The common shipping container, lynch pin of the consumer paradise

The Shipping Container
A Cyber Monday paean to the unsung hero of consumer capitalism: Craig Martin @ The Atlantic

Busan New Port, South Korea (Reuters).

At the world’s ports, rows of stacks of shipping containers in an array of colors create a rich metallic vibrancy. On construction sites they are used as storage boxes. They can be seen lying prone and rusting in abandoned plots. They perch on the back of trucks speeding down the motorway. On flatbed cars they trundle through railway stations, box upon box upon box.


Tokyo (Reuters)

McLean (U.S. truck operator Malcom McLean’ the container systems inventor) understood that a transition to container shipping would require the complete redesign of the entire freight transport infrastructure: rail cars, ships, trucks, cranes, dockyards, everything. As a starting point, he commissioned the container engineer Keith Tantlinger to design a new aluminum container, and to reconfigure a decommissioned tanker vessel, the Ideal-X, to accommodate the new containers. Tantinger also developed a further piece of equipment, the container spreader bar, which enabled the container to be lifted without the need for stevedores to attach roping. As the economist and historian Marc Levinson has noted, the design of the spreader bar meant that “once the box had been lifted and moved, another flip of the switch would disengage the hooks, without a worker on the ground touching the container.” Container freight was all about increasing the speed of movement and reducing the cost of labor. Although the Ideal-X sailed for the first time as a container vessel in April 1956, it was not until 1970 that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) agreed on the standardized sizes and certain fixings for containers (or ISO Containers as they are formally named).

You’re in The Singularity already…

World English Dictionary
singularity – n , pl -ties

  1. the state, fact, or quality of being singular
  2. something distinguishing a person or thing from others
  3. something remarkable or unusual
  4. maths
    a. See also pole, a point at which a function is not differentiable although it is differentiable in a neighborhood of that point
    b. another word for discontinuity
  5. astronomy a hypothetical point in space-time at which matter is infinitely compressed to infinitesimal volume

Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009

A generalized form of Singularity has become common parlance in Tech circles, especially futurist minded tech folks like me.  A black hole is called a singularity because we can predict everything about the universe up to the surface, the event horizon of the black hole, beyond that event horizon the universe we know ceases to be and we cannot predict what lies beyond.

I sometimes make the mistake of equating this with ‘the futurists dilemma.’  Which In general terms is about extrapolation.  When you extrapolate what we have now into the future you can say that tomorrow is pretty much identical to today, next week not much different, next month, next year even are not going to be in any general sense ‘different’ from today (baring nuclear war, asteroid splashdown, alien invasion etc.)  In fact when thinking about the future five years is generally seen as a reasonable horizon to which you can see and say baring catastrophe things are likely (though not certainly) going to be pretty similar to today, except that things we have today will get better, things we built today will get older, our total store of knowledge will grow deeper but not necessarily much wider or more immediately useful. But if you continue this process you rapidly find that the number of potential outcomes and interactions is so huge that beyond that five year horizon is a universe of maybes.  Now in ten years things will not look vastly different from today, look back ten years, and if you can put yourself back ten years and look ten years back from there, the physical trappings of the world were not much different, but the world of today would be both banal and amazing to someone who time traveled those ten or twenty years.  Twenty year, forty years, in many ways the same thing holds true the physical trappings change only gradually, building don’t rot away in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, roads are still new at ten years.  But the details of those future selves are utterly beyond our ability to predict.

Then, when you take all the ongoing changes and roll them up you quickly reach a point where you’re head (or at least mine) has a very hard time getting around the number of variables and possible inputs and outcomes over even a small number of years.   It looks like the world will have to change very radically under the impact of that oncoming tidal wave of possibilities.

But while I see that as a singularity of a sort, that’s not really what many mean by the singularity.  They have a much more tightly wrapped definition and term.

From Wikipedia:  The Technological Singularity, sometimes snidely refered to as the    “Rapture of the Nerds”

The technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of superintelligence through technological means.  Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the technological singularity is seen as an occurrence beyond which events cannot be predicted.

Proponents of the singularity typically postulate an “intelligence explosion”, where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, might occur very quickly and might not stop until the agent’s cognitive abilities greatly surpass that of any human.

That vision can be pretty disturbing if taken without a large grain of salt and some realization that unless we get Skynet and the Terminator (you know Arnold with a Mingun?) the pure inertia of the real world will prevent the change from appearing as a singularly.

Then of course you have the more constrained but pure dystopian viewpoint.

The Internet is Growing More Dangerous. But Does Anyone Care? Bruce Schneier says “we as a society are heading down a dangerous path.”
From Bruce Schneier: What I’ve Been Thinking About:

I have been thinking about the Internet and power: how the Internet affects power, and how power affects the Internet. Increasingly, those in power are using information technology to increase their power. This has many facets, including the following:
1. Ubiquitous surveillance for both government and corporate purposes – aided by cloud computing, social networking, and Internet-enabled everything – resulting in a world without any real privacy.
2. The rise of nationalism on the Internet and a cyberwar arms race, both of which play on our fears and which are resulting in increased military involvement in our information infrastructure.
3. Ill-conceived laws and regulations on behalf of either government or corporate power, either to prop up their business models (copyright protections), enable more surveillance (increased police access to data), or control our actions in cyberspace.
4. A feudal model of security that leaves users with little control over their data or computing platforms, forcing them to trust the companies that sell the hardware, software, and systems.
On the one hand, we need new regimes of trust in the information age. (I wrote about the extensively in my most recent book, Liars and Outliers.) On the other hand, the risks associated with increasing technology might mean that the fear of catastrophic attack will make us unable to create those new regimes.
It is clear to me that we as a society are headed down a dangerous path, and that we need to make some hard choices about what sort of world we want to live in. It’s not clear if we have the social or political will to address those choices, or even have the conversations necessary to make them. But I believe we need to try.

Well, that doesn’t sound good, but the truth is that most of the time when you peer into the future it’s at best a mixed bag.  Remember the early nuclear age? (I don’t but if you go back and look it was atomic everything as far as the eye could see and who knew there was a down side?)  Then came the Russian Hydrogen bomb, and it was doom and gloom, rather red than dead, or dead than red, and hiding under your desk, flower power, peace will find a way, the commies are among us, etc, etc.


Well it’s all kinda overblow to me.

I think that if you look carefully, we’ve been in the technological singularity now for something like two hundred years!  Nothing we have today would have been predicted two centuries ago, whereas most of what they had then was little different from what it had been two hundred, even two thousand (counting Rome, China etc. as the basis) years before. Yes the details were different across that span of time but if you had the base knowledge you could make a good stab at what it would be like in ten, fifty, even a hundred years.

Our now is like being that lone spaceperson who’s gone beyond the event horizon of a black hole?  Because, from what I understand if the passage does not tear you apart you probably don’t have a clue that you’re inside.  You will be patiently waiting (or impatiently) for the end of times, which never comes, for you, whereas to all your loved ones (or despised ones) back in the ‘old universe’ who have seen you cross over and pass beyond their perception, you are in the singularity.   In Nerd Nirvana as it were.


Pardon me for being a bit skeptical, most of what I hear is the inability to figure out all the potential puts and takes that will result in the real future we will all experience.  I think the limitations of the human mind, the human will, human society, human law, human economics, human emotions, and the fact that we are all living it together, will create a world that is…..just…..well…..a lot more banal than many would really like to think.

Do I think the future will be better or worse than today?

  • Better, that’s the lesson of the long view, things have been getting better and better across the decades and centuries, despite disasters real and predicted, that have come and gone, again and again.  (not to say your or my life will be better, we’re all getting older and baring a rapture of one kind or another we are all destined to die like the biological machines we are…we can hope for an afterlife of some sort to make the travails of those last years, months, weeks, days, hours, moments, worth it but I have no profound knowledge and unfortunately not a lot of faith other than in my friends and loved ones to carry on making the world a better place.)

Do I think the future will be like today?

  • Well, yeah, at least it won’t feel much different when it comes, partly because its unlikely that change will come everywhere all at once.   It will arrive piecemeal, drip, drip, drip, drip, day, week, month, quarter, half, year, year in, year out.  It will creep up on you and you’ll never really understand the change till you get a chance to look back.  Just like it has changed all around you in the last, week, month, year, decade, etc.

So, get out and look around, you are in the singularity already.

‘Little Mosque’ Hits Hulu

pAfter six seasons, the CBC hit series Little Mosque on the Prairie finally closed up shop earlier this year, but it’s got a new lease on life on Hulu, which is releasing it as simply Little Mosque. It’s a move I’m excited by, for a lot of different reasons, not least of which is that […]/p

via ‘Little Mosque’ Hits Hulu.

My wife has become a Hulu plus / net TV addict, loving the rich back tail of great programs available from Britain and now Canada. Little Mosque caught me by surprise but it is a great little show, funny, loving, sad, sensible, balanced-in a rational if TV land way.

WSJ | There are few permanent victories or defeats in American politics, and Tuesday wasn’t one of them. The battle for liberty begins anew this morning.

Good pep talk from the Wall Street Journal

Mr. Obama’s campaign stitched together a shrunken but still decisive version of his 2008 coalition—single women, the young and culturally liberal, government and other unions workers, and especially minority voters.

He said little during the campaign about his first term and even less about his plans for a second. Instead his strategy was to portray Mitt Romney as a plutocrat and intolerant threat to each of those voting blocs. No contraception for women. No green cards for immigrants. A return to Jim Crow via voter ID laws. No Pell grants for college.

This was all a caricature even by the standards of modern politics. But it worked with brutal efficiency—the definition of winning ugly. Mr. Obama was able to patch together just enough of these voting groups to prevail even as he lost independents and won only 40% of the overall white vote, according to the exit polls. His campaign’s turnout machine was as effective as advertised in getting Democratic partisans to the polls.

There were several other pieces today that said some of the same things, essentially you cannot win against the progressive / liberal patchwork with a pure social conservative / fiscal conservative mantra.

The Republican side was made up of:

  • survivors of the old line right center Big Business Republicans
  • evangelical social conservative/moderate
  • moderate libertarians
  • constitutional originalists
  • small business owners
  • And a rather long list of single issue activists
  • anti immigrant
  • gun rights
  • anti-abortion
  • anti-tax

The problem seems to be similar to one that the democrats used to lay claim to, Big Tentism…trying to pander to too many one topic interests to the detriment of a centralizing theme.  No party can offer blanket coverage for all the rather distantly touched special interests without weakening itself.

The centralizing theme of the Republican party is, personal responsibility and non intrusive government, based on the rule of law centered on a relatively strong reference to the Constitution.

The centralizing theme of the Democratic party might be seen as common responsibility, government central mediator, based on the interpretation of law referring to the constitution among other iconic law systems.

A key problematic special interests in the Republican party today is Big Business (as a themed entity not as the people in the companies,) not because Big Business is evil but because its interests are really more in line with the Democratic Party centralizing themes, not the Republican party’s.  The only reason Big Business tents in the Republican camp is because the Democrats demonize it, and the actual ‘People’ (i.e. agents) who are the cells of the Big Business are generally very much aligned with the centralizing theme of the Republican party.  But the Players and the Companies when operating in aggregate (or for the company) are much more likely to support the Democratic baseline than the Republican one.

Various single issues activists, particularly the semi organized Tea Party activists of various sub stripes, have pushed their way and their interests into the Republican party.  As above providing huge clubs to beat the overall party to death with.   The TP has tried to remake the Republican party in its image…which purposely does not exist.  This has again and again wrecked the chances of the party by putting up candidates who are very easily caricatured by their opponents and driven into defeat.

That’s not to say that some of the single issues activists are not right and that they all should be driven out.  The gun lobby while demonized is a strength in the party as long as it sticks to the line it has in recent years, this resonates well with personal responsibility and non-interference.  Anti tax when not carried to caricature.  Pro life, when not carried to the level of stupid anti-abortion extremism (as I’ve said before almost everyone is pro-life, most are modestly anti-abortion, but the paternalistic-extremism of an Akin or a Mourdock is nuts in this day.)

Consistency to theme should be considered strongly:  For example:  Pro-Life –>anti-abortion, anti death penalty,  limits to the pursuit of extra territorial murder (drone wars.) pro scientific medical advances (with ethical limits.) In other words limit very tightly the ability of the government to kill anyone unless they pose an immediate threat to the US, which of course has to be defined pretty damned broadly but still consistently.  (i.e. OBL raid was a perfectly reasonable action.)

If you look at the paragraph above you would realize that the Catholic Church while staying out of politics is going to support the Republican theme much more strongly than it did,does today.

Same goes for immigration, we are a nation of immigrants, and the nation needs the flow of immigrants because population growth is inherently good for the US economy in every way for the foreseeable future.  Yes borders should be protected from military incursion (which I think we do pretty well) but no country with a border as long and open (no geographic obstacles like seas, cliffs or rivers) as the US’s can seal its borders without imposing a police state, which largely stops people coming because there is no reason for them to want to go into bondage, who really wants to go to North Korea, all their walls are to keep people in, not out.    Like abortion this is a sore point with fundamentalists but at the end of the day I have never seen anti-immigration sentiment that is not at base about fear of the other or of having to compete.

One of the biggest most fundamental issues that the Republican majority has to come to grips with is that the US has always been about creative destruction and that nothing can stay the same in an evolving world.  We have to compete on the global stage in every venue and that means that in some niches we go up and others we go down.  At the end of the day nothing can protect you as a person from the winds of economic and social change and trying to do so just fosters tyranny. The only thing that provides you a shield is flexibility and the willingness to learn and adapt, which in general the average American has been better at than the rest of humanity, partly because of the freedoms that the country provides to fail and try again.

The Republican party needs to focus on the themes I think it stands for:  personal responsibility and non intrusive government, based on the rule of law centered on a relatively strong reference to the Constitution.

    • Moderate taxes (limit on income taxes, everyone pays income tax
    • Moderate, smart and regulation (stop regulators getting captured by those they regulate)
    • Pro immigrant
    • Pro small business  (not anti big business, just stop giving them special treatment)
    • Pro gun
    • Strong defense
    • Pro Life (not anti-abortion) (anti death penalty)
    • Pro Free trade even if it hurts

Then you have my dreams:

  • One term at a time (no re-elections, you can be president as many times as you want, but only one term at a time, then you take a break before running again.)
  • Individual Health Care:
  • Individual Retirement.

New Post 2 : Why Big(Big) Corporations, Grey in Tooth and Claw may need Unions as a counterparty, whereas Innovative Little Guys need Unions like they need regulations and stray holes in the head

I’ve been thinking about Walter Russell Mead’s Death of the Blue model meme and some of the ramifications.  Also thinking back on the history of industrialization and laissez-faire economics in English and American experience.  Then Meagan Mcardle had a blog piece on the Daily Beast the other day that had a tangential thoughts of interest.

To Paraphrase rather egregiously:  The United States has the largest economy in the world as well as the most dynamic and creative (though there are many who are trying to change that.) It trades a more secure safety net (which might not work in a large and heterogeneous country anyway) for more vigor and growth, even though that creates a greater disparity between rich and poor.  Many smaller nations could follow the US lead but if they did they would suffer because they would be competing against a vastly larger pool of potential entrepreneurs etc.  This makes it much more sensible for them to curl up and ride the innovation wave the US creates while providing a more comfy and fair life style for their citizens.  If the US turned and did the Comfy-Fair thing, the world would lose its innovation mainspring and everyone would suffer because to a large degree our society/economy requires innovation and change to provide the economic voltage that drives the circuits of world trade.  There is some research into this and the modeling seems to support the intuition in the main.  But the researchers commented that Unions and Regulations offer a buffer against the potential of corporations using up the employees and resources.   And it is that thought that intersects my intuition.

Essentially the problem is, and this can be shown in history, that large operations, even if owned and run by persons of great moral character become more and more ruthless as they grow.  And as the operation turns from owner/operator to corporation the inherent inhuman ruthlessness gets worse and worse.  The more successful a company is the more ruthless its ‘minions’ are going to tend to be.  Look at what happened in the Robber Baron era, and then again in the great multinational eras (60’s and 90’s 50’s to today in my mind.)  They were (are) Big Beasts, Gray not Red, in Tooth and Claw.  It was nineteenth century progressive regulation then early twentieth century unions that tamed them in regards to their employees.  Then it was the regulatory state in the 60’s-80’s taking charge in the 80’s that created Monster Corporations that ‘cared’ about the externals like the environment, customer safety, etc.

But from a libertarians viewpoint, it has always been the state’s fault that these beasts came into being at all.  It can be argued that the great corporations were purposely crafted to employ and control great swaths of the population (I don’t think this was actually planned ahead of time, I think it was/is an emergent pattern driven by economic and social realities of the time but I am sure some saw it ahead of time and some will say it was all a vast conspiracy on someone’s part.)

Small firms, networks of firms, partnerships, franchises, etc, are all different ways of spreading technology effectively if perhaps not as efficiently as monopolistic or oligopolistic ultra large firms that came into existence to industrialize the US and compete on the world stage.  In the UK this smaller/distributed model remained more common and competed strongly for a while until the incrementally crippling damage of WWI, the interwar boom-bust, WWII and the following socialist experiment so badly damaged it that it was off the world stage for thirty years, unitl Thatcher.

It is these smaller more entrepreneurial firms that are damaged by regulation and unionization the most.  Not on purpose but because both cut the small companies ability to turn on a dime and give big companies, which can support big compliance departments, a very large advantage in the ‘rent seeking’ game of playing the regulators.

So the very instruments that you need to tame the Big Beasts of large-scale corporatism are the ones that plow under the smaller firms that offer 1) growth in the economy and 2) alternatives to the big beasts.

A balance is what you seek…

Our problem is that the post WWII boom hid the damage of the Big Beasts and their Tamers for several decades, and during that time we seem to have gotten the impression that there is some natural stable state that is ‘right’ and this state has something to do with large stable corporations and their control of the markets.

It’s clear to me that the bureaucratic-regulatory-union-corporation model does not have legs in a world of real competition from Big Beasts who are not constrained to the same degree.

Sometimes I think the only real hope is that the Industrial Civilization of ‘Big Beasts’ will be supplanted by something one might call the Maker Civilization, where zero cost communications and distributed at need manufacturing cuts the legs out from under all the Big Beasts.

Computer aging and user angst…

As I’ve noted before my primary writing implement is a Leonovo (nee IBM) Thinkpad T42, at the time one of the best lightweight laptops in its class and certainly (in my opinion) the LAPTOP writing tool available.  I had been using Windows 2000 on my ‘main’ machine (which I had been forced to upgrade with much cursing, from Win NT a couple of years before) but had to move to XP Professional on Writer, which caused a great deal more muttering under the breath and vibrant curses in the direction of Redmond WA and B.Gates in particular.   (By the way, probably the most maligned man on Earth and proof that curses have no effect. He being, to all appearances; healthy, happy and well off despite a {largely unearned} curse load that should have reduced him, and the local geographic, region to subatomic particles long ago.)

Writer replaced an earlier IBM Thinkpad, a black and white 3.5in floppy equipped 12+ incher that I bought at some an early Staples in the early 90’s.  It had Windows 2 if I remember correctly not the soon to be released W 95.  I typed away happily on that machine, transferred to the ‘big iron’ with its much more stable W NT then to the (even better Win 2000, –though it took at least six months for me to admit as much.)

Then of course I started buying systems for the rest of the family, I bought one with Windows Me (what a piece of trash!) and later Windows Vista (urk) and lately Windows 7, which I have to say I find to be at least as good as XP though I don’t like the increasing levels of detail they are hiding behind the magic curtain, that I have to find my way past to do anything once the wizards etc fail (though admittedly that’s pretty rare these days.)

Before and During this time, working first for the Gov’t then a Gov’t/Private partnership.  I had used several versions of DOS, rightly pooh poohed Windows 1, often used the DEC VAX operating system, a version of the other disk operating system common at the time (which I forget the acronym/name for) and then on to Win 2, Win 95, Win 2000, Win XP.  Now the age of XP is passing (I know I know, in the outside world it passed long ago but main line / old line engineering firms are extremely risk averse.)  My latest little (plastic) jewel is Win 7 which has forced me to finally learn the system (like work moving to XP made me learn XP.)

Sigh, and now they are talking about W-8! and that they are going to stop supporting W-XP!! And Writer is finally showing her age <whine, whine> but is not ready for the removal of her hard drive and consigning to the waste stream of history…but if I wait too much longer I won’t be able to get W-7 the bastards will force me to get a new system with W-8!!!  Those fould fiends in Redmond! whats’s name and all his grimy green geek gremlins, with their damned marketing plans…etc, etc, etc….(and by the way its harder to use Ballmer in a curse than it is Gates, makes it much less cathartic for some reason.

So sometime soon I will have to get another Writer…and my daughter want’s an ultrabook to replace the Gateway 15.6 incher I got her for University.  And having had fun building two computers from scratch this summer I want to play around some more…but haven’t found an excuse to build another one, or two, or three….

And the fools at Leonovo will probably not offer a regular old-fashioned 3:4 aspect screen but one of the blasted 9:16 movie screen slots…the old form is much better for writing when using a smaller screen. But ‘everyone’ seems to like the slots because they can see movies better, why do they get to pick the aspect ratio?  I’m doing creative stuff they’re just rotting their brains for crying out loud!!

And so it goes…things change, those that don’t are either perfect or dead.  Personal computer technology is evolving so fast that it is impossible for anyone to say ‘stop I want to get off for a little while.’  One just has to continue to adapt.  Just be thankful that what we are adapting to is a new and generally much better set of hardware and software….not the appearance of a new predator, plague or famine.



Thoughts for a 4th of July in an early decade of the 21st Century

There have always been multiple visions of the future of the ‘American Experiment’ despite what comes across from the rather wan gruel we all get fed in public school unless we have unusually good and aggressive ‘social studies’ teachers.

I have read a few interesting modern histories of the united states and the best of these show that there were always multiple threads at work, more than just the now common Conservative / Progressive (NO, not Liberal.)  And I don’t necessarily associate Conservative with Republicanism and Progressives with Democratic ideals.

I think if you go back to your math/geometry and get a view of a three-dimensional graph at the origin ( 0,0,0) with +&- axis for (x,y,z) showing.  Got that picture in your head?

Now simplified political philosophy has taught the Left Right  (x-axis) Dichotomy of Communism and Fascism … which supposedly goes from the people being sovereign to the opposite of one person being sovereign.  With a smooth transition from one side to the other.  This is the sovereignty axis in my opinion And America is not at the far right, its at the middle left, because sovereignty rests in the hands of the people’s elected representatives who can be tossed out.

Now don’t forget that while so-called Communist or People’s regimes claim the mantle of the People they are always in practice Fascist oligarchic or even despotic (one person) systems. And Fascist regimes (when they dared call themselves such) were in reality Party dominated Bureaucratic states and the best run of each type were much more alike than they were different.  They are both basically Oligarchic with a tendency for one man rule.

So there has to be some other axis in play.  Call it the ownership axis, who owns what?  Say this is Up / Down,  Up is personal ownership of everything,  Down is state ownership of everything.  Here you can parse out a philosophical though perhaps not so much a practical difference between Communism and Fascism as practiced in the real world. The Communist state owns all means of production (a person theoretically is still a sovereign actor and can own personal items) Fascism tends to accentuate diverse ownership of the means of production, in fact tends to focus on ownership and ‘winning/winners’ to the detriment of other things.  If you look at the worst of the worst they didn’t really see anything wrong with slavery (but again in practice neither did the Communists, if you were sub-human enough to protest against the regime.)

And then you have the other political axis, call it the regulatory axis, one side you have anarchy, everyone establishes their own regulations, and on the other axis you have the regulatory state where every potential action is regulated by some rule.

Now mankind has never lived in either extreme, every animal has some innate regulation and the more complex an animal becomes the more it operates in some form of society which again has a set of perhaps unstated, but often iron clad, rules.  With humans language and society co developed in complexity and at some point language grew in symbolic power to the point that it enabled humans to think up and then explain new ways to regulate life (as well as explain it and pass the knowledge along so others could build on to what was known before.)  This is the foundation of modern civilization and while I’m a libertarian at heart, I know that humans have to live in a regulated world.  Life in a unregulated world would be impossibly complex because you could never ‘trust’ anyone you did not know at least somewhat, to operate within the same social context as you do.

And as much as many Conservative pundits whine about it we do not live in a regulatory state.  In practice only robots could live in the far limits of the regulatory state because they can be programmed and ‘flash’ reprogrammed to operate by the rules (if their ‘brain’ is big enough to contain said rule set.)  A human cannot learn more than a relatively small set of rules in any lifetime and operationally using rules requires that you focus on a smaller sub set.  This is the reality of the ‘joke,’ “…he knew more and more about less and less until he knew everything about nothing.”

Going back to Communist Fascist dichotomy, what does this new axis explain?  Well to be honest, nothing, in practice both Communist and Fascist states tend toward the highly regulated but in both cases the regulations tend to focus on industrial and militaristic means and social control ends.  However if you look at the ‘Democracy vs Communistic/Fascist’ it tends to show a huge spread, with distributed and relatively low levels of regulation in the Democracies and very highly concentrated and high levels of regulation in the Communist/Fascist states.

Concomitantly the D vs C/F spread on the sovereignty axis shows a wide spread and in my opinion shows a pretty concentrated blob for the C/F group well towards the single sovereign and the D’s a broad spread towards the all sovereign limit (though none get close to the limit)

And the D vs C/F on the ownership axis again shows (in my mind) the C/F’s practically as a spread towards to state ownership side and the D’s a spread towards individual ownership with the D’s getting closer to their limit than the C/F’s to theirs.

So I wandered far from my start point ehe?  No, because if you look at that graph I have tried to form in your head you should see that our Democratic and Republican politicians are in all practical senses identical to each other.  They are for sovereignty of the people, personal ownership of property and moderate levels of regulation all within bounds that most of us would find reasonable, if not totally laudatory.

As much as some ‘Con’ Pundits accuse the Pro Elite of despising America and ‘Pro’ Pundits accuse Con Elites of anti democratic tendencies, both sides almost to a man and woman love the United States of America and its People, in aggregate, if not in personal detail.  Both sides recognize many of the same national failings, but attribute them to different causes, and often times assigning them different levels of importance.  But we by and large live with in the same social memes and can Trust each other on a personal basis (fair dealing on a bet, honesty in word and deed, etc) even when we don’t necessarily agree or even trust them regarding political issues.  As long as this social cohesion can remain to under-gird our political disarray.  In fact I think we are just seeing the chaotic workings of a ‘society and polity’ that while vastly different in detail from what the founders would have recognized, is well within the bounds of what they could have hoped for given that most of what we experience day to day is utterly at odds with their day to day experience.

So, in closing:     As a Naturalized Citizen of the United States I bid all that have always been, those who have become, those who want to become and those who have simply served the greater dreams of our great experiment, have a Joyous as well as Thoughtful, 4th of July.

Best Regards


More Blue model Blue Growth

Saw an op-ed in the Indy Star that started out asking what Romney would say to a police group about explaining why we don’t need more police on the beat.

Juxtaposed with an article elsewhere pointing out that violent crime is at a 40 year low after a significant reduction for the last however many years and that even none violent crime is decreasing.  And this during a recession!

An argument can be made that this is because there are more police and more prison cells than ever before.  Or it could be because police patrolling practices with focus on trouble spots and keeping feet on the street are inherently more effective than the blanket patrol car and large precinct office staff model that preceded it.

However given that most police forces are unreconstructed and there are vast opportunities for more effective use of the people on hand, the need for more police is to me; at least unclear and possibly even preposterous.  As WRMead at ViaMeadia might say this is just more Blue model thinking, pressing for more Blue model growth.

Given that historically locking thugs up just opened niche for other predators to move in, it’s more likely that video games are absorbing a lot of youth time that used to be spent getting into trouble.  And its harder to make crime pay these days unless you have to be savvy, connected and have the gear to do it right or you get no payday.  And with the prevalence of violence in the criminal strata, it seems to me that the number of fools willing to take up the life has to be somewhat limited.

The biggest concern that I have is that a permanent criminal culture could develop, one that is all but self-sustaining, like the preceding and overlapping welfare culture.  This culture is so isolated from the larger american society that its members do not see themselves as having an interest in or path into the society at large because its alien and in some senses very cold and unfeeling.  In the criminal culture life may be ugly and short but it may also be very much focused on immediate gratification and the id of the young men who are its principal actors.


Democracy is an Outcome not an Input….

In this months The American Interest is a fascinating perspective article that like any profoundly effective piece opens ones mind to a better way of thinking about a topic, in this case democracy and the ‘liberal societies.’   The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy    The main threats to democracy lie within liberal societies themselves. by Vladislav Inozemtsev

Its more of a monograph than an article, it’s talking to the reader about taking a different perspective on a whole classes of issues. In short as my title says Democracy historically emerges after life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have already emerged within a society not before.  Also he points out that liberal (in the old sense of societal and economic freedoms) societies emerged in homogenous and élite societies and then democracy was implemented to create a stable and responsive gov’t that would last.  Only later as the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, equality before the law, became ingrained, and the polis became generally literate and self-reliant did the right to vote become general.

But as the right to vote became general its strength became debased.  As the right to vote was given to many without a strong tie to the society it became more and more populist and a tool of those able to manipulate it.  

Some societies have developed that are quite ‘liberal’ in the old and robust meaning of the world without democracy (Singapore is one example.)

Many societies have developed democratic trappings but they are not at all liberal (Russia is one example)

Some societies have had democratic trappings dropped on them and then have started to tear themselves apart because there is no homogenous polis, (Iraq, many of the African states)

If you are at all interested in the topic read the article, its one of those pieces that opens the mind to a better perspective that might lead to insights of importance.  unfortunately its all too likely that the right people won’t get the message…


Historical Perspective and Narrative


Walter Russell Mead’s blog serial Beyond Blue, currently at #5, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs (from which the pictures in this piece come) is a fascinating monograph putting the changes our society/economy is going through into perspective. Dr. Mead’s explanation goes back to the 19th century:

In the 19th century, government promoted the rise of the family farm, selling cheaply and ultimately giving away millions of acres of farmland, and promoting the rise of railroads (which could carry the produce of western farms to world markets). In the 20th century the government promoted the rise of large, stable corporate employers that offered armies of white and blue collar employees lifetime employment and a bevy of benefits.

And later this:

Currently, the American legal and regulatory system is set up to bind as many people to employers as possible. The government wants you to be a wage slave and sets up a regulatory framework that keeps as many of us as possible yoked to bosses and management. The IRS doesn’t like the self-employed, fearing they many conceal income. Banks and credit card companies view such people with suspicion, and it is notoriously difficult for start ups and part time enterprises to have access to formal finance. Many services are hard for the self-employed to get on terms like those made available to employees of large corporations: from health insurance to retirement planning, many things are harder and more expensive for the self-employed. The payroll tax system is brutal: the self-employed pay both the employer and employee halves of Social Security and Medicare taxes, almost 20 percent of income and likely to go higher. Many cities will tack on unincorporated business taxes, mass transit taxes, and other interesting feudal exactions and dues.

The gov’t used(s) the current ‘Blue Model’ in some senses as a social damping mechanism because it provides for a more hierarchical top down command system (of interest in the Cold War climate of the 50’s to80’s) while also providing a relatively efficient economy and outlets for frustration from the masses. This model has worked since the collapse of the 19th century model….the great depression…but itself is now becoming unstable/unaffordable in its turn because it requires too much command and control.

Too much how? Well now that a high percentage (all high value) workers have been amplified by basic literacy, information systems and other technology, they are capable of much more than the drudge work they used to perform at the command of a ‘supervisor’ and demand / need more autonomy. Many organizations accommodate and move on and up. Others keep the older structure or some bastardized version and sink into the muck. Companies that almost have to operate in the old mode because they deliver one sort of highly regulated good or another, get radically more expensive compared to near peers operating outside the penumbra of regulation and lose relevance and competitiveness at a steadily increasing speed. Look at the post office, once the epitome of efficiency.