peristaltor: (J' Acuse!)
Paul Krugman writes stuff. Sometimes I read it. Mostly not. Why?

First, let's start with this not-so-startling example of why we should never, ever accuse the NY Times of being "liberal":

It’s important to realize that there are some real conflicts of interest here. For Sanders campaign staff, and also for anyone who has been backing his insurgency, it’s been one heck of a ride, and they would understandably like it to go on as long as possible. But we’ve now reached the point where what’s fun for the campaign isn’t at all the same as what’s good for America.

Let's focus on that last sentence, shall we? Sanders has been talking about the outsized influence of money during his campaign. Refreshing, it's been, to hear from someone freed from the gag order on which Big Money insists. Wouldn't it be "good for America" to talk about money?

Ah, but to focus on that last sentence, we would first have to consider the first sentence. Specifically, we would have to consider Krugman's "real conflicts of interest here."

Let's go back a few years. Krugman and Steve Keen had a nice online fight about money. Scott Fullwiler points out that, in that nice fight, Krugman makes a bit of a blunder:

...Krugman demonstrates that he has a very good grasp of banking as it is presented in a traditional money and banking textbook. Unfortunately for him, though, there’s virtually nothing in that description of banking that is actually correct. Instead of a persuasive defense of his own views on banking, his post is in essence his own flashing neon sign where he provides undisputable evidence that “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

(I emboldened.)

Fullwiler goes on to explain Krugman's mistaken conception of how money works, just like Steve Keen tried to do. Ah, but Krugman is a Nobel Fauxbel Prize* winner, dontchaknow. You can't go up against one of those guys and win. It's not allowed.

When Keen refused to back down, Krugman just stopped talking to him.

And nobody did a thing.

Here's the thing, though. Bernard Lietaer has some insight into Krugman's motivations, based on a conversation they had.

Which brings us back to the nearing election. Hillary? Big Money is in the house (well, Senate, State Department, and now Campaign Spendy Chest). Bernie? Not so much.

So out comes Krugman to not mention, but instead just defend the money ... the money system he claims to understand, but cannot clearly and accurately define when anyone is reading. Sure, if the other Bernard is right, and Krugman did say what he said, then yes, Paul would be ostracized and quietly disappear, his NYT bully pulpit gone, his career in shambles.

But if he did this, if he talked about what money really is and who controls it, he would also be ... honest.

Which would be a nice change.

*Alfred Nobel never, ever endowed a prize for Economics. That was done much later, by the Central Bank of Sweden, in 1968. It is given not by peers, but by bankers. And lo, check it out: It's been re-named recently! It's now The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The word I underlined, "Sciences," is a new addition to the prize, implying economics is anything but political, and is instead, somehow, just as objective and universal as physics, chemistry, and medicine.

"Economics is not a science,
and never will be!"
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I've been on a mental dive down the ant hill lately. Ant hill? Don't I mean "rabbit hole?" No, I do not. I strongly suspect we get that term "down the rabbit hole" from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and if so, that would mean that a logical, rational exploration of a topic would be simply to run along with the Red Queen; the faster you run, the slower you get; all logic gone. So, while I love the deliberate whimsical suspension of logic for purposes of allegory and entertainment, I'm leaving the rabbit warrens unexplored. Go read Watership Down if you want to dive into a bunny nest.

Ant hills, though. That's another story.

They are complex, far more complex than most realize. So, I shall explore. )
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)

A helicopter pilot here in the Northwest gets caught in thick fog. His instruments are on the fritz. He has no idea where he is. Luckily, he sees through a break in the fog an expanse of grass, and lands safely.

He is on a lawn in one of the "campuses" found in the 'burbs around here, businesses that surround themselves with lawns to avoid looking like businesses. Curious workers peek out at the pilot through their office windows. In a hurry, the pilot grabs a piece of paper and a marker and writes, "Where am I?" in the hopes that someone in the office park will give him an address so he can dead reckon his course back to the airport.

Someone does scrawl a note with an answer, but it says, "In a helicopter."

At first, he is a bit pissed, but then smiles. He gives his "helpers" thumbs up, revs the rotors, and takes off. He sets a compass course due South and manages to find Renton Airport with no problem.

When he gets to Renton, he tells them the story. They ask how he knew to plot the course without knowing where he was. "I did know where I was," he answers. "They gave me completely accurate but ultimately useless information. That's when I knew I had landed squarely in the middle of Microsoft headquarters."

I've done this before. I've read something posted by an LJ friend and found something… lacking. I did that here most recently, in response to a series [ profile] tacit was doing on GMO myths. I just re-read that response simply because [ profile] tacit has recently added to his GMO series with a post concerning Monsanto, creators of Roundup™ ready corn seed.

After reading my post again—which concerned aspects of GMO farming one might label "meta"—I realized I failed. I should not have questioned the specifics of (for example) separating farms with cows and farms without them. I should not have noted the economic impact of the new farms that do separate cows from corn.

Instead, I should have taken the tack opposite [ profile] tacit's. Instead of digging into the scientifically-relevant reasons surrounding myths about genetically modified organisms (as he did), perhaps I should focus instead on why people gravitate toward these myths.

I used to regard such people as willfully deluded for wanting a simple Good v. Evil explanation for why they don't like GMOs, and then crafting the rumors into the Myths of Evil, the "they create disease in people" and other such beliefs without evidence. I don't regard them as completely deluded, not anymore. No, I can't embrace their fallacies. Rather, I see that they are just a bit off-step on their vision quest, grasping at pieces of the world around them, frantically groping, if you will, looking for a future that, though they cannot articulate it well, "looks" right.

What looks right is difficult to explain; hence the fallacies. But what looks wrong? That is very, very easy to identify. Let's take a look at the picture I used to open this post. It's recognizable, to be sure. It's the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz meeting Dorothy. It is a movie set, to be sure. Movie set designers are probably the best people to get when you want something to look "right."

Okay, quiz time. Can you tell me specifically what in that movie set above you will not find in a "normal" farm today? Hint: think the Bible. )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I very recently finished a pretty darned good book, Henry George's Progress and Poverty from 1879. In it, he asks some serious questions of the class of scholars then known as "political economists," specifically why more people starve where civilization is most developed, and not less.

This association of poverty with progress is the great enigma of our times. It is the central fact from which spring industrial, social, and political difficulties that perplex the world, and with which statesmanship and philanthropy and education grapple in vain. . . . So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower leans from its foundations, and every new story but hastens the final catastrophe. To educate men who must be condemned to poverty, is but to make them restive; to base on a state of most glaring social inequality political institutions under which men are theoretically equal, is to stand a pyramid on its apex.

(Henry George, Progress and Poverty, 1879, Book I, Chapter I, Paragraph 5.)

NB: Since Mr. George's book is available online in its entirety, I have decided to reference not the page numbers, but the Book, Chapter and Paragraph to make cross-referencing that much easier.

This might be the first any of you have heard of this connection between progress, also known as the development of civilization, and poverty. But throughout his book George points out example after example supporting his initial observation. Where civilization goes, poverty and want follow.

The reason? The fact that property is allowed to be held in private hands. Take this section from Book X, Chapter V, Paragraph 19: "In the very centers of our civilization to-day are want and suffering enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his nerves." Is there something we could do? How about a full-blown miracle?

Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that now increases fifty-fold should increase a hundred-fold! Would poverty be abated or want relieved?

Any bets out there how a sudden increase in the harvests would be met by us, we mere civilized people? I doubt the answer will surprise. )

X-Posted to [ profile] liberal.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
This is a pile of frustration I've been saving up for a good weekend dumping. Therefore, as all good LJ posters should, I will now include an LJ cut. )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Hey, LJ, remember me? Been off ranting less with keys lately and more with my voice. More work, less of an audience. I decided to come back here because this rant, which has stewed quite long enough without my attentions, just won't work well on that other format.

For this one, I need to get back to good Ol' Henry George, the original leftist, the guy people listened to before Karl Marx got in any way known, let alone popular. (That was a subject that worked well in the other medium.) When last I considered George. . . . )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Hello, LJ. How've ya been? I've been busy doing things. One of those things is trying to digest Thomas Picketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It's thick, almost as thick as I am. Which is why it is taking a while.

While I'm letting some time hopefully help stew the meaty data and theories found within, I wrongly decided to look up some thoughts on the book from other readers. My mistake. )
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)
Not long ago, I mentioned Henry George and my desire to find his book, Progress and Poverty. I did! And now I am plowing through it as I can. George's writing can best be described as Victorian; long sentences with a flow quite unlike today's more preferred writing style. You'll see for yourself in some of the excerpts (should you continue reading).

Before you click away, he let me know about a controversy dating way back to 1887 of which I had never heard, but which tells me that the state of economics education/dissemination has not really changed that much. I've made it past Book III of P&P, and much of it has been dedicated to George's hating on a name still quite familiar today; Reverend Thomas Malthus. Decrying that Malthus was wrong or whatever is not the anomaly here; George is pointing out what errors he finds in Malthus because of a unique reading of Malthus apparently quite popular in ways I had never, ever heard. )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Some years ago, I asked myself a question: What is an investment, and how does it differ from an act of speculation? I'm getting closer to an answer, especially after hearing Seth and Justin interview two authors on the topic of a man who has become largely myth, and about whom we know almost nothing: Henry George.

It turns out Mr. George. . . . )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Do yourself a favor. Watch a short movie.

Real Estate 4 Ransom from Real Estate 4 Ransom on Vimeo.

I have never heard of this Land Tax concept, yet it has been around since the late 1800s. It was so revolutionary, in fact, the modern configuration of neo-classical economics was created to bury it. Rockafeller funded the foundation of the Chicago School of Economics to promote the idea that land shouldn't be taxed as Henry George proposed; this largely allowed him to keep the revenue he extracted from his many natural resource properties.

Later, if you want a bit more, head over to Seth & Justin's site and hear two pretty good interviews on the topic (though the second interview with one of the writer/directors for the above movie, I've got to say, is painfully sibilant; dude needs a new mike badly). Sadly, the few Henry George books I've found online are pretty crappy, so badly scanned text that it is all but unreadable. I may have to see what I can do about that.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Just yesterday, I read that the belief "that we could have utopian prosperity if we got rid of private businesses and had the government run everything" should be marked down to "stubborn stupidity." Fair enough. As hyperbolic and Straw Manned-up as that statement is, thwarting all independent economic activity would be a bit delusional, given that nobody even agrees upon the definition of "individual", let alone of "collective."

That said, I find it fascinating how many screeds railing against "statism" (again, whatever that might be) completely ignore the actual clear and present danger that non-state actors are continuously exacting on the right of countries to exercise any semblance of sovereignty, and all under the geas of "free trade." Don't these folks know that given enough size, a corporation today has—via the power granted by over-reaching trade agreements—greater legal right than most countries? )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
The sheer silliness of even casting a shadow of a glimmer of a sliver of blame on the Democratic Party members in Congress regarding this shutdown thing is laughable enough. There is more than enough evidence that the Tea Party has run with this ball all the way. I won't bother recounting it here.

What I found interesting was a very conservative political person suggesting why default may be the ultimate aim, not a stated consequence. Regarding the debt:

What I don’t think [the Obama administration and those on Wall Street] understand is that there has been a movement under way for some years among right-wing economists and activists not merely to default on the debt, but even to repudiate it.

Those making this argument are largely unknown to professional economists and journalists, but their research permeates the obscure Web sites where Tea Party members get their ideas. And not all are obscure.

As with most weirdnesses in our country, much of this can be traced back to the Civil War. )

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: (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)
One of the better tiny books I've ever bought has to be, in my opinion, In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World by Christopher J. Moore. In it, we learn that there are languages without certain terms speakers of other languages take for granted. Once those terms are made known, the odd language out might embrace the foreign term to express what was absent yet blazingly obvious once it was expressed and explained.

Some great examples include the French term Esprit de escalier, literally "the spirit of the staircase;" it's the feeling you get after figuring out the perfect thing to say at a party . . . once you are coming down the stairs leaving the party. There's the Yiddish kvell, a word Harlan Ellison defined as happiness beyond all other forms of happiness, like "the sun shining in the pit of your stomach." From Finnish, there's sisu, a dogged determination to avoid defeat against all odds of winning, even when the odds are seemingly impossible. The author provides an amusing example of sisu in the introduction:

"We're outnumbered," one soldier says. "There must be over forty of them, and only two of us."

"Dear God, it'll take us all day to bury them!"

For this post, perhaps the Japanese tatemae might be appropriate, meaning "the reality that everyone professes to be true, even though they may not privately believe it," and it's counterpoint honne, "the reality that you hold inwardly to be true, even though you would never admit it publicly." Both of those seem awkward to me, since I usually am quite open with my silly notions. Hey, let's face it: I come from the land of the phrase "The squeaky wheel gets greased," meaning those that complain are usually first to get their complaints addressed. We in the States are a very personally opinionated crowd in general (not that any given internet community would provide excessive evidence of this). In Japan, no such squeaky phrase exists . . . but they do say "The nail that stands tallest gets hit first." Two cultures, two attitudes toward expression of personal opinion.

I recently heard a TED Talk that extended the concept of language in directions I had honestly not thought possible. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
It's old news, but Ron Paul will soon no longer hold office. So noted Robert Parry on Alternet late last November. Parry raised some obvious points, but I'm posting here to note that he missed or probably misunderstood many others to the point where he actually might have missed the point Ron Paul represented all along. Those points? )
peristaltor: (Default)
Remember this guy?

I used him recently to give a face to my rant about how cows are not to blame for global warming, no matter what the vegan jihadists claim. I'll accept some criticism from activists bent on reducing or eliminating meat from our human diet; yes, there is a lot of disease being spread in meat and milk, much of it harmful. Head over to the Centers for Disease Control and a list of Escherichia coli outbreaks over the last 5 years alone should give you a reason to pause before biting that burger.

Ah, but here's a question: Lots of us eat the meat brought from the wild during and after hunting season. Deer, elk, moose; it's all pretty darned tasty, and those wild critters are similar to cows. Why do our domestic cows seem to produce more disease-bearing meat than those beasts grazing in the wild? The answer really, really sucks. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Does the US still have something silly called the "fiscal cliff" looming? I haven't paid enough attention to the mainstream pressers of late. It's too hard not to laugh at their silliness.

Instead, I thought I would distill the various choices and just for fun examine the options. When it comes to the Federal deficit/debt situation, it seems to me we have just three courses of action:

  • Continue to spend more than the IRS collects in revenues, racking up ever more bond debt in the process;
  • Balance the budget; and
  • Create a revenue surplus and start paying off old bonds.

I know that according to both of our mainstreams, the press and the economists, only the third option is "viable" to our country's continuing economic health. After all, if we don't do something soon, won't something horrible happen involving interest or our children? That depends upon who you ask, of course. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.


peristaltor: (Default)

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