Archive for September, 2008


Signs of the apocalypse…

No, not the collapse of the 700 billion dollar bailout, not the record single day drop in the stock market, the fact that I agree with something on! I don’t agree with him across the board here, but in essence I agree that the economy of the US needs to be allowed to collapse and recover on its own, and that the bailout was a hideously bad idea. I do think that plowing 700 billion into the economy at the bottom could be a good thing… but not at the top.

This is like engineering. The US has noticed that the economy is not stable, so they plan to start throwing support at the top of it. In engineering terms this is completely insane. Imagine, if you will, that you have noticed a building is showing signs of collapsing. You decide, in your infinite wisdom, to start adding bracing, extras supports, some new wall materials, but you are adding it all to the twentieth floor and above. The collapse of the building might be slowed slightly (the floors above twenty are taking the most wind…) but the collapse will still happen, and it will be way worse when it does (after all, all of that extra material needs to come down now…). In engineering you would make a decision… either fix the support of the building from the bottom up or bring the damn thing down, and that is the choice that is facing the US at the moment. To shore up the building they would need to start forgiving consumer debt left right and centre, buying people out of their mortgage or assuming the burden of it while allowing the owners to keep it, paying off credit cards for the average person, etc. That would re-introduce liquidity into the economy, put people into the position of paying off some of their debts (which would in turn shore up the financial industry) and leave the economy on sounder footing. It might not be enough (I don’t think it would be given the realities of peak oil) but it would be a hell of a lot better than what the US is trying. The other sane alternative is to simply say “This is bad paper, and there will be no bailout at all” and let the whole thing crash down… after which it can start to rebuild.


Survival of the fattest.

The US congress just rejected the 700 billion dollar bailout plan… thank whatever powers may be out there. I am not a free market capitalist, but this kind of government intervention in the market is not only morally wrong, it is downright stupid. It is saying that if you gamble enough money you get a free pass. If it had passed it would also mean that the underlying issues would not get dealt with, so the US economy would tick on for a little bit longer (maybe through Christmas when the lack of consumer spending would finally make clear how much trouble the US is in…) and then fall even harder than it is falling right now.

Lets face it, the US economy is broken at the core. The points of failure are myriad, but a few that stand out are resource depletion, lack of regulation on commercial banking, lack of legal accountability on the parts of CEO’s and upper level executives, lack of morals on the part of politicians, and an almost complete lack of understanding of energy. That last one is probably the most serious. The US economy is based almost entirely on cheap abundant oil. The oil supply has not increased in any measurable way since 2005. Given the laws of supply and demand there should have been an increase in the amount of oil making its way into the economy when oil went to $140 a barrel, instead the demand dropped because people couldn’t sustain operating at that price. This means that the US has finally hit a hard limit to growth (had to happen eventually, no matter what economics says physics says that infinite growth can’t happen and physics trumps economics every time). Unfortunately the US economic system is not geared for sustaining. In the event of no growth the US is revealed as a pyramid scheme… and pyramid schemes only work so long as they can keep pulling new money in.

The entire house of cards is going to fall down, and it will do so faster than anyone is imagining. The markets crashed and then went into a minor rebound… with economists and stock market analysts predicting a rebound. The problem is, the rebound is going to be just as short lived as it becomes clear that there is no liquidity being added to the market and foreign investors are showing every sign of tightening up their money. The biggest threat to consumer confidence in the market is volatility… if the market can go up and down by more points in a single day than ever before in history and it keeps doing that, people just won’t feel safe. The only investors left will be gambling addicts (of course, it could be argues that the only investors now are gambling addicts). I have a small RRSP that is invested in the market. I am considering ending my contributions to it and investing in precious metals instead since they have always outperformed the stock market… there is probably a lot of that going on at the moment. Now, having said that… I will probably let my money ride simply because I have never seen that small amount that comes off of every pay cheque. Many other people look at it differently, they see the value of their retirement fund dropping like a stone and they pull out of the market… which makes everyone else’s retirement fund drop like a stone. In the end it becomes clear that the stock market is basically playing roulette.


Wealth: What is it?

I am wealthier than most of the human beings ever born on this planet. So are you, at least if you are reading this at a computer in your own home. Having said that… wealth is fairly poorly defined and its meaning changes easily.

A good example of this is diamonds. If you have a lot of diamonds you are probably considered wealthy. This is due purely to scarcity, and if the international diamond consortium released all the diamonds in their possession onto the market at once, the price of diamonds would rapidly approach the price of gravel. So, obviously diamonds aren’t wealth in and of themselves, they have very limited intrinsic worth (although they are somewhat useful). How about gold then? I mean, people keep talking about going to a gold standard to give money backing with something of intrinsic value. Again though, it fails several mental tests. What is gold good for? It is a decent material for electrical and electronic components, it has decent conductivity and doesn’t corrode. Still, that hardly justifies the price of gold. Gold has value purely due to scarcity, and that is why people use it as jewelry, because it allows them to let others know they are wealthy.

What, in the end,  is wealth used for? Food is a good starting point. When food gets scarce, the wealthy tend to get the best of it. So does food have intrinsic value? Try going without for a week or two and you will quickly decide that it does. Access to food is without question wealth.

Given that criteria,  what else is wealth? Shelter is pretty high up there. In fact, it tends to be one of the things that the wealthy have an excess of. Big, big, big houses. If you don’t have shelter, you are poor. There is no-one who lacks shelter who is not poor, period.

Water is another one… if you don’t have it you are poor, very, very poor. If your access to it is limited, you are poor, very, very poor.

There is actually nothing else I can think of that guarantees someone who lacks it is poor. There are rich people who are nudists, who choose to wear nothing much of the time. There are rich people who don’t drive (although that is rare, take a look at Howard Hughes near the end). Food, Shelter, Water. That is wealth and it is the whole of wealth. Everything else is just trappings, dross to distract the eye, stand ins that allow us to ignore that our relative poverty in real terms means that if  food gets short, Bill Gates gets to have it and we may not.

The problem with wealth, as all animals know, is that you need to be able to defend it. If you can’t keep bears out of the cave, they will take it from you. If you can’t chase the lions off, they eat the zebra. When food gets short, our current wealthy should keep that in mind, or else the hungry masses will take their shelter, their food, and if it is short, their water.

I wrote this piece in order to deal with what the Austrian school of economics calls natural law. This is natural law, and the social contract is all that prevents it most of the time. When food starts to run out, the social contract loses force and those who got the short end of the stick find alternate means of wealth redistribution.


Sport Hunting.

This piece is inspired by the anonymous commenter with the fart obsession.

I eat meat. I realize that is an environmentally indefensible position, and yet, I do it anyway. That probably makes me a hypocrite, but I’m OK with that (in fact, most of us are hypocrites sometimes). What I do have issues with is sport hunting. Now, in most sports, every competitor has a chance of winning… for example, in football, both teams have an even chance of winning that game, at least based on the rules (talent of players and intelligence of coaches is a different matter). In hunting, only the human can win. You see, winning in hunting is killing the other party, very hard for a deer to do when the other party is half a mile away behind a blind with a high powered rifle. To make sport hunting a real sport, you need to give the hunter a knife, and only a knife. At that point he has to jump the deer and manage to kill it with the knife. The deer has a pretty damn good chance of maiming or killing the hunter. Now you have a real sport.

From a bit more serious tone: Hunters talk about the need to thin the deer population, but they harm the overall deer stock in a given area. Sport hunters kill based on criteria that are dangerous, for example, they kill the buck with the best rack of antlers. That buck is the most successful buck in the herd and is the one that should most have its genes passed on. Wolves, on the other hand, have always killed the old, the weak, the sick. Wolves make the deer stronger, humans make them weaker, over successive generations.

This brings me back to the knife idea. If the hunter has to kill the prey with a knife, they will kill the one that has the least chance of killing them, or they will go after the one with the best rack of antlers, and the deer wins… improving our gene pool by editing out stupidity.


Womens only gyms.

I keep seeing ads for Curves, a women’s only gym. I have issues with this but it has taken a while for me to articulate them.

The issue I have is simple… men are not allowed by law to have mens only establishments. This was a fight that took many years on the feminists part, a fight that they won at least throughout North America. Now, the response I have heard to this is that men can have mens only gyms. On the surface that seems like a decent deal, but it isn’t. You see, a gym doesn’t occupy the same space in a mans life that it does in a womans. Generally men are more relaxed at the gym, they don’t feel pressured to look a certain way to the same degree, and they are more worried about other men judging them than they are women judging them. Also, they have far less fear of being hit on by the opposite sex. In fact, a same sex only gym for men is likely to trigger a lot of mens anxieties exactly the same way a mixed sex gym will for a woman. So, this is not actually even remotely equivalent.

So, what you really need for equivalence is a place where men are more comfortable with only men around. I guess the question is, does such a place exist? Well, it used to at least. Men used to have men’s clubs. These were nicely appointed private clubs that men would attend. Usually the men who attended these clubs had money (because the clubs were expensive) and they spent their time talking with each other and drinking, usually whiskey of some sort. They also often smoke cigars. It has been a few years since the last club in my home town was forced to open its doors to women via lawsuit.

I know the arguments already… women won’t be comfortable working out around men, so they need a private place so they can get the benefit of exercise, something that we need a lot more of in this society. The thing is, you change the character of the conversation in a place when women come in. Men are simply not comfortable talking about some things in front of women… mostly about women in fact. Now, if you are a feminist at this point you are probably shaking your head in disgust, but keep in mind that I am not a member of these clubs and wouldn’t want to be. I prefer to spend my time in the company of both sexes… but I think it is unfair that men simply don’t have that option even if they want it.

Of course, there is one local business that is men only (although they do have a monthly womens night). The local gay bath house. Thing is, again, that isn’t something for the general population of men. It is a place where men go to have sex with other men. If I wanted to sit around and swap bullshit stories with a few mates, the bath house is probably not the place to go. It still doesn’t fulfill the need for a place where men can just be men without any feminine influence.

I propose that women be allowed to have their female only gym, but that men get to have a male only club. That seems to be the only way to be fair. Of course, I will keep going to the clubs that don’t discriminate.


FU Halifax

Well, the freehackers union Halifax Chapter first date has been set. Saturday September 27th at 7pm at the Second Cup on the corner of Spring Garden and Queen.
View Map please note, the map is off by about one building…
The second cup has no idea this is happening, and we have no gear at all (no projector, no screen, nothing but ourselves and our projects).
The main site explains the concepts:
You have to show something if you come to the first show… it can be art/wires/code. Wires means electrical or mechanical creations… basically just cool hardware. I am more than cool with good steampunk stuff that ignores electricity completely in the wires category… although if it looks steampunk it probably makes the art criteria so no worries there.
I have started working on the local chapter site.


Glenn Sacks again

Glenn has published part two of my piece criticizing the Mens Rights Movement. It is fairly short but is more critical directly of him than the other part, which makes it a real credit to him that he put it up.

Also, I have to apologize for harping on about it not being up in his forums. Sorry Glenn, my bad. Really doesn’t change things that much in retrospect.