Saturday, 16 December 2017

Yelling in the wrong direction, or else all is lost

To paraphrase the Buddha, three things cannot be long hidden: the sun; the moon; and the truth.

If women have been "weaponised" by universities or the media or whatever, it means someone is doing the weaponising. Which means someone wants women to be weapons. Or did you think the person who will eventually replace Harvey Weinstein at the top of Hollywood will be a woman?

Females are clamouring to get into university, while men are leaving it in droves to begin new start-ups and skipping tertiary education almost entirely. Women stick around because they think men had power because of the symbols, like CEO, General or PhD. So, they fight to get symbols, but never for the specific power to be taken seriously without a university education. Power is hard. It takes effort, and not every man can do it well. Maybe women can perform leadership roles better than men. But if that’s true, why do women choose to fight like this? Is it because they thought symbols would give them power, or are they pursuing the symbols because they have the trappings of power?

Some female grads will be hired into CEO roles, fine. No problem with that. But there’s a difference between someone who is a CEO and someone who is being a CEO. And they are not the same people. Some people want to get more power from the job, and some other people want the job to offer them more power. Typically, the former is men and the latter is women. But don’t get hung up on the sex, the point is the mindset. Those in the latter group want an external entity to want to give them more power, but they avoid having any input in deciding their own success and power.

And don't get me started on women wanting to become president or prime minister. The real power has been in lobbying and the civil service for at least the last three decades. What you are seeing is a series of power battles, wrapping themselves in the costume of "civil rights." This isn't equality, this is resource competition. It's always resource competition. All this nonsense is happening because women cannot rely on men to act like... men. The public is exhausted with men who don't deliver on their masculinity. It is exhausted with their general loss of ambition, drive, respectfulness... and purpose. Men are doing this because they seem to have this haunting suspicion that their true worth – the lie that the only worth that matters is "in other people's minds" – is signalled by women's opinions of them. After all, money, jobs – all that is fake.

You hear it all the time. Women run the damn country because of the restraint of men. And they’re not giving men any credit for that fact that we’re not slapping them upside the head. They’ve forgotten that a woman in a position of authority is not a given thing, it’s not natural. The social contract keeps men from doing certain things. Weak men let this happen. Feminism has emasculated men.

Really? A girl did that to you?

If it’s annoying that women can yell today, understand that it’s because men let them yell. The only power women have is the power men let them have. They know this is true, which is why they keep prodding and poking to stop us from remembering. The moment that happens, they'll be back in their kitchens faster than you can say Donald Trump. But the reason men let women have any power is not coming from some drive for equality or interdiction by the law. The reason is always the same: it is a defence against change, against the effort. Men don't believe that women rule the world, they hope and wish this is true. Because then he never has to become a man.

The older I get, the more I see women don't want to lead, they want a leader. Hell, most men don’t want to lead either. If you look down from 30,000ft, everything feminists are doing to "change the system" appears to be a subconscious desire for an actual, working patriarchy. That's why they like the Islamists. To people desperate for a leader and exhausted with a lack of masculinity in the West, Islamists are the uneducated person's cartoon, primitive idea of men. They might kill you, but at least they’re acting like men.

"Well, if the public would stop taking men's money, then we could develop ourselves." But it's not the taking, it's the indecision over how best to spend resources that will kill us. Social welfare is the definition of indecision. It is indeed all about money, but money equals time. And the money you spend on yourself today, or on welfare, is the time you are allowing to be robbed from your future, or, more importantly, someone else's future. But look at it from this angle: welfare programmes wouldn't exist if they failed to make a profit for a whole bunch of well-placed men. Are you one of these well-placed men? If not, look for them. They are hiding in plain sight.

You might say the law is stacked against men. A lot of idiot men say this, actually. Yet who do you think enforces the law? When a woman is beaten up, who does she call? A bigger man. She doesn't call another woman. The moment I lose faith in the law, I'm still a man, but all she is is a girl. Just because a girl is next to it, doesn't mean that thing is about women. Divorce courts are tipped in a females favour, but it has nothing to do with girl power. The system is set up to favour women because the law views women as less capable than men and in need of protection. Women would prefer not to talk about this because the still secretly believe they are inferior to men.

Don't yell at me, I'm just telling you how the system sees you. It has asked men to restrain themselves for the good of the economy, which must always expand, every year, no matter what - that's the point of capitalism - and men have obliged; don't blame the women, they did absolutely nothing. Men wanted women to be in the workplace or in politics. Men opened the doors. When a woman says her CEO title makes her a leader, call her sugar-tits and remind her all of this is about labour costs. The system doesn't care about gender, sexual harassment or skin colour. You are a battery, that's it.

The problem isn't women. The problem isn't welfare or voting either. Men are lying about what their eyes really see. They are viewing the world in symbols, and the system will always have the power to interpret these symbols. Men are not being restrained, they are restraining themselves. In The Matrix, a child explains to Neo it isn't the spoon that bends, but only himself. That impotence men feel isn't coming from outside. Men have to believe society's rules are the limitations - they wish it to be true. Do you see?

Many men hate that they can't walk up to a hot chick, take her home and bang her. Their hatred manifests as misogyny, usually. But the stumbling block isn't the woman's hotness, it's the constant messaging he receives: all this sex, all this power - why not me? Men don't ask why, if everyone they meet is frustrated by the same thing, then how real can that source of messaging be? Instead, they splinter their thoughts into two choices: I am inadequate or the system is against me. Those who don't want to kill themselves choose option B.

It's not the lack of sex that frustrates men, it's the inability to seduce a girl in his way - the toxic measure of his worth as a man is signalled by other people's (women's) opinions of them. Unless the seduction goes exactly according to his plan, it doesn't take. The sex is irrelevant. There are men who sleep with dozens of women who think they can't pick up girls. Each encounter is psychologically buffered by the excuse "she was drunk" or "she was recently dumped" or "she was a slut." Or even "that doesn't count, she loves me," which is why married men feel the same lack.

H.L. Mencken is worth listening to on this because he flips it over:

"The woman who is not pursued sets up the doctrine that pursuit is offensive to her sex, and wants to make it a felony. No genuinely attractive woman has any such desire. She likes masculine admiration, however violently expressed, and is quite able to take care of herself. 
"More, she is well aware that very few men are bold enough to offer it without a plain invitation, and this awareness makes her extremely cynical of all women who complain of being harassed, beset, storied, and seduced. All the more intelligent women that I know, indeed, are unanimous of the opinion that no girl in her right senses has ever been actually seduced since the world began."

The problem isn't that advertising sets up false aspirations, the problem is that men trap themselves in the prison of using a scale for their self-worth based on the opinions of people who don't know them. And so they seethe with rage at the blonde sitting near the bar, or the female CEO. But you are yelling in the wrong direction.

Instead of developing a superego separate from their ego (a god structure) they incorporated their superego into their ego ("everyone has the same morals deep down"). They didn't kill god, they enslaved him. God will rule in your favour each time ("you don't understand, this time is different..."). I sympathise, but this path will be the death of everything you love.

The world these angry men think exists - the one in which everything is controlled by harpies - doesn't exist. And the fact that men think it exists drives women bonkers. It's the same annoyance non-white people feel when a white person says they're not racist but "minorities are stealing all the jobs." It is necessary to a weak man's existential survival that he believes women and minorities are in charge, or else all is lost.

But if the man chooses option A (I am inadequate), then the answer is to become adequate, not to kill yourself. Women aren't dudes. They aren't looking for the same things we are. Discover what women want, and then become that guy. The trick with existential power is that if continue to believe your worth is judged by others, then you won't feel the impact of this next sentence: The problem is you.

Stop lying.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Paper beats rock, aluminium beats plastic

Of any recycled product anywhere, aluminium recycling is far the greenest. Forty recycled cans save three litres of petrol. It uses less water and energy than all other recycling efforts, and less water and energy than aluminium mining, which is why aluminium companies are desperate for people to recycle aluminium. Recycling aluminium cans is nearly at the level of reuse, which is the greenest possible option.

Coca-Cola has experimented with aluminium bottles to replace some of its bottle plastic as oil before oil dropped relative to aluminium. Plastic is extremely difficult to recycle, and the entirety of the bottle is never recycled – there are always waste products.

Almost all plastic in consumer products comes from oil. And all plastic used for packaging comes from oil. More than 40% of the oil consumed in the US is not fuel or burned, but rather is used for chemicals, the vast majority of which are plastics. To recycle plastic, you need organic solvents (organic chemicals, not organic food). Guess where the solvents come from. That's right, oil. In addition to solvents, you also need heat, and heat comes from burning oil (mostly).

Another way to think of this is: every aluminium atom on the earth is still on the earth, either as a metal or as part of a compound. We don't really use up aluminium. If we all threw them away into a landfill we could potentially mine landfills for aluminium. Paper is basically cellulose. And some insects that will happily chomp on paper. The only problem with paper is the oil-based inks, bleaches and binders.

The plastic from oil gets used up. Oil out of the ground isn't replaced when you toss a plastic bottle. Because chemical reactions often produce heat as a by-product or require heat to start or as a catalyst, there is a net loss.

So other things being equal, choose metal or paper packaging over the plastic. Don't drink water from plastic bottles, carry a refillable aluminium bottle.

Zombies won't eat the status quo

I still think The Walking Dead is the smartest show on television. But it isn’t about zombies, it’s about the survival of traditional conservative moral values during a social breakdown. It’s about today, not the future, which means you're running the wrong way.

Zombie films are war films in which civilians fight an easily defeated invading army. The prospect of zombies is frightening only in their definition: they are undead, which is unsettling to those of us who previously considered death a permanent state of immobility (such as religious people). But they are also slow, stupid, unorganised and as it turns out killable, which makes avoiding or fighting them not especially difficult.

Consider which would be worse: to be stalked by a dozen zombies, or by a dozen hungry tigers? The latter is never the basis of a movie even though it was the basis of human civilization for untold thousands of years.

The function of zombies is to destroy the social order without the chance of it being revived quickly or replaced with a new central authority. There is no cure, and neither the radio nor the TV work. In fact, those two symbols in themselves are code to prove society is finished and civilization depends now on the few survivors. No cure is equivalent to hopelessness, because to modern narcissists doing the work to discover a cure is out of the question. That’s for the experts, and they’re all (un)dead.

The Walking Dead spends most of the time screaming that the survival of civilization means we should cling to remnants of that now-dead society, by maintaining traditional conservative values in the face of their complete obsolescence, as if those values are the sum of civilization.

The zombies (note: they never call them “zombies” in the show) represent that clinging to the past, the unspoken tension between the people who want to settle down, and the bottled rage of those who want to “win it all back.” But beyond that, the zombies are little more than a quick jolt of action to break up the tedium of dialogue about property rights, gender roles, the sanctity of marriage, gun rights and every other conservative talking point.

The Walking Dead reinforces a suspicion I’ve long held: that television can never be countercultural.  It is always slightly right-of-centre, even as that centre flows leftward. It is always safe and predictable, reinforcing the status quo. It is never stridently progressive, never threatening. Film can be countercultural, challenging the status quo. And it can be dangerous.

At no point in the Walking Dead does any character suggest they don’t need to ask for permission to stay with the group because the idea of property ownership died the moment the first call to the police went unanswered. But no one suggests that if society has collapsed, this is a chance to finally build a socialist utopia in which everyone owns everything in common.

If the dead walk the earth, might actually does make right. But no one says anything about this. In such as world, property can be owned if possession can be enforced with direct violence. If Group A has more guns than Group B, Group A automatically owns everything Group B thought it owned. If a group shows up on a farm armed to the teeth and the farmer doesn’t carry a gun, therefore the farmer is trespassing on his farm, not the other way around. Priority is irrelevant.

Likewise, there are more scenes of women performing the classic maternal housekeeper role and men being the hunter-gatherers than I could possibly list. Wouldn’t women be just as frightened and nervous about the lack of a predictable food and medicine that they would seize any opportunity to forage, scrounge or hunt for food or supplies as well? But we don’t see that. Once they set up camp, it is Father Knows Best every time. Women make the food, women hang the laundry, men keep watch, men plan the next move.

Post-apocalyptic stories are typically about how the survivors carry on, about how civilization lasts.  No literary work has addressed this better than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But these stories usually show civilization surviving because civilization, at its most basic, is simple: we self-organise to help each other. Everything else on top of that, the rules, the morality, the norms are context-sensitive and unique to the circumstances.

But The Walking Dead confuses civilization with modern society, which in some respects is monstrously uncivilised. Would the homeless be better or worse off after a zombie holocaust? In The Walking Dead, civilisation survives only while the traditional ideas of property rights, gender roles, and family relationships survive, because, for the show’s viewers, those things constitute the entirety of our existence.

We know of no other form of civilisation. But we only have this institutional and moral baggage because of society, which must reinforce these assumptions to capitalise on them for the benefit of the many, even if it is to the detriment of the few. Yet if the few are all that remains, does it make sense to keep carrying that baggage?

If society collapsed, civilisation might be better served by abandoning these ideas. In fact, a scenario like the one depicted in this show – in which the social order collapses but society’s collective knowledge is still retained – might call for an entirely new set of ideas, ones that turn the small population, the vast stores of knowledge, the complete absence of central authority and the consumer society into advantages.

Yes, the dead walk the earth, hungry for the flesh of the living. But look on the bright side, nothing has to change.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The obsessive worry

Everything you need to know about how the system sees you is expressed in its purest way in ads. I know this is a very unpopular thing to say, but if you find yourself wanting to be bad because everyone else gets away with it, then the problem isn't everyone else, the problem is you.

The word "fetish" is always followed by "disavowal." Speaking generally and defining fetish as sexually necessary, not merely a strong preference, the problem with fetishes is that they are replacements for the person. They are replacements for the thing-in-itself.

An example is a 40-year-old woman who looks in the mirror and decides that her entire sexuality is in a single special part of her, say, her butt, so she diets to make the butt look good at the expense of bony shoulders and a gaunt face. She's fetishised her butt. The point of fetish-ising is to be able to ignore the rest of reality. Hence the disavowal.

Men sometimes do the same to their spouses, empowering a single body part with all of the sexuality. So looking at the calf or the hip bone doesn't simply remind him of the 20-year-old version of his wife, it becomes the fetish that replaces the long-gone version. This isn't illusion or delusion. He is not imagining what his wife looked like when she was 20. That single body part is enough to generate arousal without needing to become aroused by the rest of her.

Any fetish (specific kind of shoe, or a foot, or a piece of lace) is entirely sufficient to generate arousal. This doesn't make the woman look more sexual, it replaces the woman. The problem is that now neither the 20-year-old version nor the 40-year-old version is necessary.

A common sign of this happening is when a man seems to be completely besotted by his girlfriend, "she turns me on so much." He seems to want her all the time. The woman will take this personally, thinking "wow, he really likes me. He really makes me feel good about myself, my body." What she doesn't see is the huge sexual energy for "her" is really about the fetishised her, not actual her. In such cases, love for a person is separate from lust for a person.

It's not the fetish that's the pathology, but what it means that might be the pathology. A person could have a foot fetish which acts as a coping strategy for a decade of sexual abuse and it’s the fetish that keeps him together and balanced. Is that bad? And what happens if his wife stops playing along with the foot fetish? He will go elsewhere to satisfy it because that's the only way he can discharge the energy.

Objectification, on the other hand, is about becoming a practically inanimate object. When choosing a second-hand coffee table, a customer might request the dimensions, age and a brief description of the object. Same thing with soft-core pornography. Objectification is the process by which a thing is reduced to its utility alone. But describing a thing by its physical characteristics is not objectification.

What makes pornography objectification is that it is used. Using heterosexual porn, the woman or the scene is used to arouse and ultimately sexually gratify the user. It is used to help bridge the gap between the reality (watching something on TV or computer) and the fantasy (having actual sex with an actual human). The woman is objectified because, for the user, she literally has no other facets other than her utility for sexual gratification. And incidentally, straight guys are also objectifying the men in those scenes as well.

However, pornography is almost the sole instance where objectification doesn't lead to frustration and alienation that leads to violence. There is a real physical reaction to pornography experienced by the viewer – it isn't simulated orgasm, it's actual orgasm.

Where objectification becomes a problem is everywhere else. Maxim or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition are more dangerous than hardcore porn because they are teases, and teasing is accomplished a) in the presence of an asymmetric power dynamic, and b) by revealing to the viewer they are the weaker part of that dynamic. In this way, teasing functions as advertising. You can look at her, but you can't have her. You have stripped of her ordinary humanity and forced her to be a symbol of value.

So, in that context, it isn't surprising some guys want to steal what they can't otherwise get. Hence the phenomenon of rape. But look at the objectification here. Sex, or the girl, is something you get. You get oral sex, or you get to second base, etc. This is the language of acquisition, of commodities. The sex appeal in marketing is nothing less than the fetishisation of women and their primary sexual characteristics. That is objectification. The reduction of sex to yet another resource to exploit.

Where all pornography diverges from reality is in its frame, in the construction of all pornographic sex acts as requiring a viewer. And all pornography turns its viewers into voyeurs. Pornography is sex fetishised, in which the sex act itself is objectified. But pornography, by breaching the line from reality to fantasy doesn’t lead to a frustrated consumer of sex the same way that "sex appeal" in mass media does.

Money is a fetish of value and not actual value. Facebook is a fetish of relationships not actual relationships. The system pivots on this stuff. Ads do not try to sell you a product. The product is irrelevant. If the ad successfully plugs into social fetishes, you will consequently want the product no matter what it is.

At heart, the problem is that women still secretly believe they are inferior to men, and men still have this haunting suspicion that their true worth – “in other people's minds" – is signalled by a women's opinions of them. After all, money, jobs – all that is fake. Hence the need for something to redefine masculinity, to make it real. Which is why both sexes reach for the fetish to replace the lack.

The important point is not that you believe this to be true, the point is that you want this to be true. Stop letting the system tell you who you are.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Re-framing fake news and Bitcoin madness

Alternative currencies like Bitcoin continue to zoom as confidence in the stability of the global system declines.

Of course, I could be wrong and this daily drumbeat of suicidal rage is simply the new normal. Since I don't see any solid countervailing cultural, sociological and economic forces emerging, this crisis will continue to worsen. My gut tells me there's an existential crisis underway in the West, far deeper and scarier than Trump (he's just a symptom) or Bitcoin. And boy oh boy, is Bitcoin a polarising subject.

Hold onto your hats people, I'm jumping in.

I

First, it’s slow. The blockchain is nowhere near where it needs to be in regards to transactions. It should be hitting <10 per second. Right now, it completes approximately seven transactions per second. By comparison, Visa does 47,000 transactions per second. And because of this sluggishness, they're already charging extra fees so people can jump to the front of the line. That's not a good precedent to set so early on.

Second, if the price declines so much that mining isn't worth the price of electricity, the entire network could collapse and it's back to the gutter for all the "investors." If you think Bitcoin is a good investment at this point, I have some virtual bridges to sell you.

Third, it is doubtful Bitcoin will replace paper currency, but it could co-exist. It’s a $175 billion asset right now and it will be more difficult to ban when it becomes $1 trillion. It could become a store of value if more participants join and it increases its liquidity. My only concern is people could lose faith in the concept if the price drops severely.

Hopefully, Bitcoin hoarders start to behave like liquidity providers instead of trying to make a quick buck. Because at present almost everyone who is buying and holding Bitcoin is doing so purely because they expect to be able to sell it later at a higher price. That's not good if it's supposed to replace money.

II

But the big thing for me is the particularly annoying internet subculture.

You know them. They're like the (mostly) guys at a party who start spouting off about "The Fed" and "fractional reserve banking" as if they stayed awake for half the economics 101 lecture. At some point, they drop the word "fiat" when referencing money, like a codeword for other "woke" pseudo-adults.

These Bitcoin types are often conspiracy theorists in every other area of life too. When Bitcoin got to $700, people wondered what was happening (and I kept hearing “Venezuela!!”). Now that it’s at $17,000, these types refuse to even discuss the strangeness. The idea that the US Federal Reserve is out to get you but some unknowable group of dark web hackers is looking out for your best interests seems a little hypocritical to me. It smacks of my team/your team, which I thought the libertarian, digital socialists wanted to fix.

It's even more hypocritical because Bitcoin and offshore bank accounts have a lot in common in terms of the evasion of laws. They're at once concerned about offshore bank accounts being used to evade taxes while defending those very offshore bank accounts because they allow them to store their billions out of the reach of the countries from which they acquired their billions.

It’s also suspicious that the person who founded Bitcoin, ‘Satoshi Nakamoto,’ reportedly has a stash of 1 million inactive bitcoins (worth over $10 billion by today's prices) and that no one knows who that person is, or if it is a group.

III

Plus, there’s a finite supply of Bitcoins (21 million) and the supply is running out. Currently, about 80% have been mined. What happens when the last one is mined? Does the value go to infinity (= cost of mining new ones) or zero?

It seems unlikely the price will go up forever. There aren’t many fundamentals to drive it up. You can point to the value of gold, but gold actually has uses outside of money (jewellery, electronics, etc) and more importantly, it’s been a store of wealth for ages. It’s imminently tradeable anywhere and at any time.

Everyone knows what gold is and why it has a place in our world of the perceived value of relatively useless non-income producing assets. But 99% of people playing with Bitcoin know nothing about cryptography or the scaling issues. Gold is a fully-informed price. Bitcoin is a just people passing along a buzzword.

Bitcoin is a financial tool and has value only when it’s useful for that purpose. The sign of a bubble is when the ratio of use to speculative appreciation gets out of whack. That ratio certainly varies for different types of goods, but it seems extreme in the case of Bitcoins. So now that Bitcoin is worth $20k, does it still serve the purpose of being a financial tool? Doubtful. And what about all the other cryptocurrencies? A stable long-run value for Bitcoin cannot coexist with an infinitely elastic supply of Bitcoin-like assets, and there are hundreds of these things. Does anything limit the supply of Bitcoin-like assets?

At least gold is the only gold-like substance (silver is a pale imitator). And art is considered a store of value as well because you can display it and accrue prestige. So unless the super-rich start having gaudy displays of Bitcoin (how would this even work?), I don’t see how people will just “agree” that it’s a store of value.

In one sense art collecting is a bit like Bitcoin. In art collecting, you have to ‘mine’ value by attending auctions or shows to buy unknown artists at low prices in the hopes you’ll get a ‘coin’ - which is the equivalent of an artist turning out to be very collectable. Those established ‘coins’ go up in price as people opt to use the specific art as a store of wealth. Maybe Bitcoin is just a type of ‘number art’ where your artwork is a string of digits. The advantage is that Bitcoin has a chain of custody so it’s almost impossible to pass off forgeries.

The principle of gold is that you buy it, you put it in a vault somewhere and when you take it out again, it has roughly the same value as when you put it in. That’s not true in practice, but it’s kind of true, and historically there were very few competitors to gold. Nowadays, gold is less appealing because there are other competitors to being a risk-free long-term value storage. For instance, US Treasuries.

IV

It's also fairly well-known that a large percentage of Bitcoin mining efforts happen within China - between 70-80%, apparently. Has anybody asked if the Chinese are mining the cryptocurrency on government electricity and selling it to each other to inflate the price?

The three largest miners in China make up more than half of the mining power, which leads to the possibility of a Sybil attack. However, that has nothing to do with the price, because the amount of Bitcoin “minted” by miners is pre-determined, and it’s just a matter of which miners get it: Therefore, the ownership of the miners shouldn’t affect the price by itself. But it's still pretty weird.

Bitcoin mining in China
What if Bitcoin’s core “activity” is to convert cheap Chinese coal into US dollars outside of China? That’s not such a good thing to bet on, as a market/asset/whatever. And if the Chinese are doing this much mining, at which point do we consider Bitcoin to be an extension of the Chinese government? Bitcoin looks to be a shadow of the shadow banking in China. I also wonder how much North Korea is involved in all this.

Bitcoin is subject to a 51% attack by the Chinese government when it nationalises/confiscates the mines. This is inevitable. They couldn't “steal” Bitcoin because executing the attack makes Bitcoin worthless. But it can say, “we’re filling a vault with huge amounts of cash. Then we’re going to set the contents on fire to punish the people who put the money in the vault, or cause some general havoc from which we can benefit.”

It certainly has the incentives. Beijing wants to destroy the wealth gained by people who sneaked the coal out of the country? Check. Beijing wants to impose an exogenous financial catastrophe on the rest of the world? Check. Beijing is racing to build quantum computers, which it could use to empty people's e-wallets? Check. And does anyone think Bitcoin will retain its value when the CCCP starts shooting money launderers? After all, it isn't very anonymous.

(It could be Chinese government employees using Bitcoin to move their ill-gotten assets overseas. The anti-corruption purge by President Xi Jinping certainly spooked a lot of people, so if that's part of what's happening, then the clamp-down might not be so inevitable. But that's a big if.)

Throwing people into jail works very well on technological problems. So if Bitcoin’s price is just a reflection of the tight funnel applied to Chinese and Russian millionaires who want to get their money out of their respective countries, when they figure out a different avenue, Bitcoin's price will collapse back to $200.

V

Then again, cryptocurrencies started at zero and will probably end up with a price greater than zero in the long run. There is no way for the journey from point A to point B to not look a lot like a bubble.

Someday they’ll invent a term to describe this sort of situation. For those interested in history, 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’ by Charles Mackay is considered pretty much the definitive historical overview.

Just think how many tulip bulbs or South Sea Company certificates you can buy with just a fraction of a Bitcoin! You can buy even more next week, next month, next year or next decade! Buy Bitcoin now, before the price becomes unaffordable, and you miss out on the biggest opportunity since the Mississippi Company!

One big difference between tulip mania and Bitcoin is how wealthy the uneducated class is in 2017. The West has never been dumber and wealthier. At least in Holland, only a few percent of people even had any wealth, and they tended to be quite educated.

Speaking of educated people, Isaac Newton probably would have bought Bitcoin too, so don't feel dumb. In the spring of 1720, he owned shares in the South Sea Company, the hottest stock in England. Sensing the market was getting out of hand, the physicist muttered that he ‘could calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of the people.’

Sir Isaac dumped his South Sea shares, pocketing a 100% profit totalling £7,000. But just months later, swept up in the wild enthusiasm of the market, he dipped back in at a much higher price and lost £20,000 (the equivalent of £2,743,000 today). For the rest of his life, he forbade anyone to speak the words ‘South Sea’ in his presence.

But tulips aside, I don't think Bitcoin isn’t a bubble. It doesn’t rise to that high of a standard. Assets – things that have value – have value for a reason. A currency has government backing which needs to maintain financial credibility. Homes have usage value. Corporate goodwill promises future earnings growth and dividends. Bitcoin has nothing behind it and only a shadow of value in front of it: the hope that someone else might need an underground currency more than you do and will pay for the privilege.

It’s a currency supported by the needs of marginally and not-so-marginally illegal market participants. Not much else there.

VI

Some people are also pointing out the appaling environmental impact of Bitcoin.

The electricity required to process transactions must constantly grow to offset technology gains in mining. At current rates of electricity consumption, the projection is that mining will consume the entire planet’s electricity supply in five years. Obviously, that’s not gonna happen.

And it's a little unfair anyway. Has anyone done a comparative study of the energy use of Bitcoin versus "traditional" currencies, specifically ones used globally such as the US dollar? The energy consumption of Bitcoin only seems unusually large because it is intrinsically tied to a growing network of physical computers. Plus, it's the "bad guy" in this power play.

While Bitcoin's usage is obvious, we tend not to think about the energy costs of digital currency in general. But traditional currencies are just as much dependent upon the use of computers around the world for record keeping and financial transactions, and also have the added consumption of paper money and coinage - which use exceptional material resources.

Bitcoin, at the present time, does not have a widely used printed mechanism for exchange. I wouldn't be surprised if the global distribution of dollars, both in paper and global financial record-keeping, uses just as much if not more energy as the blockchain.

That's to say nothing about the storage capacity needed. Bitcoin's technology, called “distributed ledger,” is an ever-expanding computer code. This technology is based on a hope that computer technology will keep up with a pace of growth of the distributed ledger.

Unlike ordinary software, where developers can keep it small in case hardware doesn’t advance fast enough, the growth of a distributed ledger is uncontrollable. It balloons with every transaction. It's like a rocket scientist using an unknown material and saying: “Let’s hope it will last.” In fact, Mr Nakamoto wrote in his famous white paper: “storage should not be a problem.” Really? Are you sure about that? We're quickly reaching the limits of microchip miniaturisation, to say the least.

VII

You can make reproductions of paintings easily and inexpensively, but the reproduction will never be the original, even if the difference exists only as an awareness by the owner.

Bitcoin has the legacies of being the first, the crazy history of Satoshi Nakamoto, the stories of the lost hard drives worth millions and the billion dollar pizza. You can clone Bitcoin, but the clone isn’t Bitcoin. Humans are hard-wired storytellers. A centuries-old gold ring owned by a queen is a story worth more than the sum of metal, gems and workmanship. Bitcoin’s story is the lion’s share of its value, and it’s one hell of a story. If you have the means, you can own a piece of that story. That's pretty fun.

Bitcoin seems no different from any other speculative investment, and may well be the premier speculative investment. It is a new asset class that will eventually reach an equilibrium with other stores of wealth. Bullion and the paper cash of reserve currencies seem to be the most appropriate assets to compare it to – scarce, global, fungible, divisible, counterfeit-resistant, etc.

But it's not quite a form of money yet. All money is not alike. A million Zimbabwe dollars are not equivalent to a million US dollars, whereas commodities like gold, copper, and hardwood lumber are fungible. Money seems to derive value from the fact that enough people accept it in trade over time. But that seems kind of superficial and circular, so we have to check the fundamentals: a stable civil order, high productivity, large, liquid market and relative scarcity. What are the underlying fundamentals of Bitcoin?

*crickets*

People say the Bitcoin bubble inevitably will burst. Defenders say, so what, even if there is a correction, the correction will be followed by new highs. Defenders have the better case. Economists tend to focus on classical theories of investing, while the real money is made in speculation. The pending tax bills in the US Congress are a cornucopia of opportunity for this kind of speculative investing.

We are all speculators now. Me? I’m in the tulip market. If the market bursts, at least I can use them to decorate my backyard.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Thoughts on the system - 4

There’s no way to describe the system, the organism. Its vocabulary is grossly underwhelming. The following rough thoughts are an attempt to outline the unoutlineable:


  • Rape is to sex what looting is to shopping. Both assume inherent value not just of the object being desired, but in the system that provides it. Consumerism has eaten sex. Remove value in sex, and you will remove the problem of women as sex objects.
  • Women want the option of being able to either transcend their sexual objectification or regress to it at will to get what they want. They don't like being seen as a sexual object but also need to know they can be seen in this way when it suits their power-needs. As Mignon McLaughlin said: "It upsets women to be, or not to be, stared at hungrily."
  • "Isn't it bad how people in power abuse their positions to rape women?" is literally understood as: "this is what power looks like." The same thing happens with the use of a beautiful woman to sell a car. The sexual exploitation debate is the go-to yelling fest. But the hidden message is: "this is what a beautiful woman looks like." So you are forced to debate the contents of the ad only after accepting the form of the question.
  • Abuses of power are being limited to certain instances, and nothing else besides. If power abuse is the sexual exploitation of women, for instance, then it logically follows that women aren't capable of the abuse of power. The trick is not the logical fallacy, the trick is the distraction by omission. Highlighting certain types of power abuse allows other types to be obscured, such as enforcement of speech-codes, limits to speech, outlawing of services or goods, etc. or deemed "not a priority right now."
  • Society is not moving decisively away from men. The only reason women are allowed into male-dominated roles is that men let them. This social system benefits those who can muster the most people. Civil rights movements did not win against the system, they were used by the system, which explains why an "enemy" ideology got space on newspaper headlines. It also explains why more white men aren't saying "shut up," because the present system still mostly benefits them.
  • Presenting superficial rights to marginalised people was the easiest way for white men to both make more profit and stay/get in power. Women are allowed to become police or enter parliament because of the restraint of men. A freed slave only transfers her ownership to the new master. The door was opened because white men wanted it open. I have never heard a woman or a non-white person ask: "hey, why did they let so many of us in?"
  • The media encouragement of house buying must be suspicious. Media never assists the individual. So the question: "why can't young people buy housing" can be flipped over to the redacted obverse as: "since it is a fact that young people need houses, why can't they afford them?" Do you see? In arguing about house prices, all your energy is spent debating the form of the question, not the force of the question.
  • Suburbia from a power perspective is the spreading out of people so they don't gell and talk about regime change. Those who live in close proximity interact consciously closing spaces of control to the state. In close proximity, citizens can talk openly and freely without the prism of state-sanctioned symbols and signs. Encouraging house purchases over other living arrangements is the destruction of heterotopias.
  • Similarly with public transport and, soon, automated vehicles. In China, private car ownership was illegal until 1994. Why? The car is the most impressive symbol of personal freedom ever invented, in a specific form: spontaneous freedom. Regimented and sterile public transport systems atrophy spontaneity, and ultimately creativity, and therefore the ability to outwit the system.
  • Inside every revolutionary lurks a Puritan.
  • Progressives are the new Christians. The only difference is they don't believe in Jehovah (they still believe in god, it's just an enslaved god who always rules in their favour). Progressives are not atheists. They are humans with the same gene-deep instinct to see and believe in the Omnipotent Other. Progressivism is the American (original) version of Communism. American Communism defeated old Christianity in the 20th century. American Communism is the default mode of government for the entire planet.
  • Progressivism's major beliefs are egalitarianism, pacifism, communitarianism. These are straight out of Mr Christ's teachings in the Gospels. Echoes of these views can be found in Arian, Arminian, Pelagian and many other heresies over the years. It is unclear why, just because it incorporates science, this new version should suddenly be treated as the only exception to the lineage of the Christian ideal in Western history.
  • Progressive Christianity isn't just in control of the West. It's in control of the entire planet. For instance, "moderate Muslims" are just Unitarians with Islamic characteristics ("hey, they're not so different from us after all!" Yeah, why do you think that is?)
  • The problem isn’t progressives, the problem is that old Christianity so completely failed to teach and understand their own religion that they couldn’t even recognise an in-group competitor when it appeared.
  • When a father's "rages" are unpredictable or unrelated to how bad the behaviour was, the kid learns that right and wrong are less important than handling the reactions of those who see it. The lesson is that appearances are more important than substance. This is how narcissists are made.
  • Coveting possessions is unhealthy. All of the computers on TradeMe are mine. In fact, everything on TradeMe is already mine. They're just in long-term, free storage. When I want to take something out of storage, I pay for the storage costs for that particular thing up to that point, plus a nominal shipping fee and my things are delivered to me so I can use them. When I am done, I return them to storage via TradeMe and I am given a fee as compensation for freeing up the storage facilities resources. This is also the case with all of my stuff Amazon and the brick-and-mortar retailers are holding for me. I have antiques, priceless art, cars, estates and jewels beyond the dreams of avarice. The world is my museum, displaying my collections on loan. They are merely curators, just as I am the curator of their things, and thus together we share the world.
  • Every time we come up with a strategy or an ideology to counter consumerism, it eats it and sells the skeleton back to us. Witness all the Che Guevara t-shirts.
  • Consumerism must be fought obliquely by focusing on the future. But not your future. Your great-grandchildren’s future because compound interest rules the universe. The point of working is to ensure your grandchildren live better than you. Everyone says “life is short, live for the now” but this is how you allow yourself to become a battery. Calculate how much money you will accrue in 100 years with a deposit of $1000 at 6% interest and tell me you wouldn’t have wanted your grandfather to do that for you. Who cares if you won’t be around to enjoy it!? You aren’t the point, your future family is the point.
  • Consumerism is a systemic tool to transfer wealth into new pockets. An aristocracy based on this system is inevitable because someone always figures out how to use compound interest. If everyone is "trading up" on new desirable goods, then they aren’t storing wealth and competing for control of the capital. There are people trained to have these thoughts and people trained not to have these thoughts. Which one are you?
  • The only way to win is not to play. When you see something you like, look at it, understand what it is about you that likes the trinket, and with hands firmly in pockets, turn around and walk away. You can visit it at any time. You don't need it at your house. Money equals time. Which means you are spending pieces of your life. Don’t waste time/money letting consumerism turn you into a battery.
  • The real fight with the system is the one happening inside your anxious mind. The thought process: "Since everything can be enjoyed, why aren't I enjoying everything? It must be They's fault!" is toxicity defined. Not everything can be enjoyed. Not everything should be enjoyed. The system's goal isn't to make you happy; its goal is to make you happy right now, not in the next second. It is the creation of a void to fill with things and experiences because no one taught us how to want. How to be comfortable with lack. How to deal with delayed gratification. How to subsume suffering and tragedy.

Thoughts on the system - 3

There’s no way to describe the system, the organism. Its vocabulary so grossly underwhelming. The following rough thoughts are an attempt to outline the unoutlineable:


  • If men have created institutions and banned women from them, then women should create their own institutions and ban men. When women fight for access into male realms, men simply see it as competition and fight back. And since men have been fighting over power in these institutions for millennia, not only will men ultimately win, they will make it look like women are "winning" even as shackles are being clapped to their wrists.
  • Men will always prefer to do business alongside other men. Putting a woman in a room of men always changes the group dynamics, and most men, even if they stay quiet, don’t like what it changes to. If this is social conditioning, then retrain the men. But if humans just like to mingle with others who look like them, then society needs to mirror that reality in the most benign way possible.
  • Some women are excellent at performing jobs that were created for and by men. But there isn't a woman on the planet who is more competent than the best man at performing a particular role.
  • Articles about sexual harassment are the system's way of pretending to care about females to keep them online and economically engaged; to keep them from thinking about exclusion and monopolisation. The consumerist system fears that women will simply put down their phones and move to "safer" places, away from where they can be monetised and enslaved - e.g. and i.e. off the internet. That would ruin the e-economy because women receive most of the clicks and do most of the clicking. The game is to ensure women are comfortable putting themselves online (for free).
  • Men are tapped out. Men have already put everything into the system: their identity, self-worth, their whole lives. But women still have some free space to capture. The system can't let that backslide.
  • No one cares about individual women, the system only cares about whether as a group they are moving in the required direction. It doesn't matter how fractionated the women become, only that a sufficient amount (ideally approaching 100%, but not necessarily) are corralled through the right gates.
  • If it’s true one sex will always naturally be better at something than the other sex, then isn’t there an economic opportunity there? Competition is for losers. Winners aim for monopoly. Women have skills and dynamics that simply aren’t available to men.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in The Will To Power: "they want everyone to grovel in abject submission before the greatest of all lies - the lie known as 'the equality of men' - and honour only the egalitarian virtues, the levelling virtues." If people are equal, then the bikini body shouldn't matter because men will find every body image equally sexually attractive. That's the "logic." But since men don't find every body type equally attractive, then it must be 4Chan's fault or Madison Avenue's fault or Playboy's fault or Photoshop's fault. This is madness.
  • The only time an ideal body image is relevant is when a woman is trying to attract a high-value man. If she just wants a lesser-value man, no one but other women can block her goal.
  • For an attractive woman, a university education lets you both pretend you married her for her smarts.
  • Female hatred for the bikini body type is identical to when a man says the rich and powerful are evil and/or gross because he is not rich and powerful. It is an inversion of virtues as an act of resentment. Since women are biologically attracted to resources and power, if he can trick women into valuing his mediocrity while devaluing successful men, then he will have a better chance of attracting a mate. Socialism, capitalism, libertarianism, etc. are at core about devaluing the status quo sexually successful. They are best seen as complex competition for scarce sexual resources.
  • The most heartfelt body image hatred always include demands for how society must be re-engineered so that, come the Revolution, the complainer herself will be considered hotter-looking.
  • What is a beta male? He is the kind of man who anxiously looks for something to identify him as a man while doing nothing to become a man. What is a beta female? She is the kind of woman who does nothing to transcend her sexuality to become more than an object.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

It's no fun until someone dies

Haunted houses have always bemused me. Why do people do it? 

The thing is, there is no "it." Haunted houses are not houses of horror. They are a ride, a simulation in the purest postmodern sense. A kind of simulacrum of a thing that never actually existed in the first place.

They appear to be assaults on your limbic system faster than your rational brain can remind you that you're on an amusement park ride. Boo! BANG! splatter! Zzzz. But they never do anything to you, they just do stuff around you. And yet people say they want to walk through "to see how much they can take." Before what?

And that's the point. How much you can take before...nothing. The haunted house might be a poor a simulation of horror, but it is a very real experience of no-defence. A haunted house is an exercise of enforced passivity. It's not the gore or scary face I don't like, it is how stifling and unreal everything is. 

You literally have no freedom of action in those places. That's what's actually scary about them - the exhibits can do whatever they want to you and you can't do anything back. An unfiltered experience of fear is the id manifested in reality - the orgy of madness. A nightmare or fantasy that becomes real. But a haunted house only simulates the id through the characters and effects. It isn't a real nightmare, so there is no real collision between fantasy and reality. And so it sort of, just, fails.

The house is really an orgy of the superego. It is a representation of absolute control on the part of the spectator. No matter how much a person wants to instinctively react, the superego suppresses all action. Your body screams to fight or flee. The superego says to do neither. 

And it's the denial of your bodies natural right to act on its own survival instinct that makes the houses terrifying. In the head of every spectator runs the instructions: I DON'T CARE HOW SCARED YOU ARE, DO NOTHING! Like a sarcastic neon sign. The manifestation of so much control over yourself to suppress the survival instinct is the real fight. We know the superego is correct, you can't punch the masked creep in the face because he's just an actor, it's all pretend. If you did punch him, the harm you cause is real. So the tension emerges from keeping the superego in charge at all times.

To want to subject yourself to this - let you superego run wild - is very masochistic. Think of the dominant-submissive sadomasochistic relationship. The part people desire is to be victimised in a real way. They want the submissive experience, which is a masochistic desire. 

On the other hand, those who sign up to do the scaring want the dom/sadist experience. But that isn't what they get. The dom experience of working for a haunted house is only the simulation of letting one's sadistic id run wild. What's really going on is it's their superego run amok, just like the spectators: DO ONLY THESE THINGS AND ONLY TO THIS EXTENT AND DO NOT DEVIATE IN THE SLIGHTEST OR YOU WILL BE PUNISHED. It's the same instruction set.

Just like in the dom/sub relationship, the sub is really in charge of what the dom can ultimately do. The haunted house is a business operating within normal society and the rules of normal society still apply within it, including morality, norms, tort law, etc. The scary costume guy has to be constantly reigning himself in, supervising his own action, under the threat of dire consequences. Why would anyone want to do that? Because they aren't actually sadists, they are masochists, just like the visitor.

I think what really drives the participation in these places from both sides is the need to let the superego run wild. The haunted house is at bottom an extreme expression of the control and restraint we exert over our baser natures. They are not an extreme expression of our baser natures themselves. It's all about control.

Same goes for horror movies, of which I am not a fan, but the art does something to people.

"Scary" is an overly broad category for horror movies, in the same way that "class" is for politics. It's overexposed like a bad photograph negative. If you're not going for the BOO! shock type surprises, then you'll need to embrace a bit of psychoanalysis. It's all about bypassing the ego, unleashing the id and awing the superego. The audience should be introduced to an anxiety they can never resolve. The successful horror movie should end with the audience muttering: "But... but.... no..."

The best films merge the superego and the id because they show you that control is the monster. A good example is the calm and methodical psychopath Michael Myers, who never runs, never yells, never acts crazy. He is persistent and pacing. He is not ruthless and doesn't kill haphazardly. He is an agent of control that is under control, and yet you fear him. Another example is Hannibal Lecter. This monster isn't feral. He kills because he wants to, because he has concluded it's the logical action. The audience should want to find fault with his logic, but can't, and in this way, the viewer is pitted against himself. 

Generic slasher movies in which the monster is a beast are the counterexample. A beast can't be ignored, but walls can be built both in the mind and around the forest. You can set up rules and controls for a beast. It's still fear, sure, but not staring-into-the-abyss fear that allows the audience to identify subconsciously with mutating control while still maintaining anxiety about it. 

There are elements of suspense and tension, but those can be communicated effectively through photography as through dialogue. A horror movie should never say too much because information allows the audience to come to some conclusion.

But the social psychology of the audience is important too. The Exorcist doesn't work as well today because modern audiences miss the significance of the profanity. Ask yourself if you understand what makes the average 18-24 male anxious. What would humiliate them? What would crush them? What would dehumanise them? Do you know? What about the average 18-24 female? Is that the same as for the men?

Consider that in most "good" horror movies involving a female lead, even today, the setting is "the nest." The home or the children. When the lead is a male, the horror has to take place where he slays the dragon. Preferably the horror is the world and he typically forsakes the nest. Then there's the audience perspective, generally males. Do women see themselves in the context of the home and children, or is it the men who see the women that way? How much of the anxiety is sex or morality, or how much is it the conceptualised ideas like body image, integrity and isolation in a crowded world (as opposed to isolation in an empty world)?

I think horror movies are very difficult to pull off, maybe more difficult than any other kind of film, because you have to strip out the reason, intellect and civilization and get to the stuff that adults have moved beyond or forgotten. You need the photography to work in concert with the plot and characters and take advantage of the "uncanny valley" - of visual and auditory dissonance. Make it subtle.

The worst are the ones that disgust the audience with gore because then the filmmaker becomes the attacker and the audience becomes the victim. To paraphrase Stephen King, take the audience by the hand and lead them gently around the corner into the Dark. 

Did you not find "Lost Highway," "Mulholland Drive," or "Inland Empire" disturbing? What about The Ring? Or The Shining? How about books? Read Jack Ketchum's collection "Peaceable Kingdom." Read Joe Hill's "20th Century Ghosts."

When you get to the scary parts, ask yourself why you are scared by it. What about how the scenes are shot or the sentences written upsets you? If you can understand why something scares you, rest assured that same thing will scare millions of other people for the same reason. We all have similar upbringings and are part of the same culture.

What attracts you to them? Is it some taboo, or the idea that you will cross some line and see things you have not seen before, and explore some dark side? Why do you want to explore your dark side? Have you explored your "light side", your compassion, love for you fellow man? Do you find yourself attracted to a movie such as "Life is Beautiful" because it reveals the inner beauty in all of us? For true insight, you have to ask: What is it about me that ...?

A lot of people who want to explore their darkness only ever explore their darkness, but never ask why they only want to explore that side, and why they lack a desire to explore their other side/s.

Any work of art is worth seeing because it illuminates the human condition intellectually, emotionally, or both. Viewing horror movies reveals to us that there are people who enjoy making them because they like to simulate and show violence, or because they will do anything for money. It also reveals that people really want to see this kind of violence, to see humans depicted as little more than bags of meat for the amusement of other humans. 

Maybe for you, this will be troubling, or maybe it will make the beautiful things you see shine that much brighter. But just as a beautiful work of art can inspire you, illuminate your mind, and enrich your experience of the world, an ugly work of art can have the opposite effect. 

And my dad told me years ago: remember that some things once seen cannot be unseen.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Game of Nations and the coming resource wars

The ascendance of China and India has more than doubled the number of people competing for the resources that were 15 years ago consumed primarily by North Americans, Europeans and Japanese.

It’s not just oil and energy. Nations care about industrial metals as well, along with fertile land, corn and wheat. The metals can be recycled. Just because a person uses aluminium to make a can doesn't mean that quantity of aluminium vanishes from the earth. It can be turned into a wire, an aircraft part or another can. Similarly, corn is renewable. People eat it, excrete it and grow more.

But 600 million years ago a sea dinosaur died and was buried at the bottom of the prehistoric ocean. Mingling with other animals under heat and pressure, it became the hydrocarbon sludge we call oil. Three months ago it was sucked from the ground, shipped to a refinery, cracked, turned into gasoline, trucked to a service station and sold for $1.30 per litre. Then the dinosaur gets incinerated in five seconds when passing the old lady in the fast lane.

There is no reusing oil. Once burned, it's gone forever. Oil is unique among the competitive resources. If there is no oil in the next 20 years, it will mean industrial and economic death for a good chunk of the developed world. So it follows that if there are 10 years of oil left in the world or 500 years, it will be easier to fight conflicts over resources now than to wait until later.

The reason humans will continue to fight is not that we are using too much oil for fuel, but that oil is a production input for everything. People who own oil effectively control a percentage of the world’s economic activity, because all economic activity uses oil. No other industry can tax the whole of economic activity like this (except governments).

Alternatives could replace fuel oil, but we're just delaying the inevitable because oil is only about 50%-60% used for energy. An almost equal amount is used for chemicals and electric cars will still need to lubricate their chassis and gears. Those lubricants are oil-based, as are many household products. Besides, recycling plastic is inefficient and often ineffective.

The sphere of a country’s national interests extends to every place on the planet on which it depends on for trade, resources and security. There is no shame in admitting that a country depends on the Middle East for oil or on Japan, Korea or China for trade. It also has the benefit of being true. We need oil and trade to survive. That's the reality. And therefore certain things need to happen.

Countries are hard at work making things difficult for their rivals. Borders are meaningless. Where are the resources? Where are the most economical routes for tapping those resources? That's the map that everyone should look at. If someone is already claiming those resources, the game is to get them to sell, force them to sell, encourage them to leave, force them to leave, try to steal it from them – and failing all that, just kill them.

It astounds me that people still think because the US bungled in Iraq that it bungles everything everywhere. If that were true, the US would never have achieved the level of power and influence it has in the world. When it comes to resources, the US wants to ensure no other nation on earth is powerful enough to do what it did in Iraq. What did it do in Iraq? Seize control over – surprise – the world's largest oil reserves. Resources aren’t everything, but it’s a major factor.

The strategic behaviour of nations in relation to resources determine nations' ability to compete and survive. It is very easy to say the US could have done much better in Iraq, but it is hard to argue that the US would have been better off in the long term if those oil reserves were outside its control, or worse in other country’s control. Even if most of Iraq’s oil in 2003 and in 2017 goes to China.

But regardless of the outcome of these future wars, "we" don’t matter. "We" do not own or control the oil industry, "we" do not operate defence contractors. "We" are the people slaving away in the fields to pay taxes to our respective kings. When the taxes aren't enough for Our Majesty's liking, we offer up our first born to go fight the firstborn in another kingdom.

We do this gladly, as our patriotic duty, praying for our knights as they ride into battle, and will glorify and sing songs to remember their valour and honour on the battlefield. And throughout it all, we forget our royal family has married into their royal family, and that our king considers their king "a friend." The lesson? Certain outcomes are inevitable when resources are scarce.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

What Golriz Ghahraman should have said

Golriz Ghahraman says she’s “not ashamed” about her role as a legal representative of war criminals. So why was she sheepish about including the details of this on her profile?

I know a lawyer who worked on the Sudan partition. He had to deal with genocidal maniacs just like Ms Ghahraman did, and not in a court of law situation either. He doesn’t think he was a "good person," a humanitarian or a bad person. It was all part of the job. Yet for whatever reason, Ms Ghahraman doesn’t seem to believe in roles, only in identity. Yes, that's going to be a problem.

She thinks being a lawyer says something about her as a person. When in reality she is neither bad nor good the moment she puts on the court dress. That’s the point of the stupid wigs. It is a visible ceremonial transformation of a person into a human representative of a social concept called “the law.”

The mistake is to assume any overlap between who you are as a person and what you become as a lawyer. A criminal can threaten, punch or even kill a lawyer, but the criminal can never attack the concept of the law.

The way I see it, Ms Ghahraman is struggling to divorce herself from her identity as a person and the roles she plays in society. She should have no problem discussing her responsibility as a representative of war criminals.

As a woman, she has done some nasty stuff, but as a lawyer, she has nothing to fear. The power of being a lawyer isn't inherent in being a lawyer, it only exists if everyone else believes you have that power. And if the other person chooses not to believe, then the lawyer doesn't have it.

More importantly, will this inability to splinter her institutional role from her identity be a problem while she’s a politician? What sort of decisions are available to a person who believes the role they are playing might reflect on them as a person? What decisions are unavailable?

This matters because politicians are always fighting to gain respect from and authority over civil servants. The civil service always pokes and prods for weakness. What if one doesn't accept his "role" as an advisor, as someone at the mercy of Ms Ghahraman's political authority? The errant advisor doesn't just not let himself be intimidated, he won’t see her as someone with significant power.

And because Ms Ghahraman's power was given to her by the parliamentary system, it is, essentially, paper mache, and since the advisor knows this, he will blow right through it because he predicts she will flinch. At that moment all he needs to do is make her doubt herself and her power, and she would respond as a powerless person. Who, then, will be in control of the department?

What she should have done when the revelations emerged is take control of the context, and retreat deeper into her previous role of an agent of the court and say: "It doesn't matter if you think I’m a terrible person. It doesn't matter if you don't recognise the impersonal strength of the court, it exists, and I used it."

In other words, take her personal weakness as a given but irrelevant point: “I was acting as part of a larger, massively powerful structure that could crush even war criminals into oblivion. And now I’m supposed to care what you think of me as a person?”

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Is the West poking the Russian Bear?

Maybe the Russian fiddled with the US, maybe it didn’t. But the box called “the Russia problem” looking worryingly full at the moment.

The problem is simple. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to redress historic Russian grievances and believes the West is out to get him. I’ve heard Mr Putin described as a patriot. Not a Russian patriot – a Soviet patriot. Is he correct?

Well, when US President George W Bush went to Russia in 2001, he famously looked Mr Putin in the eye and saw his soul. But Robert Gates, the former secretary of defence, told Mr Bush that when he looked, he saw the KGB.

Mr Gates knew the Russian leader is well-practised in conspiratorial thinking and wants to help erode the global order faster than Washington can accommodate the changes. But Russia is not a resurgent power, it is a revanchist power (the political will to reverse historical losses). This term has acquired a distinct odour of…evil. After all, peace means accepting the results of history. Revanchism means the Welsh Liberation Front demanding the return of London from those human-rights violators, the Saxons – for instance. A recipe for permanent disorder.

Accommodating Russia’s 2014 revanchist annexation of Crimea will happen eventually. Just not right now. Russia is not ready to enter an international community of like-minded, like-governed and like-purposed nations. It has chosen to justify its autocracy by re-identifying Moscow as the “Third Rome” and by pointing its finger at a corrupt and decadent West. The feeling is mutual, I’m sure.

When entering his first term, Mr Putin based his legitimacy on oil priced at over $100 per barrel and a booming sovereign wealth fund. The social contract was simple: I’ll make Russia rich if it gives me power. Yet during his second term, oil has halved in price and the country’s economy is dishevelled. Mr Putin had to re-jig the social contract to a worrying: I’ll make Russia proud if it gives me power.

Russia has latched onto real and perceived grievances by encouraging a view of an outside world that is relentlessly hostile to it. But is Mr Putin right to stir up this fear? In the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, US Army Europe has downsized from 20 brigades to two. The Soviets were famous for their metric of everything that determined relative power – called the “correlation of forces.” So there is no conceivable way a Russian officer schooled in this methodology today could view NATO as representing a serious threat to the Russian Federation.

Lining up the dots instead point to the Kremlin itself. There is a precarious domestic political situation in Russia, from which Mr Putin is trying to distract by blaming the outside world. On top of this, the Russian state is incredibly weak. Mr Putin is essentially sitting on a kiddie chair at the kiddie table of world nations. Mr Putin wants to be at the adult table with the US, Germany, the UK and others, but he can’t make his chair grow bigger. So he attacks everything that makes the adult table tall and comfortable.

And yet, none of his actions would be possible if there wasn’t already a widespread feeling of meltdown within the West. Russian meddling isn’t surprising. The surprise? There was an open wound for it to exploit. To put a stop to Russian revanchism the West needs to believe in itself and close these wounds. Yes, I can hear Mr Putin laughing too...

The only winning move is not to play

We all know the next economic crash is coming. So before it gets here, just know that if you default on a $1 million house, by definition you are not rich. Rich is when your assets minus liabilities is a large number. I already know the next crisis will be caused by poor people who think they are rich.

This is the definition of living beyond your means. The buyer knows the house is beyond their means. Sure, there’s fraud and unfair dealing on the part of banks, lenders and brokers. And while I appreciate people were breaking and bending rules, I am not convinced that the rule-breaking causes economic crises, nor am I convinced that the simultaneity of the rule-breaking and the looking-the-other-way by regulators wasn't itself a product of the market.

It is important for vested interests, like banks, to convince you the cause of a crisis was because some bad actors broke the rules. The message they need to send is that if they followed the rules, no crisis would occur. If they can convince of this, a lot of money remains intact.

But what if the crises happened and the rules by-and-large weren't broken (or the rule breaking was not consequential)? What happens if the structure of the system (maximisation of profit and commoditisation of everything including homes) leads to everyone breaking the rules at the same time, causing everyone to look the other way at another person’s wrongdoing?

That would mean an economic disaster is a normal, possible outcome of a free market. It means that the system encouraged speculation and then incentivised everyone to break the rules when their anticipated profit exceeded some threshold. If people realise that, they might want to change the system, not just the rules. And that would be very bad for business.

People need to see that the size of your house does not make you rich – unless you do not pay a mortgage. The model of car you drive does not make you rich. Every single person who drives a car drives a used car. The brand of furniture, the latest phone, your clothes, which trends you maintain, the friends you keep, and the neighbourhood in which you live do not make you rich.

Those things, perversely, conspire to keep you from becoming rich. If your lifestyle depends on a particular net cash flow, it might be a comfortable life, but that doesn’t make you rich.

Everyone is conditioned to see the cost of things in terms of the money. $2000 for an iPhone costs $2000. Simple. But it’s wrong. It actually costs $2000 and the loss of other things you would have spent the money on. You have to look for the negative space. It’s a problem of perception of value and opportunity costs. Did you actually choose the iPhone over dance lessons or courses to help you at your job? No, you thought the trade-off was either the iPhone or keeping $2000.

Now add in all the other crap. $3.00 apps, lattes, gourmet cupcakes, etc. Things that should cost $0.70 but cost $4.00 because the person selling them spent more time choosing which font will be used on the box than in actually making the thing. Now add in the big stuff, like a new state-of-the-art laptop every four years, or a new car every five years.

Money is a unit of exchange. The purpose is to facilitate comparisons of the value of goods. An iPhone costs as much as piano lessons for a year. But no one walks into the store thinking like that. Because if they did, they'd spend money on things that make them better and happier for the rest of their lives – none of which is available at malls or from publicly traded companies.

The iPhone does not cost you $2000. It costs you $4000 per year for the first two years. A home internet connection costs another $1000 per year. Those are things absolutely every single person can easily live without, and they absorb $5000 per year in your after-tax income.

What if I snapped my fingers, and you got a $5000 a year raise? How much would you thank me? $5000 a year is high-quality music lessons every single week for your kid. Or the best math tutor, or a writing tutor, or a football coach. It's a personal trainer and could keep two fairly good cars running smoothly. It's a month's mortgage payment (in Auckland’s market, anyway).

And yet, people don't stand in line overnight in front of a pianist's house to get lessons. New Zealanders are still overweight. People are scraping by instead of saving. $5000 per year at 3% interest is $133,000 in 20 years. But the iPhone X will be worth nothing in 18 months when a new model comes out.

It isn't worth $2000. That’s just its price, not its value. Its value is different for every consumer, including those who value it at $1700, and therefore don't think it is worth the price and so don't buy it. This isn't semantics. Economics and markets are concerned with price, not value. People aren’t assessing the value of things. Instead, they perceive the price as obstacles to their desires. When was the last time you read a critical piece about Apple? It should be treated like Philip Morris.

Think about it in another way. Some people can go out with friends, have a few drinks, and then for the next ten weeks never drink a drop. But that doesn’t mean drunks don’t exist. Many of those people waiting in line for the iPhone X are consumption "drunks." They are the same kind of people who leverage ten-to-one to buy a house they don't need.

When the iPhone X was announced on 3 November 2017, people couldn't wait to buy it. And yet at the same time, every leader in the developed world is giving speeches about stagnant wages, low productivity and job losses. These are burdens families have been dealing with for decades – the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help their kids with university.

The cognitive dissonance is staggering. Many of the people waiting with bated breath for a new smartphone, also voted for Donald Trump or Jacinda Ardern precisely because they thought the former administration broke the economy. And yet they are perpetuating the same consumer psychology responsible for tearing down those economies over the last 40 years.

We are so programmed to receive marketing – so attuned to chase status and hunt cool – that we are no longer able to perceive the actual world as it is. Our cognitive apparatus is short-circuited, and now the visual cortex is directly connected to our wallets. I see something cool, therefore I want it, and therefore I buy it.

If any product you own appears on the cover of a magazine, you got taken. If you ever stood in line to spend your money, you got taken. Look at all the marvellous things you have. Stare at them. Then ask yourself out loud what you don't have. Ask yourself out loud what those things took from you beyond what was indicated on the price tag.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

News: An easy to market, safe distraction from the structural problems that can never be named

As defined, the news is not news. It is like going to a restaurant and having the waiter order for you based on his preferences, and whether he thinks you're fat.

It’s confusing because we think we're hearing about big stories that can't be ignored – like a Zimbabwe coup – so we think we're learning about what's happening. But that "news" was the result of a decision tree. Why show us Zimbabwe and not the Democratic Republic of Congo? Or, why Iraq now and not Syria now?

Most educated people worry about news bias. Is it left or right? Safe or not safe? What angle are the sponsors pushing? But those are small potatoes, Danny Q. There is no overarching bias, at all. There is no "goal" or "message" or "worldview." It's a set of right-now and what-benefits-the-channel? What will play well with the 18-25 demo? That’s what we absorb as our view of the world.

Media companies don’t compete against other media – they’re in the time business, just like everyone else. Media is actually competing against all the other activities people might choose to pursue. (This is also how you should look at money. Your decision to purchase a coffee means you won’t have $5.99 to spend anywhere else. It’s not about the things you buy that really matters, it’s the infinity of all the other things that are now impossible to buy because of that coffee.)

Here's a basic example of what I mean, picked at random. On the NZ Herald home page, the lead story is, "Students in tears over NCEA maths exam that was 'set too high.'" Is this news? Is it useful? No. You understand it is sensationalist "education needs to be more progressive" propaganda. But you that’s because you hate the Herald. If you didn't already hate the Herald, what would you have learned from this piece?

Those stories are chosen, out of the quadrillions of events much more important, not because of political or ideological bias, but because the editors and algorithms know it’s what you want. If you're watching it, it's for you.

Two things result: first, you learned something out of context that has no value. Second, you did not learn something else. And the second is infinitely more detrimental to your sanity. The mistake is to think you can go somewhere else for news. There is nowhere else. They all operate under the same immediate-benefit journalistic model.

This is inescapable. Short of being present at the event in question, the best you can do is to absorb what you see and read – there are no news sources free of this – and ask yourself the most fundamental question of media: "what does the author want to be true?"

Some might say we need more trained journalists who know the subject, have developed sources on all sides, strive for objectivity and are working with editors who check their facts, steer them in the right direction and are a further check against unwarranted assumptions, sloppy thinking, sloppy reporting and conscious or unconscious bias. And I’d probably agree.

But even with these people in the newsrooms, there are maybe two stories per day in any given paper that satisfy these criteria. The rest of news is garbage of the if-it-bleeds-it-ledes variety or pop culture junk. I don't need a sports section, I don't need a style section, I don't need to know about rapes, murders, arsons, fires, or assaults that happened overnight. I don't need a rehash of the greatest hits of the police radio.

Media places a greater value on access to officials than on investigating officials. Had they passed that test, had they really earned the status of being the Fourth Estate, we would right now be discussing how newspapers could do the heavy lifting while bloggers just offer commentary. But we aren't, and there's no going back.

It's far from certain print journalism will disappear. Theatres still exist despite cinema. Cinemas still exist despite television. Radio still exists despite CDs and television. Maybe print journalism will stabilise at a lower level, or it could move onto DRM platforms like the Kindle or subscriber-based websites where it can still make money.

News has its faults, but there seems to be an unnecessary level of doomsaying. If print journalism vanishes rather than shrinks, and if online journalism doesn't respond by upping its game, and if nobody manages to make subscriber services profitable ... then yes, we're looking at the Death of the News. But that's a lot of ifs.

What’s really threatened here? The newspapers or the news? Why do we care that an old industry is being replaced by a new one? Newspapers never made money on journalism. They made money on advertisements and classifieds. Classifieds went to Trademe years ago and advertising is disappearing as many legacy businesses are “disrupted.” People are no longer flooding to Big Box retail sales the way they did in 1987, so eventually the companies caught on and stopped shouting about it in ads. Oh well.

From the business standpoint, the writing has been on the wall for about twenty years. But that’s not the real reason people get their news from blogs or wire services rather than from the web versions of newspapers. In that time, spin has been perfected. And by spin, I’m referring to the people knowing so thoroughly about the boundaries of journalism as practised by major newspapers and TV that they can artificially manage the reporting and create a narrative.

In other words, spin is reverse engineered journalism. If I know how reporters work, if I know they always look in particular places and ask certain kinds of questions, I can set up the conditions and environment long before so that any reporter doing their usual work only learns what I want them to learn. I don't have to feed them a story, I just feed them an artificial world they can investigate and write about.

Traditional media can't deal with this. And until it can institutionalise a way to cut through or negate spin, it won't be nearly as effective as a blogger writing: "The prime minister said X, but this other source said 'not X'."

A strong regional paper like the Waikato Times has reporters on staff covering many aspects of the community. For instance, a guy has to cover the monthly sewer committee meeting (or something like that). Often, no story will come from that meeting, but the public is able, through the reporter, to keep an eye on it to make sure a member’s brother in law doesn't get handed a sweet no-bid contract.

If the paper is gone and no one covers that monthly meeting, who knows what shenanigans local officials will get up to? Bloggers sure won’t cover the dull minutia of local government, and in reality, you’d have to be suspicious of the motives of any blogger who does step forward to do this.

My point is, it's all very well to spout off about how the corrupt dinosaurs failed us and who needs them and so on, but you're missing the big picture: journalism is a vital part of government, practiced not just in the august halls of parliament and panelled conference rooms, but in crappy little city halls and over lunch with the local tax assessor. It's not always perfect, often it's not even good, but it's crucial to the way countries run. How can a country govern itself if no one is watching the government?

But legacy journalism doesn’t necessarily need to fulfil this responsibility, and neither does blogging. There are entirely new literary forms online. Blogging is the new thing the ossified magazine folk understand because it closely follows the old paradigm in which the writer is the opinion maker and the reader is largely silent.

The real literary vanguard is threaded discussion, which is not so much random as chaotic and interactive. The discussions revolve around central themes or ideas and with each argument, the true nature of that central idea becomes clearer. These are new literary structures that have not yet been explored.

Maybe this is a generational thing. Maybe the “kids these days” will grow up to be “adults these days” and take their threaded conversations into boardrooms and the C-suite. Maybe they’ll figure out how to make it profitable, or cut the ties between media and revenue completely once and for all. Who knows?

But you’re not going to figure this out if you watch TV news. I know this because no one smart would watch TV news. If you are watching TV news, then you're not smart. I’m not saying this, TV news says this. After all, no one smart would ever ask another person, let alone the news, to explain how the news relates to them.

Marla, you liar! You big tourist, I need this! Now, get out!