Sunday, June 30, 2013

Teachers are substandard

I have previously calculated, on the basis of their SAT scores, that school teachers today have an average IQ of approximately 95.  And based on this email posted at Chaos Manor, it is clear that education majors have been the absolute dregs of academia for quite some time now:
I worked my way through college. The university I attended generously provided jobs to many students. One job I held was that of Computer Operator on the IBM 360/70 in the university computer center.

After my first semester working in the computer center, I worked the wake-up shift, 0600 – 0900. Many of the universities administrative computational jobs came to me to run because things were quiet at that time, and, thus, the demands on the CPU were less.

The university faculty senate had expressed some concerns about the school’s reputation, or rather the lack of it. They wanted to know why this was. So they compiled years of grades, punched them onto 80-column cards, and toted those cards down to the computer center where they spilled those data onto a tape. That took the better part of a day and all that evening which meant they did not have time to run the statistics on those data and print them out. Problem was that the computer center had promised Dr R, the president of the faculty senate, the report the following morning.

Charlie, my boss, left it to me on the morning shift to run the stats and print out the results. As soon as I woke the Beast, I ran the job. It printed out half a box of fanfold paper. I tore off the last page, picked up the printout, and took it to the counter to look through it.

Of course, I knew what this was and what it meant. I scanned to the math department. As, Bs, Cs, Ds, Fs, a few incompletes ― all the grades in the table. The distribution was normal but the mean was shifted slightly toward the lower end; that is, the department gave fewer As than expected and more Fs than expected.  I scanned to the physics department. Much the same story as with the math department but shifted even more toward the lower end.

I scanned to the department of education, and I said to myself, said I, "Oh, the shit’s gonna hit the fan." ED gave 80% As, 20% Bs, and nothing below a B.

This report exploded like a bomb in the faculty senate. Dr R, the president of the senate, made a motion his own self to sever the Department of Education from the rest of the university and another that admission to the School of Education would not give admission to the rest of the university. The recriminations were many and bitter. I heard that the President of the University called in the campus cops to restore order and prevent the threatened assaults.

I ran this report when I was a sophomore. When I graduated, the war was still on. So if you are an education major and you think I have no respect for you . . . you’re right. I don’t. Moreover, I won’t.
This also serves as a fitting response to those who ask how a mother can homeschool without a degree in physics, math, or womyn's studies.  The correct answer is: why do you think your children can be adequately educated by a collection of women with a sub-normal IQs whose only education is in what is quite literally the easiest possible course of collegiate study.


Datagate goes international

I was catching up on the Italian news this morning and saw that Datagate is what the Italian press is calling the explosive new revelations that the NSA has secret agreements with European countries to spy on European citizens as well. The news is not quite so readily available in English, although Prachi Gupta's article at Salon is still accessible:
The NSA has been working with at least seven European other countries to collect personal communications data, according to Wayne Madsen, a former NSA contractor who has come forward because he does not think the public should not be “kept in the dark.” According to Madsen, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Italy all have formed secret agreements with the US to submit sensitive data.

The Guardian reports:

Under international intelligence agreements, confirmed by declassified documents, nations are categorised by the US according to their trust level. The US is first party while the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand enjoy second party relationships. Germany and France have third party relationships.

In an interview published last night on the blog, Madsen, who has been attacked for holding controversial views on espionage issues, said he had decided to speak out after becoming concerned about the “half story” told by EU politicians regarding the extent of the NSA’s activities in Europe.

He said that under the agreements, which were drawn up after the second world war, the “NSA gets the lion’s share” of the sigint “take”. In return, the third parties to the NSA agreements received “highly sanitised intelligence”.

The news could be potentially damaging to countries, particularly Germany, whose chancellor Angela Merkel has vocally condemned the NSA program that recently came to light by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
This sounds like Echelon on steroids, dwarfing anything Orwell imagined in Big Brother. Moreover, as La Repubblica reports, the Observer article has already been removed from the web "pending an investigation: 

"Datagate, anche l'Italia collabora" 
Poi il Guardian rimuove la pagina web
Il Telegraph: quella fonte è inaffidabile
Foto Ma l'articolo è comunque finito in edicola

"Datagate, Italy also collaborates"
Afterwards the Guardian removes the web page
The Telegraph[sic]: that source is not found
Photo But the article is nevertheless still on the newspaper stand

Note that La Repubblica mistakenly refers to The Telegraph when the link actually refers to The Guardian.  These revelations should give a massive boost to the growing anti-Merkel forces in Germany, as it reveals her to be a shameless and bald-faced liar.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fictitious profit

Some SFWAns around the Internet have been pointing to this profit calculation to "prove" that rapacious publishers are ripping them off by more than doubling their hardcover royalties on ebooks.  As one has learned to expect from the fun bunch, they have no absolutely idea what they're doing.
Look at Harper’s own numbers:

$27.99 hardcover generates $5.67 profit to publisher and $4.20 royalty to author
$14.99 agency priced e-book generates $7.87 profit to publisher and $2.62 royalty to author.

So, in other words, at these average price points, every time a hardcover sale is replaced by an e-book sale, the publisher makes $2.20 more per copy and the author makes $1.58 less. If the author made the same $4.20 royalty on the e-book sale as he/she would have on a hardcover, the publisher would STILL be making an improved profit of $6.28.
Now, I have less use for mainstream publishers than just about anyone who publishes books these days, but this calculation is completely misleading for the obvious reason that it is using the wrong price from which to calculate the profit.  As per DBW:

"After months of consistent declines to a low near $6.00, they’re on the rise again. This week, the average price of an ebook best-seller is $9.48, up slightly from last week, which was the first time the price was north of $9.00 in all of 2013."

Since the average price of an ebook is more like $8.00 on average, this means that if we plug it into the Harper model, the ebook generates $4.50 profit to the publisher and $1.50 to the author.  And it has gone as low as $3.15, although we can safely disregard this lower figure because it was unduly influenced by low-priced, self-published bestsellers. Regardless, both figures, you will note, are less than the $5.67 in gross profit minus author's royalty generated by the hardcover sale.

This inability to grasp the basic facts of the rapidly changing market for books is why the SF/F writers are going to be taken completely by surprise when more publishers "unexpectedly" go the way of Night Shade.  These authors think ebooks have made their publishers nearly 40 percent more profitable, all at the expense of the royalties paid to them, when the reality is that despite the ebook's much lower cost of production, (which, keep in mind, has no impact on the publisher's overhead), the publishers are actually running somewhere between 20 percent and 45 percent LESS profitable on a per-unit-sold basis alone.

If the publishers were to do as the post's author suggests and pay the same $4.20 royalty on the ebook that they presently do on the hardcover, they'd make a profit margin of 7.1 percent instead of 42.6 percent.  That would barely pay their rent and utility bills, never mind their payroll.  Note that historically, commercial publishers have run at 40 percent profit margins; even the powerful academic publisher, Elsevier, has seen its operating profit margins slip to 36 percent.  SF/F genre publishers aren't doing anywhere nearly so well.

Falling retail prices and shrinking profit margins are why the publishers have been cutting their midlist authors and offering fewer, smaller contracts.  They simply can't afford to publish moderately successful authors anymore, and if average ebook prices fall to $4, as I expect them to within the next 2-3 years, they will not be able to afford publishing anyone who hasn't already proven to be a reliable bestseller... usually through self-publishing.

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Deen proves Hoyt right

Prof. Stephen Clark writes in to Instapundit:
The cancellation of Paula Deen’s book at this time is about avoiding being seen as enabling what appears to be an evolving protest as expressed through the advance orders, coupled with a desire to flip off the protesters. Just another page in the ongoing cultural aggression being waged by the bicoastal elite. It does, however, neatly illustrate the inherent viciousness of the class.
Taken in combination with the complete inactivity concerning Alec Baldwin's recent comments on Twitter, it also shows the utter hypocrisy of that class.  By the elite's standard metric, Baldwin's speech was every bit as hateful and unforgivable as Deen's theatrics, if not more so, but he hasn't been fired from his show or lost any endorsement contracts.

Now, I certainly don't pity Mrs. Deen in the slightest, as like James Frenkel, she is simply reaping the harvest that she helped sow with her active support of progressives and the establishment of today's political elite.  And there are worse fates than being paid millions of dollars to not write a book or two. But she does serve as what should be an educational example to all the Scalzis and Hineses and Goulds of the world; no amount of goodthink, political posturing, or progressive flag-waving is going to save you when the pinkshirts and/or savages you have championed turn on you and tear you apart without warning.

John Scalzi was very fortunate that his inept political satire last year was accepted as such. That didn't have to be the case; it was far more potentially offensive than the "lady editor" comment that sparked Bulletingate. If it had served the whims of the pinkshirts to destroy him, (for example, if they had had a candidate for SFWA president they wished to push), he would have found himself the bewildered recipient of the same sort of ideological hysteria to which Messrs. Resnick and Malzberg were inflicted.  As readers here have probably noted, pinkshirts tend to fall silent and run away as soon as they meet with direct opposition willing to openly confront them; the only thing even the most abject apologizing accomplishes is to inspire them to go into a feeding frenzy.

In fact, because he has shown obvious Scalzi-like weakness in his obvious desire to appease the pinkshirts, I think it quite likely that Steven Gould, the incoming president, will soon come under attack from the organizational left for one reason or another.

To return to Mrs. Deen, the cancellation of her book, which at the time was Amazon's #1 bestseller prior to its release, also shows that Sarah Hoyt was absolutely right and that "business reasons" have absolutely nothing to do with the ideologically driven decisions of the publishing gatekeepers.  That defense, which was never the least bit convincing to anyone with actual experience of mainstream publishing, has now been exploded in a very public and undeniable manner.

And it also demonstrates the importance of building distribution channels that circumnavigate the attempts of the gatekeepers to control what is made available to the public.

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Vibrancy in South Africa

Keep the ongoing race war in South Africa in mind as you listen to half-savage race hustlers posturing about how dangerous Australia, Texas, and Florida are for "people like [her]".  African-American leftists and their liberal white knights like little better than to wax nostalgic about the dangers of 19th century lynching while remaining utterly silent about 21st century savagery that is now seen everywhere from Africa to Europe and the Americas.
Mandela's passing and the looming threat of a race war against South Africa's whites. As a widow mourns the latest murdered Afrikaner farmer, a chilling dispatch from a nation holding its breath.
  • Roelof du Plessis, 46 shot on his farm outside Pretoria by gang of black intruders
  • Fears rise that killings are part of a systematic bid to drive white people out of South Africa
  • President Jacob Zuma known to sing 'struggle song' about killing white Afrikaners
The statistics — and the savagery of the killings — appear to support claims by these residents that white people, and farmers in particular, are being targeted by black criminals. Little wonder that what unfolded on the Du Plessis homestead has sent tremors of fear through the three-million-strong white community.

Last month alone there were 25 murders of white landowners, and more than 100 attacks, while Afrikaner protest groups claim that more than 4,000 have been killed since Mandela came to power — twice as many as the number of policemen who have died.

It is not just the death toll, but the extreme violence that is often brought to bear, that causes the greatest fear in the white community. Documented cases of farm killings make for gruesome reading, with children murdered along with their parents, one family suffocated with plastic bags and countless brutal rapes of elderly women and young children.
It's not an accident that the first thing the US government did once de Klerk was elected and it became obvious that apartheid was coming to an end was to arrange for the removal of South Africa's nuclear weapons from its arsenal and the decommissioning of the weapons development program.  This was because both the US and the de Klerk administration knew the ANC government could not be trusted to behave responsibly with them and there was a real risk that they would be used against the Boers or Zimbabwe.

FrontPage reported in 2012: "There are now white refugee camps in South Africa with an estimated 300,000 or 7 percent of the white population living in tent cities and shacks. If any other ethnic group or race were on the receiving end of such treatment, it would be denounced as ethnic cleansing. Dr. Stanton of Genocide Watch, a respected human rights organization, has stated that the white population of South Africa is now in the sixth of the center’s eight stages of genocide. That sixth stage is defined as “Preparation.”"

Keep that in mind as you hear the usual suspects encouraging you to celebrate the wonders of diversity.  Because historically, diversity has been a precursor to genocide.  And if Malema comes to power and he succeeds in following the example set by Mugabe's Zimbabwe, don't spare South Africa an ounce of sympathy once his goal is achieved as people who are absolutely every bit as civilized as everyone else on the planet mysteriously turn out to be unable to maintain an existing agricultural system capable of feeding the country for inexplicable reasons that no rational mind could possibly discern.
A bogeyman to white South Africans, Malema is popular among young blacks, and has also been an enthusiastic singer of Kill The Boer and another song called Bring Me My Machine-Gun. Polls this week showed a huge surge in support among young black South Africans for his policies, which he says will ignore reconciliation, and fight for social justice in an ‘onslaught against [the] white male monopoly’.

With chilling echoes of neighbouring Zimbabwe, where dictator Robert Mugabe launched a murderous campaign to drive white farmers off the land in 2000, Malema wants all white-owned land to be seized without compensation, along with nationalisation of the country’s lucrative mines.

Ominously, Malema, 32, who wears a trademark beret and has a fondness for Rolex watches, this month promised his new party will take the land from white people without recompense and give it to blacks.

‘We need the land that was taken from our people, and we are not going to pay for it,’ he said. ‘We need a party that will say those who were victims of apartheid stand to benefit unashamedly, and those who perpetuated apartheid must show remorse and behave in a manner that says they regret their conduct.’
And Malema isn't merely thinking of South Africa when he encourages blacks to breed for the cause of global revolution.  "We want to see many kids, why? Because we must reproduce ourselves. For our ideas to be sustainable, we have to reproduce ourselves. In the whole of Africa, we are not more than one billion and the world has seven billion people. In Africa we have not more than one billion people… facing more than six billion. We have to be half of that so that our ideas can dominate. I know that in some instances size does not matter… but when it comes to a revolution, size matters."

The multiculturalists and devotees of St. Diversity think that it doesn't matter if America loses its white majority.  They don't understand what Malema does, which is that demographics is destiny.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Introducing the orc

Development is proceeding apace on First Sword, as we've now got the gladiatorial schools operational in a rudimentary manner, which means that the various gladiator statistics and portraits are now accessible in the game.  In Selenoth, orcs are even more fearsome in the arena than they are on the battlefield, because the superior human unit discipline can usually be relied upon to carry the Amorran and Savondese forces through to victory can no longer be utilized to compensate for the greater size, strength, and sheer aggression of the orcs.

And in the arena, there is no ranged combat, which means the human gladiator isn't merely concerned with the threat posed by swords, axes, daggers, and warhammers, but has to deal with the very real threat of having his face literally bitten off by his opponent.  Not all ludi are willing to feature orcs, as in addition to them being nearly as dangerous in training as they are in the actual arena, the spectators tend to be harsh on defeated orcs and it is the rare orc indeed who is granted missio by the favor of the crowd.

But for the stable owner who is brave enough to accept the risks, the rewards can be significant indeed.

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It's not science, but it sure looks like fiction

Now, I'm not at all surprised that the SFWA warren is hopping madly with news of a shocking sexual harassment scandal now that it has been made clear by the SFWA owsla that it is open season on all non-crossdressing men in the organization - and at the annual gathering of angry land whales known as WisCon, no less - but even I assumed it would take more than a few weeks before the next inevitable pinkshirt scandal exploded all over the increasingly dysfunctional organization's face.

As it happens, I may actually have met know the woman who is accusing a Tor editor of sexual harassment.  If Elise Matthesen is the same the Elise I knew back in the late nineties, she was a completely useless and not terribly ornamental member of an otherwise excellent writing group in Minneapolis, she never actually did any writing, and all she wanted to do was talk about herself and babble about feminism, sexual harassment, and so forth.  And if  since it is her, I will not be at all surprised if it is eventually determined by the publishing house and the convention alike that the "harassment" was nothing more than a product of her fevered but uncreative imagination.

According to Ms Matthesen, the gentleman who sexually harassed her was a Tor editor, albeit one of the old school Tor editors who actually published genuine science fiction once upon a time: "My name is Sigrid Ellis. I was one of the co-hosts of the party Elise mentions. The person Elise reported for harassment is James Frenkel."

Now, I have no idea what actually happened, nor do I care in the slightest, but I have to say, I'm a little bit dubious surprised to learn that it is the Elise of my erstwhile acquaintance, not because she appears to have made a false claim of sexual harassment, (if you'd asked me about her yesterday, I'd have told you that I'd be surprised if she didn't have dozens of them to her credit), but because the following account would make for the longest piece of fiction she has ever actually managed to write:
 "We’re geeks. We learn things and share, right? Well, this year at WisCon I learned firsthand how to report sexual harassment. In case you ever need or want to know, here’s what I learned and how it went.

Two editors I knew were throwing a book release party on Friday night at the convention. I was there, standing around with a drink talking about Babylon 5, the work of China Mieville, and Marxist theories of labor (like you do) when an editor from a different house joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I reported. A minute or two after he left, one of the hosts came over to check on me. I was lucky: my host was alert and aware. On hearing what had happened, he gave me the name of a mandated reporter at the company the harasser was representing at the convention.

The mandated reporter was respectful and professional. Even though I knew them, reporting this stuff is scary, especially about someone who’s been with a company for a long time, so I was really glad to be listened to. Since the incident happened during Memorial Day weekend, I was told Human Resources would follow up with me on Tuesday.

There was most of a convention between then and Tuesday, and I didn’t like the thought of more of this nonsense (there’s a polite word for it!) happening, so I went and found a convention Safety staffer. He asked me right away whether I was okay and whether I wanted someone with me while we talked or would rather speak privately. A friend was nearby, a previous Guest of Honor at the convention, and I asked her to stay for the conversation. The Safety person asked whether I’d like to make a formal report. I told him, “I’d just like to tell you what happened informally, I guess, while I figure out what I want to do.”

It may seem odd to hesitate to make a formal report to a convention when one has just called somebody’s employer and begun the process of formally reporting there, but that’s how it was. I think I was a little bit in shock. (I kept shaking my head and thinking, “Dude, seriously??”) So the Safety person closed his notebook and listened attentively. Partway through my account, I said, “Okay, open your notebook, because yeah, this should be official.” Thus began the formal report to the convention. We listed what had happened, when and where, the names of other people who were there when it happened, and so forth. The Safety person told me he would be taking the report up to the next level, checked again to see whether I was okay, and then went.

I had been nervous about doing it, even though the Safety person and the friend sitting with us were people I have known for years. Sitting there, I tried to imagine how nervous I would have been if I were twenty-some years old and at my first convention. What if I were just starting out and had been hoping to show a manuscript to that editor? Would I have thought this kind of behavior was business as usual? What if I were afraid that person would blacklist me if I didn’t make nice and go along with it? If I had been less experienced, less surrounded by people I could call on for strength and encouragement, would I have been able to report it at all?

Well, I actually know the answer to that one: I wouldn’t have. I know this because I did not report it when it happened to me in my twenties. I didn’t report it when it happened to me in my forties either. There are lots of reasons people might not report things, and I’m not going to tell someone they’re wrong for choosing not to report. What I intend to do by writing this is to give some kind of road map to someone who is considering reporting. We’re geeks, right? Learning something and sharing is what we do.

So I reported it to the convention. Somewhere in there they asked, “Shall we use your name?” I thought for a millisecond and said, “Oh, hell yes.”
This is an important thing. A formal report has a name attached. More about this later.

The Safety team kept checking in with me. The coordinators of the convention were promptly involved. Someone told me that since it was the first report, the editor would not be asked to leave the convention. I was surprised it was the first report, but hey, if it was and if that’s the process, follow the process. They told me they had instructed him to keep away from me for the rest of the convention. I thanked them.

Starting on Tuesday, the HR department of his company got in touch with me. They too were respectful and took the incident very seriously. Again I described what, where and when, and who had been present for the incident and aftermath. They asked me if I was making a formal report and wanted my name used. Again I said, “Hell, yes.”

Both HR and Legal were in touch with me over the following weeks. HR called and emailed enough times that my husband started calling them “your good friends at HR.” They also followed through on checking with the other people, and did so with a promptness that was good to see.

Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded.

Corporations (and conventions with formal procedures) live and die by the written word. “Records, or it didn’t happen” is how it works, at least as far as doing anything official about it. So here I was, and here we all were, with a situation where this had definitely happened before, but which we had to treat as if it were the first time — because for formal purposes, it was.

I asked whether people who had originally made confidential reports could go ahead and file formal ones now. There was a bit of confusion around an erroneous answer by someone in another department, but then the person at Legal clearly said that “the past is past” is not an accurate summation of company policy, and that she (and all the other people listed in the company’s publically-available code of conduct) would definitely accept formal reports regardless of whether the behavior took place last week or last year.

If you choose to report, I hope this writing is useful to you. If you’re new to the genre, please be assured that sexual harassment is NOT acceptable business-as-usual. I have had numerous editors tell me that reporting harassment will NOT get you blacklisted, that they WANT the bad apples reported and dealt with, and that this is very important to them, because this kind of thing is bad for everyone and is not okay. The thing is, though, that I’m fifty-two years old, familiar with the field and the world of conventions, moderately well known to many professionals in the field, and relatively well-liked. I’ve got a lot of social credit. And yet even I was nervous and a little in shock when faced with deciding whether or not to report what happened. Even I was thinking, “Oh, God, do I have to? What if this gets really ugly?”

But every time I got that scared feeling in my guts and the sensation of having a target between my shoulder blades, I thought, “How much worse would this be if I were inexperienced, if I were new to the field, if I were a lot younger?” A thousand times worse. So I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders and said, “Hell, yes, use my name.” And while it’s scary to write this now, and while various people are worried that parts of the Internet may fall on my head, I’m going to share the knowledge — because I’m a geek, and that’s what we do.
It should be fascinating to see just how interested the pinkshirts are in continuing their crusade, not against elderly writers and maverick outsiders, but an editor at the largest genre publisher who is married to one of the finest female SF writers.  Especially in light of the fact that his accuser is a well-known whack-job.  Which, of course, doesn't mean she's lying or delusional, only that she'd better be able to produce some evidence or eyewitnesses to back up her claim.

The best part is that the SFWA leadership genuinely believes that it is people like Resnick, Malzberg, and me who are the problem.  They don't realize that they can get rid of every single non-crossdressing male who has ever published in the genre and that won't even slow down the more radical pinkshirts, as those women are so angry, narcissistic, and delusional that they are capable of seeing racism in a stiff breeze and sexual harassment in a handshake.

If I ever went to an SF/F convention, I can only imagine the pinkshirts would no sooner catch sight of me in the distance before they'd burst into tears and start racing for the "mandated reporters" to be the first to claim that I beat them to death and abused their corpses.

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The downside of corporate profits

As PJ O'Rourke points out in Don't Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards, a high rate of profits not always a harbinger of economic good news:
[Adam] Smith spotted the exact cause of the 2008 financial meltdown not just before it happened but 232 years before, probably a record for advice to sell short. In Book II, chapter 1 of The Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote, “A dwelling-house, as such, contributes nothing to the revenue of its inhabitant... If it is to be let to a tenant for rent, as the house itself can produce nothing, the tenant must always pay the rent out of some other revenue.” Smith therefore concluded that, although a house can make money for its owner if it’s rented, “the revenue of the whole body of the people can never be in the smallest degree increased by it.” Bingo. Subprime mortgage collapse.

Smith was familiar with rampant speculation, or “overtrading,” as he politely called it. The Mississippi Scheme and the South Sea Bubble had both collapsed in 1720, three years before his birth. In 1772, while Smith was writing The Wealth of Nations, a bank run occurred in Scotland. Only three of Edinburgh’s thirty private banks survived. The reaction of the Scottish overtraders to the ensuing credit freeze sounds familiar. “The banks, they seem to have thought,” Smith said, “were in honor bound to supply the deficiency, and to supply them with all the capital which they wanted to trade with.”

According to Smith, the phenomenon of speculative excess has less to do with free markets than with high profits. “When the profits of trade happen to be greater than ordinary,” he said, “overtrading becomes a general error.” And rate of profit, Smith claimed, “is always highest in the countries that are going fastest to ruin.”

Judging by how America invested in 2007 and voted in 2008 that would be us.
In this vein, it may be pertinent to note that both corporate profits and their stock prices reached record highs in 2013.  Both are actually higher than the previous peak in 2007.

Considering the recent political and geopolitical events, with the Supreme Court solidifying the moral breakdown of the country, the Senate doing its best to cement the existing demographic fracturing, and foreign nations as diverse as Ecuador, Russia, and Switzerland all openly demonstrating their contempt for the administration's imperial overreach, it should not come as a tremendous surprise to see that certain economic indicators are flashing signs of an incipient crisis.

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Blood on their green hands

Whether it is God or the Devil, someone clearly has a wicked sense of humor:
The White-throated Needletail - the world's fastest flying bird - was thousands of miles off course after turning up at Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. It was first seen by two bird spotters from Northumberland on Monday.  There has not been a sighting of the species in Britain since 1991 when a single bird was seen four times - in Kent, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and finally Shetland.

Now 22 years later another White-throated Needletail turned up in the UK, but after more than 80 twitchers flocked to Harris - with scores more on their way - the bird flew into a wind turbine at Tarbert, witnessed by around 40 people....

"It is tragic. More than 80 people had already arrived on the island and others were coming from all over the country. But it just flew into the turbine. It was killed instantly. The corpse will be sent to a museum but obviously this is just terrible."
I can see where he's coming from, but sometimes, one man's tragedy is another man's chuckle.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Atheist rationality in action

This would appear to count as additional evidence of my scientific hypothesis concerning atheism being an indicator of mild autism. It's impressive how many conventional atheist talking points he manages to hit on in his rant. And notice he makes false claims of being threatened as well as threats of "digging up dirt"; such actions are endemic to the more emotional elements on the Left.

And never forget, these are the people who claim to have reason on their side.

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How dare you say ignorant!

An illuminating development in the Zimmerman trial:
A teenage friend of Trayvon Martin was forced to admit today in the George Zimmerman murder trial that she did not write a letter that was sent to Martin's mother describing what she allegedly heard on a phone call with Martin moments before he was shot.

In a painfully embarassing moment, Rachel Jeantel was asked to read the letter out loud in court.

"Are you able to read that at all?" defense attorney Don West asked.

Jeantel, head bowed, eyes averted whispered into the court microphone, "Some but not all. I don't read cursive."

It sent a hush through the packed courtroom.  Jeantel, 19, was unable to read any of the letter save for her name.
Note that for all of the recent pointing and shrieking, crying "raciss", asserting "white privilege", and public demands for expulsion from non-crimethinking society, not a single individual has attempted to contest the observation that Ms Jemisin and "people like [her]", who are imperiled by the laws of Florida and Texas, appear to be incapable of building or maintaining an advanced technological civilization.  Indeed, if we are to consider the examples of the late Mr. Martin and the sub-literate Ms Jeantel, (who claims to have graduated from Norland High School and to be studying criminal justice at Miami University), it is not unreasonable to ask what percentage of "people like [her]" are capable of constructively participating in one in now that we are twenty years into the Age of Information.  It is clearly greater than zero. It is not at all clear that it is 100.


This is not to imply that Ms Jemisin is sub-literate.


Or that she did not write the books with her name on them.



Nate's take on metals

In which he addresses the nervous Goldie-come-latelies:
You're seeing lots of leveraged folks being forced to sell. This is literally a forced collapse. When this sort of thing is happening... you're near the bottom. It may not be the actual bottom... but you're near it. When it turns... we'll be on a long term bull market in gold that is going all the way to 3500 or so around 2015... and that's assuming my hyper-inflation prediction does not hold. That's just the technicals. If you start looking at actual claims on gold verses actual inventory... its a much different picture... which could literally result in 1oz coins being worth about 100k each in today's dollars.
This is why I have repeatedly warned people not to look at metals as an "investment".  If you're paying attention to the daily, or even monthly, gold price, you might as well be day-trading equities. Gold, like land, is about inter-generational wealth, not short-term money making. It will be around when the most stable extant bank finally fails.  It will be valuable when the last of the current political entities collapses into barbarism and chaos. It is not an investment, it is insurance.

Those who bought in at $500 or less are simply looking at the dramatic price action and shrugging.  Perhaps it will drop to $1k next, or leap up to $5k. If you're not leveraged and you're not trading, it doesn't matter which happens to come next. It's rather like being an owner of Apple stock in the 1980s and fretting over where its price is today.  If you want to make money, then do something productive and earn it; buying X rather than Y and hoping the price goes up isn't being productive.

Don't put your faith in gold.  It won't save you from anything except perhaps abject poverty. Don't put your trust in it; it is a mindless substance. But it is more substantial and lasting than either credit money or fiat money.  And it will hold its core value in periods of inflation and deflation alike, regardless of how it is presently priced in the currency du jour.


Not exactly the best and brightest

The linked article on the destruction of the American university was mildly interesting, mostly for its complete wrongheadedness about what parties have been responsible for the drastic decline in higher education, but the discussion in the comments were considerably better, as one tenured PhD schooled an untenured one. In doing so, he illustrated that at least part of the problem is an intellectually-challenged higher education faculty that simply does not understand economics and supports the very immigration that has rendered them permanently poor.

The amazing thing is that these maleducated wretches are STILL spouting Marxist nonsense, blaming the conservatives they hate instead of the progressive elite responsible, and failing to realize that a modicum of basic Adam Smith is all that is necessary to understand why their expensive degrees are almost completely worthless and why their employment prospects are so dim:
There seems to be a highly questionable premise running throughout the discussion on this blog — that people have ever been able to make a decent liviing working as adjuncts, or that they will ever be able to do so in the future. Given the economics of the situation, and the enormous hurdles to unionizing or organizing in any meaningful way, the primary goal should be to reestablish a greater number of full-time positions. The harsh economic reality is that most community colleges will probably never be able to pay adjuncts enough to make a living, and most decent four-year colleges will not pay adjuncts a decent wage because they don’t have to.

A fundamental problem for adjuncts, especially in professional fields like law, business, engineering and communications (but also in many other fields), is that decent colleges have an almost endless supply of people willing to teach for non-economic reasons. My university generally pays adjuncts $2,000-3,000 per course (depending on the field) and basically hasn’t raised adjunct pay in at least 15 years. Some other local colleges pay even less than we do. It’s embarrassing and shameful. Yet we have a queue of people ready and willing to teach courses for us. Many of them are retired and looking to stay active intellectually; some are successful professionals wanting to “give back” to their alma mater; still others are wanting to add a brownie point to their resume by being associated with a university. Virtually no one does it for the money. This is not a new phenomenon. Almost thirty years ago, when I was a businessman and taught as an adjunct, I considered my adjunct teaching at the University of Hawaii to be a public service, and I donated the money (about $2,500 a course, even then, as I recall) back to the university for student scholarships.

Somewhere along the line, some people got the idea that one could make a living teaching as an adjunct. I don’t think that’s realistic. In fact, it will probably become increasingly unrealistic, given the education model that many universities are exploring (video and internet lectures in which “master” professors will teach thousands of students in basic courses, leaving more time for full-time faculty to teach upper-division and graduate courses and to conduct research). So my advice to people who can’t get a full-time teaching job is to get some other full-time job, outside of academe. In the meantime, I would highly encourage them to moonlight as adjuncts and continue their efforts to organize or unionize if they feel that’s the best solution. But I think a far smarter strategy would be to focus on restoring full-time positions that would pay a living wage.

I believe your analysis of the situation has some validity. There are many people who will adjunct for little or no remuneration. But higher education institutions are not charity organizations. 

Personally, I spent several years to get a Ph.D. and expected to find full-time work, but it hasn’t happened, and I am indigent. For seven years I worked as a prison guard and caseworker to make ends meet (and actually attain a middle-class lifestyle). Why should I make 60K (with benefits) as a prison worker but only expect 16K as a community college teacher at three schools? 

I know other administrators who feel the same as you do yet go along with the exploitation of labor and the taking of surplus value. You know in your heart that you are complicit in the slow unraveling of higher education in the US.

Some questions for you:

* Why would anyone possibly think that getting a certain degree automatically entitles them to a certain kind of job? (Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of students who are have graduated in recent years who are unemployed or underemployed. )

* How oblivious would one have to be to spend years working on a PhD without understanding what the job prospects were for that degree?

* What kind of self-delusion and self-entitlement would it take for a person to think that just because they spent years doing a certain thing that the world somehow owes them a living wage for doing that thing? (Every human being on earth would love to get paid well for doing something they love. But not many of us are so naïve that we think we are good enough to make a living wage playing basketball, playing golf or taking travel photographs – my preferred occupations. )

* How could anyone who has spent time in the academy not understand that good colleges and universities are, in numerous respects, charitable organizations? (Benefactors give billions of dollars to higher education, just like other kinds of charities. Hundreds of thousands of people volunteer their time and money to colleges as guest speakers, sponsors, advisors, fundraisers, etc., just like other kinds of charities. And thousands of people like me give up lucrative professional careers to teach – while most of our former colleagues are getting rich and retiring early – because we believe that education is something worth devoting/donating our time and energy to, even though we receive pay that is far below what we could earn in our previous jobs.)

* Why should adjunct college professors be exempt from the laws of supply and demand, while almost everyone else in the country is bound by them? (If you are so unhappy with the laws of supply and demand in the U.S., why don’t you just move to a communist country where such laws don’t apply so much?)

* Where were you (or others like you) 30 years ago, when I was raising hell about the inappropriate formation of an adjunct/non-tenure-track underclass? (There was a real opportunity to address the problem then, before it became the intractable problem that it is today.)

* Where were you (and others like you) when I stood up in an all-faculty meeting, with virtually no support from my faculty colleagues, and told the president of my university that he needed to resign because the central administration’s incompetence and greed were destroying the finances and educational integrity of my university?

* Where were you (and others like you) when I was giving speeches and writing academic articles and a book on the dangers of treating universities like businesses instead of like educational organizations?

* What are you doing now (besides whining), while I am engaging the trustees and central administration of my university in an attempt to pressure them into getting rid of the silly business model that they are using to run the university, which treats adjuncts as nothing more than a cheap source of labor?

* Why should I continue to care about the plight of adjuncts like you, when you blame innocent people for your own problems, when you refuse to listen to basic facts and logic, and when you insult the very people who are probably the best hope for solving the problem?

In no way, shape or form am I complicit in unraveling higher education, as you so incorrectly suggested. Nor do I know in my heart that I am guilty of any such thing, as you so dishonestly stated in your posting. My job is not to ensure that you have a job. And I cannot help you at all, if you are too thick-headed to act in your own best interest by first understanding the problem and accepting responsibility for your role in helping to create the problem in the first place.
One doesn't have to be in denial about the dire state of American higher education to fail to feel any sympathy for the entitled, badly educated, would-be education professionals who have not only helped sow the seeds of their own indebted servitude, but still actively serve as intellectual shock troops and recruiters for the very system that oppresses them.

They also don't seem to understand that all the social spending on the elderly, the vibrant, and the foreign they support means that there is little remaining for the liberal arts that the aspirational middle class used to proudly fund.  The same people that previously had no objection to paying for government-funded orchestras and theatres now resist being taxed to pay for the diversification of their schools and neighborhoods.

Furthermore, a graduate student with inside access notes that the tenured faculty absolutely bears considerable responsibility for the academic decline:
I’m currently a graduate student and a staff person at a major college. I have the dubious honor of sitting in and taking notes during the faculty meetings of one department. Our faculty have, at every budget crunch opportunity, cut the funding for graduate students, student activities, and part-time instructors. Our faculty bemoan their salaries to any and every ear, but given a single whisper of power behave as cruelly as any member of the relative 1% and abuse, exploit, and exhaust the students.

College has been destroyed by the abuse of tenure. The faculty are the 1%, the students and part-timers are the 99%. The Administration ARE former faculty.
Our faculty are the -sole- source of the corruption, laziness, and weakness of the department. They are each required to teach 2 courses a semester and each of them asks for a ‘course buy out’ on the justification their research is more important than students. Of 24 Professors, 11 are currently teaching. While our university has courses with 500 students, our part-time instructors, the abused 3rd class, or our graduate students teach those sections. Our professors select ’boutique’ courses, some of which enroll 5 students (undergraduate courses with course caps of 55, but only 5 interested students because the class is irrelevant to the major but interesting to the professor). When professors buyout courses they ‘pay’ from their salary or a grant approximately $4000. It costs our department over $11000 to reassign the course (I do the budget). Our faculty declare tenure is end-all-be-all.

Tenure committees value research and publication, not teaching, therefore so do our professors. They publish drek that goes straight to archive, get tenure, and sit on their title for another 30 years. They are not assets and are barely intellectuals. When we recently had a vote in my department on whether to fund graduate student scholarships or faculty travel, travel won in a vote of 2:22.

The administration, which is so denigrated, and rightfully so, in this article is in fact made of up of former professors. My Dean is an English PhD. He has pulled half of our TA and GA positions, leaving our students without funding and forcing those who want to continue their education into massive debt. He simply increased the minimum number of students the other TAs had to teach (for the same amount of money). He hired over 70 new faculty with the money ‘saved.’

Our Associate Dean in charge of curriculum is a Chemistry PhD who taught for 20 years. He personally made the announcement, taking public credit for the idea, to no longer require fine arts or foreign language credits for undergraduates. This decision resulted in a huge reduction of registrations and effectively killed our German, Russian, French, Italian, Mandarin, and foreign literature programs. Without undergraduate classes to teach, the graduate program is disappearing too.
Of course, it hardly comes as a surprise to anyone with a university degree to be informed that most tenured academics are narrow-minded, self-centered bastards.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Inflation vs Deflation XII

Nate closes out the Great Inflation Debate with his final entry:
So at long last we understand how hyper-inflation works.  It is caused by hyper-velocity.  Meaning folks are spending their money as soon as they get it.  I'm not going to go much into the differences in Weimar and today... because honestly the differences are actually smaller than Vox indicates.  See we have the worlds leading reserve currency.   Companies and governments have enormous amounts of cash on hand ready to dump.  As I showed previously... the Fed has no idea how much cash is actually out there in the international market.  We know that there is roughly 2 trillion in corporate cash reserves in the domestic market... but we're told its actually as much as 5 or 6 trillion in the international market.. and that's on the low end.  Kids... that isn't even counting what the governments around the world are hoarding.  Remember one of the benefits of being the foremost reserve currency is that oil is priced in dollars...  so to buy oil you first have to buy dollars. That's important  Its a big deal.  So there is a lot of demand for dollars out there.  And a lot of dollars hoarded up.

And thus we see that the engine is certainly sufficient to put the train in motion.  In fact there is probably enough cash out there to blow it to hell and gone.  No.. its not like Weimar.  Its different.  Its very different.  But history doesn't repeat.  It rhymes.

A common, but often ignored, phenomenon is that even during hyper-inflation the central bankers think that there isn't enough money to go around.  Why?  Because I have explained it is velocity driving the problem.  Not an increased supply in money.  Remember that central bankers are all worshipers of John Maynard Keynes.  Damn his eyes.  So they see complex economic situations as simplistic equations that can be manipulated with god-like precision.  They have equations that they really believe accurately can describe something as complex as an economy.  To much X?  Add a little Y.  To much V?  take away some Q.  I know this sounds insane... because well... it is... insane.  Keynesianism is far more idiotic than you probably think it is.
I leave it to the readers to decide which case they found more convincing. Of course, time will be the only meaningful judge, as for all we know, the current state of monetary disinflation could, at least in principle, continue until the sun grows cold.  In this regard, I somewhat disagree with Nate, in that if hyperinflation doesn't at least begin to appear by 2016, I don't think it would be necessary for him to concede. In any event, as one reader commented, there are no winners in this debate, everyone, including Ben Bernanke and Goldman Sachs, looks to lose out in some way.  It is better to be a shopkeeper in peacetime than a king in chaos; those whose times are ignored by the historians because "nothing happened" are the fortunate ones.

It might be interesting, however, to learn if your views were modified at all as a result of the debate.  By which I mean if you were formerly inclined to expect deflation but now consider hyperinflation more likely, or vice-versa.

Nate is putting the debate into epub format which will be cleaned up a little for typos and then made available as a free ebook for future reference.

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Amend or go home

Remember when all the progressives and moderates were saying that a Defense of Marriage Amendment was unnecessary because Congress passed a law?  Yeah, well, they lied:
A divided U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal law that defines marriage as a heterosexual union, saying it violates the rights of married gay couples by denying them government benefits.
Between legalizing abortion and the government dismantling of marriage, the USA has now officially entered Sodom and Gomorrah territory.   I wouldn't put too much confidence in that "God bless America" notion.  The best-case scenario is that He's not paying attention. Following American politics these days feels like watching Gibbon on fast-forward; an imperial decline and fall measured in years rather than centuries.

I find it remarkable that Republicans still bother passing this sort of law when it has been clear since at least 1973 that the Supreme Court will simply overturn anything that is effectively conservative. Amend or don't bother.

UPDATE: And they effectively overturned Proposition 8 in California by refusing to hear it.  Taken together, these two "rulings" make it official: American democracy is entirely dead.
The court avoided a ruling on the merits in a second gay-marriage case involving California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, saying that both the Supreme Court and a federal appeals court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. That means a federal district court's ruling striking down Proposition 8 stands, which could clear the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California.
Notice how the Supreme Court will jump in and wave the Constitution whenever it wants to override something, but turn around and claim it has no jurisdiction whenever it wants to leave a lower court decision intact.  Pass a law, pass a referendum, it doesn't matter.  The black robes now rule.

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Ideology of the gatekeepers

Amanda at the Mad Genius Club notes the connection between the rise of the Left's ideological gatekeepers in publishing and the alarming discovery that boys no longer read books:
I’m happy with just writing stories folks want to read. After all, isn’t that really what we’re supposed to be doing? Writing stories that entertain? If a story doesn’t entertain, folks aren’t going to read it — or at least not finish it. If they don’t read it, then what good is any message we might put into it? That message will be lost because it was never read.

But that isn’t enough for the literati, for all too many editors and, unfortunately, for the boards of too many professional organizations these days. No, you have to be socially relevant and enlightened in your writing. You have to promote what is “right” — as is defined by those who have the loudest voice. Heaven help you if you write something that might offend someone else, especially if you are a male of a certain age.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned (and I know that means I have the wrong beliefs and should probably be silenced now. Sorry, I’m a loud-mouthed woman who isn’t afraid to exercise my First Amendment rights). But I still feel that the story is the thing we should be concerned with and not the message. As I said earlier, folks won’t read the message if they don’t read the story. The corollary to this is: why is publishing in trouble? Because it forgot that readers, on the whole, read to be entertained and to forget about their troubles....

Don’t believe me, ask yourself why so many in publishing are trying to convince us that boys don’t read....

Then we have those publishers and editors and writers who feel that we must address all of society’s ills with our writing and “educate” our readers so there will never be any racism or sexism or any other ism they don’t approve of ever again.
She's merely pointing out the readily apparent, but in light of how some writers have nevertheless attempted to deny there is any ideological bias in the SFWA and in SF/F publishing, and it is either a) one's imagination, or, b) just a complete coincidence to observe that the field is now policed by gatekeepers who assiduously work to prevent the publication of any makehurt or crimethink, I think it is useful to have a look at what sort of works the publishers are actively seeking:

Here is an informative example from one publishing house that freely admits it is "of a progressive bent":

What are we looking for?

As mentioned above, we’re now considering submissions within any genres. We’re specifically looking for novels or collections which demonstrate a significant crossover between genres – as the name or our press suggests. CGP has always been a press with a progressive bent. Bearing that in mind, here are some things we want to see MORE of:
  • Queer Main Characters
  • MC’s of Color
  • Women MC’s
  • Disabled MC’s
  • Science saves the day!
  • Far future
  • Stories set outside North America
Beyond that, there is no hard-and-fast rule; any story that follows the above guidelines will be considered.

What are we NOT looking for?

  • Stories based off the assumption that any particular religion’s beliefs are real
  • Weak women being rescued by macho guys
  • “Science-as-villain”
  • Vampires, zombies, werewolves, Arthurian retellings, Eurocentric faeries, or ghost stories
  • Time travel
Though it should go without saying, any submissions promoting discrimination, misogyny, bigotry, and/or hatred will be deleted without notice or consideration.
Now, consider how many works of the Golden Age are unpublishable by these standards, particularly in light of the opinion of the majority of SFWA members that using the term "lady" as an adjective is competely unacceptable misogyny. And notice how the publisher is not only expressly anti-religious and anti-American, but is actively looking to publish secular science propaganda.  Religion can be the villain - so long as its tenets are shown to be false - but science cannot be.

Obviously, this is a small publisher, but don't deceive yourself.  The major genre publishers may be much more open to vampires, zombies, and time travel than this one, but their standards, the books they have been publishing, and the books they are looking to publish, are all based on the same ideological standard even though they are less open about it.

Speaking of gatekeepers, if you're submitting for ing-game publication, please keep in mind that we're focused on action and story uber alles; the objective is most certainly NOT to become the mirror image of the conventional gatekeepers.

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Throwing out the bait

John C. Wright explains why Sam Harris's latest crusade is misplaced; empiricism is useless with regards answering non-empirical questions, thereby rendering the derivation of "ought" from "is' impossible:
Here is my proof.
  1. Do you agree that the international scientific community has reduced all empirical entities to certain basic constants, namely mass, length, duration, temperature, current, candlepower, moles of substance, such that any empirical subject (such as the acceleration due to gravity of a cannonball or color defined as light-frequency) can be expressed in terms of these measurable quantities or some calculated derivation of these quantities?  (I do note that for subatomic particles, some additional fundamentals are needed, but these are also quantities, and not qualities, and therefore do not effect the argument.)
  2. A quality is a judgment concerning an imponderable entity, such as true or untrue, valid or invalid, comely or ugly. A quantity is a multitude of magnitudes, or in other words, a quantity can be measured against a standard or counted with numbers or both. Do you agree that no quality can be reduced to quantity by any means whatsoever?For example, do you agree that counting the number of vowels used to express a given sentence written in ink in Esperanto will not necessarily tell you whether the sentence is true or false, fairminded or slanderous, self-evident or self-contradictory, lovely poetry or ungainly prose? That also measuring with utmost care the jots over the small I’s and small J’s even to the extend of counting every ink molecule will not give you sufficient information to make these judgment?
  3. If all empirical statements can be reduced to measured fundamental quantities, and no statements about imponderables such as good and bad, valid and invalid, fair or foul can be reduced to measurable fundamental qualities, then they have no overlap whatsoever in topic or probative value, Ergo no imponderable can be proved or disproved by purely empirical statement, no matter how numerous or complex.

To head off an obvious objection, the quantities facts about the molecules and atoms in a man’s brain have some sort of unknown relation to his ability to make qualitative judgments. Drunkenness or drugs or a blow to the head can, for example, impede the operations of memory and judgment and other cognitive powers, or drive him mad, or kill a man altogether. There is, however, not a single iota of evidence showing a relation between the imponderable cognitive content and any quantitative facts about brain molecules.
WRF3, you are now formally invited to do your thing.  But if you don't mind an observation, this "Rolf Andreassen" at Mr. Wright's site is presenting arguments that sound remarkably similar to those you have made here in the past.

This should be interesting.  "How much does a thought weigh?" has always struck me as being a question akin to "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" or "why does purple?"  But perhaps we shall be convinced otherwise.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The dangerous fragility of debt

As long as we're on the subject of debt, this interview with Nassim Taleb seems fitting. He explains to REASON why the credit money system is intrinsically delicate and prone to fracture and collapse:
reason: Most people would say when you have a system and if there’s a contagion in it, if there’s a cancer in it, if there’s some kind of stressor that starts taking over, it’s going to spread to the whole system. This is what we hear about the banking system, the financial crisis. You’re arguing that a robust or an antifragile system is capable of seeing this part of the system being cancered and learning from it.

Taleb: To cite the great Yogi Berra, a good antifragile system is a system in which all mistakes are good mistakes. And the bad system is one, again to paraphrase Yogi Berra, where you tend to make the wrong mistakes. Let’s compare the banking system to, say, transportation. Every plane crash makes the next plane crash less likely and our transportation safer. Now, with the banking system, [a failure] leads to increased probability of failure of an entire system. That’s a bad system.

reason: What’s the best way to stop that so you’re not allowing the problem to replicate throughout the system?

Taleb: What fragilizes an overall system? Three things: One, centralization. Decentralization spreads mistakes, makes smaller mistakes. Decentralization is where we converge with libertarians. A second one is low debt. The third is skin in the game.

reason: Paul Krugman, one of your great friends or nemeses, just recently wrote that these trillion-dollar deficits don’t matter.

Taleb: All these economists, let’s put it this way: Risk is not their thing.

Debt leads to fragility. We’ve discovered since the Babylonians that debt has systemic consequences whereas equity doesn’t. Let’s say that you have two brothers. One of them borrowed and they both had predictions about the future—forecasts. One brother borrows. The other issues equity. The one who borrows will go bust if he makes a mistake. The one who issues equity will fluctuate but will be able to survive a forecast error.

reason: But is it also true that the brother with equity can never really have that big payday?

Taleb: For him! But overall the system is well distributed. There’s an accounting equality. Debt traditionally has blown up systems and has been very good for governments to wage war. I’m not against credit. I’m against leverage.

reason: So you give me a loan and I say I’m going to pay you back and that gives me the ability to get something in the short run that will help me produce more in the long run. That’s OK?

Taleb: Banking started [like this]: You’re going to Aleppo, Syria, and Florence and you’re going to send me some silk. You trust me, and my correspondent in Aleppo would pay you the minute I get my silk—that kind of transaction. That’s called letter of credit, where you have debt conditional on some commercial transaction being completed. And it also allows people to finance some inventory, provided the buyer is a committed buyer. That kind of facilitation of commerce is how it all started—the letter of credit—and it developed very well.

Before that we had debt in society and it led to blowups in Babylon, and then they had to have debt jubilees. Then of course the Hebrews also had debt jubilees. And of course, they say neither a borrower nor a lender be. The Romans didn’t like debt. The Greeks didn’t like debt, except for a few intellectuals. Intellectuals for some reason, like Mr. Krugman, like debt.

Later on debt came back to Europe with the Reformation and it was mostly to finance wars. The industrial revolution was not financed by debt. California was not financed by debt; it was financed by equity. So debt is not necessary. You can use it for emergencies. Catholic societies—Aquinas was against debt and his statements were stronger than the Islamic fatwa against debt.

We have learned through history that debt in the form of leverage can blow things up. Debt fragilizes. Now what we have had in this economy is a growth of debt mostly financed indirectly by governments. Because if you blow up, we’re going to be behind you.
The current system isn't capitalism, which is decentralized and equity based.  This is a centralized, debt-based economic system, which as Taleb notes, is extremely vulnerable in a structural sense.


B&N totters

It was interesting to notice during the recent SFWA campaign how completely clueless most of the authors were about the present state of the publishing industry.  They genuinely believed that the status quo remains viable, which was part of why Random House was accused of creating Hydra simply because they are obviously wicked and evil.

Nor did they rethink their position when Nightshade Books went under.  As I said at the time, it would probably take the bankruptcy of Barnes & Noble and the concomitant effects on the genre publishers to get them to realize that the traditional publishing game is all but over.  But that could happen sooner than even a skeptic like me had imagined:
Barnes and Noble has not had an easy go of it. The brick-and-mortar stalwart has seen its revenues and profits steeply decline as we've entered the age of the e-book. In fact, profits haven't just shrunk; they've disappeared. During the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013, the company suffered a net loss of $118.6 million, down significantly from the already poor showing it posted in 2012 when it lost $56.9 million in Q4. For the year, that put Barnes and Noble's losses at $154.8 million -- more than double what it lost in 2012.
It's somewhat of a pity, as some of my favorite memories include spending Friday evenings wandering through the stacks with Spacebunny.  The only book signing I ever did was at Barnes & Noble and I was told it was one of the most successful ones that branch had ever had.  When I first graduated from college, I used to set myself a $50 monthly book budget that I would spend there; I'd usually manage to spend it by the second or third week.

But then, I still recall my last visit there, and walking out without buying anything.  The SF/F section was full of media tie-in novels and fantasy novels with badly Photoshopped covers, the history section had all but disappeared, and most of the remaindered hardcovers were picture books.  So perhaps the structural rot that is now apparent had already set in.

I imagine the executives at Barnes are already trying to figure out what sort of pitches they can make to Amazon and Google.  Anyhow, if you're an SF/F writer who writes actual SF or epic fantasy, feel free to contact me about publishing through our in-game store.  We've already got some excellent original works of fiction, including a few set in Selenoth, but we're looking for about 20 more.

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Inflation vs deflation XI

I'll start off this last round in the debate by pointing out that I have most certainly not claimed that federal spending somehow doesn't count as inflation. I was simply pointing out that the Federal Reserve's attempt to inject money into the economy has been effectively limited to one delivery vehicle because the banks and households have proven to be surprisingly ineffective channels for doing so. Again, Nate inadvertently shows how his refusal to accept the intrinsic relationship between credit and money renders his analysis incorrect.

I very much agree that “for the purposes on inflation it doesn't matter who's spending the new money”. And I agree that “government spending is merely the delivery method for injecting it into the economy”, but what Nate is failing to mention here is that government spending isn't the only, or even the primary, delivery method used by the Federal Reserve. The significant thing is that government spending is the only delivery method of the four the Fed has been attempting to utilize for the past five years that has worked at all. Despite the larger part of the Fed's efforts being directed at the financial sector, that credit sector has continued to shrink. So has the household sector despite the attempts to replace the housing sector bubble with an education bubble. The corporate sector has responded, a little, but the $1.8 trillion increase since 2008 is barely more than half the contraction in the financial sector.

Nate claims that prices are rising everywhere across the board and that it doesn't matter where the government spends the new money. Both assertions are incorrect. Gold prices are down 24 percent since the start of the year. Home prices are up 1.1 percent in that same time frame, but are still down 29 percent from their 2006 peak. Gasoline prices are up from January, but have been trending down since the spring of 2012. And the inflated stock market is showing every sign of a steep, long-overdue price correction. But these are merely symptoms, and short-term symptoms at that. I see them as reflections of the credit disinflation, Nate sees them as signs of incipient hyperinflation. Only time will tell who was correct, so there is no point in further belaboring the price issue.

Nor do I see any point in providing an extended explanation of why Ben Bernanke appears to be signaling an end to the quantitative easing program, or the significance of the initial indications that Shinzo Abe's massive attempt to print money in Japan is failing, because Nate took things in a rather different direction with his focus on the idea that hyperinflation is a psychological phenomenon rather than a material one. Those who are interested can find effective summaries of those two not-insignificant events on Zerohedge. Nate wrote:

Hyperinflation is what happens when people decide that the fiat money they have in their pockets and in their accounts is no longer going to be honored in the future and start spending it as quickly as possible.  That is the unstoppable train of inflation.  The printing presses cannot be stopped because the people will not stop spending the money as soon as they get it.

But this perspective on hyperinflation again fails to account for credit, which is how most people are spending most of their money these days. Even when literal credit cards aren't involved, they are paying their bills with direct bank debits and debit cards that draw from their credit money account. If one considers the recently reported fact that 68 percent of Americans possess less than $800 in savings, it should be clear that they simply don't have any fiat money in their pockets. To quote the report: “After paying debts and taking care of housing, car and child care-related expenses, the respondents said there just isn't enough money left over for saving more.” Emphasis added. Nate's unstoppable train simply doesn't have enough of an engine to leave the station, especially when the credit money that is in those accounts begins vanishing in the inevitable bail-ins. 

In considering the possibility of hyperinflation versus the likelihood of deflation, it is important to do something we have not yet done in this debate, which is to examine the differences between the present situation and the most famous historical hyperinflation. As has been previously noted, in the USA, L1 total credit has remained very close to flat since 2008, increasing only 11.2 percent in five years. By contrast, in the period leading up to the Weimar hyperinflation, the Reichsbank debt increased from 3 billion to 55 billion marks between 1914 and 1918, and to 110 billion by 1920.  

"Businessmen found it very profitable to borrow money from the bank and buy up goods, shares and companies. Their debt was wiped out within weeks by the rapid inflation, and the businessman remained holding the valuable assets he had bought. The net result was a huge "private inflation" caused by the rapid expansion of credit.... By October 1923, 1% of government income came from taxes and 99% from the creation of new money."

It should be readily apparent that Weimar represented a very different scenario than the one we observe today.  We are not seeing an increase in private borrowing, but rather, a net contraction. This means the only way hyperinflation can even theoretically begin in the present circumstances is if the Federal Reserve elects to permit the debtors in the various debt sectors to pay off their debts rather than encouraging them to default by raising interest rates, and uses the government to begin electronically injecting dozens of trillions of dollars into the economy through the mainstream equivalent of food stamp cards.

Is it possible? Theoretically. Is it improbable. I think so, which brings this entire debate back to the beginning, which is that one's opinion on hyperinflation versus deflation depends entirely on one's belief that the Federal Reserve is willing and able to choose the former over the latter. Setting aside the fact that there are already those who believe that Bernanke has followed the Depression-era Fed's lead in choosing the latter on the basis of his cryptic remarks concerning “tapering”, it is my contention that the Fed is not only unable to massively inflate, but that it is totally unwilling to do so.

Nate will have the last word, but since you've indulged his imagination concerning the widespread abandonment of the dollar, perhaps you'll indulge mine concerning the motivations and mindset of the Federal Reserve in the present environment. Inflation and hyperinflation benefit borrowers. Deflation benefits lenders, as they are repaid in increasingly valuable currency. Default also benefits lenders as long as the collateral backing the loan exceeds the value of the outstanding debt. So, in closing, I will simply ask you one simple question: at this point in time, is the Federal Reserve a net borrower or a net lender?

By way of example, let me propose a hypothetical scenario that is perhaps a little outlandish, if not completely in the zone of economic science fiction. The Ciceronian political cycle predicts aristocracy, not tyranny, as the post-democratic political system. And what would be a more effective way to legally establish a wealthy aristocracy with a relative minimum of societal disorder than to encourage vast indebtedness, then trigger mass defaults by raising interest rates, which then results in the acquisition of title to all of the defaulted collateral?  Even the most hard core libertarian couldn't find anything to complain about such an action; (merely the idiocy of the centralized structure that permitted it to happen), and it would be a damn sight more legal than three-quarters of the activities with which the administration's agencies occupy themselves these days.

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Mailvox: on Scalzi the author

Patrick is curious about my opinion of John Scalzi as an SF/F author:
Vox, his politics aside, what is your assessment of the Chief Rabbit as a novelist? China Mieville, for example, is a Marxist lunatic, but I read one of his novels and found it creative--if a little dull.  Do you think that Scalzi's would be more or less successful as a novelist if he stopped blogging, or if he merely stopped the political posts?
My assessment is that Scalzi is a one-book writer of modest literary talent who has prolonged his writing career through a combination of a) unusually good self-marketing skills, and, b) stunt writing.

In the recent history of publishing, there are a lot of one-book writers, by which I mean writers who have one genuinely good book in them and nothing more regardless of how many books they write.  Dave Eggers is a very good example of this while Jay McInerney is another.  I think David Foster Wallace would have proven to be one too; I even suspect the painfully self-aware Wallace knew this and the knowledge may have played some role in his suicide.

In most cases, the reason is simple: the writer is writing about his life.  Very few of us have lives so interesting that they are capable of supporting multiple books about them, so once the writer has finished his book about himself, he literally has nothing else about which to write.  Now, that's not the case with Scalzi; Old Man's War is obviously not about his life. But although it's a pretty good science fiction novel, (you may recall I reviewed it favorably), in hindsight it can be seen to contain the seeds of Scalzi's subsequent decline as a writer.  First, there was the transparently silly bit about the atheist who rebukes the bigoted Christian by - you'll never guess - quoting John 8:7.  How totally new and creative and different than anything that had ever been done before! That little scene was a hint concerning his intellectual laziness as well as the ideological inclinations that have increasingly taken over his public persona. Second, and more importantly, there were the heavily derivative aspects that briefly caused everyone to wonder if a new Heinlein had appeared upon the scene.

Not so much. What we didn't realize at the time is that the Heinlein elements were only there because Scalzi is insufficiently creative. He's essentially a fan-fic writer whose derivative works are publishable, not unlike EL James.  This isn't necessarily a bad strategy if you want to sell books, just ask Terry Brooks or every post-Laurell K. Hamilton author of urban fantasy.  But it's the exact opposite of being a good storyteller, much less a great science fiction writer like Heinlein.  I am not the anti-Scalzi, China Mieville is, their political kinship notwithstanding.

Scalzi sent me The Android's Dream when it came out and I also read The Ghost Brigades.  And that was when I stopped reading his books, not because I had anything against him, but because the former was abysmally unfunny and the latter was uninteresting. I didn't review them here because I didn't have anything positive to say about either book and I didn't wish to poison relations that had improved after our initial encounter.  It didn't surprise me when he went on to publish books like Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts, since by that time I'd already pegged him for a derivative stunt writer.

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with stunt writing.  It requires an amount of cleverness and can definitely sell books, as AJ Jacobs has shown.  The problem is that you can't repeat the stunt, but have to continue coming up with new ones in order to stay relevant.  Scalzi's latest stunt, the serial ebook, was a good one, but has already worn thin.

I suspect Scalzi knows his limitations better than anyone, which is why he has been attempting to move on to television, movies, and games.  If he is successful in making any of those moves, it wouldn't surprise me if he stopped writing novels because he obviously doesn't write for the love of it or because he has so many stories to tell.  He's a true professional in that he writes to earn money, and he does an exceptionally good job in that regard at a time when it is difficult to do so. I don't think even his biggest fans grasp how gifted a self-marketing BS artist he is; had he gone into Internet technology rather than writing, he would be a very wealthy man on his fourth failing VC-backed venture by now.

I actually have great respect for Scalzi's ability to make bestselling soup out of what is very thin literary gruel.  If Tor knew anything about business beyond scooping up genre awards and paying for one-week bestseller list placements, they would hire him as an editor and turn him into a James Patterson-style book factory churning out three or four books per year. It's an absurd waste of talent for Scalzi to spend time writing his derivative mediocrities when he could be marketing them.  There are 500 SFWA members who could write them as well and at least 150 who would produce better books.

In answer to the final question, I think Scalzi would be far less successful as a bookseller if he stopped blogging, and I think it would be a huge mistake for him to stop the political posts because they are an important part of his appeal to his most loyal fans, the great majority of whom are SF/F readers.  Nor do the political posts appear to hurt at all him with the right. Conservatives and libertarians have always bought left-wing fiction because they are accustomed being offered little choice in the matter.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

A novel excuse

The SFWA's Damien Walter has produced a novel excuse for not being able to defend his beliefs in public:
You're only as intelligent as the cretin you're arguing with on the internet. Remember that the next time you're tempted to debate Vox Day.
His excuse makes no sense at all. If one is arguing with a cretin, it is very, very easy to demonstrate that he is a cretin and to point out the flaws in his arguments.  And it is even easier for unbiased third parties to not only observe whose arguments are better, but which of the two interlocutors is more intelligent.

This ease of observation, in fact, is why most people, including more than a few who are not terribly well-disposed towards me, readily acknowledge that I am extremely intelligent.  Not so much because I can successfully defend my own positions, but because I am usually able to demonstrate that I understand my opponent's position much better than he does himself.  That's one of the things that has rendered the inflation/deflation debate so interesting in comparison with past debates; both my opponent and I are reasonably well-versed in most of the arguments on both sides.

People like John Scalzi and PZ Myers don't run away from public debates with me because I am insufficiently intelligent, but because they know, on the basis of their past encounters with me, that I can easily shoot down their arguments while they cannot even scratch mine.  Such individuals are intellectually careless and their positions are largely emotion-based, which makes it very easy for any logically-minded individual to detect the flaws in their argument and exploit them.

Remember, it was only last week that I publicly humiliated PZ in his very own field of biology, and moreover, did it in passing.  Although I have to admit, that was a surprise to me.  As as low as my opinion is of the man, it never occurred to me that anyone with a PhD in biology could possibly fail to recognize that "human" and "homo sapiens sapiens" are not perfect synonyms.

The "crackpot" excuse doesn't hold up well in the eyes of anyone who has read my blog for more than a week. And, of course, the "platform" excuse rings increasingly hollow because my own platform is already considerably larger than most of my critics. So it's interesting to see this has resulted in new and increasingly nonsensical excuses being produced by the likes of Walter.

Notice that for all the posturing and shrieking of the crowd that Mike Resnick described as "screamers", not a single individual, not a single white knight, has dare to even attempt to defend their equalitarian position or substantively address my inequalitarian one.  They have a growing panoply of absurd excuses, but the real reason is they don't because they know they can't do it successfully.

UPDATE: It's amusing how the Left is so convinced that their views must be the popular perspective that they retreat to delusional positions rather than admit the obvious:  "I think a half decent data analyst could also prove that most of VDs followers are sock-puppets as well."

He most certainly could not.  First, I have no followers, I have readers.  Second, none of them are sock-puppets.  Unlike numerous lefties, I have no need to sock-puppet because a fair number of people enjoy reading my opinions, and some of them, over time, come to agree with a few of them. But neither my readership nor my wife are fictitious. Just deal with it. Denial only makes one look insane.

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Post-Christian pagan revival

You may recall that a pan-European pagan revival was something I predicted a few years ago ago.  Secularism is not an option because it has nothing to offer philosophically or spiritually; that's precisely why the humanists are always producing manifestos as well as books attempting to explain why it is possible for someone to square a circle even though no one has managed it yet.  This petty Greek paganism is insignificant today, but if they are successful in marrying it to the powerful nationalist revival represented by Golden Dawn, it could prove surprisingly popular.
In the last few years, though, some have come to distrust that prism, and to say so in public. While Church membership is still extremely high (more than 95% of all Greeks are at least nominally Orthodox) and the leadership is still highly involved in state affairs, there has been a resurgence of popular interest in the pre-Christian past. With it has come a small explosion of pagan groups, philosophical societies, Spartan schools, "Hellenist" magazines and performances of classical theater....

One of the most visible facets of the revivalist movement has been the campaign for recognition for the Dodecatheon, or "Religion of the Twelve Gods." The campaign has hardly been successful: polytheists have twice applied to the Greek religion ministry for official status, and twice they have been ignored. Coverage of the movement in the popular press has not been flattering. (The word many Greeks use when asked about the pagans is "funny.") But the movement has been attracting attention. 
Paganism looks funny from the perspective of the post-Christian, who has the benefit of more than a thousand years of Christian civilization.  It's not quite so funny if you happen to be sufficiently well-educated about historical paganism; there is a reason why "the Dark Ages" historically refers to the time before the coming of Jesus Christ, The Light of the World.

(The so-called "Enlightenment", like all Satanic inspirations, is nothing more than a cheap and perverted knock-off of the original concept.)

In any event, the history of the 20th century should demonstrate that pagan nationalists, particularly those with pan-European ambitions, are no laughing matter.

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