kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Happy Birthday, Box of Delights!
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Happy Birthday, Oursin!
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I saw this video on James Nicol's page of honey badgers escaping from their pens. The thing that caught my attention was the ones in a pit, like a house foundation, deliberately taking hold of a long object and tipping it against the wall, then climbing the object to get out. That's tool use.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Happy Birthday, BoxofDelights!
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Happy birthday, Oursin!
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I went to a hippie college. We didn't have fraternities and sororities. We didn't even have sports teams. We were an unworldly bunch who were frequently to be found in the library, working on class stuff, of a Saturday afternoon. Or out banding seabirds, for the more field-biology-oriented types.

But there was a neighborhood soccer league. Enough people from my college joined that eventually there was a whole team formed of college hippies. They were vaguely aware there was a convention of naming sports teams after fierce, impressive predators: Lions or Tigers or Bears.

The college was in Maine.

The team name was the Blackflies.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I have been reading economics articles, and noticing how much "wealth" gets invoked. Investment-advice columns talk endlessly about investing your wealth, and wealth-accumulation strategies, and the average wealth of the average American family.

And the thing is, the average American family does not actually have any wealth. There was a recent survey that reported about half of Americans would have a hard time coming up with a thousand dollars on a week's notice (which is more notice than you actually get of the car or the furnace breaking down).

It's all surprisingly reminiscent of women's supermarket magazines, with their endless articles on "beauty" and beauty tips and beauty regimens and beauty products.

In both cases, we're facing a huge tide of propaganda, attempting to convince us that we have what we don't have---or rather, that we can have it if we buy their products.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I was just reading yet another political argument where yet another person argued that we can't ever have an egalitarian society, or even a society with a reasonable baseline level of well-being guaranteed to everyone, because people want to outrank their neighbor on a relative scale more than they want to be prosperous/safe/happy on an absolute scale.

I don't think that's true. At least, it isn't true of everyone. Most of the people I know want a comfortable life with the chance to pursue their hobbies, and no one picking on them. Provided they can have that, they don't care if someone else has more/better/trendier whatsits.

I am willing to believe that some people really do want to be the least-poor person in a poverty-stricken society more than they want to be prosperous and surrounded by other prosperous people, but not many. Furthermore, they fuss a lot at the shock of losing status symbols, but once they're over that they are just as focused on getting minimum needs met as the rest of humanity.

So I think the repeated rhetoric about 'people will never accept a strong safety net or taxation to pay for universally-valuable services' is mostly propaganda, with just a thin backing of people who care a lot about being on top.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
When I was growing up, we kids liked ramen noodles. But Mom wouldn't let us eat them plain -- she said they weren't nutritious enough. So the way we were allowed to eat them was:

Ramen Noodles with Green Peas, Cheese, and Yogurt

1) Take one package of ramen noodles. Remove the flavor-packet. Put a (small) pot of water on to boil.
2) Chop up one to two ounces of cheese. I prefer cheddar or colby.
3) When the water boils, drop the ramen noodles in. Turn down heat a bit so it won't boil over. Poke the noodles a bit with a fork so they'll all get wet.
4) Get out frozen peas.
5) At the three-minute mark, pour some peas (maybe a quarter-cup? as many as you'd like) into the boiling noodles and water.
6) Immediately drain off all the water.
7) Put pot with noodles and peas back on the stove. Stir to release steam. Immediately dump in the flavor-packet. Also dump in the chopped cheese. Stir cheese in so it starts to melt.
8) Promptly (before the cheese finishes melting) get out the yogurt and dump a couple big spoonfuls into the pot. The idea here is to use unflavored, unsweetened, nonfat yogurt: it adds protein without adding fat. And fruit flavoring just would not go at all.
9) Stir thoroughly.

This produces warm-but-not-hot noodles with some vegetable content, some protein content, and a mellower and less overwhelmingly salty flavor. It's very cheap, only takes fifteen minutes to make, and only uses one pot.

It tastes exactly the same after it's cooled. This may not sound like a selling point, but it meant this was my default food for carrying along with me: safe for several hours without refrigeration, and just as appetizing as when it was new.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
"wiki" is not a proper noun. A wiki is a website set up to be easily editable by lots of people working independently, usually to pool their knowledge. There are wikis for pooling knowledge on science fiction, on sewing patterns, and on architecture. Wikipedia is a specific site; its name is capitalized because it is a proper noun.

Citing the source of your information as "wiki" is no kind of citation at all.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Today was a presidential primary. In my state, you can vote in any one party's primary.

I think the Republican candidates are all equally awful, just in slightly different ways. I don't care which of them gets nominated.
I'm not much happier about Obama, but he's running unopposed. Which means he'll be the Democratic candidate no matter what.

A primary election in which your least-disliked candidate is unopposed is the perfect example of a time when your vote will make no difference in the course of government.

So I thought a little about the possibilities, and then I got a Democratic ballot, and wrote in Glass & Steagall.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Posted as part of the "Cooking for People Who Don't" Blog Carnival (Carnival the First: Food Security) organized by [personal profile] commodorified.

This is a very simple, easy (and cheap! Did I mention cheap?) recipe made from things that keep well. It also counts as a vegetable dish and a protein dish. Tastes yummy, warms you up on a cold night, looks elegant if served elegantly. Total cooking time maybe fifteen minutes.

I usually make it as a stovetop dish. Hot plate would be fine, microwave should work also, just make sure to bring to a boil before adding the egg and heat again until the egg solidifies. All proportions are to taste. The only key point is 'bring to a boil, add egg while stirring so it gets spread out thoroughly, cook a little bit more until done'.

Quantities given are for one vegetarian with a small appetite, or two to three people as an appetizer. Scale up as necessary, but only on a stovetop---a microwave probably wouldn't heat evenly enough.

Ingredients:
Water / chicken broth / veggie bouillon, two cups
Tomato paste, about two to three tablespoons
Egg, one

1) Heat the water or broth and stir in the tomato paste.

2) Break the egg into a small bowl or cup, stir lightly with a fork so the white and yolk are well mixed.
(If you don't have an extra bowl or cup, you can break the egg directly into the boiling liquid and immediately stir like crazy. The egg will form larger lumps and need to cook a bit longer, but you'll still have cooked food.)

3) When the tomato liquid boils, turn down the heat (or remove from the microwave). Pick up the bowl of egg in one hand and a fork in the other hand. Pour egg slowly into liquid, while stirring. The egg should form long thin ribbons.

4) Turn the burner back on or microwave on high, briefly, so the egg is solid and opaque. Clear bits of egg are not done yet. When you taste it, it should taste cooked but not hard-boiled.

Flavorings you might like to add if you have them around:
ketchup
hot sauce
lemon juice
pepper/salt/garlic powder
minced onion / scallions / chives

Because the egg is only lightly cooked, I never try to keep this soup. But the ingredients (tomato paste and eggs) keep excellently in the fridge, and dry bouillon cubes keep for years on the shelf.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Happy Birthday, Oursin!
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
So, you know how feminists talk about the way this culture treats men as the default human being, the normal and expected type of person, and every time there's a difference between men and women it's treated as women's deviance from the norm? Rather than, say, men's deviance from the norm, or two equally valid norms?

I started reading Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett's fantasy novels when I was in junior high or high school. They do historical fantasy with a wealth of historical detail, and magical systems based on things that were believed in Europe at the time. The Armor of Light treats Elizabethan belief in demon-summoning and spell-casting as if it were true. Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams treat astrology as if it were true; businesses time their activities according to the most propitious arrangements of stars.

What I didn't notice until I re-read them in adulthood, is that Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams are set in a world where women are the default person. A male character, considering what he should do next, thinks "This is the point at which a wise woman would..." meaning a wise person would. Groups of men-and-women mixed are addressed as "My ladies". It's not the point of the series, it's just a background detail, but it's a neat view into an alternate universe.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I read this book called Catastrophe in the Making about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. It took the long view, tracing New Orleans' history from its start as a very small settlement where piracy was an important part of the local economy to the modern day.

One of the things the author pointed out was that, of the several canals in and around New Orleans, only the first two were built with local money. They were small, short canals that made local shipping more efficient, and local business-owners found it worthwhile to build them.

Every canal after that was a product of the Growth Machine.

The Growth Machine is the author's term for when a group of business-owners and local government officials band together and announce they're going to "boost Smalltown" and "help Smalltown grow" and so forth. They petition the state and national government for grants for large construction projects---it may be a canal, or a highway, or a dam, or 'urban renewal'. They claim it will produce wonderful economic development, new businesses, trade, agriculture, the sky's the limit!

But it doesn't. The real point of these projects is to bring in outside money for the construction. The construction-company owner and his buddy the mayor pass out the grant money to their supporters, thereby entrenching their own power more firmly. The construction does happen, but it never generates any new economic activity. The local economy "grows" by exactly the amount of grant money coming in, for exactly as long as the grant runs, and then it goes back to its old size. The town didn't have the skills and opportunity to make productive use of the construction, or the construction was never capable of being useful. No canal on earth could have turned New Orleans the river town into the seaport it wanted to be, and the river that the grant applications described as narrow, shallow, choked with snags, and plagued by fogs was still deeper and wider than any canal they could have built. The canals built with federal grant money were mostly obsolete before they were finished, or obsolete soon after, but from their boosters' perspective, that wasn't a problem; it had never really been about shipping, only about getting the money. Which was why they had patiently lobbied, for decades, over the Army Corps of Engineers' strong objections, for federal funding: they certainly weren't going to fund useless canals themselves. Just like the pirates of old, they were bringing in outside resources rather than producing anything.

A few days after I read this I watched some early episodes of Leverage that I'd missed the first time around. In the first episode, Sophie pretends to represent the Nigerian government, looking for a contractor to build a fleet of small planes. The airplane-company guy points out that Nigeria has very few airports, with very bad runways, could they really use new planes? And Sophie says that that isn't the point, now is it? The planes will be paid for with foreign aid, so don't worry your pretty little head about it.

And I thought, this is the Growth Machine. Foreign grant money coming in, and someone will get the contract in exchange for supporting the politicians in power, and all the sub-contractors will get their own shares to hand out in exchange for support, and probably there will be bribes at every step. And it won't matter to the lobbyists if the planes are never used.

It's useful to have a term for a phenomenon that comes up so often. Makes it easier to distinguish the Growth Machine from real development.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
So my followup to the previous thought was that all this emphasis on 'education as the route to a better job' is there because the labor movement lost momentum. There are two ways to save yourself from the tedium, bodily wear and tear, and low pay of bad blue-collar jobs: qualify for a white-collar job (personal), or make the blue-collar jobs better (societal). That's what unions did.

And my impression is that for at least the last forty years, we as a society have pretty much given up on that. That's why my generation and younger got so much pressure all focused on "do well in school, aim for the high-paying corporate jobs"---there was hardly anything else left that paid decently.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I was thinking about college education. My career path has been stumbling and undirected, and I think part of where I went wrong was in absorbing all those messages about 'study hard and do well in school, and you'll have a successful and well-paid career'. Along with those were the messages about 'Oh, you're smart? That's wonderful! It will be a huge advantage all through life, because smarts are rare and valuable. You will be successful at whatever you want to do!'

The thing is, smarts aren't that rare. Lots of people have enough intelligence to do smart-people things like accounting or programming. It doesn't look like that many because lots of people don't get the help and opportunity to develop their intellectual potential. And that is because smarts are a low-valued resource. We don't bother developing people's intellectual capacity because we have plenty of thinkers. The powers that be want lots of minions. Think of the job ads: secretary, medical billing and coding, driver, waiter. They don't need any more systems designers or inventors.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Crooked Timber had a post by John Holbo last month on The Economics of Elfland. It included a paragraph saying:

Zombie economics is all well and good. But maybe we need a volume on the Economics of Elfland. ‘The Magic of Money’ is a standard theme. It’s mysterious stuff, how it grows and breeds and exerts strange power over the mind, charming whole populations. All gold, in an economic sense, is fairy gold. It lasts as long as the spell it casts lasts. So how has the general subject of economics – not just money and gold – been treated in fairy tales? There’s Midas, of course. Bit of a cautionary tale, that one. I can’t think of too many examples, but I expect they would tend to be along Jack Frost lines. The magical creation of money is an invitation to satire. Are there fairy tales about elves crashing the economy with fairy gold-induced hyper-inflation? Or saving the economy with a heroic helicopter drop? Stories about elves themselves fleeing Elfland for the human world, with its relatively stable currencies? Hedge fund managers practicing crude ‘hedge magic’, to get rich quick, only to call up dark forces beyond their control or comprehension?


No there aren't stories like that, because Holbo has fundamentally misunderstood the stories about fairy gold. When a fairy makes a deal with a human, and pays in golden coins that turn into dead leaves in the morning, that wasn't real fairy currency. The whole point of the story is that the human has been scammed. The fairy deceived the human into thinking dead leaves were valuable just long enough to get away.

In our economy, fairy gold was all those promises about the money to be made from real estate. Banks were making mortgages they knew the borrowers could never pay off, but recording the loans as though they were worth real money. Fairy gold evaporating is a metaphor for those loans going bust, the phantom income having to be removed from bank balance sheets, those houses turning out not to be capable of attracting that much real money.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
A majority of delinquent [home] loans (and loans in foreclosure) are prime loans.

Subprime mortgages are made at extra-high interest rates to borrowers who have bad credit. The worst loans made during the bubble were to people with good credit (meaning they were 'prime' borrowers) but nowhere near enough income to make the payments on bubble-inflated prices. Now that the teaser interest rates are expiring, they can't make payments and their loans are headed for foreclosure.