Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Another Fed trick (because excess reserve deposits are apparently not enough)

I previously noted the multi-trillion dollar parking of money by the Federal Reserve via excess reserves. That worked ok for awhile to pull money out of the productive economy but apparently it's not enough. A new facility started up mid 2013 called "Fixed Rate Reverse Repo" and between now and January 2nd 2014 it's soaking up almost $200B in excess liquidity. That's money that would otherwise go to create companies, finance economic activity, and create jobs. For some reason the old standby of putting this money in short term commercial paper is just not appealing anymore.

But is this complicated financial instrument really the same as allowing bankers to get risk free money by not investing in the productive economy? The Federal Reserve says so. The NY Fed explains:

In many ways, an ON RRP facility would operate similar to the way the Federal Reserve’s payment of interest on excess reserves works for depository institutions.
The link above has all the details on how the facility works.  The history is relatively brief with a technical report being presented in the July 2013 meeting and a shakedown run scheduled for September 2013. That run handled $60B, but the year end flow into the facility dwarfs it with over 3x the quarterly flow.

ZeroHedge calls this the WTF chart of the day. I have to agree.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Grandparents don't adopt grandchildren

The stupid burns over at MSNBC

Newsflash to the haters, grandparents do not adopt grandchildren. Mitt Romney did not adopt this child. one of his children did. We don't know which one because that Romney isn't involved in politics and is not a public figure so by normal rules it's not any business of the press to go diving into the man's family.

One of the adoptive parent's dad is in politics so for the sin of accepting his kid's decision to interracially adopt and just treating his new addition to the family like any other family member they mock Mitt Romney and try to make this another occasion to racially bash the GOP.

HT: Legal Insurrection

Sunday, December 29, 2013

De facto banking nationalization

On vacation I met a banker. We were waiting on a reservation line and with nothing to do we talked shop. He told me a remarkable tale of woe about a major change in US banking that was heavily impacting his job as a banker to other bankers.

It used to be that smaller banks would take their excess reserves that they did not have clients to loan to and would pass it on to larger commercial banks. Today, he said that this money is largely going to the Federal reserve. 

Getting past no

Seth Godin's piece today coming from "no" encapsulates in a very broad way what is wrong with a lot of marketing attempts. One of those areas is the troubled relationship that Republicans have with a lot of demographic segments that have simply turned them off. None of those segments shows a bigger commitment to saying no to Republicans than black americans.

I wonder what the entries would look like if there were an essay contest devoted to the topic of blacks voting Republican and would there be a significant difference between the entries of blacks and whites.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Homeward bound

Sitting at the airport, several serious posts in my head but they will wait for a better keyboard.

De facto banking subsector destruction and a financial app that can claw a great deal of Dodd Frank money back from the fed

Cozumel water taxis and monopoly busting via crowd sourcing. 

GIS servers mapping private scrip acceptance. Startup opportunity... 

Weapons at the airport pay per view fights: nail clippers vs knitting needles. Mext underground MMA sensation or anti security theater performance art?

Update: As my inspirations pan out, I'm updating this post with links. Not all of them are likely to make it to actual items. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

More hotel lobby conversation

My ears perked up when someone declared Ann Coulter a performance artist and soon after declared their love for Rachel Maddow. I listened some more and it became clear they were Canadian. It was a family of three and the Maddow lover was the adult son of the other two. I decided to have a bit of fun and see if honest talk was possible. 

It turns out that it is possible to speak honestly about politics, not pull any punches, and have an open, far ranging conversation. The secret is to not get personal, even about absent persons the other side might have emotional ties to and be willing to let peripheral points go in favor of carrying the main front. 

In the end I was even able to learn a bit about Canada's health system and expound on the case against it. This has been, to my experience, the touchiest policy area Canadians have. Mom denied the problem of waiting times, son called it a myth, and then dad spoke up and said he understood what I was talking about. He claimed it to be a problem of inadequate budgets to keep operating rooms running 24/7 that limited surgeons and others from operating to capacity. I said that it sounded similar to what I had heard but that my information was old and would like an update. I let him carry the tale for the most part and it was relatively smooth sailing from there. 

Ideologically I will likely remain across the aisle from them. But it is still possible to talk and persuade if personalities are kept out of it. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rental car

No seatbelts, manual transmission, 1/8th a tank of gas, no spare on the Jeep and I haven't driven a stick since 2002. We are having a blast and are stopping off at Chankanaab "adventure beach park". 

Farm socialism in the hotel lobby

They seemed like normal people talking about farms as I was taking advantage of the hotel lobby wifi. Then came a bit of jaw dropping autarky. "You have to subsidize food production. We can't just depend on others" claimed a neatly bearded salt and pepper haired gentleman. Within a couple of minutes a lady in the group claimed that "farmers think they are independent souls but they are really the banks' serfs." They showed zero understanding that the two statements are intimately related, subsidy creates serfdom. 

Economically, farming is normally risky work. Bad weather regularly destroys product, often reducing income below production cost. Good weather regularly destroys profit as bumper crops drop prices, again often below production cost. 

Normally big Agriculture would be an unlikely occurrence. Why would stockholders ride the roller coaster of weather and ag markets for unremarkable returns?  The norm is family farms who at least get a good lifestyle out of the deal. But this norm is dying. 

Preserving family farms and politically stabilizing farm culture prompted country after country to adopt farm subsidies that paid more people to produce than the market needed. Prices were managed and stabilized so farmers would not regularly go bust. These subsidies not only made it safe for the family farmer to stay in business but drew in the financier who saw a tax money harvest. That MBA dominated big ag model now predominates and the old farm culture of independent yeoman farmers is pining for the fjords. 

Subsidies create serfs by making it safe for powerful bullies to enter the market and drive weaker but more tenacious players to the wall. ADM and company are not tenacious and with government subsidies they don't have to be. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Cozumel has an odd mass schedule 7AM, 10AM, 6PM and 8PM. The main church doesn't seem to have much in the  way of internet presence. The google results are full of unanswered questions. Hopefully this post will rank and help the curious. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Aerobic exercise Atlanta Airport

Just catching my breath after going cross  airport at Atlanta. Testing out the IOS Blogger app. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Vacation coming up

I don't know if I will be blogging this week at all but apparently, T-Mobile will let me use up data in Mexico without additional charge so I'll give it a try. There may be photo blogging or I might just break my post-a-day streak. I'm not sure.

Technical notice

I just set up feedburner on this blog so if you're consuming the information here via RSS/Atom and something just hiccupped, that's what's going on. Please comment below if there is any difficulty.

Worthless petitions

Daily Kos is suckering its constituency with a fraudulent petition to strip the NFL of its tax exemption. If an organization sets up a petition for political action and addresses it to someone who has no power to solve the problem, they are not being honest. The petition is a fraud designed to leave everything exactly as it is but make people happy that they are politically active. 

Congress gave the NFL its non-profit status in 1966. No agent of the executive can strip away that status without legislation first redefining what 501(c)6 nonprofits are. Anybody who researches this for more than 5 minutes and understands basic american civics would not set up a petition this way. So what are they accomplishing by doing it? Is there no more important thing on the leftist agenda going on or is this a shakedown, with NFL people understanding that Kos won't fix the petition to go to the right addressee if the NFL contributes enough money to Daily Kos? 

In any case, it stinks of dishonesty or incompetence. Who knows, maybe they are actually dumb enough that they launched a campaign that's landed almost 60,000 signatures so far on the mistaken and unchecked premise that the acting IRS commissioner can do something about it. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Justin Bieber improvement

I am reliably informed by my daughter that nightcore can make Justin Bieber palatable. I do not know how this magic is accomplished but here's a long sample of the style.

My wife brought me homework last night

My son heard it first, hissssss...

If Discount Tire were still open we'd have been close enough to make a run for it. No luck, so I ended up changing a tire for the first time in many a year and set up the spare so I can get it fixed first thing. An hour of waiting and we're all good. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bitvisitor payment delays

Bitvisitor seems to be having payment problems again. They've had periods where they hiccuped and delayed payments for a time before and it's happening again now. This time, they've changed the code so you can actually see how late they are. The promise payment every 60uBTC, here's how far behind they are on my account.

Balance: 189.352 uBTC - Payment is sent every 60 uBTC!
This translates out to about a week behind promises. Since the amount is so small and they've recovered from these hiccups before, I'm still grinding out these little ad views anyway for now.  I'm sure a lot of their viewers are. Past a certain point it starts to get to be a problem and it's time to cut them loose. Any ideas on what an appropriate level might be?

Update: And they finally released the balance at 193.35 uBTC on the 20th at 9PM. It's a classic bitvisitor hiccup and exactly the sort of problem that bitcoin transactions regularly have.

21st Century Government - The Homestretch

I'm walking backwards, laying out a practical pathway to get to a decent vision of 21st century governance. The home stretch is all about implementing consensus to create 21st century governance. This is a consensus that doesn't currently exist but at this phase, the vision's been laid out, talked out, consensus has been forged and a critical mass of the politicians have come on board or been booted from office. Expectations have been reset and now it is time to get on with the work.

Actually implementing 21st century governance is exactly the sort of mid level work that many are claiming is disappearing and will never be seen again. Grabbing data and creating scripts to reformat for import, creating reports and even dashboards takes more patience than intelligence. It's production, and like most repetitive production does not require extremely high levels of intelligence to execute. Ordinary education, ordinary workers can accomplish the vast bulk of this job.

On the government end this is mostly accomplished by adding in requirements for openness into their normal IT development schedules and not with flashy big bang exercises that will suck up all their scarce IT dollars. After all, the only thing that they need do on their end is dump the raw data in a directory. It's such a simple task that it's going to be hard to explain why they would resist doing it. Once they do it, then it's up to the private sector to interpret the data into something that everybody can use.

Duck Dynasty update

we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helmThe other shoe has now dropped and the Robertson family is standing by its patriarch, entering into talks on whether the show will go forward. Their opening bid is literally "we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm".

Congratulations A&E on blowing yourselves up. My best advice is to tape the next shareholder meeting where you explain how you lost your biggest individual revenue maker. That's likely to be the most entertaining product coming out of your operations in the near term.

Pass the popcorn.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Short J legs

J curves pop up in a number of unrelated fields. In political science, it's often viewed as a tradeoff between stability and openness with a short leg of  increased stability at very low levels of openness and a long leg. Since Obamacare/ACA first took shape, I've been worried that we were in a 'j' curve situation with this legislation seeking to push us up the short leg, a policy dead end that would be politically difficult to reverse because any small reforms would actually make the situation worse. The axes on the graph being private economic activity on the x axis and effective medicine on the y axis.

The poor roll out and fundamental flaws being uncovered in Obamacare as it actually hits the real world actually ease my worries about it being a societal trap. It's working so badly that the resistance to reform may be weak enough to allow for incremental reform to be a real option. Let's not mince words, Obamacare is an expensive and dangerous flop. But it could be worse. It could set us up in the same trap that the UK has yet to escape from with its NHS and which Canada is only starting to escape with its health system.

NSFW Duck Dynasty

GQ has turned into a profane magazine. I haven't read it in years and never thought it pulled many punches but whatever language restraint it might have had is gone. You can't talk about the current Duck Dynasty controversy that has led to the indefinite suspension of Phil Robertson (the family patriarch) honestly without some adult conversation so if you haven't had the birds and bees talk yet, pass this one by kids. There's a chunk of ick and ewww that follows.

In order, there are three mentions of homosexuality in the GQ story about Phil Robertson. These are the things for which he's been put on indefinite hiatus. Here they are in their entirety interspersed with a bit of commentary from me. The italics are an interviewer question included for context.
It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.
This isn't even biblical for the most part. It's sex talk and describing sex preference. "That's just me" is not something that intolerant regularly say, but rather the tolerant who march to their own drummer and have their own opinions. When did that become a problem in the US?
What, in your mind, is sinful? 
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Let's see, about 98% of the people that are in those groups are not homosexual. Who's protesting? The homosexuals. And let's see what this holy roller is threatening all these people, that the afterlife won't be kind to them, when Jesus comes back on Earth, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Oversensitive much?
We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?
News flash, this is the true takeaway. Phil Robertson loves gays, every one of them. He doesn't judge them as unworthy of heaven, leaving that up to God. He wants them to be happy and be saved. This is unacceptable conduct in today's America.

That sad reality is a travesty.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sometimes great work requires great tools

Sometimes great work does not require great tools. But other times it does. Here's where I'm somewhat departing from Seth Godin. He's right to say that creativity can produce even in the absence of tools. What is produced, however, is to some extent dictated by tools.

If what you are doing requires machine production tolerances down to 0.5mm and society hasn't invented that yet, that particular project simply is not going to get done. This doesn't stop you from doing great work that doesn't require the use of tools that haven't been invented yet, nor does it necessarily stop you from inventing the tools. But until the prerequisite technology is invented, by you or someone else, no project that requires them is going forward.

Tool capability level channels your creativity into projects that can be accomplished by what is available. This is why I often get very excited about tools. It is not the tool itself that provokes my enthusiasm so much as the vistas of creativity that become possible.

Govt. in Los Angeles County

The county of Los Angeles has a number of governments in it and nobody is really sure how many. It might be 324 governments. That's the number of governments in the 2012 federal Census of Governments count. It might be 754. That's the number of entries on file at the Los Angeles County Clerk. It might even be 996 which is the number of entries that are on at least one of those lists. Then again it could be 203 which is the number of entries that are on both lists.

The state list is especially dirty with a number of related entities like school districts and housing authorities entered but without the expected municipality. When all is said, done, and double checked with the real world, there may be over a thousand entries in the most expansive version of the list of governments. As the very nice lady at the county clerks office said, nobody checks these things.

If you are on the left or on the right this has to be somewhat disappointing and perhaps even disturbing. How can the people exercise democratic oversight if we don't even know the names of the governments we are supposed to be overseeing? At what point of managerial mismanagement is it time to admit that we are running a pretend republic?

Polygamy, What is it Good For

Note: This is a reprint of a 2005 article on my previous blog. With the recent ruling on polygamy coming out of Utah, it's just as necessary and much more timely than it was in 1993 or 2005.

I've long worried about the problem of marriage, that the reasons for it being what it is have long been untaught, unexamined by society. This made any defense of marriage hollow because we really hadn't worked out why the thing was useful to start with.

There was one exception I encountered pretty early on in my own life, a long ago (1993, I now know) magazine article in an issue devoted to the subject whose cover was "How Polygamy is Good for High-Status Men and Low-Status Women". For an influential conservative magazine, that was awfully provocative and it did its job. I've remembered that title line for over a decade.

I finally got around to finding the darned thing.

By special arrangement with National Review, I've gotten permission to reprint that article. Without further ado, here is "Monogamy and its discontents; challenge to western sexual values" by William Tucker.
Why sexual morality, apart from religious edict? As both the highest and lowest strata of our society demonstrate, a culture abandons monogamy only at its peril. "It is remarkable that, little as men are able to exist in isolation, they should nevertheless feel as a heavy burden the sacrifices that civilization expects of them in order to make a communal life possible." --Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion AMERICA IS in a period of cultural crisis. For as long as we have been a civilization, monogamy, heterosexuality, legitimacy, and the virtues of marital fidelity have been givens of nature. The major religions have sanctioned them, as do four thousand years of Western history. Out-of-wedlock births, homosexuality, and other forms of sexual "deviance" have always existed, but have never laid claim to the mainstream.
All this is now coming under challenge. Part of it may simply be cultural exhaustion--the foolish confidence that the major battles of civilization have been fought and won and that it is now time for a little self-indulgence. Or it may be that the taste for the exotic and forbidden, usually confined to a small minority, has at last become available to the average person.
All this must be tolerated. In a free country, you can't stop people from doing what they want, especially when they have the money and leisure to do it. The situation is complicated, however, by the existence of a vast American "underclass" that does not generally share in the affluence, but is daily exposed to the sirens of self-indulgence. While the abandonment of cultural norms may have an exotic quality for the affluent, it is a palpable threat to the upward aspirations of the poor.
On the matter of single motherhood and illegitimacy, members of the underclass--particularly those of African-American origin have proved peculiarly susceptible. Single motherhood has virtually become the norm in African-American society. (Over 65 per cent of black children are now born out of wedlock.) The failure to adhere to monogamy and two-parent child-rearing now forms the single greatest obstacle to the advancement of America's underclass.
Yet to speak in favor of monogamy, sexual modesty, fidelity, restraint, and two-parent families in the current cultural climate is to find oneself subject to the charge of being a bigot, a religious nut, or just hopelessly out of touch. The common assumption, particularly among the intelligentsia, is that all the traditional arguments for monogamy and two-parent families are religious and that everything that could be said in their favor was spoken centuries ago.

Monogamy Misunderstood

I CANNOT AGREE. For as much as monogamy has been sanctioned by Western culture, I do not believe that its function as the center of our civilization has ever been completely understood. There is in everyone a vague awareness that monogamy produces a peaceful social contract that is the framework for cultural harmony and economic advancement. Yet this subconscious recognition has rarely been explored at any great length. There is never any real articulation that monogamy is an ancient compromise whose breakdown only lets loose antagonisms that society has long suppressed. Monogamy, after all, is only one possible outcome of the age-old sexual dance. There are others, whose characteristics may not be quite so appealing.

Yet like all hard-won compromises, monogamy does not produce a perfect outcome for every individual. When examined closely, it proves to be the source of many private dissatisfactions, which form a nagging undercurrent of discontent in any monogamous culture. Ordinarily, these disaffections remain a form of "deviance," generally suppressed and disapproved by the vast majority, although virtually impossible to eradicate. Only when the core ideals of the culture come under attack--when people begin to celebrate these discontents and embrace them within themselves--only then does the underlying architecture of the social contract come into stark relief.

The question that we face today is how much free rein we can give the discontents of monogamy before we risk overturning the central character of our culture. Society, of course, is not without its defenses. The longstanding, almost universal dislike and disapproval of child-bearing out of wedlock, of sexual infidelity, of easy divorce, of public prostitution and pornography, and of widespread, blatant homosexuality--these are not just irrational intolerances. They are the ancient, forgotten logic that holds together a monogamous society. As long as these attitudes remain unexamined, however, they can play little part in the current debate and will be easily dismissed as mere prejudices.

What we need, then, is a defense of monogamy based on a rational understanding of its underlying principles. Here is an attempted beginning.

The Arithmetic of Reproduction

LET US START with some basic arithmetic. In any reproducing population, the laws of chance dictate that there will be about the same number of males and females. There are thus three ways in which the population can arrange itself for mating purposes: 1) polyandry, in which one female collects several males as mates; 2) polygyny (often called, less precisely, polygamy) , in which one male collects several females; and 3) monogamy, in which each female and each male mate with only one other individual.
Of the three possibilities, the first--polyandry--is the rarest in nature. An understanding of the basics of reproduction tells us why.
In nearly all species, the female role in reproduction is the "limiting factor." This has to do with the differences between eggs and sperm. Sperm are small and motile, while eggs are large and relatively immobile. The egg generally comes wrapped in a package of nutrients that will feed the fertilized ovum until "birth." Because eggs are more complex--and therefore harder to manufacture--a female generates far fewer eggs than a male generates sperm. (Among mammals, a single male ejaculation often contains more sperm cells than a female will produce eggs in her lifetime.) Since there are always more sperm than eggs--and since it takes one of each to produce an offspring--eggs are the limiting factor to reproduction.
As a result, females have generally gone on to play a larger role in nurturing offspring as well. The principle that determines this responsibility has been identified by biologists as the "last chance to abandon." Here is how it works.
When fertilization of the egg takes place, one partner is usually left with the egg in his or her possession -- often attached to or within his or her body.
Most often, this is the female. This leaves the male free to go and seek other mating opportunities. The female, on the other hand, has two basic options: 1) she can abandon the egg and try to mate again (but this will only leave her in the same dilemma); or 2) she can stay with the egg and try to nurture it to maturity. The latter is a better reproductive strategy. As a result, females become "mothers," caring for the fertilized eggs, and often the newborn offspring as well.
The few exceptions prove the rule. Among seahorses, the fertilized egg is nurtured in a kangaroo-like pouch on the male's stomach. This makes the male the limiting factor to reproduction. As a result, the sex roles are reversed. Male seahorses become "mothers," nurturing their offspring to maturity, while females abandon their "impregnated" sexual partners and look for new mating opportunities.
The logic of reproduction has produced another universal characteristic in nature, called "female coyness." Males can spread their sperm far and wide, impregnating as many females as possible, while females may get only one mating opportunity per season. Therefore, females must choose wisely. In almost every species, males are the sexual aggressors, while females hold back, trying to select the best mate. Often the male is made to perform some display of strength or beauty, or go through some ritual expression of responsibility (nest-building) before the female agrees to mate with him. With seahorses, once again, the roles are reversed. Males are coy and reluctant, while females are the sexual aggressors.
It is for these reasons that polyandry--one female forming a mating bond with several males--is uncommon and unfavorable. Even though a single female might consort with several males, she can only be impregnated by one or two of them. Thus, most males would be unsuccessful. Moreover, the attachment of several males to one female would mean that other females would be left with no mates. The outcome would be a very slow rate of reproduction. In addition, any male who broke the rules and left his mate for an unmated female would achieve reproductive success, making the whole system extremely unstable. For all these reasons, polyandry is very rare in nature.
Polygyny, on the other hand--the form of polygamy where one male mates with several females--is universally common. (Although " polygamy " can refer to either polyandry or polygyny, it is generally used interchangeably with polygyny.) Polygamy is probably the most "natural" way of mating. It is particularly predominant among mammals, where the fertilized embryo is retained within the female's body, reducing the male's post-conception nurturing to near-zero. Given the differences in size, strength, beauty, or social skills among males, it is inevitable that--in an unregulated sexual marketplace-successful males will collect multiple mating partners while unsuccessful males will be left with none. A successful male lion collects a pride of seven to ton female lions, mating with each of them as they come into heat. A male deer mates with about six to eight female deer. A silverback male gorilla collects a harem of five or six female gorillas. Biologists have even determined that the sexual dimorphism in a species--the size difference between males and females--is directly correlated to the size of the harem: i.e., the bigger the male is in relation to females, the more females he will control. On this scale, we are "slightly polygamous," with male humans outweighing females enough to collect about one and a half mates apiece.

Polygamy's Winners and Losers

POLYGAMY CREATES a clear social order, with distinct winners and losers. Let us look at how this works. A dominant male wins because he can reproduce with as many females as he can reasonably control. Thus, he can "spread his genes" far and wide, producing many more progeny than he would be able to do under a different sexual regime.
But low-status females are winners, too. This is because: 1) Even the lowest-status females get to mate; there are no "old maids" in a polygamous society. 2) Nearly all females get access to high-status males. Since there are no artificial limits on the number of mates a male can collect, all females can attach themselves to a few relatively desirable males.
The effect upon high-status females is approximately neutral, but the clear losers are low-status males, the "bachelor herd" that is shut out of the mating equation. In some species, like elephants, the bachelor herd forms a dispirited gaggle living relatively meaningless lives on the edge of society. In others, like various monkeys, the subdominants form all-male gangs that combine their efforts to steal females from successful males. In a highly social species, such as baboons, the bachelor herd has been incorporated into the troop. Subdominant males form a "centurion guard" that protects the dominant male and his harem from predators. Among themselves, meanwhile, they engage in endless status struggles, trying to move up the social ladder toward their own mating possibilities.
Altogether, then, polygamy is a very natural and successful reproductive system. Since all females mate, the reproductive capacity of the population is maximized. There is also a strong selective drive toward desirable characteristics. As the operators of stud farms have long known, allowing only the swiftest and strongest males to breed produces the most desirable population.
Yet despite the clear reproductive advantages of polygamy, some species have abandoned it in favor of the more complex and artificially limiting system of monogamy. Why? The answer seems to be that monogamy is better adapted to the task of rearing offspring. This is particularly true where living conditions are harsh or where the offspring go through a long period of early dependency. The task is better handled by two parents than one. Quite literally, a species adopts monogamy "for the sake of the children."
Among animals, the most prominent example is birds. Because the fertilized egg is laid outside the female's body, a long period of nesting is required. This ties the male to the task of nurturing. Most bird species are monogamous through each mating season, and many mate for life.
Once mammalian development moved the gestating egg back inside the female's body, however, the need for "nesting' disappeared. With only a few exceptions (beavers, gibbons, orangutans), mammals are polygamous.
Yet as human beings evolved from our proto-chimp ancestors, the record is fairly clear that we reinvented monogamy. Present-day hunter-gatherers--who parallel the earliest human societies--are largely monogamous. Only with the invention of horticulture did many societies around the world revert to polygamy. Then, when animals were harnessed to the plow and urban civilizations were born, human societies again became almost exclusively monogamous. This wandering pattern of development has been the cause of much confusion. When monogamous Western European civilizations discovered the primitive polygamies of Africa and the South Seas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they assumed that the earliest human civilizations had been polygamous and had later evolved into the "higher" pattern of monogamy. It was only with the discovery of monogamous hunter-gatherers that the mystery was finally resolved. Rather than being an earlier form, polygamy is actually a later development in which many cultures have apparently become sidetracked. Both the earliest and the most advanced (economically successful) human civilizations are generally monogamous.
What has made monogamy so successful a format for human cooperation? First and foremost, monogamy creates a social contract that reduces the sexual competition among males. The underlying assumption of monogamy is that every male gets a reasonable chance to mate. As a result, the do-or-die quality of sexual competition among males abates. When one male can collect many females, mating takes on a deadly intensity. With monogamy, however, a more democratic outcome is assured. The bachelor herd disappears.
Second, because monogamy assures the possibility of reproduction to every member of the group, a social contract is born. One need only consider the sultan's harem--where male guards must be eunuchized--to realize that a society that practices polygamy has an inherently non-democratic character. No offer can be extended to marginal or outcast members that entices them to be part of the group. Under monogamy, however, society can function as a cohesive whole.
This is why, under monogamy, other forms of cooperation become possible. Males and females may pair off, but they also maintain other familial and social relationships. Both males and females can form task-oriented groups (in primitive societies, the line between "men's" and "women's work" is always carefully drawn). As society becomes more complex, men and women frequently exchange roles and, although there is always a certain amount of sexual tension, males and females can work together in non-mating settings.
Other social primates have never reached the same level of complexity. Gibbons and orangutans are monogamous--but almost too much so: mated pairs are strongly attached to each other, but live in social isolation, rarely interacting with other members of the species. Gorilla bands generally ignore each other--except when males raid each other's harems. Baboon troops are more organized and task oriented, often encompassing as many as fifty to a hundred individuals. But behavior is rigidly hierarchical. Females are kept at the center of the troop, under close supervision of the alpha male and his associates. Subdominant males guard the periphery. Only the alpha and an occasional close ally mate with females as they come into heat.
Perhaps the most interesting attempt at creating a more complex society is among our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. Chimps practice a polymorphous polygamy, where every female takes care to mate with every male. Sex takes place in public and is relatively noncompetitive. When a female comes into estrus, her bottom turns bright pink, advertising her receptivity. Males queue up according to status, but every male, no matter how low on the social ladder, is allowed to copulate.
This creates its own social harmony. For males, it reduces sexual rivalry. Within the "brotherhood" of the tribe, there is little overt sexual competition (although it persists in other subtle ways). As a result, male chimps cooperate in establishing territories to exclude other males and occasionally hunt smaller animals such as monkeys.
The system also creates an advantage for females. Within a polygamous social group, one of the greatest hazards to child-rearing is male jealousy. The male owner of a female harem constantly guards against the possibility that he is wasting energy protecting the offspring of other males. When a new male lion displaces the former owner of a pride, he immediately kills off all the young in order to set the females to work reproducing his own offspring. The heads of polygamous monkey clans do the same thing.
But with chimpanzees, things are different. By taking care to mate with every male, a female assures each male member of the troop that he might be the father of her offspring. By "confusing paternity," females create a safe harbor for themselves, within which they are able to raise their offspring in relative tranquillity.
These techniques of unrestricted sexuality and indeterminate paternity have been tried from time to time in small human societies, notably among small religious and political sects. However, they have generally been a failure. The difficulty is that we have eaten too much of the tree of knowledge. We are too good at calculating which progeny are our own and which are not. (Child abuse and infanticide are most common when a man doubts his paternity.)
Rather than living in collective doubt, we have developed complex personalities that allow us to maintain private sexual relationships while sustaining a multilayered network of relatives, friends, acquaintances, associates, co-workers, and strangers with whom our interactions are mainly non-sexual. The result is the human society in which we all live.

The Price of Monogamy

HUMAN MONOGAMY thus holds out distinct advantages. Yet these advantages--as always-are bought at a price. Let us look at where the gains and forfeitures occur.
The winners under polygamy, you will recall, are high-status males and low-status females. Under monogamy, these parties lose their advantages, while compensating advantages are gained by high-status females and low-status males. High-status females no longer have to share their mates with low-status females, a particular advantage where long periods of child-rearing are involved. Low-status males, instead of being consigned to the bachelor herd, get a reasonable chance to a mate.
Perhaps we should pause here a moment to define what we mean by "high" and "low" status. High status usually has to do with desirable characteristics-- beauty, strength, swiftness, bright feathers, or intelligence-whatever is admired by the species. In agencies where males fight for control of females (elk, lions, kangaroos), size and strength are usually the deciding factor. In species where females exercise some choice, physical beauty tends to play a greater role. As Darwin first noted, the bright plumage of the male bird is solely the result of generations of female selection.
In almost every species, youth is considered a desirable quality. In females, it implies a long, healthy life in which to raise offspring. In males, youth and vigor also suggest a wide variety of resources for child-rearing. Among the more social species, however, age, intelligence, and experience can play an important role. The alpha baboon is usually quite mature and sustains his access to females not through sheer strength or aggressiveness, but through the skillful formation of political alliances.
Under monogamy, another crucial characteristic is added--the willingness of the male to be a good provider. Yet this creates a dilemma for females. Unfortunately, the two favored characteristics--physical attractiveness and willingness to be a good provider--do not always come together. In fact, they often seem mutually exclusive. The peacock, the most beautiful of male birds, is notoriously a philanderer and a poor provider. With polygamy, females can ignore this problem and attach themselves to the most attractive males. With monogamy, however, females find themselves caught on the horns of the dilemma. Juggling these competing demands becomes a vexing responsibility--one that, at bottom, most females would ultimately like to escape.
Alternatives have always been available--at least covertly. In the 1950s, a research scientist began a routine experiment concerning natal blood type, trying to figure out which characteristics were dominant. To his astonishment, he found that 11 per cent of the babies born in American hospitals had blood types belonging to neither the mother nor the father--meaning the biological father was not the male listed on the birth certificate. The researcher was so dismayed by these findings that he suppressed them for over twenty years. Even at a time when monogamy was an unquestioned norm, at least 10 per cent of American women were resolving the female dilemma by tricking one man into providing for the child of another.

The Sources of Discontent

WITH ALL this in mind, then, let us look at where we should expect to find the major points of dissatisfaction with monogamy. First and foremost, monogamy limits the mating urges of high-status males. Everywhere in nature, males have an underlying urge to mate with as many females as possible. Studies among barnyard animals have shown that a male that has exhausted himself mating with one female will experience an immediate resurgence of sexual desire when a new female is introduced into his pen. (This is dubbed the "Coolidge effect," after Calvin Coolidge, who once observed it while making a presidential tour of a barnyard.)
"Hogamous, higamous, men are polygamous. Higamous, hogamous, women monogamous," wrote Ogden Nash, and the experience in all societies has been that the male urge to be polygamous is the weakest link in the monogamous chain. This has become particularly true in America's mobile culture, where status-seeking males are often tempted to change wives as they move up the social ladder. "Serial monogamy" is. the name we have given it, but a better term might be "rotating polygamy. " A serious op-ed article in the New York Times a few years ago proposed that polygamy be legalized so that men could be compelled to support their earlier wives even as they move on to younger and more attractive women.
Marital infidelity, the lathering of illegitimate children, the pursuit of younger women, the "bimbo" and "trophy wife" syndromes--all are essential breaches of the monogamous social contract. When a Donald Trump deserts his wife and children for a woman almost twenty years his junior, he is obviously "wrecking a home" and violating monogamy's implicit understanding that children should be supported until maturity. But he is doing something else as well. By mating with a much younger, second woman, he is also limiting the mating possibilities of younger men. One swallow does not make a summer, but repeated over and over, this pattern produces real demographic consequences. In societies that practice polygamy, competition over available females is always more intense.
The problems with male infidelity, then, are fairly clear. What is not always so obvious is that women's commitment to monogamy is also somewhat circumscribed. The difficulties are two fold: 1) the general dissatisfaction of all women in being forced to choose between attractive males and good providers; and 2) the particular dissatisfaction among low-status women at being confined to the pool of low-status men.
In truth, low-status people of both sexes-or perhaps more significantly, people who are chronically dissatisfied with their status form a continuing challenge to any monogamous society. Unless there is an overwhelming cultural consensus that marriage and the joint raising of children forms the highest human happiness (which some people think it does), low-status males and females are likely to feel cheated by the relatively narrow pool of mates available to them. Their resentments and underlying desire to disrupt the rules of the game form a constant undercurrent of discontent in any monogamous society.
For males, one obvious way of by-passing the rules is rape. Although feminists, in their never-ending effort to repeal biology, have insisted that rape reflects some amorphous "hatred against women," the more obvious interpretation is that it is a triumph of raw sexual desire over the more complex rules of social conduct. Rape overwhelmingly involves low-status men seeking sex with women who are otherwise inaccessible to them. (Rape is even more of a problem in polygamous societies, because of the more limited options for low-status males.) If "hatred" is involved, it is more likely to be general resentment of monogamy's restrictions, which inaccessible, high-status women may come to represent. But this is all secondary. The basic crime of rape is the violation of a woman's age-old biological right to choose her own sexual partners.
The other avenues for low-status males are prostitution and pornography. Each offers access to higher -- status females, albeit under rather artificial circumstances. Individual females may benefit from pornography and prostitution in that they are paid (however poorly) for their participation. There is always a laissez-faire argument for allowing both. But when they become public and widespread, pornography and prostitution become another nagging reminder of the dissatisfactions some people will always feel with monogamy. In other words, they disrupt "family values."
Female dissatisfaction with monogamy, on the other hand, is not always as obvious. Yet the restrictions put upon females--particularly low-status ones--will always be present and, in their own way, form their own undercurrent of discontent.
The principal female dissatisfaction is the dilemma of finding a mate who is both physically attractive and a good provider. As many and many a woman has discovered, it is much easier to get an attractive male into bed with you for the night than to keep him around in the morning.

The Murphy Brown Alternative

THERE IS, HOWEVER, a practical alternative. This is to return to the greater freedom of polygamy, where females can choose the most attractive males without regard to forming a permanent bond. This, of course, is the essence of "single motherhood."
The rise of single motherhood is basically the expression of female discontent with monogamy. Rising female economic success makes it more practical (social scientists have long noted that marriage becomes more unstable as females become more economically independent). This undoubtedly accounts for the rising rate of divorce and single motherhood among affluent Americans.
But the emergence of almost universal single motherhood among the black underclass undercuts the purely economic argument (except, of course, to the degree that female independence has been subsidized by the welfare system). Black women are not opting for single motherhood because of rising economic success. What the availability of welfare does, however, is enable them to dispense with the courtship rituals of monogamy and choose the most desirable man available to them, regardless of the man's willingness or ability to provide domestic support. It is this dynamic of liberated female sexual choice and not just the greater economic support offered by welfare that is driving black single motherhood today.
The essence of single motherhood, then, is status -- jumping. By dispensing with the need to make a single choice, a woman can mate with a man who is far more desirable than any she could hope to retain under the artificial restraints of monogamy. The same dynamic is even more obvious among single mothers of the middle and upper classes. When asked to justify their choice, these women refer with surprising regularity to the unavailability of movie stars or other idealized males. ("I know so many women who were waiting for that Alan Alda type to come along," one unwed mother recently told Newsweek. "And they were waiting and waiting.") Yet when these women get themselves impregnated by otherwise unattainable men-or artificially inseminate themselves with accomplished doctors and lawyers, talented musicians, or Nobel Prize-winning scientists -- what are they practicing but a contemporary form of high-tech polygamy?
The rebellion against monogamy, then, is being led by men dissatisfied because they cannot have more women and women dissatisfied with the choice of available men. (As an aging divorcee, Murphy Brown, despite her attractiveness, had a very limited pool of mating possibilities.) Yet each of these rebellions is driven by the most powerful human sexual dynamic--the desire of every living creature to produce offspring with the most desirable possible mating partners. Monogamy limits those desires.

The Homosexual Alternative

WHERE DOES homosexuality fit in all this? At its core, homosexuality is driven by a different dynamic. In every society, there is a small nucleus of men and women who feel uncomfortable with their sexual roles. For whatever reasons; biological, psychological, or a combination--they find it difficult or impossible to play the reproductive role dictated by their bodies and to mate with the opposite sex. This does not necessarily constitute a challenge to monogamy. Homosexuals and people with homosexual tendencies have often played important social roles. Priests, prophets, witch-doctors, artists, entertainers, cultural leaders--all have often been overtly or covertly homosexual or tinged with an undercurrent of ambiguous sexuality. All this forms no great social problem so long as homosexuality remains largely covert and marginal. The difficulty comes when it breaks out of the underground and becomes a mainstream alternative, particularly to the point of recruitment among the young. (Socrates, remember, was condemned to death for luring the youth of Athens into homosexuality.)
Once again, simple arithmetic begins to assert itself. When male homosexuality becomes widespread, it creates a dearth of eligible young men. This is particularly visible in urban environments. The growing population of male homosexuals in New York and other cities during the 1980s created the widely reported "man shortage" for young women. In the end, this large homosexual population seems to have induced an equally large lesbian population.
Are all these individuals really biologically determined to homosexuality? It seems doubtful. Rather, what seems to be happening is that homosexuality is becoming an acceptable form of protest for both men and women who do not like the choices offered to them by monogamy.
Once again, the problem is most pronounced with low-status people. For example, although there are undoubtedly some very attractive lesbian women, even a casual survey of the population reveals a very high incidence of members whose mating opportunities are obviously limited under monogamy. Moreover, the men who are available to them are themselves likely to be bitter and resentful over their choice of mates--in other words they "hate women." One need only read the melancholy chronicle of Andrea Dworkin's experiences with a string of sadistic, self-loathing men to realize why this woman has become one of the nation's leading exponents of lesbianism. The professed ideology of both these groups is that they "hate" the other sex. Yet it would be much more correct to say that they hate the members of the opposite sex to which monogamy has confined them.
(I sometimes think the high point of America's commitment to monogamy came around 1955, the year that Paddy Chayevsky's low-budget Marty was a surprise box-office success and winner of the Academy Award. The story told of two plain people who, after numerous personal rejections, discover each other at a Saturday -- night dance hall. The message of the movie, as articulated so often during that era, was that "For every girl there's a boy and for every boy there's a girl.")
Despite its disruptive nature, homosexuality as a rebellion has little permanent impact until older biological urges begin to assert themselves and homosexuals want to have children. For men, there are few options. Apart from a few highly publicized cases, there are few homosexual men raising families. But for women, once again, we are back to single motherhood. Numerous lesbian couples are now having children, and lesbians have organized the most sophisticated sperm banks. How these children will react ten or fifteen years down the road to the realization that they are the children of anonymous sperm donors is anybody's guess. But it seems likely they will have difficulty forming monogamous unions themselves and their resentments will only add to the sea of dissatisfactions.

Polygamy in Our Future?

TO SUM up, then, let us admit that no system of monogamy can ever bring complete happiness to everyone. Given the variability among individuals and given the universal desire to be paired with desirable mating partners, there will always be a sizable pool of dissatisfaction under monogamy. The real question is: How far can society allow this pool to grow before these private dissensions begin to rend the social fabric? In short, what can we expect society to look like if the monogamous ideal is abandoned?
It isn't necessary to look very far. Western and Oriental cultures form a monogamous axis that spans the northern hemisphere (Orientals are far more monogamous than Westerners are), but a large part of the remaining world practices polygamy.
Polygamy is tolerated by the Koran--although it should be recognized that, like the principle of "an eye for an eye," the Islamic law that allows a man four wives is a restriction from an earlier practice. The Koran requires that a man support all his wives equally, which generally confines the practice to wealthy males. In most Moslem countries, polygamous marriages are restricted to the upper classes and form no more than 4 to 5 per cent of all marriages.
In sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, polygamy is far closer to the norm. In parts of West Africa, more than 20 per cent of the marriages are polygamous. Marriage itself is rendered far more fragile by the practice of matrilinearity--tracing ancestry only through the mother's line. In West Africa, a man may sire many children (Chief M.K.O. Abiola, of Nigeria's Yoruba tribe, a self-made billionaire and chairman of ITT Nigeria, has 26 wives), but the paternal claim he can lay upon any of them. is far more tenuous than it would be in Oriental or Western societies. In West Africa, women can take their children and leave a marriage at any time, making the institution extremely unstable. In these tribal societies, Christianity and Islam which teach marital fidelity and permanent unions--are generally regarded as progressive social movements.
What qualities do we find in societies that tolerate polygamy? First, the shortage of women usually leads to the institution of the "bride price," where a young man must pay a sizable sum of money to the bride's family in order to obtain a wife. (The "dowry," in which a sum is attached to an eligible daughter to make her more attractive, is purely a product of monogamy.) This makes wives difficult to obtain for men who come from less well-to-do families.
The numerical imbalance between eligible males and females also forces older men to court younger women. Girls in their teens are often betrothed to men ten and fifteen years their senior. In some South Seas societies, infant females are betrothed to grown men. These strained couplings make marriage itself a distant and unrewarding relationship, far different from the "peer marriages" of Western and Oriental cultures.
Finally, polygamy tends to produce a high level of male violence. Because low-status males are not assured any reasonable chance of mating by the social contract, they are essentially impossible to incorporate into the larger work of society. Instead, they form themselves into violent gangs or become the foot soldiers of extremist political groups. In Pakistan, the recent news has been that the country is being overrun by these violent gangs, which have become the competing "parties" in the country's turbulent political system. The head of one of these factions was recently accused of raping dozens of airline stewardesses.
Yet even where polygamy is openly sanctioned, childrearing is always built around the formation of husband-and-wife households--even if these households may contain several wives. Only among the American underclass has polygamy degenerated into a purely polymorphous variety, where courtship is forgone and family formation has become a virtually forgotten ritual.
In a recent issue of The Public Interest, Elijah Anderson, professor of social science at the University of Pennsylvania, described an on-going acquaintance with a 21-year-old black youth whom he called "John Turner." Anderson described the social milieu of Turner's neighborhood as follows:
In Philadelphia, . . the young men of many individual streets organize informally bounded areas into territories. They then guard the territories, defending them against the intrusions and whims of outsiders ...
Local male groups claim responsibility over the women in the area, especially if they are young. These women are seen as their possessions, at times to be argued over and even fought over. When a young man from outside the neighborhood attempts to "go with" or date a young woman from the neighborhood, he must usually answer to the boys' group, negotiating for their permission first...
At twenty-one years of age, John was the father of four children out of wedlock. He had two sons who were born a few months apart by different women, one daughter by the mother of one of the sons, and another son by a third woman.
This mating pattern is not uncommon in nature. It has recently been observed in dolphins and of course bears a strong resemblance to the structure of some primate tribes. Yet what works for these species is no longer plausible for human beings. Once again, we have eaten from the tree of knowledge. We have too much intimate knowledge of the details of sexual connection and paternity to be satisfied with this vague collectivism.
Thus "John Turner" explains how his efforts to put some order into his life by creating a bond between two of his sons resulted in his being jailed for assault: Well, see, this girl, the girl who's the mother of my one son, Teddy. See, I drove my girlfriend's car by her house with my other son with me. I parked the car down the street from her house and everything. So I took John, Jr., up to the house to see his brother, and we talk for awhile. But when I get ready to leave, she and her girlfriend followed me to the car. I got in the car and put John in. Then she threw a brick through the window.
The unavoidable consequence of polymorphous polygamy among humans is a tangle of competing jealousies and conflicting loyalties that make ordinary life all but impossible. The central institution at the axis of human society--the nuclear family--no longer exists.
Unfortunately, while such a mating system virtually guarantees child abuse (usually involving a "boyfriend"), internal turmoil, and rampant violence, it is also extremely reproductive. While their social life has degenerated into extreme chaos, the American underclass are nonetheless reproducing faster than any other population in the world. This follows a well-known biological principle that when populations come under stress, they attempt to save themselves by reproducing faster, with sexual maturity usually accelerated to a younger age.
The culture of polygamy is also self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating. If men feel there is nothing more to fatherhood than "making babies," then women will feel free to seek the most attractive men, without making any effort to bind them to the tasks of child-rearing. As a cultural pair, the footloose male and the single mother, if not held back by the force of social convention, can easily become the predominant type. The result is a free-for-all in which human society as we know it may become very difficult, if not impossible.

Back to 'Family Values'

THIS, THEN, is the essence of "family values." Family values are basically the belief that monogamy is the most peaceful and progressive way of organizing a human society. Dislike and distaste for anything that challenges the monogamous contract easy divorce, widespread pornography, legalized prostitution, out-of-wedlock child bearing, blatant homosexuality-are not just narrow or prudish concerns. They come from an intelligent recognition that the monogamous contract is a fragile institution that can easily unravel if dissaffections become too widespread.
What is likely to happen if we abandon these values? People will go on reproducing, you can be sure of that. But families won't be formed ("litters" might be a more appropriate term). And the human beings that are produced in these litters will not be quite the same either. If marriage is a compromise between men and women, then the breakdown of monogamy can only let loose the natural egocentrisms of both.
It is probably not too alarmist to note that societies that have been unable to establish monogamy have also been unable to create working democracies or widely distributed wealth. No society that domesticates too few men can have a stable social order. People who are incapable of monogamy are probably incapable of many other things as well.
As a basically limiting human compact, monogamous marriage is bound to produce its peculiar difficulties. As with any compromise, each individual can argue based on present or previous deprivation, real or imagined-that he or she should not be bound by the rules.
Yet it should also be clear that, beyond the personal dissatisfactions we all may feel, each of us also retains a permanent, private stake in sustaining a system that creates a peaceful social order and offers to everyone a reasonable chance of achieving personal happiness. If monogamy makes complex demands on human beings, it also offers unique and complex rewards.

© 1993, by National Review Inc., 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10016.
Reprinted by permission

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

21st century government - the end game

Sometimes it's just easier to start with the end game. When governance finally catches up to the technological/information revolutions unfolding around it, what will it look like?

The operations of government will be known (at least the non-classified ones, which is the vast bulk of money spent and world impact). They will be measurable and measured, and responsibility will be clearly fixed and verified. These performance indicators will be available online for any automated system to pick up in real time and individual citizens will have their own dashboards of the key performance indicators (KPI) that they personally think matter. Some will hand assemble them. Others will just pick the public KPIs of people that they trust. Most will combine both techniques.

Elections will still sometimes devolve into popularity contests but recalls will become more common as incompetence can no longer be hidden so well.

None of this is science fiction. None of this even requires very innovative technical solutions. It's all plain vanilla technology that's been in production use for decades in the private sector.

It's an attractive future, purged of a lot of the inefficiencies and foolishness that happens at present. We can do this. Faster please.

Going to war for John Boehnor

Discussion over at ChicagoBoyz went pretty dark in my cross post Obamacare, the Scrooging. The Spanish Civil War came up and an episode of history that struck me, the assassination of José Calvo Sotelo. He was the leader of the opposition and the day after a bitter confrontation in the Spanish parliament, was taken away by a left wing death squad and assassinated. It was a horrifying moment and apparently significantly influenced the start of the Spanish Civil War, pushing things forward much faster. The argument was that speaking of violence prior to such an event is counterproductive and afterwards, speaking is countersurvival. After all, you might be next.

If the country were changed to the US, and the leader of the opposition were assassinated, what would happen here upon the murder of John Boehnor? It seems unthinkable.

Would there be a different response if it were Ted Cruz or Rand Paul that fell to an assassin's bullet?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Less examined marketplaces

Business to business interactions or B2B is when businesses sell to businesses. It's a pretty common term as is Business to Consumer (B2C). Less common is G2B and G2C for Government to Business and Citizen/Consumer respectively. Sharing the terms tends to lead to sharing the same sort of paradigm thinking about the interaction. But these aren't the only combinations that are possible. Other possibilities are C2B, C2C, C2B, B2GG2G and C2G. I started thinking about these less discussed terms when I read about a G2G experience that went horribly wrong and we ended up admitting Iraqi IED builders as refugees into the US because the fingerprint database proving they had waged war against us wasn't hooked up to the DHS systems for checking for excludable aliens.

So why do we find B2B and B2C very useful but not necessarily the other possibilities? Is it that those sorts of interactions don't happen? Hardly. C2B is also called the labor market and is huge. C2C is sometimes better known by its most famous participants, eBay and Craigslist. B2G is the traditional government contracting space.

Changing the label tends to change how you think about the interaction. Imagine if C2B interactions were thought of more like B2C. It's an interesting alternative view.

How Socialized Healthcare Systems Actually Fail

Three reports on appalling conditions in the UK's NHS should have everybody thinking second thoughts about socialized medicine. For supporters is the stark reality of how bad care can get in a 1st world country if it is socialized. For opponents the lesson is less obvious, more subtle. It is a political danger. 

Socialized systems do not fail right away. They rot out from the inside over a long period of time. It took a good long time for NHS to achieve its current state of decrepitude. A US collapse will take a good long time too, perhaps 60 years. 

But the collapse started when Medicaid and Medicare shifted incentives in medicine in the mid 1960s. We're at year 50 in the countdown but our half private/half socialized system will not fail in the same manner. The NHS got as bad as it is today with 60 years history of controlling far more of medicine in the UK than Medicare and Medicaid control in the US. 

Certain parts of the system may break very quickly. Others may take decades to be ground down to the poor care levels outlined in those three damning reports. The truly worrying bit is we don't know which bits are on their last legs, waiting for Obamacare to plow them under and which bits will survive, for now. We won't know until systems start to fail. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

comment box revolutionaries

Over at ChicagoBoyz, where I cross post, the commentariat is talking revolution. It's nonsense, of course because we are nowhere near ready. I can tell because the people are heavily armed and we aren't undergoing a spate of assassinations of our political class. This sort of talk is a warning sign, but still a pretty early one on the road to Civil War II.

But we're far enough along on the path that I worry. I worry about someone from either side doing something stupid and being too few degrees separated from the nonsense. I worry about the small but not zero chance that things change in a hurry.

We have deep wells of civic bonds but they are straining and if they ever snap, it will be worse than the Yugoslav wars.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Obamacare Scrooged

People signing up for Obamacare are being robbed by the government. This time it's not metaphorically, like when your perfectly satisfactory insurance plan is made illegal and all the compliant plans are more expensive and have worse terms but literally. People are having their accounts debited improperly during the Christmas season. And because it is being done by the government, there is little recourse to sue due to sovereign immunity and, of course, those most injured haven't the money to hire representation anyway. I think Pope Francis calls it 'despoliation of the poor'.

Double debits, wrong day debits, wrong amount debits, these are all standard hazards with any sort of Electronic Funds Transfer (ETF) system. There's nothing particularly new about these issues. It's all part of the back end errors that those dastardly Republicans have been hyperventilating about and Democrats have been pooh poohing for weeks now.

You never know when Tuttle will turn into Buttle in one of these systems. But what's in a name?

Merry Christmas Cross posted: Chicagoboyz

Uninsured Against Obamacare

Uninsured americans don't like Obamacare. Those who are uninsured and think that the law is a good idea has dropped 11 points to 24% while half think it will have a negative impact. By any reasonable metric, whether the law is a good idea, will it help or hurt the healthcare system, or whether it is of personal benefit to them, survey respondents are turning away from this law. 

Since this reform was supposed to be all about solving the problem of the uninsured, this is a damning indictment and one more layer in (as they say over at Instapundit) "the Obamacare onion of fail."

White Castle doesn't have this much in onions. 

Mike Rowe impresses me more and more

I am more and more impressed by Mike Rowe. I agree with him that there's something wrong with our tastemakers' vision of what a good job is and the consequences for todays students are large and negative.

HT: Reason Magazine

Friday, December 13, 2013

parsing technorati - part I

Task: Download all technorati politics blogs listings, import them into FM pro and parse each blog

First, figure out how many pages actually hold blogs. Not all pages in the listing will have actual blogs. In the politics set, There are 697 pages listed but the last blog is on page 691.

In terminal, create a folder and download the file using wget

wget http://www.technorati.com/blogs/directory/politics/page-{1..691}

Filemaker won't import a folder without the files having certain endings, a little bash work and that's done

for i in *; do mv "$i" "$i.txt"; done

Now off to filemaker. I create a new database and import a folder, choosing text files as the file type and tell it to create a new table. The text content of each file is loaded into the new database along with the name of the file and the location of the import. Once that's done, all that's left is to parse out the individual blogs.

But that's a tale for part II

Technorati approval delay

Technorati has historically had a wide range of final approval times. I started the approval process on this blog on the third of December. At the end of 2013, it is apparently taking 10 days to get through final approval. That's not awesome but it is tolerable. Good job reviewers.

Living Wage

Traditionally, the living wage argument starts and ends with the employer, will he, or won't he, pay enough for a person to live a dignified life on that wage? This strikes me as a bit strange because the chain of events leading up to that point matters tremendously. If the market clearing rate is above the living wage rate, the employer will tend to do so almost all of the time. He hurts his own self interest if he does not.

So who sets the market clearing rate on a particular job? It's a combination of the both supply of demand just like every other free market transaction. So why is the only moral agent on the demand side? Why does there never seem to be discussion on what happens on the supply side.

Mike Rowe, the protagonist of Dirty Jobs has noticed that a lot of these jobs pay very well and are actually in shortage. Salaries are good and there are a lot of open positions that go unfilled. He's actually created a foundation to promote these dirty jobs and a culture that values them because right now the problem of the living wage is exacerbated by a social stigma to getting your hands dirty and learning a trade. This social stigma not only causes those unfilled positions but also has follow on effects. The welding company that is short 10 welders can't take on certain work that goes elsewhere, often outside the country and jobs that do not require those specialized skills exit right along with that work.

So the guidance counselors that steer kids away from the trades, the school boards that killed off vocational training, the chattering class that devalues blue collar work, all of that is part of the living wage discussion but nobody is raising these issues so far as I can tell.

It leaves me with one great puzzle. Why?

Advancing by a sense of obligation

Seth Godin puts out an interesting take on mentoring. In his view of it, most advances due to mentoring happen because the person being mentored appreciates the time and effort the mentor puts in and stops blocking himself from going ahead. The self-sabotage that we all do to ourselves is checked because you are not only letting yourself down, but your mentor as well. This has the ring of truth to it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Testing 'Share This'

Marginal Revolution has a neat article on central planning for parking and I thought I'd just pop it out in google plus which is where I hang out most of the time. I clicked on 'share this' thinking I'd find google plus but no joy. Instead I find a link for Blogger so I'm testing if it will go to the right blog.

Update: It worked right the first time. Next time though I think I'll put it on save as draft so I can get the labels right from the beginning.

Update II: Google plus was in there after all, but I like pushing it out through blogger (which does google plus itself) better.

Update III: Interesting, it seems like direct publishing doesn't trip the push to Google plus.

California abomination

Normally California allows you to fall behind 5 years on your property taxes before they will foreclose. California also has a type of special district called a lighting and landscape district that, well, pays for local lighting and landscaping. Each district sets up a formula for how much you benefit and that's the fee you pay. If you get behind on your payments and they've issued bonds in the district, they are allowed and obligated to start foreclosure in as little as 3 months.

Don't pay for police? You've got 5 years to make it good. Don't pay for the public space lawn service and look out. The landscape police will have you out of your house in no time. I'm sure that California communities with these things have impeccable lawn care.

Could bitcoin immunize the dollar against inflation?

Bitcoin currency fluctuation is rapid, large, and pretty much continual. This doesn't disqualify the currency for use, but it does incent people to be on their guard for opportunities and threats on the inflation/deflation front. This is very unlikely to change and without some sort of dominant swing provider of liquidity and sink of value, (akin to what the Saudis do for the oil market) we're unlikely to see the currency ever stabilize.

Now is this a good thing or a bad thing? I think it is ultimately going to be a good thing.

Most people, seeing this, will not dump all their value into bitcoin. They will put in single digit or fractional parts of 1% of their net worth as speculative investment. The roller coaster of BTC valuation is too quick and violent for anything else and the combination of global availability without limit and permanent, severe limits on supply make this a persistent condition.

The difference in outlook between when you are dealing with 10 or 11 currencies is very small. The difference in dealing with 1 or 2 currencies is much larger. There's an interesting, and useful state change that occurs, especially if one of those currencies is always fluctuating. You become much less likely to be complacent about currency valuation changes. Tools for dealing with your fast fluctuating currency will naturally migrate and expand their watch over your more stable, main currency. This reduces the possibility for central bankers to induce useful (to them) inflation where the value of the currency is leached away in an invisible tax that does not provoke generalized behavior changes in the population.

The tools are not yet there but are foreseeably going to be part of our 21st century wallets.

Uruguay improved drug policy, stupidly done

Uruguay legalizes marijuana. This is a smart thing to do, especially as now there is a growing body of evidence that marijuana is miscategorized as to its medical uses in the international drug control regime. But Uruguay does it by breaking its treaty obligations instead of withdrawing from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which it would have been permitted to do under Article 46.

Article 46

1. After the expiry of two years from the date of the coming into force of this Convention (article 41, paragraph 1) any Party may, on its own behalf or on behalf of a territory for which it has international responsibility, and which has withdrawn its consent given in accordance with article 42, denounce this Convention by an instrument in writing deposited with the Secretary-General. 

2. The denunciation, if received by the Secretary-General on or before the first day of July in any year, shall take effect on the first day of January in the succeeding year, and, if received after the first day of July, shall take effect as if it had been received on or before the first day of July in the succeeding year. 

3. This Convention shall be terminated if, as a result of denunciations made in accordance with paragraph 1, the conditions for its coming into force as laid down in article 41, paragraph 1, cease to exist.
Any drug reform laws inconsistent with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs really needs to go through the treaty withdrawal process. Uruguay's method of drug reform is going to land it in unnecessary trouble.

Writing block, political disgust

Politics has just hit me so bad lately that the stupid is burning. It's burning so badly that I'm horribly discouraged in my writing at this point. My writing may be getting even more eclectic for a bit. Output is probably going up as I transcribe comments more.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My son, financial innovator

My son announced that his money lending business did very well today. Apparently there was a surprise bake sale and he was the only one with money. He said he'd have made out like a bandit but he was running a Christmas special, loans for a penny. Regular rates are loans for a dime. I've never seen a business model quite like it, flat amount interest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nick of time

Incredibly tired, almost blew my streak, but promised one per day, and here I am @ 11:55 pm. I must be mad.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Democrats as weak horse

Every time a Democrat says that Obamacare was originally a Republican idea, they're admitting that the Democratic party is weak. The Democrats are too weak to pass their own ideas even when they hold both houses of Congress and the Presidency and the GOP can't even filibuster. The Democrats are too weak to take a stand for what they say they believe in.

If these talking points are true there is no point to having Democrats at all. So why vote for them? Why contribute to them? Why work for them at all?

The core legacy of President Obama is originally a Republican idea? Really?

Daughter time

It's a rarity. I didn't skip past the youtube commercial in front of the minion version of 'what the fox says'. In this case it was a 90 second commercial for droid. The commercial was the better watch.

My nine year old also thought so and I'm sharing it with the world even if she doesn't like it.

LTC Robert Bateman ignores the law

It is alarming when a serving military man publicly ignores the law. It is doubly so when he is not only a Lieutenant Colonel but also a professor who has taught at the military academy at West Point. LTC Robert Bateman's recent Esquire blog misstates the law and misunderstands the role guns play in US society.

LTC Bateman asserts "As of 1903, the "militia" has been known as the National Guard" and links to an analysis of the act. The reality is quite different if you actually read the first paragraph of the act.
That the militia shall consist of every able-bodied male citizen of the respective States, Territories, and the District of Columbia, and every able-bodied male of foreign birth who has declared his intention to become a citizen, who is more than eighteen and less than forty-five years of age, and shall be divided into two classes—the organized militia, to be known as the National Guard of the State, Territory, or District of Columbia, or by such other designations as may be given them by the laws of the respective States or Territories, and the remainder to be known as the Reserve Militia.
In other words, the heart of his argument that the militia is not the whole of the people rests at the very beginning on a lie. In the case of an ignorant youth, this might be excused but not a high ranking military professional who has had the responsibility of teaching our future military leaders. It is inexcusable. Given further legislative developments since 1903 regarding discrimination based on sex, I doubt that even this definition of militia is supportable at present because it is too narrow but even this outdated definition is an ocean compared to the teacup that LTC Bateman wants to leave for 2nd amendment rights.

Since it's established that LTC Bateman doesn't necessarily respect the truth, it's important to check on the rest of his assertions. One of them is that "Weapons are there for the "well regulated militia." Their use, therefore, must be in defense of the nation." The police are not in the national guard, does their use of arms defend the nation? Are they a well regulated militia? Is he calling for the disarmament of the police? Perhaps he does, perhaps he doesn't. By the terms of his argument, they shouldn't be armed but perhaps he did not want to completely embarrass himself. The alternative is that he is arguing that the police are a militia. This militarization of the police is an entirely different kind of problem, no less disconnected from the american tradition or problematic for our liberties but different than the question of their armament.

LTC Bateman repeatedly says in this article "hunting is valid". Then again he also says that weapons "must be in defense of the nation". So why is hunting valid? I'm guessing because it polls well enough that gun controllers would earn permanent minority status if they were to be perceived as anti-hunting and he personally knows a few hunters who he'd like to continue to see socially.

Another assertion is that "No 7-11 in history has ever been held up with" a black powder musket. That might be true though black powder firearms robbery is not exactly unheard of, though rare.

A little investigation yields the possibility that the whole thing is part of a joke of a presidential run which includes such gems as the forced deportation of gun owners (unclear whether they can come back afterwards) and bringing back the draft. So one viable theory might be that he's just kidding here.

I'm inclined to a different one, that we should feel sorry for LTC Bateman and his recent stroke that has apparently affected his mental capacity. Our ire should be saved for Esquire magazine and its editorial staff that has encouraged this man to nationally embarrass himself. cross posted: Chicago Boyz

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pricing sneezes

Seth Godin has a concept of sneezers that I first encountered in his Unleashing the Ideavirus. Sneezers pass on ideaviruses to those around them and come in two types, powerful and frequent. The two types are inversely related. Frequent sneezers are always going on about one or another idea so much that they become background noise, losing their power. They lose their power even more when they sell their sneezing. Powerful sneezers only sneeze ideaviruses they actually endorse and they do not do so lightly. The value of their endorsement is high but it is very hard to get unless you have a compelling ideavirus that they actually like. Their endorsements have power because they are genuine.

CoinURL is a bitcoin service that monetizes your content by inserting interstitial links between your recommendation of a link and the content you're sending people to. You get paid for every time somebody clicks on one of your text links and a coinurl ad gets shown. The pay rate is their guess of how much an anonymous sneezer they don't know should be recompensed for converting his sneezes from powerful to frequent.

Whether I ever use their service or not (and the CoinURL link above is a referral link, perhaps the only one of their links I'll ever use), I can look at their prices and indirectly intuit information about the price of influence and that makes CoinURL interesting.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

BTC lost 40% of its value, and I feel fine

It must be a nasty time to be a speculator in bitcoin. with BTC down in the $600 range it's lost a huge chunk of its value the past few days. But for microtransaction players like me, it's meant that the advertisers are coming out of the woodwork and offering slightly better terms. I'm at a bit over 4% of my private goal to earn 1BTC just through microtransactions. No currency speculation, no gambling, just looking at ads and any other small tasks that might come my way. For me, this loss is a partial return to trend. We're still somewhat higher than BTC should be and I anticipate further drops before the whole cycle starts over again with another spectacular runup in value followed by another partial pull back.

More Flit-TM marketing

Technorati still is awaiting final review but I thought that while I was waiting, I'd start another blog directory listing, ontoplist.com. This one requires either payment for listing or including their badge on your front page. Tightwad that I am, the badge can be found below the archive listing on the right. Supposedly it's a 72 hour turnaround but I wouldn't be surprised if that doesn't include weekends. We'll see.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Volunteer fire departments to be forced to provide health insurance?

Healthcare reform could endanger fire protection budgets across the USA. Volunteer firefighters are categorized as employees by the IRS but not employees by other sections of the Federal government. This makes their impact under Obamacare a gray area. A number of fire departments would be pushed into the position of being forced to offer insurance if the volunteers are employees because they would have over 50 employees. Over 1800 fire departments have 50 or more volunteers and would qualify just based on the volunteers they have with hundreds more likely having their employee counts go over 50 due to the addition of volunteers.

The temptation would be strong to cut volunteers or otherwise manipulate head counts in an effort to remove public service organizations who have no way to afford health insurance for people who generally already have insurance from their businesses and employment elsewhere.

Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass the bill to find out what was in it. It seems we're still finding out new consequences. Now fire chiefs all across the country are nervously awaiting a legal ruling from the IRS on whether they are going to have a huge hole blown in their fire protection budgets.

HT: Pajamas Media