Fundamental Systemic Problems – #1 – Wealth

There are fundamental systemic problems that are literally killing us – both individually and as a species. Unless we can get a handle on these issues – we are almost certainly doomed. The first problem is wealth. Not wealth inequality, not wealth distribution, not how wealth is earned or spent – but simply wealth. Wealth … Continue reading “Fundamental Systemic Problems – #1 – Wealth”

There are fundamental systemic problems that are literally killing us – both individually and as a species. Unless we can get a handle on these issues – we are almost certainly doomed. The first problem is wealth. Not wealth inequality, not wealth distribution, not how wealth is earned or spent – but simply wealth. Wealth is a fundamental systemic problem.

Wealth allows for exploitation, individual versus collective good, and a disporoprtionate allowance of power in terms of access, accumulations, and use of abilities. Wealth is very good for the individual who has it – but, as history has shown us, very bad for everyone as a whole – including the person who has it. This is a matter of long term versus short term good. The individual profits while the species, the biosphere, and the planet as a whole is degraded.

The problems of wealth are not a new revelation, though for most people, wealth appears to not be a problem at all. The main issue is that wealth has so firmly entrenched itself into our system and into our worldview that the idea of ending the concept is not only unfathomable but completely abhorrent to nearly everyone – including this writer who feels that he completely understands the problem of wealth intellectually but still has an inherent desire to strive for wealth personally because of the short term net positives wealth could bring to my individual life, the life of my offspring, and potentailly, the good which could be done if wealth of any size were accumulated and controlled.

One hopes that there is a way to end wealth once and for all – because it is the fundamental drain on our existance – however, given the above – it is unlikely that such an end would be pursued, allowed, or embraced by anyone. While there are religious and philosophical systems which have eschewed wealth, there has yet to be a political or economic system where wealth of one kind or another has not found a way to flourish.

Wealth is a fundamental systemic problem which appears to have no solution. As such, it may be best to move on to further systemic problems. Your thoughts are appreciated here as more than one brain is definitely better than just one.

Homeownerlessness

Thus far, in my life, I have never owned my own home except when I’ve lived in VW vans. It’s my own fault – mortgages were easy to come by several times in my life and I chose not to invest. This will sound funny, but the prices always seemed too high. In the early-1990s – a Staff Seargent in my Marine Corps unit suggested that a bunch of enlisted guys pool our money and start buying real estate. It was a good suggestion and none of us took it. In the mid to late 1990s, I was struggling to find my calling – if, while I had worked in radio, I had applied for a mortgage using my VA Loan – I could have bought a modest house in what is now the booming real estate market of Bellingham, Washington. In the early 2000s – I had the opportunity to purchase a small studio apartment in Honolulu for $100,000 – the price seemed pretty extreme to me and I passed. And then, the housing boom came and I was sure that the economy was heading over a cliff but mortgages were incredibly easy to come by – I chose not to seek a home loan. That was it for me – those were my opportunities. We all know what happened in 2007 with the economy and housing – as a result of that – the requirements for getting a home loan became much more stringent – in fact – in 2016 when I talked to several banks about getting a loan – they told me that my VA Guarantee was no longer worth much and that as a self-employed business owner that my reported income was too low to qualify for a home loan – both bankers suggested that I ‘find a way’ to report a higher income. Yes, I could have lied on my taxes this year. I could have taken less deductions. I could have paid more tax…but the truth is that this year with the long grey winter and the bizarre politics of 2016 – my business wasn’t sufficient to do that. We needed those deductions.

Now, the housing market is again red hot. Things like AirBnB have made housing prices soar in desirable locations. I am in the midst of closing or with any luck selling my business (I do not own the building that houses it). For the present time, my VA Home Loan Guarantee sits in a folder – worthless and unusable. I console myself by imagining that the housing market will again have a massive crash and perhaps I will be able to buy something afterwards – but I don’t really believe it. I tell myself that the banks own most of the houses that people live in – and the mortgages are simply another form of rent and home ownership is by and large an illusion anyway. We have been served an eviction notice in the house we’ve rented for the past four years because the owner wants to sell it. I am thankful that we had already been making plans to move before we got the notice, but can’t help asking myself “What if we had not?”

We currently exist in a 60 day limbo in which lies a form of homelessness that terrifies me. The landlord was apologetic and felt bad about serving the eviction because we have been great tenants – but right now is the time to sell. I don’t blame her a bit. I would have done the same thing in her position. We are 60 days away from involuntary family homelessness.

Yes, we have been making plans. Yes, I am sure we will find something. I’d be foolish, however, not to be concerned. AirBnB and the red hot housing market have driven rents sky high.

I am a person – actually, we are a family, that if you want to send a birthday card to my 5-year-old daughter, a letter to my wife, or even a bill to me – more than 60 days from now to us – we have no forwarding address.

So, once again, here I am. This time, I was ready to seize opportunity – and this time it was denied me. I am rooting for the collapse of the economy. I am rooting for the collapse of the housing bubble. I am rooting for the collapse of AirBnB and more. I would rather be cheering for the economy and housing – but this Gen-x USMC veteran has been left behind by it. I have been left out of it. I accept my responsibility in this process – but no matter how hard I try – it just doesn’t make sense that this is all my fault. And so – here we are. Here I am. Here we go.

The Greatest Dilemma aka The Parent’s Dilemma

Maybe you have to be me to understand this one, but I’m guessing that you only have to be a sort of half way self aware parent of a child that you truly love to understand it – this – my greatest dilemma.

I want my child to grow up and be happy and find success and joy and love and be able to deal with the world.

And the world is completely fucked up.

Am I supposed to turn my child into yet another completely fucked up, money obsessed, neurotic asshole? Should I teach her how to be a really good person despite the fact that our world chews up, spits out, and completely fucks over really good people?

Or should I teach her to be a sort of economic terminator that buys low, sells high, always makes the career expanding move, exploits the stupid career limiting moves of others, and who always takes the move that advances her interests (or the interests of those she is interested in)?

It’s a sort of expanded level of prisoner’s dilemma. Which, if you aren’t familiar with game theory, goes like this: (thanks Wikipedia)

The prisoner’s dilemma is a standard example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two completely “rational” individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence rewards and named it, “prisoner’s dilemma” (Poundstone, 1992), presenting it as follows:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They hope to get both sentenced to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to: betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. The offer is:
If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves 2 years in prison
If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)
If A and B both remain silent, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison (on the lesser charge)
It is implied that the prisoners will have no opportunity to reward or punish their partner other than the prison sentences they get, and that their decision will not affect their reputation in the future. Because betraying a partner offers a greater reward than cooperating with them, all purely rational self-interested prisoners would betray the other, and so the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them to betray each other. The interesting part of this result is that pursuing individual reward logically leads both of the prisoners to betray, when they would get a better reward if they both kept silent. In reality, humans display a systemic bias towards cooperative behavior in this and similar games, much more so than predicted by simple models of “rational” self-interested action. A model based on a different kind of rationality, where people forecast how the game would be played if they formed coalitions and then maximized their forecasts, has been shown to make better predictions of the rate of cooperation in this and similar games, given only the payoffs of the game.

An extended “iterated” version of the game also exists, where the classic game is played repeatedly between the same prisoners, and consequently, both prisoners continuously have an opportunity to penalize the other for previous decisions. If the number of times the game will be played is known to the players, then (by backward induction) two classically rational players will betray each other repeatedly, for the same reasons as the single-shot variant. In an infinite or unknown length game there is no fixed optimum strategy, and Prisoner’s Dilemma tournaments have been held to compete and test algorithms.

The prisoner’s dilemma game can be used as a model for many real world situations involving cooperative behaviour. In casual usage, the label “prisoner’s dilemma” may be applied to situations not strictly matching the formal criteria of the classic or iterative games: for instance, those in which two entities could gain important benefits from cooperating or suffer from the failure to do so, but find it merely difficult or expensive, not necessarily impossible, to coordinate their activities to achieve cooperation.

So, should I teach my child to be a drone, a thinking, good person, or a mercenary ? Which option maximizes her happiness in the future? Is she going to be happier if she is successful or if she is good or if she is a part of the system? This is what I call the parent’s dilemma.

So, here is the dilemma in pretty simple terms. I can teach my child to be successful in this world, which makes her a part of what I see to be the problem or I can teach her to not be part of the problem, which from what I have experienced and continue to see will make her unsuccessful. There does not seem to be a middle way in this particular dilemma – at least no middle way that exists in the United States of America.

Paycheck to paycheck is harder than ever!

NEW YORK – The calculus of living paycheck to paycheck in America is getting harder.

What used to last four days might last half that long now. Pay the gas bill, but skip breakfast. Eat less for lunch so the kids can have a healthy dinner.

Across the nation, Americans are increasingly unable to stretch their dollars to the next payday as they juggle higher rent, food and energy bills. It’s starting to affect middle-income working families as well as the poor, and has reached the point of affecting day-to-day calculations of merchants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 7-Eleven Inc. and Family Dollar Stores Inc.

Food pantries, which distribute foodstuffs to the needy, are reporting severe shortages and reduced government funding at the very time that they are seeing a surge of new people seeking their help.

While economists debate whether the country is headed for a recession, some say the financial stress is already the worst since the last downturn at the start of this decade.

From Family Dollar to Wal-Mart, merchants have adjusted their product mix and pricing accordingly. Sales data show a marked and more prolonged drop in spending in the days before shoppers get their paychecks, when they buy only the barest essentials before splurging around payday.

“It’s pretty pronounced,” said Kiley Rawlins, a spokeswoman at Family Dollar. “It seems like to us, customers are running out of food products, paper towels sooner in the month.”

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said the imbalance in spending before and after payday in July was the biggest it has ever seen, though the drop-off wasn’t as steep in August.

And 7-Eleven says its grocery sales have jumped 12-13 percent over the past year, compared with only slight increases for non-necessities like gloves and toys. Shoppers can’t afford to load up at the supermarket and are going to the most convenient places to buy emergency food items like milk and eggs.

“It even costs more to get the basics like soap and laundry detergent,” said Michelle Grassia, who lives with her husband and three teenage children in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Her husband’s check from his job at a grocery store used to last four days. “Now, it lasts only two,” she said.

To make up the difference, Grassia buys one gallon of milk a week instead of three. She sometimes skips breakfast and lunch to make sure there’s enough food for her children. She cooks with a hot plate because gas is too expensive. And she depends more than ever on the bags of free vegetables and powdered milk from a local food pantry.

Grassia’s story is neither new nor unique. With the fastest-rising food and energy prices since the 1980s, low-income consumers are stretching their budgets by eating cheap foods like peanut butter and pasta.

Industry analysts and some economists fear the strain will get worse as people are hit with higher home heating bills this winter and mortgage rates go up.

It’s bad enough already for 85-year-old Dominica Hoffman.

She gets $1,400 a month in pension and Social Security from her days in the garment industry. After paying $500 in rent on an apartment in Pennsauken, N.J., and shelling out money for food, gas and other expenses, she’s broke by the end of the month. She’s had to cut fruits and vegetables from her grocery order — and that’s even with financial help from her children.

“Everything is up,” she said.

Many consumers, particularly those making less than $30,000 a year, are cutting spending on nutritious food like milk and vegetables, and analysts fear they’re further skimping on basic medical care and other critical services.

Coupon-clipping just isn’t enough.

“The reality of hunger is right here,” said the Rev. Melony Samuels, director of The BedStuy Campaign against Hunger, a church-affiliated food pantry in Brooklyn.

The pantry scrambled to feed 5,000 new families over the past 12 months, up almost 70 percent from 3,000 the year before.

“I am shocked to see such numbers,” Samuels said, “and I am really concerned that this is just the beginning of what we are going to see.”

In the past three months, Samuels has seen more clients in higher-paying jobs — the $35,000 range — line up for food as the fallout of the subprime mortgage woes takes hold.

The Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, which covers 23 counties in New York State, cited a 30 percent rise in visitors in the first nine months of this year, compared with 2006.

Maureen Schnellmann, senior director of food and nutrition programs at the American Red Cross Food Pantry in Boston, reported a 30 percent increase from January through August over last year.

Until a few months ago, Dellria Seales, a home care assistant, was just getting by living with her daughter, a hairdresser, and two grandchildren in a one-bedroom apartment for $750 a month. But a knee injury in January forced her to quit her job, leaving her at the mercy of Samuels’ pantry because most of her daughter’s $1,200 a month income goes to rent, energy and food costs.

“I need it. Without it, we wouldn’t survive,” Seales said as she picked up carrots and bananas.

John Vogel, a professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, worries that the squeeze will lead to a less nutritious diet and inadequate medical or child care.

In the meantime, rising costs show no signs of abating.

Gas prices hit a record nationwide average of $3.23 per gallon in late May before receding a little, though prices are expected to soar again later this year. Food costs have increased 4.5 percent over the past 12 months, partly because of higher fuel costs. Egg prices were 44 percent higher, while milk was up 21.3 percent over the past 12 months to nearly $4 a gallon, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The average family of four is spending anywhere from $7 to $10 extra a week — $40 more a month — on groceries alone, compared to a year ago, according to retail consultant Burt Flickinger III.

And while overall wage growth is a solid 4.1 percent over the past 12 months, economists say the increases are mostly for the top earners.

Retailers started noticing the strain in late spring and early summer as they were monitoring the spending around the paycheck cycle.

Wal-Mart and Family Dollar key on the first week of the month, when government checks like Social Security and public assistance generally hit consumers’ mailboxes.

7-Eleven, whose customers are more diverse, looks at paycheck cycles in specific markets dominated by a major employer, such as General Motors in Detroit, to discern trends in shopping.

To economize, shoppers are going for less expensive food.

“They’re buying more peanut butter and pasta. And they’re going for hamburger meat,” Flickinger, the retail consultant, said. “They’re trying to outsmart the store by looking for deep discounts at the end of the month.”

He said the last time he saw this was 2000-2001, when the dot-com bubble burst and the economy went into a recession after massive layoffs.

For now, low-price retailers are readjusting their merchandising and pricing.

Wal-Mart is becoming more aggressive on discounting. It announced Thursday it is expanding price cuts to 15,000 items, ranging from Motts apple juice and Progresso soups to women’s fleece tops, heading into the holidays.

Family Dollar, whose food offerings were limited to candy and snacks until two years ago, has expanded its mix of groceries like fruit cups, cereal and such refrigerated items as milk and ice cream while cutting back on shoes. This summer the chain began accepting food stamps.

Food pantries are also getting creative. Samuels said her church, Full Gospel Tabernacle of Faith, just started offering free cooking classes to teach clients who are diabetic or have other health conditions how to prepare vegetables like squash. It’s also offering free exercise classes.

“We are trying to make them health conscious,” Samuels said. “It’s not right to give them just anything. Our mantra is eat well and live well.”

Running, animal porn, North Korea, Food, and Suicide

I’m sick of getting comments with links to animal porn.

This is one of the most viewed posts on this site of all time. Why? Animal porn.

I went running this morning for the first time in a while. I think the walking helped a lot. I felt like I was running faster and better than before. The bummer is that it seems like every time I get motivated to start running, I encounter some sort of injury. This morning it is my left calve muscle, now I’m limping around the library. Oh well, I’ll just run a little slower tomorrow and be sure to stretch.

I have to say that I appreciate the comments that have been showing up lately. Sometimes with blogging it starts to feel like the only ones reading what you write are yourself and your mom (Hi Mom!) so it feels especially good to get some interaction. I’m changing things up a little bit , trying to incorporate more of me into my posts while still giving you links to stories that catch my interest or I think will catch yours.
As to the comments, I have to moderate them pretty close or we end up with links to animal porn and other foul internet areas. So the deal is that every comment has to be approved by first time commentators, after you are approved though, you can comment at will. I know it can be frustrating to make a comment and not see it immediately, but I do it because of the animal porn. Just say no to animal porn.

Here’s a bad segue into North Korea where they are saying that up to 800,000 people have starved

People dying while working in factories, exhausted from hunger; policemen stealing food from the people; lack of food, starvation: while world leaders discuss the food problem at the FAO summit, the population of North Korea faces an unprecedented decimation. The annual famine, together with the disastrous flooding last year, has made food impossible to find in the regime headed by Kim Jong-il. According to South Korean non-governmental organisations, the only groups still allowed to bring necessities to the north, 800,000 have already died from hunger.


There is nothing more horrifying than mass starvation, especially when it can be avoided. This is almost a million human beings who are dying in the worst possible way. I would classify this as genocide.
Food shortages are striking world wide and prices are spiking for a variety of reasons. What can you do to keep your own grocery bill lower? Here are 10 ways from Gimundo

1. Shop the bulk bins.
2. Eat less meat.
3. Buy cheaper cuts of meat.
4. Eat your leftovers and take your lunch.
5. Vegetables cost less when they’re in season, and they taste better too.
6. Eat your eggs and demand humane treatment of chickens.
7. Join a co-op or buying club. Or start your own. Find one near you.
8. Plan your menus and shop with a list.
9. Grow your own and learn to dehydrate, freeze, and can foods for the winter.
10. Know when to scrimp and when not to.

On to other things, I am happy to see that anthropology isn’t listed as one of the ten most worthless degrees. It’s funny because I almost majored in film, but had a very similar thought to what they say there.
Also am happy to say that a French judge ruled that lying about one’s virginity is grounds for annulment of a marriage. It should be. So should uncontrollable accidental bowel syndrome. And chronic bad breath.

Another abomination is what is happening to once great American cities like Detroit. Despite all the negatives in this article, it makes me think that moving there may actually be a good idea. Maybe that’s just because I am poor. lol. The rapture is coming.
Don’t worry though, according to wired.com you can now leave a note for your loved ones.
. If you want to just rappture yourself, you can always buy the newly popular German suicide pills. Leave it to the Germans to perfect euthanasia.
And finally on this post of bad segues…if you want to run your car on water, here is the way that the internet claims you can do it.