24 April 2014

How to get to the Top (without actually having to work for it)

[Part 5 of 10, Free Market VS Capitalism essay series.  Part 1 here]

Pro-capitalists generally take it as a given that anything someone has they must have earned, and therefor must deserve.
Of the 20 wealthiest people in the world, 1/2 of them inherited their snowballs.  At best, they get credit for keeping it rolling, for not finding a way to stop it, but they got it already large, already moving.
More to the point, nobody actually creates a truly massive snowball of wealth by their own productivity.
Nobody has ever gotten to the top 0.01% via hourly wages.  One would have to average $25,000 per hour for an entire full-time working lifetime in order to actually earn a billion dollars.
Nobody gets 0.01% rich on salary either - not even CEO or sports legend level salary. 
For the most part CEOs of successful companies are still just in the relatively lowly 1%, maybe the top half a percent.

The most reliable way to get even just to the 0.1% is setting up conditions so that you make money without having to work for it: rent, investment dividends, royalties - or, of course, just having employees.
Acquiring a disproportionate amount of world resources tends to involve one or more of the following - lending out existing capital so that other people give you a percentage of their own labor productivity, or producing something with low marginal cost (something cheap to reproduce) that can be widely distributed - music, movies, sports, software.
I'll come back to the second later.
Pro-capitalists generally justify investment returns on the grounds that the person paying the interest is benefiting from the use of capital that they didn't have to save up on their own.
But that argument is circular.
If some people weren't hoarding all the wealth to begin with, there would be more left over to go around, and people wouldn't need to borrow so much in the first place.
Imagine if a rich man moves into a tiny country and buys the entire nation's mining land. 
His miner's extract ore, it is delivered to his smelters and forges, and he builds all sorts of metal tools.
Then he opens tool rental places.  Anyone who wants to build anything has to rent all their tools from him.
He claims he deserves all the rental fees he gets, because he put down the capital investment in the mines and factories that create the tools.  But before he showed up, the metal ore was still there, the mines were a public good, and competition between lots of little tool makers kept prices competitive.  The fact that he rents the tools instead of selling keeps supply limited and his income high.
In short, if he weren't hoarding resources in the first place, people wouldn't be dependent on his capital.
Perhaps the best example of this is in land, which will be the topic of the next installment.

[Next up: Market Corrupting Capitalism Part 1: Investment Property]

23 April 2014

Free Market VS Capitalism (Current State of Affairs; or: Why Should We Care?)

[Part 4 of 9, Free Market VS Capitalism essay series.  Part 1 here]

 A Historically Unprecedented Concentration of Wealth

There are a number of independent ways our system tilts the field and gives an unfair advantage to those who already have capital. This makes things much easier for those who need the least help.  At the same time, by encouraging resources (remember, financial wealth, like paper curranecy, is just a convenient placeholder for actual tangible resources) to be concentrated in a few hands, the system makes it substantially harder for those without capital to make a living. 

Pro-capitalists will often point out that wealth is not finite - value can be created, both by extracting primary resources from the Earth (farming, mining, logging), but notably via technology - an iphone has more value than the plastic glass and metal it is made of. 

However, at any given moment there is a finite amount of wealth currently in existence.   If one person were to have 220 trillion dollars, that is another way of saying that one person controls 98% of all the (currently available) resources on the planet.  This means that the other 7 billion humans would have to divide the remaining 2% among them. 

Gross world product (GDP of all countries combined) grows by approximately 3-5% per year.  But our one insanely rich individual is getting 98% of that 3-5%.  So the growth that goes to everyone else would be .08%  Less than a 1/10th.
This is just a thought experiment - reality is not quite that bad - but it demonstrates why the "wealth can be created" argument is meaningless.  For one, it is impossible to live on hypothetical future growth.  For two, under capitalism, those who already have enough are the ones who get the vast majority of that new growth anyway.

My analogy of one person owning everything is extreme... but it is not as far off as most people would assume.
I think this is one of the primary reasons this issue isn't taken more seriously by more people.  Most people don't realize just how extreme wealth inequality really is.  It's nearly impossible, because the numbers are bigger than the human brain is able to conceptualize.  It's like trying to really understand, on an intuitive level, the size of galaxies, or the distances between them, or the age of the universe, or how everything is made of subatomic particles.  It is humanly impossible to have an idea in our minds of exactly how big the number one googol is (yes, it was a number, before it was a brand name). In reality it is a specific number, but as far as the human mind is concerned, it is interchangeable with infinity.  The number one billion is trillions and trillions of times smaller a number, but it is already inconceivable.  Go ahead, try it: try to picture one billion people.  Or a billion stars.  What does it really mean?  It just gets blurred together as "lots and lots".
We tend to think of emperors, pharaohs , sultans, railroad barons, as having extreme wealth and power compared to the people they lived among. 
In reality there is currently the most extreme wealth inequality there has ever been in human history.

Imagine 85 people.  They could all fit in one large room.  You know more than 85 people by first name.
Now imagine half of all humans in the entire world. 

See, I wasn't exaggerating when I said my analogy wasn't actually that far off from reality.

Those 85 people each have (on average) over 41 million times as much as each of half of the human population has (on average).

Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population - $110 trillion.

Most people know that there is wealth inequality.  But few people realize the extent:

But even this graphic is extremely misleading - the smallest division it shows is 1% of the population.  Within the 1%, if you subdivide it even further to 0.1% or 0.01%, that set of subgroups is just as unequal as the 1% is to everyone else:

See that pink square about 3 or 4 squares down from the top on the right? There is more or less your successful 1%er.
See how much closer it is to the rest of the 99% than it is to the top square? 

The lower 1% is made up of doctors, lawyers, CEOs, frugal computer programers, small business people, and others who actually earn their wealth through direct productivity. 
They actually have a closer amount of wealth to the poorest 50% than they do to the handful of billionaires in the top 0.01%

These graphs are all only showing the distribution in the US.
Granted, the US has some of the most extreme inequality in the developed world, and the country as a whole has disproportionate wealth for its population size compared to most of the world.  But these same graphs would be far more extreme if they included the entire human population.
Now go back to my thought experiment near the beginning of this page.  There is a finite amount of material resources at any one time.  If one person - or 31 thousand (the top 0.01% of America) - holds the majority of everything, then everyone else has to divide up whatever is left.  This means that the the concentration of wealth directly impacts poverty.  You can not ever eliminate poverty while leaving such massive wealth concentration in tact.

Go back to my analogy from a previous page - some people's snowballs have gotten so large that they pick up ALL of the snow as they pass, so that there is basically nothing left for anyone else.

22 April 2014

Free Market VS Capitalism (What is Capitalism?)

[Part 3 of 9, Free Market VS Capitalism essay series.  Part 1 here]

When people point out the extreme income inequality, the corruption of politics, the dissolution of labor protections, environmental degradation, and all the other similar and related injustices we see occurring, they are not referring to free market economics.  These things are almost all due directly to capitalism.
The best analogy for capitalism I've come up with was during a spirited debate about the ethics of capitalism on the Mr Money Mustache forums:

A person makes a snowball.  In order to make a snowball, you have to physically go outside, scoop up some snow, and mush it together.  You produce it by your own physical labor.  Once you have it, you can put it down in the fresh snow and start rolling it around, and more snow will stick to it.  That makes it a lot easier to get more snow on your ball more quickly.  And the bigger it gets, the more it collects with each revolution.

The assumption I always made - the one that most make - is that capitalism arises naturally from the free market.  One person produces more income than they spend, they save the difference, they invest it, it earns them more income, which they reinvest. 
This really does happen, and could happen in even the most primitive and simple society.

So the extremes we see today must be the natural extension of that process... right?

But that is equivalent to saying "When I work out, I get stronger and more muscular - therefor body builders and power lifers must have gotten to where they are just by working out even harder, for more years" - neglecting that all of the top athletes have some degree of genetic gifts, professional coaches, extremely strict diet plans, and most use some form of biochemical assistance that would get them banned from most professional televised sports.
Its the same with capitalism - the extremes we see today are not just from some people working harder and investing more wisely.  There is another element being introduced.  That element is the state.
The State is the coach, diet plan, and performance enhancing drug of capitalism.
In my analogy the person making the massive snowball is still out there in the field, pushing the ball around the field with their own arms and legs.  The increases come faster, but they are still contributing to the process.
But what happens if they find themselves at the top of a hill?  Push it to the edge, and it takes off on its own.  At that point they have stopped contributing any labor.  They have stopped contributing anything at all.  If the hill is big enough, it may get enormous, gobbling up any snow in its path (and perhaps crushing anything that gets in its way - but lets not take this analogy too far just yet...) much faster than any person could possibly collect it by actual productive labor.

What the state does, in this analogy, is control the angle of the hill.
By default, the part of capitalism that is built into the market - if you earn more than you spend, you will have excess, and that excess can be invested - can tilt the field inherently. 
But what we see today is a massively tilted field, and that is due to specific policies and laws and rules that - although we take many of them for granted - are choices we, as a society, have made. Choices which we could change any time we, collectively, decide to.

[Next up: The Current State of Affairs; or: Why Should We Care?]

21 April 2014

Free Market VS Capitalism (What is a Free Market?)

[part 2 of 9, Free Market VS Capitalism essay series.  Part 1 here]

So, what do I mean by the assertion that capitalism and the free market are different things?
The key feature of a free market is that all individuals are free to participate and make their own decisions.
We treat the term "capitalism" as if it's key feature were the same, but the real key feature of capitalism is that some people accumulate wealth - capital - and use that wealth in ways that allow them to leverage additional wealth out of existing wealth, without having to personally contribute any additional productivity. 
The easiest way to think of a free market is imagining a literal market: a flea market or farmer's market.
You have a big empty lot partitioned into more or less equally sized parcels.  A bunch of different independent vendors rent one, and sell whatever they want, for whatever price they want.  Customers wander around and buy whatever they want.  Seller and buyer can negotiate prices, and sellers with better product will sell more and/or can raise prices, but as long as each seller does better than break even, they will likely show up again next week, keeping competitive pressure on every one else and keeping variety available for the consumer.

Under capitalism any one vendor which has any form of advantage - maybe they have a better product or a more efficient process that allows them to lower prices (or maybe they just have an advertising guy with a degree in psychology, or they are friends with the market manager, or they inherited a million dollars from Great Uncle Giles, or they use slave labor; the point is it really doesn't matter what the advantage is, and there is no reason to assume it is always a better product) - can use that initial advantage to first buy 5 or 6 different stalls in the same market (but as likely as not, give them all different brand names so that customers don't know), and then 1/2 of all the stalls, and eventually all of them, so that its really just one single vendor (pretending to be many small vendors, for marketing purposes).  At that point they can set prices and lower quality, because there is no competition, and consumers no longer have any choices.

Really, in the real world that process would be simpler and more straight forward - the big empty lot that once housed the market would become the parking lot to the new WalMart, done and done.

When Adam Smith talked about the invisible hand of the free market, he was explicitly talking about the former scenario, and not the latter.  When people point out the efficiency of markets, how many people acting independently can produce complex things more efficiently than central planning can, whether they realize it or not, its the free market they are talking about.
Remember this the next time you hear anyone use the "invisible hand" analogy, or support the notion of the efficiency of individual self-interest in the context of capitalism - these concepts were never meant to apply to capitalism.  They are referring specifically to a free market.
There are a bunch of individual factors that are necessary for the "invisible hand" of individual self-interest to actually maximize efficiency and utility for a society:

-Virtually unlimited buyers and sellers - any industry which has seen significant corporate consolidation is out

-No barriers to new sellers opening up shop - anything which requires major investment in infrastructure or equipment doesn't count

-Complete transparency of information - the internet has gone a long way to providing this one - in the past this one made the entire idea purely hypothetical. 
So, score one for Free Markets.

-Zero transaction costs - any purchase made by credit card isn't a free market transaction.  Also all financial industry transactions, stocks purchases, loans, by definition, don't operate in a free market

-Non-increasing returns to scale - as soon as you outsource manufacturing because you can't keep up with demand, you have left the free market, and transitioned into capitalism.

-Rational buyers - the entire $44 billion advertising industry is devoted almost entirely to preventing rational buyers. Pre-Edward Bernays advertising was generally of the format: "This product exists.  These are its features.  This is what it costs."  Post-Bernays marketing is about using psychology to manipulate individual behavior; getting people to buy something which they wouldn't without the ad, even if they knew about it.

-No externalities - anything that produces pollution or draws on common goods can not be claimed to operate in the free market.

Obviously that doesn't leave much left. 
Even in the best of circumstances, its very unlikely that all of those conditions would apply.  The entire thing was a theoretical framework to begin with. But it is certainly possible for an economy to lean more in one direction than the other.  The more we set things up to encourage capitalism, the further we get from a free market.

There are a few other factors in addition to the ones above, but if you don't want to enroll in an economics class before finishing this blog post, there is one very easy and quick way to tell whether a particular industry or company is actually operating in a free market, in the original Smith use of the term:
In a free market, sellers make zero profit.

Read that last sentence again a couple times.
Think about all it implies.
Understand - this is not my own personal opinion or interpretation.  This is what Adam Smith, father of economics, wrote in his famous, oft quoted, book, The Wealth of Nations.
Perfect competition dictates that sellers will sell at the lowest possible price that allows them to break even.
This does not make being in business pointless.
Profit is what is left over after paying not just costs for materials and rent and advertising and loan payments, but also paying the employees, including management.
People are still making money.  If the manager is the owner, the money they make is not profit, it is salary.
That is the point in running the business.  There is even still a point in investing, as the company could still pay interest on their loans.  Profit is what is left over after all costs.
Any industry or company that has more than zero profit is not operating in the free market.

20 April 2014

Free Market VS Capitalism

That they are two parts of a single whole comes from a extremely successful deliberate public relations campaign by US government and corporations, going all the way back to inventor of manipulative public relations and advertising, Edward Bernays.
The next year I pointed out parallels between capitalism and anarchy - but I got it wrong.  I should have compared the free market to anarchy.
I was making a similar mistake myself.  American propaganda has basically everyone assuming that the terms "free market" and "capitalism" are interchangeable.  I realized quite some time ago, in arguing with anarchists, libertarians, conservatives, and capitalists that the two meant distinct things.

But what I've realized only recently is that, just like democracy and capitalism, the two are actively opposed to each other.

You can not have a free market under capitalism.  And you can not have our current degree of capitalism without a significant amount of State power actively manipulating the market, which inherently means it is no longer "free".

Of course, even though modern America treats them as interchangeable, this idea is not new.
The person who basically invented the entire discipline of economics, the person who's words capitalists use more often than any other, Adam Smith, recognized that the two were actively opposed, and even that it was the role of the State to intervene to prevent capitalism from corrupting a truly free market.  Unfortunately, few of the people who claim to follow his model actually read his book...
In my next couple posts I'll get into explanations, examples, problems and (hypothetical) solutions.

For now let me just point out that realizing this distinction reconciles a lot of the apparent conflict between the arguments of people with various political/economic outlooks.  One side points out the (legitimate) benefits of the free market, while the other is focused on the (legitimate) problems of capitalism.  Its only because both sides assume (incorrectly) that the two are the same that they are stuck at an impasse.  I propose there is no valid reason we could not set up society in such a way to continue to receive (the majority) of the benefit of a free market economy, while avoiding (the majority) of the problems of capitalism.

[Next up: What is a Free Market?]

07 April 2014

You trust yourself WAY too much

Think about all the stuff you know, on all the millions of topics there are to know stuff about - numbers, names, relationships, science, history, skills, where you left your keys...
Now think about how many times in your life you have been mistaken about something you had been pretty sure of.

Of all the stuff you "know" right now, a fair percentage of it is wrong.

For some strange reason, nobody seems to notice this, and everyone goes on being sure about all manner of things - frequently including things that there is no possible way they could know for sure.

We (humans) have figured out a fair bit about our own minds.
Our awareness, perception, and recall are all very, very bad; yet we almost all almost always remain confident that our own perception accurately portrays the world outside our heads, that our memories accurately reflect what actually happened.

But you don't have to take my word for it.

The following 3 documentaries are really fun. They are interactive - if you have any doubt about your own limitations, if you don't doubt your self as much as you should - these videos should cure you of that, and grant you some humility.
And they do it in a totally entertaining way.

Watch 'em!!!

21 March 2014

All of the money stuff I sometimes talk about, condensed

A lot of my personal friends and family have heard me mention something regarding saving money and investing, probably remember hearing me referencing "Mr Money Mustache" or "Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme".
Chances are, though, you chalk it up to one of those random Bakari nutty things, or maybe you even glance briefly at one of the links I send you, but it's long and there's like 300 other articles, and you don't have time for all that.
I'm going to try to explain all that stuff in a condensed and untechnical manner.
Of course, the majority of my readers who I don't know in real life found me through MMM, and all of y'all feel free to skip this post, as you won't learn anything new - it might be perfect for forwarding on to your own friends and family though who haven't come around yet.

Very early on into adulthood I discovered that I don't particularly care for employment.
Its not just about the work itself - it doesn't matter how much fun, how creative or rewarding or self-directed the job is - its just the fact of being forced to be some specific place doing some specific thing for almost exactly 1/2 of your discretionary time (factoring in mandatory lunch hours and commute time), for the majority of your life.
Luckily, I grew up poor (there were 73 of us, living in a cardboard box), plus I self-identified as an environmentalist since about age 9, plus being non-conformist, all combined to make rejection of all forms of materialism come naturally.
I never felt much need for "stuff".  Living in my RV felt plenty luxurious enough.

Psychologists say that money spent on experiences produces more happiness than money spent on stuff - but I've found there is a practically infinite supply of entertaining and educational and downright amazing and wonderful experiences to be found for free almost everywhere I look.  No, not even that - I frequently don't even have to look; often times they come to me!  Sometimes when I was looking for something else, other times they just literally come seek me out.
I've never even had the desire for the stuff most American's spend money on: cable TV, a new car, fashionable clothes, or a "phone" that is really a tiny computer.  So, after food and rent, I never had all that much to spend money on.

And here is the point of all that backstory:
I discovered early on that if I don't spend a lot of money, then I don't need a lot of money, and if I don't need a lot of money, I don't have to spend so much time working.

11 March 2014


Today was an absolutely beautiful warm and sunny, (but not hot), day.

I got off of work at noon, biked to Coast Guard Island to drop off a couple uniforms to get new patches sewn on to reflect my status as a certified search and rescue boat crew member and the promotion I should be getting some time soon.

This past weekend I caught up on all the little tasks I had to do around the apartment building (where I am superintendent in exchange for almost free rent), so I had most of a day free.

I had $1500 sitting in my safe in cash, failing to earn any interest, so I decided to make the most of the weather and deposit the cash as an excuse for a nice long skate.  See, I live in Oakland, and my Credit Union is in Richmond (about 14 miles away)

While I was at it, I used the opportunity to finally test out the replacement 18650 LiIon cells for the battery pack I made for my boombox (2 five-cell packs in parallel, attached directly to the outside of the stereo, plugged into the regular 120v port so it keeps the ipod charged at the same time)

By the time I got to Lake Merrit I started getting terrible shin splints.  This happened last time I was skating, but I thought (rationalized?) it was because of a detour over an unpaved road.  Guess I just get weak really fast in any muscle group I'm not using more or less constantly, and running, hiking, jump rope, just don't hit the tibialis anterior the way skating does.  I'm hoping the pain will fade into the background, like every time I run long distance, but it doesn't get any better, and I bail at MacArthur BART.

In the mean time though - man, you know, I always get the occasional stares, smiles, points, laughs, thumbs-up, and honks when I'm skating (often shirtless, often singing) with headphones on.  Typically at least one of those on any one long trip, sometimes a couple.
But when its a boombox, and not just headphones, and every one else can hear what I'm rockin, well, then the stares, smiles, points, laughs, thumbs-up, and honks are more like one every couple of blocks!
Plus, people start spontaneously dancing along as I pass.  I tried to move over to let a car pass, until I realized they weren't going slow trying to get around me, they were going slow because the passenger was taking a picture!


10 March 2014

pre-history matriarchies


[The claim is frequently made that matriarchies were] "... a worldwide phenomenon that stretched back through prehistory to the very origins of the human race. These "matriarchies"... were not crude reversals of patriarchal power, but models of peace, plenty, harmony with nature, and, significantly, sex egalitarianism."

"Except for one small problem... Poking holes in the "evidence" for this myth was, to rely on cliché, like shooting fish in a barrel. After a long day of research in the library, I could go out with friends and entertain them with the latest argument I'd read for matriarchal prehistory, made up entirely—I pointed out—of a highly ideological reading of a couple of prehistoric artifacts accompanied by some dubious anthropology, perhaps a little astrology, and a fatuous premise ... or two or three."

"My irritation with the historical claims made by the myth's partisans masks a deeper discontent with the myth's assumptions. There is a theory of sex and gender embedded in the myth of matriarchal prehistory, and it is neither original nor revolutionary. Women are defined quite narrowly as those who give birth and nurture, who identify themselves in terms of their relationships, and who are closely allied with the body, nature, and sex—usually for unavoidable reasons of their biological makeup. This image of women is drastically revalued in feminist matriarchal myth, such that it is not a mark of shame or subordination, but of pride and power. But this image is nevertheless quite conventional..."

"Whatever positive effects this myth has on individual women, they must be balanced against the historical and archaeological evidence the myth ignores or misinterprets and the sexist assumptions it leaves Undisturbed. The myth of matriarchal prehistory postures as "documented fact," as "to date the most scientifically plausible account of the available information." These claims can be—and will be here—shown to be false. Relying on matriarchal myth in the face of the evidence that challenges its veracity leaves feminists open to charges of vacuousness and irrelevance that we cannot afford to court. And the gendered stereotypes upon which matriarchal myth rests persistently work to flatten out differences among women; to exaggerate differences between women and men; and to hand women an identity that is symbolic, timeless, and archetypal, instead of giving them the freedom to craft identities that suit their individual temperaments, skills, preferences, and moral and political commitments."

" The enemies of feminism have long posed issues of patriarchy and sexism in pseudoscientific and historical terms. It is not in feminist interests to join them at this game, especially when it is so (relatively) easy to undermine the ground rules...Discovering—or more to the point, inventing—prehistoric ages in which women and men lived in harmony and equality is a burden that feminists need not, and should not bear. Clinging to shopworn notions of gender and promoting a demonstrably fictional past can only hurt us over the long run as we work to create a future that helps all women, children, and men flourish."

-Cynthia Eller


09 March 2014

Something is wrong here

Is it just me, or is this circular reasoning?

-Corporations should be allowed to outsource jobs so that they can stay competitive.

-It is important that American corporations stay competitive in order to support the economy.

-It is important to support the economy because it provides American jobs.

08 March 2014

Privilege - its not the problem

Response to:

I absolutely love its general premise, and could not agree more - though perhaps for slightly different reasons.
I have long questioned the entire idea of "privilege", and especially the focus on it.  If you are lucky enough to be middle class, its fairly easy to see inequality in terms of having some privileges or not.  One of those privileges is being able to (pretend that you) live in an insular world where an individual being culturally insensitive to another individual is one of the worst aspects of racism.
As a African American, who has lived most (but not all) of his life in poor, high crime, high minority urban areas, the entire sub-culture of race activists has always looked very shallow and meaningless to me.  It has always seemed much more about being able to say "I, in contrast to all those other (white) people, am enlightened."

What, exactly, does white people or men or straight people or whoever, acknowledging their privilege actually accomplish?
Lets say every single European American was fully aware, fully acknowledged, and fully internalized that they have privilege relative to other people.
Would that somehow instantly, magically, cause wealth and income inequality to disappear, so that whites were proportionately represented among the extremely poor (and I'm not talking "can't make car payments" or "home foreclosure" poor - I'm talking "can't afford a halfway decent bicycle" or "choose between rent and food" poor) - or better yet, make it so that everyone who has the ability and desire to work could live (what we currently consider) a middle class lifestyle?
Would it end the dramatically different levels of violent crime victimization?  For all the talk about police brutality, young black men are murdered by young black men somewhere on the order of 100 to 1000 times more often than they are shot by cops.  If enough white people acknowledged their privilege, would that stop?

07 March 2014

Quote on Consumerism from the founder of Early Retirement Extreme

"The problem is that most of us have become utterly dependent on this industrial-technological  system  for  all  of  our  needs  and  wants.  Shopping is as important as oxygen to us. Close down the malls for a few days and people go crazy. We no longer think of ourselves as citizens but as ”consumers”, a descriptive term that I've always found kind of derogatory. This dependence  is  so  fundamental  that  it  goes unseen, much like fish don't see the water they swim in. Consequentially, the only solution we can think of whenever we struggle with unfulfilled needs or wants is to ”earn more” and start a side-business, negotiate a raise, and gamble on some more education – it's an investment in your future (ha!). The only perceived way to a better so-called standard-of-living is to work harder and smarter and earn more. However, what this often results in is more environmental damage or at best reshufling money from suckers to scammers." - Jacob Lund Fisker

06 March 2014

Porn on Seasame Street

[this happened 3 years ago, and I wrote the post below back then.  But for reasons I don't remember, I saved it as a draft, where it has been ever since, until I happened to go through my drafts folder today]

Sesame Street's Youtube was hacked, and porn was uploaded.

It seems as though everyone's reaction to what happened is either: "ha ha, too bad I missed it" or "that was the worst possible thing imaginable, the hacker is sick and should be tortured".

I feel like the one kid who sees that the emperor's new clothes don't exist.

Hey, guess what?  People have sex!
Seeing sex does NOT scar or disturb or warp children!!!
You know what does give children a lifelong neurosis around sexuality?  Sheltering and hiding them from it, which teaches them that it is bad and shameful.
No child would think that was a big deal if all the adults around them didn't make such a big production out of it.
Sexuality is not bad for children.  If it weren't for sexuality, there wouldn't even BE any children!

It has been shown conclusively and consistently that there is a directly inverse relationship between sex education and teen pregnency and STDs
Knowledge, truth, and education = GOOD
Sheltering and hiding a significant part of life = BAD

Parents are such hypocrites:  the very fact that they are parents proves that they have done the very thing they pretend to be so shocked about themselves; at least once.

If you aren't mature enough to talk to your kids honestly about sex, then maybe you weren't mature enough to have kids in the first place.  For that matter, maybe you aren't mature enough to have sex yourself.
If parent's were straight forward about sex with their kids, seeing it on screen would be a non-issue. 

You know what does give children a lifelong neurosis around sexuality?  Sheltering and hiding them from it, which teaches them that it is bad and shameful, (regardless of what you say explicitly).
This is exactly why America is so screwed up when it comes to all things sexual.  Not that kids sometimes see people having sex.  The fact that so many of you react as though there were anything wrong with that.
Hey, guess what?  People have sex!  We are animals.  All animals have sex.  That's how we produce new people.  No child would think that was a big deal if all the adults around them didn't make such a big production out of it. 

If you want to tell your kids that its only for grown-ups who love each other, that's fine, but there is no reason for them not to see "hardcore" - that's actually how it works!  Its not like the hacked video was full of BDSM or fetishes.  It was just people having sex.  Get over it.

05 March 2014

Why OWS and the 99% is THE fundamental issue, which lies behind all others:

[This is another of those things I wrote years ago, and has been lost in draft form.  I think I originally planned to add more list items, and elaborate further on all of them, but of course I don't remember what exactly I had in mind]

-War: Some of the largest corporations, (Boeing, Lockheed Martin), profit enormously from war

-Civil Rights: Corporations are not citizens, and therefor should have no civil rights - they are granted right anyway.  They violate the rights of individuals without consequence.  Income and wealth inequality are the single largest factor for the different life experiences of American whites and blacks, and wealth inequality is a direct result of our economic policies.

-Gay rights, abortion, etc etc: Directly mutual relationship between corporate political power and the religious right, as they are both "conservative".  The only reason the religious right is taken seriously is because they support the politicians who are funded by corporate money.

-Environment: EPA doesn't work on shutting down your backyard BBQ.  It is corporations which cause massive pollution.  Corporations decide which power sources to tap into and what type of cars are manufactured.  It was corporations which deliberately destroyed public transit across America.

WTO / NAFTA / etc: this should go without saying

04 March 2014

Quote from unknown poster on homophobia and its relation to sexual assult

"Oh and while being a straight man myself I've never understood the apparent belief that many straight men have that they are apparently irresistible to homosexuals and that given half a chance all gays would pounce on them and have their wicked way - I often suspect that this reflects their own attitudes towards women. I'm not sure that I find that a pleasant idea but it would go some way towards explaining the truly awful male on female sexual abuse statistics that US Forces seem to suffer from."

Quote from unknown poster on a military forum titled "The Gays won, There goes the military"

03 March 2014

Invasive specie continues to cause massive ecological damage after nearly 500 years

By far the most destructive invasive species to North America has been the Western European Homo Sapiens.
Introduced between 1500 and 1600 by Spanish, German, and English settlers, this large hominid almost entirely eradicated the native breed of their own specie throughout the continent, and then went on to do absolutely massive destruction to nearly every aspect of the landscape with their natural instinct to modify their surroundings, ultimately affecting literally every ecological niche extending not only across the land but even well into the oceans on both coasts.

In order to restore the damage done by their introduction, a two part strategy may be most effective: a massive catch, spay/neuter and release program coupled with relaxed or even eliminated hunting restrictions.  This may take lots of time, but would surely be more cost effective and humane in the long run, compared with any attempt to directly euthanize the entire population.

02 March 2014

Freedom VS democracy

[I wrote this some years ago, I don't remember exactly when. It was lost in the drafts folder.]

Some people condemn all government as authoritarian.  They take the government we have today as an example of "democracy" and condemn democracy as just another form of government control over people's lives.  But the word "government" doesn't mean "authoritarian control".  Democracy is a form of government.  And democracy isn't about legislatures interfering into private peoples lives.  Democracy is about private people acting as legislatures. 

The United States of America has corrupted the word democracy.
The USA is not, and never has been, a democracy.  It was never intended to be.

28 February 2014

In progress...

So, my regular readers (I found out recently that I actually have regular readers!) may have noticed I have repeatedly promised an indepth essay on capitalism, I have said at least once that it would be my next post, and I keep posting other stuff.

Well, it really is in progress.  I've written a lot of it.  But there is a lot more to go, and I decided not to start posting the finished ones until the entire thing is finished.

In the meantime - since I am saving each section in my drafts folder - I discovered a whole bunch of stuff I wrote, sometimes years ago, and for reasons I can't even guess at, I never posted. 

I'm going to start posting those, while I work on my biggest writing project to date.

Oh, and by the way - if you read 5 Years Later and Not A Great Start to the New Year, and you were wondering if I was still in a bad place... noooo.  I am not.  Not even a little.  A very very good place right now. 
I don't want to get into it too much here - its very exciting, its very mutual, but its also very new and we all know my patterns.  I can't be objective. 
As far as I can tell thus far, there is real potential, and regardless of how it turns out I am having a hell of a fun time in the moment.  If you remember, way way back, New Year's (2009); I honestly did not think it would be possible - I mean, literally, physically possible - to top that experience.  Well, it turns out it is.

26 February 2014

French feminist role reversal movie

Overall, this was great.  I love that it was made, and I hope some of the guys who treat women so disrespectfully see it, and it gets through.

As a guy, I actually have been harassed on occasion - by a co-worker (about 20 years my senior) who made suggestive comments regularly, by a gay guy who, when I was at a bus stop (shirtless, because it was a really hot day) pulled up in his car and proceeded to jack off while staring at me, by a homeless women who followed me around insisting I get a hotel room for us to share - but these were all rare, isolated incidents.
So I can sympathize with the general discomfort, but I can't really even imagine what it would be like to experience on a regular ongoing basis.

There is one problem I have with this video though - the last scene perpetuates a belief, shared by almost everyone, which is based more on misogyny than fact.
The guy really was "asking for it" when he yelled back at the gang members.  Not because of how he was dressed or any signals he gave off, but because he YELLED BACK AT GANG MEMBERS! 
In the real world, in the poor neighborhoods I have lived in, I started to notice several years ago that women regularly yell at people they are having arguments with on the street, but men rarely do.  Why? 
Because every male above about the age of 13 who lives in an area with street crime knows that doing that will get the shit beat out of you. 
Because the reality is that men are the victims of violent crime by strangers over 1/3 more often (down from twice as often a couple decades ago).  What any male with even an ounce of street smarts does when a group of 4 dangerous looking teens starts harassing him verbally is ignore it, let it go, and continue with his life.  Sometimes women yell or insult them back - and the reason they think this is ok is because most of the time they can get away with it - almost all men, even the low life scum who look for excuses to attack strangers, have internalized the (sexist) rule of "never hit a woman". 
But then, in the few instances where it does escalate to violence - and despite the fact that it escalates to violence more often with men - we take those examples and pretend it proves that women are disproportionately victims.  It isn't because the statistics actually support it.  Its because our misogynist society starts out with the premise that women are victims as a given, and then looks for the evidence to support it.

None of this is to suggest that harassment or assault (when it does actually happen) are ok.  They aren't.  But please please stop perpetuating the myth that women are the victims of assault more often than men.  It falsely paints women as weak and helpless, and does not advance the cause of equality.  Besides, its just plain wrong.

24 February 2014

Wearing the Skirt

Been thinking a bit recently about gender.

Thanks, primarily, of all things, to being more active on Facebook than I've ever been.
Which exposed me to:

(A ruler can only lead with the consent of at least most of the people. Women make up slightly more than half of the population. Sure, today institutions are set up that hold the status quo, but how did it get this way in the first place? This is a pretty plausible theory of how and it puts a lot of other stuff into a different perspective too.)
and this

(I'm afraid the larger issue is that we all assume the standard lego person is male. The standard lego person looks like this:
which has no features which indicate gender.
Kind of like when cartoons give a female animal character long hair or eye lash
es, lipstick, or (human type) breasts - even if she isn't a mammal - because if a cartoon animal just looks like an animal "obviously" it must be male(??)
It goes way deeper than corporations and marketing. We have all internalized it. Even the girl who wrote the letter.
and then this

17 February 2014

Google Bus

In order to protest income inequality, instead of attacking the corporations who pay minimum wage or outsource their labor, despite huge profits and huge executive compensation, we attack a corporation that actually pays well - and goes beyond good pay to provide (among other things) an alternative to car commuting.

Which means the goal isn't to actually ensure everyone has a living wage and can afford decent housing, its just to drag everyone else down to the lowest common denominator.
Actually, its not even that, since its the buses that have drawn anger, representing reasonably paid people moving into poor neighborhoods. Our solution to inequality and poverty is... segregation!


When middle class whites moved out of urban areas, it was called "white flight", and activists objected, because it made life harder for poor residents by turning them into ghettos. Now middle class whites are moving back, and even though you can't evict someone just to get higher rent in a rent controlled city, we call it "gentrification" and claim it is making life harder for the poor residents.

Now, I understand it is easier and more gratifying to pick an enemy to hate, and to throw stuff and be destructive than it is to think critically about complex issues - but is it too much to ask to go after WalMart and McDonalds and all the other low wage and outsourcing companies?

11 February 2014


Motivated by the discovery that I have a readership of at least one, in conjunction with being caught up on all the work I can get done (until the water pump is delivered), I am going to (finally!) get started on at least one of the two essays that have been waiting inside my brain

14 January 2014

Not a great start to the new year / new life

Lets see...

After almost 2 months of trying to sell my RV trailer with no success, I finally found not one, but at least 2 serious buyers who had the cash and wanted to buy within the week.
Then I got about 7 calls and emails of other people interested in seeing it (after I listed it for $500 more than the first two were expecting), and I was considering if I should try to get the best price or just get it sold and over with.

And so, of course, that's when it gets stolen.

Its 35ft long, 15ft tall, 8ft wide, and 7500lbs.  It requires a 3/4-ton truck and a class IV hitch at a minimum to move.  It had a solid hitch lock on it.
Someone, some how, hooked it up in the middle of the night and took off.  Several witnesses (people interested in buying, and the police, who were about to ticket it for being in one place too long) saw it one afternoon, I went to move it the next morning, gone.

05 January 2014

5 years later

Four months since I have written anything at all here.

I am really letting my two or three readers down! I'm sorry. Well, not sorry enough to necessarily do better, but enough to write this, right now, even though I'm not really feeling inspired.

My next real post will be on the difference between capitalism and the free market, how they are actually opposed, how government favors the former, and how it could (and why it should) be doing the opposite. Actually, it might even be a series of separate posts.
I already have basically everything I want down in my head, but it still may be a few months or a year before I get around to it. But I have always eventually written all the things I said I would so far, haven't I? So, unless I randomly die before then, it will really happen.

A part of why I stopped writing was the time and thought and energy that went into a major life transition.

10 September 2013

35 hour work week petititon

I tried this once before, but wasn't able to build enough momentum in time.

Different platform this time.

Click, sign it, make the world a better place:


Read more about why this is a fantastic idea on my post about the first attempt:

09 September 2013

Some Thoughts on Partnership and Extra-Marital Sex; Monogamy VS Sexual Exclusivity

First of all, I need to clarify a very important point, that many people seem to get wrong more often than not.

The suffix "-gamy" means "marriage".
It does NOT refer to sex.  It refers to romantic commitment - and more specifically, a religious and/or government sanctioned commitment (because two people can be entirely committed to each other without ever getting married).
The alternatives to monogamy are being single, or being polygamous, which means being married to more than one person.

The term for not having sex with anyone other than your spouse (or other committed romantic partner) is sexual exclusivity.

This is not just semantics.  It is in fact a crucial distinction, and without proper and consistent terminology, it is completely impossible to talk about the topic in any meaningful way.
So, for example, in a culture where polygamy is legal and culturally accepted, a man could have two or three wives.  If he never has sex with anyone other than those several wives, he is maintaining sexual exclusivity, even though he is not monogamous.  On the other hand, a married couple who are into swinging are monogamous, even though they are not practicing sexual exclusivity.
And both of them are practicing sexual fidelity - the word fidelity means "faithful" or "loyal", and none of the people in these examples are cheating.  It is only cheating if it is against the rules, and everyone involved in both the polygamous relationship and the swinger's relationship is agreeing to the same set of rules.
When people talk about "open" relationships, or polyamory, they can mean either having multiple committed romantic relationships (which might not, but probably will, involve sex), or they can be talking about having only one committed romantic relationship, but one or more other non-romantic sexual partners.

I am only going to be talking about the second option.

30 August 2013

Refuting the "Big Car = Safe" Myth

It is a universally known "fact" that the bigger the vehicle you drive, the safer you are.
Even those who buy small vehicles know this, they just feel that the increase in risk is small, and the benefits to parking, mileage, and cost are worth it.
Like many other universally known things, it just happens to be wrong.
This is extremely easy to prove:  just look at the actual crash statistics, compiled by vehicle weight:

Inline image 1

28 August 2013

Refuting the theory that physiologically facilitating rape is "self-protective"

I've been surprised to come across more and more references lately to a relatively new theory among some sex researchers that the reason women reflexively lubricate to certain stimuli which they don't self-report as being arousing is that it evolved as the body's way of protecting itself in the case of sexual assault.
Here is an example:

Genital response to sexual stimuli may be an evolved self-protection mechanism. Female genital response is an automatic reflex that is elicited by sexual stimuli and produces vaginal lubrication, even if the woman does not subjectively feel sexually aroused...Female genital response entails increased genital vasocongestion, necessary for the production of vaginal lubrication, and can, in turn, reduce discomfort and the possibility of injury during vaginal penetration. Ancestral women who did not show an automatic vaginal response to sexual cues may have been more likely to experience injuries that resulted in illness, infertility, or even death subsequent to unexpected or unwanted vaginal penetration, and thus would be less likely to have passed on this trait to their offspring....Reports of women's genital response and orgasm during sexual assaults suggests that genital responses do occur in women under conditions of sexual threat.

The first time I saw it it immediately struck me as suspect and I questioned it in the comments of the webpage that quoted it, and went on to forget it.  But since then I've seen several more allusions to the same theory by different researchers in different contexts, and its really starting to bug me.
As I talked about in great length in my previous post, there is a nearly universal - albeit frequently subconscious - assumption in human society that women are inherently prone to being victims.  This (largely baseless) assumption is just as strong among feminists as it is among traditionalists and patriarchs, although it takes different forms.

04 August 2013

"Culture" and "Race" are not interchangeable

Take a look at the following 10 people, one at a time

Think about who they are.
What do they likely do for work?  How much do they make?  What do they enjoy doing on their off time?  What would you guess their religion is, what kind of food do they eat, where did they grow up, and how do they vote?  Who do they socialize with, and what inspires their morality?

01 August 2013

7% of communication is words (not really though)

Just discovered what the ridiculous claim about non-verbal communication probably comes from - you know, where some corporate or academic class on effective communication claims that only 7% of a message is transmitted by the actual words (and the rest by tone and body language)?

This is of course just obviously false on the face of it: if it were true, we could communicate more effectively with someone who spoke a different language but was face-to-face with us than we could with someone who spoke the same language, but via chat (or a blog post).

But those numbers are very specific to just have been randomly made up...
Here's where they come from:

According to pychcology professor Albert Mehrabian:

When you first meet new people, their initial impression of you will be based 55% on your appearance and body-language, 38% on your style of speaking and only 7% on what you actually say.
Now that actually makes sense! Not message. Not communication. Impression.

Furthermore, he was speaking specifically about communication about feelings, and the degree to which a person's non-verbal communication matched the verbal - as in, if a person says "I'm fine, really", but they look and sound upset, you are likely to not believe them.

In his own words, regarding this common misinterpretation of his work:
""Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like–dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable."

17 July 2013

Cops Shooting Unarmed Black Men

Do you remember the very large, loud, and extended public outcry over the deaths of Jason Kemp, Jordon Hatcher, Ibragim Todashev, David Silva, John Torretti, Daniel Sanez, Roy Jacobs Jr., Thomas Schroeder, Jacob Grassley, Zachary Premo, John Schaefer, and Jerry Waller?

All of these men were killed by the police, all of them just in the past 7 months (2013).  In almost every case, they were unarmed.

Schaefer and Waller were both armed... they were both 70+ year old men, on their own property, with legally owned handguns, which they had out for self defense - one had a pitbull in his yard and had called the cops himself, the other was responding to the same burglar alarm that attracted police attention.Premo also had a handgun  - one which he was carrying legally - though from the police report, he apparently did not touch or reach for it before being shot. 
Hatcher was unarmed, but apparently resisted arrest.
Grassley's cellphone was assumed to be a gun, and he was shot while fleeing police. 
Sanez was in handcuffs at the time he was shot.
Torretti  was hit repeatedly with a baton by officers while pinned to the ground by other officers, unable to move.
Silva was so intoxicated he could barely stand up.  Between 3 and 7 deputies beat him with batons until he dies.  Officers then attempt to collect cellphones from witnesses that may have video on them.
Kemp was unarmed, and not fighting, when he was shot at point-blank range in his home, when he refused to let the police in without a warrant.
Jacobs had called the cops himself, to turn himself in when he found out he had a minor warrant, and the cops shot him in front of his family the moment they walked through the door.

You can be forgiven for not remembering the public uproar, the protests and articles, the petitions and signs, because there wasn't any.  In fact, unless you happen to live in the city in which these men were killed, and follow the local news closely, you most likely have never heard of any of them.

06 July 2013

If I Were Elected King of the Country

My new friend asked me a few weeks ago, "what would you change about the world, if you had the power to?"
She said she tried to ask all new people she met that question.
She said it was surprising how many people didn't have an answer because they had never thought about it.
I couldn't answer, but for a very different reason.
I just couldn't sum up, couldn't choose from the list what to say first.
I've been thinking about it ever since then, and I still can't find any way to tie all the various things together, so, instead of going into the detail about how and why for each one, I think I'll just list as many as I can think of.
(and if anyone wants elaboration on any in particular, ask me as a comment, and maybe I'll make that one its own post)

These are in no particular order:

02 July 2013

Fushi and Saiba

I first met Fushi and Saiba in January of 2004.

They were only about a month or two old at the time.

I had lived with their mother, Midnight - a tiny all black cat who liked to hide under places so she could attack my ankles when I walked by - throughout the previous summer, at a traveling carnival in the midwest.
She was the only cat in the household, and was indoors only.  She got out just once, for just a few hours, but then, that's all it takes.

My aunt Joy, who was Midnight's human, came to New York (where I worked at the time) to visit, since the carnival is closed during the winter.  When we met, she asked if we might want a kitten.  Since me and Aileen (my wife at the time) both worked full time, I said we should get two, so they would have someone to keep them company during the day.
We got one boy and one girl, both with gray and black tiger stripes, and white "socks" on some feet.

They were so tiny I could literally hold them both in the palm of one hand.  We brought them home (to our RV in NJ) in a backpack.  The boy curled up in a tiny ball at the bottom, while the girl stood on top of him so she could reach her head out the top and look around.
That pretty well summed up their personalities for the rest of their lives.

01 July 2013

Cats Were Not Very Well Designed

Whoever built cats, be it God or evolution, some sort of super intelligent space aliens or the ancient Egyptians, they made a pretty serious and, frankly, stupid, design flaw.

If for whatever reason a cat goes just a few days without eating, like all animals, they begin to metabolize their fat reserves for energy.  Like all animals, this fat metabolization (along with many other tasks) is the job of the liver.

But, unlike every single other animal, a cat's liver is actually damaged by the process of metabolizing more than a tiny amount of fat at a time.

And just what symptoms does that type of liver damage cause?  Why nausea, of course!  Which in turn leads to anorexia.  Which in turn leads to not eating.  Which in turn leads to the body needing to burn more fat.  Which in turn damages the liver further.  Which in turn leads to more severe anorexia...

So, even if the original cause of the problem is no longer an issue, this cycle leads to death.

Its called Hepatic Lipidosis, and it can be triggered in as little as 3 DAYS without food.

Often times it is triggered by some other disease or medical condition, but it can also be triggered by stress, (from a move, or a new cat roommate, for example), or by a new brand of food.  If they are wild, perhaps there just aren't any mice or birds around to catch for a few days in a row.

The treatment is regular food.  But since they have no appetite, a cat's human has to manually feed them.
And so the little Chairman gets a syringe-full or two of watered down canned food squirted into his mouth every hour or so, for at least the next couple weeks, or until whenever he decides to start eating again on his own.

29 June 2013

Your Actions are (part of) Causing that Traffic Jam You're Stuck in*

*In the morning and evening of most large American cities (especially those surrounded by plenty of suburb), when everyone is driving their cars to their 9-5 jobs, there are simply too many vehicles on the highway for the lane capacity.  You get on the highway at the nearest entrance, and proceed to average 15mph the entire distance from your suburban home to the downtown city center where you work, frequently coming to a complete stop, never going more than 25mph at the most.

In that situation, traffic is going to go slow, no matter what.
That isn't the type of traffic jam I'm talking about.
There is also another type of traffic back up.  The kind that happens in moderate traffic.  Everyone slows down, sometimes even to a complete stop, and then a few hundred feet later, you are moving again at 50, 60, 70mph, as if nothing happened.
Sometimes this happens because there is the aftermath of a crash in the shoulder, or even across the divider on the opposite shoulder of the oncoming lane, and all the drivers feel it is very important for them to take a good look at it, because humans are just like that.  Other times its because someone is getting a traffic ticket, and, even though the cop is clearly busy at the moment, people imagine they are more likely to be caught speeding if the can see a police car.
But most often, these slow downs happen for no apparent reason at all.  You get to the front of it, and cars are accelerating just as suddenly as they slowed down.
Sometimes traffic pulses like this, fast - slow - fast - slow - fast - slow for miles.  In some places, not quite as dense as in the first example above, the daily commute does this pulse jam every single day.

28 June 2013

Trespassing in the Commune

I'm not much of one for ideology or party lines.
If I see an error in someone's thinking, I'm just as likely to mention it if I agree with their overall point as if I don't.  Trying to get people to see all sides of things tends to put me in the roll of Devil's Advocate, and so I have been accused of being a capitalist by communists, a communist by capitalists, a fan of Ayn Rand (HA!) by anarchists.

A few years ago I wrote some about illegal immigration:




You just might get the idea from those that I have some particular opinion on the issue.
But really, I was trying to point out what one side of the debate prefers to ignore.
That doesn't mean the issue is one-sided or simple.
The other side does just as good a job ignoring what it doesn't want to see.
Just like with the abortion debate, I mostly agree with the progressive side in practice, but I recognize that they are right for the wrong reasons, while in principal the conservative side at least gets the question right, even if they are mistaken about the answer.


Imagine a hippy commune, out in the country side.  A few hundred people live there together, they come up with house rules, they all do chores, everyone contributes to the property taxes and insurance costs of the land and building and to a communal maintenance and repair fund.  Lets say this particular commune works really well, they come up with a system to manage internal conflicts, they are reasonably self-sufficient, but everyone also has real jobs so they have cash for trading with the outside world.
Sooner or later people are going to have children, and a new generation will be raised there. 
Now and then some people will want to leave, and that's just fine.

17 June 2013

The Common Thread

I was at a party yesterday, and I was talking about who knows what, and, I guess maybe because I have an "educated" accent, or whatever, I really have no idea why, she commented that she was surprised I hadn't gone into some field of science.

And I mentioned that I had been expecting to in high school, I had interned in  microbiology and biotech labs, focused mainly on science classes in high school and college, got associate degrees in biology and earth science - but then, by random acts of fate, I had ended up doing semi-skilled manual labor which afforded me not only decent money, but an extremely flexible schedule and the ability to be my own boss. 
I said I still satiated that side of my mind with plenty of reading, and occasional writing.

She asked where I wrote, whether it was just for myself - basically just this blog, and given the size of it's readership, yeah, pretty much just for myself.
and what topics I wrote about, and I tried to think of all the various things I've covered.

She asked what they all have in common.

Nothing really, other than I find them interesting.  And I find of lot of things interesting.  The world is a vast and complicated place.  reality is fascinating.  I really can not comprehend how so many people can willingly specialize, focus on just one area of human knowledge, when there is just so much else out there.  I'm much more interested in understanding a little about everything than everything about a little.

So, yeah, my blog has no theme.
Probably why I will never be able to generate any significant readership.  People subscribe to stuff that focuses on what interests them, and mine doesn't focus on anything.

She insisted that there must be some angle where a common theme could be found.  She said that in what she did, there were always commonalities emerging, even when they weren't obvious at first.

We kept talking more, I elaborated slightly on a few posts, she suggested that maybe challenging preconceptions might  be a consistent thing, and then I realized, duh! it's right there in the header of the blog.

21 March 2013

Obama = Bush Jr??? (hint: the answer is no)

Almost exactly 4 years after I wrote the last article I reposted, on Obama targeting off-shore tax-shelters, I over heard a couple people I'm close to agreeing that, while he gives good speeches, "Obama is really not that different from Bush in policy, and in some ways he's worse", which of course I've heard plenty of times before, generally from folk on the far liberal / leftist / socialist leaning side of politics (which, given where I live, is a lot of folk).

That's not really the sort of comment that will lead to a productive debate in real time, even if I did have a plethora of facts to drop off the top of my head, so I just held my tongue for the moment.

Here on my blog I have time to think through my response, and an easy way to cite references, so here goes...

08 March 2013

summer project

I did everything from drawing the blueprints to pouring the concrete footings. The door initially opened directly on to the staircase, which I simply removed, and then reattached after the deck was finished. Took about 2 weeks (half of which was shopping time, and waiting for the concrete to dry), and cost just under $2000 (not including materials)


13 February 2013

Workouts for the Brain

Just like with fitness / health / strength, a lot of intelligence is genetic, and there is nothing you can do about that part. But, like with fitness, even more of it is environment/experiences, and we have 100% control of that.
All of these things will literally stimulate the creation of new neural connections, and (to a smaller extent) even brand new brain cells.  This has been definitively confirmed by plenty of independent tests (which is where the idea of "brain games" came from - although that is as yet unproven to be effective)
Plus, when you start to understand the underlying reasons for how things work, everything starts to make sense.  Once you learn the fundamentals of physics, mechanics, and chemistry, all mechanical things make sense, and you can reverse engineer anything, figure out how it works, and repair it.  Once you learn the fundamentals of human psychology and sociology, all human behavior makes sense, and you can avoid conflict and get people on your side, or at least their respect, no matter how different their life outlook may be.

29 January 2013

What to Read?

I have been writing since 2006, and if my blogs were a MS Word document (as they are, as a backup), they would take up about 350 pages.
And a whole lot of that is just little random tidbits from my life that I found interesting the day I was writing.
Mixed in among those there are a number of in-depth essays on a wide variety of topics.  There has been no way to easily sift through all the random crap to find the good stuff.

Until now!
Wondering what to read next?
Of 200+ posts, these are (in my personal opinion) the top ~50 most interesting or useful

22 January 2013

What does our gut reaction to the word "rape" say about our subconscious beliefs about women's agency?

[NOTE: This article is longer than the typical blog post.  As an MS Word document it comes to about 30 pages.  Much shorter than a book, but longer than a magazine article.  Its probably better to think of it as an internet based paper, and not expect to read the entire thing straight through in one sitting.  I have broke it into 5 parts to facilitate that.
Also, if it isn't obvious enough from the title, its a very sensitive subject.  I am definitely not trying to offend or upset, but I am deliberately trying to be real, which means not being "politically correct" or sensitive for the sake of sensitivity.]

A friend of mine sent me a link to an internet blog article recently:


I read it, it was interesting and insightful and honest and unfortunately rare in its open-mindedness and candor.  I didn’t know when I read it,  but apparently it was read by a great many people, many of whom did not share that opinion of it. 
It was reasonably infamous among feminist bloggers, and induced quite a number of responses - none of which I’ve read. 
I did, however, take several days to go back and read the comment thread in its entirety.  The comment thread was surprisingly thoughtful for an internet discussion on a topic that causes intense negative gut reactions and has generated plenty of controversy, one which people are passionate and angry about. 
So much of the discussion was so good already that I had nothing to add.  
The first three pages are almost entirely filled with reasonable, open-minded people having a back and forth conversation on really difficult topics.  From all appearances these are regulars to the site, readers and contributors.  On page three the sort of knee-jerk responses that you would expect for the topic finally begin appearing, and it appears as though few of the new commenters took the time to read the existing comments before adding their own.  Not to say that intelligent conversation does not continue, it does all the way to the end, only that the ‘TL;DR – still have an opinion’ comments start becoming more common, - no doubt as the article began to be read and popularized more and more.
If you are interested in the topic, and have a few hours to kill, I recommend reading all of the comments from the beginning.

Though much of what I would have said was addressed, some very important things weren’t, and that’s what inspired this essay that you are reading right now.

21 January 2013

The Oldest Profession

First of all, let’s make one thing clear.  A prostitute does not sell their body.  The only circumstance in which any person actually sells a body part is when someone sells a kidney.  When you sell something, the buyer takes permanent possession of it, and the seller can not get it back.  The new owner can do anything they want with their purchase, because it is now their property.  This does not describe the prostitute / client transaction at all.  Even when people accepted indentured servitude arrangements they were only offering themselves on a long-term lease, not actually selling themselves.  A prostitute normally only allows her (or his) clients limited use of a portion of their body for a short, usually designated time period, an hour perhaps, maybe a few. 
This is not just semantics.  It’s a very important distinction.   

Really, what the transaction consists of is a person agreeing to engage in a specific activity for a specified time period which they otherwise might not do, to the benefit of another person who offers compensation for the time and labor involved.
Which, if you think about it, kind of describes every job.

Why is sex a special case? 

17 December 2012

The Last Big Question (the evolution of consciousness itself)

In The Beginning, There Were Amino Acids.

Amino acids are rather complex, and anything complex is fairly unlikely. Then again, solar systems and galaxies, water and rock cycles, and particle physics are all magnificently complex too, and they all happen to exist. Even just within inorganic chemistry, plenty of naturally, randomly occurring compounds are more complex than amino acids.

Its very uncommon, but it has been found that, under just the right circumstances, amino acids can form spontaneously. Just the right mix of carbon and nitrogen, some oxygen and hydrogen, maybe just a touch of sulfur, make it all aqueous (dissolve it in water, so they can all move around) and maybe zap it with a bit of that proverbial lightning for good measure - at this point it is still nothing more than an ordinary chemical reaction - and you got yourself one of the fundamental building blocks of life.

(Alanine; Black = Carbon, White = Hydrogen, Blue = Nitrogen, Red = Oxygen)

We know the end of the story, but considered alone there is nothing especially special about some random amino acids floating around in puddles. Just about everything is made of compounds (two or more elements mixed together), not-particularly-sexy things like rocks and dust and air and water. Some have more different elements mixed together than others.

Granite is made of several compounds, (quartz, mica, and feldspar), themselves made up of combinations of oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium along with trace amounts of other elements. It makes up the vast majority of the surface of the Earth, (there is somewhere on the order of 20 billion times more of it than there is of all living things on the planet - plants animals, bacteria, everything combined)

In comparison with granite's 8+ elements, amino acid's 4 seems almost simple, and compared to its abundance, amino acids are downright insignificant.

16 December 2012

Comments from the MMM Forums Part 5: OWS / 99%

The 5th of the 5 part series of blog posts taken from the Mr Money Mustache discussion boards, on the politics, economics, ethics and philosophy, of building wealth through frugality.

By COguy:

Your thoughts on the we are the 99% blog?
« on: November 13, 2012, 01:51:08 PM »
At the risk of seeming insensitive, I wanted to see what all of you folks thought of this.  Is it just complaining? 


It seems to me that if one followed mustachian principles they should get out of sticky financial situations much easier.  Ride a bike, in source everything, etc...Yet, I know I was lucky to be born to good parents and some of these people were not and I feel that that stacks the deck against them. 

Obviously, the medical expenses make sense as being very hard to overcome, but what about the rest?

[lots of posts, mostly agreeing that it is in fact mostly whiny pants complainers who dug their own hole and now want bailouts]

15 December 2012

Comments from the MMM Forums Part 4: Invesment Income Taxes

Part 4 (part 1 was here)...This thread was not intended to be political at all.  But of course someone had to turn it that way.
Someone, meaning me…

By Guitarguy:
Did anyone's eyes pop out of their head when...
Romney said he'd completely get rid of all capital gains taxes for people earning less than $200,000 a year off of dividends ect... in the debate tonight? Is that really possible? And how does that affect a mustachian's situation of retirement?

By Bakari:

Re: Did anyone's eyes pop out of their head when...
« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2012, 05:49:14 PM »
Does anyone else see something morally wrong with taxing earned income at a higher rate than unearned income?

Set aside the personal benefit we are all looking forward to, once we can afford to live off passive income.

From a strictly objective viewpoint:
person A spends 40 hours or more (plus commute time) a week going to a job and working hard.  On top of the direct value their labor provides to society as a whole, they also contribute a percentage of the income they earn towards the general good in the form of taxes.

meanwhile, person B simply sits around at home (or travels, or has a hobby, or whatever, doesn't matter) and has positive income flow for no other reason than they had money to begin with.  Maybe they worked hard in the past and saved up, or maybe they inherited it, or maybe they laundered it after a crime, doesn't matter, point is they are not working hard now, and for that they are rewarded with not having to contribute to society.