01 January 2025

Where to get my books

There are two options; Google Play, or the Draft2Digital publication targets. Google Play isn't available globally (though they intend to be, based on how the publisher interface sets up billing regions!). So you might need to try one of the Draft2Digital targets. Kobo seems to be a good fallback choice for availability though not for avoiding DRM.

Title Google Books2Read
The Human Dress on Google Play via Books2Read
The March North (Commonweal #1) on Google Play via Books2Read
A Succession of Bad Days (Commonweal #2) on Google Play via Books2Read
Safely You Deliver (Commonweal #3) on Google Play via Books2Read
Under One Banner (Commonweal #4) on Google Play via Books2Read

Commonweal Book #5, A Mist of Grit and Splinters, is expected to escape into the wild sometime in 2019.

Update 2019-01-29:  Amazon changed their agreement with Draft2Digital to require a whole lot of information transfer to Amazon.  I have removed The Human Dress from sale at Amazon. Still up everywhere else it was available.  (And has been added to a bunch of library services.)

15 March 2019

White supremacy

White supremacy is the idea that, because you are easily sunburnt, you are innately blessed to such a degree that it is right and proper for your to loot, rape, murder, and enslave.

Put it accurately like that and it's obvious nonsense.

Why is it such wretchedly persistent nonsense?

Bunch of reasons; if you want to enforce inequity of social organization, you need really committed people, because the social costs to the enforcers are high.  (This is a good test for inequity; do the people responsible for keeping the system functioning have worse outcomes than you'd expect from purely economic and background factors?)  It's pretty easy to get commitment by telling the incompetent that they deserve more status than their capability can earn them, and then letting them exact that status through threats of violence.

If you're an oligarch, an explanation for why you should under no circumstances blame the oligarch for anything, and should blame the powerless instead; that's useful, too, and explains where a lot of the money comes from to keep these ideas going.  The long habit of looting has a lot to do with the oligarchical position on this, too.

How do you get rid of it?

If you're trying to get rid of bad insecurity management, you have to do better insecurity management.  That means a respect for facts, quantitative analysis, and calling things by if not their right names then consistent accurate ones.  (This is difficult habit to get into when the culture around you is a big machine for asserting a moral norm.  It's a highly dynamic moral norm, and it claims to be completely immutable.)  It also means being very careful what society rewards.

In the white supremacy case, well.  It's at least eleven kinds of false, but pointing that out doesn't help; the problem is not whether or not it's factual, the problem is that it's an excuse to hurt people until they grant status.  That's a basic basic primate thing; the form of the excuse is irrelevant.  The fix is to not grant status, and to make any attempt to do so materially expensive.

Facebook delenda est.  Youtube, too.  Feedback with no constraints is going to catch fire and explode soon enough; we're not obliged to wait for the boom.  Anti-vaxxers (functionally another weird-ass flavour of white supremacy) are engaged in something that meets the material criteria for a conspiracy to commit bioterrorism -- the B in the NBC abbreviation for "weapons of mass destruction" -- and they've already killed specific, identifiable people. Might-maybe be time to treat it like what it is.  (This would be an excellent test for whether or not a law enforcement organization was itself hopelessly corrupted by white supremacy; can they look at anti-vaxxers and do the material analysis around what happens, rather than how people feel about what they are doing?)

Medium term, do what is necessary to secure the general prosperity in the time of angry weather, which means food security for all, above all.

02 March 2019

Systemic stability

There's this result from operations research and system theory that says that if you want to control something, you need to provide matching variety (as many states as the system you're trying to control has in the controls), limit the system variety (letting the dog run, but inside a fence...), or build some kind of variety amplifier so you can match the number of states in the system with fewer inputs.  (Traffic lights, and the enforcement mechanism that makes them consequential.)  ("Law of Requisite Variety", for the curious.)
What does that have to do with anything?

An overclass is a control system.  A relatively small proportion of the population organizes society so they get what they want.

The portion of society making up the overclass is too small to do this directly; there has to be a variety amplifier.  That's a lot of things, mostly belief but also various limitation mechanisms.  The ideal of democracy is that there's general agreement on the necessary system, and that everybody gets a say in how it's constructed.  (This hasn't ever happened, though it's been closer than it now is.)  The practice is that things are arranged to guarantee outcomes for the overclass.

There's a bunch of problems with this.  The most important difficulty is that people in the overclass believe that they can and should have control, and are taking a counter-factual position when they do it.  A sufficiently stable -- that is, nigh-static -- can give the illusion of the possibility of control, and the conservative takes on the importance of obedience, the inherent nature of ability, and so are all derived from the position that control is possible, necessary, and right.  And to be as fair as possible, the results indicating that, no, really, you can't have that; it isn't an achievable thing only date to the 1940s or so.  That's not a very long time compared to the last five thousand years of "obey the king".  It is still a disaster when the people running things demand counter-factual outcomes.

The nearly-as-important difficulty is that system is real; personal moral choice has almost nothing to do with it, and pretty much any progressive political movement gets tripped down the metaphorical stairs of trying to be good.  (Where it will neither be good nor achieve any specific material objectives.)

If you want a different world, you need to be building a different system.  That's really tough; it's, in effect, the need to build something large enough to be capable of being responsible for fixing everything.  (You can only be responsible for what you have the power to alter.  So individual responsibility isn't sufficient, and the idea that it is or could be isn't helpful.)  It may well mean taking over the incumbent system and using it to build something else.

And of course we're headed into a period of history where the incumbents have utterly failed, are losing legitimacy, will lose all legitimacy, and where the status quo cannot possibly hold.  This is not a problem human societies have a good record of dealing with.

The status quo is gone; the question is how to respond, and the question of how to respond effectively is how to respond without trying for control.  This is a legitimately difficult problem.

It's also something of a timed exam.

18 February 2019

Prescriptive Norms

Today is apparently a ranty day.

So the unifying thread of various everything to day; whether James Barry's identity as a man should be respected (yes), whether intersectionality is a thing (yes), why conservatives keep doing that, and so on, all come down to the idea of an enforced prescriptive norm.  Pretty much everything that sucks about being alive in the Anglosphere comes down to an enforced prescriptive norm.

That is, who has the power to decide on what constitutes normal and then hurt you for not conforming to it, either until you die or start to conform.

It is not useful to point out that this is terrible.  It copies itself into the future effectively, and has persisted for multiple generations and shows no sign of going away on its own.

It is not useful to try to devise some kind of universal norm to which everyone could conform.  Not only would this require knowledge of the future and an impossible degree of empathy for the present, it misses the point; the utility of the idea of enforcing a prescriptive norm is that it grants power.  (Really a whole lot of economic power.  Look at the amount of money involved in the Pink Tax, as one relatively minor thing in prescriptive norms.)  Definitionally, the test of power is whether or not it is retained.

This returns it to the Basic Problem; how decent can life be for who, and this form of social organization still win fights with the alternatives?

(The notion of what's possible in this respect has been badly skewed in the Anglosphere the last couple centuries by being at the front of a period of technical innovation.)

Anyway; the obvious alternative is to structure society not around norms, but around boundaries.  Inside the limits, it's fine; outside the limits, there are material consequences, probably necessarily quite severe ones.  And it gets tricky to avoid picking unnecessary boundaries and to do so only on the basis of some form of material harm, to keep it from turning back into prescriptive norms with different language.

Can this win a fight with prescriptive norm forms of social organization?  I should like to believe we are going to find out.

Some assumptions about cars


Is a twitter thread about why Honda is leaving the UK for manufacturing purposes; the official Honda statement is "pulling manufacturing back to Japan", and the comments almost get it.  Almost.

The thread notes there's a global trend to geographically shortening supply chains; it notes that cars on the water are a lot of tied-up capital, and the longer the time on the water the more capital.  It even manages to note that car manufacturers are all heavily invested in electric.

That's all factual.

What gets missed is that an electric car is fundamentally less expensive than an ICE powertrain car.  Cost scales with parts count, and the drive train parts count in electric drops a couple orders of magnitude.  The margin to support long-distance trade in automobiles isn't there in an electric world.

Honda (and everybody else making cars) is sharply aware of this.   They don't want to say so, in part because the longer it takes the buying public to notice that car prices should be dropping in real terms, the better.  Also in part because so much of the current trade order is about car parts, and getting blamed for the boat capsizing is best avoided.

Given current Chinese policy (fairly close to "electric or death"), the distance from Japan to China, and the fundamental impracticality of shipping anything but Veblen-good luxury vehicles globally in an electric car world, of course Honda is pulling out of Europe.

Overall, this is a good thing; that's a good hint we're getting closer to the electric transition for personal vehicles.

11 February 2019

The insect decline has hit the mainstream

Which is good, in as much as that increases the chance of something being done about it.

The science types have been aware of this for years; work on trying to figure out why the whole guild -- that is, a group of organisms with a similar ecological role, not necessarily related -- of aerial insectivores has been declining has been going since at least 2010.

(Some bats, some birds, and some other bugs all eat bugs by catching them [in flight].  All are declining.)

The answer is not "climate change", or at least not directly.  (Climate change isn't helping.) The answer is "pesticides".

Persistent biologically accumulating toxins eventually kill everything.  It's important to remove any such thing from agriculture, other environment dumping, and to not stop at "this was made for that purpose"; the incidental (all the hormone-analogs and mimics released by the plastics industry, for example) counts, too.

It's important to not allow a lot of hand-wringing and pointing to a need for study to slow or stop the immediate need to completely phase out any such thing; lawns, golf courses, highway verges, farm fields, wetlands, everywhere and anywhere the answer is not so much "you may not" (though it is, indeed, "you must not") but to destroy the ability to produce the stuff, globally.  With about the fervor and focus that would be applied to someone selling bulk refined plutonium; that could kill us all.  The pesticides are killing us all, and (like the climate) we don't have very much longer and the only way to find out for sure how long we've got would be to keep going until all are dead.

25 January 2019

I'm going to miss Google

I mean, it'll be awhile, but they've gone and decided to die.

Inbox by Gmail was going to be the new email application; new design, treat email as a task list (which is pretty accurate for how most people use it), auto-bundle stuff and allow management by bundles.  Leverages the kind of information management stuff Google's both skilled at and advantaged in.

Nigh-all of this except the bundles has been ported over to gmail; there's a (highly dubious) claim the bundles are going to be ported to gmail.  (That's the sort of feature, like "what encoding do we use for *char?" that has to go in at the beginning, at design time, because its presence informs everything else.)  There's probably a way somewhere to make the gmail app's colour scheme stop being shrieky, but there really isn't a way to make it (with the bundles) actually work half as well as inbox does.

Which is kinda beside the point, unfortunately.

Rumour -- highly plausible rumour -- has it that the business decision to kill the Inbox app, rather than the Gmail app, comes down to "Inbox makes it too easy to dodge promo emails".

Google's original business model was "let's get more people using the Internet".  That worked, in large part because there was a vast amount of unrealized utility available.  Now, though, it's turning into "let's glue eyeballs to ads".  Which, well.

You can have success, or you can have control.   Both is not an option.

This is Google deciding that it MUST have control.

That'll kill ya.