mindstalk: (Default)
2017-10-14 01:34 pm

B-5: The Cortez

B-5 things that look poor in retrospect: who the hell named a peaceful exploration ship the Cortez?

"Pleased to meet you, Hoo-Mans. Why is the name of your ship?"
"Oh, a man from our history, who conquered an empire with a scant expedition force."
*aliens open fire*
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-10-12 03:57 pm

joining the Rust cult

So, programming languages. Years ago I'd run across D, aiming to be a better C++, or even a better Python -- enabling high level coding without giving up type safety or speed. It had lots of features, including contracts from Eiffel, and being functional friendly; overall it seemed like a language I'd design. It was cool, but I didn't code actively enough to bother learning it.

Last weekend I did start, but also started on the new cult kid, Rust. I went in parallel a bit, but Rust has pulled ahead.

D is not very exciting or revolutionary; it's like a better done kitchen sink. There's a lot of value in that, and in what it's trying to be, and AFAICT the language itself is pretty good. I've seen people criticize the toolchain, and uptake has been rather modest -- though the forums do see daily activity, at least.

Rust, OTOH, is trying to be revolutionary: compiler-enforced memory safety, meaning not just no memory leaks but "fearless concurrency", where the compiler would enforce no data races in multithread code unless you did something specifically unsafe. "No leaks" doesn't sound exciting unless you're an engineer who's had to worry about them; "safe concurrency" is potentially sexy to lots of people.

On diving in, I noticed something else sexy to me: it's like the unholy love child of C and ML and other functional languages; one blog post even called it a functional language in C clothing. Enums/sum types/algebraic data types/tagged unions, which I quickly fell in love with while playing with Ocaml; 'traits' or type classes a la Haskell, which serve for generics, dynanmic dispatch, and overloading, all with one coherent mechanism; hygienic macros a la Scheme, something I thought I'd never get to play with seriously unless I got into Clojure. Also, supposedly, an easy and powerful package system, and a minor taste of mine, nested comments.
mindstalk: (CrashMouse)
2017-10-10 11:33 pm

Re-reading Harry Potter

I re-read the first three novels last week, and have started the fourth. Observations:

* It is a fast and easy read, it feels like I'm zipping through in no time.
* It feels like we barely see Quirrell, especially as a teacher. But then, we see very little of any classes in the first book.
* Arthur Weasley seems feckless as a person and silly in his ignorant Muggle-enthusiasm but he's pretty competent as a wizard, making a flying TARDIS car, and casually repairing Harry's glasses.
* Rowling's naming wordplay is still great. Yes, it's 'childish' compared to Tolkien or Hodgell, but it works, and there's so much of it.
** "Quirinus is also used as an epithet for the Roman god Janus"
* I remember thinking Harry/Ginny came out of the blue when I first read the 7th book, but Ginny's crush on Harry is pretty starkly obvious from book 2 on. Harry's interest, I dunno. I still favor Harry/Luna myself.
* People often say the Wizarding World is stagnant but there are a lot of counterexamples. One early one is broomsticks, which get better and better over the course of the first few books. Possibly too much so, for something they've been using for centuries. Also, the werewolf suppression potion Snape make for Lupin was a recent discovery, postdating their time at Hogwarts.
* What's with Crookshanks the intelligent cat?
* Owls have some convenient deep magic to be able to find people otherwise in hiding but not be abused to reveal their location or deliver a letter bomb. Well, maybe you could do the latter. [Edit: reading the wikia, there is in fact magic you can use so owls don't find you.]
* First book is 350 pages, 4th is 750. :O

And finally... so, more obsessed minds than mine have grappled with the Wizarding World demographics, but some things leapt out at me. It's very explicit that there are 5 boys in Harry's Gryffindor year, and 20 broomsticks in a two-House flying class. Assuming uniformity, this points to 40 students a year, 280 for the whole school. Given the number of teachers we see, and that one teacher will teach a subject for all seven years, this fits.

Assuming an average lifespan of 150, that'd be 40*150 = 6000 wizards in Britain. Maybe up to 12,000 if you assume severely damaged demographis due to Voldemort.

IMO this fits too. 6000 is a large town or small city by medieval standards, certainly capable of supporting a fair number of businesses, especially given that wizards are quasi-post-scarcity in mundane ways. They don't have an actual city, but with Floo and Apparate teleportation they can basically be a distributed city. The economy is Vague but being based largely on doing magical services for each other fits. Having a top-heavy government for the population kind of fits; you've got a heavily armed population with a lot of free time and a lot of secrecy, leading to high regulation and high "keep them busy". No idea how that's paid for, though.

Some oddities though. 200 people show up on Slytherin's side in a Quidditch match, but maybe they were from outside the school.

If most people don't break their wands much, Ollivander's main business would be supplying 40 students a year. But he's best in the world, maybe he gets a lot of international business. And if 1% of British wizards break or lose their wand a year, that'd be another 50+ wands a year.

6000 wizards in Britain implies 600,000 in the whole world. 100,000 showing up for the World Cup would be 1/6 of the population! But again, middle-class population with teleportation.

JKR apparently has opined 1000 students at Hogwarts and 3000 wizards in Britain, which is an insane population distribution. 1/3 of the population would be in the 11-18 age range. That's not a high life expectancy. Having gone to a 900 student college, I'll say Hogwarts does not feel like that to me.

I'm assuming a modern age pyramid, stable population, tapering off in the mid-100s. One fan disagrees, noting that wizards died of Dragonpox, and suggesting that while wizards have great healing magic when it comes to injuries, they may be subject to diseases, magical or even mundane (how many are vaccinated?) As well as a rather higher death rate from violence, what with being a population of gunslingers, Voldemort being the most feared Dark Lord of the century... implying more Dark Lords. (We *know* of Grindelwald.)

Other questions:

* How do they get food and raw materials? You'd think they magic it up, but the last book sai they can't live on conjured food, IIRC. Though magic could steal food or tranform biomass, I'd warrant.
* Do pure-bloods like the Malfoys and Weasleys, or Dumbledore, even exist as far as British bureaucracy is concerned? Harry and Hermione should, 'just' living a rich secret life, but what about others? Do their houses exist on Muggle records of title, or are they all mentally invisible to Muggles? We're told Hogsmeade is the only all-wizard community, implying everywhere else wizards have Muggle neighbors, but their deep ignorance of Muggle life belies that. The Malfoys have a manor, but the Blacks had a "don't notice me" house right in London.
** Likely this simply doesn't stand up well to critical thought.
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-10-08 03:21 pm

Gun ownership vs. homicide

Gun ownership vs. total homicide rate, by state and country. Some observations:
* high gun ownership is compatible with low homicide rate
* there's an empty quarter of low gun ownership and high homicide rate
* Many low-population states are low in homicides, but Alaska is high.
* This is still total guns, not handgun specific; it also throws in Switzerland, where yeah they have guns but the control regime is very different.
* Compared to the US all the other countries listed are low, but there's still a large multiple between Japan or Switzerland and Finland.
* The 'empty quarter' effect holds for those countries.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/Household_gun_ownership_vs_Homicide_rate_2000-2001.png

By the way, if you dip into current gun control debates, you may see people repeating an AEI talking point that "gun ownership has gone up but crime has gone down". This is "damn lies and statistics", as I'd expect from the AEI; the number of guns owned in the US has gone up a lot, but the number of people owning guns has gone down.

(Gallup disagrees with GSS and Pew in that, but it also disagrees with a claim of rising gun ownership. Their data also looks noisier.)

Pew also says that "protection" is now the top reason given for owning a gun. Given that crime rates have been going down, and that gun owners tend to be suburban or rural white men, not exactly high crime targets, this seems rather absurd.
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-10-04 05:53 pm

black on black crime

1) most crime is intraracial, why don't we talk about white on white crime as such?
1a) a black man is less likely to commit a violent crime than a cop is to kill an unarmed person.
2) it's a distraction
3) blacks talk about it all the time, thanks.
4) crime is linked to poverty, blacks are poorer, duh. In fact, poor urban whites are more violent than poor urban blacks. But more blacks are poor.

https://www.theroot.com/why-we-never-talk-about-black-on-black-crime-an-answer-1819092337

https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5137 for the last claim.
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-10-04 05:35 pm

The true cost of guns

2015 Mother Jones article: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/04/true-cost-of-gun-violence-in-america/

'Mother Jones crunched data from 2012 and found that the annual cost of gun violence in America exceeds $229 billion. Direct costs account for $8.6 billion—including long-term prison costs for people who commit assault and homicide using guns, which at $5.2 billion a year is the largest direct expense. Even before accounting for the more intangible costs of the violence, in other words, the average cost to taxpayers for a single gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000. And we pay for 32 of them every single day.

Indirect costs amount to at least $221 billion, about $169 billion of which comes from what researchers consider to be the impact on victims’ quality of life.'

By contrast, the gun industry is $13.5 billion/year.
If we estimated the positive utility of gun ownership at $1000/year for each of 100 million gun owners, that would be $100 billion... still a huge social cost.'

(Also, social cost of motor vehicle crashes is estimated at $871 billion.)


Gun industry revenues are a whopping $13.5 billion/year. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/san-bernardino-shooting/americas-gun-business-numbers-n437566

Assuming 100 million gun owners, the utility to each of gun ownership would have to be $2300/year for society to be breaking even.
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-09-26 10:04 pm

A modest proposal

We shouldn't have a Coast Guard, or at least not one that does rescue. People knew the risks before they got on a boat, or into the water; they should take responsibility for their decisions. Or buy rescue insurance, if they want someone to help them out of trouble. Tax dollars shouldn't be spent on bailing them out. Besides, market solutions are best -- the government is corrupt and wasteful, after all! I'm sure the Coast Guard is inefficient and overpriced.

***

That was sarcasm, but with a point: I see no difference between a Coast Guard and a Health Guard, say, protecting us against illness instead of storms. (Except that most illnesses are a lot more random and uncontrollable than mucking around in a boat.)
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-09-25 11:24 pm

sqlite the miracle DB

At work today, Boss suggested I look at sqlite a bit, since our client code uses it. What I thought might be a brief glance turned into hours of reading, as it became rather fascinating. For those who don't know, it's an embedded SQL database, with not much code, unlike the client/server databases of Oracle or anything else you've probably heard of. As their docs put it, they're not competing with such databases, they're competing with fopen() and other filesystem access.

They call their testing "aviation grade", possibly without hyperbole: 100% branch coverage, 100% coverage of something stronger than branches, 700x more testing code than actual library code and a lot of that generates tests parametrically... it sounds pretty nuts. They worship Valgrind but find compiler warnings somewhat useless; getting warnings to zero added more bugs than it solved. https://www.sqlite.org/testing.html

They claim "billions and billions of deployments", which sounded like humorous hyperbole until they added being on every iPhone or Android phone, every Mac or Windows 10 machine, every major browser install... There are over 2 billon smartphones, so just from the phone OS and the phone browser, you've got 4 billion installs...

They also make a pitched case for consider a sqlite database any time you'd be considering some complex file format. With almost no code to write, you'd get consistency robustness, complex queries, machine and language independence, and at least some ability to do partial writes[1], compared to throwing a bunch of files into a zipfile.

https://www.sqlite.org/appfileformat.html
https://www.sqlite.org/affcase1.html

They also had a nicely educational description of their rollback and write-ahead models. https://www.sqlite.org/atomiccommit.html
https://www.sqlite.org/wal.html

[1] I do wonder about this. One odd thing about sqlite is a looseness about types, and AIUI cramming numeric values into the smallest range that will hold them. So I'd think that if you UPDATED a value 100 to a value 1000000000000, you'd have to shuffle the trailing part of the file, compared to a format that e.g. reserved 8 bytes for a numeric type. But maybe they do buffer numeric or string storage. And not having to write the whole file, or not having to read the whole file (e.g. to decompress it) seem like at least partial wins.
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-09-25 08:39 pm

building affordable housing

A longish article on cities (or a country) that have built their way to affordable housing, contrary to the claims of many market-allergic leftists.

http://www.sightline.org/2017/09/21/yes-you-can-build-your-way-to-affordable-housing/

Money-quote paragraph:

"Houston, for example, can be Cascadia’s model for how easy it ought to be to get permits to build homes—if we believed, as Houston does, that building homes is in itself a good thing, our permitting processes would encourage rather than discourage it through endless months of hoop-jumping and politicized reviews. Tokyo, meanwhile, reminds us that placing control over development at senior levels of government, and making development of urban property a right of its owner, helps to elevate the broad public interest in abundant housing choices over parochial opposition to change. (Leaders in California have recently succeeded in passing a raft of new laws to act upon this lesson.) Chicago teaches that a pro-housing political orientation can provide abundant housing even under conventional zoning in a deep blue city, while Montreal offers Cascadia a model of a cityscape no longer of single-family homes but of three-story rowhouses, walk-up apartments, and condominiums on quiet, tree-lined streets close to transit and neighborhood centers. Singapore’s lesson is the promise of erecting high-density, park-like “new towns” on underused city land. And Germany shows us that a future is possible where housing is no longer an investment vehicle but “a very durable consumption good that provides a stream of housing services, not a ticket to financial gain.”"


Relatedly, Vienna and Singapore as two examples of massive public housing: https://www.shareable.net/blog/public-housing-works-lessons-from-vienna-and-singapore
Also useful if anyone tries to tout Singapore as a free-market miracle...
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-09-20 06:20 pm

Recent books

Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky. Pretty engaging tome on the history of salt's use and extraction, and its legal or military entanglements. Trying to fund a government off of salt tax or monopoly has been common, and commonly hated, from Legalist China to British abuses in India. The US Civil War can partially be told as a history of fights over saltworks. The Chinese were drilling for brine and using by-product natural gas by 100 AD, and doing percussion drilling around 1100 AD, down below 3000 feet by 1835.

Eye of Cat, Roger Zelazny. Time-dilated alien-hunter Navajo, teleport booths, assassins, psi, Navajo shamanism... a weird book, I don't anticipate re-reading.

The Sharing Knife: [Beguilement and Legacy], Lois Bujold. I'd read this series in 2009, and am enjoying it again. Lakewalker powers and their fight against malices gives me RPG ideas, interacting with inspiration from Martin and Hobb and what I think of as "Wraiths and Rangers". Like much of Bujold, has many laugh-out-loud moments in an otherwise serious story.

Penric's Demon & Penric and the Shaman, Lois Bujold. Novellas set in her Five Gods universe, which I finally got paper copies of from the library. (Released as DRM ebooks, which I refuse to support.) Good, and funny, and I'd happily read more.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia McKillip. My first McKillip after all these years. Enjoyable, with a fairy-tale quality to the story and and writing.
mindstalk: (Earth)
2017-09-14 11:29 pm

transit and mode share

I've been reading a bunch of kchoze posts the past couple days. This one is on the economics of transit, and transit efficiency.

'if transit is economically inefficient, why are third world cities dominated by transit and not by personal cars? Why do the Japanese pay 10% of their income on transport versus 20% for Americans and Canadians?'

There are some numbers, and discussion of cost per mile vs. cost per trip. But there's one thing which I sort of gut felt that he spells out: transit friendly cities are denser, so they're more walkable as well.

Let me spell that out. In a sprawling car-centric city, up to 100% of trips may be taken by car. Actual numbers are more like 90%. [Caveat: that's share of trips to work, not all trips.] But you'll never see a city that's 90% transit mode share. (Some cities listed do get up to 70% transit, but again, that's commuting to work.) A city that has lots of transit is a city with lots of walking, too, especially if uses are decently mixed.

(I'm sort of imagining a degenerate case where there's no point to walking around one's residential neighborhood, not even for groceries or school or church, and having to catch transit elsewhere...)

So the reasonable target is not getting transit share really high, but car share low, with the slack being taken up by a mix of transit, walking, and bikes.

This has an extra economic effect: in Sprawlville, the cost of cars (roads, parking, cars, gas...) can be spread over almost all trips. Naively, the cost per trip of transit is doing to have a smaller denominator, only 40% of trips rather than 100%, even though the other non-car trips are part of a coherent dense system that must include transit.
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-09-12 06:26 pm

Name five female...

Writers? Trivial for me.

Singers? Not hard.

Instrumental composers? Uh no, though I don't know that many composers period, especially living ones.

Visual artists? If comics and webcomics count, I can do it.

Painters? Haha no.
mindstalk: (CrashMouse)
2017-09-10 02:13 pm

Equifax breach and credit protection

Couple of similar articles on what to do after the breach: https://www.consumerreports.org/equifax/how-to-lock-down-your-money-after-the-equifax-breach/ and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/your-money/identity-theft/equifaxs-instructions-are-confusing-heres-what-to-do-now.html?_r=0

They skip checking if you're affected (answer: probably yes), and recommend putting security freezes and fraud alerts on your accounts. Big three, plus this other one, Innovis? Anyway, I tried.

Equifax: fairly easy for both. Claims it will pass the alert on to the other Big Two. Their idea of a freeze PIN is amateur hour bullshit.

Experian: freeze in place for $5. Option to provide your own PIN, or accept their random 10 digit one. Rejected my alert attempt.

TransUnion: failed to do anything, even by phone. Requires making an account to try things online; rejects 21 character account passwords.

Innovis: freeze and alert in place. I was not given a freeze PIN via webpage.

I also turned on my credit card's activity alerts, and got a ShopSafe number, basically a number you can use online with its own credit sublimit and expiration date. You can have many, so in theory you could have one for each vendor or subscription. My bank doesn't do activity alerts, which has me thinking about a different bank...
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-08-29 09:38 am

more trig!

I forgot about the laws of sine and cosine. They're easy to prove once you know them, though I don't know about discovering them from scratch.

I was reminded after the previous post that you can get another triangle with just a fair bit of algebra. sin 2*18 = cos 3*18, solve for sin 18; you'll get a quadratic, and a fairly simple solution (-1+sqrt(5))/2. (If you try sin 18 = cos 4*18, you get a quartic, and I don't know how to solve it analytically.)

I've been writing code to approximate log or powers via iterated square roots. It works, though takes a fair number of steps.
mindstalk: (food)
2017-08-24 12:14 pm

Second plug for work

We have an improved website and introductory video of sorts. Marketing finally begins!
mindstalk: (thoughtful)
2017-08-18 07:33 am

trig approximations

One virtue of my math education was that it was fairly proof heavy; I feel I can demonstrate or prove most of what I know. I may have mentioned this not extending to sin(A+B), which I had to figure out later as an adult. It also didn't include detailed "how do we calculate this shit?" for stuff like trig, log, fractional exponents. Once you hit calculus the answer becomes "Taylor series or something better", but before then?

Feynman talks about it somewhat in Chapter 22 of his Lectures, which is a cool read; he goes from defining multiplication in terms of addition, to numerically suggesting Euler's law, and showing how to build up log tables along the way. It's a heady ride. But he doesn't talk about trig tables.

I've long had my own thoughts about those, and finally wrote some code to try out the calculations.

Basic idea is that given sin(a) = y/r, cos(a) = x/r, and the Pythagorean theorem, there are two right triangles for which we know the values precisely. The 45-45 is trivial, while the 30-60 one can be gotten from sin(60) = cos(30) = sin(30+30) = 2*sin(30)*cos(30). From there, you can apply the half-angle formula as often as you please, to get very small angles, at which point you'll notice that sin(x) ~= (approximately equal to) x for small x. Thus you can approximate an angle like 1 degree which you can't otherwise[1] get to, then use double and addition formulas to build back up to say 10 degrees or anything else.

The question in my mind always was, how good is that? And the code finally answers the question. Sticking to half-angle stuff is *very* accurate, matching the built-in function to 15 decimal places. Using a sin(1 degree) approximation and building up to sin(15 degrees) is accurate to 4 places; starting from 0.125 degrees instead is accurate to 6 places. I don't know how practically good that is; one part in a million sounds pretty good for pre-modern needs -- like, at that point can you make or measure anything that precisely? -- but Feynman says that Briggs in 1620 calculated log tables to 16 decimal places.

[ETA: hmm, I'd been assuming the built-in function, presumably based on power series, was the most accurate version, but maybe I should view it as deviating from the exact roots of the half-angle approach. Or both as having small errors from the 'true' value. Especially as Python's sin(30) returns 0.49999999999999994, not 0.5. Of course, both approaches are using floating point. sin(60) = sqrt(3)/2 to the last digit, but cos(30) is slightly different.]

[1] The two exact triangles basically give you pi/2 and pi/3, and those divided by 2 as much as you want. But you can't get to pi/5 exactly.
a/2 + b/3 = 1/5 #a and b integers
15a + 10b = 6
5(3a+2b) = 6
(note that 2a+3b=5 is totally solvable.)

Though I guess a more valid approach would be
c(1/2)^a + d/3*(1/2)^b = 1/5 #all variables integers
c*5*3*2^b + d*5*2^a = 3*2^(a+b)
5(c*3*2^b + d*2^a) = 3*2^(a+b)
which still isn't soluble.

Likewise for getting to pi/9 (20 degrees):
c(1/2)^a + d/3*(1/2)^b = 1/9
c*9*2^b + d*3*2^a = 2^(a+b)
3(c*3*2^b + d*2^a) = 2^(a+b)
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-08-06 08:49 pm

fanfic retrospective

I have no specific memory of when I first heard of the words fanfic, or fan fiction. There must have been a moment, after going to college, but no memory. (Filk I can do: S had tapes, and lent them to me, so that's restricted to a few years, and I can kind of remember borrowing and copying them.)

I can place a very likely upper bound. In the spring of 1998 I discovered "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (there's a story there for another time), coming in with Surprise and Innocence as they aired, and after Becoming, plowing through jtr's videotapes. Some time after that I was on the Buffy mailing list, and was introduced to the Buffy-Xena crossover fanfic "When Hellmouths Collide" (a mere 870K words, which I never finished). I'd also found a trove of Post-Becoming fic, which I am tickled pink to see is still online.

I'd also had my own ficcy ideas, perhaps some Post-Becoming but mostly about Amy the Underused Witch; meanwhile, my friend Liz went and started writing her own Season 3 scripts, I think to the exclusion of watching the actual show.

I had been in online fandoms before then: the Babylon-5 newsgroup, where I coined "battlecrab" for the Shadow vessels; Deryni newsgroup or mailing list (where I helped with the FAQ), Pliocene newsgroup or mailing list; my own fan pages for Vernor Vinge and Steven Brust; adopting a fan page for Robin McKinley; a SF newsgroup in general... but not a blip or hint of memory of fanfic from any of those. Vs. the eruption of fanfic, named or otherwise, from Buffy.

Funnily enough, I grew up reading a fair bit of what I now consider to be essentially, if not legally, fanfic: tie-in novels. Lots of Star Trek novels, back when Paramount gave them a very loose leash and lots of ideas or varieties could be explored (also back when they were more written by women). Some Brian Daley Star Wars tie-ins. The "Jack McKinney" (pseudonym for Brian Daley and another writer) Robotech novels. In fact, despite watching some DS9 later, and bits of other series, "Star Trek" for me is largely the old TOS novels that I read as a child and teen, with mental visuals coming from the covers and whatever my imagination could spin from those.

As for fanfic after Buffy, I don't have a clear memory. I suspect it went into remission for some years, like my interest in (or even memory of) filk. I had my own unwritten ideas, particularly about Hodgell's stories, but I'm not sure when I re-engaged with ficcy fandoms again. Bujold list? IU Anime? I dunno.

Now, of course, it's a fairly decent part of the fiction I read, ranging from tiny drabbles to massive epics, from smut to deep explorations and extrapolations.

Chrono-trivia: FF.net is from 1998, AO3 from 2008. I remember Latin-Sarah talking about AO3 while I was at IU, but didn't realize it was that late.
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-07-23 10:43 am

links

why planes need bathroom ashtrays. if someone lights up anyway, they still need to stub it out.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-truths/why-do-planes-still-have-ashtrays-/

Hadith revision https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/06/islam-manuscript-discovery-istanbul/531699/

military equipment makes cops more violent https://boingboing.net/2017/07/01/cops-are-civilians.html

Captain Kirk avoiding fights https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?806084-Star-Trek-What-do-Command-officers-actually-do&p=21209328#post21209328

Japan's housing creativity. Houses depreciate rapidly even though they're better made than before, and have little resale value; the flip side is freedom to build your house as you please, without worrying about property values. http://www.archdaily.com/450212/why-japan-is-crazy-about-housing

A full employment plan: http://democracyjournal.org/magazine/44/youre-hired/

Oslo working on banning cars in the center: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/this-city-found-a-clever-way-to-get-rid-of-cars-and-it-isn-t-a-ban-09e6e018-84d0-4814-9f0e-37085eaa9218/

Andrew Jackson, Trump, and the Borderers. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/04/trump-and-the-borderers/477084/

If the media covered alcohol like other drugs: https://www.vox.com/2015/6/15/8774233/alcohol-dangerous
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-07-16 11:35 am

Capitalism and housing

In which I argue that the lack of affordable housing indicates something horribly wrong, and not with capitalism as such.

Have you heard of Walmart? Of course you have. What are they known for? Providing lots and lots of cheap shit. Also for bullying local governments and squeezing suppliers, but that's not the point here, which is: cheap shit. They have nicer competitors: Target, Kmart, Dollar Stores.

Plane seats are jammed and humiliating but also cheaper than they ever have been, modulo gas prices.

You can spend thousands of dollars on a fancy bicycle, or less than $100 on a cheap one.

Stores are full of cheap, if sometimes unhealthy, food.

You can spend under $13,000, or maybe $12,000 on a new car, or over $100,000 on a luxury sports car.

Many of us wear cheap clothes, "from Third World sweatshops"; others spend $thousands on elite designer clothing.

You can get a watch for $15, or $1500. They'll tell time about the same.

Our economy is full of selling cheap stuff to the masses and expensive stuff to the rich, and various things in between, (sometimes including selling cheap stuff for higher prices, if you can pull off price discrimination.) Because that's how you make the most profit, not by only making luxury stuff.

But in housing, particularly in some markets, it's said that developers are only building luxury housing. If true, why would that be? Why would housing be unlike every other part of the economy?

"Everyone needs housing, so they can extort you." Nope, that won't fly. Everyone needs food and clothing, and in the US lots of people need cars.

"They're just chasing profit." But the point of my examples is that there's tons of profit in non-luxury goods and services. Walmart is *huge*, with its founder's children inheriting $20 billion each of accumulated profit.

And in fact, if you look around the world, you do see cheap(er) housing options. Mobile and manufactured homes for the individual, pre-fab housing for soulless but cheap developer tracts, microapartments that cut living space to 100 square feet, SRO hotels that go further by making you share bathroom and kitchen (if any), granny apartments. In cheap land markets (prefab housing in surbuban developments) and expensive ones (microapartments in Tokyo and Hong Kong.)

But not in Boston, or San Francisco. Why not? Is there something about those places that makes developers spontaneously ignore non-luxury demand? Or is something, like zoning laws and permitting processes, preventing them from doing so?

If you know me, you probably know my answer: the latter. But if you don't like that answer, what's your alternative? Why don't we see Walmarts, Spirit Airlines, $15 watches, and $13,000 cars of modern urban housing?
mindstalk: (Default)
2017-07-09 02:31 pm

reclaiming neoliberalism?!

If you asked me what 'neoliberal' meant, I'd point to the austerity policies being imposed on Greece and other weak euro countries, Thatcher, Reagan, the World Bank and IMF before the IMF started being convinced by the evidence. Obsession with balanced budgets, cutting social programs and raising taxes to balance those budgets, free trade deals at the expense of environmental and labor protections, austerity policies (austerians). Overlapping a lot with 'fiscal conservative' because words are weird.

However, in 2016, it seemed lots of people used it differently, almost to the point of being a generic insult by leftists. A lot of my above view comes from Paul Krugman, who opposes all that, so when I saw some writer call him (and Christina Romer, who's done good work to debunk supply-side economics) neoliberals, because they supported Hillary and were dubious about Bernie's economic numbers, I knew something had gone horribly wrong.

For that matter, there's treating Hillary herself as an avatar of neoliberalism, despite supporting minimum wage increase (and indexing to inflation!), universal health care, and other basically liberal things, as well as voting against the only multilateral trade deal (CAFTA) that came before her as a Senator.

And just the other day I saw someone call "build more housing" the "neoliberal solution to gentrification". Which I guess is true, in that neoliberals would support it, but if that's distinctly neoliberal, then call me a neoliberal...

But while searching for some gun post, I ran across the /r/neoliberal reddit, and these related posts:
https://medium.com/@s8mb/im-a-neoliberal-maybe-you-are-too-b809a2a588d6#.vblgkqcsw
https://www.reddit.com/r/neoliberal/wiki/faq
https://bensouthwood.tumblr.com/post/68356441500/neoliberalism

which don't entirely agree -- the first is "trashing" the work of the third -- but paint a rather diffent picture than the austerians terrorizing Greece. The first is market friendly, but also liberal consequentialist, endorsing strong but not absolute property rights and endorsing redistribution. The third calls neoliberalism very similar to social democracy, maybe a bit more market-friendly, where I'd have called neoliberalism largely about dismantling social democracy.

The second, the reddit faq, calls it to the right of social democracy. Also, somewhat vaguely, as supporting capitalism and government interventions to fix the flaws of capitalism. Which, the way I grew up, is just liberalism, though maybe friendlier to free trade and to talking about markets. And:

"while we often share similar goals, social democrats tend to be significantly more skeptical of the merit of the free market on principle than neoliberals tend to be. In the same way that classical liberals might be seen as one step to the right of us, social democrats might be seen as one step to the left."

Though when it talks about rising income inequality (as a problem!) it 'blames' technology first, institutions second. I'd blame institutions more, and suggest that you can't educate everyone into having high income.

OTOH, if you look at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism
the lead is basically what I described at first. Laissez-faire, privatization, austerity, etc. Ick! OTOH, in the 1930s it meant 'an attempt to trace a so-called "third" or "middle" way between the conflicting philosophies of classical liberalism and socialist planning... promoted instead a market economy under the guidance and rules of a strong state, a model which came to be known as the social market economy.' But it dropped out in the 1960s, and came back in the 1980s associated with Pinochet's reforms.

So, interesting. I *have* wished for a term that would unambiguously cover me, Krugman, and Yglesias -- fairly liberal, even lefty, people, who still like markets and want to fix them, not replace them or grudgingly put up with them. Social democrat and US liberal have a strong connotation of being suspicious of that, in understandable but excessive reaction to conservative/libertarian worship of markets. I think there are things that need deregulation (zoning, taxis), but it's not a general principle or anything, Some regulations good, some suck.

That said, unambiguous labels pretty much don't exist. I'll stick to 'liberal' or 'social democrat' for now, while getting called 'neoliberal' by lefties because I believe in supply and demand curves. But it'll be interesting to see if these reclaimers go anywhere.