22 December 2006
The ascendancy of the illiberal arts
Liberal education, by reputation, is learning for its own
sake. For this discussion I shall take "illiberal" to be
the opposite of liberal. Illiberal education is a means to
an end. Perhaps the distinction can be better expressed by
contrasting "education" with "training" than "liberal" with
"illiberal." I have chosen the latter approach based on
several considerations. My concern about the ascendancy of
illiberal training coincides with my fear and loathing of
the loss of liberal values. Also, some of the pedagogical
ideas I have come to see as illiberal clearly have self-
identified constituencies. These have injected themselves
into public policy debate on education, as such, and
consistently refer to their projects as educational; less
often as training.
So, in the wonderful world of education, what's hot, and
what's not? Are the liberal arts dead? I believe liberal
arts education will endure, but will retreat to its earlier
role in society as an intellectual plaything of the leisure
class. One force driving this retreat is the trend in
college financial aid policy toward fewer grants and more
loans. To borrow, for any purpose, is to place a bet on
one's future earning power. Education paid for with
borrowed money is necessarily a means to economic ends.
Another economic trend eroding the standing of liberal arts
is the de-professionalization of scholars. This de-
professionalization is being accomplished on numerous
fronts simultaneously. A shrinking percentage of faculty
are tenured, and a shrinking percentage of graduate
students are supported, which is to say, have fellowships.
Wayne State University recently ran a radio ad campaign for
a liberal arts master's degree program with professional
adults as its stated intended applicant pool. The new
intellectual ethic is; get established first, use resulting
discretionary income, if you wish, to lead the proverbial
examined life. An analogous trend is perhaps visible in
the promotion of retirement strategies by the major
brokerage firms. Today's generation of retirees, they
suggest, is obliterating retirement as we know it by
managing the wealth generated during professional-level
careers for investment in careers with perhaps altruistic
implications, involving such activities as teaching and
mentoring. The new social ethic is that every human
activity requires economic success as a justification.
What does the new illiberal education look like? Liberal
education has always stood alongside vocational education,
but I fear vocational education, like liberal education,
belongs to a more innocent age. The traditional home of
post-secondary vocational education is the trade school.
The trade school is alive and well, and seems to be
enlarging its market share in the education industry. The
trade school segment is certainly marketing its wares
aggressively. Consider the now-famous Universal Technical
Institute, a center of automotive learning. I just sat
through their infomercial, which places heavy emphasis on
their industry relationships. It seems some of the
institute's students will qualify to enter training
programs specific to the dealer networks of Toyota, Ford
and BMW. There is also a program geared specifically to
careers in the NASCAR(tm) racing circuit. I found this all
very intriguing. I wonder: If I were to be accepted into
their prestigious NASCAR(tm) program, would I be violating
some non-disclosure or non-competition agreement by
pursuing a technician career in Indy Racing League?
Hopefully I will find answers to at least some of my
questions about this institute at their website, uti.tv.
Another trade school that has been saturating the local
airwaves is called ComputerTraining.com. Their decibel-
enhanced radio spot encourages us to take their online
entrance exam, which is an opportunity to demonstrate that
you have "solid computer skills," this being a pre-
requisite for their Windows XP training program. Next time
I get online I will also visit their website. Hopefully I
won't have to agree to too many things in order to check
out their test and find out what they mean by solid
Trade education has never been learning for its own sake,
but is it still vocational in nature? A vocation is a
calling. Does a calling have a brand name? Trades have
always had trade secrets, but they used to have trade
unions, too. Paid apprenticeships are giving way to paid-
for (usually with borrowed money) training programs.
30 September 2006
The other risk shift
Much has been said of the many profound effects of the shift on the employment and finance markets,
and most of that has been soundly ignored by the coalition of parties with effective control
over access to mass audiences in general. What has not been said enough is that there seem to
be signs that the shift has spread to the consumption goods sector.
'Risk shift,' is an apparent phenomenon allegedly documented in a book titled Risk Shift: ?
by ?. Author and subtitle information lost to the old seive, unfortunately. If I were asked
to come up with a catchy subtitle with a stated goal of driving $ales of the book by cranking
up the irresistability quotient (IQ) of the book from the POV of a selected target market.
The selected target market, of course, is resentful post-boomers.
One full title I like is Risk Shift: Premium Inflation as Moral Weapon.
This title would be symbolic of the following sentiments:
* A tribute to Mosca's theory that Democracy implies not just
universal sufferage, but also a universal right to keep and bear
* A tribute to Burnham's theory that Mosca's doctrine that (democracy implies universal
moral sufferage) implies that democracy is of a formal rather than Machiavellian nature.
* A suggestion that price inflation can be used as a de-facto moral weapon, in apparent
violation of the theory of superstrong efficiency, which states that the Invisible Hand
possesses 'strength beyond challenge.'
* A book title shouldn't be obscene, unless parties promoting the book feel morally
entitled to indulging themselves with a deployment of public obscenity as a moral weapon,
which is why I would decide to resist the temptation to dub the book
Risk Shift: No Shit, Sherlock which is a flagrant claim that the objective reality
of the so-called Risk-Shift is, in moral terms, an elephant in the room.
Other attention-grabber titles might be worth running by the marketing dept.'s
in-house brain trust:
* Risk Shift: Involuntary Austerity or Market Correction?
Questions whether the humility/humiliation being dished out due to
the risk shift is deserved or not.
* Risk Shift: Bilateral Asymmetry or Persecution Complex?
Questions whether symmetrist normsets are reasonable, and explores
the theoretical possibility of de facto persecution, while questioning
whether there can be an upper bound on asymmetry.
Risk Shift: Science or Technology?
Science implies no blame, and no possible solution.
Technology implies possibility of blame without
also implying impossibility of solution.
Probing for possible existence and/or uniqueness of solutions
to the alleged risk shift problem.
What might bilateral asymmetry be like?
Bilateral asymmetry as objective fact means two supporting
facts can be objectively verified:
1. transfer of risk (beta?) from institutional consumers to individual producers
2. transfer of risk from institutional producers to individual consumers
I have not read Risk Shift:?.
I have, however, checked out certain details about the book online,
such as reviews, previews, sneak peeks, etc. online. This seems
to confirm what I suspected--that the author's thesis amounts to
saying "No Shit Sherlock" in the middle of a public policy debate.
A slightly less abrasive thesis:
Yes Virginia, the Golden Age of Bennies was a Mirage
The question of bilaterality is a proposed test of the
hypothesis that the customer is always right against the
hypothesis that the individual is always wrong.
The suggestion that there might be a lesson to be learned
from the study of risk shifts, in general.
If bilaterality can be confirmed, one may speculate as to
whether pretending to be a customer
(perhaps by loitering at places of retail business while sufficiently attired to imply non-vagrancy?)
has any strategic value
to an individual, and how that value might compare with that
of pretending to be an institution. (incorporating oneself? refusing to pay retail?)
Is market risk (defined as non-diversifiable risk) cyclical or structural
in its lower bound variations?
Quality-of-life as vector-valued-quantity.
My own personal bias concerning the question of
quality of life is that it can't be objectively
(e)valuated, let alone quantified. Nevertheless,
I decided to write the present screed, which is to
say a screed titled Quality-of-life as vector-valued-quantity.
My inner purpose in doing this is not in this case
devil's advocacy, although I might decide to weave some
of that in at some point. No, my purpose for the moment
is simply to provide an at least vestigially developed
framework for a model of subjective utility that doesn't
rest on an assumption (how about assertion?) that
quality-of-life is not only measurable, it's scalar.
In formal terms, I'm playing devil's advocate by impersonating
someone who thinks there may some practical merit in
modeling QOL-estimation as (literally) a 'numbers game,'
except the 'numbers' I want to crunch are actually
vectors (or maybe matrices or even something as eldrich and
unholy as tensors). On the other hand, my present character
is also militant opponent of the scalar modeling of utility
(let alone quality of life). A detailed, if not organized,
account of how I came to be interested in this subject,
as well as my mostly naïve (and probably intellectually redundant)
efforts at a mathematical framework, have been collected and
collated as 'pubwan scratchpad.'
I decided to try to posit a mathematical model for a basically
Walrasian utility function that happens to be vector-valued.
It also happens to be 'high dimensional,' if you get my drift.
At several points in the process, I have felt inclined to
simply give up. My reasons for being so tempted are thus:
* It has occurred to me that, in a world in which
there's no such thing as a free lunch, trying to force
bilateral transparency out of the market mechanism
makes no more sense than trying to invent a perpetual
* It has occurred to me that, in a world in which
the discipline called 'history of technology' is 1%
historiography and 99% disinformation theory, the
chance that I've hit on something new is slim,
and the chance of objectively verifying whether I've hit on
something new is slim to none.
* Given the intellectual-property-gold-rush nature
of the current gilded age, a probable outcome of
verifying anything, or even making a studied effort
at it, is the inevitable cease-and-desist-order,
or worse, the darkly Straussian 'technology export
In spite of these disincentives (or perhaps
out of spite for them) I persist in trying to
make a coherent case for the notion of vector-valued
utility. Part of what keeps me from giving up is
wishful thinking. I want to believe that money
isn't everything. For now, my strategy of choice
is to attempt to demonstrate that
the apparent law of economics that says money
is everything is flawed, due to the a priori
assumption that utility is a scalar quantity.
The trouble with risk management models
The purpose of the present blog entry is to
beg the question of whether the concept of
risk management has any ethical business
existing. In a subsequent entry I hope
either to have concluded that it does, or
alternatively, to play Devil's Advocate,
using the putative legitimacy of
as a justification for setting up certain
other metaphorical (or perhaps institutional) straw men
and proceeding to knock them down instead.
First, let's seek a working definition
of 'risk management.' First, I hope readers
(if any) will understand that at this
particular moment I'm at home, not at the library,
so I'm working more from memory than from
reference books, let alone jacking in.
'Risk' (in the 'management' sense) appears
to my untrained readings in finance to be
simply a fancy way of saying 'uncertainty.'
'Risk management' seems to be a catch-all term
for a number of mysterious arts. The purpose
of this attempt at an essay is to explore
the question of whether the divers arts of
risk management include any 'dark' arts.
Here are some apparent schools of risk
management I have heard rumors about:
is built around the assumption that
someone who has 'insured' against
all 'downside risks' has achieved,
if not a 'risk free' life,
a 'risk free' portfolio.
rejects upsidism, holding that
some risks are 'non-diversifiable,'
somehow implying that 'risk' has a greatest
lower bound. Efficientism seeks
to use certain tools of applied
mathematics (called 'hulls')
to systematically hunt
down this lower bound
(or 'frontier' as they call it)
as if it were
an asymptote. This activity is
referred to as the pursuit of
intolerance of moral hazard,
as might be guessed, is where the
student of risk management finds
that Hobbesianism rears its ugly head.
Essentially, the inherently corrupt
nature of human nature is the only
real barrier to the effortless superefficiency
(as defined above) inherent in simply
'letting do,' specifically letting the so-called
'invisible hand' do whatever it wants,
and (importantly) always on its terms.
Does a fox possess urban houdou?
The question is not intended as a Zen koan.
It refers to an ethical dilemma in which I presently find myself.
Josie and I are trying to decide whether to work with or against
the will of a fox who wishes to squat in our backyard.
We're suburbanites, so perhaps the question is whether a fox
possesses suburban houdou, which is the right to enter a suburban
community legally. It seems the fox is not requesting protection,
since this morning we witnessed not only the presence of a fox
in our backyard, but the fact that the fox was in the middle of
a systematic marking of our property as its territory. This seems
to imply a claim of settlement, which is to say we may be liable
for sheltering a dangerous predatory wild animal. An attorney advised
me that I shouldn't worry about civil or criminal liability, and
that my legal options include calling (City of Warren) Animal Control,
calling (State of Michigan) Department of Natural Resources,
the Michigan Humane Society or nobody. Apparently inaction implies no
blame on my part, which seems odd in a climate in which 1-800-DOG-BITE
has become an ad blitz for lawyers on the civil complaint side of
the ideological fence. Combine this with Bush's assertions about the moral
implications of providing safe havens for terrorists, and one
can only wonder whether the lawyer's intent was to provide me
with assurance or a workable CYA strategy. In moral terms, I
don't think of the fox as a terrorist. I consider him or her to
be a de facto apex predator. I say de facto because I can't imagine
any wild animal that ranks above foxes on the food chain entering
our neighborhood. I assert that a predator is not a terrorist.
I am aware that cats are capable of terroristic predation,
which is to say toying with mice. I don't know whether foxes toy
with their prey, but I don't see how any wild animal can be morally
equated with a human terrorist, so I feel obliged to at least attempt
to accommodate the fox. Since MHS is on the legally sanctioned(?)
list of options, I figure MACS (Michigan Anti-Cruelty Society)
may also be able to offer expert assistance, perhaps of a
zoological rather than legal nature.
I wish to establish within the animal kingdom a schedule
of houdou suitable for deciding what wild animals are to be
allowed settlement rights in urban environments. I wish to
propose granting suburban houdou, on a probationary basis,
for foxes, or at least for the reddish-looking specimen
and its kin (species). Apparently foxes have always possessed urban and suburban houdou
in parts of England for centuries. This establishes precedent
(on British soil, which should in theory imply common law precedent at least within the Commonwealth)
of a long-standing social contract between foxes and humans.
Apparently the terms of the contract are that foxes enjoy more or less automatic urban houdou
in England. The catch (there's always a catch) is that foxes may, under certain
very special circumstances, be fair game for sportshumen, during certain specially
designated rural hunting expeditions. The catch in the social contract has
been challenged using every moral weapon the animal rights activists
in England (if not worldwide) have been able to muster in service
to the removal of the fair game clause. I am undecided on whether
an attempt to implement urban houdou in America should include
a fair game clause. Urban houdou for deer has been a hot issue
here in metro Detroit, along with controversies over fairly supervised
hunts of limited duration and gross harvest in specially designated areas
such as Metroparks™ and the like.
Another resource I am considering checking out is the Commonwealth Club.
This club has a branch office right in the neighborhood, so I consider
it a neighborhood resource. Perhaps in an city with an apparently sustainable population
of urban foxes, the presence of an Anglo-Saxon Community Center can help
deal with some of the public relations problems inherent in proposing
urban houdou for foxes.
I've decided to endorse Granholm
I'm not a newspaper editor or anything,
so I guess it's sort of imperious of me
to cast myself in the role of endorser,
but it's said by some that the blogosphere may
be as powerful a political force as
pre-Internet types of media,
so I guess I'm as qualified as anyone to endorse Jennifer Granholm
for re-election as governor of Michigan.
What clinched the present announcement
is Devin[sp?] Scillian[sp?]'s television
interview of Dick DeVos on today's
edition of Local 4's version of the
local/regional Sunday Schlock Talk Show genre of television.
While I generally find Republicans
more plain-spoken, frank and principled
in their rhetoric than I do their Democratic counterparts,
I saw DeVos' interview style as cagey,
passive aggressive and ideologically doctrinaire.
At the moment I happened to tune in,
they were talking about the financial and
labor/management crisis of the Detroit school district.
As I expected, DeVos said in so many words that
Detroit (meaning, I can only assume, Detroit's electorate)
simply must wake up and smell the coffee
and understand that it doesn't have the
sheer luxury of continuing its cherished
tradition of having public opinion that is pro-union.
He didn't, of course, state it in those words.
If he had, I'd be writing the opposite endorsement
right now, in spite of my unabashed pro-union
stance, because that's how starved I am
for refreshingly candid rhetoric in American
politricks. No, he simply rolled out the
already very shopworn clichés about
'changing our way of thinking,'
'being open to new ideas,' and other
BS. I'm proud of the education I received
in the Detroit Public Schools.
Their well-apprenticed faculty taught me how to write,
and they didn't force me to watch TV commercials.
The least I can do now is write on their behalf.
Then came the subject of insurance premiums.
The host did the state the disservice of framing
insurance cost spirals as a 'Detroit issue,'
which it is, of course, but insurance industry practices are also a
poor people's issue and a young people's issue,
due to the industry's insistence that it has
a legitimate interest in incorporating credit scoring into rate-setting.
DeVos' assessment of Detroit's insurance woes,
was shallow, uninformed and insulting.
He blamed Detroit's insurance woes on high crime rate
and (this remark, in itself, is what clinched
my departure from the 'undecided' camp, BTW)
also cited noncompliance (driving without insurance, the other DWI)
as a driver of high insurance rates.
A few years ago, it MIGHT have been, though I kinda doubt it.
Under the new law, though, anyone who gets busted
(more probable than not given 'information sharing') for
the new, sober type of DWI
will be soaked so royally by the insurance
industry, MAIPF and the state treasury that any complaint that such
persons are putting less than their fair share
into the 'system' is not only negated, it is
soundly reversed. DeVos' showed no inkling
of getting it about the fact that the 'motive'
for the 'crime' of driving without insurance
is virtually always the desire to keep oneself
in circulation, which is to say in the labor market,
which is to say HAVING A WORK ETHIC.
The answer to so-called Driver Responsibility
isn't still more draconian persecution of people
who adopt an automotive lifestyle even though
they can't begin to afford it, it's improvement of mass
transit in Michigan to a point where it's actually
Then came the 'are you part of the religious right' question.
This pat question, of course, met with the usual pat answers, like the fact
that the candidate's political views are informed by his
religious beliefs. Yawn. Devin could have asked an interesting
or meaningful question, such as whether DeVos is of the opinion
(like some of today's more doctrinaire religious rightists)
that 'freedom of conscience' applies to business principals
who feel, for some 'reason,' that they have an ethical
obligation not to hire people whose lifestyles they consider immoral.
Instead the interview signed off with some haha remarks
about how he doesn't know much anything about his wife's public affairs activities.
It should be no mystery that I have adopted an editorial
policy here at alimento of referring to people with careers in
main$tream media as prostitutes.
I must emphasize that my ringing endorsement of
Granholm over DeVos is definitely support of
Granholm as the LESSER OF TWO EVILS.
Granholm has disappointed me at almost every turn.
Like a typical DLC Democrat, she has allowed
the Republicans to steer the policy debate.
She didn't hesitate to chisel the budget deficit on the backs of the poor,
modeling the state's accounts receivable practices
after the more down-market and exploitative segments
of the financial sector.
She made a few weak objections to the Medicaid cuts,
but offered little in the way of assertive resistance.
Granholm's advertising strategy has a frighteningly
nativist and generally demagogic tone.
This is unacceptable, but DeVos' worldview
and policy agenda are so completely at cross purposes
to everything I've ever considered right and just, that I
must vote for Granholm, and must display Granholm
campaign paraphernalia(sp?) on my person and my car,
and must use my violently-procured
freedom-to-blog on her behalf. Good luck, Jen.
It's all in the framing of the issue
Issue: Election fraud
Election fraud is the act of interfering with the efforts of the system of election administration
to ensure accuracy of results. Republican policymakers, as usual, frame the issue as one of protecting trusted institutions
from untrustworthy individuals, constructing hypothetical scenarios and wielding them as cautionary tales about the dangers of
assuming that the magnitude of present threats and dangers is not sufficiently ominous to justify giving up irrevocably
on avoiding a National ID card or certificate of citizenship for domestic use.
Progressive activists frame the election fraud issue as one of protecting honest citizens
from institutional dishonesty, citing voluminous concrete examples of reasons for possible concern. Democratic politicians stand characteristically mute.
Question: Is it a problem?
Should election results reflect exact counts tabulated using exact rules or estimates based on scientifically and statistically
legitimate techniques of estimation? If we replace 'election' with 'census,' we could ask, rhetorically,
which is a more important goal for a census? An objective estimate of the de-facto human population of
a geographically defined region based on scientific observations, perhaps including satellite data?
Or a head count for the express and exclusive use in legislative apportionment,
performed to strict constructionist standards? Now, switching back to the subject of elections,
what is the ultimate goal of election administration? To get the right answer (as to who won) as close as possible to 100% of the time?
To make the election an actually-scientific poll, in which estimates of margin of error and margin of victory come with
statistically legitimate levels and intervals of confidence reported in a transparent way?
How should we 'frame' the issue?
Since the Democrats seem to be soft-pedaling the issue (perhaps out of fear of getting a reputation as conspiracy
theorists, or worse, poor sports) one can only assume the Republicans will win by default the opportunity to frame
the issue in a way that gives the institution of electoral democracy the benefit of the doubt, and the prospective applicant
the burden of proof of eligibility, both when attempting to register to vote and when attempting to exercise
Who is to blame?
Have any of the secretaries of state or other election officials failed to exercise due diligence?
Is the spirit of the voting rights act being violated? If so, in what way? Systematically?
Is remaining a voter in good standing an exercise in threading a paper trail though a series of
hoops erected around firm deadlines and tight windows of opportunity? America has allowed its
credit card industry to explore the theoretical frontiers of contractual strong irreversability. Why is the government (at multiple levels) trying to bulletproof America's social contract
against straightforward, simple and realistic conditions for compliance? Why does America's conservative movement feel
sanctity of the voting 'booth' is so threatened by unscrupulous individuals who would exploit it,
that it must deploy strongly proprietary and/or classified technologies of legislative construction,
human inventory tracking, biometric rights management and dedicated election automation hardware and software?
Is the motive to protect institutions in general from individuals in general? Or is it to protect law-abiding
citizens from those individuals who would steal or dilute their franchises?
What recourse might be available, to whom?
What recourse might an aggrieved voter or class of voters have against the election system?
What recourse might the system have against an individual?
What about organized conspiracies of individuals?
What about organized intergovernmental conspiracies of politicians,
perhaps through the nominally transparent process of drafting gotcha clauses and other
inferential land mines, this time coded in strongly non-race-based terms, formally speaking, into new election laws?
Who may request a re-count, and under what conditions?
Is the theoretically inevitable triumph of Machiavellism over formal democracy complete? Irreversible?
14 September 2006
Yet again, nationalism rears its ugly head.
The more NPG position papers I read, the more inclined I am
to assert that the 'N' in 'NPG' stands for nativism, or even
(gasp) nationalism. Let me try counting the ways:
1. The extent to, and consistency with, which minimization of US population is prioritized
above human population concerns.
2. The degree with which the papers are willing to go along with generally rightist assumptions about the
degree to which USians are likely to broaden their lifestyle palatability frontiers
for the sake of treading lightly.
3. The degree to which the NPG contributors are willing to assume that
America is always and forever destined to be an immigration magnet.
4. The degree to which the contributors are willing to go along with the
assumption that emigration from the US is an inherently self-interest-suboptimal
life strategy, and is destined forever to remain so.
This is redol-, er, reminiscent of the cornerstone doctrine of American nationalism:
I have only read a few of the essays, so there is always the possibility
that a paper from someone critiquing (better yet IMHO attacking) growthism from a globalist,
internationalist, liberal, left-libertarian or cosmopolitanist angle managed to weasel by
the editor but that particular chapter hasn't yet caught my attention.
I have access to the book for another week, so perhaps I shall find out.
Please be patient while I address my four objections to the Grantist (or nationalist?) faction of the anti-growth
1. National population policy at the possible expense of world population policy
While America has consistently had positive population growth,
the fact remains that America has also consistently had population growth
numbers that are below the international average. For this reason,
American contributions to reduction in population growth rate
will (all other things being equal) will offer less-than-average
bang for the buck. Preferring decreased immigration over decreased
family size here in America further lessens the impact of US-population shrinkage
on world population shrinkage.
2. Empirical evidence of Americans' impressive level of austerity acceptance.
In America, the period of (approximately) 1980-2006(+?) has been a generations-long imposition
of economic austerity onto backs of the American working class by the synergistic combination of
an increasingly non-union workplace
combined with a narrowing opinion spectrum (or electorally viable opinion spectrum, anyway)
which now ranges all the way from far right to muddled middle.
The most painful quality-of-life setbacks that Americans of all ages have taken on the
chin largely without complaint are those pertaining to job security. Among young adult
participants in the labor market (in present-day America, generations X thru Z and almost certainly beyond)
the willingness to put up and shut up about (and importantly, not make a political issue out of)
underemployment and dead-end employment
has also been legendary. I myself don't reject the entire set of premises
of the NPG essay collection. I think the NPG'ers are spot-on about the first world's
(and especially America's) 'wasted generations' and 'wasted youth.' But this
in no way changes the fact that institutionalized economic hypercompetition has wasted
the talents of developing-world youth to a degree that is more austere by orders
of magnitude. I think all working class first worlders deserve a more generous,
more secure and less competitive range of opportunities for status as contributing
members of society, but I myself would only feel good about accepting such an
enhancement of economic prognosis to the extent that payment is exacted from the
first world's own bloated and arrogant managerial and ownership classes, not the more vulnerable (and far more deserving
of the opportunities) populations of places where employment expectations are held (thumb-on-the-scale)
by global economic elites (not the invisible hand, you free-market fundamentalists out there) at an
even lower level, which is to say a lot lower.
3. Empirical evidence that significant subsets of America's population at most weakly
equate quality of life with standard of living/consumption.
Recently (I'm a vagrant netizen so I won't go look up volume/number/page for you)
Time magazine devoted a whole issue to the subject of happiness.
The back cover (I'm pretty sure) had a few one-paragraph snippets and factoids from
the wonderful world of attempted empirical framing of the happiness question.
It mentioned a questionnaire-based study that established that respondents feel they would be
happier with incomes (in general) above $15,000 than those below that level.
Also, the investigators found little support for the idea that a respondent would be happier (in general) in any job,
than in any lower paying job.
In general, people don't report being (hypothetically?) happier at $2,000,000 income than $1,000,000.
Granted, the study was conducted in Europe, where prices and wages both run
a little lower (on average) and perhaps in much of Europe $15,000 is considered 'middle income'
rather than 'low income,' as it is here in America.
Some may object that apartment dweller lifestyles, smaller family lifestyles
and mass transit lifestyles are more palatable to Europeans than to Americans
for reasons inherent in supposed static characteristics of American culture.
My own opinion is that these assertions are pure BS. The amount of tax incentives,
tax and economic disincentives, public transportation disinvestment and outright social engineering that the American System devotes
to molding its citizens into homeowners and licensed drivers is explicit enough
and financially leveraged enough to beg the question of how much is consumer
preference as evidenced by buying preference, and how much is literally the workings of a
planned economy, if not a command economy.
4. Why I think mass emigration from America can be a global win-win.
It may be a win for Americans like me who are frustrated and burned out to
the point of almost having a death wish, by head-on global competition with people
whose lifestyle and economic security expectations have been systematically
held underwater for generations. It may not be, of course, since virtually none of the
meager knowledge I possess about the world-outside-the-US is 'first person.'
Since Europe is becoming less immigration-permissive, countries (if any) willing
to take immigrants from America are most likely sweatshop republics, compared to
which Generation X workplace austerity may as well be tenured faculty status
(or even membership in the socio-economic upper crust).
But there are also Americans who have above average work ethics, but are nevertheless
frustrated by the extent to which America's de-facto economic system reserves the right to
crank up the treadmill by turning what are naturally luxuries (extravagancies, really)
to literal necessities, or even pre-requisites for job hunting, such as nice
haircuts, nice clothes, a phone number in one's own name, non-homelessness,
Also, it seems evident that the Americans most alienated by a set of 'family-friendly'
and unabashedly growthist cultural norms and economic
incentives are often (though not always) precisely those American adults who prefer to head child-free or
one-child households. These Americans, as expatriates or permanent migrants, might make the perfect replacement for emigrants from
overcrowded countries who may be social conservatives seeking 'battlegrounds of the bedroom' in more prosperous
(which is to say less economically crowded) countries;
at least for those countries willing to lighten up on (seemingly ubiquitous) discrimination in favor of those visa
applicants who are fecund, of childbearing-age, and/or married.
Emigration of Americans may be a winning trend for those countries,
and a political and economic lifestyle enhancement for their citizens,
including hopefully their new citizens.
I believe it may be in all humans' best interest that both migration and population dynamics operate at homeostasis,
rather than by statist economics and social engineering in service to mostly nationalist, growthist,
consumerist and homogenist norms. I don't think dropping growthism from the list would make for
much of an improvement on the population front or any other dystopia-avoidance front.
State controls over essentially economic
phenomena such as migration are destined to be equilibrated, usually by black markets,
which in the case of migrant labor means human trafficking, the confiscation of people's passports by private sector
operatives, and de-facto slavery.
Failed attempts to protect the first world from competition for yet another generation can
only forestall the inevitable, which itself can only further amplify the economic shock to be felt in America
when the inevitable finally happens and economic (let alone human-bioregional) equilibrium
finally asserts itself in the form of a 'market correction.'
I believe that the triumph of human homeostasis over non-global
population control, and the osmotic pressure inherent in such attempts at localizing or nationalizing control, is possible, but
only if certain things go right in the next few decades.
1. The pro-globalization movement must
be forced by forceful global popular (public opinion) demand to force economic liberalization
to wait in line behind political liberalization (i.e. basic international human rights STANDARDS, WITH TEETH)...
2. ...and also to force
enhanced mobility of capital to wait in line behind enhanced mobility of labor.
3. A third condition, I believe, also must be met, namely that
all nations and NGO's in the world must encourage the adotion of of a small family
(and better yet, an adopted family!)
as a cultural norm; not being shy about aggressively competing against spiritual authority
when called for. I hold that this is the one thing the clique that refers to itself
as the NPG movement has right.
My own opinion of Grant and the other self-identified NPG-ers would of course be higher
if they were more aggressively critical of the Vatican
and more open-minded toward migration liberals such as myself.
In my own opinion, all three of the above conditions must be met in order to avoid global dystopia.
To the extent that globalization is allowed to become a global 'social contract,'
it must be implemented as a moral contract, which is to say an actual written, binding contract
that is negotiated, by representatives of all social classes,
and on an equal footing with competing interests.
A boilerplate ('take-it-or-leave-it'; although the even more imperious 'take-it' seems to be the WTO model)
'social contract' drafted as WTO is, as
a manifesto of doctrinaire social darwinism and unapologetic economic elitism
is not a politically or morally legitimate instrument.
If activist and leftist interests continue to be locked out of alphabet soup summits,
our species in the XXI century is destined to see things get dramatically worse
(I don't think 'hell on earth' would be an exaggeration)
before they get any better.
God help us if nationalism wins out over liberalism,
and also if egalitarianism can't (or won't) compete with
liberalism on an equal footing!
Capitalism as moral ideology
Capitalism is that moral ideology which
grades on effort,
but defines effort in terms of ergonomic inefficiency.
It grades on creativity,
but defines creativity as effective salescrittership,
but mercifully has been known on occasion to reward the especially efficient and respectable with jobs in fields other than sales.
It grades on character,
but defines character as ability to look respectably middle-class.
< br / >
Did you know that, prior to the invention of the letter 'j,'
the glyphic molecules 'WWID' and 'WWJD' were indistinguishable?
Also, prior to the invention of the question mark,
'WWJD' would have been indistinguishable from 'WWJD?'
The fact that the period of hystery (which is to say history in the hysterectomist sense,
with reference to all the pro-life characterization of both de jure and de factro
abortionists as amoral godless npg antihippocratical fanatics) that eventually came to be known in 'modern' Christendom as the Dark Ages
ran on codes of constructed using the already-deadish Latin tongue coded in the italic
latin glyphs of the more artistic (italic or hammeresque (in the floydian sense) gothic) and less information transparent (classic) variety,
under conditions of forced illiteracy for layfolk,
and the forced triad of poverty, chastity and obedience for churchfolk.
The illiteracy condition on lay status is enforced in a don't ask don't tell.
We won't ask why the informational leverage you exact over your neighbors
(since the wonderfully calvinist automobile hasn't been invented yet)
if you promise not to come out of the closet as a literate person.
Centuries later, technologies have been invented, and
varieties of engineered austerity of virtually(?) universal
sufferage have been lifted due to political liberation.
Unfortunately, since said liberation came from LIBERAL sources,
imposed on humynity have merely been replaced by other poisons
for us to pick that are socially enlightened,
technologically empowered, and financed on the wealth of nations
(in the most literal sense) invested by owners of said wealth
LITERALLY over MILLENNIA.
Then (drum roll) came the age of information, which the paleoliberals (which is to say the neoliberals) said would liberate us from
all this literal (in both the mock Arthurian Pythonian and mock Orwellian Ehrenreichian senses)
SHIT, and the conservatives (mainly through the medium of 'local tv news') taught us
to fear it as if it were BABYLON!
Being browbeat even by non-workplace types into at least public submission to the idea that TwoPartyDemocracy is
not an oxymoron, like the bunch of paleoliberal (in defacto terms, 'New Dealers')
FOOLS we have allowed ourselves to become, we buy their SHIT.
Meanwhile the neoconservatives literally implement TAIWAN.
Not the country, of course, but the acronym:
The trouble with Tracfone®
When I first purchased my Tracfone®,
adding 'units' to my Tracfone® was as simple
as going to a 'land-line phone'
(in my case a pay phone, but since it's a toll-free
call I can do so at no ADDITIONAL cost at selected pay phones.
Once dialed in, it is a simple matter of navigating a
voice mail menu, punching in my Tracfone® serial
number when so instructed, and punching in my
'airtime PIN.' All this could typically be accomplished
in about 5 minutes. They also, back then, offered the
convenience, at minimal cost to privacy, assuming Tracfone®'s
date of birth and phone number so as not to have to power down
and open up the Tracfone® during units redemption.
An online redemption option was also offered, but that's
of little consolation to the vagrant netizen.
A few months later, Tracfone® improves its level
of customer service to unimaginable convenience, creating
a feature that allows redemption of airtime units from
the Tracfone® itself, not requiring access to a
land line phone or to the Internet.
Now the self-contained Tracfone® redemption procedure
has been discontinued. To add insult to injury, the
land-line redemption procedure has been changed in at least
three ways which make it also less convenient than before.
For one thing, it is no longer possible to redeem units
simply by pressing buttons. Now I have to TALK TO A PERSON.
Some people see talking to a person as a higher level
of customer service than navigating voice mail hell.
I can see their point, but to me, subjectively,
the new procedure FEELS more like asking Tracfone®
for permission to actually use the units that I have
paid for. The use of mnemonic birthdays and phone
numbers as opposed to antimnemonic serial numbers
is also a definite disimprovement in level of convenience.
If this isn't bad
enough, the redemption facility (no doubt staffed
by third worlders at literally starvation wages) also keeps
When the clock finally stikes nine, I will go to
the public library and (hopefully) succeed at getting
my 30 minutes added. I will also blog the present essay,
so if you are reading this, I will have succeeded.
Tracfone®'s response to my emails so far has been
typically corporate in a Bushian 'we don't owe you information'
kind of way. In situations such as this, Brealey and Myers'
'a project isn't a black box' doctrine doesn't apply,
as that only applies when it's your project.
One can only speculate as to why Tracfone®'s
product has become next to worthless.
Tracfone® appears to be trying to make
the Tracfone® product less attractive to
people who don't have Internet access. This
isn't shocking. Apologists for marketist
ideology parrot that the customer is always
right, but in the real world this is simply
not true. In capitalist PRACTICE, CERTAIN
customer demographics are often identified
(in the aggregate, of course)
as low-profit customers, net liabilities,
or more trouble than they're worth.
It's no loss to the company if these
customers walk away in an angry huff.
During the trip to the library that I'll
have to make later today, I'll download the
'agreements' (or try to) to the competing 'contract-free'
dispose-a-phone products, assuming their
business models are even transparent
enough to allow for 'ask before you buy.'
This will verify whether I'm dealing
with a scumbag company or a whole scumbag
If it turns out that Tracfone® is
nickel and diming its customers to pay
legal bills due to our Staussian government's
insistence that use of prepaid wireless
somehow makes someone somehow suspicious,
then I will take back anything mean I ever said
about the company behind the Tracfone®
and NET-10® brands. But absent such
revelations, I can in good conscience only recommend
AGAINST purchasing their products
05 September 2006
Another suggestion for Mr. DaVos, er DeVos
If you have been reading this blog, this mensaje is for you specifically.
Between your beyond-impressive business career and your budding political career,
I see it as unlikely, but I'm assuming these days most
politicians have 'operatives' for sundry tasks including 'public opinion research'
in the form of literal dumpster diving in the blogosphere.
In any case, I feel justified if even one reader from any walk of life
considers the present post 'edifying' as an example of an 'open letter.'
Mr. DeVos, in spite of your socially conservative reputation and my
almost left-anarchist worldview, I am seriously considering supporting you.
Think of it as a mirror image of the "Republicans for Granholm" concept
unleashed at the Straits in Labor Day. But don't count your chickens just yet.
You may or may not have noted my recent post that you could be one stand-on-an-issue
away from getting my vote. The particular issue in question was queer rights,
in which I prioritize the pro-ENDA over the anti-DOM aspect of queer rights.
Since you started proudly proclaiming that Amway-as-workplace (unlike Google, at least here in MI) isn't just for salesy
personality types (any more?), I've come to believe that anything is
possible in the current gubernatorial race. This uncanny feeling is
reinforced, of course, by your opponent's DLC-on-steroids approach to things.
This pattern has been consistend and assertive:
* I strongly object to her policy of allowing the state and its political subdivisions to become even more
economically dependent on (i.e. indentured to) the gaming industry, and 'sin' taxes in general.
* Granholm's 'de facto tax' policies, including the introduction of draconian late fees
on payments for state services, and the even more regressive so-called Driver Responsibility Law.
This policy is especially diabolical as it has the highly demonstrable effect of further marginalizing the already
profoundly economically marginalized.
Perhaps you admire these for being adoptions of financial practices long considered standard in the private sector.
I don't admire this trend at all.
There are Democrats (even during these center-to-right spectrum times) who are morally qualified to
criticize the Republicans for balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.
Granholm most emphatically is not one of them.
* Touting the apparent comeback of the MIC as a potential jobs engine.
If that's not bad enough, it's worse than the Eisenhowitzer era, when the 'I' stood for the
relatively benign word 'industrial,' a word you seem to know a lot about,
although I still get the impression 'sales' still means way too much to you.
Yet...Even if I were to hire in with Amway or one of its parent companies or subsidiaries and discover,
to my almost bitter chagrin, that the workplace culture is every bit as
right-of-center as I had feared, I'd still take glorious pride in working in the
real private sector. By this I mean the P2P (private to private) type
customer base in the
spirit of B2C (business-to-consumer, your stock in trade, no?) and B2B
(you do commercial products, by any chance? I'm down w. that too.)
Special note: I was turned off by the "you got a problem with that?" punctuation to the
by now I'm sure infamous Amway PR spot, spoken with
what I (mis?)interpreted as a sort of (stereo?)typically-conservative 'swagger.'
Sombunall of us from the eastern part of the state are
acutely aware that, in the television medium anyways, Wal-Mart addresses (or so it seems to think) Canadian
viewers with a Canadian accent (in both official languages, of course), while it addresses Michigan viewers (literally 90% of the time)
with an Arkansas accent. Think about that next time you're tempted to refer to a certain Empire State Senator
as a 'carpetbagger.' I suspect such a change in perspective could prove literally profitable,
commercially or politically.
More Fun With Dick And Jen
I waited with baited breath to find out what Granholm's response would be to
the (precedent-setting?) inclusion of TV ads of the advertisement-as-press-release genre into the mix, already considered
by some to smell somewhat of conflict of interest due to the mixing of the
advertisement-as-campaign-speech and advertisement-as-opinion-piece metaphors.
I didn't have to wait long, as evidenced by the new (to me, anyway) Granholm ad I saw this morning.
Earlier, I winced when Granholm rolled out an outline of recovery
themed on Michigan's role in an earlier World War, characterized by
Willow Run, the Warren Tank Plant, Rosie the Riveter and her millions of colleagues,
and the invention (tragic, when seen in 20/20 hindsight) of literally marrying the nation's
(especially, it seems, Michigan's) health insurance sector with its human resources sector.
Her patriotism is admirable, as is her concern for the state economy, and even her concern (assuming
at least that's at least part of her reason for using her considerable cheerleading talents
on behalf of the MIC) for the frightening
degree to which the bar has been raised for promotion into the "with bennies" segment of the labor market.
Prior to 9/11, the bennies bar issue was, I think, the most neglected issue, easily the
most neglected domestic policy issue, in the entire range of approved-for-wide-consumption public debate.
Flash back to a picture of yours truly. The date is September 10, 2001.
A mere 15 months ago I had turned 35, by some diabolical twist of federal policy, simultaneously ending my military enlistment eligibility
and beginning (thankx additionally to my obviously unearned "Born in the U.S.A." status, how silly, eh?)
my presidential election eligibility. Lucky for me (perhaps) my life ambitions
at the time were neither military nor political. Actually, they were overtly political
in the "personal is political" sense. I had taken up the pen (which some say is mightier than the sword)
in literal and extremely heartfelt service to
various "political" movements, including the free software movement, the open content movement,
the data-mining-reverse-engineering movement, and copyleftism. Even my spartan (at least by contemporary American standards)
lifestyle required resume enhancement, and the "chatter" I was monitoring from sources as diverse
as monster.com, misc.jobs.misc, misc.jobs.resumes (and many others) was crystal clear: The opporunity cost
(please, look up 'opportunity cost' if you're at all unsure what I mean)
of having hobbies such as, say, writing public domain computer programs, was in the process of skyrocketing.
This morning's Granholm ad was essentially a re-hash of the points made by Bouchard in his pre-primary adblitz,
stressing the rule of law, and Granholm's extensive prosecutorial background, which
includes substantial federal experience. I found this oddly reminiscent of the 1990(?) CT Senate race,
when I remember hearing on NPR some punditry taking note of the fact that Lieberman was explicitly and
transparently running against his Republican opponent "from the right." OK, the opponent in question was Weicker[sp?], but hay,
is that really a valid argument? And what of Lieberman's career since? The Granholm variant on the
Lieberman gambit is something of a mixed metaphor, aligning oneself (at least in terms of priorities)
with a candidate for another office running on another slate.
Things get curiouser and curiouser.
Austerity as Atrocity
Where does, where should one draw the 'line,' if any between 'atrocity' and 'non-atrocity?'
Perhaps the 'term' 'non-atrocity' is overbroad.
An (the?) international legal controversy of late has pertained
to certain questions about where 'non-torture' ends and 'torture' begins.
I tend to concern myself with questions about the shape
of the threshold or 'frontier' between X and NOT-X.
I have been thinking about the subject of atrocities, torture and mistreatment since being a small child.
This is not because I have been mistreated, but because I have been known to watch
the occasional espionage thriller or even daytime soap on the plugindrug, and these art forms
tend to emphasize questions of personal conduct under extreme duress,
especially mental duress. In actual fact, of course, I am an American citizen by birth
and by virtue of (practically) that (alone) I am, I'm sure, well over 80th percentile
when it comes to enjoyment of humyn rights.
Like any NC1965 (NC=natal cohort) unit raised on soap, my youth was peppered with
conversations with peers and others modeled around the proprietary game Scruples®.
There seems to have been a general consensus that fear of intractable pain of
more than momentary duration is feared more than death itself.
Also considered a fate literally worse than death is to allow oneself
under duress to somehow serve causes antithetical to one's personal life
agenda. I may not be 'rugged' but I still identify shamelessly with 'individualism.'
Some call it hypocrisy.
I can't categorically 'demonstrate' that ruggedness isn't an
absolute prerequisite for individualism, but as with M. F. Luder,
there are some things some people simply want to believe.
Speaking of hypocrisy, I myself have been known to self-identify with
scruples, norms; sometimes even 'morals.'
Sometimes I'm in an abstract mood and speak of 'self-imposed constraints.'
I can definitely think of things I've done that I wish I hadn't.
None, of course, fall under my meager 'understanding' of what
torture is, let alone what an atrocity might be.
I could make a list, but I use my real name here at blogger.com,
and we're living in the age of Total Information Awareness,
which is turning out also to be the age of Managed Migration
(and managerialism in general) so yes, Virginia,
not only is Big Brother watching, but so is the globe's
'collective' 'human resources department.'
The good news is,
the situation hasn't yet degenerated
to one in which I would have to kill you
if I told you.
Perhaps next week there will be a 'confessions' section within 'my' blog.
Austerity as Liberatory Technology
The present blog, in case the present reader didn't already know, was started as a 'containment bucket'.
This means that opinionated content tends to be posted here. This is not done in order to increase
the level of acrimony here at blogger.com, but simply to serve as some kind of pressure valve
for you and yours, truly. In addition to creating a 'space' where you might be able to vent.
To do so, try clicking on any 'blue' (i.e. 'link-colored') 'underscore' characters you might see.
The present blog allows me
to vent when getting certain things out of my system (specifically my splenetic system)
before I'm OK to write the stuff I post in NPOV spaces such as those of the Wikimedia Foundation
and other NPOV groups.
The present screed is too partisan for the parts of wikiaspace that I sometimes haunt,
so I brought it here instead of to pubwan scratchpad, one of the 'mini-wikia,'
even though it would be considered 'on topic' there.
Good taste, as well as adherence to the neutrality principle of pubwan,
requires that pubwan-relevant screeds go with screeds, not with pubwan content.
Pubwan was originally intended as a liberatory technology.
It will probably be a long time before anyone knows whether
that potential actually exists.
Pubwan is to be configured (we hope)
to be capable of (among other things)
empirical research on the subject of austerity.
The normative question I am struggling with
is whether 'voluntary' austerity is somehow
'better' than 'involuntary' austerity.
I'd like to get some testable answers,
but testable answers to such questions
may in fact be theoretically impossible.
After all, information does not want to
be free, regardless of what I want
The latest in a long series of volleys
Predictably, but frighteningly impressively, even to me, Dick DeVos' game of ideological hardball gets even harder.
Orchestration of the two genres of television programming known as 'campaign advertising' and 'issues-based advertising'
(i.e. 'astroturf') is absolutely old hat, and both of the political parties allowed non-marginal status are absolutely
prostituted to it. But wait! A third genre enters into the system of force vectors, the PR spot. PR spots are
common as hemeroids, and unlike the carefully concocted witches' brews of candidate-spam and soft-money astroturf,
they aren't "seasonal." But this is the first time I have seen one explicitly and transparently woven into
an election barrage. In the true spirit of "objection neutralizing" described in those motivational tapes that
folks in the salesier workplace cultures consume by the kilogram, the PR spot for the company that makes the products
sold by Amway™ representatives is literally a spoken "bulleted list" addressing the short-form laundry list of
objections to the Amway business model (let alone its cultlike reputation), as articulated ad nauseam on biz.mlm.misc,
or wherever exactly that newsgroup was/is in Usenet's Byzantine namespace.
I don't know whether there's truth to the rumor that there's a strong negative correlation between those understandably
ubiquitous "no peddlers, etc." signs on houses, and assertiveness with the word 'no.'
Predictably, though, the disappointment of the less gifted of gab among us in finding out Granholm's Google jobfeast
consisted 100% of sales jobs is clearly not lost on the CEO of the only company that (predictably but nevertheless sadly) actually goes
me on monster.com. Actually, now that I think about it, there's another one, that ducky AD&D firm that Ehrenreich warned me about.
I've never worked in manufacturing, at least not on the shop floor where they do the manufacturing part.
Perhaps this is my chance. And they even do R&D (cutting edge, so they say) here in Michigan.
I've always wanted to be involved in R&D. Hypothetically speaking, given the astonishingly rare
(remember, I'm an unrepentant introvert) "two offers on the table," I would of course take an R&D job in
academia over one in 'industry' (literally without even bothering to ask about salaries) but I would with even less hesitation choose
R&D at (sp?)Amway (including the dreaded nondisclosure agreements that now indenture virtually every job
that requires even a modicum of intelligence) over virtually any job in the resolutely Hobbesian military intelligence sector,
or even in some of the spookier parts of the private sector, such as data mining (e.g. Google) or
so-called wealth management (e.g. Bearing Point, formerly KPMG, although they don't qualify for my definition of private sector).
This doesn't change the fact that I don't relish the idea of having Amway's army of "stealth conversationalists"
(don't even try to tell me you haven't also been thus ambushed) as my particular
'rainmakers,' but it also doesn't change the fact that the pursuit of cheap Chinese labor, if it's a sin at all,
is categorically a lesser evil than offering to help engineer China's (or anyone's, IMNSHO) version of total information awareness,
as Google is doing. DeVos, despite my misanthropic mental picture of what the capo of an apparent MLM might be like,
seems to have my voter demographic nailed to a degree that's scary-smart, as if he actually uses advanced
data mining for market research or something. Jen better hope he doesn't seal the deal by declaring himself
against discrimination against queer folk; not likely based on what I've heard so far, but true to her infuriatingly
DLC self, Granholm hasn't exactly been assertive in her promotion of queer rights, merely hinting at nonsense
concepts like "cool cities" instead of, say, doing something actually meaningful like unequivocally supporting ENDA.
Jennifer Granholm had better the hell get her ass in gear if she's to stand a chance at even MY vote,
and I'm left of Conyers and Kucinich combined!
The other battle of the bedroom
Wednesday, 24 August 2006, 1205Z
Good Morning America
ran a segment on a battle
of the bedroom not entirely unlike the sinister demographic competition
between the Israeli and Palestinian
peoples in the middle east.
This bedroom battle is taking place here in America.
It seems that (surprise, surprise)
rightist attitude tends to be
associated with larger family size.
Apparently some leftists are concerned
that they may find themselves
memetically cornered by their
political rivals. I beg to differ.
For some time now, mainstream media
have been sounding loud alarms concerning
the increasingly top-heavy age-distribution
observed in the more democratic nations.
Now it seems a similar demographic
shift has been observed
(surprise, surprise) in the more
democratic and egalitarian subcultures
within American society, and perhaps
We are told that the worker-per-retiree
ratio is dropping, and first-worlders
of my (currently 40-ish) age cohort will experience very
austere retirement years as a result.
I don't doubt the forecasts of austerity,
but I place the blame elsewhere.
I think people my age should worry
less about worker-per-retiree ratio in the future
and more about GDP-per-retiree.
I myself doubt that I will have the
luxury of retiring. More likely
I will work-to-live until the day I die.
I'm far more worried about the future
of age and disability discrimination and relevant
legal recourse (if any) than about
a top-heavy age distribution.
If the future looks even more dystopian
than the present
(and to me it does) I think it
will be more so for the supposedly
'small' or 'undersize' generation of young adults
than for people my age dealing with
the realities of retirement in
the post-bennies era.
I expect job-per-worker (or niche-per-adult) ratio to plummet further,
due mainly to automation, as well as the
accumulation of arbitrage advantages
by management in a world in which capital
is globalized (aggressively deregulated) while human migration is on lockdown,
or at best 'managed' under management's terms.
The symptoms of an overcrowded and overcompetitive society
are all around us, such as high school kids going postal,
and World War III being initiated over 'terrorism.'
Union-bashing in high gear in Michigan
The astroturf has really hit the fan here in Michigan.
The degree to which the television airwaves here have been
bombarded with union-bashing ads demonstrates impressively
deep pockets. My own pockets are literally empty,
but it is still possible to post stuff here for free,
so I decided to post some counterpropaganda of my own.
With any luck an audience of some sort will stroll in.
The last of the ads that I've seen is deeply offensive.
It portrays two workers in an apparent public sector setting,
where citizens stand in a long line for some service or another.
The two workers are abusive of the customers, and both are
apparently about to go on break per the just-won agreement,
leaving the folkx in line stranded for some time to come.
To add injury to insult, the astroturf ad also depicts
one of the workers with a noticeable gap between her teeth.
I don't know if this is supposed to be some kind of an
insult to people of less-than-perfect cosmetic dentition.
I think it's an insult to working people in general.
The American workforce has been enduring an aggressive,
systematic program of de-unionization that has been applied
without interruption for decades, having gone into high
gear about 1980. The period 1980-present has been literally
a gift to opponents of the labor movement, whether you
look at political, economic, social or informational trends. Yet the ingrates
piss and moan that it's not enough. The balance of power
between management and labor has already shifted so
dramatically in favor of management that:
- Virtually every job comes with a contract. Contracts that are not collectively bargained are literally boilerplate.
- The human resources Establishment has access to a near-total information grid including medical, credit-scoring,
address history, as well as machine readable (an important distinction)
feeds from public record sources—usable information in the public domain
about public corporations is of a very summary or 'low-res' nature, consisting of annual
balance sheets and income statements in annual reports and prospecta.
Private businesses are simply black boxes. Sometimes
they have reputations of some sort, but beyond that
and gossip, employment applicants are literally in an information vacuum.
- The role of legal noncitizen residents in America's labor market is tightly managed,
and on terms agreeable first to the employer (who has veto power over 'sponsorship'),
second to the government (which has veto power over 'immigration status,' which is contingent mostly on employment and
and the worker, who is literally an indentured servant.
The managed migration 'movement,' like the 'right to work' 'movement'
behind the propaganda in question, threatens to disempower migrants worldwide
to the even further unfair tactical advantage of management.
- Underground labor economics as a driver of human migration has gone largely unchallenged by immigration authorities,
resulting in its degeneration into human smuggling, which is to say, slavery.
When wages are based on what the market will bear,
there is no automagically-enforced 'natural law'
to the effect that persons under duress are not economic actors,
since it is apparent that many such persons
function both as producers under indenture, as well
as as a captive market for underground sheltering
of so-called illegal persons.
- The trend from gainful to marginal employment continues worldwide, as well
as the very real expectation that workers assume more and more of the risks
inherent in enterprise.
If people in the center-right coalition that controls this country thinks that
the period from about WWII to Reagan was one during which members of America's
unprecedented working-middle-class got more than their fair share
of economic security, they should do the intellectually honest
thing and step up to the microphone and state it explicitly,
or step out of the way of those of us who still dare to be
As if Michigan's current multimillion dollar union-bashing astroturf campaign
isn't enough, tonight we got treated to the 60-minute long infomercial
for social darwinism re-branded as 'libertarianism' called 20/20.
So far I have watched the first 30 minutes, at which point I simply
had to dump some bile in my personal containment bucket, which is
to say the present blog.
The first half of the show has been a re-hash of all the cases against
teachers' unions that have been the PR biz' stock in trade for decades.
The 'fact' that competition brings out the best in people, the 'fact'
that without competitive fires lit under their buns, human nature is
for all of us to be lazy and arrogant. This neoliberal 'fact' is almost
as insulting to humans as the neoconservative (Hobbesian or Straussian,
take your pick) insistence that, left to our own devices, we'd absolutely
slaughter each other and revert to something worse than warlordism,
or 'anarchy,' as the main$tream media insist on calling it.
First of all, the reason Belgium blows the doors off Amerika in
academic/intellectual performance is because Belgium is not because
educational professionals there have 'freedom to fail' (about
as astroturf and counterfeit a concept as 'right to work') but
because Belgium is a dramatically less socially conservative
(and therefore less anti-intellectual) society than Amerika,
where even something as core to human rights as the voting rights
act comes (repeatedly!) with an expiration date.
Anyone who's worked in the real private sector (as in 'defense' contractors don't count) knows that free market
competition is a natural meritocracy of salespersonship, manipulation,
kissing up to power/authority and general one-up-person-ship. Its effect
on things we should encourage, such as customer satisfaction, is certainly positive,
but obviously small compared to the effects of competitive pressure on
people's best empirical estimates of whether they have the sheer luxury
of adopting virtually any normatively established variety of 'best practices.'
My own vestigial (so far) career has been well over 95% private, for-profit sector, with
easily a private sector majority in agency/agency-customer customer base.
This is true, I would venture, whether the calculations are weighted by dollar or by hour.
The one job I had that was an exception was the work study job I had
at the university library back when I was a student there, many years ago.
This, not ironically, was the lowest-paid job I ever held.
Also not ironically, it was far more intellectually stimulating,
and I would venture more relevant to the real needs/wants of real people,
than any of the perma-temp or perma-part-time jobs I've done in
the bu$iness sector since then. I am only one person. I would certainly
not advocate concluding based on my experience that the public sector
is more public-spirited than the private sector, let alone more
meritocratic, cost efficient, etc.
8:12 AM EDT 18-Aug-2006
Yesterday we went to the library, so I did a little blogging.Yesterday's session was especially fruitful--I actually got myblogger.com content to be 'visible.' Much to my relief, simplypasting one of the 'sample templates' from blogger actuallyaccomplished the task, although I hope to learn how to saythings like "add some whitespace as a margin" in bloggerese.I first became an Internet user (i.e. a netizen) way back in 1991,so I'm familiar with the concepts of FAQ, 'newbie question' and 'bandwidth conservation.' Even in those innocent times, theamount of bandwidth necessary to post just one 'article' to justone 'newsgroup' could literally cost the 'net' hundreds if notthousands of dollars. So by all means, if you've come up withsome minimalist synopsis of core bloggerese syntax, say a "pocketrefcard," it would be better netiquette not to post it as a comment(assuming 'my' blog® even offers that level of 'read-write'functionality) as chances are the information you'd be postingmight be somehow redundant by virtue of the fact that it's alreadyincluded in some FAQ somewhere in blogger's vast administrivial namespace.
Actually, we aren't living in the Halcyon Nineties any more,so why not post it anyway? The fact of the matter is, the amountof SNR degradation inherent in such a post is trivial comparedto the amount of spam that I am obliged to shovel into the computersof visitors to 'my own' 'web pages' at Yahoo! GeoCities due to the fact that I am one of the 'nonpaying customers,' i.e. thetragic part of Tragedy of the Commons; one of the commoners.So on second thought, do, if you feel so inclined, use the present blog to share whatever tutoring or tutelage in bloggerese that you're smart enough to know about.
I believe 'my' blog® actually does have the 'two way communication'featurette turned on. Try clicking one of the underscore( _ ) characters where the "post comments here" linkoid 'should' be,especially if it's a different color from the other characters.My short term computer programming education goal is to learnenough bloggerese to correct that particular cosmetic defect,ideally within two library visits.
17 August 2006
Neo-slack and organized labor
yet another fan site
Recently the main$tream medium (and generally the "lighter" side even of it)
has noted (at least among some adult American males) an apparent comeback of the medium-generated "nineties" concept
that is Slack. We're talking main$tream medium here, so that's Slack as in
ers rather than ware.
The medium seems to think it has something to do with "drugs,"
although (lucky for America) the suspect drug (according to them)
seems to be coffee, considered (it seems) by the leading scientists or our time
to be a "soft" "drug," but slackers and others (many others by my guesstimate)
should be alert to the possibility of medium stories about
findings that caffeine (or one of the other "drugs" in coffee)
is a "gateway" "drug," or alternatively that the Internet is a "hard" "drug."
The central topic (and yes there is one) to the present screed
is not the Drug Wars, but a pet hypothesis (which is only a hypothesis)
that Slack circa 2006 might be positively correlated with past
or present union membership, perhaps even more closely than with
membership in the male sex.
I suggest this because for most of my working own life
(say 1983-2002, which is getting REALLY SCARY here in post c.1980 Amerika)
I (mistakenly, it turns out) almost envied union cardholders
since in some cases their "severance pay" check was
bigger than a typical paycheck with my name on it issued
BETWEEN periods of unemployment.
Needless to say, any such envy is strictly past tense!
One of the reasons for this replacement of envy with a sense of militant solidarity
is the fact that the concessions being asked of trade unions and their members
today exceed literally by the better part of an order of magnitude those
concessions given away during the late-1970's-and-early-1980's-recession.
I think any sufficiently old person sufficiently familiar with the so-called real
world would (like me) peg that particular period of history as the locus
of the most intense and formative part of the 30(+?) year period
of restructuring of the so-called first world from timid experiments in mixed economy
to militant laissez-faire capitalism.
One thing I learned about humyn nature (at least as it applies to myself)
the hard way is a passing familiarity the theoretical economic
construct called "opportunity cost."
Thanks to the dumb luck of falling in love with someone who grew up middle
class, which is to say the daughter (yesIam) of someone, not whose
"generation" (I prefer "cohort") I envy in any sense, but whose middle-adulthood,
while scarred by Amerikan Apartheit, Militant Anticommunism, sex-typed occupational roles,
the old MIC, etc.,
was measurably better off by the scalar (i.e. one dimensional and therefore
at most narrowly relevant to anything) "yardstick" called "economic security,"
and to an even greater degree "job security."
But as Ron March has stated so honestly and frankly, the
so-called postwar boom years (or as I call that period the golden
age of bennies) were White Affirmative Action, and a much
less modest form of affirmative action than the one I and
I hope sufficiently many others hope to defend by defeating
(hopefully by a more than decisive margin) the so-called
Michigan Civil Rights Initiative[sp?].
When our joint net worth went from negative to modest-but-noticeable
with the death of my father in "law,"
I found myself largely unable to resist certain
(but only certain)
temptations that come with having lower opportunity costs.
This partial failure on my part is partially due to failure
on my partner's part to resist certain temptations to which she
her idealistic self (and she's even more idealistic than me if you can believe it)
is especially vulnerable.
These would include her tendency to react to "I got the job"
almost as if it were bad news.
Many spats and also many less heated philosophical expositions
later, I started to get it about her rationale.
Danger begets more danger, it seems,
but what's in the past is in the past.
"Sunk costs are sunk" seems to be one definition
actually agreed upon by account-ants and econo-mists alike.
Just now it occurred to me that a severance paycheck from
one of what's left of the "union jobs" might noticeably (even if not seriously)
outweigh a (typically, though not always) nonexistent
"unemployment" check which just a temp might qualify,
at least following those periods of nonunemployment ("assignments")
long enough for that particular "safety net" to kick in.
It has also occured to me that one side-effect experienced by people
(or even families in some cases) fortunate or unfortunate
enough to be among the unionized unemployed might be (in short term terms)
a drop in certain opportunity costs, such as the "steepness"
(can steepnesses be modeled as "costs?") of "tradeoffs" between
various things one would like to be able to (looked at another way,
which IS relevant, "have the right to") say about their next J.O.B.
I wonder if any empirical studies have been done re. opportunity
cost differentials among demographic subsets of the unemployed
One "study" which I don't consider empirical (but isn't advertised as such)
is the "X and Y'ed duology(?)" of Barbara Ehrenreich, consisting
of Nickel and Dimed and its sequel Bait and Switched.
I have referred to these books as participant-observer studies.
By professional or scholarly standards they probably don't even measure
up to that level of rigor, but no claims are made to the contrary,
and Ehrenreich is nothing if not generous with disclaimers.
She describes the first book to be about what "blue collar" work
is like in America, while the second book is about the sociology
of America's "white collar" unemployed. Terms like "blue collar"
and "white collar" are inexact and therefore contentious.
I would describe $.05&$.1ed as about people with alternating
pink/blue stripes on their collars, and B&S as definitely
(based on multiple real world experience yardsticks) not
BS, but also definitely lacking the research-oriented focus of the first
book, although a substantial fraction of the level of prosecraft
of $... is present. She seemed there to get too lost in the $ubculture of
organized $alescrittership to find her way back to mainstream white collar America,
but I do think her observations there looks frighteningly similar to
my own best sober guesstimate of what the medium-term future looks like,
specifically the "worldwide best case scenario"
in what to me are "core quality of life issues."
If Ehrenreich were to expand(?) the series(?)
to a trilogy(?) perhaps a worthy third subject of study would be
yet another sub2culture within the nouveau pauvre
subculture�newly unemployed persons on severance pay, or perhaps
on almost-gainful unemployment checks. In the strictest sense,
in the short term anyway, such persons are not (like, to a person,
the characters other than Barb in $..., literally) perpetually
calculating opportunity costs using the assumption (among others)
that getting a job offer effective yesterday is part of the opportunity
cost of non-homelessness, non-foodlessness, non-non-support of dependents,
or even (and this is the part that I think is SICK) that other pre-requisite
for being a somebody�non-carlessness.
Ehrenreich is trained in biochemistry and has more than a passing familiarity
with "higher" "math." Maybe the reading public will get really lucky
and she will further multidisciplinarize in an "economic" direction, gaining passing familiarities with
utility functions, possibility frontiers, normative vs. positive issues, and opportunity costs.
This would be (I think) possibly a powerful methodological armamentum
for studying unemployed journeypersons. I can practically guarantee
it to be the core toolset for figuring out the latt�-sipping slacker set,
but Ehrenreich would (I imagine) be in danger of getting permanently lost in that thicket.
Maybe the caffeinated cypherpunks are ex-unionists.
Maybe the Today Show is spot on and they're just slackers.
Maybe, like me, they think of themselves as vagrant netizens, although I prefer my coffee cheap, Black, and free trade.
At any rate, the window of opportunity for scholars or others
to study the "gainfully" unemployed and their economic
production and consumption preferences will most likely permanently
go the way of the study of the gainfully employed, which is to
say you may as well (restricting the discussion to "first world" countries, anyway)
make a project of studying the passenger pigeon.
I wouldn't suggest that Barbara Ehrenreich is best qualified
for such research projects, but she's certainly proven herself
more qualified in the relevant disciplines than, say, Katie Couric.
According to the "keep it loose, keep it light" crew of cheerleaders at the Today Show,
the slacker concept is making a comeback.
Apparent voluntary unemployment has been observed in American adult males by people in the social sciences.
I'm sure if they look they'll find a few female slackers too.
I say apparent because I am strongly of the opinion that the methods of guesstimating
unemployment that are used by government agencies and apparently many scholars,
are simply fraudulent.
Part of the reason for this is the use of a fraudulent definition of voluntary.
The unemployment statistics from official sources are based on a definition
of an unemployed person as an unemployment insurance-eligible worker
(which is to say a worker who has broken out of the rut that is the contingency labor market)
whose strategy for getting re-employed includes using the placement services of the unemployment insurance system.
An intellectually honest estimate of employment would have the following features:
where u is the unemployment rate (on a scale of 0 to 1--multiply by 100 for percent),
p is the number of working age adults in the economy,
and j is the 'effective' number of occupied full time jobs in the economy.
- Adults who are dependents of others can be subtracted from p only if the voluntary nature of their nonparticipation
in the workforce can be verified.
- Filling a permanent full time job with benefits increases j by 1.
Filling some other type of job increases j by some number between 0 and 1.
Terminating (with or without cause) decreases j according to the same pro rating schema.
- In general, a 20 hour per week part time job should be considered 0.5 of a job.
- Likewise for a 6 month per year seasonal job.
- A job that pays 0.5 times poverty line also counts as half a job.
I suggest using the number of minors divided by the number of working-age
adults as the number of dependents for calculating poverty line.
The amount of intellectual dishonesty in the official definition of the poverty line
and the CPI is also legendary...that however will be dealt with in a later post.
- A job w/o bennies counts as a full job (1.0 jobs) only if the compensation exceeds the poverty line
by enough to buy bennies, at non-group rates if necessary.
- Jobs requiring overtime do not count as >1.0 jobs,
because unemployment is not a measure of how
much labor is being utilized, but how many laborers the market is failing to utilize.
Frankly, unemployment (and its evil twin underemployment) is an indicator of market failure, not personal failure.
The Today piece, of course, is a condemnation of individuals, not the system,
toward which "they don't bark and they don't bite."
Apparently the new nonworking class is into cybercafés, particularly the two
activities of drinking coffee and surfing the web.
This, I suppose, is par for the course for the morning babblefest that regularly
features financial sector cheerleader Jean Chatzky, who preaches retirement preparation
through coffee denial. Don't forget Murphy's law, the one that states:
"A penny saved is a penny."
Coffee and tea have always been popular with economically marginalized groups.
I believe this is due to the popular belief that caffeine acts as an appetite suppressant,
making hunger more tolerable.
Read Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier for a fuller discussion of this.
The Internet appeals to marginalized people in general,
including the ideologically as well as the economically marginalized,
because (in spite of the damage done to its innocence and honesty by the Clinton-Gore-era commercialization)
it is still noticeably less main$tream and prostituted than any other means of communication so far.
For the record, I drink only cheap store brand coffee.
If you want to lecture me about fair trade coffee, hire me first.
I access the Internet only at the public library.
Perhaps in the part of the country where the Today show piece was filmed, the
suffocation of the public sector is even more complete than it is here,
so people have to fork $ into the hands of the cybercafé industry.
Hopefully at least they're patronizing the non-chain joe joints.
Main$tream media types seem puzzled that some might find participation in the economy
as an employed or self employed person is not sufficiently palatable.
Main$tream media types themselves are of course employed. The on-camera ones for the most
part seem to be gainfully employed, although the number of back office media jobs outsourced
or otherwise deprofessionalized or contingentized I would imagine is steadily increasing
as it seems to be in all industries. People who work in visible parts
of the main$tream media are clearly de facto prostitutes, which is probably why they
don't get it about the fact that normal people trying to survive in the real world consider the current economic situation
in America (not to mention the quality of life situation in general) to suck.
The trend from gainful (permanent, full-time, benefits)
to marginal (or 'contingent,' as the HR and PR whores call it) employment
has done much to shift the labor-management balance of power even more decisively in favor of management.
There are other labor market trends, probably also structural, which are just as unmistakable:
- The continuing deprofessionalization of scholars.
For a detailed accounting of this trend, see the Invisible Adjunct website.
It's been frozen (made read-only) but last I checked it was still there.
It's a good read.
With dramatically fewer jobs to be had in academia, the percentage of intelligent jobs outside the intelligence sector is plummeting.
- The explosion of the so-called dot com bubble (freeing up talent in the information sciences),
followed by the Ultimate Pretext (9/11) for
the further authoritarianization of society. The deprofessionalization of scholars
slashes opportunities for nonproprietary research. Then the bubble bursts in commercial
opportunities in math and computer science, mostly opportunities subject to proprietary controls over
knowledge and the people who create it, but opportunities nevertheless.
Then the inevitable happens (see Toffler, forgot whether it
was "Third Wave" or "Future Shock") and the pretext for dumb (i.e. main$tream) Americans to regard
civil liberties and transparancy as things as luxuries the world can no longer afford.
Now an even larger share of the jobs for technical professionals are classified.
- Main$tream media types like to make a lot of hay about American workers
having a sense of entitlement and considering themselves "above" menial work.
I can't speak for Americans in general, but I certainly am not above doing low-skill work.
I no longer have my resume on the "public" portion of the Internet, but I
can assure you I have yet to score a job title more impressive than data entry.
Non-college-type job descriptions in general are being more or less totally
obliterated from all first world economies. Being a "lunchpail Plato"
is no longer a viable alternative to accepting professional roles
in (usually significant) service to austere and cynical (and in my opinion murderous) agendas such as Hobbesianism and Straussianism.
- The combination of immigration policies and security clearance policies definitely amplifies these trends.
This has been clearly visible at least since the mid 1980's, when I was an undergraduate math student.
The large number of visas for international graduate students intensifies the competition over graduate
United States citizenship as a requirement for a security clearance, combined with ma$$ive Reagan-era
defense industry giveaways, meant Americans with BS and higher technigal degrees
had no good reason (other than a value system that values published over secret research)
and certainly no economic incentive to continue their education further, and non-citizens
(especially in hopelessly spooky fields such as aerospace engineering) are barred
from the lion's share of non-academic technical jobs.
This is ironic considering that in the present campaign to exploit the so-called unipolar moment,
non-citizens are literally earning their citizenship in American military uniforms.
As usual the main$tream media whores blame individuals,
for the shortcomings of the System, which is clearly beyond repair.
They need to learn from Bob Black:
If you're not rebelling against work,
you're working against rebellion.