Guido Veloce

How did we get like this?

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The world is changing. A novel virus succeeds in bringing the human version of the world to an enforced pause while the earth ravishes its destroyers and renews itself.

Meanwhile, change is everywhere. Things we’ve joked about for years we’re re-learning as if our lives depended upon them. The word “exponential” rolls off the tongues of folks who’d long ago given up on higher mathematics as a life necessity. We peruse graphs. We tinker with curves. We hiss at the antisocial louts who party in close quarters at on Florida beaches.

As a person who loathes the idea of being forcibly entombed inside the beehive of “the economy”, I’m hoping that recent events signal a turning point toward sanity, when we begin giving higher praise to living inside a “society” instead of a bent and unfair economic system.

Think about what’s happened. It’s a reversal. Suddenly the person at the till of the supermarket wins our highest praise. Perhaps we’re done tithing to the rich after noticing that the essential people on earth do the simple things for us that the rich and their “investments” (read “gambling”) do not. Today these ordinary people risk their lives so we may eat. More Power—and wealth—to them!

Our confinement has prompted us to begin reading books again.

After laying off more than 300 staff members, Portland’s cherished indie bookstore Powell’s Books has rehired more than 100 of its workers on the strength of online orders, the company’s CEO announced on Facebook Sunday. (read more…)

Meanwhile we read incredible headlines that could not have been written without this novel pause in normal human activity: “With India on Lockdown, Endangered Sea Turtles on Course to Lay SIXTY MILLION Eggs This Year”.

In eastern India, what has not been seen for a long time has happened along the coast of the state of Odisha. Sea turtles, animals notoriously vulnerable and threatened by pollution and human activities, took advantage of the quarantine to take back their spaces without being disturbed.

We are talking about hundreds of thousands of olive tortoises (Olive Ridley, or Lepidochelys olivacea) who managed to reach the shore, on the beach of Rushikulya, to make their nests and lay their eggs in a few days. Everything happened in a safer and more protected way than the normal situation in which man, with his fishing and tourism activities, would certainly have disturbed this fascinating natural process. (read more…)

Have you noticed the pictures from Space? The ugly clouds of fetid and dangerous air have taken their leave of northern Italy and China. Folks are seeing stars for the first time.

Rising with each COVID-19 death is the notion that the Internet has become an intertwined necessity in our lives, and not just a source of ever rising income for non-competitive Internet companies. Perhaps the time is near to treat it as a utility and make it more available to rural populations.

At the same time the US the support for “medicare for all” has ratcheted to a 9-month high. What utility lies in untreated poor people?

Recently Portugal granted its immigrants temporary citizen status so that they can access the health care system free of charge. Like any sensible government, the folks in Portugal know that a successful mitigation of the worst of the spread depends upon caring “for the least of these”, a phrase that has been lost due to the terrible twisting Christianity has taken recently (Why isn’t it called “Leviticustianity?). Untwist, dammit!

Perhaps we’re getting it. If we don’t all “get” it, that is.

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Categories Hope for the future, The Plague

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It’s amazing to me that folks fear Socialism. After all, our lives consist of the social and the personal. Why shouldn’t good governance include some percentage of support for laws benefiting all of us?

All I want to do is to convince you not to fear the coming injection of socialism that even the most conservative lawmakers see as necessary means of rebooting the economy after the disaster wrought by COVID-19.

I want to start with the bell curve. It’s a way of illustrating things that goes beyond the binary, i.e. unfettered free market is good | Socialism is bad.

But first, let’s deviate from politics—our polarization making what goes on in the White House a daunting prospect for a starting point—and instead go back to the period preceding the 2006 winter Olympics, where there was talk of a certain downhill skier who had tried to increase his performance by ingesting beer.

We were aghast. How could such a thing be sane! After all, Bode Miller should have known that alcohol increases reaction time!

The fact is, the consumption of alcohol is not an unusual practice in sports, alcohol being a way to reduce the anxiety before a performance.

To chart this behavior for an Olympic athlete we’ll make a graph that shows the range of emotions on the horizontal axis and the quality of the performance on the vertical one.

olympics performance bell curve
Olympics performance bell curve

First of all you’ll notice that there are two nasty points of lowest performance. On the extreme left, our favorite athlete might be passed out in drunkenness, certainly something the judges would score a zero on. On the right you’ll find our athlete so hyped up he can’t find the starting gate. That’s not good either.

Then, if you’re reading ahead on the graph you’ll notice that you can ignore the enter left half of it. After all, what Olympic athlete is unmotivated? Ever listen to those interviews they do before the skiers zip down the hill? “If I relax and perform like I trained, I’ll medal in this event”. Ever hear someone say “I dunno, I think I can win but who cares”? I didn’t think so. Nope, athletes see themselves on the right side of the curve, sometimes anxious that they’ll screw up.

And what’s the cure to push them up on the curve toward the gold? I bit of depressant will do nicely. Alcohol is a great one. It might keep you from reacting too quickly when you’re nervous over your performance. So you take a bit and try it out. So if you’re the black spot on our graph, you just need a tiny bit to get you going in the right direction.

So all’s well, right? Um, well, no. Being that a high percentage of people see the world in two point binary good/bad or in a slightly more sophisticated way as a linear function. So you take two ounces of beer and get your best time ever. Then you say to yourself, “self, If this made so much difference, I’mma gonna have the whole beer.” After all, if two ounces made you that much better, what can 12 do? Yahooooo!

But here’s the thing. This amount of beer takes you back down the other side of the curve. “Yep, there’s that big ol’ slalom acomin’ up and I’ll just slide gently into….OH SHIT!”

So that’s a bell curve and that’s the human foible that keeps alcohol from working its magic in sports.

Let’s Graph Us Some Socialism

Like I said previously, the patriotic linear thinkers see this:

political system linear curve
Our fantasy linear curve "proving" that unfettered capitalism is the very best

But that’s not really the way it is. You don’t see folks from Copenhagen huddled in masses without food. In fact they live quite well and pretty much have a positive take the lives they live.

We can see this much better on the bell curve, where balance matters:

political system bell curve
Political System Bell Curve

Imagine a world in which economics had no rules at all. You throw away the stock market rules that keep folks from tricking other traders into buying or selling stock at the wrong times. You solve the dilemma of the worker who wants a living wage by simply paying him a dollar an hour, take it or leave it. That’s the dismal side of trying to live without rules, without social etiquette, without a safety net so that nobody can afford to take risks to find a better solution.

On the other hand you have some bad examples of socialism, too. When the government owns the means of production and everyone works in dreary sameness and there isn’t a time to push things forward…you’ll find the same dark hole.

I heard recently that some Scandinavians were calling for a little more free market to seep into their socialism, which led many folks to exclaim, “see! socialism is wrong and they’ve finally admitted it!”

But no, look at the graph. We’re all trying to be best, or wealthiest, or happiest. Scandinavia was just trying to push up the graph—and by all appearances they have. Scandinavians now have a very high percentage of happy people compared to those of other countries. At the same time unrest increases as the USA pushes toward letting the rich rule the country, a proposition that has the founding fathers undoubtedly rolling in their graves—and pushing us to the left as well, but this isn’t the way we should be going. We’re lost.

There are three factions the founding fathers feared. Rule by military, religion, or corporations. And now we need a little injection that reverses the trend and propels us up the curve before it’s too late.

We can start with health care, which is a social good when applied to all and can never be a free market commodity. After all, who wants tens of thousands of infected homeless walking in a neighborhood when they can’t afford care? So, like many successful systems, you start a single payer system that’s largely non profit and a bit basic. It saves citizens money. It decreases paperwork. With the saved money, people can afford more goods—and the economy benefits greatly. Afraid you will hate this socialist health care system? Don’t worry, the luxury you can get back with, wait for it, yes, it’s private health insurance, a feature in many counties. You see, luxury, private rooms, free internet and the like are indeed free market commodities that can be accessed through private insurance. It’s not too expensive because you’ll get treated free for the little things with your national plan, and the private insurance will only come into play when you’re really, really, sick.

Ok so think on it. Carry on with your “shelter in place” stuff. Is that the world’s ugliest, militaristic phrase or what?

Author
Categories The Economy, Hope for the future

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I am Guido Veloce. I write in solitude. It is mere speculation that I exist, like my beloved Molise.

It is my nature to be dour, to possess the outlook that we’ve screwed up badly our lives on Earth. We tithe to commerce; it rewards us with scorched earth and poison chickens. When it shows signs of failing, the government gifts it more of our money so it might continue this travesty unabated.

Then then came the plague. As in ancient mythology, literary plagues follow the leadership of fools; the best writers notice the underlying turbulence in life.

I yearn for change. Perhaps I shall go back to my beginning times, when I caught sense. Then we had a social contract, like all cultures that had preceded us. Existing inside our culture was much more beneficial than choosing to exist outside of it. So we happily joined together.

At a precise moment in our recent history the social contract was tossed aside by men who lacked shame. While before it was of great advantage to be enclosed in the warm embrace of a government that acted in our collective best interests and financed its continuing virtue by collecting increasing taxes from a graduated tax system as folks worked their way up.

Government subsidized higher education in state schools. We went. We got bigger paychecks. The taxes levied on those wages increased to allow the government to continue to subsidize state schools; the government actually made a profit at one time. Government was being run like a (good) business, we just didn’t need to analyze it. Heck, we were upwardly mobile. We could live better than our parents. Free of the idiocy of enormous student loans, we were able to spend our money as soon as we received it, boosting the economy.

One day, certain creepy factions tore this idea to shreds, telling us not to expect anything from this government. Government, a very bad thing, would now be responsible for nothing. The government, thus freed of its major constituents we the people, turned to representing the already powerful giants of industry who were willing to unload a ton of cash to their figureheads in government, who in turn made us tithe only to the corporations. We became willing slaves to the rich and irresponsible. Companies sold us “unlimited” internet bandwidth that had a “cap” that any reasonable individual would call a limitation. But no, the companies responsible for this sham insisted the new slaves were just being “selfish” and needed to be stopped. Even slaves have a hierarchy. Harumph.

But the plague changed things just a bit.

It’s a bad thing, this coronavirus. Too much has been said already. It’s time to panic. Panic sometimes brings back common sense; it has the power to turn on the little light bulb over the comic faces of the idiotically powerful. The People under the stress of this plague can’t pay their enormous student loans, so let’s cut the usurious interest rates to zero. The People need Internet connections as they simmer in the stew of their closed-up hovels so let’s unleash the caps and let them skip a couple of payments.

What if, through some miracle, The People and the earth that supports them wove their collective way back into the brains of the powerful through this virus? What if the internet companies were forced to lay that fiber optic cable the width of a human hair to access the unlimited bandwidth of our connections? What if the ludicrous idea of creating false shortages to promote a narrative of scarcity was banished, and the building of new connections, with the equipment and the engineering jobs created as a result brought us into a new age of prosperity and well-being. What if we, The People were once again the focus of our government?

Pipe dreams. Fiber optic pipe dreams. I know. Dreams of Lilacs.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
—The Waste Land by T. S. Elliot

Author
Categories The Plague, The Economy