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On Prostitution

2015 January 2

Prince Andrew has been accused of having sex with a 17 year old prostitute.  Worse than her age (17 is above the age of consent in many many countries), she claims to have been a sex slave; aka coerced.

This is why I’ve always had a personal rule that I don’t sleep with prostitutes.  While in principle I agree that women and men should have the right to sell sex, it is hard to know what is going on in their life: even at levels lower than sex-slavery there can be some ugly stuff, and you can easily be contributing to their degradation or abuse.

Thoughts on the year that was and the world to come

2015 January 1

Looking back, last year’s writing that hit big was mostly about the Ukrainian crisis.  The year before had been about ideology.

Though I intend to write about technology and its effect on society this year, I find I’m slightly at sea.

There is a tendency when writing about society, either analytically or from the viewpoint of improving (not reforming) it, to fall into one of two camps.  “Everything Is Specific” OR “One Ring to Rule Them All.”

Once upon a time my stance was that America, and the world, had very few problems that were conceptually difficult.  They might be technically hard, but what to do was well known.

I haven’t come to disagree with that stance: the sardonic comment that everyone knows that the US needs real universal healthcare remains—it produces better health and costs less. Only the corrupt, the stupid or the propagandized think otherwise. The same is true of many other problems, from climate change to plastic clogging the seas to fracking, to marginal tax rates and so on.

We know what would produce a world which was better for the vast majority of people (and animals) living on it. We don’t do those things, except when it becomes profitable.  (Solar will start replacing coal because it is cheaper, but it should have and could have been cheaper at least fifteen years ago.)

What I have come to understand is that explaining what needs to be done, and why, is brutally difficult.  Getting people to a position where they both want to act on it, and will, is nearly impossible.

You explain one thing (climate change), but it means nothing if you do not link it to other things (industrialization, globalization, financial production incentives, the history of post WWII trade, development economics, inequality).  The problems are, in that tired word, “interconnected”.

Most people will never commit to doing the necessary learning to understand how the world works in any meaningful way.

Worse, even if they do, they will likely be mis-educated.  They will go to existing intellectual systems like economics and they will be taught theories that are at best partially true and at worse are outright lies.  Disciplines, especially academic disciplines, exist because someone is willing to fund them, and whoever that someone is, they have expectations.  Business theory; economics; organizational theory, produce what those who are willing to pay for them want.  Most of the time, what they want is rationalizations for why they should have more, and let everyone else rot.

So you spend 10 years studying economics, get your PhD, and then get most of everything wrong.  Your neo-liberal prescriptions make those parts of the world that take them worse off.  (Note, poverty reduction is due to China, China’s success is due to old fashioned mercantalism, not neoliberalism.)

You have an entire discipline based on clearly wrong propositions like humans being utility maximizing machines (and can’t even define utility in a way that doesn’t make it a metaphysical entity).  And, applying these theories, you go wrong.

And looking on this edifice; looking on all the ways that people fool themselves or are fooled, is like looking at a jungle and holding only a machete.  You aren’t going anywhere without a lot of sweat, and the jungle is just going to close in behind you.

So people turn to one off solutions.  If only everyone participates in the gains of an economy it’ll do well. (Well, mostly, but how do you get to that nirvana?  This is saying “the world is good if the world is good”.)  If only everyone obeys contacts freely entered into, life will be good. (Let’s just completely ignore power imbalances).  If only we let markets set prices, the market will produce what we need (but what type of market, we’ve never had free markets setting prices?)  If only we have more and better education everyone will be prosperous (so, if everyone has a PhD the economy will be great?  What about the half of the population who is below-average intelligence?  Fuck’em?  And would it work anyway?  (No.))

Feel free to insert any “one thing” theory above.  They don’t work, or they beg the question.  If we had better people, for example, we’d have a better world.  But how do we get better people, and what does better even mean?

There have been many attempts to get around these issues.  Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Smith, Marx, Keynes and so many many more have tried.

Some have succeeded for a time: Keynesian economics of the type practices after WWII produced about 25 good years for much of the world (even Africa saw better real growth in that period.)  Confucianism, as run by the early Emperors really did make China better till the State co-0pted it.  Christianity was the religion of slaves and foreigners and outcasts for centuries, giving their lives meaning, before it became a regressive scourge used to increase the power of Chieftains who wanted to be Kings, take away the rights of women, and be used for justification of mass murder in Europe and the New World.

The solutions which have been effective (which doesn’t always mean making the world a better place) have all spoken to how people should act.  We don’t recognize that in modern theories like those of economics, but be clear, homo ec0nomicus is a prescription.  The idea that we should act primarily on self interest was not something that was respectable for most of history and the idea that markets should be the primary price setting mechanism and effectively the primary policy mechanism was also considered insane.

The industrial revolution is not old.  A little over a couple centuries, for England, a lot less for most other countries.  In the course of human existence, this is nothing.  The outcome of it, whether it is good or bad, is not yet clear, despite what most believe.  If industry and capitalism kill half the population of the world in avoidable climate crises, hunger and drought, while causing a great die-off of non-human plants and animals, can it be said to be good?  If, as there is some evidence, it leads to material affluence while increasing rates of depression and unhappiness, is it successful?

The hydraulic revolution, and to a lesser extent the first agricultural revolution (which did not occur along the river valleys) lead to shorter more disease ridden lives and a massive rise in chronic disease and afflictions like having your teeth rot out of your mouth by the time you were 40.  In exchange, we received great monuments and lots of things, but I doubt that peasants on the Nile under the Pharoahs were as happy as their ancestors who had lived on the Nile as hunter-gatherers, as close to the Garden of Eden as one can imagine.

I do not believe in going back to technology from before industrialization: it’s not possible or desirable, and if it were, we’d have to reduce our population by two-thirds to three-quarters.  Feel free to volunteer to be among the dead.

Pandora’s box is open, and we must deal with the results.

The irony is that we have, again, produced a cornucopia.  We have the potential to create an abundance society, the world over and eventually off this world.

We have much of the technology necessary, and we could direct our research and development towards the remaining technology we need.

Instead, we rely on markets controlled by oligarchs and central banks captured by oligarchs to make most of our decisions about our future.

We have systematically dis-empowered ourselves. Going from mass conscription armies and industrial warfare and mass markets driven by relatively egalitarian citizen-consumers in democracies, to oligarchies with unrepresentative armies increasingly filled with drones (and effective ground combat drones will be here in 10 to 20 years), surveillance states bordering on police states, and democracies which are hollow, where we can choose from Oligarchical faction one, two or maybe three.  The differences between them, while real, are within the broad agreement to keep giving the rich more.

And so, we come back to, how do we change the direction of our societies?  Our society, for the world is more and more one society.

How do we even explain what is wrong, and present a solution, or solutions?

I will posit here that while we may have problems with Confucius’s solution in terms of specifics, in general he was right.  We create a new society based on a new ethics (not morality, but ethics); and that ethics is attached to a way of creating a people who can create and maintain that society; and a way of picking the people to run that society who will do so in the interests of everyone else, and not mainly in their own interest.

The thousand and one specific solutions to each problem (housing, energy, health care, climate change) are important, but they are technical questions guided by ideology.  A people led by those who do not want to do these things (or not more than they want to do other things), never will.

So is this my “one thing”?

No.  It is backed by an understanding of real world power dynamics; an understanding of human nature and how it is and can be shaped; and it is backed by an understanding of the field of ideas and how those ideas are created by the environment and technology: how that tech and environment creates us.

That grouping of ideas is where I believe a solution lies.

Like all solutions, it will not last.  The best we can hope for from any solution set, so long as human nature remains as it is, is perhaps a hundred and fifty years.  Sixty to eighty is far more typical, and as with the post WWII solution, you may only get two to three decades.

During that time any solution needs to do two things.  It need to fix the environment, and it needs to get us off the planet so we don’t have a single point of failure. Doing so will best be done by a system which produces real prosperity, because both of those projects will require vast productive surpluses.

We have or can reach the technology required for both these projects.  The challenge of mastering our destiny is the challenge of mastering ourselves, and that challenge is, as it has always been, both the hardest thing anyone can do, and the most worthwhile.

In the New Year I will continue the project of discovering how to do it. I hope you’ll join me.

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Armed forces should not interfere in politcs

2014 December 28
by Ian Welsh

and that includes paramilitary forces.  The NYPD are definitely a paramilitary force.

This is “how to keep your democracy” 101, along with “don’t allow oligarchs”, and “don’t let money printing get of hand.”

Those in military or paramilitary forces who interfere with politics should be removed from their positions and relegated to civilian life, where they may demonstrate to their hearts content.

I note, also, that NYPD protesters somehow to don’t get beaten and arrested like other protests.

Courtesy of JustPlainDave, I present:

N.Y. ELN. LAW § 17-110 : NY Code – Section 17-110: Misdemeanors concerning police commissioners or officers or members of any police force -
Any person who, being a police commissioner or any officer or member of any police force in this state: 1. Uses or threatens or attempts to use his official power or authority, in any manner, directly or indirectly, in aid of or against any political party, organization, association or society, or to control, affect, influence, reward or punish, the political adherence, affiliation, action, expression or opinion of any citizen; or 2. Appoints, promotes, transfers, retires or punishes an officer or member of a police force, or asks for or aids in the promotion, transfer, retirement or punishment of an officer or member of a police force because of the party adherence or affiliation of such officer or member, or for or on the request, direct or indirect, of any political party, organization, association or society, or of any officer, member of a committee or representative official or otherwise of any political party, organization, association or society; or 3. Solicits, collects or receives any money for, any political fund, club, association, society or committee, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Merry Christmas

2014 December 24
by Ian Welsh
Christmas Odin by Trixie

Photoshopped by Trixie

I hope all my readers have a good Christmas day, whether you celebrate or not.

For much of this blog’s tenure it existed only because I knew there were people who still wanted me to write, so y’all are why this blog is around.

In the New Year I’ll be picking up the pace.  That will include some theoretical pieces on technology, and probably some articles on rituals, social selection and so on.

Until then, enjoy your Christmas holidays. If you don’t get them, I hope you earn plenty of overtime.

Torture creates enemies and radicalizes people

2014 December 22
by Ian Welsh

This article is a must read:

And we’ve documented that torture creates more terrorists.   Indeed, Salon notes:

Among the most notable victims of torture was Sayeed Qutb, the founding father of modern political jihadism. His 1964 book, “Milestones,” describes a journey towards radicalization that included rape and torture, sometimes with dogs, in an Egyptian prison. He left jail burning with the determination to wage transnational jihad to destroy these regimes and their backers, calling for war against all those who used these methods against Muslims


“Milestones” remains one of the Arab world’s most influential books. Indeed, it was the lodestar of Al Qaeda leaders like Ayman Al-Zawahiri (who was also tortured in Egyptian jails) and the late Osama Bin Laden.

In other words, it was torture which drove the founder of modern jihad to terrorism in the first place.

The article goes on to list a variety of other, very important people, radicalized by torture.

I mean, if I were thrown in prison, tortured and raped, and got out, you can damn well bet when I got out I’d want the order that did that to me destroyed.

I will note also that drone warfare/assassination warfare does the same thing.  It is very rare that assassination programs do anything but bring more radical leaders to the fore. The only prominent exception I can think of is the probable assassination of Arafat.

The murder of two NY policemen in retaliation—

2014 December 21
by Ian Welsh

at least ostensibly for the police murders of Garner and Brown has ignited a frenzy.   The murderer, Brinsley, was a violent man who had committed other crimes.

I will simply note that such tragic events are the inevitable result of systemic injustice.  Those who wish less murders, should work for justice.

That includes police.



Dogs used to rape prisoners at Bagram?

2014 December 19
by Ian Welsh

I don’t know.  But Pinochet did the same (plus rats), it’s not without precedent.

I hope not:

The war veteran, who loathed manipulating Western politicians even as he defended tactics of collective punishment, continued his account: Afghan prisoners were tied face down on small chairs, Jack said. Then fighting dogs entered the torture chamber.

“If the prisoners did not say anything useful, each dog got to take a turn on them,” Jack told Todenhoefer. “After procedure like these, they confessed everything. They would have even said that they killed Kennedy without even knowing who he was.”

What should be done is to find out.

If true, everyone involved, from the President on down, and everyone who covered for them should be tried and locked up.  (I’d say hanged high, and would be willing to be hang man, but prison is a worse fate.)

That won’t happen, and we know it won’t happen.

What was I saying about depraved?

Exchange Rates 101

2014 December 18

In light of the collapse of the Ruble I think it’s worth revisiting what controls exchange rates.

Supply and Demand.

Yeah, if you know something about the subject you’re probably shaking your head.

Supply and Demand doesn’t set prices in many cases in the way that an Economics 101 course tells you.

Such texts will say that the exchange rate is based on exports and imports.

For many countries, that isn’t true; or not all the time.  The US dollar can move up even when the trade balance is south (as it has been for decades now.)  The same is true of many other economies.

Britain hardly exports anything any more.  But people want to live in London.  Or they want the city to invest their money, or they want to buy art at Sothebys, or they just want a relatively safe place they can run to if the politics in their country go south.

People likewise want Manhattan real-estate; a US passport, and so on.  A vacation or home in Paris or the South of France.

They want to buy stocks in important companies which are defining the future, like Apple, or Tesla, or Google, even if those companies manufacture overseas.

They want money in China to take advantage of China’s high growth rate and returns, while Chinese want money out for diversification and to have a safe place to go if the politics turn against them.

People don’t want vacation homes in Russia, by and large.  They may want to take advantage of growth opportunities (which exist in certain sectors), but before the sanctions they were scared of corruption (with good reason) and post sanctions they are worried about getting returns out.  Since most of Russia’s exports are of hydrocarbons, and since people don’t want to move money into Rubles otherwise, the value of the Ruble in terms of other currencies moves up and down with the price of hydrocarbons.

There are other factors, for example if you offer high returns, that can matter (raising returns didn’t matter to Russia, because the potential value was swamped by fears of further ruble and oil devaluation.) Speculation of future gain or loss in the futures and options markets can raise or lower the value of your currency as well.  You can fix your currency and you can make it stick if your economy is strong enough in specific ways (mostly having to do with producing what you need).  China did this for years, and so have many other countries.  This can lead to black market currency markets and problems, but that can be better than the alternatives (as Russia may now be finding out.)

But if you float your currency, the bottom line is that excahnge rates (with a few exceptions) to rise and fall based on how much people want from  your country which they have to buy with your currency.

Collapse of oil prices and the Russian Ruble

2014 December 16
by Ian Welsh

These are the same thing.  Russia sells oil to the world, and their currency is based on the price of oil.  (It is for this same reason that the Canadian dollar has been sliding.)

Putin has been a competent leader for Russia in many ways, but the failure to diversify the economy from oil is his primary failure.  You might say “corruption”, but resource economies are almost always corrupt.  The only way to (somewhat) avoid it is to put the money away in a sovereign fund or the equivalent.

It is also important to not allow the currency to become a resource currency, because that crushes all other export businesses.

Why did the price of oil drop?  There are a lot of theories, from screw-ups in the futures market, to increased supply and reduced demand, to intent to destroy Russia.

What is interesting is that OPEC (meaning, in this case, Saudi Arabia) has refused to do anything to stabilize oil prices and prevent the collapse.

Saudi Arabia needs higher oil prices, they have no economy other than oil of significance, but they also have more ability to handle oil price collapses.  Saudi crude is cheap to produce, under $10/barrel.  The profit may be less, but they are making a profit.  A lot of Russian, American, Canadian and other oil is not profitable at low prices.  Letting oil prices be low for a year or two will probably help Saudia Arabia more in the long run.  Certainly it hurts their competitors more than it hurts them.

Many also believe that the US and Saudi Arabia are doing this deliberately to hurt Russia.

Of more fundamental interest is that China has been buying less and less commodities (not just oil, but metals like copper).  China is the most important economy in the world now for hard commodity prices.

The Ruble collapse is going to hurt a lot of people, most especially the Europeans.  Europe sells a lot of goods and services to Russia, and Russia is no longer going to be able to afford them.

For now, low oil prices will be good for the US, but the general commodity price drops are hammering many other countries, and that will lead to reduced demand globally.  This isn’t a good thing, however much many Americans are enjoying Russia (and Putin”s woes.)

I will note also that Russians seem to be blaming the West for the collapse of the Ruble.  That’s a good thing if they decide going supine will help them.

It’s not a good thing if they get angry about it and decide the West (meaning the US) is deliberately trying to destroy them.

America’s Depraved Leadership Has Created a Depraved Population

2014 December 15
by Ian Welsh

A majority of Americans thing torture is justified.  They are split on whether the Torture report should have been released.  And they think Torture prevented attacks.

According to the American people, torture is justified, and it works.

Every demographic has at least a plurality for torture: men and women, young and old, white and non-white.

The only good finding is that a plurality of Democrats believe torture was not justified, though, within the margin of error, they do believe it was helpful.

Before Bush, most Americans were against torture.  The endless drumbeat of propaganda and the need to justify what America does (America is good, therefore America does not do evil), has had its effect.

I will make an ethical judgment: people think torture is justified are bad people. Depraved people.  A society where a majority thinks it is justified is a depraved culture.  (And remember, 51% think it was justified, but 20% don’t have an opinion.  Only about a third of Americans are opposed.)