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Why Should We Support the Idea of an Unconditional Basic Income?

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Fascinating article by Scott Santens, an expansion at Medium of what was originally a Reddit post:

So what exactly would you do, if you were guaranteed $1,000 per month for the rest of your life? And yes, that’s around what the amount would most likely be here in the United States, at least at first. So think about that amount for a moment, and don’t think about what others might do with it, think about what you would do with it. Perhaps you would do more of what you enjoy. So what is that?

Didn’t they try this in Russia?

You’ve compared this idea to communism, so let’s focus on that first. In doing so, let’s also talk about what was actually done in the former Soviet Union and not what was intended. What they actually did there, simply put, was transfer the means of production from those who ran the businesses based on market forces, into the hands of a bureaucracy who made decisions based not on market forces but on politics and cronyism. This is a terrible idea. But why is this a terrible idea?

The market works because it is a means of figuring out what people want, the degree to which they want it, and the means of getting it to them. Let’s take bread as an example. In Russia, they thought everyone should have bread. That was a decision made by those in power, and they then tried to make that happen, whether everyone wanted bread or not. This did not work so well, and there were shortages. Plus, those with the connections got more than enough while others got none. Trying to give bread to everyone, although noble in gesture, was a failure.

The magic of markets

So how do we do it here in America right now? The makers of bread make bread, and sell it to stores, so that people with the money to buy bread, can buy bread. If bread isn’t getting bought, less bread is made. If all the bread is getting bought, more bread is made. Those who make the bread aren’t making a top-down decision on how much bread to make. They are listening to market forces, and the decision is bottom-up. This is perfect, right? Just the right amount of bread is getting made and at just the right price. No, it’s not. Why? And how can this be improved?

Right now only those with the means to pay for bread have a voice for bread. We love to use the term, “voting with our dollars”. So is the outcome of that daily election accurate? Does everyone have a voice for bread? No, they don’t. There are people with no voice, because they have no dollars. The only way to make sure the market is working as efficiently and effectively as possible to determine what should be getting made, how much to make of it, and where to distribute it, is to make sure everyone has at the very minimum, the means to vote for bread. If they have that money and don’t buy bread, there’s no need to make and distribute that bread. If the bread is bought, that shows people actually want that bread. So how do we accomplish this improvement of capitalistic markets?

With unconditional basic income (UBI).

By guaranteeing everyone has at the very least, the minimum amount of voice with which to speak in the marketplace for basic goods and services, we can make sure that the basics needs of life — those specific and universally important to all goods and services like food and shelter — are being created and distributed more efficiently. It makes no sense to make sure 100% of the population gets exactly the same amount of bread. Some may want more than others, and some may want less. It also doesn’t make sense to only make bread for 70% of the population, thinking that is the true demand for bread, when actually 80% of the population wants it, but 10% have zero means to voice their demand in the market. Bread makers would happily sell more bread and bread eaters would happily buy more bread. It’s a win-win to more accurately determine just the right amount.

And that’s basic income. It’s a win-win for the market and those who comprise the market. It’s a way to improve on capitalism and even democracy, by making sure everyone has the minimum amount of voice.

Can we really improve capitalism or is this just theory?

If you want actual evidence of how much better capitalism would work with basic income, look at the pilot project in Namibia:

The village school reported higher attendance rates and that the children were better fed and more attentive. Police statistics showed a 36.5% drop in crime since the introduction of the grants. Poverty rates declined from 86% to 68% (97% to 43% when controlled for migration). Unemployment dropped as well, from 60% to 45%, and there was a 29% increase in average earned income, excluding the basic income grant. These results indicate that basic income grants can not only alleviate poverty in purely economic terms, but may also jolt the poor out of the poverty cycle, helping them find work, start their own businesses, and attend school.”

Think about that for a second. Crime plummeted and people given a basic income actually created their own jobs and actually ended up with even greater earnings as a result.

Or how about this psychology experiment as evidence for increased productivity? . . .

Continue reading.

The next few paragraphs of the article are strongly counter-intuitive (and also counter-current-practice), but have been repeatedly show to be true. Repeatedly.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 May 2015 at 1:31 pm

Legos (in a way) for grown-ups: Architecture modeling kits

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Very cool, IMO. (And for this video, sound is not needed nor, IMO, even desirable.)

Article with more photos here, and pricing here.

It would be very useful if you thinking about building—and for model-oriented kids.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 May 2015 at 11:41 am

Posted in Daily life

Politicians who support funding only for issues that affect them personally

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Politicians sometimes seem to view the government as a private piggy bank, not only for their junkets to various pleasant countries and resorts, but also for doing research that benefits them in a personal connection. Kevin Drum notes:

Steve Benen mentions one of my pet peeves today: politicians who want to cut spending on everything except for research on one particular disease that happens to affect them personally. A couple of years ago, for example, Sen. Mark Kirk suddenly became interested in Medicaid’s approach to treating strokes after he himself suffered a stroke. The latest example is Jeb Bush, whose mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. I suppose you can guess what’s coming next. Here’s Jeb in a letter he sent to Maria Shriver:

I have gotten lots of emails based on my comments regarding Alzheimer’s and dementia at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. It is not the first time I have spoken about this disease. I have done so regularly.

Here is what I believe:

We need to increase funding to find a cure. We need to reform FDA [regulations] to accelerate the approval process for drug and device approval at a much lower cost. We need to find more community based solutions for care.

As Benen points out, Bush vetoed a bunch of bills that would have assisted Alzheimer’s patients when he was governor of Florida. I guess that’s changed now that he actually knows someone with the disease. However, it doesn’t seem to have affected his attitude toward any other kind of medical research spending.

I’m not even sure what to call this syndrome, but it’s mighty common. It’s also wildly inappropriate. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 May 2015 at 10:39 am

Victims of the modern American national witch hunt

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Radley Balko has a column on a phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s that is almost unimaginable, except that it actually happened. And still today American courts refuse to recognize what happened.

Well worth reading. It begins:

From the Austin American-Statesman:

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday threw out the 1992 sexual assault convictions against Dan and Fran Keller but declined to find the former Austin day care owners innocent of crimes linked to a now-discredited belief that secret satanic cults were abusing day care children nationwide.

The Kellers spent more than 22 years in prison after three young children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets, desecrating corpses, videotaping orgies and serving blood-laced Kool-Aid in satanic rituals at their home-based day care.

No evidence of such activities was ever found.

Freed from prison in late 2013 as the case against them crumbled, the Kellers asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to declare them innocent, arguing that they were the victims of inept therapists, shoddy police work and “satanic panic” that swept the nation in the early 1990s.

A unanimous Court of Criminal Appeals instead overturned their convictions based on false testimony by an emergency room doctor whose hospital examination had provided the only physical evidence of sexual assault during the Kellers’ joint trial.

Dr. Michael Mouw later admitted that inexperience led him to misidentify normally occurring conditions as evidence of sexual abuse in a 3-year-old girl.

The nine judges did not provide an explanation for why they rejected the Kellers’ innocence claim except to say their decision was based on the findings of the trial judge “and this court’s independent review of the record.”

The panic actually began in the 1980s. It was instigated and perpetuated mostly by groups of fundamentalist Christians who saw Satan in every heavy metal album, “Smurfs” episode, and Dungeons & Dragons game, along with a quack cadre of psychotherapists who were convinced they could dig up buried memories through hypnosis. What they did instead was shed some light on just how potent the power of suggestion can be. Remarkably, children were convinced to testify about horrifying — and entirely fictional — violations perpetrated on them by care workers and, in some cases, by their own parents.

But it wasn’t just children. As the Kellers’ conviction shows, the panic was so overwhelming, it could convince trained medical professionals to see abuse where there was none. Some defendants were convicted of gruesome crimes such as the aforementioned dismembering of babies despite the fact that there were no corpses and no babies missing from the immediate area.

Ultimately, the panic and power of suggestion was pervasive enough to dupe our entire criminal justice system, as dozens of innocent people were sent to prison for crimes for which there was no evidence other than the coerced testimony of kids, and for which those same defendants would later be exonerated. Here’s an excerpt from the concurring opinion of Judge Cheryl Johnson, who would have declared the couple innocent: . . .

Continue reading.

Two videos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2015 at 2:23 pm

The Dutch lifestyle

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A college friend who has lived in the Netherlands for decades passes along this report by Mihal Greener in the Huffington Post:

The Dutch are a contented lot, but it’s not tulip fields and clogs that are keeping them happy.

Over in the Netherlands they’ve worked out the ways to make life for themselves just that little bit better.

1. Comfort Food

There must be a connection with the endless months of rain and grey skies, but the Dutch know how to keep warm by hitting the mark in the comfort food stakes. Think thick-cut hot chips served with lashings of mayonnaise (the combination really does work!), bitterballen, small balls of meat thrown into the deep flyer, frikandel, another sort of deep fried meat, croquettes, deep fried meat, fish or potatoes, and you’re getting the idea. The Dutch proficiency in keeping their stomachs satisfied extends beyond the deep fryer to the pannenkoekenhuis (pancake house), where large flat pancakes are served savoury or sweet. Start with mushrooms and ham covered in melted cheese and finish off with another sprawling pancake for dessert, served with your choice of baked apple, chocolate sprinkles, cream or jam. Just the food to help you get through an eight month-long winter.

2. Cycling

Ask any foreigner leaving the country what they will miss most about living in the Netherlands and odds are they will say cycling. And they are absolutely right. There’s nothing not to like about cycling on the flat, clearly designated cycle paths, except the rain/hail/snow. As motorists get stuck in traffic jams and stress levels spill over into road rage, cyclists are enjoying the breeze in their helmet-free hair, being out in nature and knowing that at the end of their leisurely ride they can hop off and leave their bike without trawling for a parking spot. Even smack bang in the centre of town you can park your bike outside a department store, quickly pop in and out and continue to do your errands on two wheels. No parking tickets and no worrying if you can have that second drink before you get behind the wheel. Not to mention the incidental exercise it gives you every day – the only explanation I can find for why the Dutch remain so svelte despite their love for the deep fryer and carbo-loading.

3. Giving Birth . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2015 at 11:11 am

Posted in Daily life

A beer reborn: The oldest living shipwreck beer

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McKenner Stayner (that’s the name) reports in the New Yorker:

In the summer of 2010, Christian Ekström, a diver from the Åland Islands, an autonomous region of around sixty-five hundred isles off of Finland’s west coast, began searching for a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea, based on a tip he’d received from a fisherman. The Baltic’s temperature is unusually consistent (between about thirty-nine and forty-three degrees Fahrenheit* on its seabed), and it has a salinity level that is less than a fifth that of oceans. Its coastal waters are also treacherously shallow. All of this makes it particularly well suited to sinking ships, and then, once they’ve sunk, to preserving them for centuries. (Creatures commonly known to erode wrecks, like shipworms, can’t survive in such brackish waters.) As a result, the Baltic has an estimated hundred thousand shipwrecks, only a fraction of which have been explored.

Ekström and his dive partners soon found a small, wooden schooner, a hundred and fifty-five feet underwater, coated in sand and algae. Its hull had ruptured and there were no name signs or ship bells by which to identify it. Shining his headlamp into the large gash in the ship, Ekström saw some dark-green bottles, lying corked among broken planks of mossy wood. He reached in and pulled one free.

As he rose to the surface with the bottle, the cork began to work its way out. He pushed it in with his thumb. Back on the boat, it popped out completely. “All this aroma came through,” he told me recently. “It was phenomenal. And we tasted it without any knowledge of what we were drinking.”

When he returned to the main island, Åland (pronounced Oah-land), Ekström began researching the mystery liquid, hoping it would also hold clues to the wreck. A wine expert he consulted guessed that it was very old champagne, and estimated that, if it tasted as good as Ekström believed it did, each bottle would be worth up to fifty thousand euros. “That’s when I started getting a little sick, because I recognized that we had been drinking eighteen thousand euros of champagne from the bottle and coffee cups,” Ekström said.

Later testing determined that it was indeed champagne, and that it had been bottled in 1839 or 1840, making it older than any previously discovered preserved champagne. Unlike the ship, the bottle bore a marking. Burned into the cork was an anchor—the logos of two champagne houses, Juglar, which is now defunct, and Veuve Clicquot, which was established in 1772. (At one point, Ekström called Veuve Clicquot and explained his discovery to a senior figure in the company. He recalls the man saying, “It’s a lovely story, Mr. Ekström, but where is Åland? I have heard of Holland and Poland and Scotland, but never Åland.”)

Ekström and his team continued to search the ship, diving twice a day for three weeks and retrieving a hundred and sixty-seven more bottles of champagne, along with spices, olives, and preserved fruits. About halfway through the search, Ekström came across five dark-brown bottles, squatter than the ones that held champagne. Back on the boat, one of the bottles cracked, spilling fizzing, yellow liquid onto his fingers. He tasted it and noticed flavors of tobacco, wheat, and “a lot of egg.” It wasn’t pleasant, but it was familiar. Ekström recalls thinking, “I don’t care about the champagne now. We just found the golden ticket—we found beer!”

In addition to diving, Ekström runs a gastropub attached to Stallhagen, a small brewery on Åland. Jan Wennström, the brewery’s C.E.O., told me that as soon as Ekström found the beers, Stallhagen was determined to reproduce them. At a hundred and seventy years old, they were the oldest preserved beers ever discovered, and the fact that they had been bottled indicated that they were of very high quality. (Beer in that era was normally stored in wooden kegs.) The Finnish government and an independent research institute took samples from two of the bottles for physicochemical analysis, a process that involved four years and a variety of methods, including gas chromatography and flame atomic-absorption spectrophotometry. Stallhagen secured exclusive rights to the results of the research.

The scientists’ report showed that saltwater had seeped in through the corks of both bottles. All of the yeast cells were dead, but some bacteria were still alive, which accounted for the fizz that Ekström had noticed. (According to Wennström, this finding has become a source of interest to scientists throughout the food industry. “They can’t understand how it’s possible that the bacteria lived for one hundred and seventy years,” he said.)

Although the beers in bottles were similar, the report noted that one was “more strongly hopped than the other,” suggesting that Ekström had come across an extremely old mixed pack. (There also appears to be a third type of beer among the remaining three, a darker variety, which Stallhagen hopes to analyze in the future.) The two beers smelled of “burnt rubber, over-ripe cheese, and goat,” flavors that Brian Gibson, a senior scientist who worked on the report, told me are likely a result of living underwater for so long. Beer is inherently unstable, he said, especially beer produced before the advent of pasteurization and other preservation processes. DNA analysis of the yeasts determined that, at the time the two beers were produced, they would have had notes of sweet apple, rose, butterscotch, and clove. They would have tasted sweet, too, as they had been fortified with sugar, similar to a Lambic, their closest modern-day analogue.

After receiving the analysis, Stallhagen contacted the Leuven Institute for Beer Research, in Belgium, to reverse-engineer the two varieties. Brewing typically involves only a few ingredients: barley, hops, water, and yeast (although Belgian and some other brewers frequently add other ingredients, like fruit, spices, or sugar). As Burkhard Bilger wrote for the magazine, in 2008, historically, “Yeast was left off the list because brewers didn’t know it existed; beer was naturally fermented, like sourdough bread.” This traditional mixed-yeast, or spontaneous, fermentation allowed for the presence not only of microbes that flavored the beer but also ones that spoiled it; hence the smell of burnt rubber, cheese, and goat. In light of modern brewing science, the Finnish team was in a relatively luxurious position: it could choose only the flavor-producing yeast. “It’s a little bit of an oxymoron, but it’s kind of a controlled spontaneous fermentation,” Wennström said.

Stallhagen and the Institute ultimately brewed, fermented, and bottled fifteen test beers over two years, before settling on two recipes. The brew that matched the hoppier of the original beers became Historic Beer 1842, which Stallhagen released in October, 2014, in a limited run of two thousand hand-blown glass replicas of the original bottles. Each bottle cost around a hundred and thirty dollars, but the brewery quickly sold out. The second, smoother beer, called Historic Beer 1843, was released in May, 2014. It is sold commercially throughout Finland and abroad for close to six dollars a bottle, though not yet in the U.S.

Earlier this month, Wennström sent me a few bottles of Historic Beer 1843. Late one Friday, I gathered a group of testers, who ranged from novice to connoisseur, in a small conference room at The New Yorker’s offices, in lower Manhattan, overlooking a baseball field framed by two high-rises. We drank from an assortment of glass, ceramic, and paper mugs.

Wennström had recommended that I serve the beer colder than I would a typical craft beer; mini-fridge-chilled was as close as I could get. The 1843 comes in a corked, dark-green bottle with a plain label, inked in muted browns, that depicts a sketch of a ship behind the brewery’s name. According to thequantitative parameters of beer character widely used in tastings, the 1843 is on the clearer end of uncloudy, with a frothy, rather lacy head that disperses quickly, and scores a five to seven on the Standard Reference Method, a sort of Pantone scale for beers. (In other words, its color is a golden amber.)

The consensus among the tasters was that Historic Beer 1843 was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2015 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Daily life

The power of places

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T.M. Luhrmann has an interesting column in the NY Times:

WHAT gives certain places their extraordinary power to move people so deeply?

Many years ago, I met a man who as a teenager had been irritated that the comfortable, middle-class Jews he met in his Northern California synagogue did not take God seriously. He’d see them in the temple on High Holy Days — the only time many of them came to services, he thought — and be appalled at the flirting and the gossip. He would look around at the congregation and think: Who are these people? But he also felt like one of them — ignorant of the Torah, naïve about his faith.

So he went to Jerusalem. There, he met God. At least, one night he had an experience so remarkable, so terrifying, so powerful and so grand that, years later, when he told me about it, he made me turn off my tape recorder and swore me to secrecy about the details. The morning after his encounter, he made his way to a rabbi. The older man listened carefully and told him that while his experience was important, he should keep it private for now, and focus on his study.

Jerusalem has this effect on so many people that experiences like this have a name: Jerusalem syndrome. Roughly 100 tourists a year become sufficiently overwhelmed by spiritual experiences that they end up in a mental health center. They see themselves as biblical characters or as messiahs, or they feel that they have been given a special task, like moving the Western Wall. Often, but not always, they have had previous psychiatric diagnoses. Some seem to lose touch with reality, and then never do so again. The sheer intensity of being in so holy a place is enough to bring some people to an apparently psychotic state.

Locations have always been central to human thought and feeling. Anthropologists have found that in traditional societies, memory becomes attached to places. The anthropologist Keith H. Basso once overheard an Apache man simply reciting place names quietly to himself. “Those names are good to say,” the man said simply. In “Wisdom Sits in Places,” Mr. Basso wrote that places became morally powerful for the Apache because they were ways that people remembered their past. “The land is always stalking people,” another subject said. “The land makes people live right.”

When he did fieldwork with the Ilongot in the Philippines, the anthropologist Renato Rosaldo found that when he asked people what had happened to them in the past, they told him about the landscape. As they recalled the chaos of their flight from Japanese troops during World War II, the words they used were not stories but place names — “the names of every brook and hill and craggy cliff where people walked or ate or spent the night.” . . .

Continue reading.

And here’s another thought-provoking column she wrote: “Wheat people vs. rice people.”

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2015 at 9:04 am

Posted in Daily life


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