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Sunday, May 31, 2009


Waiting is a large part of life in modern society where we are taught to defer pleasure and "save" for the future. Retirement 401 K's, stocks, college education, all incapsule our hopes for deferred pleasure. We no longer live for the day or in the moment. Waiting for the economic collapse to change our lives hopefully for the better but in many ways for the worse is an entirely new type of waiting. We have already discussed one way we can shape perhaps what will be a more egalitarian society through education. The relentless changes continue, as I was reminded of this by a letter to Mike Shedlock on his blog.

I have felt for some time since the economic crisis first showed its depth that we're in for massive social changes probably leading to a full scale socialized economy or alternatively crisis and social chaos. I felt also that we had little choice - - the present social and economic relationships are deconstructing themselves apace - - but that there is a lot to like in the potential for new social relationships and that it was not too late to shape our future in a positive way. One of the reasons I see massive change as inevitable is that a crisis this deep was and can not be simply economic, a question of manipulating savings or changing some other economic behavior, but has deep cultural and moral roots. Obviously our thinking will only slowly catch up to this reality with time but for those visitors here who still have doubts and think we can return to the old ways of doing business I'd like them to read this letter taken from Mike Shedlock's site

- Though Mike is a conservative/libertarian he too will per force catch up to the social implications in terms of the more cooperative relations that society will need to get through the crisis, though it may take a little longer for someone so committed to the individualist creed as Mish:

Dear Mish,

I’m a longtime reader and always enjoy your take on things. Your article on the failed auction of the mansion in Florida points out a change I think we are facing: huge, overly ostentatious homes are dinosaurs. I am a builder, not working for the past two years because I don’t like to work and lose money, but I was recently tempted by a “bargain” property here in the Portland area.

The bargain property is a ten thousand square feet home on 1.4 acre lot in the most prestigious gated community around. It is appraised at $3.5 million, has a $2.7 million mortgage, is bank owned by a mortgage company in bankruptcy, and the price has kept dropping until it is now at $900,000.

The home has been empty for two years with no heat or water, the beautiful yard is now out of control, the wood windows are all dry rotted from neglect, and as much as I would love to take on a project like that (I truly do love the challenges of building) I can’t see ending up with a 10,000 square foot home with a tax bill of $41,000 and huge utility bills. Who will ever want to live in a home like this again? I considered offering $600,000, but decided to walk away, not wanting to own it at any price.

The times they are a changing.


As always


Tuesday, May 26, 2009


In regard to educational achievement, the use of the word minority by some in describing underachieving youth is unfortunate and misleading. By definition a minority is from a different ethnic group than the majority of the population. Uses of terms like different ethnic groups and race are equally unhelpful in explaining educational achievement and in the latter case simply false as there are no human races that can be identified genetically.
On the other hand in looking at educational achievement numerous studies have shown a correlation between academic achievement and the socio-economic condition of the family. A well to do immigrant family's child will usually do as well or better than a white counterpart from a similar class. Spain is a nation of hispanics but generally shows high levels of educational achievement. Obviously "hispanic" is not the problem or the virtue here, since this same group is said to do less well in the U.S. Within Spain, however, you will find differences based on socio-economic class. Similarly, within China and Japan, while these nations generally have high educational achievement, not all children do well simply as a result of being Asian and one will find the poor achievers highly clustered among the economically disadvantaged. To think rural Chinese will do as well in school as urban simply by dint of being Chinese is simply foolish and belied by the data.
Race is further not a construct which is correct when speaking of immigrants or ethnic groups like African Americans who have been present here for a long time. Genetic studies show no correlation between genes for color and those for other aspects of the human being including intelligence. Hence a very black person may have completely caucasian features as the Ethiopians do generally. Human coloring itself is a continuum as you will notice if you have the chance to go to Egypt. My own Italian American group was often said, in a time fortunately long gone by, to have "olive" skin, usually by those wishing to associate us more with the African continent lying to the south of Italy than with other Europeans closer to their kinship group. I will spare you some of the derogatory epithets of the epoque but fortunately or not we have been co-opted into the European group now, necessity making strange bedfellows for those who would still like to consider us an under class.
Genes other than color are also found to be dispersed throughout populations with varying frequency. The African population is said to have the widest dispersion of gene types, consistent with the theory that the human species has evolved out of Africa and hence populations there are the oldest and have had the longest time to evolve. Consequently geneticists find among the African population the greatest number of very intelligent people as well as unintelligent ones as compared with whites and Asian who have less time to evolve. These latter populations, presumably coming out of Africa and evolving later than the source group, have genetic dispersion closer to the mean for their respective groups and fewer outliers in terms of extreme intelligence or lack thereof.
So if school achievement is not explained by ethnicity and even less so by race which doesn't really exist within homo sapiens which is a single species with as many different colorings as bird feathers, what does explain it. Countless studies have shown that the economic well being of the family is highly correlated with school achievement. The drunken toughs of the English working class being as difficult to educate ast he immigrant "pakis" as Pakistani immigrants are derisively called there, not because of any genetic factor but because working class families simply have less time to read to their kids, help them with their homework or introduce them to the riches of the greater culture, few of which they had an opportunity to learn themselves. As the white working class moves up in socio-economic status as the immigrants take the lower paying jobs, they have more time and motivation to try and assimilate themselves to the middle class values of education and culture. This is what happened to my group Italian Americans and we did not become more intelligent as we moved up, in fact some may have even become less intelligent as they forgot where they had come from and what truly gave them the opportunity they now had. But this is a slight digression.
All these educational differences are not inevitable, however. Unless and until we have a more equal society there will always be disadvantged kids. Much can be done to assure though that they have equal or at least improved educational opportunity. Numerous studies illustrate the benefit of head-start, teacher training and other specially designed programs. The first step , however, is quite simple, recognizing that disadvantaged is not inferior. The may actually have values and skills that they bring to the table that you will need someday.
The nice thing about SOCIALISM is that we work with the talents that people have for their and society's benefit, instead of competing against one another in a vicious game of survival of the fittest, which obliges us to define somebody as less deserving than ourselves, if we don't want to fall to the bottom in his place.
Have a nice week.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

But What About The Game?!?!

So macromolecules bumped around for a few eons forming various interesting combinations. One day it made RNA. This RNA did something kind of funky. Sort of broke in half and based upon the various break points, perfect complementary molecules filled in to make it whole again. It kept happening over and over again.

Eventually one of these things made a cell for itself. This was handy. Couple of cells got together. Again, handy. Tissues, creatures, ecosystems... you get the drift. Handy little tricks got copied.

So we have agents pursuing self-interest. If combining with another self-interested agent is beneficial, then "laissez les bon temps roulez".

But, in what may seem to be a non-sequiter though it really isn't, what if the Production Manager gets paid an incentive based on number of widgets produced and the Quality Control Manager gets an incentive based on percentage of widgets without defects? Going to be some friction...

Squirrel is backing it goes up the tree. We'll have to keep working on the parameters of the game.

A Round Of Applause For Carbon

So after a nap the squirrel considers the monkey's game. If the players were chemical elements, the squirrel decides that it would absolutely bet on Carbon. Without a doubt.

Most other elements are so hard to get along with. Sure, everyone wants a perfect octet outer shell (don't start with me on H/He), but you don't have to be a rat bastard about it. Rat bastardism only makes you a salt. SALTS! Salts will never evolve, will they? Take chloride, so desperate for that last electron it will steal. Sodium so vain, it will actually throw away an electron so at least it will look good as a smaller sphere. Willing to be out of balance with their protons for that precious octet.....shameful. And those smug noble gases! Those arrogant things will never go on to anything big either.

Carbon though, there's a pragmatic fellow if there ever was one. He's never going to reach that octet without seriously cooperating. Oxygen, Sulfur, Phosphorus, and Nitrogen may not be the easiest guys in the world to deal with, but Carbon can usually sooth them into a workable party. Any Hydrogen has a reputation for being an acidic personality, but Carbon loves having the guy around.

Some may say Carbon is manipulative, sinister even, with all it Machiavellian dealings. Its just using the others so it can form long chains of itself..... Huge molecules!

The squirrel won't hear of any complaints about Carbon, though. Arguably, as an organic creature it is biased.

Is the squirrel rabid or is there method to the madness?

Iterations, boundaries, chaos, order, complexity....... who can blame the squirrel for darting straight back up the tree?

But maybe from the safety of its tree limb it would be willing to watch some monkeys play a game below.

There is a square playing field and each monkey has a bag of large, identical game pieces; no two monkey's pieces are shaped exactly the same though. In fact, some are very close, some are nothing alike, and most fall somewhere in the middle. A whistle blows and each walks up to another monkey, takes one of its pieces out, and sees if they fit together. If they do fit, they place the interlocked piece on the ground. If they do not fit, they put their pieces back in their bags. Once all the monkeys have interacted with every other monkey, they walk off the field.

The field is littered with one layer of interlocked pieces now. Some monkey's pieces didn't get used at all; their pieces just didn't work with any other pieces. They don't get to play in the next round.

The whistle blows again and the eligible monkeys head back on to the field. The monkeys meet up again, interlock two new pieces, and place the new interlocked piece on the previous interlocked piece they made. Sometimes the 2nd interlocked piece rolls off the 1st one so a "second story" isn't created. Once all the monkeys have interacted with every other monkey, they walk off the field.

The field is now littered with mostly single level interlocks, but a few double level interlocks are out there. Lets say three are left. One of the monkey's pieces fit in two of the double-level interlock structures. One of the monkey's pieces is unusually flat compared to the other monkey's pieces.

The squirrel wonders what will happen in round three. It presumes the monkey(s) who can make the tallest structures win. It nibbles nervously; perhaps its a gambling squirrel and wants to bet some acorns with some less bright squirrels. Which monkey's piece is best adapted for building tall things? One interacts with more than one piece, but the other seems particularily adapted to this purpose. And is the squirrel even sure height is the purpose or is it just coincidentally correlated to the actual purpose?

The squirrel then wonders how tall the structures could get if the monkey played a series of 20 rounds. Its tail bristles and it darts up to a higher limb.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The internet is so freaking cool

So there is a very respectable blog called Sudden Debt. The host (affectionately nicknamed Hell) is very wise on the ways of the economy. Surely he expected the comment section to become a salon of intellectual economists discussing his witty and profound posts. But it often becomes a saloon of cowboy/cowgirl non-economists throwing bottles at each other and generally shooting up the place with quirky off-topic links. The first name I came up with was aptly "Take It Outside", but that was taken. The second name was the very cool "Patterns In The Noise", but that was taken as well. "Street Rat Crazy" comes from a Jack In The Box commercial that I saw recently.

This blog is in no way meant to replace Sudden Debt. Really, it is a campus pub for the students to come to after an invigorating class. Sure, they're quite bright when speaking to the professor after class. But they need someplace to go when they're only half-bright ;)

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits