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
A Mist of Grit and Splinters (Commonweal #5) on Google Play via Books2Read

My current best understanding of how to download the EPUB file from Google Play.

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 February 2021

A functioning system doesn't give you what you want

 It keeps you from getting what you don't want.

There's an aphorism about however many ways there might be to be alive, there are vastly more ways to be dead.  (Sometimes expressed as observing that to a first approximation, every species is extinct.)

Systems can handle the small number; the list of things (being subject to violence, privation, ignorance, and want) you wish the system to prevent.  Maintaining the core goal of civilisation -- that you die, on the odds, of something that isn't starvation or violence -- is simple enough to build a system to accomplish.

A system that guarantees you get what you want isn't simple enough to build.  A system that gets you what you want, or worse, the entirety of what you want, is required to dispose of the constraints that would require you not to oppress everyone else, since it's impossible to constrain it not to oppress them into the violence-privation-ignorance-and-want space and still give you whatever arbitrary thing you desire, too.  So you wind up committed to the oppression as soon as you expect direct, positive outcomes from your society.

(There's nothing wrong with wanting things, or trying to get them, but you have to stay in the "no causing violence, privation, or want" constraints of civilization when you do it.  Move outside that -- try to make society a guarantee and a surety of your specific desires -- and you're going wrong.)

We're suffering from a long period where policy has been to give the rich what they want.  It's distorted everything into increasing general suffering, privation, ignorance, and want in preference to finding a way to tell the rich no, you can't have that.

The simple-enough-to-work fix is "no rich people".  We know getting clever with feedback doesn't work; we're living in the failure of the mid-twentieth century attempts to do this with feedback. Time to do it with constraints.

30 January 2021

Housing inappropriately located in market spaces

[some time ago now, a comment from Arborman effectively asked what's this approach to housing you're talking about? I hope this is something in the vicinity of a useful response.]

At present, the COVID-19 recession has many people faced with eviction.


Well, generally, because the public sphere has not acted to house them.  It hasn't done that because there's a construction of axiomatic justice which says, you must pay.

That in turn comes in with the triumph of wealth-concentration as the mechanism of organising society during the Carbon Binge; there were, before Great Harry suppressed the monasteries, alternate support mechanisms beyond your utility to existing wealth.  There were, before Puritans demonized hospitality and generosity, constructions of virtue around charity as an act. (as distinct from the present "and if they weren't bad, we wouldn't need to do this".)  There were, before the enclosures of the commons, villages as collective organizations to supply basic needs.  Today, there aren't; it's nigh-impossible to have any form of collective organisation that isn't a for-profit corporation.

(What we're seeing with the US evangelical movement is a sort of mammonite memetic colonisation of the practice of religion.  It's not a collective support mechanism in material terms, it's a ranched population of marks.)

If we're going to consider housing in a context of not being mammonites, we need to start with that axiom of justice; you must pay.

The simple reason for that axiom is that justice is presently constructed to guarantee wealth.  This is a conscious and deliberate process and explains much of how wealth has had a presumption of virtue attached to it.  (There aren't many working rationalisations for the inherent probity of keep the loot.  Much better to avoid that question somehow.)

The structural reason for that axiom of payment is that once you introduce payment, you get relative advantage. If you iterate, you wind up with a small number of winners and a very large number of losers; dumb luck will do that.  If you introduce relative advantage (often the dumb luck to be born with something that confers relative advantage), you get the same small number of different winners; different because you've introduced this bias.  Because the iterations are generally slow enough to notice, you get widespread and then consensus rationalisations for why the bias is good; people who have it are sure it is, and they have most of the agency.  (Plus people who don't have it still want it, so you get rationalisations about why it would be OK if they had it.)

Which is also how you get homeless people.

Which is a euphemism; "dying of exposure" is less euphemistic.  "Lost some fingers to frostbite, struggled, then died, because that facilitates the relative advantage of someone with more than they can ever possibly use" is starting to get toward factual.

It's a brutal, brutal system.  It's a brutal system even when people manage to remain housed at the cost of two-thirds of their income from working multiple unsafe jobs for low hourly pay.

So what would it look like if it wasn't brutal?  If the axiom was something like people have value, rather than keep the loot?

People need, not just a place to sleep without fear, but a place to securely keep their stuff; people need a privy, and a place to bathe, and a place they can store and prepare food.  It has to function all year round, in any weather.  It needs to be a space you can clean without heroic effort; it needs to be something you can alter and decorate.  (If you can't change it, it isn't yours, and if it's not yours you're definitionally insecure.)

So there's a whole lot of problems; how do you build that, in the century of angry weather? what do you make it out of, and how, so it isn't adding carbon load to the atmosphere? what heats it, what cools it, how do you ensure the heating the cooling and water and the sewage work even during external service interruptions? How do you make it quiet, and private, and have natural light, and not use up unreasonable ground area in what will need to be an increasingly dense urban landscape?  How do you ensure this thing you've built keeps working across generations, because you're not going to want to rebuild housing again for a long while; it's going to be expensive.  That's where Universal Design comes in, and should come in.

That's the general scale of housing problem; as a system, what kind of housing does society build?

As an individual, you have to ask mostly how do you pay for it? People need to move, it takes time to accumulate value, and the value in mortgages doesn't go to the house purchaser, so this isn't a question that has a sensible present answer.

I think the "pay for it" problems collapse into three general areas.

One is risk; two is durability, and three is mobility.

You manage risk collectively.  That shouldn't mean a single massive collective housing authority, but a large number of just-large-enough housing collectives with specialities and geographic particularity.  So you join one when you start being an adult; maybe you inherit a membership, maybe membership is passed to offspring of existing membership, maybe there's a joining lottery, maybe you just apply.  But in all cases, three things are true; you get a membership in some housing collective. All the memberships are of required to be exchangeable, so if you want to move your existing membership can be swapped for membership somewhere else (and the range of values for housing collectives is constrained to some fairly narrow range to permit this).  You can't lose your membership; it's not a transferable asset in the sense of something you can sell or lose in bankruptcy or not be able to pay for. (Which means there's going to have to be some public backstop when people get ill, hurt, lose their jobs, etc.)

Durability means a bunch of things; one of the things it means is you can't use an individual-scale market mechanism for this because most individuals know nothing about houses.  The current housing market is about materials for producing houses and house producers buying land, it has nothing to do with the people in the house.  So it cannot deliver value in the sense of habitability days per currency unit; the folks building houses want to keep doing that, if they can get the working life of a house under two generations that would be perfect.

We're going to need a new building code, new materials (and thus a lot of training AND some serious civil-power coercion to shift trades), and we're going to need a long-term, educated, skilled buyer.  Oh look, a housing collective again; something that expects to be immortal, is trying to minimize its long term spend, and has the ability to buy value.  (Which most individual house buyers aren't equipped to recognize, remember; you can't purchase what you can't identify.)

Mobility means people need to move; if you own a house today, moving is a problem because home ownership is only a good investment if you don't move.  This is not of general economic benefit; rearranging communities of practice is a net positive, and systemic barriers to the free movement of labour are a net negative.  Only one of those systemic barriers is produced by the effort to maximize cash extraction from housing, so we definitely have it, and we're going to have to abolish it.  Which might mean restructuring all the financial institutions sitting on mortgages as their primary capitalization.

But, anyway; housing does not belong in the domain of markets, nor of profit.  The question for housing is, "how many can we house, how well, for this much?" and that's a public-sphere question.  Which means some set of public institutions as necessary to accomplish the task.

10 January 2021

Canada had a grip on COVID-19 before schools were opened

So Statistics Canada has this sadly laggy weekly excess deaths chart.  (The link is the real thing, which is somewhat dynamic and has all the data; below is a screen grab, taken 2021-01-09.)

Presuming their 2020-10-17 number isn't real -- they haven't got the provincial reporting yet -- it looks like there was a general grip on COVID-19 transmission until various provincial governments insisted on reopening schools.  (September is too soon for winter to start forcing people inside.)

On the one hand, hurrah for the diligent public servants at StatsCan, who are carefully tracking the one metric that really matters when evaluating a public health response to a pandemic.  On the other hand, our political leadership could do with a couple brisk whacks from the Haddock of Remonstration so subsequent contact by the Salmon of Knowledge has a chance to register in useful degree.

07 January 2021

The centre cannot hold

I really don't understand why anyone is surprised about the Capitol mob or the general tenor of insurrection.

White supremacy is a construction of virtue.  And, apparently, much as a lot of white supremacists just assume everyone else really is utterly reflexively racist and pretends not to be out of a sort of point-scoring public hypocrisy, a lot of people assume white supremacists know their axioms are wrong, and just keep going out of sheer meanness.

That's not an accurate understanding.

Somewhere between five and eight thousand years ago, you start seeing this bottleneck in Y chromosomes in human populations.  This is correlated with the rise of patriarchal forms of social organisation, but of course we don't really know what happened.  We can see the results of the selection event, but not details. (Five thousand years, given twenty-five year generations, is two hundred generations.  Twenty generations is more than sufficient to domesticate foxes.  OF COURSE selection happened, and probably quite a lot of it.  Can we tell what?  No we can't.  We haven't got the start state.)

So; humans are subject to selection.  Some of it's obviously genetic -- you can see that Y-chromosone bottleneck in the data! -- and you can tell what it is (a really small proportion of male lineages are siring almost all the kids, and this is generational; a successful sire's sons are frequently themselves successful sires) but you can't tell _why_ it is.  There's no way to distinguish between strongman harem systems and "only a very small proportion of men were calm and peaceful enough to live in the fixed settlements that arose with agriculture". (It could be both.)

Somewhere around five hundred years ago -- twenty generations, still enough to domesticate foxes; can't hardly bet that isn't enough to alter humans in the brains -- the pirate kingdom starts; you get this maritime marcher state building on the loot-sharing customs of longbow armies, and virtue becomes _obtaining_ loot.  (As distinct from the holding or the earning of land, and it's not much of a jump, considering how either of those happened during the transition from feudalism to god-king autocracy.)

There are a couple-three things to note about this.

One, it works.  Look at where people speak English today.  Look at the British Museum or the Smithsonian.  Look at the two solid centuries of thalassocracy.  Look at what didn't happen to that mob in the US Capitol.

Two, status is part of the loot.  And in a very basic way, that's _primate_ status; I can hit who I want and fuck who I want, status.  It's not nice-gold-watch-at-retirement status, or respect-of-your-peers status.

Three, white supremacy is a highly derived loot-sharing agreement.  It's much more complicated than counting out the cattle in the herds you stole or the gold doubloons from the Spanish Main.

The modern white-supremacist coalition has three main threads.

There's mammonites, who sincerely believe money is the material love of god and that they, personally, should have all of it.  This is the party of loot, very broadly defined; they won't tolerate any limits on theft. It's important to remember that their beliefs about money are entirely false to fact and that most of them have a niggling awareness that if they stop lying so fast about money some finance minister somewhere might notice.  And generally they're the sort of person who can loot a billion dollars and feel broke; their insecurity is boundless.

There's the active supremacists; generally people who have little else.  They're useless, they know they're useless, and it makes them extremely insecure about status.  This is (by far) the most numerous group, and it won't tolerate any limits on violence.  (Their insecurity management is directly contrary to their best interest; prosperity arises in cosmopolitan cities.  No amount of wanting status will allow them to tolerate those, though, so there's this feedback loop that prevents them from having any other source of status.)

There's the aristos; this is the group who are certain they should be in charge.  It's not that far off the born-to-wealth-and-power version of the xenophobes, only it's not that they can't stand seeing people who don't look like them, it's that they can't stand people who do not reflexively obey them, ideally out of such fear and deference that they put a lot of effort into figuring out what the aristo wants and delivering that without the aristo having to do anything so lower class as to say what they want. They inherited money; they have inherited connections, status, and power.  The important thing is still having people do what they say because they said it, because their own ability is certainly not sufficient to accumulate the money or create the connections, status, or power.  They won't tolerate any limits to their authority, and it's mostly structural authority, so they're opposed to change unless it makes things better for them, and better for them is worse for everyone else.

Are these three groups using each other?  Absolutely.  Do they want the same things?  Not at all; the xenophobes would certainly like money, and the mammonites want all of it.  (There's probably a name for the idea that god loves only you, but I don't know what it is.)  Are they a cohesive, evolving response to keeping a loot sharing agreement working in a world that's run out of loot?  Absolutely.  Do they think they're doing what is mete, right, and their bounden duty?  Also absolutely.  They're generally upset that they have to; the people lower down in the hierarchy should know their place, after all, and the government should know that it exists to make it easier for them to do whatever they want.

(Consider the dreary list of destructive acts in national parks during the most recent government shutdown.  Consider the blithe indifference to death in response to a pandemic, as long as it's someone else's death.  There's a clear worldview and strong expectations involved, along with the complete disdain of facts or society.)

All of what we've seen with Trump is the expected continuation of a long-term "I shall have loot as it was in grandfather's day" political movement. It's a mutant white supremacy which was itself a mutant patriarchy, and it never has made any material, factual sense.  ("I'm easily sunburned so I am obviously so morally superior I can declare anyone or anything mine" is the kind of thing you're severely disappointed when a five year old comes up with it.  It's abject nonsense.  This has never mattered, and does not matter now.)

How do you keep that cohesive system from copying itself into the future?

There are three traditional approaches.

You make adhering to the belief system fatal.  (This is why you've never met a Cathar.)

Ethnogenesis; something like the rise of Islam produces a new definition of who people are and new relationships among them.  (If you want to get rid of the idea of whiteness, this is the minimum ante.)

Outside context problem.  Bronze Age collapse, pretty much every civilisation in the Americas and then alien diseases showed up in the Columbian interchange, water empires when the rainfall moves; lots of examples.  (if you think climate change isn't an outside context problem you need to go read some of the science.)

So, no, "status quo ante" isn't going to work.

Saying "we will all be Americans", without the outside context problem, didn't work last time, but it won't hurt much.

Saying "we will all be Americans and no one can be all that rich" (because money is agency and most of the problem is a small number of extremely rich people determined to rearrange society to minimise their insecurities rather than doing the work themselves) would be a start; it might be enough to get people up in favour of it.  (Liberal democracy is stone dead; the time and context (and planet to loot) necessary to its existence have passed, and are with us no more.  We're picking the least-bad alternative future.)

Saying "we will all be good neighbours to everyone who will be good neighbours to us, no one can be rich, and open-loot extractive capitalism ends; we will live here forever, and must care for what we have borrowed from our descent" didn't work last time, either, but there weren't all that many people trying the first time.

But! don't think the work can be avoided.  Reconstruction didn't happen.  (Truth and Reconciliation didn't happen in the Canadian example.)  If we want to keep anaesthetised dentistry (and we so do), we've got to pull of ethnogenesis during an outside context problem, and we've got to create a different industrial civilisation to do it, AND we've got to win the fight with the mammonite white supremacists while we're doing it, because they're complete against. Death before responsibility; death before they give up the right to loot.

This is a hard task; this is the kind of excessively difficult task that makes it so much easier to descend into moral dithering, pointless moral taxonomies, and claims that everyone would be fine if....

People aren't going to be fine.  This is probably the decade agriculture fails.  And all these would-be heroes are managing to care that people fear them, because then they feel better.  There is no possibility of doing actual work; any real striving is an opportunity to fail, and they've already failed.  That's what they're fleeing; there's no more loot, the world is worse than it was, and they made it that way.  They can at least club together and pretend that nothing important can, has, or will ever change.

02 January 2021

An observation

 It seems painfully clear -- three orders of magnitude clear, measured in corpses -- that the difference between successfully handling COVID-19 and failing horribly in handling COVID-19 is the willingness to enforce a quarantine.

To enforce a quarantine, you have to be willing to both feed and house people.  If you won't, the quarantine can't and won't work.

It seems clear that various mammonite governments in the Anglosphere absolutely will not do that; given a choice between feeding and housing people, or a massive recession brought on by a large increase in excess deaths, they're picking the corpse pile because feeding people is wrong.

11 December 2020

Constructions of socialism

 You know how there's this rhetorical trope of calling things socialism where [they] are in no way socialism?

What the folks doing that mean is "some political system that isn't (some mix of) keep-the-loot mammonism and patriarchal white supremacy".

That's it; it's a perfectly consistent (if galling binary) usage.