February 5. Oh no -- 2016 is already ten percent over! Today I want to write about personal stuff, partly inspired by some emails. Last month my restless legs syndrome was really acting up. It's like an itch in my leg muscles that I can "scratch" by vigorously moving them, and if there were a pill that cured it, you couldn't pay me to take it. Leg strength is correlated with brain fitness, and I can spend a half hour a night doing one-legged squats and heel lifts, not because of self-discipline, but because I have an overwhelming urge to do so. If only I had an overwhelming urge to write novels or play music. We imagine that highly successful people have some kind of magical virtue, when really they have various restless syndromes that compel them to do things that other people happen to find valuable. As I get older, motivation is the only psychological skill that doesn't get easier. It feels like I'm in a room with a bunch of locked doors, which represent different activities and how hard it is to force myself to do them. Every night I have to push through a tiny wall of pain to floss my teeth, and the one reason I look forward to death (so far) is that I'll never have to floss again. For stuff I don't have to do every day, I watch the doors, and when one of them partially opens I dash through. "Oh, I sort of feel like cleaning the floors or going to the store, so I'd better do it right now or it will be much more painful later." Other doors lead to long-term projects, but if it's just a hallway with one locked door after another, inevitably I wear out and have to stop. So far the only open hallway I've found -- the only activity that I continue to feel like doing, and that seems valuable, is this blog. But how do we know what's really valuable? It's an impossible question, but we still have to try to answer it. I try to find a compromise between what I feel like doing now, and what I think I'll look back later and be glad I did.
February 3. Some quick notes on the Iowa caucus. Trump's weak second place finish shows that it is possible to underestimate the American people, and if he really wants to be president, he has to do fewer PR stunts and act more like a serious candidate. For the Democrats, Bernie's virtual tie is a symbolic win, but in terms of delegate math, Iowa is the kind of young, white, educated state that he needs to win 2-1 to be on track for the nomination. To have any chance to overcome Hillary's superdelegates, he has to do much better than expected among black people.
Bernie's performance among young people is great news for the future: he got eight out of ten voters under 30, and six out of ten aged 30-45. You might say, in 20 years when those voters are older they'll switch to establishment candidates because they'll be better off financially. But they won't! That's age of growth thinking: "a rising tide lifts all boats." There will never be a rising tide again, in 20 years most of those voters will still be poor, and their grandparents will replaced by more young people who want cancellation of debts, an unconditional basic income, and a financial transaction tax.
More about the new economy (thanks Andy): Economics might be very wrong about growth. Experts are gradually noticing that growth is no longer exponential but linear, but the whole financial industry is still based on exponential growth, which is why it keeps collapsing.
And The Fed wants to test how banks would handle negative interest rates. I think the whole economy should be built on a foundation where concentrations of wealth tend to shrink over time instead of growing, and Charles Eisenstein wrote a good chapter on this a while back: The Currency of Cooperation.
February 1. I've put off writing about presidential politics because it's easy to get swept up and say dumb things. A few months ago I thought Hillary Clinton would crush Bernie Sanders, because I remember how in 2008 Obama barely beat Hillary despite being an establishment candidate with an all-time great campaign organization. Bernie has almost no superdelegates, his organization is nothing special, and Hillary has learned from the blunders she made in 2008, and yet Bernie is running strong. This makes me think the whole framework has changed, and candidates who can brand themselves as outsiders now have a big advantage with voters. A few months ago I thought Donald Trump was a joke, and now I see him as an unstoppable juggernaut. Read this month old reddit comment about Trump's mastery of the media. I would go farther and say he has an intuitive understanding of mass psychology, and he's been laying the foundation for this run since the the 1990's. Because he has established a persona where people already expect him to say ridiculous things, he's gaffe-proof. Other candidates have to walk a tightrope between boring the voters and alienating them, while Trump is walking a highway where he can be popular and offensive at the same time. Somehow he can play the strong leader and play the clown. You can read more about Trump's powers in several smart posts on Scott Adams' blog Assuming it's Trump against Clinton in November, I see this as a repeat of 1996, where Trump is Bill Clinton, polarizing but charismatic, and Hillary is Bob Dole: unlikeable, boring, and unlucky. And Trump can easily rebrand himself as a moderate, because he has a long history of being a moderate before he talked like an extremist to win the primaries. I don't think President Trump would ruin America, or save it. I would expect him to propose a bunch of simple-minded reforms, let congress rework them to fit the system, and where the reforms work he'll take credit, and where they fail he'll blame congress. Bernie Sanders could do the same thing, but because of Trump's pre-existing alpha businessman persona, and his myth manipulation skill, he would be more likely to get away with it and win a second term. The big doom scenario is if there's some disaster that shuts down congress, Trump takes temporary unchecked power, it goes to his head, and he doesn't give it up. If I'm wrong, and Hillary wins, it will be with the votes of sensible old people, or because an independent candidate splits the Republican vote. The establishment Republicans would never admit it but they'd rather have Hillary be president than Trump. If Sanders is the nominee, Republicans will unite against him, and Trump over Sanders could destroy the Democratic party, if they react to the loss by fearing voter passion exactly when they should embrace it.
January 30. Update on the feed: thanks Patrick for writing a new script! I'll wait until after my first post of February to upload it, because otherwise all January posts will show up as new.
, but what's great about that song is the energy that came through Screamin' Jay Hawkins and his band that one time. It's like people think they can play the same song and summon the same magic, but that's not how it works.
January 29. Last week I went through the Official /r/ListenToThis Best Of 2015 list. It has never been easier to record music and put it out for an audience, and that's a good thing, but it has also led to an explosion of mediocrity. In many hours of listening, I did not find a single thing that really excited me, but I did find some stuff I still recognize as high quality. I'll post a few albums now and more another time.
Ezra Furman - Perpetual Motion People is creative, spirited, super-cool indie rock, and one of Leigh Ann's favorites of 2015. It reminds me of the Violent Femmes.
Ott - Fairchildren is complex, ambitious, well-mixed psychedelic pop. For me the vocals and rhythm section are too pop, and I don't hear any good songs.
Stara Rzeka is Jakub Ziolek, a dude in Poland who records impressive sound textures in his apartment. Here's a 2013 Stara Rzeka interview where he says cool stuff about both music and philosophy. His long 2015 album is called Zamknely sie oczy ziemi, and I love his sound, which is somewhere between psych folk and black metal, but I don't like his voice, and again I don't hear compelling songwriting. My favorite track is the instrumental Mapa.
Here's how I distinguish songwriting from style: if you strip a piece of music down to one acoustic instrument and one voice (or two instruments) played by average people, then that's the pure song, and everything you took out is style. Great songwriting means anyone can learn to play your songs and sound good, while great style means you can cover other people's songs and sound better.
I also distinguish between style that can be duplicated at will by skilled musicians, and something deeper that comes from somewhere more mysterious. For example, a bunch of artists have covered I Put A Spell On You, but what's great about that song is the energy that came through Screamin' Jay Hawkins and his band that one time. It's like people think by playing the same song they'll summon the same magic, but that's not how it works.
Second update: another reader, on a recent version of Firefox, says his feed is working with no double posting.
Update: another reader says the feed still works for him, but "as long as I can remember, every post shows up twice", and today there's an image in the feed for the first time. I haven't touched the script in years, and I wouldn't know how, so maybe these changes are all being caused by changes in individual computers or browsers.
January 28. Quick note: a reader tells me that the feed for this page has stopped working. I assume it's because my web host upgraded their PHP interpreter from 5.3 to 5.5. I don't know PHP, but if someone does and wants to try to fix this, email me at ranprieur at gmail and I'll send you the script that Patrick wrote a few years ago.
January 27. Today, some unrelated stuff from reddit. All of these are long pages with lots of comments. First, continuing the subject of money being a bad way to measure value, a comment about how flash games from the last decade were better than mobile games today, because the game designers used to be motivated by passion, and now they're trying to make money by getting people addicted.
From the meditation subreddit, a comment about the value of mindfulness in the context of Buddhism. I would say it like this: Objects, including the self, are like waves on the ocean; their separateness is an illusion, and suffering comes from trying to hold onto them. By moving your attention to subtle causes and effects at the edge of the self, the line between self and other disappears, and you become an infinitely small point of consciousness surfing the waves.
If you read enough about near-death experiences, occasionally you'll see an incredible report of someone living years in seconds. This guy lived another life for ten years. There are some comments from people who had similar experiences, and also some people trying to explain it in terms of our primitive clockwork model of reality. If we ever understand this phenomenon well enough to duplicate it, and to choose the content of the experiences, imagine how the world would change...
Back to (almost) conventional reality, What's something your parents did when you were a kid that you didn't realize was weird until you grew up? Some of this stuff is really troubling, like the father who forced the family to use only one bath towel in order of decreasing status, and some of it is awesome, like the family that would have a battle with wrapping paper rolls every Christmas.
. You can go into the shooting gallery in Zelda, or the casino in Grand Theft Auto, and have some fun getting money to buy some perks in the larger game world, but you can't get any really important powers, because then the minigame would take over the main game. Our society is a bad game because the money-based minigames have taken it over. Financial investment is a minigame that has gone so far out of balance that the best players think they're playing the Big Game, that they're at the heart of the creation of value.