Monday, November 30, 2009

Spam Blog

It's great when somebody comments.

What I'm trying to do is promote a point of view which, while not unique to me, I hold dear, and which I can articulate well. Besides, the more visits comments and followers I get, the more the spiders (whatever they are) are aware of me, and the higher Can't Learn Less will be to the top of the page when you Google something I've written about.

Somebody commented strangely on my methane digester/science fair post. The message was a string of dots, and I was disappointed that whoever it was didn't leave a message, or was too arch for me to understand. I forgot about it over the weekend, then something moved me to click on the name. I found a nearly empty profile, with a link to a blog. The blog was empty, too, except for a very few headings in Asian characters. Next, I clicked on one of the dots, and it took me to some soft-core porn: young woman, in thong, posing provocatively on rumpled bed, more Asian characters.

I found out that the blog is called a spam blog, and reported it to Blogspot.

Maybe I have my head in the clouds, but is this good marketing? It took me almost a week to think to click on the name and the dots, and it was vanity about my blog that made me do so. I suppose a machine put the links there, and put them in millions of other places. What a world!

Thanksgiving Day: Here's To Change

Barbara and I drove four hundred or so miles to Macomb, Illinois, home of Western Illinois University, formerly home of a bunch of stuff, formerly home to me. We celebrated Thanksgiving Day with brother, sisters, cousins, mother, aunt, family friends, and various children, diapered to diapering.

Mom has moved to an apartment, and manged to sell the house. We loaded two rented trucks, and various cars. Then we took things to a megachurch secondhand store, and the dump. Well, the dump was closed. We’d never heard of a dump closed on Thanksgiving, so rather than put the garbage on top of another pile of garbage at the bottom of a fifteen-foot cliff, and risk blind justice and twenty-seven color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and all the rest, we went down the alleys, distributing the garbage in the dumpsters behind student apartments. Payback is sweet. And the students were out of town, at their own Thanksgivings.

I got some of my dad's jazz records, a copy of Catch-22 that he had stuffed with newspaper clippings, a bunch of lamps that I didn’t want, and a fairly new leather sofa. I also brought back a desk that my Aunt Elizabeth had bequeathed me. It was locally made, around 1920, from a cherry tree that grew at the family woods.

I took the pictures in Macomb, or on the way back. There still are profitable, local businesses in Macomb, but the damage done by chains and franchises, concentrated wealth, offshoring, and military extravagance are evident. If you go one county seat west, every last one of the buildings facing that courthouse is empty. A few years past-peak, and Macomb will look the same. All those buildings -- plumbed heated and wired -- all those unemployed people and people toiling to burn oil and make somebody else rich. What a waste.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Methane Science Fair Project

Here’s a high school science fair project for a student whose parents own a feedlot, a video camera, and a fire extinguisher. Your very own methane digester, made out of inner tubes.

The plans came out of the hippie movement (New Alchemy Cell) in 1973. Stephen Gaskin said that roach clips were the height of hippie technology, in a lot of the towns he visited. Not so Falmouth, Massachusetts. You could see if the folks here still have a copy for an energetic kid. There were some New Alchemy papers online there as PDFs today (good science fair ideas, too), but not this one. If you strike out there, get in touch with me.

(This is the first of three posts for this date.)

Transition Town Handbook From A Friend

Good neighbor Joe Hesla brought by a copy of Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to oil resilience. Joe is a high school math teacher who is trying to organize a mutual self-reliance group in the Corcoran Park Neighborhood. The Transition Town movement assumes increasing fuel scarcity, and aims to replace fossil fuels with human ingenuity.

The book wouldn’t fit onto my scanner bed. There’s a motto at the bottom of the cover quoting Richard Heinberg, “If your town is not yet a transition town, here is the guidance for making it one. We have little time and much to accomplish.”

Blogging (and the gift of brevity)

A friend I draw with asked me why I blogged. I stammered something about having a point of view that doesn’t get enough press. Another (pictured) said she’d read me, but didn’t like to read that much text online. Me neither.

From here on out, I expect to be a little more...uh...aphoristic.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alternate Liner Notes: Patty Larkin's La Guitara

Some artists feed your thoughts back to you. When Barbara introduced me to singer-songwriter Patty Larkin around the turn of the century, I knew this was a grownup who had watched the same craziness that I had during the first thirty years of my adult life. I thought of rock-and-rollers, born within toilet training of 1950, that moved me, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Winwood, Mark Knopfler, David Johansen, Jackson Browne, and wondered why I’d never heard of this one.

At the end of her performance of “Don’t” on her live compilation, A Go Go, Larkin says, “I believe black leather is optional. I believe girls can play guitar. I believe it’s not butter.” In her liner notes for guitar anthology, La Guitara, she writes, “It’s so over. This - ‘There are no girls/women/chicks (god help us) who play guitar.’ This - ‘Why are there no great female rock guitar players? Must be genetic.’ This is the eye opener.” La Guitara is in support of Larkin’s thesis that “girls can play guitar.”

For a while I argued with Larkin. Of course girls can play guitar, but they don’t play the kind of guitar that rock gods play. Rock and roll is cheaper, schmaltzier, more accessible. A jilted twenty year-old boy recognizes the bombastic grief of Clapton and Allman’s “Layla,” turned around by Bobby Whitlock’s piano solo, and resolved with a calmer guitar bridge, one that feels like the you just gave that last sighing sob. Don’t get me started on Nick Drake or Tim Buckley. Emotionalism -- and familiarity -- that doesn’t have much to do with virtuosity -- Clapton and Allman notwithstanding -- make guitar gods more common than goddesses, but Larkin has enough to claim a spot in the pantheon, and lyrically she’s at least up to Lou Reed-Rhymin’ Simon level.

I was skeptical about the other guitarists on La Guitara. There used to be a lot of Leo Kottke records in a house where I lived, and I expected the record to be expert wallpaper. Some of La Guitara is dry, and a lot of it isn’t rock, but repeated listening has me going, “Whoa...dude!”

Wu Man opens with an “Invocation” on the pipa, a Chinese lute, dating from twenty-two hundred years ago. The tune is fairly Asian-sounding, but accompaniment and studio technique give “Invocation” a modern and western sound. This is the toughest nut for me to crack. It’s also short, and feels like a curtain opener, a stately, mysterious procession of unresolved phrases, over a bass drone, and against various muddy bells and electronic effects.

Sharon Isbin plays a classical “La Catedral: ii Allegro solemne,” by Augustine Barrios Mangore. Does it count if you didn’t write it? The Cathedral is a good name for the piece, and it makes me imagine column after column marching toward the altar, and Gothic ribs soaring overhead. There’s mystery to this piece as well, but the mystery is resolved again and again, perhaps as an allegory of faith.

Patty Larkin plays my favorite piece on the album, “Bound Brook.” Bound Brook is a town in New Jersey, thirty or forty miles west of New York city, but I’m guessing the song is named after the city’s namesake stream, which flows through a swamp. The musical “Bound Brook” is a studio piece with Larkin playing at least two guitars. She opens by repeating the same phrase several times. Something about the melody or the recording makes this sound antique. After establishing the vamp, Larkin plays over it on an electric slide guitar. A violinist friend of mine once wondered why we electrify guitars. To get this kind of color. The lead switches to rippley fingerpicking, still over the vamp, silver filigree against the slide’s satin, then back to satin.

Memphis Minnie takes us from faux antique to 1932 -- complete with static hiss -- in a record cut with Kansas Joe, “Let’s Go to Town.” The song is an acoustic twelve-bar blues instrumental with a lot of variety. It bounces like a flivver heading down a bumpy country road on Saturday night.

Mimi Fox takes us from Northern Mississippi to what's gotta be Manhattan, with “Lady Byrd.” It’s an unaccompanied jazz piece on electric. It’s pretty abstract, but about the time I was ready to start singing Rodgers and Hart’s “I Like to Recognize the Tune,” Fox hits us with the melody. It’s very little-black-dress-and-martini-esque.

Kaki King’s “Kewpie Station” rocks. One girl, one guitar, and lots of melody and percussion. King contrasts her string snapping and slapping, harmonics, and bass-string melody, with more familiar-sounding fingerpicking. Kewpies were cloyingly cute baby dolls and a series of illustrations by Rose O’Neill in the Ladies Home Journal, circa 1909. I didn’t hear one of them in this song.

Ellen McIlwaine, likewise rocks on “Sidu,” but differently. McIlwaine was an American who had Jimi Hendrix in her band for a while, and whom I’ve vaguely included in that British milieu that included Burt Jansch and Richard Thompson. This tune is a raga-like slide guitar tune (a Guild steel-string head shows in the photograph). It’s very world-music, with a scat vocal that sounds like a muezzin in heat.

Badi Assad (say the dees like jays) plays a Sergio Assad number, “Preludio e Toccatina.” We are introduced with a soothing, Spanish-sounding passage that could be the “quiet chords” in Jobim and Lee’s “Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars.” Soon, though, we’re caught by an ascending, almost shrill, scale, and we know something else is going on here. There are suspense and importance, and nostalgia, sometimes childish melodies, with the guitar singing two strong parts. Assad teases us with a long ending, and finishes with a chord and a slap. Is this song about sex?

Alex Houghton plays “The Bear” with bass, drum, and loop accompaniment. “The Bear” lumbers playfully, exploring its range, but constantly forges ahead. “The Bear” is one of the two or three prettiest tunes on the album, and the most rhythmically interesting.

Vicki Genfan’s “Joy” is a reflective tune. Genfan is a fingerpicker, and a string tapper. Harmonics also figure prominently in this composition.

Muriel Anderson contributes a piece by Isaac Albenz, “Rumores de la Caleta.” I tried to translate the title, but wound up guessing that it means “sounds of the cove.” If it does, it’s apt. This is another classical piece, and could represent lapping waves and offshore breezes.

Rory Block contributed an original, “Guitar Ditty.” Block, the daughter of a Greenwich Village sandalmaker (!), discovered the blues at fifteen and might be expected to provide a cover by one of her Delta Blues mentors. This is a slide piece and a blues. When Patty Larkin said “I believe girls can play guitar,” Block had to be at the top of the list.

Jennifer Batten. “Whammy Damage.” Operatic metal. Storm and fury. Hammers. Pull-offs. Slides. Distortion. Phantom of the Opera on acid. No accompaniment. This is the next-to-last song on the album, and Larkin had to be thinking “Nobody expects a chick to play like this.”

Elizabeth Cotten, 1895-1987, closes La Guitara with her tune, “Wilson Rag.” Cotten composed the folk-instrumental standard, “Freight Train,” and you can the same writer's voice on “Wilson Rag.” There’s a powerful contrast between this song and the previous one, and Larkin probably finished with Cotten to say, “Here’s one you'll like. Bet you didn't know a girl did it.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ten: Thinking About The Tragedy Of The Commons

The case is that overpopulation is a problem without a technical solution; the solution has to be in the behavior of individuals; individuals whose consciences allow them to act against the larger interest will out-compete individuals who act in the larger interest, and shape the future to fit their desires; coercion of individuals by society is necessary, both to keep irresponsible people from shaping the future, and to be fair to those same, conscienceless individuals; there are precedents for this kind of restricted freedom; society’s net freedom will increase because there will be less wear and tear on the commons, that decline restricting freedom by reducing wealth; the restriction, “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon,” must be negotiated among the members of society.

The web site where I read “The Tragedy of the Commons,”, includes an objection to Hardin’s argument, by Beryl Crowe. The essence of the objection is that social values are too diverse to allow the negotiation of mutual coercion.

Hardin was writing hard on the heels of the civil rights movement, and at the height of the Viet Nam War, and its antithetical social experimentation. Hardin himself seems to have been partisan to the antithesis, given his comments about the “Dark Age of Eros” and Puritanism. American society may have seemed almost monolithic then, in spite of war resistance, psychedelics, and the sexual revolution. America was a white protestant milieu, at a peak of human wealth, under the fairly benign gaze of paternalistic capitalism. Catholic and Jewish assimilation, black assertion of equal rights, feminism, Islam, Buddhism, new age beliefs, and immigration of various refugee populations have diversified American values, but the greatest challenges to finding an agreement to mutual coercion are probably the ascendance of a presumptuous brand of Christianity, and a suburban solipsism whose adherents believe that the First Amendment to the Constitution and one passage in the Declaration of Independence bestow equal value to every point of view, and absolve them from the “responsibility” (sorry, Garrett) to acknowledge a superior analysis, or even a problem: “I’m sorry. I just don’t believe that.”

Hardin was writing with more than half of the oil to be pumped still in the ground, and the promise of more to be discovered. Nuclear power was a popular energy strategy, most objections to it only demanding easily understood technological solutions. I can recall public service announcements on television about overpopulation, and Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet was not far in the future, but Hardin was writing ahead of his time. Since then we have reached the moment of peak oil, when getting oil becomes harder and the bidding for it fiercer. The world’s population in 1968 was 3.56 billion, in 2009 it will hit 6.8 billion, almost twice 1968’s figure. Besides fuel, people are struggling with soil depletion, species extinction, climate change, and economic catastrophes with various immediate or proximate causes but which are rooted in the problem of providing for a growing population from a finite world. The situation is has become critical.

Hardin’s prescription is frightening: “Let’s surrender some of our freedoms, and punish people who won’t cooperate.” Libertarianism is basic to any American’s world view. At a tender age, we hear about laissez faire capitalism in Social Studies Class, and think, “That’s a pretty good idea.” In my generation’s religious instruction, we heard that temporal authority is hierarchical, with the authority of the state bestowed by God, and recalled that a few years before, our fathers had gone to war against an expanding empire whose fantasies moved it to torture and kill millions of its own. We know that finally each of us must decide the nature of the world and our own ways of negotiating it. Not only is Hardin asking us to surrender freedom, he’s asking for an expansion of our understandings of the world so great that it bridges a foundational notion.

As I made these notes, two alternatives to Hardin’s choice between mutual coercion and crash occurred to me. The first was that a pervasive new myth, in harmony with modern understanding of the world might spread the necessary ethic. It doesn’t seem likely, but who would have bet on Christianity two thousand years ago? The other is a hope based on Buckminster Fuller’s saying, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Will permaculture be enough, or will we have to oblige everyone to mimic and integrate with nature?

Today's illustration is a painting I did about a year ago, The Hole-in-the-Wall Miser.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons IX: Recognition Of Necessity

Hardin summarizes that commons are justifiable “only under conditions of low population density. As the human population has increased, the commons has had to be abandoned in one aspect after another.”

We started with food, abandoning hunting and gathering for agriculture. Later we abandoned the commons as space for waste disposal. Restrictions on sewerage disposal are typical in the developed world, but we ‘are still struggling” with disposal of toxins, radioactive waste, exhaust, etc.

“In a still more embryonic state, is our recognition of the evils of the commons in matters of pleasure.” Hardin mentions canned music, noisy airliners (specifically the SST which is now gone, leaving behind slower, but noisy enough kin), and advertising. He wonders if we are slower to recognize and regulate interference with pleasure because of Puritan guilt, and our acceptance of punishment for pleasure.

(There was a passage I didn’t outline in the section, “Pathogenic Effects of Conscience.” The passage about pleasure reminded me of it. “We in the Western world are just emerging from a dreadful two centuries-long Dark Ages of Eros that was sustained partly by prohibition laws, but perhaps more effectively by the anxiety-generating mechanisms of education. Alex Comfort has told the story well in The Anxiety Makers. It is not a pretty one.” Alex Comfort was the author of The Joy of Sex. I approve Hardin’s recognition of pleasure and its repression, but have a hard time integrating that with this essay.)

Hardin says every enclosure of the commons infringes on somebody’s liberty.

(“Enclosure of the commons” is a specific historical reference to the nobility’s forcing peasants and yeoman farmers into mines and factories.)

Past infringements don’t disturb us because, never having had the liberties, we don’t feel the loss. New infringements make us conscious of our rights or prerogatives. Hardin asks what freedom means. He says that when people outlawed robbery, we became more free. “Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin; once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals.” He quotes Hegel that “Freedom is the recognition of necessity.”

Our greatest current necessity is to abandon the commons in breeding. He reminds us that there is no technical solution to overpopulation. He continues to recap that we’re tempted to propagandize for conscience so that we don’t have to do the hard work of negotiating coercion. We should avoid that “temptation, because an appeal to conscience selects for the disappearance of conscience in the long run, and increases anxiety in the short run.

He says this is the only way we can “nurture other and more precious freedoms.” Education should “reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons VIII: Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon

In this section, Hardin begins, “The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion of some sort.” He argues in general that it is proper to institute coercive reforms, beginning with the obvious extreme of prohibiting banks robbers’ treating banks as commons. This section mostly argues by providing a series of examples. From bank robbery prohibition, Hardin moves to one in which society coerces temperance.

Parking meters and fines are ways in which “carefully biased options limit parking. Hardin says he prefers the “candor of the word coercion” to calling this persuasion. Coercion is a dirty word but Hardin says that it need not remain so. He isn’t talking, he says, about the coercion of remote, arbitrary bureaucrats, but “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.” “We accept compulsory taxes because we recognize that voluntary taxes would favor the conscienceless.”

He says this coercion doesn’t have to be perfectly just to be preferable to the commons, and supports this assertion with the example of private property and legal inheritance. Hardin says that justice would require that “ those who are biologically more fit to be the custodians of property and power” should inherit more, but that heirs often lack their ancestors’ virtues. We tolerate the system of property and legal inheritance because “the alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate,” and “injustice is preferable to total ruin.”

(I didn’t realize we were so thoughtful. It seems to me that we have the system we do because people organize to maintain their status. It may be that this system is preferable to the commons, but I’d like to throw a hankering for justice into the mix. Is custodial fitness for wealth and power identical to the fitness it takes to accumulate wealth and power? I’m sure I’m not the only schoolboy who noticed a paradox in which a good king was preferable to a venal and ignorant democracy, but that the good king could spawn a tyrant or fool.)

Hardin points out that there is a war between the status quo and reform, governed by a double standard. Reform must be perfect to be instituted, and requires unanimous consent. He believes inertia is based on two unconscious assertions: “that the status quo is perfect,” or “that the choice we face is between reform and no action.” We think we should wait for a perfect proposal before reforming.

Status quo is action. We should measure the costs and benefits of both status quo and reform, “discounting as best we can for our lack of experience,” and act in our best interests.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons VII: Pathogenic Effects Of Conscience

An appeal to conscience has short as well as long-term disadvantages. Near the end of this section, Hardin says that responsibility is an attempt by society to get something for nothing.

(Individual do or forbear to do something because it is right. In exchange society ought to hold those individual harmless, relative to their competitors. If some individuals act in the general interest because it is right, and others individuals act in their own interests, against the larger interest, society has the advantage of the responsible individuals’ actions, without the cost of protecting them.)

The exploiter in the appeal to conscience hears that he will be condemned as irresponsible if he continues, and as a “simpleton” if he stops. Hardin invokes Bateson’s Double-Bind Theory of Schizophrenia.

("Double-Bind," not "double-blind." The idea is that paradoxical communication sets up the receiver to expect punishment no matter how he chooses: “Tell me you love me.” “I love you.” “Why do you only say you love me when I ask you?” An appeal to conscience will probably not produce many schizophrenics because the targets of appeals-to-conscience presumably have fully-formed ego, but it may be that pathological. The exploiter who is contemplating reform may expect the appeal’s founders to use his holding back to out-compete him. Certainly somebody will.)

Hardin says that appeals to conscience are tempting to leaders. He says every president in “the past generation” (Truman to Johnson) has asked labor to voluntarily keep wages low, and asked steel companies to keep prices low.

(More recently, Robert Reich, in his book Supercapitalism, has accused Congress of holding hearings, in which, by castigating business people, they appear vigilant, and business gets to continue to exploit, neither suffering the inconvenience of regulatory legislation. Appeals to conscience are a way for leaders to act without risking political capital. Talk is cheap.)

Hardin quotes Paul Goodman on guilt: “ ‘No good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves, and not even to their own interests, which might make sense, but to their anxieties’.”

Hardin opposes policies of which the “tendency (if not the intention) is psychologically pathogenic.” Propaganda campaigns “browbeat” people into acting against their own interests. “Responsibility is a verbal counterfeit of a substantial quid pro quo.”

(The honest quid pro quo would be honest commerce, facilitated by regulation.)

Hardin says that if the word is used at all, it should be “the product of definite social arrangements.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons VI: Conscience Is Self-Eliminating

We can’t control population by an appeal to conscience. Hardin says the argument is straightforward and Darwinian.

* Some people will respond to the appeal to conscience more than others;

* Those who don’t will produce more of the next generation;

* Differences will increase with each generation, with more active breeders coming to dominate.

(I believe this is the case for other appeals to conscience. A polluter has an economic advantage over his more scrupulous competitor. Because people organize to defend and expand their interests the more successful competitors will be better able to codify their right to pollute -- and to increase their increasingly larger share of the commons -- and to persuade others of the propriety of their doing so. This would extinguish Homo greenus, replaced by Homo pollutus.)

I’ll quote the entire final paragraph of this section, but Hardin uses a word “exosomatically” which I couldn’t find in either my dictionary or college Biology textbook. He’s talking about attitudes that children acquire from family custom and other social conditioning. (Exo=Outside; Somatic=Body)

“The argument assumes that conscience or the desire for children (no matter which) is hereditary -- but hereditary only in the most general formal sense. The result will be the same whether the attitude is transmitted through germ cells, or exosomatically, to use A. J. Lotka’s term. (If one denies the latter possibility as well as the former, then what’s the point of education?) The argument has been stated in the context of the population problem, but it applies equally well to any instance in which society appeals to an individual exploiting a commons to restrain himself for the general good -- by means of his conscience. To make such an appeal is to set up a selective system that works toward the elimination of conscience from the race.”

(Once again, you don’t have to be a Darwinian to buy this. If you kept tall people from marrying, you would breed short people. If you kept literate people from marrying, you would breed illiterates. If you rewarded short or illiterate people for marrying, the results would be the same.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tragedy of the Commons V: Freedom To Breed Is Intolerable

Hardin uses a quote from an essay for International Planned Parenthood News by U Thant in this section. U Thant was secretary general of the United Nations between 1961 and 1971, maybe the period when that body was most effective and widely respected. “ ‘The Universal Declaration on Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.’”

Hardin disagrees vehemently and essentially (and regretfully?) with U Thant’s assertion. He says that population affects the commons by its demands on resources as well as by using it as a sink for pollution. In a “dog-eat-dog” world parents who breed too enthusiastically would contribute less the gene pool/world’s population. (Note that the contribution is to both the number of booties on the ground, and to the population’s character.) Enthusiastic parents would be less able to care for their children, so fewer children would survive. He says this has been found to be the case among birds. “But men are not birds,” and may never have acted like birds. We don’t let the children of improvident parents starve. Hardin says society is committed to the welfare state. (Maybe the commitment is deeper than society, deeper than inventions like the welfare state. Hardin hinted at this in the discussion about birds, saying, men have not acted like birds for millenniums, at least.) The fact of the matter is that overbreeding limits the freedoms of society’s less prolific members, by concentrating resources among the more prolific families. (This is the point when Hardin most succinctly and cogently makes the case for what seems like a trespass, limiting human freedom at its most intimate. I don’t have to allow you the freedom to promiscuously limit my freedom. This thought resonates with Hardin’s earlier statement that “It is when hidden decisions are made explicit that the arguments begin.” I think he would agree that many of our libertarian inhibitions are merely conditioned, although this thought is far beyond any of “Tragedy’s” discussions.)

(In this section, Hardin is introducing the idea of selection in human heredity. You don’t have to believe that species come into being because of natural selection to recognize that humans pass on their physical characteristics. If you were to prevent marriage between tall people, over the generations, there would be fewer and fewer tall people.)

“...if the children of improvident parents starved to death; if thus, overbreeding brought its own ‘punishment’ to the germ line -- then there would be no public interest in controlling the breeding of families. But our society is so deeply committed to the welfare state, and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons.”

(What is the "tragedy of the commons"? It is that individuals' "rationally" maximizing their own gains from a common resource, inevitably ruins the common.)

The dilemma in a contemporary “welfare state” is that freedom to breed is recognized as inalienable, and everyone is seen as having an equal right to the commons. Hardin says this dilemma “locks the world into a tragic course of action.”

Because this dilemma is held adamantly, either formally or tacitly in most of the world (this is the point when Hardin quotes U Thant), it’s difficult but important to deny “the validity of this right.” Hardin says that in denying it he imagines he knows how difficult it would have been for a seventeenth century resident of Salem, Massachusetts to deny the existence of witches. He says that there is a liberal taboo against speaking against the UN which has articulated the idea of a right to breed freely. He recommends speaking openly against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and persuading both the UN and Planned Parenthood away from their points of view.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons IV: How To Legislate Temperance

Hardin Says,“The morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed.” In other words an act may be moral at one time and immoral at another.

(This is situation ethics, which usually seems to refer to divergences from religion’s or society’s prohibitions. Thou shalt not commit adultery, except in cases of... What I think Hardin is getting at is a harder morality. Individuals -- or society -- need to know when to refrain from doing things they think of as perfectly benign, even necessary. Hardin’s main case is reproduction, but I think of diet, in terms of both curbing gluttony, and tailoring diet according to economic and ecological circumstances: What is the diet for a small planet?)

Hardin says this follows from an analysis of pollution as a function of population. Pollution of the frontier doesn’t harm the common good. In a city it can’t be allowed. Likewise frontiersmen could be careless in harvesting bison, but we have to manage the few that remain.

Hardin says that the morality of shooting an elephant or setting grasslands on fire “doesn’t show up in a photograph.” “The essence of an argument cannot be photographed: it must be presented rationally -- in words.”

(Was there a public service announcement on television that I don’t remember from the time, showing dead elephants or a burning savanna? In any case, the cliche is to accuse an anecdote of being “just a snapshot,” one moment of many.)

Our traditional morality is not “system-sensitive.” It is a list of prohibitions, “Thous shalt not.” This doesn’t work to govern a “complex, crowded, changeable world.” Because we don’t know when it’s okay to shoot an elephant or dump industrial waste into a stream, we “augment statutory law with administrative law.” We make laws that create corruption -- offices of vulnerable, venal, or incompetent bureaucrats. “Quis custodiet ispsos custodes?” “Who watches the watchmen?” Hardin quotes John Adams that we must have a government of laws, not men, and says that bureaucracies create governments of men, not laws, but lands, with regret on the side of bureaucracy.

(The ultimate answer, maybe not in this century, but eventually, must be wisdom. The problem is how to reach that time when everyone wises up. The bureaucracy is the expedient. We might hope that religion would answer, Bateson’s gods’ standing for cybernetic function, while we do our purposive, non-cybernetic calculations. Would that mean a change in existing churches’ teachings, or a new cult? Traditional myths don’t fit with modern understandings, churchgoers take their religion cafeteria style, and thinkers who could forge new myth would have a hard time taking the task seriously.)

Prohibition is easy, but temperance is hard. Hardin says, “We must limit possibilities unnecessarily, if we suppose the sentiment of Quis custodiet denies the use of administrative law. The great challenge facing us now is how to invent the corrective feedbacks that are needed to keep the custodians honest.” The authority of the custodians and the feedbacks must be legitimate.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons III: Pollution

The tragedy Hardin outlines -- individuals’ maximizing personal wealth by overgrazing resources -- works similarly with pollution. A polluter pays the same tiny fraction of his damages as any other member of society, but increases his wealth without shring it. “We are locked into a system of fouling our own nest, so long as we behave as independent, rational free enterprisers.”

Private property, Hardin says, keeps us from overgrazing our land. (Maybe. Private landowners in 1968, and this year, allow soil loss, planting commodity crops.) But water and air practically have to be commons, and require “coercive laws” to protect them. Writing in 1968, Hardin says, “We have not progressed as far with the solution (to pollution) as we have with (overgrazing).”

(Hardin was writng four years in advance of the Federal Water Pollution Amendments of 1972, and nine years before the Clean Water Act, so we have made progress. We haven’t had a Great Lake catch fire for decades, but I would be skeptical about drinking from the Mississippi, which flows a mile and a half from my house, and I know I couldn’t take a mouthful of water from the creek back home without gagging. In the past year, there has been some attention to water pollution from compounds claimed by power plant stack scrubbers, and the murder of streams by mountain top removal. I assume the scrubbers are mandated, and the legislators goofed in not anticipating the new waste stream. Mountaintop removal is just goofy. The coal companies own the mountains, but have no plans for the land once the coal is exhausted, so effectively they’re renting it, and treat it like the kind of tenants who put their fists through the sheetrock. The streams are entirely somebody else’s problem.)

Harding says our concept of private property favors pollution. He says the law requires “elaborate stitching and fitting” to adapt to our current perceptions about the commons.

(Hardin is setting us up for the next section, “How to Legislate Temperance.” He says we need penalties for behavior that damages the commons. I would have liked to have talked to Hardin. I’m inclined to say it’s all a commons, and in spite of this paper’s seemingly wanting to eliminate commons, wonder if Hardin might not have felt the same. As nearly as I can tell there are two theories of property: “prior appropriation,” first to claim it keeps it, articulated in western American water-rights law; and “universal distribution of created goods,” articulated by the Catholic Church. I favor the latter. Could Hardin have arrived at the idea of making the commons private as an expedient for preserving it until such time as human beings muddle our way to distributing unevenly distributed goods equitably? The essay seems to be of two minds, one which would privatize the commons since people are more careful of what is theirs, and one which would coerce the behavior which would protect the commons.)

Population is the problem.

(But we’re stuck with it, barring die-off.)

Hardin’s grandfather (Hardin was born in 1915) told him that flowing water purifies itself every ten miles, but greater population overloads natural recycling processes. This calls for a redefinition of property rights.

(Something else that stretches Hardin’s grandfather’s ten miles of river is human ingenuity, which invents tougher wastes for the river to treat.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons II, Freedom In A Commons

Today's illustration is a portrait of Gregory Bateson and a quote from one of his letters. It's meant as a comment on the seventh paragraph below, the one that ends "freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

This is the first section in Tragedy after the introduction. It’s headed “Tragedy of Freedom in a Commons.”

The first paragraph in this section is complicated. Hardin says the rebuttal to “the invisible hand” argument is “to be found in a scenario first sketched in a little-known pamphlet (from) 1833 by a mathematical amateur named William Forster Lloyd.”

Hardin calls it the “tragedy of the commons,” and says he is using the word “tragedy” as Whitehead (A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Mentor, NY, 1948) used it and quotes him: “ ‘The essence of tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless workings of things.’” Hardin: “This inevitableness of destiny can only be illustrated in terms of human life by incidents which in fact involve unhappiness. For it is only by them that the futility of escape can be made evident in the drama.” It’s futile to escape from the consequences of our actions. Fire burns, bees sting, you fall if you jump off a bridge.

We’re supposed to picture a “pasture open to all,” where each herdsman keeps as many cattle as possible. Various factors -- conflict, poaching, disease -- keep human and bovine numbers below carrying capacity. When these factors abate, “the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.” In other words when conflict, poaching, and disease no longer limit human and animal numbers, the numbers crash the commons.

Each herdsman rationally tried to maximize his gain. If the herdsman adds one animal he gets all the benefit from that animal’s meat or sale. The land is overgrazed by one animal, but that cost is distributed among all the herdsmen, so he comes out ahead.

A rational herdsman can’t help but add more animals, but everybody who uses the pasture comes to the same conclusion, so they add a lot more animals. Each herdsman is locked into a system that “compels him to increase his herd without limit -- in a world that is limited.” Hardin says, “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

Hardin believes we learned that “freedom in a commons brings ruin to all” thousand of years ago, but “natural selection favors the forces of psychological denial.” The individual benefits even as his society suffers. Education can correct the tendency to do the wrong thing, but the lesson needs to be refreshed over and over.

Hardin refers to an incident in which a city government facing increased demand for parking at Christmas time mistakenly re-instituted the commons by placing bags over its parking meters. He come back to parking meters later in the essay, calling them a way of legislating temperance.

The logic of the commons has been understood for a long time, “perhaps since the discovery of agriculture or the invention of private property.” He says that understanding needs to be generalized. He mentions western cattlemen’s pressuring the Bureau of Land Management to increase head limits on federal land, and maritime nations’ over-fishing international waters.

He gives the limited National Park System and increased visitor loads two paragraphs, one describing the wear that visitors cause, and another offering suggestions.

* Sell the Parks;

* Entry based on wealth (make fees exhorbitant);

* Entry based on merit (only approved scholars, scientists, and artists admitted);

* Entry based on lottery;

* Entry based on position in a queue.

He believes these are all objectionable solutions, but that we must choose or acquiesce in the destruction of the commons that we call our national Parks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons, First Section

I’ve been taking pictures, trying to catch a sense of the urgency of the population problem, to find visual images that illustrate Garrett Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons. One day, I drove to the far edges of suburban sprawl and saw with my eye what I wanted to show, but not with my camera. There the problem was that the landscape was a patchwork of development devastating the countryside, an atmosphere whose appeal is undeniable, even so, evidenced by the expense and inconvenience many commit to living in it. Another day, I went to downtown Minneapolis, where there is an uninterrupted built environment, little of nature’s hand, and starker evidence of human habitation. It looked cold to me, but my prejudice is that urban density is a better strategy for housing a population that’s too large. Besides that, I found the city made for more interesting pictures. I thought of De Chirico’s paintings, and especially of the films of Michaelangelo Antonioni, particularly L’Eclisse. In L’Eclisse, the modern Roman settings represent a world that traps the characters, and thwarts what is good and joyous in them, but Antonioni's Rome is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Garrett Hardin’s 1968 essay, The Tragedy of the Commons begins by raising the possibility of a class of problems without technical solutions. Hardin uses the example of the game of tick-tack-toe to show that the class of problems without technical solutions is not a “null class.”

(In tick-tack-toe, “X” gives “O” the slightest chance of winning by playing a corner. “O” answers a corner opening with a center mark, a center opening with a corner mark, and an edge opening with a corner, or the center. Both players proceed from the opening according to a list of eight priorities. If nobody makes a mistake, the game ends in a draw. Simple computers are unbeatable, and Sam and I had our heads handed to us, for a quarter a game, by a chicken at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City. Tick-tack-toe has no technical solution.)

The population problem as conventionally conceived is a member of the class without technical solution. People who consider the problem of overpopulation often imagine that the world’s carrying capacity can be increased technologically. Hardin says no. Population increases geometrically or exponentially, while production increases arithmetically. (He’s quoting Thomas Malthus.) In a finite world, per capita share of the world’s goods must decrease. The Earth is practically finite, and a finite world can only support a finite population.

So... Population growth must eventually stop. Hardin asks can we achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, and answers no.

Mathematically, he says it is impossible to maximize for more than one variable at once, so we can only maximize population by limiting welfare. He says we need about 1600 maintenance calories a day. If we farm, operate jackhammers, or read cheap novels, we need additional calories. Culture goes out the window.

Writing a decade before the Three Mile Island meltdown, Hardin considered the possibility of an infinite source of energy. He says that this would replace the problem of acquisition with the problem of dissipation. (Couldn’t we just make energy until we need glasses?)

He says that our optimum population is less than our maximum population. What is optimum? He said it would take “generations of hard analytical work, and much persuasion” to answer that question.

What is the maximum good per person? It’s hard to say because people want different things. Incommensurables can’t be compared, but in real life, Hardin says, there are no incommensurables. Natural selection commensurates the incommensurable, using survival as the criterion. “Man must imitate this process.”

We do, but unconsciously. “Explicit decisions make controversy.” “The problem for the years ahead is to work out an acceptable theory of weighing.” We know we still need to do this because there isn’t a prosperous population on the planet that has had a growth rate of zero for a significant time.

(The problem with unconsciously commensurating the incommensurable is that it happens too slowly for individual lives, or our current crisis. This essay is half a lifetime old.)

Here’s the part that will piss a lot of people off. Hardin says that “We must exorcise” belief in Adam Smith’s (1776) notion that an individual who “ ‘intends only his own gain’ ” is “ ‘led by an invisible hand to promote...the public interest.’ ” If Smith -- and our interpretation of Smith -- is correct, Hardin says, we can trust people to limit our population. If the idea of the “invisible hand” isn’t correct, we need to “examine our individual freedoms to see which ones are defensible.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reading Hardin's The Tragedy Of The Commons

Everybody should read Garrett Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons. It gets used occasionally to make a case for something or other, most commonly that many marginal excesses will exhaust a common resource. I’ve also heard a utility spokesman seem to use it to say that commons like the atmosphere should be privately held, because responsibility comes from ownership. You could take that from it, but making a case for owning the sky because you're currently polluting it is pretty brassy.

Hardin wrote Tragedy in the late sixties, about population. He makes a case for society’s having an interest in how enthusiastically families breed. He talks about freedom, and “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon,” but even he hints that population is only a special case, and that his essay is about more.

What is the “tragedy of the commons”? It is that individuals “rationally” maximizing their own gains from a common resource inevitably ruin the resource.

Instead of one long essay of mine, I’ll post my notes outlining Hardin’s paper, one section per day, along with some comments or clarification where they seem needed. You can read the original paper here, along with a friendly objection.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Samplin' At The Cedar

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign. Why is there a no-trespassing sign here? We’re looking south on Stevens Avenue at the corner with Thirty-fifth Street. Pedestrians cross legally in both directions, and there’s a residence on our right. We’re running parallel to I-35W, but you can see that the freeway is on the other side of the street. Incidentally, there are no-trespassing signs on the fence between us and I-35.

Jason had an almond-sampling date Wednesday. It was for a benefit beer tasting, hosted by Zipp's Liquor, for the Cedar Cultural Center, a venue for acts like Tom Rush, The Roches, and Patty Larkin. A critic called The Roches “three feminist folksingers, once, and Terre Roche responded that she didn’t think she’d go to see that particular act. Acoustic geezers? Anyway, an emergency intervened, and Jason and Barbara baked, and I got to flog the almonds at the benefit.

The Seward Co-op, which carries Smokies and Sweeties, was supplying the buffet, and invited us to tag along. I had been thinking for a long time that we should be able to say things like, “Smokies are great with an IPA,” or “Sweeties go well with a sweet white wine.” Not having much of a head for alcohol, I hadn’t gotten around to the testing. Here. I thought, I can drink beer in tablespoons full, and compare responsibly. I didn’t get very far. I drank about a finger of Crispin Hard Cider, which goes pretty well with either Smokies or Sweeties, four or five ounces of some kind of abbey ale whose brand I’ve forgotten, but which was quite good and worked with the Sweeties, and another three or four ounces of the best beer I have ever drunk, and which fights the Smokies, but is great with the Sweeties. Bourbon County Stout pours like a milkshake, tastes like Guinness with a little bit of cream and whiskey, and clocks in at fifteen percent alcohol. Is there such a thing as sippin’ beer? I’d drink a tiny bit of this with dessert, or lingeringly with friends. The problem with doing a tasting is that every beer at the Cedar last night was tasty, unique, and more than a little on the exotic side.

I think the sampling went well. I made friends with the Seward Deli personnel, and people seemed to go for the nuts. The Sweeties were the big hit, and people who had never tasted them before got a chance to learn how tasty, unique, and a little on the exotic side a nut can be.

I was running out, and Barbara swung by to restock me on her way home from the bakery. That gave her a chance to schmooze with Anne, the deli manager, and drop some hints about Naughties and Hotties.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Feminist Artist And His Model

There’s a drawing I’ve seen reproduced once in a while. It’s a figure study, and I think it’s a Poussin (Nicolas, French, 1594-1665). The artist has rendered a seated female nude very solidly in black crayon or chalk. It’s startling, because the model is blindfolded, and the blindfold is itself a beautiful little drapery study. Of course the blindfold is there to maintain the model’s anonymity, but the state frequently binds the condemneds’ eyes. Am I asserting my values too absolutely by wishing that, three or four hundred years ago, a man whose business was to convey meaning with images, noticed the resonance, and felt a trickle of compassion for the anonymous woman he was drawing?

My models are comfortable being nude, and with their occupation. I know their last names, and if Barbara and I bumped into one, waiting in line for a movie, I would introduce them, and we’d chat. In a past post, I mentioned a model’s full name, and went back a few minutes later and removed the second half. As obscure as this blog is, I would hate to have some local idiot read that one Gudrun Q. McGillicuddy poses naked for artists, and take that as indication that he would be welcome to track her down and make a pest of himself, or worse.

As per usual, Tuesday night I was the only man in a room with five women, one of whom was sitting very still with her clothes off. One of the other artists skipped the five two-minute warm-up drawings to leaf through a book of Beatles photographs, and we gossiped about the love lives of people who are now old or dead. “Talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-generation.” There were pictures of Patty Boyd, who became Mrs. George Harrison, and Lisa, the model, mentioned that she had just watched A Hard Day’s Night, in which Patty Boyd appeared. I tossed out that Ms. Boyd did so in a very fetching schoolgirl uniform, and Lisa said something about men and their fascination with schoolgirl uniforms. Point to Lisa.

I wasn’t on top of my drawing. Lisa was sitting on a blue sheet, sometimes draping it over parts of her body. There were a lot of complex folds, and I was tired. Some of my drawings were okay, and some were b-b-bad.

After we had finished drawing, our hostess Betsy turned on the television to catch the election results, and it turned out that the Republicans had won the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia that were supposed to be a referendum on the Obama presidency (Democrat Bill Owens, whom Republican Dierdre Scozzafava had endorsed upon leaving the race, did prevail over whatsisname in New York’s 23rd Congressional District). Betsy was distressed, and railed against bigots in general and Republicans in particular. I was standing in the door at this point, and Lisa squeezed by, so I said, “I’ll walk out with you.” Truth be told, I would have enjoyed staying and exchanging views with Betsy, and I wonder if she took my departure as abrupt or pointed, but it was late.

When Lisa and I reached the street, Lisa said she’d see me around, and turned left. I said I’m parked on Thirty-sixth to explain my turning left as well. I could almost hear the wheels turning in Lisa’s head, as she wondered if she had acquired an unwanted admirer. Drawing somebody’s naked body for two hours isn’t arousing. I’ve tried, experimentally, to work up a little arousal while drawing, but I always come back to the problem of translating what I see into marks on paper, without noticing when. People are real. I’m real. Lisa’s real. I’m not going to violate that.

As we walked under one tree, it was like walking on bubble plastic. Something was snapping under foot. I picked one of the things up. It was a pale orange fruit, bigger than a cherry, but smaller than an apricot. I tasted it, sweet but cheesy, sort of like Parmesan sherbet. That was way too goofy a thing for a lecher to do. If Lisa wasn’t convinced then, she was when I got into the car in front of hers and made a u-turn onto 36th Street.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day

I voted in today’s odd-year election. When I was studying the candidates, it seemed like Minneapolis was at least as interesting as NY, NJ, and VA, where the national media smell a referendum on Barack Obama's candidacy. Minneapolis seems to be thinking more deeply than personality. The common threads among the challengers are fairness to homeowners, government responsiveness, and small business climate. This is the case across political and sanity spectra. (The Twins' stadium is almost finished and it is a magnificent public work. Besides that, we have been building a lot of condominiums in the last decade, and a new Guthrie Theater. One of the old ruined mills has been reinforced, so it can stand around looking textural and historic, but do it safely.) We have eleven mayoral candidates. One of them worships Laura Ingalls Wilder, and wants to secede from the union. And of course, we have ranked-choice voting. It'll be interesting to see how that works out. The likeliest challenger to unseat Mayor R. T. Rybak is a business owner and guitarist, Papa (it's on the ballot) John Kolstad. Kolstad runs a bumper sticker and lapel-button shop on Lake Street, and has put together endorsements from the Green, Independence, and...wait for it...Republican parties. (Lake Street is a business street that crosses town east to west. Recently it was repaved to the chagrin of business owners, because there was federal money available.) There is also a little flap from a contributing developer-former City Council member who didn't get the vote he wanted from his beneficiary. There are also hints of bad blood between the Council, the Park Board, and something called the Board of Estimate and Taxation. The BET is on the block, with both sides on the proposition claiming greater transparency, and settling scores between Council and Park Board the hidden agenda.

The illustration uses a detail from Thomas Hart Benton’s 1934 painting, Preparing the Bill. Benton was the grandnephew of the Missouri senator of the same name. He was born in 1989, studied in Paris, and successfully synthesized an American directness with the formal experimentation of his older, European contemporaries. The painting belongs to the Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Monday, November 2, 2009

End Of Summer

Saturday saw the last regular Midtown Farmers’ market. Barbara was at the East Side Co-op sampling, and I backed Jason up at the market. People were eager to stock up -- nuts for the winter -- and we ran out of Smokies, and made big dents in the other flavors. Sunday Barbara and Jason baked 180 pounds, a record amount.

This was also the last market for Chase Brook Farm, who are packing up and going back east. It gripes my guts that somebody who is trying to do right by the environment and create wealth goes out of business, while idiots who farm from their desks, and foul our nest can ride out an economic storm.

I got a letter from my cousin. Our grandmother had given her a cemetery plot in Chicago as a wedding present -- lets say -- thirty-five years ago. Apparently possession of the title wasn't good enough for the archdiocese, and Marty needed me to go to a notary and sign something that said I didn't care. I don't, and I toddled over to the bank for a little one-man signing ceremony. Marty's letter was formal enough that I was a little put off, and I have an idea that she didn't write it. I'd been doing some design exercises in my sketch book, and worked a note into one page's composition: "I'd forgotten that Grandmother had given you a cemetery plot as a wedding gift. That's a premise for a sitcom episode. I don't think I could have kept a straight face. Still, it's kind of beautiful when I think of it. Use it in good health."

Abdullah Abdullah pulled out of the race for the Afghan presidency Sunday, assuring current president Ahmed Karzai’s re-election.

Abdullah is an MD, has been the Afghan Foreign Minister, and was active in resisting Soviet occupation as well as the Taliban. He accuses Karzai of rigging next Saturdays election, and the August 20 preliminary election was tainted with bribery, armed coercion, and ballot stuffing. Even so, Abdullah’s withdrawal seems convenient, and resonates with electoral fraud in next-door Iran, which probably didn’t affect that election’s results, but did galvanize opposition to the sitting government.

Hamid Karzai is Afghanistan’s twelfth president. Like Abdullah, he was active in resitance to the Soviets. He supported the Taliban, then broke with them. He has been president since 2002, and chaired the governing committee between Operation Enduring Freedom’s evicting the Taliban until then. he has a younger brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, with reputed ties to narcotics smuggling. Hamid refused an offer from the US in 2004 to use herbicides to eradicate the poppy crop because of its importance to Afghanistan’s economy.

I don’t care which of these characters is Afghanimanian president, but I do recognize a historical soap opera when I see one. It makes me think of the coup and assasination of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. Diem had reisted the Japanese occupation, and held colonial positions between the end of WWII and French departure in 1954. In 1955 he prevailed in establishing a republican government in South Vietnam, with himself as president. He was authoritarian, even repressive, with self-immolating Buddhist monks representing resitance to his regime. In 1963 Vientnamese generals removed him from office and executed him.

Which isn’t to say that Karzai is a tyrant, or predict that he will end up shot in the back of a military van. It’s more to point out a parallel instability. Last week the Onion’s headline read, “U. S. Continues Quagmire Building Effort in Afghanistan.” I voted for Barack Obama hoping for an FDR. I think I’m getting an LBJ.

Barbara and I dropped in on Sam's and Marissa's Halloween party Saturday night, and left early so as not to cramp anybody's style. We got to sample the mad Scientist India Pale Ale, and the older Steam Punk Beer. Good stuff.

Tomorrow’s election day. It’s ranked-choice voting’s trial run. We vote for our first, second, and third choices for city office. There’s a mayoral race, as well as City Council, Board of Estimate and Taxation, and Park Board Races, and a proposition to fold the Board of Estimate and Taxation into the City Council.

For mayor (in order): Kolstad, Rybak, Lombard.

For Ninth Ward Council Member (in order): Bicking, Schiff, and no third choice.

For At-Large Park Board Commissioner (in no particular order): Nordyke, Anderson, Fine.

For District 3 Park Board Commissioner: Vreeland.

For Board of Estimate and Taxation (in order): Becker, Townsend, Wheeler.

Should the City Council take over the board of Estimate and Taxation duties? No.