Archive for Samhain, 2008

Tell the Big Lie

Samhain 29, 2008

There was virtually nobody who saw that low-probability event as a possibility.” – Robert Rubin.”

This is such an outrageous falsehood, such a breathtaking counterfactual and moral abdication, that I feel it is on a par with one of the “big lies” from the mouth of Goebbels. If you feel that’s a little OTT: just consider the amount of pensions for old people annihilated, the amount of economic damage world-wide, the effect on poor people and the planet that this institutional and structural irresponsibility that this represents. And now the capo-di-tutti-capos for this state-sanctioned international ponzi-scheme (consider that Rubin has earned over a hundred million) are not only covering their asses, but are likely to get US cabinet positions? We are all Latin-Americans now.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock –
as well as Nassim Taleb –
were two of the many who saw this coming, and who were loudly and intelligently proclaiming it.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (”The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”) has been yelling about this coming for some years.

He regards the mathematical models used by most empty-suits as intellectual charlatanism that is little more than a way for institutions avoid to responsibility en masse.

One of my favourite quotes of his is:

“Anybody invested in the Stock Market who is critical of religion is a hypocrite… stock market analysts are worse than useless…”

There is a briliant clip of him in full swing on BBC Newsnight at:

This is a Stalinist airbrushing of history, and deserves to be condemned – loudly – from the rooftops. This is inexcusable, and these people need to be publicly and repeatedly called out.

Citigroup’s risk models never accounted for the possibility of a national housing downturn… when examiners from the Securities and Exchange Commission began scrutinizing Citigroup’s subprime mortgage holdings after Bear Stearns’s problems surfaced, the bank told them that the probability of those mortgages defaulting was so tiny that they excluded them from their risk analysis…
NY Times, hat-tip to Scott McConnell

There are Some Things Money Can’t Buy. For Everything Else…

Samhain 26, 2008

World War II:

$3.6 trillion.

The Louisiana Purchase, New Deal, Marshall Plan, Korean War, Race to the Moon, NASA, Vietnam War, S&L Crisis, and Invasion of Iraq:

$3.92 trillion.

Still-rising $4.6165 trillion Bailout*:


There are Some Things Money Can’t Buy. For Everything Else, there’s Taxpayers.

"Your credit rating is so poor, Mr. McGee, that not only are we authorized to cut your CARD in half..."

* Figures from
Hat tip to and

Does Obama Really Plan To Govern from the Center-Right?

Samhain 24, 2008

Progressives are as irrelevant to the Democratic power-brokers as evangelicals are to the Republicans’: both parties know that they can take these groups completely for granted. Both parties throw them some mostly symbolic scraps from the table occasionally, that they can bark loudly about, and put on some street theatre with the other side to rally the troops.
But in the end, the neocons or corporate republicans are just as willing to abandon the religious right as Hillary et al are willing to cosy up to them (the neocons etc.). Well done chaps: just keep telling yourselves Obama’s a progressive, and blame all his apparent failures on the equally ineffectual Jesus-freaks.
More on Barack Obama
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sarah Palin TV Interview Turkey Incident: OMG!

Samhain 22, 2008

No one who had grown up on a farm would even bat an eyelid at this non-story. That meaty stuff you eat for Thanksgiving, you do realise that comes from a live animal that has to be slaughtered by someone, yes? You do all realise where the bacon in BLT sandwiches come from, right? Or do all HuffPost readers eat only seaweed and tofu and live in tree-based upper-canopy ecopods?
More on Sarah Palin
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Hoping Hillary Says Yes?

Samhain 22, 2008

Phillip Giraldi (The American Conservative): “The neocon surge towards Hillary as Secretary of State, a position which she reportedly has accepted, has already begun.”

Philip Weiss (Mondoweiss): “Jacob Heilbrunn, neocon spotter, has a fine piece in Huffington Post pointing out that the neocons, deprived of a host by McCain’s demise, are, surprise, relaunching as Hillary Clintonites. Obama? No problem. The Weekly Standard has apparently been adoring Hillary. And of course there’s Joe Lieberman extolling her.”

But at least Hollywood is impressed, so I guess that’s what’s important.
More on Obama’s Cabinet
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Space, Time, Energy, Matter, Information – 2

Samhain 17, 2008


Space, the final frontier... BP = d / (1 + ( √ (m²1 / m²2))

Space, the final frontier... BP = d / (1 + ( √ (m²1 / m²2))

“… a new geography is being created within which physical distance is less important than electronic connectedness. ” (Seeking source 081117)

Recapping, in paraphrase, STEMI Compression:

STEMI compression in design evolution, as applied to Resilient Communities –
– Space: less volume/area used; “localization… reduction of space needed to support human activity”;
– Time: faster; Just-In-Time production;
– Energy: less energy, higher efficiency; Just-In-Place production reduces transport;
– Mass: less waste; made to order versus mass production;
– Information: “higher efficiency, less management overhead… radical simplification”;

Hypothesis set A:

  1. Limiting Assets – Natural, National, Network Development (Locational ANd Demographic) or L.A.N.D.^2 values, exist;
  2. these values are the result of positive externalities which are due to:
    • intentional investments of site-specific material and social infrastructure;
    • natural opportunities and exogenous natural capital;
    • exposure to social opportunities and demographic energy, access to market, social capital;
  3. These contain both rival and non-rival public goods;
  4. Overuse of non-rival goods can result in them becoming rival;
  5. The rationalisation of provision, or rationing of rival goods, is necessary;
  6. State-allocation is hampered by the problem of cost calculation absent market signals;
  7. Allocation through state-led privatisation of rival goods leads to negative externalities – socialisation of cost, privatisation of profit;

Hypotheses set B:

  1. Technology and design – investment of knowledge – reduce effective spatial and time distance;
  2. Technology and design reduce effective material and energy use;
  3. Both the reductions of effective space-time and matter-energy can be thought of as as reductions of resistance to human action and desire;
  4. The control of such technology and design is equivalent to control of other aspects of LAND2 (hence Infrastructure and Network);
  5. Bottlenecks in such control – whether intentional or not – create an institutional toll-bridge which the rest of society must pay;

Some previous thinkers on demographic energy, locational value, and technology…

Fuller uses as an example of this the Telstar satellite which. while weighing only one-tenth of a ton, out-performs 75,000 tons of transatlantic cable…
… substitution not only in materials but in functions… may vastly alter our lives, effecting how we otherwise spend our energy and time. For example, communications as a substitution for transportation can effect such savings to a great extent…
A society that exercises this option of using communication in place of transportation in many of its activities … can conserve many resources. (Seeking source 081117)

Von Thunen::

r = Y(p − c) − YFm

where R=land rent; Y=yield per unit of land; c=production costs per unit of commodity; p=market price per unit of commodity; F=freight rate; m=distance to market.

Locational rent, a term used by von Thünen in his argument, is to be understood as the equivalent to land value. It corresponds to the maximum amount a farmer could pay for using the land, without making losses. It can be defined as the equation below:

L = Y(P − C) − YdR

* L: Locational rent (in Money / m²)
* Y: Yield (in Units / m²)
* P: Market price of the crop (in Money / units)
* C: Production cost of the crop (in Money / units)
* d: Distance from the market (in m)
* R: Transport cost / Resistance / Friction (in Money / units / m)

Stewart:: Demographic Gravity:

F = (N1 X N2) / ( √d )
Demographic Force = (population 1 X population 2) / (distance squared)

E = (N1 X N2) / d
Demographic Energy = (population 1 X population 2) / distance; this is also Zipf’s determinant:
Interchange of value; Y value of goods exchanged; inter-community movement of goods (by value):
Y = (N1 X N2) / d

PEN1 = N2 / d
Demographic Potential Energy of population 1 = population 2 / distance

PE = N / d
Demographic Potential Energy @ point = population / distance, in persons per mile

Gradient = N / m²
Demographic Gradient = persons / (mile squared)

Force of Diversity: economy of population living at source of raw material production (saves transport to production centre); n+, N-
Force of Unity: Economy of living together in one big city where all production done (saves transport to consumers); n- (to 1), N+ (to 100%)
Conflict of economies: n number of different communities and N sizes;

Reilly’s retail gravity equilibrium::

Population 1 / (distance to balance, squared) = Population 2 / (distance to balance, squared)

Larger cities will have larger Sphere of Influences than smaller ones, meaning people travel further to reach a larger city.

BP = d / (1 + ( √ (m²1 / m²2))

The balance or Break Point (BP) is equal to the Distance (d) between two places, divided by the following: Unity or Total (1) plus the Square Root of, the size of Place One (p1) divided by the size of Place Two (p2).

Notional gravity can be influenced by a number of things, but square footage is simple and effective measure of utility, ceteris paribus.


Interchange of value; Y value of goods exchanged; inter-community movement of goods (by value):

Y = (N1 X N2) / d

The movement of goods by value – and of persons – between any two communities, N1 & N2 that are separated by the easiest transportation distance, d, will be directly proportionate to the product, N1 X N2, and inversely proportionate to the distance, d. (The “Principle of least effort”)

(seeking source for following 081117)

U (x, h, T)

p (x ‘consumption’) + r (h ‘housing’) = (y0 ‘nonwage income’) + (w ‘wage rate’) . (1 – t ‘commute’ – T ‘leisure’)

Space, Time, Energy, Mass, Information – 1

Samhain 17, 2008

Technological design as a substitute for space, time, energy and material:

MORE Braiiiiiiiiiiins!

MORE Braiiiiiiiiiiins!

Buckminster Fuller came up with the concept of ephemeralization: “the principle of doing ever more with ever less weight, time and energy per each given level of functional performance”. (Fuller, Synergetics 2, 792.52)

This is a similar riff to STEMI Compression (thanks to John Robb – Global Guerrillas Wednesday, 12 November 2008) which I paraphrase here:

STEMI compression in design evolution, as applied to Resilient Communities –
– Space: less volume/area used; “localization… reduction of space needed to support human activity”;
– Time: faster; Just-In-Time production;
– Energy: less energy, higher efficiency; Just-In-Place production reduces transport;
– Mass: less waste; made to order versus mass production;
– Information: “higher efficiency, less management overhead… radical simplification”;

As an example – an important one to which I will return in the next post:

Fuller uses as an example of this the Telstar satellite which. while weighing only one-tenth of a ton, out-performs 75,000 tons of transatlantic cable…
… substitution not only in materials but in functions… may vastly alter our lives, effecting how we otherwise spend our energy and time. For example, communications as a substitution for transportation can effect such savings to a great extent…
A society that exercises this option of using communication in place of transportation in many of its activities … can conserve many resources.
(Searching for source, 081117)

Compare this with the cybernetic or computational trend – in the ability to manipulate and produce information – known as “Moore’s Law”:

Poverty on the world level has decreased from over 70% in 1960 to 30% at present. Averaged over the different decades, a yearly increase in GNP of about 2% seems normal for the developed countries. This increase is primarily due to an increase in productivity of about the same amount…
The increased productivity means that less resources and labor are needed to produce the same amount of goods. Buckminster Fuller (1969) called this on-going trend to do more with less “ephemeralization”. Perhaps the most spectacular illustration of the underlying
technological progress is Moore’s Law, the observation that the speed of microprocessors doubles every [24] months, while the price halves.
This improvement results mainly from miniaturization, so that more (processing power) is achieved with less (materials).
Ephemeralization explains the stable or declining prices (corrected for inflation) of physical resources and energy. The decline is particularly evident if the value of a resource is expressed as a percentage of the average income (Simon, 1995).
(Received 1 April 2000; Accepted 15 June 2000)

(The ability to generate knowledge – as opposed to simply transmitting information – is a subject also touched upon by Drucker in “Post Capitalist Society”; here it is described in an evolutionary or anthropological sense, again with reference to Fuller, and in a manner reminiscent of Popperian falsification:)

… evolution in this age is not primarily biological, but cultural: what is selected are no longer the genes, but the memes, i.e. the ideas, beliefs, habits, etc. that are transmitted from person to person (Heylighen, 1997a; Dawkins, 1976).
If a new design can achieve more than a previous design, while requiring the same its fitness will be higher in all environments.
Achieving more means being able to cope with a larger variety of problems or getting better results on any one problem. Requiring less means being less dependent on what the environment provides. Together, they imply more power, productivity and efficiency, that is, increased control over the problems that threaten QOL or survival.
…doing more with less (called “ephemeralization” by Buckminster Fuller) is conspicuous in the evolution of our society.
Economic development can similarly be seen as an increasing control of social needs (Heylighen, 1997b).
Unlike biological evolution, cultural evolution has developed a number of shortcuts for the tortuous process of blind variation and natural selection. It is knowledge in its diverse forms which allows us to anticipate to some extent what will happen. This allows us to avoid blind alleys, without first needing to explore them. Campbell (1974) has conceptualized knowledge as a “vicarious selector”. Knowledge selects the most adequate actions from the variety of potential actions, in the same way that natural selection selects by destroying inadequately behaving systems. The difference is that knowledge does not destroy actual systems, it only eliminates unpromising potentialities.
…progress in one domain will make society more competent to push for progress in another, by increasing its overall capacities.
The growth of knowledge obviously benefits all other domains:
the growth of wealth will benefit all other domains, including the domain of knowledge:
more healthy people will be more productive in general, whether it is in the material, the intellectual or the social domain. Similarly, people who feel more secure will invest more resources and energy in developing themselves or the economy.
The same positive feedback or mutual reinforcement can be observed within each of the major domains.
…progress feeds on progress, thus continuously promoting its own development.
(Received 1 April 2000; Accepted 15 June 2000)

One of the arguments regarding Peak Oil and resource depletion, is that this kind of ephemeralisation means less resources are needed to maintain equivalent or higher standards of living. One of the best champions of this case is Julian Simon in e.g “The Ultimate Resource”. The issue I have with Simon is: he is following a line of reason first successfully argued by Henry George against the Malthusians (that increased numbers of people are not a burden, but a greater source of ingenuity and specialisation), but he misses the problem of externalities and Political Economy. George argued that certain resources and collectively manufactured sources of economic value properly belonged in commonwealth, not private hands. Otherwise there would be the Chomskyist problem of “socialised costs and privatised profits”, which would destroy and act as a set of perverse incentives regarding overall productivity. Bearing this warning in mind, ceteris paribus



In exponential growth, we find that a key measurement such as computational power is multiplied by a constant factor for each unit of time (e.g., doubling every year) rather than just being added to incrementally.
…an exponential curve approximates a straight line when viewed for a brief duration. So even though the rate of progress in the very recent past… is far greater than it was ten years ago …, our memories are nonetheless dominated by our very recent experience.
…what would a thousand scientists, each a thousand times more intelligent than human scientists today, and each operating a thousand times faster than contemporary humans (because the information processing in their primarily nonbiological brains is faster) accomplish? One year would be like a millennium. What would they come up with?
Moore’s Law Was Not the First, but the Fifth Paradigm To Provide Exponential Growth of Computing
Each time one paradigm runs out of steam, another picks up the pace
…the most appropriate measure to track is computational speed per unit cost.
…the exponential growth of computing didn’t start with integrated circuits (around 1958), or even transistors (around 1947), but goes back to the electromechanical calculators used in the 1890 and 1900 U.S. Census. This chart spans at least five distinct paradigms of computing, of which Moore’s Law pertains to only the latest one.
Each stage of evolution provides more powerful tools for the next.
The “chaos” of the environment in which the evolutionary process takes place … provides the options for further diversity.
Specific paradigms, such as Moore’s Law, do ultimately reach levels at which exponential growth is no longer feasible. Thus Moore’s Law is an S curve. But the growth of computation is an ongoing exponential…
In accordance with the law of accelerating returns, paradigm shift, also called innovation, turns the S curve of any specific paradigm into a continuing exponential.
The Law of Accelerating Returns
Ray Kurzweil

Coming back to earth from these dizzying heights, we can see how – in line with the Technocracy movement that stemmed from the old Technical Alliance – design can reduce energy and material inputs if implemented societywide:

From the first clean sheet of paper to the first customer delivery of a new car, 1.7 million hours of research and development time is required: the equivalent of 8000 person-years or 2000 people working for four years at 40 hours a week. At $50 per hour, the cost is $850 million. But with the industry average production run of one million cars, that design cost is amortised to only $850 per car. So the consumer cost for the full benefit of 1.7 million hours of research amounts to only four percent of the average new car price of $20,000. (At $20,000 and weighing 1700 kilos, a car costs $11.70 dollars a kilo. That’s cheaper than steak and it comes with a three-year guarantee.)
For a 40 storey prestige office building costing $110 million, architectural fees are likely to amount to 2.1 percent and the full fee schedule (including quantity surveying) would be about 5.2 percent. At $50 per hour, that bill covers only 117,400 hours of thought or 57.2 person-years (less than .1 percent of the time spent designing your car).
Title: Tomorrow’s dynamic house. Authors: Trudgeon, Michael Source: Architecture Australia ; Nov/Dec98, Vol. 87 Issue 6, p80, 6p

Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute came up with the idea of “Negawatts” – units of electrical efficiency (power not used) that would be paid for, similar to regular “Megawatts”; here’s the parallel idea from Mumford:

“In the neotechnic phase, the main initiative comes, not from the ingenious inventor, but from the scientist who establishes the general law: the invention is the derivative product.”(217) Improvements in the internal combustion engine provide a new source of power which changes the social order. Rapid transportation is possible by the automobile and the airplane. Communication is further enhanced by the telegraph and the telephone. But, “whereas the growth and multiplication of machines was a definite characteristic of the paleotechnic period, [Mumford says] one may already say pretty confidently that the refinement, the diminution, and the partial elimination of the machine is characteristic of the emerging neotechnic economy.”(258)
Quoted from Technics & Civilization (seeking source 081117)
By Lewis Mumford

Are you a taxpayer?

Samhain 16, 2008

The great and the good of capitalism were holding a requiem dinner for the global financial system at a secret hideaway:

“If the interest rates hadn’t been so low, we wouldn’t be in this mess!” said the bond trader, “I blame the central banks!”

“We told you that you were under-pricing risk,” said the central banker, “I blame the mortgage lenders!”

“We were forced to take on more borrowers just to stay in the game” said the mortgage lender, “I blame all those derivatives products!”

“We were promoting efficiency by allowing you to spread your risks,” said the structured-finance specialist, “I blame the ratings companies!”

“We relied on the computer models that the banks helped us build,” said the credit-rating assessor, “I blame the wholesale markets funding it!”

“We relied on money-markets because the savings deposits weren’t high enough,” said the commercial banker. “I blame the regulators!”

“We allowed you to maximize shareholder returns,” said the regulator. “I blame those greedy investors!”

“We were trying to fund the retirements of thousands in a collapsing market” said the pension-fund manager. “I blame the hedge funds!”

“We had nobel prize winners on staff,” said the hedge-fund manager, “I blame the irrationality of ordinary man.”

Just then, the waiter arrived with the bill.

“Are you a taxpayer?” asked the central banker.

The waiter nodded.

“We were hoping you would foot the bill.”

Pompous and faggy

Samhain 12, 2008

“But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valley-girl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them, but when he spoke – in an ordinary voice – he sounded pompous and faggy to them.”

Idiocracy, Mike Judge.

Councils ban ‘elitist’ and ‘discriminatory’ Latin phrases
They are phrases that are repeated ad nauseam and are taken as bona fide English, but councils have now overturned the status quo by banning staff from using Latin terms, which they claim are elitist and discriminatory.

– Daily Telegraph, Chris Hastings, Public Affairs Editor, 02 Nov 2008;

Council bans phrase to protect atheists
A council has banned the phrase “singing from the same hymn sheet” in case it upsets atheists.

Salisbury council has told employees that the religious connotations of the saying could offend non-believers, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Officials have also been told not to use the phrase ‘colour blind’ but instead to refer to ‘colour visual impairment’.
The advice from Salisbury council says: “Avoid office and council jargon wherever possible, including phrases such as ‘moving forward’ and ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.
“Say what you mean, so instead of ‘moving forward’ try ‘in the future’. Not everyone understand these phrases – some can actually cause offence (what would an atheist want with your hymn sheet?).”

Hat tips to Ron Dreher and Thomas L. Knapp.

Actually, the phrase “moving forward,” and a lot of other clicheed phrases are used to BS (think: “pro rata basis”) by councils etc.; but how is “colour visual impairment” an improvement?

Everyone’s a comedian II

Samhain 9, 2008

Sarah Palin! Tina Fey’s impression on Saturday Night Live (Katie Couric interview, VP debates etc.) So good that the suits in NBC have effectively banned it from the Internet outside the US, until they can figure out how to charge somebody fees… you have to wonder if these guys would ban VHS tapes if given the chance – I mean, you can just record anything you want off of the TeeVee, and then swap it with friends! The horror!

These are courtesy of our good friends at

VP debate:

Tina Fey/Sarah Palin with John McCain, Saturday Night Live, QVC spoof:

Tina Fey/Sarah Palin, “Hillary”, SNL skit:

Tina Fey/Sarah Palin, “Katie Couric” interview, SNL spoof: