peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Many years ago, I reflected on the fact that the terms we use to describe—not name, just describe—behavior in ourselves and others come almost exclusively from drafting:

All of these terms, derived from geometry, have nothing to do with actual behavior. An outward willingness to follow rules has nothing to do whatsoever with straight lines drawn on paper. Nowhere on a behaviorally unusual person will you find a circle with its center point slightly shifted. No, we grab these words from the graphic arts and apply them to situations we can recognize, but which we find difficult to describe absolutely. They are metaphors for behavior, not descriptors. They are heuristics, simple concepts we apply to complex situations that allow us to communicate the situations with each other.

I also noted that these communicative heuristics don't exist in the world outside the one we have created. Nature doesn't like straight lines like we do.

I was reminded of that reflection just today when wading through John Michael Greer's weekly blog. This should seem similar:

Modern industrial civilization, for example, is obsessed with simplicity; our mental models and habits of thought value straight lines, simple geometrical shapes, hard boundaries, and clear distinctions. That obsession, and the models and mental habits that unfold from it, have given us an urban environment full of straight lines, simple geometrical shapes, hard boundaries, and clear distinctions—and thus reinforce our unthinking assumption that these things are normal and natural, which by and large they aren’t.

Sorry if this is too "down" a topic for readers needing a shot of happy, but Greer's post (third of a trilogy, actually) concerns why civilizations that manage to build cities of size seem always to peter out after a millennium or so, while pre-city "primitive" societies can trudge through the earth with much the same traditions far longer. He blames the conformity of thought patterns reinforced by the urban environment, patterns that fall apart in the natural world.

By limiting, as far as possible, the experiences available to influential members of society to those that fit the established architecture of thought, urban living makes it much easier to confuse mental models with the universe those models claim to describe, and that confusion is essential if enough effort, enthusiasm, and passion are to be directed toward the process of elaborating those models to their furthest possible extent.

And, since the map is not the territory, those realities of the natural world not featured in the urban architecture of thought will get missed, if not ignored or even hotly denied. What happens then? Economists can assume unlimited growth on a finite planet, even when the fallacy of such an assumption defies the laws of physics.

And that's just one example. Our human built world is full of unoccupied or simply buried examples of civilizations that fell because what they assumed would happen if they did X simply didn't happen that way.

The world around us—call it nature if you will—doesn't care if you don't agree with its laws.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I'll take a break from a currently tumultuous family life and digress into a thought that has niggled at my brain for about three decades now. Back in college, a friend and I were mulling over beers about a simple question: Why is invention—specifically the rate of invention—accelerating?

Some historians say it is not, that looking at inventions from the distance history provides is like trying to judge the speed of an observed train at a distance without knowing the distance; from farther away, be they historically or in proximity, things appear slower. But this answer is, to me at least, just waving off the preponderance of evidence for an invention acceleration as simply not worth considering.

Back in college, I suggested it was education. More and more are getting more and more education. Could that be it? Perhaps, but this answer simply pushes the question down the road; why are more and more getting educated at greater rates? In other words, what changed in our education system from previous years?

Very recently, I think I've stumbled upon the answer, and I'm not sure I like the implications. More are educated today, more invention happens today, and more of us do less strenuous work today for the same reason that prisoners today do less backbreaking work in prison. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics. Later X-Posted to [ profile] peak_oil, with addendum.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I just skipped over to one of Doug Short's constantly updating sites and checked out the graph of recent numbers concerning how much per capita we in the US are driving. Given the paramount importance over road travel is in these paved states, it's a good indicator of economic health generally, at least as a snapshot. I thought I'd share, and offer a prediction! )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
A few years ago, a friend at work had a problem while driving. He heard a noise, probably from the front end of his vehicle. Since he was driving a 60-foot articulated passenger coach packed to the gills with commuters, this could have been a real problem. It was. Though he didn't notice anything at first, when he made a simple lane change he noticed the coach didn't respond to his steering wheel like it used to, instead becoming sluggish in turns. He dropped his speed and made for a turn-off from the freeway to inspect outside the seat. Probably a front blow-out. It wasn't.

He notified control about the weirdness and just took it slow to town, then drove the bus to the garage and notified the mechanics about the weird. The next day, all hell broke loose. )

Addendum, November 15, 2013: The Archdruid has some salient thoughts on the sequential processes both growing people and growing civilizations use to understand their worlds relevant to the above post:

It’s not merely that the government of every major industrial nation is trying to achieve economic growth by following policies that are supposed to bring growth in theory, but have never once done so in practice; it’s not merely that the populace of every major industrial society eagerly forgets all the lessons of each speculative bubble and bust as soon as the next one comes along, and makes all the same mistakes with the same dismal results as the previous time; it’s not even that allegedly sane and sensible people have somehow managed to convince themselves that limitless supplies of fossil fuels can somehow be extracted at ever-increasing rates from the insides of a finite planet: it’s that only a handful of people out on the furthest fringes of contemporary culture ever notice that there’s anything at all odd about these stunningly self-defeating patterns of behavior.

It’s at this stage of history that reflection becomes necessary. It’s only by thinking about thinking, by learning to pay attention to the way we transform the raw data of the senses into figurations and abstractions, that it becomes possible to notice what’s being excluded from awareness in the course of turning sensation into figurations and sorting out figurations into cascading levels of abstraction.

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Last February, NPR's Planet Money examined a unique strategy by Ecuador's government to preserve its Yasuni National Park, an isolated and wild place reached best by hours in a canoe. This is one of those places with amazing biodiversity, with more tree species in a hectare than most more northern countries have within their borders.

The problem threatening the Yasuni? It has oil, and President Correa, seeing the destruction other Latin American countries have suffered for oil exploration/extraction, wanted to avoid a similar fate for his most wild of national places. His solution: ask for money to preserve the park as is.

Seriously. Planet Money interviews those seeking to preserve the park by asking for money:

As payment for preserving the wilderness and preventing an estimated 410 million metric tons of fossil fuel-generated carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, Correa has asked the world to ante up in the fight against global warming. He is seeking $3.6 billion in compensation, roughly half of what Ecuador would have realized in revenues from exploiting the resource at 2007 prices. The money would be used, he says, to finance alternative energy and community development projects.

So, how'd that all work out? )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Orson "Approves")
All to often, people like to toss out the tired trope about how much energy a single Google search consumes. I say it's tired simply because the same tossers never seem to consider what energy uses a single Google search avoids. Seriously, think of a hard question to answer simply, like the wonky one I provide below this cut. )

Someone has tried to answer this, someone named "barath" over at Controposition. He notes: "A key part of understanding the energy use of the Internet is that its embodied energy, or emergy, is important to include." In his conclusions, he notes that roughly half of the studies ignore this. (His quick calculation suggests the embodied energy is about equivalent to the wall socket input over the life of the hardware.)

It gets better, though. Sure, energy is important. A trip to the library is probably more energy-intensive an endeavor than a Google-y. But what inputs are required to get this hardware built? In other words, what are the internet's material dependencies?

Prepare to have your mind blown. Luckily there's a magnifier for this image. A lot of stuff goes into your computer, Cupcake, and a lot of that stuff comes from some unstable areas.

Something to consider.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Fun time! I got to receive two very different posts on two very different topics today in the same Friend's Feed. Trouble is, they aren't "different" at all.

The first comes to us from our Friends at Faux News.

Oh, a surf bum who eats well on the taxpayer dime! The horrors! I haven't heard about this since . . . the 1970s. Lobster-eating food stamp recipients were a common trope back then, too.

Next, compare poor Jason's chosen fate to that of others, like you and I, perhaps. Jesus, Perry, down what rat hole are you scurrying now? )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Recently I read an interesting LJ rundown on the various problems with the new technologies that have flooded the markets with new oil-ish and gaseous energy supplies. Long-time readers are probably familiar with my obsession with energy issues, as well as my more recent diving into economic and monetary thing-a-ma-bobs. Here's a recap for those that have wondered why the two seemingly divergent topics have occupied my reading and mulling: They aren't divergent at all. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Just stumbled upon a New York Times article concerning sustainable development that posits a problem with a popular model, that of the Three Pillars of Sustainable Development. Those pillars are the Environment, Society, and the Economy. Here's a National Council for Science and the Environment page discussing the issue, and an image from the same page depicting the pillars in question:

Hmmmm. . . . )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Last Wednesday, I volunteered to take a road trip to our state capitol, Olympia, and lobby my State Senator and Representatives on the importance of maintaining public transit. Yes, that position serves me well since I drive transit; but that is something I would support even if I didn't. All one has to do is live in Seattle to see how important buses and trains are to our economy. If all the people in those conveyances had to switch to cars, there wouldn't be a way to drive in our fair city half the day. Our roads would become near-permanent parking lots.

Thanks to a persistent tooth ache, I haven't been following State Legislative politics lately. Frankly, it's taken a turn for the weird. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
I recently heard of a few data points I found interesting. The first, from Mother Jones Magazine, presents a strong case linking violent crime with earlier exposure to tetraethyl lead, "the gasoline additive invented by General Motors in the 1920s to prevent knocking and pinging in high-performance engines." As automotive use increased, so increased the lead flowing from the tailpipes; in cities, the concentration of cars increased each city dweller's exposure. As lead was phased out, the exposure likewise phased out. Researcher Rick Nevin made the first connection:

The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn't paint. It was leaded gasoline. And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early '40s through the early '70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted.

Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the '60s through the '80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early '90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.

So Nevin dove in further, digging up detailed data on lead emissions and crime rates to see if the similarity of the curves was as good as it seemed. It turned out to be even better: In a 2000 paper (PDF) he concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the '40s and '50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

(I emboldened.)

Ah, but that was only one data point, and I did promise two! )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Time to revisit a neat-o graph that I first shared over a year and a half ago from Calculated Risk:


Last February, it looked like this:

Bigger Still!

I'm bummed that the graph maker didn't keep the format of the original, which zeroed each trough and thus revealed the symmetry of recessions/depressions, how they generally took as long in recovery from trough as they took to achieve the lowest point. Still, with a little squinty-eyed study, one can see that this time, it really is different.

So now we come to the most recent Calculated Risk chart, one that's been knocking through the blogs enough to even catch usually somewhat slow on the draw Planet Money:

Even Bigger Still!

I'm wondering how long it will take economists to note (like Doug Short) that something out of the ordinary is prolonging our economic travails, perhaps something missing from this recovery that was still relatively abundant in the last. Could it be . . . cheap fuel?

Could be. Could be at that.
peristaltor: (Default)






X=Post to [ profile] peak_oil.

Or, as a single image:

peristaltor: (Default)
At the tail end of my last money-ish post, I quoted L. Frank Baum's opening to his topical money allegory The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles.

This was, of course, printed first in 1900. People carried most things by wagon, especially in rural farm lands, simply because the gadgets we take for granted, the automobile in all its cargo and people hauling variants, were not common. Worse, the vast vehicle support apparatus such as rural roads in 1900 would not support any but the most rudimentary (ie. slow) transport. Wagons pulled by beasts and men were the norm.

How times have changed.

Today, I happened to catch John Michael Greer's Archdruid Report entry titled The Upside of Default, where he coins a new word, just for fun, and pokes a bit more fun at this "investmentariat":

The investmentariat has been told for decades that their money ought to make them money, but nobody told them that this only works in an economy that experiences sustained real growth over the long term, and nobody would dream of mentioning in their hearing that we don’t have an economy like that any more.

All the investmentariat knows for sure is that the kind of safe investment that used to bring in five per cent a year is now yielding a small fraction of one per cent, and the risks you need to take to get five per cent a year are those once associated with the the kind of "securities" that make a mockery of that title.

He goes on to calculate very, very roughly that our Western economies have morphed into something of an impossibility. Okay, it may look like Dorothy's tiny house has nothing to do with Greer's sneering mockery of a modern small-time investor; but I do plan on eeking out a connection. Really. )

X-Posted in [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Over the last few years, I've had a sneaking suspicion that somethings have happened in key years that changed the course of history. The first (and, perhaps, the second) involve the Baby Boom.

First, here's the boom in a graph (from this site):

Oh, he's ranting about the Boomers again. Will it never end?!? )

*It seems the NPR archive is not easily found. I refuse to enrich private podcast caches with a link. You'll have to search it, but it is easily found. Seriously, NPR, what can't you fuck up?
peristaltor: (Default)
Quite by accident, I managed to hear two TED talks back to back that present two very different visions about what the future holds in store for us now. First, the good news. )

Then again, there's the not as good news. )

*Martenson's Crash Course is essential viewing. Essential. No kidding. Sit down as soon as possible and take it in.

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Mr. Drippy)
For those of you still unfamiliar with M. King Hubbert and his now-famous theory of "peak oil," do look up Wiki entries on his name and theory. If you don't, not only will this entry seem curious (if not completely unhinged), but so will reality.

If you're still curious about what this might mean for, well, everyone on earth, join me as I point out landmarks on the road to simplicity. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Last year, I posted a graph from Calculated Risk that compared the recovery time in employment to a variety of other recessions:

Make it bigger!

I recently tried to use different metrics to measure the progress of my prediction, but to no avail. Happily, so we can compare apples to other apples, CR has recently updated his graph:


As you can see, this economic downturn is behaving very differently from others in our recent past. I doubt we will recover to 0.0% by April, the calendar benchmark I noted in last year's post. And given that we're paying a buck a gallon more for fuel than we did last year and looking to pay even more when "driving" season starts, I think that ol' Gas Ceiling will once again crack on our collective noggins and push employment downward, perhaps even lower than the -6.3% base we experienced at the "bottom" of the current downturn.

I'm reading now what really inflated this bubble, and how hard it should get before the author considers the excesses to have unwound. (Expect a lot more discussion of that book here in the near future.) Given that this deflation needs to happen during the Bumpy Plateau ride we can expect after passing the Peak . . . I am increasingly not optimistic that we will ever return to our former standard of living.

Which may or may not be a bad thing.
peristaltor: (Default)
Two weeks ago, work sucked. Unlike the LA Times link, I would not, though, color all of Seattle "clueless." Yes, it snowed. Yes, there were problems. Hills and ice do not mix well when movement is a priority. What happened here is, far from evidence of cluelessness, like a roaring mountain stream hitting rocks and narrow channels, just turbulence added to our lives. Just like a white-water rapid ride, it can be exhilarating and a heck of a lot of fun. That's how I dealt with it.

You see, we have all become accustomed to getting where we "need" to be when we "need" to be there. Few of us have had to deal with chronic impediments to travel such as snow presents. When it comes, therefore, many of us simply do not know how to call whoever and cancel whatever, which is the logical action in the face of dangerous travel conditions. With a few years driving in the stuff and the knowledge of which roads to avoid, I did okay. I snagged a ride with my neighbor to work when the snow height overwhelmed my little Honda. Had that option not been available, though, I would have had no compunction against calling work and admitting travel defeat, something some are loath to do.

Even without snow on the road, the mere threat was enough to freak out a system quite used to open roads. Chains get put on buses when the weather forecasts say it's going to snow, and when on a bus mean the bus can only travel under 30 mph. Schedules written for 50+ get reduced to silly numbers staining paper. Some people freaked out and yelled at me, wondering why I was a half-hour late. I smiled and explained I was an hour late, and that was common, so the yeller should grin and get used to it. Chains, baby!

Yes, it sucked, but I got to wondering: what are people who freak out over such minor delays and chicanes going to do when the delays get chronic, perhaps permanent? )
peristaltor: (Default)
Almost a year ago, I shared a graph from Calculated Risk of various economic crises of the past overlayed on the current one:

Embiggenate the history.

Back then, I noted that recessions usually take as long to a make a full recovery as it took to get to the trough. Based on that, I said 15 months would be the real test. It hasn't been 15 months, I know, but let's see how much progress is being made by looking at this recent Spencer England piece over at the Angry Bear:

Enlarge the recovery.

Some caveats: First, it looks like The Angry Bear graph only includes employment in private industry, rather than combining private and government figures. That would explain the difference in how far the bottom seems to have fallen in this recession, ±7% verses just under 9%.

[See note at bottom to explain the strikeout.] It also looks like the Angry Bear has the employment bottom at 23 months from peak, while Calculated Risk has it at 25. It's possible CR "smoothed" the data, taking a running average of the months just prior and just after the month graphed to minimize seasonal employment and other sudden, jolting effects. (It's also likely that both smoothed the data, but that CR added more months before and after the graphed to enhance the smoothing.) That mini "double dip" at the bottom of the Angry Bear graph between months 23 and 27 would average out at 25, giving credence to my theory. That would play havoc with comparing the other recessions. For example, check out the CR 1974 line (teal) and compare that with the blue '74 Angry Bear line. It looks like AB allowed more months from start of the downturn, 17 rather than 6, which is what might expect with smoothing (not to mention the data lack of less shock-sensitive government employment). That long slight dip from start to ±12 months would smooth right out of the line, shortening it considerably. This means we're not really looking at the same data; only two lines based (presumably) on the same data, one smoothed and one more rough.

Still, looks like we've got a lot of recovery to make to get back to "normal", don't it? I'll keep my eye on Calculated Risk sometime after July to see if we make it back, or if this one, like the '74 oil-based recession, is going to run a bit longer . . . you know, like until we develop a technology just as energy-dense and inexpensive as petroleum.

Edit, The Next Morning: [ profile] cieldumort points out that the two graphs actually track different things, job losses verses hours worked. I am an idiot for equating the Angry Bear line for the Calculated Risk line. The correlation between the two data points is still striking to me, but not the same. Therefore the talk of data smoothing very probably doesn't apply here.


peristaltor: (Default)

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