Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

A new page: “Educational Resources”

Over time I periodically encounter a web site which provides top-notch educational materials for free in Podcast form or on YouTube. I’ve started gathering a page of them.

If, gentle reader, you know about any additional resources, please let me know.

They can be found at the top of this blog, and at this link.

A very long answer to a rather stupid meme.

The meme:

Over the last 10 years, the cost of college has risen 25% and the cost of rent has risen 36%. Yet the $7.25 minimum wage has stayed the same.

I’d love to hear someone justify this.

I noted that the person who wrote this meme and most people posting it have no desire to actually hear an answer.

Someone put me up to it.

I replied.


First, you have to remember the principle that when we assign morality to money, we often mis-analyze a problem. Morality, in this case, winds up being aesthetics: that is, not absolute in any sense, but relative to how we think the world should look.

Second, you have to recognize that all transactions are voluntary and dependent upon if we think we’re getting value for what we spend. For example, if you saw a Snickers Bar at the grocery store, you may or may not buy it. But if that grocery store were selling Snickers Bars for $10 per bar when it’s $1 everywhere else? Yeah, no; you’d probably get upset at the grocery store for “price gouging.”

Well, work done by workers is the same sort of thing. (This is not a value judgement on individuals, but on the work they’re performing.) Some work is worth a lot of money to companies because it’s hard to come by people who can do the work, and because those companies value that work.

(So, for example, I can make a six figure salary writing software, not because I’m a better human being than a janitor–but because the company values having an iOS application, and because it’s hard to find someone who can do it cheaply and still get quality work. On the other hand, most people can clean floors, so it’s easy to find a janitor. If suddenly, for example, janitorial services became a specialty position, janitors would make more–as we see when we’re talking about hazmat cleanup. People who do hazmat cleanup are basically janitors–but it’s hard to find competent people who can do the work correctly. Thus, they make more than their non-hazardous materials counterparts.

Both “is it worth it” and “is it hard to find someone to do it” factor into salary: if companies decided it wasn’t worth the money to have an iOS app, I’d be out of a job.)

Third, you have to recognize that a minimum wage is not “we need to force companies to take care of people by paying them a living wage.”

Remember the grocery store. If I told you “well, that’s the only way the people who work there can have a living wage, is by charging $10 for a Snickers Bar”–you’d probably–privately, since we can’t say this part out loud nowadays–say “fuck this; that’s bullshit” and buy your Snickers Bar from another store where it’s $1 instead.

(And we see this All Around Us. There are very few clothing manufacturers who make their clothes in the United States anymore–and most of them are bespoke or luxury brands. Because frankly no-one wants to pay $250 for a button-down shirt or $50 for a t-shirt when you can buy t-shirts 3 for $10 at Walmart. Clothing is an especially good example of “we may think we want to support a living wage in America, but what we really want is cheap shit, even if it’s made by slave labor in China.”)

No, what a minimum wage is is a law against hiring workers to do work that is worth less than a set amount of money.

The weird part is that “what work is worth” is something that, at least in the areas of our economy where we see the most minimum wage workers (fast food, for example), is collectively set.

So, for example, you may want to see McDonalds workers paid $15 an hour–but given that salaries make up the largest component in the cost of making a hamburger, would you be willing to pay $10-$12 for a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese from McDonalds?

(The criticism of this line of thinking is to point out that other areas of the world have higher minimum wages and yet McDonalds continues to serve customers. And while that is true, McDonalds manages to survive by being an up-brand restaurant. It’s why you can buy wine at McDonalds in France, for example–not because wine is the national drink of France. And yes, they’re paying $10-$12 for a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese to go with their McWine.

Note that I’ve traveled to Europe and I’m always amused at McDonalds, because most places in Europe are trying very hard to become McCafés: basically coffee shops that serve over-priced hamburgers along with local fair.)


I’m going to set aside two other criticisms, by the way.

The first is that by expecting corporations to provide a living wage, we’re essentially pushing private corporations to engage in public welfare.

And the last time we saw this was during feudal times when aristocrats were expected to take care (“noblesse oblige”) of their serfs.

Second is that we’re now also seeing an uptick in calls to legalize “internships” throughout the economy. Well, an internship is basically a $0/hour job–and the justification used is that “it’s a learning experience.” Most internships aren’t learning experiences, however, as most companies who hire interns are simply not equipped to help teach interns as most internship laws require.


So what happens when we outlaw certain forms of work by setting a minimum price companies are permitted to pay for that work?

Several things happen–all of which are predictable.

(1) Companies try to figure out how to make the work “worth it” to them. Often that means establishing minimum work metrics: they reduce staff and they increase responsibilities.

That janitor expected to clean the bathrooms on a floor? His responsibilities are expanded to include a second floor and also clearing trash cans.

Staff count is reduced; work expected per worker increases.

(2) Companies are less likely to take “a risk” on hiring someone who they don’t know can deliver the work promised, and they establish longer and longer “trial periods” after which someone can be terminated of they don’t “work out.”

(3) Companies turn to automation to minimize the amount of work necessary to do a job. McDonalds, for example, installs order kiosks so fewer people have to work registers.

And companies rearrange work so that the job doesn’t need to be done anymore: workers are now expected to dump their trash cans in the receptacle down the hall rather than having janitors empty them.


And they do this all for the same reason why you probably didn’t pay $250 for the shirt you’re wearing right now, and for the same reason you’d balk at a $10 snickers bar.


And we see this all the time in states where the Federal minimum wage was superseded by a state minimum wage.

It generally takes time for a company to rearrange work so as to get the best value for their labor dollar. Which is why, for the first three years or so, companies simply pay the higher minimum wage and call it a day. Because it takes time to install kiosks and to train workers to dump their own trash.

Because it takes time to find workers willing to clean two floors worth of bathrooms–and to terminate those janitors who can’t or won’t.


Note that this isn’t “billionaires being greedy.” For most companies, such as McDonalds, if we were to take the CEO salary and split it up amongst all of its workers, their salary would add perhaps another $1 to $2 to the annual salary of the workers who work for them.

Companies like McDonalds’: that is, companies in fast food, hospitality, some sectors of health care, all avenues of food distribution (such as grocery stores)–they all operate on razor-thin margins. Grocery stores are the most impressive because they literally make around 2.2 cents per dollar in profits.

Seriously: if you had $10 million and you thought “I know! I’ll open a grocery store and make money!” you’re either a dreamer or a fool: you would be far better off simply parking your money in state-tax exempt money market funds, as many of those can pay upwards of 3 to 4 cents per dollar invested.

McDonalds franchises are no better; they clear on average less than 6 cents per dollar–meaning for your investment, along with a lot of effort, work, and a bit of risk, you can do barely better than simply handing your money to an investor. (The cost of buying a McDonalds franchise and getting it up and running is perhaps $2 million–from which, if you do things right, you *may* get a profit of $150k/year. Remember: investing in a 3.5% ROI money market fund gets you $70k/year–and all you have to do is cash the check. So if your day job used to pay $100k/year and you saved $2 million–you’re better off keeping your day job.)


Note that most memes get this wrong because they always fuck up the law of large numbers. A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money–but if you divide that up amongst a million people, and spread that money across the 2,000 hours people work–a billion dollars is only 50 cents an hour.


So what happens in sectors of the economy where the work has to be done, and where we cannot stretch out workers to the breaking point?

Simple.

Prices get passed onto customers.

And that’s precisely what happened in sectors such as health care and college education.


In sectors of the economy that were most amenable to automation: that is, where the amount of stuff produced can increase without adding additional workers, prices have remained flat or dropped in price.

We see this, for example, in software development, in the production of toys or television sets. In all those cases, prices could drop because they can be mass-manufactured. Of course to be mass manufactured certain components need to be made in bulk–which is why while there may be dozens of different brands of cheap flat-screen television sets, the guts of those TV sets are more or less the same.

On the other hand, products or services which are labor intensive and which either saw an increase in the amount of labor necessary to do that work (such as in health care or college, where we’ve added administrative requirements that have increased the amount of labor necessary for compliance), prices have gone up faster than inflation.

We also see this in other products such as food and beverages; frankly we’ve automated the hell out of farming and food production–so there is no more efficiencies to be had. (Though in food production we also seem to be moving up-market: buying less food we need to prepare at home and more pre-prepared foods.)

We also see rising prices in child care services for the same reason: to us, “child care” is at best a preschool nursery with one caretaker per dozen kids or so–the idea of leaving our little tykes with a single caretaker per 100 kids in a gigantic auditorium is repellant to us.

Price Changes (Jan 1996-Dec 2016)

Basically, on the graph attached, every sector of the economy where prices went up are areas where labor costs have risen, and where automation cannot reduce prices. (Textbooks have gone up in price because teachers write the textbooks and have used the textbooks in their classrooms as a profit center–despite the availability of often better works on the subject.)


So that was a lot, but the conclusions to draw are:

(1) Minimum wage does not provide workers a “living wage.”

It outlaws certain forms of work.

And work companies want done that become more expensive than they’re willing to pay gets changed: workers are expected to do more, work is automated, work is shifted to other workers.

(2) Companies aren’t infinite pools of money.

In the sectors that employ the most minimum wage workers, companies operate on razor-thin margins–sometimes margins that actually make little economic sense. (I still don’t know why anyone would want to open a grocery store. But they do and I’m thankful for that.)

(3) In those sectors of the economy where labor costs cannot be lowered, prices increase instead.

And that’s WHY we have college tuition and rents going up faster than the rate of inflation. (Well, property prices and rents are also going up faster than the price of inflation because of stupid land-use bullshit–but that’s another long article you don’t want to read. 😛)

While minimum wage stays the same.

—-

Worse, and this is the takeaway from all of this:

It’s a conundrum that cannot be easily solved.

Meaning–and let me be very clear about this–I DO NOT approve of this state of affairs.

I’m only describing it.

But–and this is the key point that, if you read nothing else, you should read this:

We can’t solve the problem by raising the minimum wage.

The Gamestop Squeeze.

Full article here at patriots.win/p/11SK7KTZoM/on-gamestop-why-hedge-funds-are-/

A lot of web sites and social media sites have marked this as “spam” despite containing a fairly coherent explanation of shorts, “naked shorts”, and the mechanics of the markets surrounding the Gamestop squeeze, as well as the thinking of the Redditors taking part in the squeeze.

I’m quoting the article in full.

Warning: language. (Like I need to fucking tell you this.)

So let me begin by saying this: I am in on the GME squeeze, yes. I have been in since early December. I have made 5 figures so far on an initial buy-in under 10k, will soon be 6 figures, and… we’ll see. I am (legally required to mention that I am) not a financial adviser, and nothing I say here should be construed as advice nor direction. This is simply data for you to understand what’s going on technically for the stock market action, and the larger implications.

So, we’ll begin with a definition of short selling. Short selling (shorting) is the borrowing of shares from a broker, with the promise that you will pay back in-kind (with as many shares as you borrowed), and if you don’t pay back within a certain timeframe you begin paying interest on it. Shares are lent from brokers (to use a very simple example, Robin Hood, yes, the app). Only big money hedge funds and financial institutions are allowed to short, it’s financial shit.

Anywho, if you’re quick on the draw you’ll understand the implications. Shorting is for when you believe* a stock is going down. If you borrow a share from a broker that’s trading for… 10 bucks and short sell it, you pocket 10 bucks then and there. You then stand to gain as much as you buy it back for after the price goes down. If, for example, you buy the share back when the price has dropped to 5, you turn in that share back to your lender and now have netted 5 bucks. The maximum gain for this example is 10 bucks, i.e. the company bankrupts and their shares are worthless. I say “believe” with an asterisk, because there’s a caveat. We’ll come back to that.

On the flipside, shorting has what’s called an “infinite downside”. This is because, if you hold till the bitter end (which most shorts won’t), the price of the stock could theoretically go to infinitely-high levels. So if you short that 10 dollar stock, and it climbs to… 15 bucks by the time you’re margin called and asked to return the share, you MUST buy back the share at 15 bucks, market value, or else pay an interest value based on the stock’s current value to the lender.

Stay with me, we’re going balls-deep into market shit here. I promise I’ll keep it simple.

So, shorters (such as the oft-mentioned Melvin Capital) tend to have HUGE pools of liquidity. They can afford to take an interest hit if they think they can hold through the upward trend of the stock (past their initial short position) till the point where it goes back under and they can buy back, or “cover”, that share at a profit, or at least a break-even point.

Here’s where that caveat comes in that I mentioned, and point 1 of my thread: The trick is, all these hedge fund cats have a huge fucking network of contacts in the MSM and politics, and will utilize them, either when they first short or when they’re in trouble, to run hit pieces on the company they shorted, explaining why the price it’s at is WAAAY too high! They may or may not (illegally) also do shit like do a massive sell-off, or get someone else with large pools of money to burn (known as whales) to do so. This normally scares off normie investors, who will see the downward trend and sell at whatever they can to mitigate losses.

So, the shorts basically are pocketing the losses from Joe Blow the novice trader, and… well, in my opinion, creating NOTHING of value. Their money literally comes from scaring people and creating pessimism. Fuck that. Moving on.

In particular regards to Gamestop, we need to set the scene for what’s going on with the company. Like most brick-and-mortar places, the Kung Flu hit them hard, and they took a tumble down to single-digit stock values. Shorts saw this and, knowing GME was just another strip mall retailer, figured their time was coming and they were gonna be bankrupting before too long. So they shorted it at, oh, 20 as it was going down during the beginning of the Coof.

But then, they got greedy. I won’t get into the technicals here, because it would require an entire fucking new thread to explain, but they did something called “naked shorting” to short more shares than actually exist. They leveraged shares held in call options (again, not gonna explain it, look elsewhere), basically promising to lenders “hey, I know you don’t ACTUALLY have this stock and if the option holder exercises they’ll need 100 shares, but I promise I’m good for it!” So they got MORE shares, these ones being “implied”, and shorted AGAIN on those, say at 15. Then GME STILL kept dropping. Cool, make every fucking cent they can. Short some more. Etc. etc.

Okay, so that’s fine and well, they shorted literally more stocks than GME even had available for trade, but (biiiig but) if GME went bankrupt, as they earnestly believed, it wouldn’t fucking matter, because they wouldn’t have to pay back shares if the company no longer existed.

Enter Player 1: Michael Burry (of Big Short fame.)

Burry saw what was going on, and he’s been on the winning side of short positions before. Now, there’s something to be said for shorts against scum like Enron. Short sellers DO provide a value in driving down the value of companies that don’t deserve their money. I won’t argue that. Problem is, looking at GME’s finances, they were NOT on the track to bankruptcy. They were hurting, sure, everyone hit by the WuFlu was, but they were far from filing Chapter 11.

So Burry bought shares (or call options, can’t remember which), a sizable enough amount that it kept the stock from hitting the ground. Now, this already fucked with the shorts, because remember, they were now all-in on GME bankrupting. They would never admit as much, since naked shorting is illegal and all, but yeah, they were. But by chugging along, even if barely on a lifeline, GME’s survival was… troublesome to say the least.

Enter Player 2: Ryan Cohen (of Chewy fame.)

You may or may not have heard of Chewy. Depends on if you have a pet or not. But short version is, they’re an online pet supply company that Cohen ran really fucking well, selling them to Petsmart for… 2 and a half bil, I think it was? Anyways, he made the company work on the e-commerce platform. And… he joins GME. GME, mind you, is of course traditionally a brick-and-mortar physical retailer, but consider the sentiment caused by an e-commerce guru deciding to roll the dice on GME. Was he gonna fix them? Completely dominate the online video game retail market? Maybe, maybe not, that’s not super relevant. The main and important point is, the POSSIBILITY that he COULD made GME look good again.

Their stock price starts going up. Uh-oh for the shorts.

Enter Player 3: Q32020 Earnings and New Console Cycle

Okay, so what just happened in the video game world? PS5 and whatever the fuck the new Xbox, Series X Mark 2 Mod 5 or whatever, is called came out. Hey, hate them all you want, GME provides those consoles that millenials and zoomers want. That ALONE would keep GME solvent for at least a year or so. But their Q3 report came out, and… yeah, they took a hit from the Shanghai Shivers, but they actually didn’t do nearly as badly as other companies. Actually did fairly decently. They’re closing a bunch of redundant extra locations, and they have decent cash-on-hand keeping them in the green(ish). Worse and worse for the shorts. Some have now left their single-digit stock price short positions, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. But not the biggest fish in the hedge funds. They shorted at 10-20, and GME was still right there at this point in time, last November. They can weather the storm. At least till break-even. No losses in THEIR portfolios!

Enter Player 4: Wall Street Bets, /biz/, StockTwits, and various other retail (individual) trader social media.

Okay, GME is on the uptick, but… I mean, Cohen’s good, but he’s no miracle worker, right? GME WILL go down! Except some retards on various financial forums (WSB being the largest source), even as early as a fucking YEAR ago, saw the ridiculously high short ratio and saw writing on the wall. I understand there’s also apparently a whole sentiment about “muh nostalgia”, but that may or may not be the point. Anyways, WSB is already well-known for being a bunch of dumbfuck millennials who yeet six figures into random stocks and options as a fucking joke. They have a LOT of money to burn. But this time… this was no meme. Buying up the shares means the shorts have to buy from them. As a refresher, the shorts MUST buy shares to return, they cannot pay cash-in-kind or whatever the fuck. And if the ONLY people holding shares are a bunch of memeing fucktards… limited supply, extremely high demand.

And so… the short squeeze began. Really began running about when I bought in, right after thanksgiving weekend (after the Q3 report came out and showed they were actually doing just fine, relatively speaking). What you must understand here is, no, there is no “next GME”. This is basically it. This is literally documentary-tier history. Hedge funds banked on GME going into the fucking dirt, and the populist left, populist right, and a fuckton of Karen and Steve normies on Robin Hood bought a share or two. And every single share counts. Every single share some rando of RH owns, every 10 thousand shares a WSB whale holds, EVERY SINGLE SHARE is being held by people who leave the shorts with no choice to buy from them. In other words… shareholders dictate the price. We (myself included, as I said) will sell them at whatever fucking price we choose, and they will pay it, even if they must liquidate all of their other assets and bankrupt the hedge funds. We don’t fucking care.

Shorts who fuck over scams like Enron are good, fine, they devalue companies that don’t deserve it; but not shorts who literally made money off of thing like the scamdemic (as GME was just one example), fucking over other people and taking their money. Dunno why they hit GME in particular as a brick-and-mortar, maybe because of the digital game marketplace being stronger (compare AMC, not nearly as heavily shorted but also a meme stock, I guess it’s because the theater experience is kinda its own thing?).

And right now, the MSM, Big Wall Street, all these fuckers, are absolutely LIVID. THEY’VE been gaming the market sentiment for decades, and they got nice fancy econ degrees from ivy leagues and wear suits to work! They DESERVE it! But no, not a bunch of random… NORMAL PEOPLE on web forums and shit! And the fact that they so stubbornly held against the sentiment merely reinforced the will of all of us longs, because we’re like “bro, just give up and cover your positions, it’s over”. Nope, instead they beg for CNBC to run endless hitpieces about how GME isn’t worth X. But the thing is, we AREN’T TRADING ON GME’S ACTUAL WORTH. The stock value is being trade ON THE SHORTS’ NEED TO COVER.

Basically, they’ve been making money off of other peoples’ losses as long as they’ve been shorting companies that don’t deserve it. And now that they’re the ones being bent over, they’re whining to the SEC to game the system for them, or the government to change the rules for them. They are facing bankruptcy based on this bet, and the idea that THEY could be so thoroughly fucked over by their lack of risk management terrifies them. They’ve been worth 7+ figures for years, decades for some of the oldest traders. The idea of losing it all is so horrifying, that they are pulling every dirty trick they can to keep us from winning.

So yes, a bunch of the WSB people are fucking commies. And I don’t fucking care right now. We have a common enemy here, the scum that have been sucking value out of working-peoples’ pockets for years on end. If they wanna turn around and give it all to some trans rights charity or some shit, I don’t care. Our paths diverge when this fight is over. But until then? All the hedge funds can go fuck themselves. They got money from the banks that were bailed out in ’08.

We want our fucking money back.


At this point I want to give a full disclosure about my own personal politics.

I don’t trust the powerful.

The problem to me, however, is that a lot of folks on the Left, a lot of Democrats, as well as a lot of folks on the Right and a lot of Republicans, are lying to you about who the powerful are.

I’m a Native American, a member of the Salinan Indian Tribe of California. Many of my “native ancestors” are alive and well in the 805 area code.

I know damned good and well the history of the powerful as they interacted with my tribe. I had relatives who were murdered by law enforcement for the “crime” of being the wrong skin color. I know damned good and well how shitty the powerful are, because at the bottom of the stack there is–quite honestly–no morality or ethics where power is concerned.

Meaning ethics is practiced by kind people, not inherent to power.

Some powerful people are kind. But enough are not kind that we see things like a stroke of a pen eliminating tens of thousands of jobs (while the rich and powerful snicker “learn to code”), or where the rich and powerful engage in lawfare against their lessers.

So when I see stuff like this, with the Gamestop short squeeze allowing a bunch of little people win over the powerful and well-connected?

I can’t help but laugh.

Because this is the sort of bullshit the rich and powerful have been engaging in against the rest of us since–well, since the Federal Marshalls ran my grandfather and his family off their traditional lands, riding into their village on horseback and firing their guns willy-nilly, treating my ancestors as if they had no right to live on the land where they lived. (Which, honestly, is deeply ironic given that my tribe had the concept of money, of land ownership and of specialized economic production. Ours was not a bunch of nomads using dogs to pull our shit behind them with sticks. Ours was a tribe who understood trade; my grandfather and his brother–elders in the tribe–would go on to later trade with pre-war Japan to sell them abalone.)

So from my perspective a lot of people are treating those who lock them in their veal pens like their saviors, and are predictably outraged when their jailers tell them they’re supposed to be outraged.

“How dare the little guys make a lot of money when the hedge fund traders go bankrupt! It’s not fair!!!”

Yeah, fuck that.

Why yes, everything is broken.

Everything Is Broken

Norman looked at us sympathetically. “I don’t know how else to tell you this but bluntly,” he said. “There are still many good individuals involved in medicine, but the American medical system is profoundly broken. … What’s unique is that you found your way out at all.”

I had barely started processing this when Norman moved to change the subject: “Now, can I ask you two something? How come so much of the journalism I read seems like garbage?”

Oh, God.

David and I looked at each other, simultaneously realizing that the after-school special we thought we were in was actually a horror movie. If the medical industry was comprehensively broken, as Norman said, and the media was irrevocably broken, as we knew it was … Was everything in America broken? Was education broken? Housing? Farming? Cities? Was religion broken?

Everything is broken.

The reason the author gives above has to do with Gramsci’s “Long March”:

Flatness is the reason the three jobs with the most projected growth in your country all earn less than $27,000 a year, and it is also the reason that all the secondary institutions that once gave structure and meaning to hundreds of millions of American lives—jobs and unions but also local newspapers, churches, Rotary Clubs, main streets—have been decimated. And flatness is the mechanism by which, over the past decade and with increasing velocity over the last three years, a single ideologically driven cohort captured the entire interlocking infrastructure of American cultural and intellectual life. It is how the Long March went from a punchline to reality, as one institution after another fell and then entire sectors, like journalism, succumbed to control by narrow bands of sneering elitists who arrogated to themselves the license to judge and control the lives of their perceived inferiors.

Flatness broke everything.

Here’s where I’m going to part company with the above essay.

Control by a self-selected cohort of “sneering elitists?” I don’t think that’s the actual problem, for the simple reason that so long as you look back in our history, we have always had an “elite” of varying quality. One only has to read about the Feudal system (or, for that matter, watch Netflix’s incredibly watchable distraction “Bridgerton”) to see an elite that, so far as you can see, is an incredibly self-involved group of people wrapped up in their own self-inflicted drama not to pay attention to the rest of society.

(Though “Bridgerton” is a fictional distraction; a beautifully filmed romance novel — the society reflected in the series did exist and did act more or less by the rules portrayed in the show.)

And even prior to the “flatness” that supposedly gave us our “sneering elitists”, we had various hierarchical societies with elitists who sought to enforce their own cultural values on the rest of us. Hell, that’s the very definition of “elite:” “a small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power, or skill in a society.” And even if one has no desire to exercise power, one’s oversized footprint will exert power regardless.

I believe the real problem with “flatness” is an associated value which hardly anyone has really noticed. But I do, daily, in my own profession as a software developer. From the essay above:

Today’s revolution has been defined by a set of very specific values: boundarylessness; speed; universal accessibility; an allergy to hierarchy, so much so that the weighting or preferring of some voices or products over others is seen as illegitimate; seeing one’s own words and face reflected back as part of a larger current; a commitment to gratification at the push of a button; equality of access to commodified experiences as the right of every human being on Earth; the idea that all choices can and should be made instantaneously, and that the choices made by the majority in a given moment, on a given platform represent a larger democratic choice, which is therefore both true and good—until the next moment, on the next platform.

(Emphasis mine.)

The key here is “… an allergy to hierarchy, so much so that the weighting or preferring of some voices or products over others is seen as illegitimate.”

And what’s important about the allergy to hierarchy is not that in a sense we’re seeing a realization of a fundamental notion that dates back to our own Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”

But the related — and very real problem — that we no longer respect true expertise, which may set someone above and apart from another.


In practice, this is what that looks like.

Jamie Zawinski Calls Cinnamon Screensaver Lock-Bypass Bug ‘Unconscionable’

You will recall that in 2004 , which is now seventeen years ago, I wrote a document explaining why I made the design trade-offs that I did in XScreenSaver, and in that document I predicted this exact bug as my example of, “this is what will happen if you don’t do it this way.”

And they went and made that happen.

Repeatedly.

Every time this bug is re-introduced, someone pipes up and says something like, “So what, it was a bug, they’ve fixed it.” That’s really missing the point. The point is not that such a bug existed, but that such a bug was even possible. The real bug here is that the design of the system even permits this class of bug. It is unconscionable that someone designing a critical piece of security infrastructure would design the system in such a way that it does not fail safe .

Especially when I have given them nearly 30 years of prior art demonstrating how to do it right, and a two-decades-old document clearly explaining What Not To Do that coincidentally used this very bug as its illustrative strawman!

These bugs are a shameful embarrassment of design — as opposed to merely bad code…

But 30 years is a long time, and a common problem within the software industry is that anything old is — well, old. Not worthy of remark. Not worthy of consideration and certainly not worthy to remember.

Keep in mind that the prevalent idea within the software industry is that the best and brightest are the youngest who are the least attached to the past — in theory, so they give up the supposed mindset of their elders of “it can’t be done.”

As the old saying goes, “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it.”

However, sometimes the warning of their elders is not “it can’t be done” but “it shouldn’t be done that way.” And sometimes their elders already know a better way of doing things. Sometimes there are hard-won reasons why you shouldn’t do a thing — not because it can’t be done, but because they tried before, failed, and have some experience worth sharing.

Sometimes design requires consideration of the past, not to be stuck in the past, but to learn what didn’t work and why.

The screensaver issue above is just one of a million other problems, brought about by people who are quickly “moving fast and breaking things” who don’t take a moment to consider if they’re just breaking the same thing over and over again. They don’t stop to consider if they’re just stuck in “The Churn.”

But the newer [programming] languages are better.

Oh bull! They’re different; but they aren’t better. Or at least not better enough to justify throwing our toolset back into the stone age.

And think of the training costs for adopting a new language. Think of the cost to the organization of having to use 84 different languages because the programmers get excited about shiny new things every two weeks.

Shiny new things? That’s kind of insulting isn’t it.

I suppose so; but that’s what it comes down to. New languages aren’t better; they are just shiny. And the search for the golden fleece of a new language, or a new framework, or a new paradigm, or a new process has reached the point of being unprofessional.

Unprofessional?

Yes! Unprofessional. We need to realize that we have hit the asymptote. It’s time to stop the wasteful churning over languages, and frameworks, and paradigms, and processes.

It’s time to simply get down to work.

We need to choose a language, or two, or three. A small set of simple frameworks. Build up our tools. Solidify our processes. And become a goddam profession.


It’s not the flatness, not really. It’s not the elite; we’ve always had elite. It really isn’t even a political philosophy; Socialism isn’t a failure because it’s Socialist, nor is elitism a failure because it’s elite.

No, it’s because each of these paradigms have bugs — real honest-to-god problems embedded in them — which create all the mischief in our society. And if we just pause a moment to realize what those bugs are, we can see the problem and — hopefully — course correct. Even if just for ourselves, so we can become that proverbial one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

So: socialism fails not because it’s socialist, but because in practice socialism removes decision making from the hands of individuals and puts it into the hands of groups — who inevitably coalesce into a top-down hierarchy of decision makers ill-equipped to make decisions. This was the fundamental lesson of F.A. Hayek, and his work “The Road to Serfdom”, along with his writings on the value of price signaling. (Thus, socialism fails because it destroys price signaling which is so important for an economy’s self-regulation.)

Once we know that, we know that the bug — top-down hierarchies intrinsically lack the ability to make reasonable judgements for an entire economy (or even subsets of an economy) — we can apply this understanding beyond just “Socialism is bad, mmm’kay?” We can also see this bug in play in large corporations in the United States, and in government-run programs and in any system where decision making processes require a few to control the many.

(And it is that observation, by the way, which favored organizational “flatness” in large corporations in the first place.)


The bug of “flatness” is the feeling that there are no “experts,” no hard-won knowledge, that is worth listening to.

That 20-something programmer fresh out of college is worth just as much as the 50-something developer with 30 years experience. Perhaps — at least as far as software development is concerned — perhaps even worth more, because he’s young and fresh-faced and not full of experiences which get in the way of “moving fast and breaking things.”

It’s not just software development where we see this, of course. And that carries us back to the top of this article — to the problem of a mother and her ill child: because the medical profession may give lip service to expertise — and there are definitely individual doctors who attempt to keep up with the latest research out of professional curiosity.

But the medical profession no longer trusts its doctors. Instead, suit-wearing bureaucrats working for insurance companies — companies whose place in the medical profession was cemented in place by the Government and the various reforms it imposed, including the PPACA which wiped out small practices and replaced them with “Accountable Care Organizations” — are the ones who control the way doctors act, through the imposition of algorithms and ICD-10 billing codes. “ICD-10 code V91.07XA, algorithm: examine burns and determine degree, apply salves and bandages as appropriate, execute algorithm for second- or third-degree burns if needed; instruct patient to stop water-skiing until condition clears.”

So of course a rare condition may not be uncovered and found. The language doctors are being asked to speak now is in “ICD-10 codes.” And as we all know, language shapes thinking, primarily by forcing us to consider how to express ourselves in that language, taking energy away from allowing us to think about what we’re considering.

On the other hand, the medical profession has become “flat” in the sense that no matter where you go in the United States you can count on getting algorithm-directed care. Sure, it may be “mediocre” in the sense that there are thousands of people with harder-to-diagnose issues who fall through the cracks, unsaved by a “Dr. House” who only cares about diagnosing his patients correctly. And sure, relatively easy-to-solve problems (such as the use of checklists) that lead to medical error being the third-leading cause of death in the United States doesn’t get addressed.

But chances are you’re better off seeing a doctor than holding out, hoping whatever is going on with your foot gets better.


We muddle on in our country, and weirdly, we muddle on better than most other countries facing the same set of problems — because there are those in our culture who are more than happy to buck the trend.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

But it is frustrating and disappointing to those of us who respect knowledge and understanding and expertise to see those who make a mockery of these things engage in ad-hominem attacks, listening to the faux-experts on the news cycle or on Doctor Phil, worshipping on the altar of fame — using the idea of “flatness” to presuppose that anything: worshipping the right public figures, reading the right papers, being seen with the right people — are better substitutes to actually knowing a god-damned thing.

Some thoughts about the dying of progressivism in light of censoring conservatives.

Today we’re seeing an increasing number of conservative voices being delegitimized and shut down on social media. President Trump has been silenced on several social media outlets for “inciting a riot”, even though what he said in his speech was to “hold our leaders accountable”–a statement that has been made many times before by many leaders, sometimes even leading to protests and riots. We’re seeing other conservative outlets being shut down for posting Trump’s speech, fueled by progressive groups who have repeatedly asked for the censorship of ideas.

Sometimes this is even done under the guise of “getting used to the new normal,” which for some progressive politicians:

Others have quickly added long standing dreams for everything from the guaranteed basic income advocated by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, which was also recently raised by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to mailed voting elections advocated by many Democrats.

Now elsewhere I have used the notion of “getting used to the new normal” not as a “and politicians will have cart blache to change things.” No, instead, I’ve been concerned with a year-long trauma of COVID-19 lockdowns and how this would affect society. The “new normal” is not one that will be externally imposed on us; this is not some disaster that represents a political opportunity.

It will be the “new normal” because after a year of lockdowns, many of us have become so traumatized we would change our behavior. In much the same way that our grandparents (and great-grandparents) who lived through the Great Depression never trusted banks again, and would do things like stash cash inside flower pots and sew gold into the inner lining of coats.


The really funny part to me about all of this is that even if you can completely delete all forms of conservative thought from the Internet, the following core elements of the progressive movement are still dead or dying, thanks to this COVID-19 trauma:

(1) Urbanization.

Note that urban centers have been hardest hit by COVID-19, especially early on, thanks to the fact that COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that easily spreads amongst people in close proximity.

And urban areas are defined by putting people into close proximity.

The flight by the wealthy to suburban areas and ex-urban or even rural areas only accelerated thanks to lockdowns and thanks to fears of the disease–a flight which helped seed COVID-19 to other areas of the country early on. And even now, this late in the day, when COVID-19 has had a chance to spread to even the most remote rural areas in our country, New York City still has the highest per-capita death toll in the United States. (At 25,453 deaths, across a population of 8.4 million, that’s 3,030 deaths/million.)

We also see people departing urban areas of California for rural areas even now; that’s reflected in truck rental rates by U-Haul. (If you want to rent a U-Haul truck moving one way from San Francisco to Austin, Texas on February 1st, about 3 weeks from now, a 20′ truck would cost you $4,435 for that one-way move. The same move in the opposite direction for the same truck would be $964.)

This trend is accelerated by tech companies and financial companies which have either extended work-at-home policies for their workers, or who are making working at home permanent. (Which makes sense; after a year of working at home, companies have figured out how to do the work-at-home thing, and many employees no longer live near the offices where they once worked.)

Urbanization is also a dead letter since so many of us, now on a permanent at-home “staycation”, are fairing much better if our home is a 6,000 square foot home on two acres of land with beautiful views, than a cramped 800 square foot fourth-floor walk-up. The charms of New York City–what makes it a great place to live–have all but been eliminated. And those four walls and a tiny window looking at a neighboring block of apartments must be claustrophobic.

(2) Mass transit.

Mass transit has been a staple and mainstay of a progressive movement that seeks to deal with increasing population densities in urban centers. But mass transit has also been implicated in the spread of COVID-19, despite serious efforts to paint them as completely safe. The problem, of course, being that COVID-19 spreads anytime people are crammed into a tight space: the rule of thumb has always been within 6 feet, for longer than 10 minutes, and in an indoor setting.

And while there are plenty of articles which seek to discredit an early MIT report that suggested much of the spread of COVID-19 was triggered by the New York Subway, it’s hard to square them in light of the idea that outdoor restaurant dining is somehow unsafe.

In areas where mass transit is the only option, subway riders continue to ride the subway. If that’s the only way in which you can survive, you do what you have to do.

But in other areas where a subway or bus transit is not required, and even in areas where people have to ride the subway, but can consolidate their trips to reduce exposure, ridership is down.

And car sales are up.

(3) Internationalism.

One of the most eggregious problems that arose early on with COVID-19 was the international response.

Which more or less turned into an “every man for himself” response.

We saw that at the start of this when a number of countries, such as Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic hoarded medical supplies. We saw Germany slash exports of key components to make COVID-19 tests, which caused many countries not to be able to test early on. Things got so bad that a number of countries started to build its own manufacturing capacity to stop being dependent on international trade for essential supplies.

And it’s not enough to simply open a plant in China, since China doesn’t exactly play nice with the rest of the world.

Essentially this entire event showed that even the most internationally minded countries behave selfishly and use crisis as an opportunity to get ahead. Soemthing China has been doing in spades since this disaster has begun.

And this increase in distrust in international trade and other forms of international cooperation has lead to increased interest in economic disintermediation has led to calls for making medical supplies in the United States. And while Trump may no longer be in office a couple of weeks after this post, China is still increasingly on the outs with countries around the world as they move manufacturing away.

This process will take time. But a number of companies are seeing disintermediation as an insurance policy–and really, the only destination that you can fully trust is within the borders of your own country.


Internationally the progressive movement (which is tied to the expansion of international control by authoritiarian regimes in places like China) also try to advocate two other policies which are dead-letter items in the United States.

The first is increased government control over the population and its right to create new ad-hoc working arrangements. It’s not to say there aren’t groups in the United States trying to do the same thing. In many ways the decline in small businesses which only accelerated under COVID-19, but which has been going on for decades, combined with the rise in government-mandated corporate benefits is increasingly turning our society into a sort of ‘feudal society’ where big business replaces the feudal manor lords.

But these trends tend to rub Americans the wrong way, far more so than Europeans, whose entire system of government is predicated on the idea of exchanging a few freedoms for some essential security.

The second is increased government control over the acceptable modes of thought–which we are seeing in the United States with the demands to isolate and terminate conservative thought and classical liberal ideas.

But that doesn’t even work in Hong Kong, where populations find themselves increasingly using alterate means of communications to spread their ideas. And honestly a Tiananmen Square event in the United States would completely destroy any credibility of the Left.

Meaning so long as only a handful of people are censored, and so long as life continues more or less as normal in the United States, and so long as most of us are relatively free to choose how we live our lives–where we live, how we work, how we spend our money–in all practical ways the games played by a deranged leadership in Washington D.C. don’t matter.

But as soon as people find they are no longer able to work a side-hustle, or they find they are no longer able to speak their minds–we run into problems.

(And while one could argue that COVID-19 reveals the newly found power of the Federal Government and various state governments to exerpt cradle-to-grave control over the US population, places like Sweden (where without mandatory lockdowns large segments of the populations stayed at home anyway) show us that the only reason why these controls worked is because a sizable percentage of the population can look at the data and understand that they still need take action. In other words, even in areas where lockdowns don’t exist, people took voluntary action anway, so long as the government communicated what needed to happen and why.)


The last two items don’t work in the long run in the United States, for the simple reason that the arc of history in the United States, thanks to the immortal declaration and how deeply we believe in these ideas, has been towards individual freedom.

We can see that in the Supreme Court rulings favoring gun rights as an individual right, and favoring the right of homosexuals to marry.

Meaning the COVID-19 lockdowns, in the United States, has an expiration date. We may not know what they are, but they will expire, and expire just as soon as the population believes they are no longer necessary. (And if history is a guide, my guess is spring to summer of 2021. After all, we’re seeing the third wave of COVID-19 deaths play itself out, during a time when seasonal deaths ramp down towards the end of January.)


So what is left of the progressive movement, when the three core ideas in the United States find themselves in tatters as the wealthy–the ones with the greatest freedom of movement in the United States–insulate themselves from the effects of lockdowns by buying in the suburbs?

In a real sense, it does not matter who wins the White House, nor does it matter if progressive leaders are now in charge in D.C.

Frankly, what the wealthy do is what the vast majority of people would want to do if they only had the money to do it. And if D.C. decides to curtail those options for the middle class–expect the middle class to become very upset.

There is a reason why memes showing the hypocrisy of our leaders are incredibly popular. Not just because they’re hypocrites, but because the sort of elitism it broadcasts really rubs people the wrong way.


Charles Krauthammer famously observed that American politics is played between the 40 yard lines. That’s a reference to the middle 20% of the (American) football field, and it’s to say that no matter how loud and obnoxious people become, no matter how many neighborhoods are set on fire by protesters or how many times the U.S. Capitol building is overrun by protesters, our politics (by the nature of the design of this country and by the culture of our country) never really strays very far one way or another.

And companies and organizations and politicians who try to push the country too far one way or another always and inevitably pay a price. They’re not punished. But the wax always melts when you fly too close to the sun.

The smart ones may succumb to pressure and vocally declare something off-limts. But they then quietly, in the shadows, walk back their position if only to save their stock prices.


So we are now hitting the limits of the rails in this age of unreason. We may even see a number of voices silenced in an attempt to control the message, and we probably will see a Seventh Pary System arise as the core issues of the Sixth Party System were more or less settled in the mid-1990’s, and as a new question over the limits of government and corporate control over our lives moves into the foreground.

But make no mistake.

Progressivism–as a practical expression of policy ideas–is a dead letter issue. It may flounder on for a while pretending to have teeth–but even the crowning jewel of that movement to fight Global Warming, the Paris Agreement, has no teeth.

Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. No mechanism forces a country to set a specific emissions target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets.

Unlike its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, which sets commitment targets that have legal force, the Paris Agreement, with its emphasis on consensus-building, allows for voluntary and nationally determined targets.

Which means, what is left?

Harassing conservatives in colleges and lengthy debates over pronoun usage?

Has our modern day Jacobin movement reduced itself to so little?

All Politicians Lie.

Yes, I know; that’s a shocking revelation. But from a game theoretical position, politicians must lie. It’s the only rational course of action.

Let me outline why.


Say, I’m running for office for a state representative seat in the fictional state of West Dakota, a state that is presently dominated by Republicans but is swinging Democrat is some urban centers.

First rule of politics: being a politician is a job.

So the problem is if I want to run for office, my political party is picked for me: either (a) I have been involved in politics for so long with my party that I’m hand-picked by the current office holder as his successor, or (b) I want to go into politics, at which point I must run against the incumbent for the other political party.

And that has NOTHING to do with my political beliefs. That has everything to do with the logistics of the election, and the default political system in our country, where there are two political parties: the party of the incumbent, and the party of the opposition.


Now, I may have a wide array of beliefs: some which align with the Republican platform, and some which align with the Democratic platform. But then we run up against the second rule of politics:

Second rule of politics: political parties are about power, not about beliefs.

This, by the way is a good thing. You may read this as a cynical ploy, but it really has to do with the fact that if a local party organization wants power, it must model best the beliefs of the voters in that local area, and do so in a way which matches the national organization’s own attempts to model the beliefs of the nation in a seemingly consistent way.

That is, think of this as “capitalism” applied to politics: each party is trying its hardest to tailor itself to the needs and desires of the voters.


So if I am sincere about the job of representative in West Dakota, I pick a party out of convenience.

It’s not that I don’t have political beliefs: of course I do. But some of my beliefs may be core to me, some of them I may not care as much about. On a (simple) diagram it looks like this:

UntitledImage

For example, I may care deeply about abortion rights, but on international trade, I may not care all that much.

I know this is an extremely simple two-box model for a very complex idea, but the simplification is intentional, because things are about to get very complex.


Meanwhile, my voters also have issues they care about deeply, and issues they don’t care about, just like the graph above. But worse: I may or may not agree with my voters about an issue.

So let’s add the complexity to our diagram:

UntitledImage

This three dimensional grid allows me to plan a strategy for how I will lie to my constituents.

Yes, lie.

For example, I may have an opinion on international trade, but honestly, I don’t really care all that much about international trade. Here in West Dakota, we have a lot of widget manufacturers exporting stuff–so my constituents may have a strong opinion on things. So really, in that right box–it becomes pretty simple: tell the voters what they want to hear. That means if I agree, tell the truth. If I disagree, lie like a cheap rug.

On the things I care about, the equation is different. Clearly on things voters don’t care about, I can reveal my honest heart-felt position. But where the voters and I have strong feelings but where we disagree–since they are electing me, it’s in my best interest to lie.

Let’s fill in the blanks, shall we?

UntitledImage


Oh, but wait; it gets even more complicated than this!

Because when I get to the legislature, because I was such a good liar, I now have to deal with other folks who may have other political positions. And of course I have to deal with the political positions of my “party”–that is, the collective set of positions that they supposedly believe in.

So let’s add all that in, shall we?

UntitledImage

Yes, it gets far more complex, because not only are there things I agree with my party on and things I don’t agree with my party on, but there are things the party actually believes, things the party pretends to believe and things the party does not care about.

That means on any one issue there are 48 possible different strategies I can employ.


Within this matrix of positions–and there are dozens if not hundreds of different policies on which these positions may hold–there are countless different strategies that may be employed.

Within this matrix comes “horse trading.” For example, there may be an issue my voters do not hold strongly to, but which I’ve advertised as having a strong opinion about–even though I don’t. I may use that strong position on an issue to “compromise”–that is, I may “horse trade” that issue for another issue that I actually do hold strongly for.

(For example, I may not strongly care about international trade with outer Mongolia–and I may know my voters, while they strongly care about international trade, don’t give a fig about outer Mongolian trade. But I’ve advertised this as a strong point of contention. I may use that idea to pretend to “yield” with other politicians for something I do care about–say, I care deeply about deregulating manufacturing. Or I may trade it for something I don’t care about but I know my voters do care about–like trade with Europe.)


That means not only are there 48 different potential outcomes for each individual policy position–but there are also different ways in which these policy positions intermingle.

And if I’m a smart politician, I can look ahead at how my positions will play out in the legislature–so I may, during the elections, stake out strong positions in areas I know I don’t care about or my voters don’t care about, simply so I can have some cards to trade when I win office.

FREE TRADE WITH OUTER MONGOLIA!!!


Now you may say “you should always tell the truth, that’s the best policy!”

But no, it’s not. Because (a) I risk alienating my voters, by disagreeing with what they want, and (b) I become a transparent representative, who ultimately has no power because I have noting to trade: no positions to sacrifice, no cards to give up.

It’s why honest, transparent people are destroyed by the political process–and why, if you join a political party to earnestly promote values you believe in, you will never be able to rise past the position of paid community organizer, or perhaps dog catcher.

On the other hand, this process actually creates better representation for the voters. Why? Because my lies are always tailored to what makes my voters happy, while not utterly and completely compromising my own personal values. Because I know what things I care about–and can advocate for them as best as I can within the matrix of possible outcomes–while at the same time giving my voters what they want.

But it does mean there are some odd, perverse outcomes in all of this.

I mean, have you ever wondered why, even when Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress and in the White House, and even sympathetic jurists in the Judicial branch, somehow they just never really seem to get around to eliminating abortion rights?

Because it’s NEVER as simple as “the GOP opposes abortion, and they are now in power, so abortion will get eliminated.”

Remember: there are over 500 congress critters floating around in Congress, each with their 48-box matrix, each of them experts in horse trading, all of whom have lied to you about what they personally believe.


So how do you pick a politician when they’re all lying?

At some level, in a real sense, it doesn’t matter. That is, in a real sense, because of the way our government is structured, there is very little any single politician can do to move the needle. Further, politicians are, more or less, constrained by the structure of party politics, by the conflicts with other members of the legislature, and the need to drive a consensus just to get anything done.

Now that doesn’t mean your vote doesn’t matter or that your voice doesn’t matter. Your voice is deeply important. Your vote matters. But it matters in a different way than you think.

Because your vote and your voice helps inform politicians how you (and other voters in your district) think: what is important to you, what you believe. And at the bottom of the stack, the ability of politicians to actually listen to what you think–despite the incentives they have not to actually listen–is what keeps them in a job.

For example, I may think you don’t care about trade with outer Mongolia. But that last election–I damned near lost it because a whole bunch of people were pissed about my position on outer Mongolia. Time for a course correction.

And the willingness of politicians to listen and to engage the voters in their district and listen to the voting results is what allows them to inform their decisions in the various halls of power–which, ultimately, is what allows them to keep their jobs.


(Addendum: Note I don’t even get into “things that can be changed” and “things that can’t.” For example, I may actively support something that I know can’t be changed because it looks good. Nor do I go into the possibility that a valid strategy is for me to appear to support a cause, but deliberately sabotage it from the inside. But my point was made: politicians lie, they have to, and it serves a sort of public good.)

Working at home: a primer.

With the Coronavirus shutdown of movement in the world, and as more and more of us are asked to work from home, at some level it may seem a godsend–you don’t have to drive into work, you have greater control over how to spend your time.

But working at home is really not for the faint of heart.

So I thought I’d give some advise–as someone who primarily has worked from home most of my life as a software developer–on how to thrive working at home as the days give into weeks and the weeks potentially into months.

The problem is this: going to work, as much as most of us love to complain about it, gives us structure. It gives us social time–and we are social creatures. It gives us a sense of order to the otherwise meaningless stream of days: a place to go, something to do, people to be around and to either spend time in idle chit-chat or plot against.

And we lose all of this while working at home.

When we work at home, it’s easy to become unrooted from the world. Our sense of order gets challenged, and the sense of isolation can easily lead to cabin fever. It is, ironically enough, why many people who retire–who actually have the money to stop working for the rest of their lives–either get a volunteer job or get a part-time job somewhere. Not for the money–but for the sense of order, the purpose, having a place to go and people to be around. (And this fact–that many people work because they want to work for the social interaction and not for the money, is reflected in Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys.)


So here are my hints on how to survive–and even thrive–while working in isolation while staring at the same four damned walls day in, day out.

Establish an area of your home: a separate bedroom, a corner of your living room, somewhere which is your “office.” This allows you to establish a separate “space” where you work. Ideally it’s a separate part of your house which you can then close off and walk away–so you can clearly establish times when you are “working”, and times when you are “not working.”

Establish a routine. Yes, you don’t have to do the commute, but still: set an alarm and get up at the same time each day. There is actually good research that shows getting up at the same time each day helps with sleep patterns and helps with your mental sanity. Get up, do your normal morning routine as if you’re going to work. For me that’s taking a shower, then fixing a cup of coffee in a travel mug–even though I don’t commute. It’s spending a few minutes reading the Internet–or posting articles like this.

Remind yourself what day of the week it is. You may want to hang a calendar for this purpose, or set the clock on your computer’s desktop to show the day of the week. Weirdly working at home it becomes very easy to loose track of the day of the week–and that contributes to cabin fever and a sense of isolation and drifting in the world.

Create a calendar of things you need to do. Most of us do this already; keep up the practice. For those of us whose jobs are less calendar-driven–such as software development, where (aside from a daily stand-up) your schedule looks the same, it reminds you of what day of the week it is.

If your company doesn’t already do this, have your group establish a “daily call.” It shouldn’t be longer than 30 minutes, and should go around giving everyone a chance to speak. In these stressful times, having the ability to just share the fact that we’re all in it together is highly important. If your company doesn’t do a “daily standup,” suggest one.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to co-workers just for idle chit-chat via video, or don’t be afraid to use corporate internal social media to keep touch with your co-workers’ lives. What seems like wasteful idle chit-chat time is actually a very important element of a corporate culture: knowing the people you work with both allows you to go to them more readily if you have a problem and you need their help, and it helps with corporate cohesion. This means if your company doesn’t have a virtual “water cooler” you need to set one up–even if it’s just on Slack or Discord.

Get out of the damned house! For me, this one is extremely important. Thanks to social distancing rules you can’t just go and hang out at a coffee shop–which have recognized the social aspect of working at home and make money selling coffee to people who want to see something other than the four walls of their house. (It’s why Starbucks advertises their WiFi as much as their coffee.) But you can go to the park, go walking around the neighborhood, go exercise or find a park bench or get in the car and drive to the lake or to the beach for an hour.

This should become part of your daily routine. For myself, I spend an hour bike riding in the late morning. For others it could be packing a lunch and taking it to the local park.

But consider this a top priority: make getting outside part of your daily routine, part of your daily schedule. Sunshine helps with vitamin D production, and vitamin D helps with immune response health. Plus the change of scenery helps with mental health.

Do not work weekends. This goes back to establishing daily routines to maintain a sense of order, and to reminding yourself what day of the week it is. Do not allow the company you work for to infringe on your own personal time by setting hard limits with yourself (and with your boss if needed), and that includes not working on those days which you would normally have off.


This is, of course, not an inclusive list. I’m sure there are other things that can be added here.

But so long as you establish physical and time boundaries, establish a routine, reach out and talk to others on a regular basis, engage in idle chit-chat with others you work with, and get out of the house on a daily basis–even if it’s just to sit on a park bench to eat lunch–you will make it through what can potentially seem like an extremely isolating experience.

And you may even come to enjoy it.

A comment left elsewhere regarding wealth.

Wealth can certainly be crated.

Every act of creation creates wealth. Every time you write something you contribute a little to global wealth. Even on Facebook–though we are (inadvertently) giving that wealth (which, individually, isn’t worth very much) to Facebook, which is why they’re so rich.

If you create something, if you write a sonnet or draft an essay or write some computer software or build a shed–you create wealth.

(Keep in mind that fundamentally, “wealth” is “something desirable.”

For many forms of wealth, we are often willing to translate that desire into financial terms–which is, at its core–a proxy of our own efforts to create wealth. Meaning if you write a great book, I may be willing to trade some of my wealth–created by writing software, and selling it to someone else whose wealth may have been amassed through different means–for a copy of your book.)

And despite what’s said by the materialist Marxists or the modern day hard-left ecologists, wealth is not intrinsic in the raw materials of the Earth, unlocked by workers who toil in labor. Meaning that–despite the fact that in a mass production economy prices tend to move towards the cost of raw materials plus the cost of production–the wealth of a thing created is not the raw materials plus the cost of labor. Wealth is proportional to desirability.

Which is why a large corporation can create an economic disaster: consider, for example, the Edsel, whose value was clearly less than the cost of materials plus the cost of labor.

On the other hand, a painting made by a master painter can certainly be worth far more than just the cost of the canvas plus the cost of the paint. (The difference which the painter, in an act of speculation, can reap the rewards from.)

And sometimes the value of a thing depends on having a corporate structure to frame that thing in a profitable fashion. Which is why I make so much money freelancing for other companies, while my own attempts at building something to sell myself have flopped; because I don’t have a corporate structure (or really, the knowledge) to add value to my software, whose wealth I can then reap the excess rewards from.


Given that “wealth” is “desirability,” it should be clear that wealth can be destroyed.

Anything that makes a thing ugly or undesirable destroys wealth.

If you wreck a building, you’ve destroyed wealth. If you destroy a fine work of art, you’ve destroyed wealth.

Worse, wealth is fickle: what is desirable today (a machine that can mass produce bikinis, for example) may be worthless tomorrow (in a hypothetical era where bikinis are outlawed).


And this can happen at the scale of nation-states as well.

The collective wealth of a nation is, after all, the sum of individual actions by people in that nation. If you take away their incentive to do things–because you’ve put your finger on the scales trying to force your own idea of the right outcome–you run the risk of people simply deciding not to work.

And the wealth of a company–what makes companies desirable–is it’s ability to produce things that people desire.

Too many workers walk off the job (because they’re not being well compensated for the work they’re doing), or the company produces too many “Edsels”–too many things people don’t really want or desire–and the company loses value. It stops being quite so desirable.

And that “desirability” is generally measured by that company’s “market value” or market capitalization for a publicly traded company.

Which is why Venezuela is now poor.

Not because its wealth was stolen; not because Venezuela’s value was somehow represented by stacks of gold bricks in a vault somewhere which were taken secretly in the middle of the night by the CIA.

What happened in Venezuela when the government started imposing price controls and started seizing control of many private corporations. This forced corporations to lower the amount of money they were able to offer their workers to work.

This left people no longer wanting to work: the thing they were being offered was worth less to them than simply having their time back.

(Remember: time is also a desirable commodity.)

Which in turn caused companies to stop being able to produce the things people desired. Which made those companies less desirable.

Which made Venezuela as a nation less desirable.

Which decreased Venezuela’s wealth.

🤷‍♂️

And now for something completely different.

I’m posting this here for posterity, in the off chance someday I build my own house.

Home design features I like (a partial list):

(1) A ‘mudroom’ with a bathroom/shower off to one side.

(A ‘mudroom’ is a side door or back door entry way where guests and family take off their shoes after entering from the back yard. It stands to reason if your shoes are muddy, you may be muddy and in need of a sink or shower before tracking mud throughout the house.)

(Bonus if the mudroom has a separate alcove for a litter box for cats. If you have cats, it would be nice to have a space for their litter box rather than just setting it in the middle of the bathroom. If you don’t have cats, put a potted plant in the alcove.)

(2) A decent coat closet off the entry for guest use.

(3) Walk-in master bedroom closet which is accessible separately from the master bathroom. (Ours is currently accessible by going through the master bathroom–which means if one person is showering, the other person has to pass through the bathroom to get to the closet.)

(4) A separate enclosed toilet in the bathroom. (That is, put the toilet in its own little closet-sized space behind a door, so one person can use it in privacy while another is in the bathroom.)

(5) The walk-in master bedroom closet should be accessible from the laundry room.
(That is, I’ve seen walk-in bedroom closets with a second door leading to the laundry room. This means putting away clothes in the master bedroom is a matter of walking through a door rather than walking clothes up a flight of stairs, as is in our house.)

(6) A decent sized laundry room. (Like big enough for a washer, a drier, a sink, a couple of cabinets to store things, and space for an ironing board.)

(7) A decent sized rectangular spare room that can be converted into a playroom, a game room, an at-home movie theater, a bar, or whatever else the users want to use. (This implies the room should have plumbing available but hidden behind a panel in case someone wants to install a bar room sink, as well as adequate outlets, including an outlet in the ceiling and in the floor.)

(8) A walk in pantry off the kitchen.

(That may seem like a luxury–but when you realize you can now buy in bulk and have a place to store things, that “luxury” can pay for itself rather quickly.)

(9) Wiring should be installed through dedicated conduits rather than stapling wire to interior studs. This allows new wiring (like updated network wiring) to be pulled through with relative ease.

(10) A small utility closet off the downstairs, accessible from the inside of the house (so it’s not exposed to the outdoors) which is the terminus for some of those dedicated conduits, as well as plenty of outlets inside the closet. (Ideally this should be located towards the face of the house where cable and telephone feeds arrive from the outdoors.)

In today’s day and age, anyone with a computer pretty much has a modem and router. And today a number of folks are trying to sell us black boxes used for storing away our files and pictures–essentially dedicated network servers for home use.

We may as well admit to ourselves we need a networking and computer equipment closet. And while we’re at it, we should be running conduits to the living room, so the closet can double as an A/V equipment closet.

(11) A large kitchen which opens into the living room, perhaps even containing a small fireplace, which could have a small pizza oven installed inside.
Kitchens have become defacto informal gathering places in many houses, and we may as well admit to that fact. Keeping the space open to the living space means your guests can gather without having to pick a pony.

And bonus points for putting in a cabinet which can be used to hold a full sized (20 to 30 gallon) trash can, not one of those sad tiny little things that have to be emptied every five minutes.

(12) Can we finally admit no-one knows the difference between a “living room” and a “family room”–and just combine them into one single large living space?


Many of these features do not require a large house; only a little forethought in its design. (Though some things like a large laundry room or a mudroom with a dedicated bathroom, may be a luxury.) And some of these features certainly can be modified for a small house or even a larger apartment–such as locating the laundry (even if it’s just a 3×3 closet large enough for a stackable laundry unit) near the master bedroom.

Design is about considering how a space will be used.

And the best designs are so well thought out life just seems easy without really understanding why.

This is not an impeachment hearing.

The reality is, this is not an impeachment hearing.

That is, this is not a hearing which is to lead to an impeachment finding against the President which is then to be taken up by the Senate.

Politically there is no point to an impeachment anyway. An impeachment is simply a charge raised by the House against the President–but it is up to the Senate to then hold a trial to determine if the President is innocent or guilty.

And unless the Senate loses around 34 Republicans in the next election–or the Senate can flip 34 Republicans who will undoubtedly vote along party lines (because the Democrats will vote along party lines)–an impeachment is essentially a waste of the paper it is printed on.

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No, this is not an impeachment hearing.

It is the cargo-cult equivalent of an impeachment hearing.

It is designed to make you think the President is guilty of the charges levied against him–regardless of actual innocence or guilt. Without allowing a proper defense to be established or even access by the defense to the evidence being used.

It is designed to make you vote for someone else in the polls in November of next year, thinking the President is guilty of something.

It is designed to distract you from the rather serious charges that are starting to bubble to the surface about some Democratic (and a few Republican) leaders about receiving foreign money into their personal bank accounts–in some cases for an apparent quid-pro-quo for favored access to US markets or favored support from the State Department.

It is designed to distract you from the fact that the #resistance–a movement which started before Trump ever took office and before we ever found out what sort of President Trump would be–formed for the explicit purpose of overturning a lawfully conducted election and a rightfully selected President. Don’t forget the Russian hearings which went nowhere, the talk about the 25th Amendment, the discussion about having an election “do-over,” the talk about abolishing the Electoral College.

It is designed to distract you from the fact that there is now a war in Washington D.C. against those who see themselves as the rightful unelected rulers of our country–those with family connections, with access to power (and who exchange that access for money), and who are the only ones who have the right to make decisions that control our country–and those who would like to upend the status-quo.

It is designed to cover the asses of those leaders–many of whom have become multi-millionaires on a congress critter’s salary. Many of whom were traveling down to Epstein’s little island. Many of whom have unsavory foreign connections.

—-

And because it is not an impeachment hearing, because it cannot go to the Senate for a vote, because that would allow the Senate Republicans to expose all of the evidence (and the process by which it was gathered) for all of us to see–this hearing will not conclude by November of 2020.

It cannot.

Because that would allow us to see exactly how the game has been rigged. It would allow us to start answering the questions we’ve been distracted from. It would allow us to open the door a little and see the tiny little man running the scary vision projected in smoke and mirrors as the visage of Oz.

So the impeachment hearing must continue for the next year as more “evidence” is provided, more “charges” brought forward. At some point I would expect a handful of women (who have never met Trump) to step forward and make accusations of rape or of child molestation. At some point I would expect a handful of men (who have never dealt with Trump) to step forward and accuse Trump of mobster-like dealings within his businesses. Certainly anything Trump says about his dealings with foreign leaders will (and in some corners already has) been turned into charges of tampering with official records and with witness tampering charges.

Because now that the framework has been established, with the defense being unable to defend itself, without supporters being able to gain access to understand what’s going on–we can pour any accusation we want into these hearings.

Because they are not impeachment hearings.

They’re a political gambit in the guise of an impeachment hearing.

And it’s clear this is all a political gambit because if they were real impeachment hearings no-one would care about televising the hearings, or about the ratings of the impeachment hearings, or polling the American public. Certainly no-one would worry about focus-group testing the hearings.

—-

So no, this is not an impeachment hearing.

Let’s be clear: I really don’t give two shits about Trump–though I confess I’m happy with some of the work he’s done, and I like the fact that he seems willing to turn over rocks and watch the bugs underneath scamper and scurry from the sunlight. I like the fact that he has exposed many of our supposed natural ruling aristocracy as the stupid power-hungry assholes they are.

But Presidents really don’t have that much control over my life, because our Federal Government has far less control over the day-to-day elements of my life than does the state in which I live and the county where my house is located.

In the 54 years I’ve been on this planet, I have dealt with city building inspectors and city-hired police officers. I have dealt with county-provided small claims adjudicators and am now involved in a lawsuit going to arbitration with the State Superior Court–and I’ve even had a case heard by the State Appellate Court. (Don’t ask.)

I have never had to deal with the Federal Government, except to obtain a passport and to get my Real ID. (Where I learned, by the way, that the information associated with my social security number was screwed up. Big Brother can’t even watch me properly.) And of course to file taxes. Though I’m happy about the Obergefell ruling.

So I don’t care how things turn out in 2020. Of course I’m going to root for my own team–as many of you will root for yours. But the winner or the loser doesn’t really affect much–though if a Democrat wins the White House in 2020, expect the economy to contract as every Democrat running has promised to take steps that would ultimately trigger a recession.

(Which, in an interesting turn of fate, helps my pocket book as a freelance software developer. So if you ask me to vote my pocket book, I’d vote for a recession.)

So to be clear, I’m not strongly attached to the results.

Even so, this is not an impeachment hearing.

It was never an impeachment hearing.

It’s something far worse.

It’s a shredding of constitutional norms by folks who told us from the start they planned to shred constitutional norms. Who were proud to announce they wanted to shred constitutional norms because Trump was never their President.

Because to them, Trump is so bad we must do anything to get rid of him.

Even if that means setting the Constitution on fire and burning it to the ground.

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And they forget that cultural and legal norms is the only thing that keeps us from the chaos of the abyss.