Daughter Got Her New Sax

In addition to cello, my daughter wanted to take up saxaphone.  Specifically, Baritone Sax.  When we went to arrange for one–a rent to own arrangement, they didn’t have any Bariton saxes in stock.  The sales clerk recommended an alto sax to start with.  It’s half the size, one octave up, and so played the same way.  So she could start on that and switch when the Baritone Sax came in.

Well, the baritone sax was long back ordered.  No real explanation why.  However, it arrived today.

Once she got it home she just had to put it together and try it out.

Advertisements

“Democratic Socialism”

That’s been the buzzword of the past few years.  “Democratic Socialism.” It’s different (It Says Here) from the Socialism of the past, from Lenin and Mao and Castro.  No, it’s “Democratic” which means everyone votes to establish Socialism.   That makes it all better.

Look, the problem with socialism isn’t the means used to establish it.  Maybe by voting it in–and, indeed, if you look at what Marx said as opposed to the many things attributed to him by others, his “revolution of the proletariat” was supposed to be an electoral revolution, voting the overthrow of the capitalists–avoids the initial bloodshed of an armed revolt but that initial bloodshed is generally a pittance compared to what happens after the new government is established.

The problem is inherent in socialism itself.  Let’s look at that.  Take away the hoped for results and look at socialism in terms of the processes it takes.  Socialism, basically, is a centrally planned economy where the means of production, broadly defined, are directed not by individual will for individual gain, but according to the dictates of some central planning body.  Property rights for anything that is determined to be “means of production” are centrally controlled.  The claim is that this is for the “common good” but that’s no more than a hoped for outcome.  It’s the process that concerns us here.

Let’s look at the task that confronts those planners.  In the US we have millions of products made every year and hundreds of millions of people.  Each person had their own individual “ranking” of which of those various products are more important to them and how much of one product they would be willing to forego in order to acquire some amount of another.  And that trade must be made because scarcity–there’s never enough of anything for everyone that wants it–is an immutable law of economics.  No system can eliminate it so there will always be tradeoffs:  more of one thing mean less of something else.

So, the first thing the central planners have to figure out is how much of each product to make.  How many bars of soap.  How many paper clips.  How much printer paper.  How many notebooks.  How many cars.  How many watches.  How many phones.  How many toilets.  How much toilet paper.  How much drinking water.  How much irrigation water (which doesn’t have to be as pure as drinking water).

Then, your central planner needs to figure out where all that stuff has to go.  How much of each to Detroit.  How much to San Francisco.  How much to Byesville, Ohio.  Every town and village.  How much of each of those multitude of products has to go to each?

Given the combination of scarcity and different people having different wants and priorities, how are the central planners going to deal with the folk who are unhappy with the distribution.  “I don’t like the state approved soap.  It stinks and makes my skin itch.  I’d rather have one with a bit more lanolin and a bit less lye.” “I’m allergic to wheat.  Can’t I substitute corn instead?” (And if so, how much corn for how much wheat?)

This is before you even get into production.  And, indeed, this is where a lot of the true horror starts to come forth.  All those various products?  They don’t spring forth full grown like Athena from the head of Zeus (and even that took a good, solid whack with an axe). Someone has to make them.  Someone also has to haul away the trash.  Someone has to dig the ditches.  Someone has to shovel the manure from the livestock.  Someone has to clean and maintain the sewers.  Put simply, there are millions of jobs that must be done.  Some are desirable.  Other’s are not.  Some are downright miserable.  But they need to be done.  How do you decide who does what?  Who gets those miserable jobs?  In an economy based on voluntary exchanges coordinated by prices, some of those unpleasant jobs will be staffed by unskilled people just entering the work force as a stepping stone until they acquire the experience and skills to move on to better jobs.  Others, however, can’t be done by those entry-level workers.  In those cases, since the jobs must be done, the pay will tend to rise until enough people find the compensation adequate to get them to accept the jobs necessary to do the required work.  But without prices, and competitive wages, how do you get people to take those unpleasant jobs.

The Soviet Union found a way.  “Off to the salt mines with you.” Indeed, forced labor is a perennial feature of centrally planned economies.  And it just so happens that it also provides a method of dealing with people who are unhappy with the availability or distribution of goods and services, who are unhappy with the options available to them for employment (don’t like digging ditches?  Oh, trust me, there’s far, far worse we could have you do), or, really, anything else they happen to dislike about the regime.

And it is this power that is inherent to the very concept of a centrally planned economy that leads to atrocities.  It is said that power corrupts and there may be some truth to that, but however much it corrupts those who have it, it is an unresistable lure to those who are already corrupt.  The corrupt will seek power for their own benefit and will be far less hampered by the means they use to acquire it than those who truly seek to benefit others.  The more concentrated the power is, the more it will tend to be used to benefit those in power rather than the population at large.  And there is no greater concentration of power than that of centrally planning and controlling the economy.

This is why the various forms of socialism–International (which really means Russian National) Socialism, National Socialism, “Market” Socialism (whatever that was supposed to mean back in the day), and Democratic Socialism–are nothing more than window dressing on the foundation and structure of central planning.  It’s like hanging floral curtains on the barred window of a prison cell and claiming that it is no longer a prison cell despite the concrete walls and locked and barred door.

And to be blunt, those pushing forward this “Democratic Socialism” deception aren’t actually advocating a “kinder, gentler” socialism.  The public face of Democratic Socialism, Bernie Sanders, honeymooned in the Soviet Union.  The actual policies he advocates, stripped of the “Democratic” rhetoric are entirely in line with Soviet style communism.  No, he’s not different from Lenin except in one way.  He knows that if he tried an armed revolt the results would almost certainly not be in his favor.  So he’s simply hoping to convince the gullible to vote him in as this country’s Lenin.

Then the real horrors of socialism, “Democratic” or otherwise, can really sink in.

Chaos

In fantasy there has long been a trope that the forces of “law” and “chaos” are ever in conflict with law being associated with “good” and “chaos” with “evil.” This is reflected in some tabletop roll playing games with alignments of “law” and “chaos” replacing good and evil.

The truth, however, is more complicated.  Law, structure, order and chaos, disorder, change are more orthogonal concepts to “good” and “evil”. Interestingly enough, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons reflected that with its two-dimensional alignment system with law and chaos on separate axes.  Thus “Lawful Good,” “Chaotic Good,” “Lawful Evil,” and “Chaotic Evil” with various “Neutrals” filling in the gaps between.  Mind you, in my experience players and DMs tended to still associate law and chaos with good and evil so that “lawful good” was “more good” than “chaotic good”.

Digging deeper into mythology, however, we see another side of chaos.  Chaos is a force for change or the potential for existence.  In Greek Myth Chaos was the first progenitor, the original from which the first three primordial gods–Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (the Underworld), and Eros (Love, or perhaps lust; the two tend to be indistinguishable in much early writing)–arose.  As a side note, I find it interesting that Eros is here put on the same footing as the Earth and the Underworld. From Chaos also came Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night).

In this system, everything had its origin in Chaos.

Metaphorically speaking, there is much truth to that.  Every change, for good or ill, involves disruption, involves uncertainty, involves chaos.  Just like birth is not without pain, so too is change even for the best without its uncomfortable, even painful aspects.

This, of course, is used to justify all sorts of things.  “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” is an expression of that principle.  However, this does not mean that all changes, all disruptions, and all proposed final results are equal.  I have noticed a lot of those egg breaking claims don’t end up in an omelet.  Indeed, that’s one of the reasons many people shy away from chaos and uncertainty.  These failed omelets add up to a lot of human misery.  And so people look for certainty, for order, for a lack of chaos.

The problem is, freedom is naturally chaotic.  People being free to choose how to live their own lives, to direct their own future.  All men are created equal only in that they are all created unequal (which is why they need to be equal before the law but that’s another story).  And when all that gets together no one can predict the outcome.  In the short term, in some things folk can make guesses that are often right, but go farther out?  Nope.  Can’t do it.

But from that uncertainty, that chaos, is where progress and the improvement of the human condition comes.  People had been wishing for the ability to fly since the dawn of mankind.  They had been working for it and striving for it.  Nobody predicted that two self-taught bicycle mechanics would change the face of the world forever  with the first heavier than air aircraft to take off under its own power, fly, and land successfully.  And nobody predicted the effect that would have on the world in commerce, travel, and war.  Some folk may have foreseen the effect the self propelled carriage might have had in delivering goods to market, but who foresaw the utter transformation of living patterns (the rise of suburbs) and the change in courtship and sexual behavior?  And so on.

Some of these changes have been for the worse, perhaps, at least as some people see them.  Others for the better.  I look around at my life and the lives of people who lived before me and it seems pretty clear that overall it’s for the better.

We are now in a period of great change.  The rise of the Internet enables the ability of individuals and small groups to bypass the huge media conglomerates in the spread of information.  No longer do we have to rely on “the most trusted man in America” who can, therefore, lie with impunity with no one to gainsay him.  Commerce is no longer limited to what the local stores choose to carry.  Selection that dwarfs the old Montgomery Ward mail order catalogs combined with speedy shipping that lead to scarce a delay in receiving goods compared to a local store make a greater variety of goods and services available to me than ever before.  We are rolling in the riches of Midas and most don’t even recognize it.

But that’s only the very beginning.  With 3D printing and other rapid prototyping technologies just starting to become available to the masses people won’t even need to order what they want.  In many cases they’ll be able to make what they want, customized to exactly fit their needs and preferences.  The effect that will have on society, on people’s lives, is impossible to predict except that it will very likely be profound, at least as profound as the widespread introduction of the automobile.

I will make one loose prediction.  People being less dependent on larger organizations, both business and governmental, will lead to both a rise in interest in individual liberty, and a pushback against that rise.  The results of that conflict, however, I do not know.  I simply know which side I’m on.

Whatever the actual outcomes, however, the times, they are a changin’.

“We all die alone.”

There’s a bit from one of the the “Adult Wednesday Addams” fan-made videos (by Melissa Hunter) that goes roughly as follows:

“Unless you die simultaneously holding hands in a plane crash and the odds on that are twenty-seven million to one, every single person on this Earth will die alone. And it’s that singular commonality which brings us all together.”

In some ways, I find that strangely comforting.

First, I think she just made up the “twenty-seven million to one” but I did some checking–looked up the number who die in a year from all causes and those who die in airplane accidents and…well several million to one is not out of the cards.

And even if one happens to be killed simultaneously with a loved one clutching each others hand, the final crossing of the threshold, whether to oblivion or to some afterlife, that remains an experience that each faces alone.

Dying alone is the one inescapable common thing we all share.  Rich or poor, famous or obscure, good or bad, none of that changes that singular point.

We all die alone.

And so, it’s not the death that should concern us.  Shakespeare put into the mouth of Julius Caesar:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

The Volsung Saga of Iceland had Volsung the King say:

once alone must all men
need die, and from that season shall none escape ; so my
rede it is that we flee nowhither, but do the work of our
hands in as manly wise as we may

Many people worry about their death.  But what does that worry buy them.  One might deprive oneself, eating a bland, tasteless diet, shielding oneself from all the dangers of life and for what?  We all die.  More, we all die alone.  Perhaps they can add a few brief years to their span upon this Earth, but to what benefit if in so doing they suck the joy out of life?

Life is to be appreciated.  And while I do not advocate “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”, a retreat into hedonism.  Far from it.  But rather, an advance into meaning.  Find something meaningful, something that will live on after you, and pursue it with passion.  After all, while we all die, the mark we make on the world need not.

And, while not retreating into hedonism, taking some time to enjoy the life you have is not out of place.

“It’s gonna be different this time…”

Or it’s cousin “Real fill-in-the-blank has never been tried.”

And so, folk return to “try again” and are shocked, absolutely shocked, when the results are exactly the same as before because it was real fill-in-the-blank (or as real as actual human institutions can be) and, no, it wasn’t different this time.

And, so, the Gods of the Copybook Headings, “with terror and slaughter return”

Gods of the Copybook Headings, Rudyard Kipling

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

What is Sexy? A Blast from the Past

I’m going to be talking about my own idiosynchrosies here.  But feel free to give different views in the comments (although keep it reasonably clean).

A couple of days ago, this picture was shared where I saw it on FaceBook (and which I shared):

19023699_10105951597293168_6060127415500912381_o (1)

For those who don’t “get it” the “What I find sexy” is good “trigger control”.  It comes from Col. Jeff Cooper’s four rules for safe gun handling:

  1. Treat every gun with the respect due a loaded gun.
  2. Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and ready to shoot.
  4. Be sure of your target and what’s behind it.

Almost all gun accidents could be avoided by simply following those four rules every time you handle a firearm.  The thing is that actors and models when handling firearms either on screen or in front of the camera are all the time breaking those rules.  So, a posed picture with the model with her finger ostentatiously not on the trigger is something of a surprise.

A lot of my friends have a strong interest in guns so this inspired some discussion.  A few went “the butt”.  And some went “why not both”.

The discussion got me to thinking, and talking a bit, about what is “sexy” to me.  And this is going to get kind of personal but some candid talk may be of benefit to some other writers out there.

There are two aspects.  One is the “titillation” aspect.  The other is the aesthetic.

For the aesthetic, I’m just not that impressed by the amount of skin exposed or exposing “taboo” areas.  It’s too easy.  Okay, the girl in the picture up there has a bare butt.  So?  The Internet is full of bare butts.  I can see all the bare butts I ever want at no more cost than a few mouse clicks.

Not that I have anything against bare butts, but with all of those out there for all the world to see, they just aren’t anything special to me.  And yes, that applies to breasts and other body parts as well.

This is not to say that a good artist, using pose, framing, light, focus etc. can’t make some truly beautiful art featuring partially or fully nude figures, but that’s not just a matter of bare skin but of creating an overall image of which bare skin is only a part.

For the most part, though, when it comes to a “sexy” aesthetic (beyond pure titillation which I’ll discuss below), I find well crafted and presented fashion to be much more alluring.  Take, for instance this:

c38fbddb18e57baaf4ff087dbb0a1b11

Very little exposed skin and yet I find that one hot picture.  Some might note the tight pants and claim that it’s the next thing to nude but, well, there’s this:

6d60b3559908e98802629329c11061cc

Again, for me very alluring.  Very sexy.

Then there’s the titilation aspect of “sexy”.  For me it can be complicated.  Allow me to make a bit of an analogy.

Some years back, my daughter was wont to point out Miatas when we were out driving.  I own a Miata and used to drive autocross and they were uncommon enough that she found it interesting to spot them. (She was young.)  When the Miatas were in various colors I would tell her that white Miatas were better.  (Mine is white.) Eventually she asked me why and I said that a car I can drive (like mine) is better than one that I can’t (someone else’s).  I was making the “bird in the hand” point to her but the idea goes beyond that.

Now, this doesn’t mean that a woman I’m sleeping with would be the only person I find sexy just that…well, you can figure it out.

The big difference between “sexy” and “cars” is that it’s not actually “driving” that’s the issue but rather whether I can “sustain the fantasy.” And that’s where my own interests are rather idiosyncratic (no, not that way you pervert).

Allow me another analogy.  When it comes to things that look approximately like people, there’s a hypothesis that the closer they get to looking like a real person the more attractive they are–to a point.  Then, at a certain point, they start looking weird and evoke feelings of repulsion or disgust, which continues as they get closer to looking like a real person.  Then, as it gets even closer it starts looking attractive again.

For me, the ability to sustain the fantasy is like that.  It’s why strippers never really did much for me.  It’s too “close” to sustain the fantasy.  I own a mirror and I know what my bank balance is.  I am neither buff nor particularly good looking (I don’t stop clocks, I’m no great shakes either), nor wealthy, nor powerful, nor famous.  Nor am I particularly good at social interaction. (Ya think?) There is simply no way that one of those women up on that stage is going to end up in my bed even if I wanted them there (and mostly I don’t) and that knowledge is enough to break the fantasy.  Put a little bit more distance, a little bit less reality and that allows me to sustain the fantasy.

Individually either of those, the aesthetic and the titillation can be a pleasant diversion.  Combine them, however, and you can create something powerful indeed.  And add in the third element of someone you’re actually involved with and….

In any case, it takes a lot more than a bare butt to do that.

Tariffs (again)

I have said before that I am a real unfan of tariffs.  But, bear with me here for a minute.

Tariffs are bad. There really is nothing good, economically, about tariffs. A modest tariff might, under the right circumstances, be less bad than other forms of taxation as a revenue generation measure, but economically, from the aspect of national prosperity, they are bad. They hurt the nation against which the tariff is imposed by reducing their trade and, thus, reducing their means to obtain more goods and services. They hurt the nation that imposes the tariffs by increasing the cost of goods and services and thus making less available to its people.

Arguments may be made about tariffs to “preserve jobs”, yet those jobs are had at the expense of making the product of said jobs more expensive for everyone else–after all; if they could have produced the involved product or service as cheaply as the tariffed foreign source, then they wouldn’t need the tariff.  It helps a few at the expense of many.

And a “retaliatory” tariff against a nation that has imposed tariffs on ones own nation? That does not “counter” the effects of that tariff–it doubles down on it. Both nations are now making both of their economic situations worse.

Let’s break that down a little bit.  If a country, A, makes widgets, and widget manufacturers come to the government and complains about “unfair competition” from Country B’s widgets and paint pictures of dire consequences such as widget makers losing their jobs, Country A might be influenced to tariff on Country B’s widgets.  Country A’s widget manufacturing jobs preserved.  Yay!  Only it doesn’t stop there.  Who were Country A selling their widgets to?  In the domestic market (the tariff doesn’t help in the international market) those people are now finding they have to pay more for their widgets.  After all, if Country A could make widgets as cheaply as Country B, there would be no need for the tariff.  That means that everyone who uses Widgets has to pay more.  And less of something is demanded when the price is higher (Economics 101).  So there will be fewer widgets in Country A.  But that’s not the only effect.  People spending more on widgets means that they have less available for other things.  The increased scarce resources that have alternative uses (labor, material, time, whatever) required to obtain widgets is not available to produce other things.  The problem is, most people don’t notice that because it’s spread over the entire economy.  A little here.  A little there.  Individual transactions aren’t very much, but spread over the entire economy they add up.

What about Country B?  They’re unhappy about the loss of markets for their Widget manufacturers.  So what do they do?  They find something that country A produces more cheaply, call it Goofers, and impose their own tariff on that.  There are a couple of problems with that, though.  First off, it does nothing to improve his own Widget sales.  It doesn’t restore the market in Country A.  And, while it might make Country A’s Goofer manufacturers unhappy (the same way Country A’s tariff on widgets makes Country B’s widget manufacturers unhappy).  But like Country A’s tariff on widgets, it makes Goofers more expensive for Country B, reducing their availability (people who would have bought them at the lower price won’t at the higher) and increases the resources spent to acquire Goofers, meaning those resources are not available for other things.

Both countries end up worse off economically from the tariffs.  Country B’s “retaliatory” tariff doesn’t improve its situation.  It makes it worse.  If either country drops its tariffs and goes “free trade” it’s economic situation improves.  It’s wealth–which is the sum total of goods and services available to the population–increases.  This remains so even if the other country does not.

However, Trump appears to be using tariffs not as tools of economic policy, but as weapons in diplomatic policy. Basically, raising in a high stakes poker game.  He’s shoving chips out on the table and daring the other guy to call.

And so long as the other nations keep folding, I can’t really say that he’s wrong, whatever the actual economics of tariffs are.