive video of "it's different for girls".

  • The Byrds, "(untitled)", 1970. Ripped from vinyl. The 1st Byrds album of the Clarence White era. It was 1 live disc and 1 studio disc. The live disc is a reminder of how bad live albums used to be engineering-wise. I saw this lineup in Boston in maybe late 1972 or early 1973. Clarence White was a really interesting player. I did not know until nosing around while ripping this album that he died in July, 1973, age 29, struck by a drunk driver while loading equipment into a car. Most of the live songs suffer from the engineering, and the only real notable of the studio songs is "Chestnut Mare", still fun to listen to. 4 stars for it, 3 for the rest.

  • The Head and the Heart, "Signs of Light". Very pleasant vocals, very listenable, but no real standout songs. 3 stars.
  • Various, "All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman", 2014. Lent to me by Fuzzy. A great lineup of artists doing Allman Brothers songs. 26 total tracks, and not a bad one. 4 stars.
  • Bon Iver, "22, A Million". A very experimental sounding album, very interesting. Reminds me of some of the work of the world's greatest living composer, Björk Guðmundsdóttir. The songs have lots of weird typographics in their titles. 4 stars. Here's "10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄".

  • Regina Spektor, "Remember Us To Life". I like Ms. Spektor's work, but I find some of her vocal stylings annoying. 3 stars.
  • Van Morrison, "Keep Me Singing". Wow, Van the Man keeps on putting out great albums. Very nice tunes. 4 stars. Here's "Every Time I See A River".

That catches me up to the end of September. I keep meaning to do this more often but ...

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Science!

I went on and forged ahead with the "The Dandelion Dynasty #2": "The Wall of Storms", by Ken Liu. I was prepared to be disappointed with it, but it twisted and turned its way into being even a more compelling read than the 1st one. And, added to the enlightment, we have Science! There is nice content with characters using the scientific method and explaining as they go. Here's a nice description of wave phenomenon:
One showed me that light was like waves, ant the other showed me that deviation from an expected pattern of interference could be used to detect minute variations in thickness.
Liu also uses other storytelling techniques, with a couple of longish backstories injected into the main narrative thread. Ha ha, I also liked where he quoted from a tale that involved a queen waiting 10 years for her husband to return, borrowing from Ulysses and Penelope of Greek myth.

I should have mentioned that, although the setting is feudal, it is definitely more Chinese than European. There are rival schools of philosophy, the dominant one of which appears to be an analog of Confucianism. Checking briefly on Chinese philosophy, the other fictional schools do not seem to adhere closely to the real world.

One thing he did in a few places that I questioned was to include passages in their native language like the one below. Are we supposed to read these aloud like poetry?

“Mogi ça lodüapu ki gisgo giré, adi ça méüpha ki kédalo phia ki. Pindin ça racogilu üfiré, crudaügada ça phithoingnné gidalo phia ki. Ingluia ça philu jisén dothaéré, naüpin rari ça philu shanoa gathédalo phia ki.”
This and other recently published sci-fi novels seem to have updated to common zeitgeist features that echo recent positive developments in our world (the 1st 2 anyway):
  1. Gender roles are fluid and/or feminism is rising.
  2. All sexual orientations are welcomed.
  3. Characters die - the "Game of Thrones" effect - although most of the time the authors do not kill off characters as heartlessly as Martin does.
This novel ends in a less resolved state that the 1st one, which I think is the norm for trilogies. I'm looking forward to the next one. Meanwhile, I just purchased Liu's short story collection, "The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories".

Here are the new vocabulary words from the book:

  • kennings - a compound expression in Old English and Old Norse poetry with metaphorical meaning, e.g., oar-steed = ship.
  • chiaroscuro - the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting.
  • pleonasm - the use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning (e.g., see with one's eyes ), either as a fault of style or for emphasis.
I'm feeling like reading more escapism before economics (tension builds as the election approaches), I'm on the magazine stack now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Letter to the Editor

Andy Barr's TV ad condemning Nancy Jo Kemper on the Iran nuclear deal is shockingly delusional.

Before the deal, Iran was 1 month from having enough uranium to produce a nuc.

After the deal, Iran is 10 years from producing a nuc once they restart their nuclear program - which they show no signs of doing - and we will know if they do. To be clear, it's not 10 years from the agreement, it is 10 years from now, with "now" moving forward into the future indefinitely.

The main architect of the deal was Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, former chairman of the Department of Physics at MIT. Moniz enlisted the top Nuclear Scientists in the US to do the math and science on this deal to absolutely assure that Iran had zero path to nucs. And let's remember that joining the US in the deal were the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany.

It is hard to know how to describe Andy Barr's ad. Delusional? Ignorant? Disingenuous? Cynical? Lying? We know he is a lapdog of the big banks, how much money is he getting from the military-industrial complex, who were dying for a war with Iran?

The Iran nuclear deal was a victory for diplomacy and peace over belligerence and war. Andy Barr represents the worst of chicken-hawk GOP tradition, always pushing for another war, then repeatedly voting to deny our veterans the benefits and help they deserve and desperately need. I'm sorry, but I'm disgusted.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

1 Novella & 2 Novels

Based on my success in reading stuff by new authors last time, I decided to go that route again.

1st up, a novella, "Hammers on Bone", by Cassandra Khaw. The copyright page gives copyright to Zoe Khaw Joo Ee. I wonder why she went with the anglicized name? I suspect I got this story from the tor.com blog. I liked the title.

Anyway, the story is set in London. The protagonist is a film noir cheap detective who is also an Ancient One, the last of a race of - demons, maybe? So we've got Sam Spade meets H.P. Lovecraft. The plotting seems to be off in the 1st half, where our detective is nosing around on the case. The film noir dialogue is a bit too campy for my taste at times, but, that's not completely unexpected. This definitely reads like a new author, getting her feet under her. I'm glad it was only novella length.

Next up, "Company Town", by Madeline Ashby. Set 20-40 years in the future on a community of towers grown up around an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. It was interesting how the book pretty much completely inhabits this single locale. We are told next to nothing about the rest of the world, except that nanotech and implants are now the norm.

The protagonist is a bodyguard and is a well-developed character. Overall, the book wasn't strongly plotted. At times it was like, "OK, so maybe that's where the plot is heading now?" The ending reminded me of a James Ellroy serial killer novel where at the end the killer is some random person we have not met before. Ellroy's mother was murdered, possibly by a serial killer, and her murderer was never found. So the ending is a bit out of left field. It also involves some hard sci-fi concepts that could have used more exposition. Still, this was an enjoyable read.

Finally, "The Grace of Kings", by Ken Liu. Kind of Game of Thrones-ish, with a feudal setting where an emperor has conquered the other 6 kingdoms. Similar to GOT, the emperor's death sends the empire on a race to the bottom. There are also squabbling Olympic type gods sticking their fingers in. So, I was kind of like, yawn, yeah, whatever - but then one of characters kind of tries to start The Enlightment, FTW!

“Do you think we are words written on a page by the gods, and that there will always be rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, noble and commoner? Do you think that all our dreams are doomed to forever fail?”
I definitely poured through this one. Battles and tricks across the world. A plot that twists and turns enjoyably. A very good cast of characters - I liked that the super-warrior was literally over 8' tall. I've got the 2nd in the series on my iPad, I think I'm going to go on and forge ahead. I guess I approved of his world building.

Also, something important, I learned that the plural of "emphasis" is "emphases". I don't think I've ever used that word.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Nothing to Fear

No jinx! No jinx! No jinx!

On Saturday September 12, 2009, my wife and I drove from Lexington, KY to Naples, FL, through TN and GA. It's a 1000 mile drive, so we stopped several times. It seemed like every place we stopped there was a TV on tuned to Faux "News" showing big crowds of old white people being harangued by various old white men shouting things like "It's a new day for America" and "We are going to take out country back". What the hell was going on?

It was the Taxpayer March on Washington, sponsored by Faux and the Tea Party. I think of that as the real coming out party for the Tea Party. The election of our 1st black president seemed to have totally deranged old white people. And, in a policitally brilliant if completely unpatriotic move, Faux and the GOP came up with the Tea Party to tap into the vast reserves of (mostly repressed) racism in the US.

So I wrote this song on September 26. I am a horribly frustrated songwriter. I would think that the 10s of 1000s of songs in my head would be breeding like crazy and producing new songs out the wazoo, but you can count the songs I have written on the fingers of 1 hand. I keep thinking it's like a supersaturated solution where if a seed crystal gets introduced, precipitation would occur at a breakneck pace. But it ain't happened yet. This is the best song I have written.

I dedicated the song to Jackson Browne, Bob Marley, and Barack Obama. Of course props should go to Bobby McFerrin (Don't Worry, Be Happy), and "Fear is the mind killer" is from the "Litany Against Fear" in Frank Herbert's "Dune".

I first performed the song around this time of year in 2010. Ha ha, I now have a DigiTech Vocalist Live 3 with autotune, I could have used it then. Man, I suck at rapping too. I like my spiels before and after the song

The outcome of the 2010 election, as we well know, is that the Tea Party swept to power, giving us the last 6 years of the laziest know-nothing do-nothing Congress in the history of the US. Hence the "no jinx". But I am hopeful for the upcoming election that, as Trump craters, enough people will vote straight ticket Democrat to get back control of the Senate, which will give us liberal new Supreme Court justices, and maybe even retake the House.

I include the lyrics below. I have updated them I think for the better based on the current political rhetoric. I thought about replacing "the lynch mob" with "a Trump rally", but I think the original is better, plus, I do not want to name the Evil Orange One in my song.

[chorus - 1st time instrumental intro]
There is nothing to fear But fear itself
There is nothing to fear But fear itself

[chorus]

They want you to fear The black man
They want you to fear The brown man
They want you to fear The yellow man
They want you to fear Strong Woman

[chorus]

They want you to fear The immigrant
They want you to fear The refugee
They want you to fear The government
They want you to fear The future

[chorus - then 2x solo]

[bridge]
Don't be afraid [ don't be afraid]
Fear is the mind killer [ fear shuts your mind right off]
Don't be angry [ don't be angry]
Anger makes you stupid

[applied neurochemistry lesson delivered as a rap]
Because fear leads to anger, fear and anger both cause stress
Your brain fills with adrenaline and cortisol and then
Your mind loses the best part of its rationality
You cannot form a single thought to help you to break free
Now you are a killer ape who's primed for fight or flight
Now you have forgotten everything you know is right

That's when you strike the child you love
That's when you hurt the woman you need
That's when you become the lynch mob

[bridge]

Work hard Help a stranger Help a child Help a brother
Help a neighbor Help a sister Help a father Help a mother

Give up fear Give up anger Give up hatred [2x]

Learn to love Love to learn [4x]

Learn to love The beauty of all people
Learn to love The beauty of our world
Learn to love The beauty of the starry night sky
Here's the original lyrics.
[chorus - 1st time instrumental intro]
There is nothing to fear But fear itself
There is nothing to fear But fear itself

[chorus]

They want you to fear The black man
They want you to fear The brown man
They want you to fear The yellow man
They want you to fear Strong Woman

[chorus]

They want you to fear Some angry god
They want you to fear Some devil
They want you to fear The government
They want you to fear The future

[chorus - then 2x solo]

[bridge]
Don't be afraid [ don't be afraid]
Fear is the mind killer [ fear shuts your mind right off]
Don't be angry [ don't be angry]
Anger makes you stupid

[rap]
Because fear leads to anger, fear and anger both cause stress
Your brain fills with adrenaline and cortisol and then
Your mind loses the best part of its rationality
You cannot form a single thought to help you to break free
Now you are a killer ape who's primed for fight or flight
Now you have forgotten everything you know is right

That's when you strike the child you love
That's when you hurt the woman you need
That's when you become the lynch mob

[bridge]

Work hard Help a stranger Help a child Help your brother
Work hard Help your neighbor Help your sister Help your mother

Give up fear Give up anger Give up hatred [2x]

Learn to love Love to learn [4x]

Learn to love The beauty of all people
Learn to love The beauty of our world
Learn to love The beauty of the starry night sky
So to reiterate, everybody please GO VOTE!

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Zero Marginal Cost Society

"The Zero Marginal Cost Society", subtitled "The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism" is a 2014 book by Jeremy Rifkin. In "Postcapitalism" I learned that a near zero marginal cost (the cost to produce 1 additional product) of many goods, particularly those which are information-based, breaks the free market capitalistic system. I was going to say "breaks economics", but I think that economics was already broken. This book seemed like it would expand on that important idea.

The hardcopy book has 448 pages. It has 16 chapters and an afterword. After 1 introductory chapter, the book is divided into 5 parts of 3, 5, 3, 2, and 2 chapters. The style was a little off to me, I think maybe because Rifkin seems to like to use very long sentences.


The opening sentence of the book:

The capitalist era is passing ... not quickly, but inevitably. A new economic paradigm — the Collaborative Commons — is rising in its wake that will transform our way of life.
The chapter brings us up to date on the progress of the "zero marginal cost revolution".
The near zero marginal cost phenomenon has already wreaked havoc on the publishing, communications, and entertainment industries as more and more information is being made available nearly free to billions of people. Today, more than one-third of the human race is producing its own information on relatively cheap cellphones and computers and sharing it via video, audio, and text at near zero marginal cost in a collaborative networked world. And now the zero marginal cost revolution is beginning to affect other commercial sectors, including renewable energy, 3D printing in manufacturing, and online higher education. There are already millions of “prosumers”—consumers who have become their own producers—generating their own green electricity at near zero marginal cost around the world. It’s estimated that around 100,000 hobbyists are manufacturing their own goods using 3D printing at nearly zero marginal cost. Meanwhile, six million students are currently enrolled in free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that operate at near zero marginal cost and are taught by some of the most distinguished professors in the world, and receiving college credits.
Rifkin points out that free market capitalism surprisingly carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.
A near zero marginal cost society is the optimally efficient state for promoting the general welfare and represents the ultimate triumph of capitalism. Its moment of triumph, however, also marks its inescapable passage from the world stage.
After giving the required props to Adam Smith, Rifkin discusses everyone's favorite, Keynes' "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren", which I first talked about in my very 1st post on Economy of Plenty. He gives a different and insightful definition of the Internet of Things (IoT):
The coming together of the Communications Internet with the fledgling Energy Internet and Logistics Internet in a seamless twenty-first-century intelligent infrastructure—the Internet of Things (IoT) — is giving rise to a Third Industrial Revolution.
Rifkin brings the laws of thermodynamics into economics, with each successive Industrial Revolution reducing the amount of entropy created via increased efficiency, but this interesting formulation does not make it past the 1st chapter.
the IoT is made up of a Communications Internet, an Energy Internet, and a Logistics Internet that work together in a single operating system, continuously finding ways to increase thermodynamic efficiencies and productivity in the marshaling of resources, the production and distribution of goods and services, and the recycling of waste.
I learned quite a lot about the concept of The Commons and its history, going back to medieval times and now instantiated as the online Social Commons or the Collaborative Commons.
The operating logic of the IoT is to optimize lateral peer production, universal access, and inclusion, the same sensibilities that are critical to the nurturing and creation of social capital in the civil society. The very purpose of the new technology platform is to encourage a sharing culture, which is what the Commons is all about. It is these design features of the IoT that bring the social Commons out of the shadows, giving it a high-tech platform to become the dominant economic paradigm of the twenty-first century.
An interesting fun fact, "The adjective collaborative didn’t even exist until well into the twentieth century. " Rifkin sees a paradigm shift in progress.
Markets are beginning to give way to networks, ownership is becoming less important than access, the pursuit of self-interest is being tempered by the pull of collaborative interests, and the traditional dream of rags to riches is being supplanted by a new dream of a sustainable quality of life.
Rifkin confirms a thought that I have been having - that Secular Stagnation and the jobless recovery from the 2008 Great Recession are signs that our economic system is broken.
The current debate among economists, business leaders, and public officials on what appears to be a new type of long-term economic stagnation emerging around the world is an indicator of the great transformation taking place as the economy shifts from exchange value in the marketplace to sharable value on the Collaborative Commons.

...

The steady decline of GDP in the coming years and decades is going to be increasingly attributable to the changeover to a vibrant new economic paradigm that measures economic value in totally new ways.

One of the Rifkin's strongest formulations which carries throughout the book is the characterization of an era by its energy source and communication capabilities. He refers to this as a "communication/energy matrix".
Throughout history, great economic transformations occurred when human beings discovered new energy regimes and created new communication media to organize them.


Part I is titled "The Untold History of Capitalism". An interesting history of economic systems.

  • In feudal times the only sources of energy were people, draft animals, and wood-burning. Agricultural was largely communal. Property was owned by God, not people.
  • In medieval times, water and wind mills became energy sources. These led to the rise of towns around mill locations and a burgher class to somewhat rival the power of the feudal aristocracy. The Enclosure Movement saw the communal commons fenced off and turned into private property, particularly for raising sheep for wool. The printing press created the 1st high-volume communications media. Roads and waterways were the logistic mechanism.
  • The 1st Industrial Revolution begins in 1776 with James Watts steam engine. Coal became the energy source. The telegraph was the communication medium. Railroads and mail order catalogs were the logistic implementation. Interesting points about the railroads and capitalism:
    The railroads became, in effect, the first modern capitalist business corporations ... Capitalism is a unique and peculiar form of enterprise in which the workforce is stripped of its ownership of the tools it uses to create the products, and the investors who own the enterprises are stripped of their power to control and manage their businesses.

    The high capital cost of establishing a rail infrastructure made necessary a business model that could organize around vertical integration, bringing upstream suppliers and downstream customers together under one roof.

  • The 2nd Industrial Revolution begins with the 20th century and mass production. Oil is the energy source, with the electric grid capable of delivering that energy everywhere. The telephone was the communication medium. Cars and later airplanes were the logistic mechanism. AT&T accepted government regulation as the price for a monopoly.
  • The 3rd Industrial Revolution begins in the late 20th century with the Internet as the communication medium. The energy source is smart distributed renewables. The logistics are provided increasingly by shared and autonomous vehicles.
    The Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) is what the rest of the book covers in detail.
Paralleling these paradigm shifts were changing views of humanity's role in the organization of the world. In feudal and into medieval times, Catholic doctrine taught that every man's role in society was predetermined by God. Protestantism kept a similar view, but wanted to get rid of the middle man Catholic Church. Protestants also thought that one's spiritual outcome in the afterlife was predetermined. But you could maybe create an appearance of being one of God's annointed by working hard and bettering one's self, from whence came the Protestant Work Ethic.

I did not know that John Locke was an early proponent of private property. Private property became yours by you working and adding value. But coming into the 2nd Industrial Age, workers started to feel that gave them more right to the profits of capitalists. Capitalists seized on David Hume and Jeremy Bentham’s "theory of utilitarian value" to combat these ideas, stating that maximizing the utility of resources works out best for everybody. Then in the 19th century, Herbert Spencer changed Darwin's "Natural Selection" into "Survival of the Fittest", and Social Darwinism was born. Ugh.


Part II is titled "The Near Zero Marginal Cost Society". It is the longest part. There is a fair amount of overlap with the "gee-whiz, bright shiny future" anecdotes that were present in "Abundance". And similarly, this book was written 2 years later than "Abundance", but, even for a book written only 2 years ago, there were things where I thought "Whatever happened to that?" or "Why haven't I heard of that?".

Rifkin sets the stage with a series of very illustrative "what if" statements.

what if I were to say to you that 25 years from now, the bulk of the energy you use to heat your home and run your appliances, power your business, drive your vehicle, and operate every part of the global economy will likewise be nearly free?

...

what if nearly free information were to begin managing nearly free green energy, creating an intelligent communication/energy matrix and infrastructure that would allow any business in the world to connect, share energy across a continental Energy Internet, and produce and sell goods at a fraction of the price charged by today’s global manufacturing giants?

...

what if millions of students around the world who had never before had access to a college education were suddenly able to take courses taught by the most distinguished scholars on the planet and receive credit for their work, all for free?

...

what if the marginal cost of human labor in the production and distribution of goods and services were to plummet to near zero as intelligent technology substitutes for workers across every industry and professional and technical field, allowing businesses to conduct much of the commercial activity of civilization more intelligently, efficiently, and cheaply than with conventional workforces?

Rifkin details the explosive growth of the Internet of Things and mentions IPv6. Ha ha, I had to google that it went from a 32-bit address to a 128-bit address. That's a lot of bits, 2^128 is 3 x 10^38, a number beyond astronomical.

He raised the issue of potential privacy problems, but concluded, I think correctly, that kids growing up now will really not care much about privacy. [Particularly if this transparency shines a light on dark corners of business, government, and the oligarchy.]

The moniker of the younger generation is transparency, its modus operandi is collaboration, and its self-expression is exercised by way of peer production in laterally scaled networks.
Rifkin also discusses the magic word "exponential". I think it is definitely one our many cognitive biases that we have no intuitive grasp of exponential scaling - our hunter/gatherer ancestors probably did not run across it very often.

Rifkin examines 3d printing in fair detail, listing 7 differences from "conventional centralized manufacturing". I like the new word, infofacture, he introduces in the 1st difference. Yes, information, not hands, is doing the work. New words such as this to me mean, paradigm shift.

First, there is little human involvement aside from creating the software. The software does all the work, which is why it’s more appropriate to think of the process as “infofacture” rather than “manufacture.”
Interestingly, his discussion of the 6th difference leads us to discover the "democratization of manufacturing", of which Mahatma Gandhi was an early proponent. Gandhi was also an early proponent of sustainability.
Sixth, because the IoT is distributed, collaborative, and laterally scaled, 3D printers can set up shop and connect anywhere there is a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) infrastructure

...

Gandhi’s alternative proposal was local production by the masses in their own homes and neighborhoods—what he called Swadeshi. The idea behind Swadeshi was to “bring work to the people and not people to the work.”

...

He also bound his theory of happiness to a responsibility to the planet. Nearly a half century before sustainability came into vogue, Gandhi declared that “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not enough for every man’s greed.”

Rifkin's discussion of MOOCs includes another issue I had not heard much about before: service learning, where students learn through performing service in their community. Apparently it is very good tech.
studies of elementary schools and high schools conducted in different regions of the country report that service learning improved students’ problem-solving skills and understanding of cognitive complexity as well as their performance in classroom work and on standardized tests, as compared to students who did not take part in service-learning programs.
He discusses for-profit Coursera, and non-profit EdX, from MIT and Harvard. Some of the online courses are starting to actually award credits, sometimes in conjunction with coming on-campus, which doesn't seem very scalable. Rifkin raises interesting points on the rationale of these famous universities providing these online options.
Why then, are so many universities so anxious to push forward? First, in their defense, there is a great deal of idealism involved here. It has long been the dream of educators to bring the knowledge of the world to every human being. Not to do so, once we have the means, would be considered unethical to many academics. But second, they recognize that if they hold out, others will rush in—which they already are. Like their counterparts in so many other sectors where new technologies are making possible a near zero marginal cost society and nearly free goods and services, they realize that the logic of optimizing the welfare of the human race in collaborative, networked Commons is so compelling that it is impossible to shut it out or turn away.
I like the title of Chapter 8: "The Last Worker Standing". Did I see somewhere, "Will the last worker close the door on their way out"? Rifkin correctly, IMO, analyzes the jobless recovery, and addresses the delusional thinking that somehow, the US can do something to get manufacturing jobs back from China.
American and European politicians, and the general public, blame blue collar job losses on the relocation of manufacturing to cheap labor markets like China. The fact is that something more consequential has taken place. Between 1995 and 2002, 22 million manufacturing jobs were eliminated in the global economy while global production increased by more than 30 percent worldwide.

...

factory employment, which accounted for 163 million jobs in 2003, is likely to be just a few million by 2040, marking the end of mass factory labor in the world.

Rifkin posits that automation will also affect service jobs - think self-service ordering and checkout kiosks - and white-collar jobs as well. He sees us moving past the days of wage slavery, and into the time of real life. As Universal Basic Income (UBI) proponents say, "Jobs are for machines, life is for humans". This seems like the point of the book where some discussion of UBI would be appropriate, but he never touches on the subject.
The First Industrial Revolution ended slave and serf labor. The Second Industrial Revolution dramatically shrank agricultural and craft labor. The Third Industrial Revolution is sunsetting mass wage labor in the manufacturing and service industries and salaried professional labor in large parts of the knowledge sector.

...

The very idea that a human being’s worth was measured almost exclusively by his or her productive output of goods and services and material wealth will seem primitive, even barbaric, and be regarded as a terrible loss of human value to our progeny living in a highly automated world where much of life is lived on the Collaborative Commons.

...

Attachment to community and the search for transcendence and meaning comes to define the measure of one’s life rather than one’s material wealth.

The last chapter of Part II raises the worrisome part of all this future thinking: how are the old lizards, the oligarchs who currently have the world set up pretty much the way they like it, going to be dealt with?
Whether the new potential inherent in the IoT infrastructure can be realized will be determined by who finances the platform. The struggle for control is already well underway, mostly behind the scenes, in regulatory commissions, courtrooms, legislatures, corporate boardrooms, civil society organizations, and academic circles all over the world.
I think Rifkin feels that the overall distributed, democratic foundations of the Internet - the communication medium - will lead naturally to the democratization of the energy source and the logistic system. [Speaking as one who has installed 9kW of solar panels on a Florida house, it ain't happening yet. I'm paid $0.01869/kWh for electricity that FPL sells to my neighbors for $0.11 or $0.13/kWh. But there was a ballot initiatives that was supposed to favor solar prosumers that did pass in Florida last month. However there is supposed to be another referendum supported by the power industry that will oppose solar on the November ballot. So maybe that does show progress, but a "tipping point" seems to me to be a reach right now.]
The shift from being a consumer to being a prosumer of energy marks a tipping point in the way power is generated and used.
Rifkin discusses the "Cleanweb Movement, also called energy IT or clean IT". I had not heard of this, and The Google did not yield much in the way of any real organization, i.e., cleanweb.org. He also discusses the federal (DOE) initiative, "Green Button", allowing consumers to monitor their energy. This does appear to be ongoing. My electric company has for at least a couple of years provided me monthly energy efficiency reports, maybe that is an offshoot.

Finally Rifkin discusses the "free Wi-Fi for everyone" which the FCC announced in 2013. High speed internet and ubiquitous wi-fi do indeed appear to me to be making progress everywhere. [I remember in maybe 2005 the CEO of the company I was at telling me that before long wi-fi internet access would be everywhere. He was definitely a visionary guy - I think he'd be disappointed we're still not there a decade later.]


Part III is titled "The Rise of the Collaborative Commons". I like the title of Chapter 10, "The Comedy of the Commons". After having heard about The Tragedy of the Commons for so long, it is nice to think of its opposite. [It always makes me think of the Dr. John song lyric "If I don't do it, somebody else will."] And indeed, in reviewing research into Commons throughout the world, Rifkin recounts many instances of Commons being managed successfully, and often by the participants without central government regulation. The book he references most on the issue is Elinor Ostrom’s "Governing the Commons" (1990) (oops, he gets the name wrong, referring to it as "The Governing of the Commons"). This defines 7 very commonsense design patterns for maintaining a Commons successfully. I think this is important enough that I will include these here.

First, effective management of a commons requires “clearly defined boundaries” on who is allowed to appropriate from the commons and who is not.

Second, it’s necessary to establish appropriation rules restricting the time, place, technologies, and quantity of the resources that can be used as well as setting up the rules on the amount of labor, materials, and money that can be allotted to the appropriation.

Third, a commons association needs to guarantee that those affected by the appropriation rules jointly and democratically determine those rules and their modifications over time.

Fourth, the commons association should ensure that those monitoring the activity on the commons are the appropriators or are accountable to them.

Fifth, appropriators who violate the rules should, in principle, be subject to graduated sanctions by the other appropriators or officials accountable to the appropriators, to guard against overly punitive punishment that sours their future participation and creates ill will in the community.

Sixth, the commons association ought to build in procedures for rapid access to low-cost private mediation to quickly resolve conflict among appropriators or between appropriators and public officials.

Seventh, it is vital that government jurisdictions recognize and condone the legitimacy of the rules established by the commons association.

Rifkin points out that economics of course has a great problem with this.
Most economists would be nonplussed because their discipline is so wedded to the idea that human nature is purely self-interested and that each individual seeks to optimize his or her autonomy. The very idea of freely choosing to pursue the collective interest is anathema to many market-oriented economists.
And indeed, the Commons is always under attack by the forces of enclosure, of fencing things off. Reagan and Thatcher led the push for privatization of many formerly common resources. That there is now legislation before Congress wanting to privatize our National Parks is abhorrent to me. My catch line for a few years has been, "privatization === some fat cat putting a lot of money in his pocket".
Would we want to fence off every beachfront, lake and river, every forest, every suburban community, every road and bridge, and put the whole of the Earth’s diverse ecosystems into private hands, allowing property owners the exclusive right to charge an access fee for admission and use of the resources, or worse, deny admission altogether?
Rifkin discusses in detail one of the worst ongoing attempts to loot the Commons: the patenting of human and other genes. I can agree with patenting genetic modifications that go to create specific GMOs, but to me it is the height of lunacy to apply patent protection to any part of any naturally occurring genome. Rifkin on the other hand seems to be against any patents on any lifeforms. I found this preamble to the 2002 "Treaty to Share the Genetic Commons" inspirational, so I will include it here in its entirety.
We proclaim these truths to be universal and indivisible;

That the intrinsic value of the Earth’s gene pool, in all of its biological forms and manifestations, precedes its utility and commercial value, and therefore must be respected and safeguarded by all political, commercial and social institutions,

That the Earth’s gene pool, in all of its biological forms and manifestations, exists in nature and, therefore, must not be claimed as intellectual property even if purified and synthesized in the laboratory,

That the global gene pool, in all of its biological forms and manifestations, is a shared legacy and, therefore, a collective responsibility,

And,

Whereas, our increasing knowledge of biology confers a special obligation to serve as a steward on behalf of the preservation and well being of our species as well as all of our other fellow creatures,

Therefore, the nations of the world declare the Earth’s gene pool, in all of its biological forms and manifestations, to be a global commons, to be protected and nurtured by all peoples and further declare that genes and the products they code for, in their natural, purified or synthesized form as well as chromosomes, cells, tissue, organs and organisms, including cloned, transgenic and chimeric organisms, will not be allowed to be claimed as commercially negotiable genetic information or intellectual property by governments, commercial enterprises, other institutions or individuals.

Tne last 2 chapters of this part return to the battle against the old lizards. The struggle is far from complete, but there are some victories in which to take heart.
The struggle between prosumer collaboratists and investor capitalists, while still nascent, is shaping up to be the critical economic battle of the first half of the twenty-first century.

...

The unfolding economic clash between the collaboratists and capitalists is a manifestation of a cultural conflict that will likely redefine the nature of the human journey in the years ahead. If there is an underlying theme to the emerging cultural narrative, it is the “democratization of everything.”

The Free Culture Movement, the Environmental Movement, and the movement to reclaim the public Commons are the coproducers, if you will, of this unfolding cultural drama.

A well-known victory for the Commons is the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement. It was and is spearheaded by our hero, Richard Stallman, perhaps in part in opposition to Bill Gates deciding that he could make big money from the software that used to be exchanged for free by hobbyists.
Stallman argued that software code was quickly becoming the language of communication between people, and between people and things, and that it was immoral and unethical to enclose and privatize the new communications media, allowing a few corporate players to determine the conditions of access while imposing rent. Stallman proclaimed that all software should be free, by which he meant as in “free speech, not free beer.”
From GNU to Linux to most if not all of the software stacks now used in Web software development, the FOSS has indeed been a great victory.

I think this victory encouraged others to extent the principles of FOSS to other domains. There is a very interesting discussion of historical ideas of authorship.

they felt that ideas came from without in the form of a vision or inspiration—that they were struck by an idea. The very notion that an idea might come solely from within, as a unique creative insight, would have seemed strange, if not completely incomprehensible.

...

(In a script or oral culture, the concept that one could own his or her own words and charge other people to listen to them would have been simply unbelievable.)

I think that if you apply the concept of memetics to ideas and authorship, it is obvious that no new memes are created in isolation, that they are instead bred from older existing memes. So how can one claim sole ownership of any new meme, just because it happened to have been bred in one's own mind? Why do we not then claim that the global meme pool is a Commons just like the global gene pool?

The major application of FOSS principles to culture in general was led by Lawrence Lessig and the other creators of the Creative Commons license.

Rifkin next discusses transborder peace parks as a technique for pulling land back into the Commons. Humans are the only species on earth that knows anything about national boundaries. Ecological work needs to be able to ignore these boundaries.

The very idea that nature’s boundaries supersede political and commercial boundaries in importance has the effect of redirecting the social narrative away from individual self-interests, commercial pursuits, and geopolitical considerations to the general well-being of nature.

...

The enclosures of the land and ocean Commons, the fresh water Commons, the atmosphere Commons, the electromagnetic spectrum Commons, the knowledge Commons, and the genetic Commons has severed the complex internal dynamics of Earth’s biosphere, jeopardizing every human being’s welfare and the well-being of all the other organisms that inhabit the planet.

...

The opposite of enclosure is not merely openness, but transcendence.

Rifkin sees globalization, the WTO, the TPP, and similar trade agreements as being primarily increasingly concerned with protecting corporate intellectual property issues, in direct conflict to the creation of the Commons. The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 extended copyrights to 70 years (just in time to save Mickey Mouse from the public domain); the odious Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) passed in the same year. These were part of what led to the extensive demonstrations against the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle. And so the battle was joined.
There were calls for opening up the public square Commons, the land Commons, the knowledge Commons, the virtual Commons, the energy Commons, the electromagnetic spectrum Commons, the Communications Commons, the ocean Commons, the fresh water Commons, the atmosphere Commons, the nonprofit Commons, and the biosphere Commons. Virtually every Commons that had been enclosed, privatized, and commodified in the market during the 200-year reign of capitalism suddenly came under scrutiny and review. NGOs were formed and initiatives were launched to champion the reopening of the many Commons that embed the human race in the biosphere. Globalization had met its nemesis in the form of a diverse movement committed to reversing the great enclosures and reestablishing the global Commons.
Rifkin references a book by Peter Barnes, "Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons" (2006), that I think will be my next economics read. Here is Barnes' vision of the future. I look forward to more details on how this actually gets done.
"the key difference between versions 2.0 and 3.0 is the inclusion in the latter of a set of institutions I call the Commons sector. Instead of having only one engine—that is, the corporate-dominated private sector—our improved economic system would run on two: one geared to managing private profit, the other to preserving and enhancing common wealth."
The last chapter of this part reviews the current status of Commons vs. lizards with regard to the communication/energy/logistic matrix of the 3rd Industrial Revolution (TIR). On the communication side, he talks about net neutrality, which seems to be faring well so far. He also sees as a threat the siloization of the Internet, with our data being partitioned between private sites like FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
Berners-Lee warns that “large social networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web” and creating enclosed commercial spaces.
On the energy front there is similar conflict. Unsurprisingly, Europe seems to be a bit ahead of the US in progressing towards an Energy Commons.
Already, the creation of an Energy Internet Commons across locales, regions, countries, and continents is coming up against entrenched commercial interests every bit as formidable as those the Communications Internet is facing with the telecommunications and cable companies.

...

The European Union, the world’s largest economy, has taken steps to keep the Energy Internet an open architecture by requiring that conventional power and utility companies unbundle their power generation from their transmission of electricity.

There is a very interesting history of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Rural Electric Administration (REA). These were both very successful in creating the 2nd Industrial Revolution energy grid in Appalachia and other rural areas through government programs and cooperatives. The cooperatives were funded by the Federal government through low-interest loans, all of which were paid back.
This Commons form of self-management accomplished in just 13 years what private enterprise and government could not have done in twice that time at anywhere near the low cost.
As is appropriate, Rifkin speaks very highly of cooperatives. I was surprised tho that he did not mention the Mondragon Cooperative of Spain, as it is often pointed to as an exemplar of a successful cooperative. The last sentence of this next excerpt is a little worrysome: paranoia or valid concern?
The year 2012 was officially recognized by the United Nations as the International Year of Cooperatives, but a quick Google search shows barely a blip of news about the year-long celebrations. Perhaps it’s because the global media are concentrated in the hands of a few giant for-profit media companies that decide what is news.
Finally, Rifkin discusses the logistics Commons, where he notes that the IoT could support a sophisticated, computerized system where there are fewer long hauls and more short hauls, with more handoffs of cargo. Surprising, there is no discussion of drones, which are being touted by many as a technology by which the Third World, particularly Africa, could leapfrog 1st and 2nd Industrial Revolution logistics and go straight to a more distributed means of delivering goods, particularly medications.


Part IV is titled "Social Capital and the Sharing Economy". These are actually kind of discussed in the reverse order. I don't make much use of the sharing economy, but my 4 children, all in their 30s, all do to some degree. An insightful discussion of "freedom", pre- and post-Internet:

In the capitalist era, we came to define freedom in negative terms as the right to exclude. The automobile became the symbol of our conventional notion of freedom.

The Internet generation, however, has come to think of freedom not in the negative sense—the right to exclude others—but rather in the positive sense of the right to be included with others. For them, freedom means the ability to optimize one’s life, and the optimal life is realized by the diversity of one’s experiences and the distributed reach of one’s relationships in the various communities to which one affiliates over a lifetime. Freedom is measured more by access to others in networks than ownership of property in markets. The deeper and more inclusive one’s relationships, the more freedom one enjoys. Having continuous access to others in social spaces like Facebook and Twitter gives one’s life meaning. Freedom for an Internet generation is the ability to collaborate with others, without restriction, in a peer-to-peer world.

Although they are all online to various degrees, I think none of my 4 children would agree that "Facebook and Twitter gives one's life meaning". I think they are probably a little too old. Hah, what does that make me? I spend way too much time on both those services, and, yes, they're fun, but, no, I don't think they give my life meaning. Well maybe just a little.

2 of my kids (the ones married with children) own cars, 2 don't. "In 2012, 800,000 people in the United States belonged to a car-sharing service." My middle daughter was 1 of those. Car sharing is going nowhere but up, particularly once you can call a self-driving shared car to your location with an app on your smartphone.

I tried unsuccessfully to find out where I got this from. There was a statement somewhere that made total sense to me, to the effect that: we have only been using ownership because the tech wasn't good enough to use sharing. But now the tech is good enough that we can switch over.

Rifkin feels that the 2008 meltdown and the slow recovery has led many consumers to ask themselves, "Why?".

Families began to realize they had been sold a bill of goods, that they had been sucked into a debilitating addiction fed by billions of dollars of corporate advertising that had left them at the doorstep of ruin and despair. It was a collective “ah ha” moment when large numbers of people stopped dead in their tracks and began to reverse course. The way out was to turn the entire economic system on its head—buy less, save more, and share what one has with others. Runaway consumption would be replaced by a shareable economy.

...

Reducing addictive consumption, optimizing frugality, and fostering a more sustainable way of life is not only laudable, but essential if we are to ensure our survival.

Other sharing domains are examined: lodging via Airbnb and Couchsurfing; toys; clothes; and all manner of other merchandise. A company SharedEarth matches gardeners with people with land for a garden, with the produce being shared. Community supported agriculture (CSA) has been around for decades, and continues to grow in popularity. I know several younger families who use it.

The Internet Commons has also facilitated a powerful kind of information sharing: the sharing of medical information by patients, which Rifkin refers to as patient-driven health care. Rather than just providing emotional support, the sites for sharing information between sufferers also seem to be instantiations of "the wisdom of crowds".

[Dan] Hoch said that what surprised him most of all was the realization “that an online group like the BrainTalk Communities epilepsy group is not only much smarter than any single patient, but is also smarter, or at least more comprehensive, than many physicians—even medical specialists."
The wisdom of crowds is also taking its toll on an American institution: the commercial, and marketing in general. [Every year when people watch the Super Bowl to see the commericials, I realize that the TV commercial is probably the great American original art form.] Modern consumers now place far more reliance in online reviews and ratings than in commercials. And Internet-based ads are just as vulnerable as ads on the older media.
If there ever was an invisible hand, it is surely advertising’s ability to keep demand at pace with increasing supply.

...

[Eric] Clemons believes that paid advertising “will fail as a major revenue source for most Internet sites” for all the reasons mentioned above. His conclusion is that “the Internet is not replacing advertising but shattering it.”

To me "social capital" can mean a couple of different things, both of which are discussed by Rifkin. 1st, there is access to capital as a domain of the sharing economy. It started as "peer-to-peer lending or social lending", which I believe have now been eclipsed by crowdfunding. Kickstarter is very popular and works great - I have supported several projects. Indiegogo also seems to be doing very well. GoFundMe has become ubiquitous to the point that funding requests for funeral expenses for unexpected deaths have become a frequent reminder of income inequality.

The other meaning of "social capital" is that of the good will you have created for yourself with others - your reputation. All sites that exchange goods maintain ratings of all participants.

like more traditional Commons, the new Collaborative Commons has experimented with a range of protocols to maintain the high level of social trust necessary to ensure sufficient social capital to build a collaborative ethos, including sanctions to punish and even weed out free riders and spoilers.
Rifkin also brings up reputation services, "similar to credit-rating services in the market economy". He mentions TrustCloud, and more recently there was one called Clout, which now appears to be defunct. I have not seen them getting much traction. My oldest daughter, a freelance graphics designer in Brooklyn who has done a lot of pro-bono work, including for Occupy, concurs.

An even more orthogonal concept is alternative currencies.

community currencies, local exchange trading systems (LETS), or microcurrencies, began to take hold in locales around the world after the economic collapse of 2008.

...

Alternative currencies have mushroomed in some of the regions of Europe hardest hit by the Great Recession. In Greece and Spain, community currency networks are proliferating.

And of course there is bitcoin, which seems like horrible tech to me. Another more interesting concept is the time bank, where people exchange hours and minutes rather than dollars and cents.

Rifkin notes the creation of benefit corporation status in the US. These give social entrepreneurs a vehicle to pursue goals in support of the Commons.

Finally, Rifkin talks about the future of employment. His ideas here seem a little off to me. Basically, some years of building the Energy Internet, followed by everyone working for nonprofits contributing to the commons? Why do we need that 2nd part? But, nonprofits aren't actually that dependent on the old lizards, so it's all good? And still no mention of Basic Income.

In the short and mid terms, however, the massive build-out of the IoT infrastructure in every locality and region of the world is going to give rise to one last surge of mass wage and salaried labor that will run for 40 years, spanning two generations.

...

approximately 50 percent of the aggregate revenue of the nonprofit sector operating on the Commons already comes from fees for services, while government support accounts for only 36 percent of the revenues, and private philanthropy for only 14 percent.

Ha ha, I'll note in passing this horribly human chauvinistic comment. Tsk tsk, pretty short sighted.
The very idea that machines might someday create social capital is not entertained by even the most ardent technophiles.


Part V is titled "The Economy of Abundance". Yay! Yes, please! Note, Rifkin does not comment on the oxymoronic nature of this title.

The first chapter (#15) is titled "The Sustainable Cornucopia". What a great word, cornucopia! It comes from the Latin for "horn of plenty". Charlie Stross in a series of novels set in a post-scarcity utopia posits "cornucopia machines". Here's an image.

So is it doable? Rifkin reminds us that the current population is each year consuming 1.5x of the Earth's renewable resources. A world with everyone consuming at US levels would consume more like 4-5x annually. So, the bottom line is, we all need to consume less - go on the Mediterranean diet for starters. And, numerous studies have shown we'll be happier when we stop trying to keep up with the Joneses! Once you get to a reasonable "enough" wealth and stuff, adding more does not increase happiness.

Psychology professor Tim Kasser, author of "The High Price of Materialism", sums up the overwhelming evidence accumulated in years of studies on materialistic behavior.
"What virtually every study shows, he says, is that people who strongly value the pursuit of wealth and possessions report lower psychological well-being than those who are less concerned with such aims. . . . The more materialistic values are at the center of our lives, the more our quality of life is diminished."
...

In reality, the things we want most are not scarce but infinitely abundant—love, acceptance, and recognition of our humanity.

I found this next statistic to be surprising. I bet that if you directly observed people's behavior rather than asking them a question this number would go up to 80-90%.
In the 1960s, 56 percent of Americans said that most people can be trusted. Today, less than one-third still do.
Rifkin identifies materialism as leading to lack of empathy, the end state of which is sociopathy. He does not mention the studies that showed the similarities between the psychological profiles of sociopaths and the CEOs of large corporations.
What makes materialism so toxic is that it robs the individual of the primary drive that animates our species—our empathic nature.

...

When we hear of individuals who lack all sense of empathy, whose behavior shows no sensitivity to or concern for others, we think of them as inhuman. The sociopath is the ultimate pariah.

Rifkin seems to share my optimism and hope for the Millennials to be the ones who will make this brave new world succeed. [But are they going to vote, or are they going to try to sidestep the existing political system?]
Studies also indicate that millennials are the least prejudiced and most empathic of any generation in history in championing the legal and social rights of previously marginalized groups of the population, including women, people of color, gays and lesbians, and the disabled. They are also less xenophobic.

...

While there is evidence of their famed narcissism and materialism, there is also evidence of an increase in empathic engagement. I also suspect that the narcissistic and materialistic inclination is of waning influence in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

...

A sharing economy of collaborative prosumers is, by its very nature, a more empathic and less materialistic one.

The waning of the materialistic ethos is also reflected in the increasing commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

I get accused of being a pollyanna all the time, Rifkin may top me here.
By midcentury, the falling fertility rate is likely to approach 2.1 children per family across the world, marking the beginning of a slow decline in human population, eventually bringing it down to 5 billion people—the number that will secure our ability to live off of nature’s ecological interest and enjoy an economy of abundance.
I really don't see population decreasing to 5 billion anytime in the next century without horrible catastrophes being responsible.

Rifkin now detours to talk about "The Two Wild Cards of the Apocalypse", which could keep us from getting to the Economy of Abundance.

  1. The climate crisis. No new data. And no synthesis, that getting beyond capitalism to our post-scarcity utopia is totally linked to fixing the climate crisis, as Naomi Klein does in "This Changes Everything".
  2. Cyberterrorism. This seems kind of out-of-left-field - a legitimate concern, but up there with the climate crisis? [It is still unbelievable to me that, as with nucs, the US was the 1st to rub the lamp on this terrifying genie when, with the Israelis, it released the StuxNet virus on the Iranian centrifuges. What an error in judgement!]
At the start of the last chapter of the book, Rifkin gives an optimistic assessment of the state of things. Hell yeah, FTW! Give me optimism, or give me death!
My sense is that with an unswerving commitment, no costly mistakes or setbacks, and a little luck, the race to a new economic paradigm can be achieved.
In the rest of this chapter, he gives a very interesting history of the "consciousness" associated with each of the 5 eras of energy/communication/logistics tech human civilization has been through. To me writer-wise, so odd that these are not all in a table somewhere. So I will take it on myself to create that table. Don't Fear Tables.

  1. every forager/hunter society—even those few still remaining today—had “mythological consciousness.” The empathic drive in forager/hunter societies only extended to blood ties and tribal bonds.
  2. The coming together of writing and hydraulic agricultural production shifted the human psyche from mythological to “theological consciousness.”
  3. In the nineteenth century, the convergence of coal-powered steam printing and the new coal-powered factory and rail-transport system gave rise to “ideological consciousness.”
  4. In the twentieth century, the coming together of centralized electrification, oil, and automobile transport, and the rise of a mass consumer society, marked still another cognitive passage, from ideological to “psychological consciousness.”
  5. the next leap in the human journey—a crossover into biosphere consciousness and an expansion of empathy to include the whole of the human race as our family, as well as our fellow creatures as an extension of our evolutionary family?
I do feel this is a compelling narrative. Ahh, I used the word earlier, in homage to Design Patterns, which was a Big Thing in software design maybe 10-15 years ago. The word is: pattern.
Nonetheless, there is a detectable pattern to human evolution, captured in the spotty but unmistakable transformation of human consciousness and the accompanying extension of the human empathic drive to larger fictional families cohering in ever more complex and interdependent communication/energy matrices and economic paradigms
Yes, yes, yes, this is indeed our tale. Ha ha, it's why I called the author out for short-selling the capabilities of AIs. The totally greatest non-zero-sum game is Love. There is absolutely no limit to how much Love you can create. Our "fictional families" can always, always expand - including to AIs. FTW!


In the Afterword, Rifkin pays homage to his father, a capitalistic entrepreneur, and as such pays homage to capitalism as it passes away.

So, while I celebrate, with qualifications, the entrepreneurial spirit that drove my father and so many others, I don’t mourn the passing of capitalism.
Just in comparison, my dad was a Union man, IPEU, and as such made enough money to raise 7 kids, drink too much, and bet on the ponies. He worked in corporate management a couple of times but never liked it and both times went back to being a Union man. As such, I think I will mourn the passing of capitalism less than Rifkin will.
No doubt, the nineteenth-century utilitarian economists and their twentieth-century progenies would be aghast at the prospect that the very theory they espoused would eventually run its course, but not before taking society to the cusp of a new economic order where promoting the general welfare is best achieved through collaborative pursuits operating in vast networked Commons in an evolving social economy.


So this is a good and fairly quick read. I think I read it in 3-5 days 3-5 hours/day. I would read this before "Abundance" and after "Postcapitalism". Notice that I am recommending you read these in reverse chronological order - so, as in booking hotel rooms, newer === better? I think this is not at all surprising, as information is being developed and published so quickly.

I think the best parts of this book can be summarized in this table, which I promised/threatened earlier. Hmmm, could also use a column for approximate start date, but I'm out of room.

Era Comm Energy Logistics Owner Consciousness
Feudal Oral Humans/ wood-burning Humans/ draft animals Divine Mythological
Medieval Printing press Water/ wind mills Roads/ waterways Divine Theological
1st Industrial Revolution Telegraph Coal RailroadsPrivate Ideological
2nd Industrial Revolution Telephone Oil/ electric grid Cars & trucks / Interstate HWsPrivatePsychological
3rd Industrial Revolution Internet Distributed renewables Self-driving & shared cars & trucksSharedBiosphere

Meanwhile, like "Abundance" which was my previous economics read/review/summary, where are the numbers? Where are the plans? Where are the political solutions? Where are the simulations which will tell us what parts of the current infrastructure of civilization we have to tweak to move from supporting 1.5x to 5x the annual renewable production of the planet back to 1.0 or less of that number? (Or to support Rifkin's contention that population will all on its own fall back to 5B?) What level of vehicle/housing/possession sharing is required?

The only details we are given about how the change comes about is a prediction of declining GDP and continuing or increasing unemployment. And once again, I was surprised there is no mention of UBI as a way to help in the transition from capitalism. This may just show how quickly UBI has moved into the zeitgeist - it has really just happened in the last year or so. So yet again, very interesting and plausible ideas are presented, but, aside from suggesting that the Millennials will lead the way, there is very little in the way of a real roadmap.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

New Yellow

A general biking update. The weather has been cooperative and I've gotten a lot of riding in this year. I've done the same rides enough that I wanted to go somewhere new and different.

When I 1st started biking 11-12 years ago, a young cyclist coworker (Kent Lewis) gave me a hardcopy of the Bluegrass Cycling Club's maps. Whenever I took a road, I would highlight it in yellow on the map. I haven't had any "new yellow" for a few years, so I determined to get some.

So I biked out Old Frankfort Pike and headed north on WoodLake Rd (KY 1685), through Spring Station. North of Leestown Rd (US 421) I went into Franklin Co for the 1st time. I jogged west on US 460 (east on this road takes you through downtown Georgetown) and continued north on Woodlake, now KY 1262. Right (north) on KY 1688 took me over into Scott Co to the unidentifiable town Sand Hill. I then took a right to go south on Pea Ridge Rd (KY 3378), which turned into Fishers Mill Rd when it crossed US 460. A mile or so east on Leestown Rd took me into Midway, and I came home Waizenberger Mill Rd, Paynes Depot Rd, and Pisgah Pike. 49.11 miles, 3h45m ride time, average speed 13.11 mph, not bad.

Here's the map with the new yellow.

On another biking topic, in June of last year, while they were installing the solar (9 kW) on our Florida house, I did a 53.74 mile, 3h38m ride - 4h20m elapsed time - after which I could hardly use my hands for an hour. So I decided to try aerobars. Here's what the ones I tried looked like.

They really had me looking down, almost to the point of backwards, so the bike shop also put in a 4" stem extender to get me a little more upright when using the areobars.

They were great at getting pressure off my hands. Plus I would say that they added 2 mph to my biking speed. But, I rode with them maybe 20 times and just never liked them. I generally only stayed in them for 5-10 minutes at a time. The saddle had to be tilted forward to the extent that when I wasn't using them I was perched on the back of the saddle. Plus, when I was in them, I really had tunnel vision, focused totally forward, as opposed to when I'm more upright I can take in much more of the surroundings, which is part of the fun of cycling.

So I had them taken off. But I kept the stem extender. It keeps me more upright and probably costs me 0.5-1.0 mph in speed, but it does take a little of the pressure off my hands. It's funny, my wife's road bike was pretty closely matched speed-wise to mine, now she is faster! That would probably be true riding with other people as well, but, as I'm almost always biking alone, I don't care. I'll take the pressure relief on my hands. I told the guy at the bike shop, my bike was now more of a "grandpa bike", but, hey, I'm a grandpa!