Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Daniel and Henrik Dangerfield

I saw this headline linked from another site, "Anson Carter: Where would the Sedins be without me?" and I assumed it was an Onion-style satire, but apparently not.

The article says, "The 2005-06 campaign represents the Sedins’ coming-out party; their pronouncement to the hockey world that there was something special about their skills and their chemistry."

and that, "Carter also saw something that season and even if he couldn’t project what the twins would become — largely because no one could..."

In response, let me just link back to one of the few times I've posted on hockey on this blog, back at the start of 05-06 season when I pointed out that the Sedins were doing fine, they just needed more ice time and time on the power play. And they got more ice time and more time on the power play in 05-06 and their point totals went up right in line with that increase.

I also love how the article notes that a) Carter wanted $3 million/year, b) he was out of the league at the end of the season after he didn't get it, and c) the Sedins went on to bigger and netter things with him gone, but still manages to make it seem like it was possibly the wrong decision not to give Carter the $3 million he wanted.

None of this matters, I guess, it would just be nice if people (in the media in particular) paid more attention to reality. And yes, I've been blogging for many years, so I suppose I must be a slow learner since I haven't learned to just live with this sort of nonsense by now.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

86. Casts of Mind, War and Peace Edition

Note: This post is the eighty-sixth in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

Paul Krugman had a post up recently about the U.S. Civil War and some of what he said struck me as relevant to his cast of mind, in the sense that some people have a 'guardian mindset' and some people have a 'commercial mindset.' Economists are typically the purest examples of the commercial mindset.

Here's a few quotes from his post,

"It’s the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War ...I’ve long had a special fascination, not with how the war began, but with its end. ...mainly, I think, it’s because of the symbolism of that final surrender: Lee the patrician, in his dress uniform, surrendering to the not at all patrician U.S. Grant, still muddy and disheveled from hard riding. It was, in a very real sense, the victory of modern America — of a democratic nation, in manners as well as politics — over an aristocratic ideal.

And the way modern America won was characteristic. Southerners were better warriors — man for man, they almost always outperformed Union armies, although the gap narrowed over time. But the North excelled at the arts of peace — that is, in industry and ability to get things done.

America’s other great moral war, World War II, was similar. ... the truth is that Americans were never as good at the art of war as the Germans. What we were good at was the art of production, of supply.


So anyway, I’m devoting a bit of time today to thinking about the muddy roads south of Richmond where, 146 years ago, the seal was put on creating the kind of nation I believe in."

It's a bit of an odd sentiment - the nation Paul Krugman believes in is one that is good enough at the Commercial life that it can 'buy its way to victory' in the Guardian world of warfare.

It's clear that Krugman understands the distinction between the Guardian approach of the patrician South vs. the Commercially minded North and that he prefers the Northern approach, but he doesn't spell out why - maybe because it was successful in the Civil War and World War II?, but you get the sense that his loyalty would remain the same even if the North had lost the Civil War and the U.S. had lost World War II.

Of course, it's also not really clear that it was the economic strength (per person) of the U.S. that was decisive in World War II. The Soviet Union was communist at the time, not exactly conducive to the kind of nation that Paul Krugman would believe in, and yet they seemed to do quite well in World War II as well.

Anyway, people can and do quibble endlessly about who accomplished what in past wars, but what is interesting to me is that Paul Krugman views democracy and strong commercial activity as going hand in hand in opposition to an aristocratic (hierarchical) society which is better equipped with warrior virtues, and that in his mind one (commercial society) is preferable and modern while the other (aristocratic society) is inferior and pre-modern.

In 'The Republic' Plato outlined how one type of government leads to another, with the aristocratic type giving way to a capitalist type which gave way to Democracy which finally gave way to tyranny, so that is consistent with Krugman's view that democracy and capitalism should be successors to the aristocratic type of society - although I doubt he'd agree that tyranny will be the new modern, leaving behind the old outdated democracy (or maybe he would, he's been paying as much attention to U.S. politics as anyone over the past decade).

Anyway, this is a bit of rambling post, the main thing I wanted to do was highlight how a commercial vs. guardian mindset lurks behind much of what is written on the topics of politics and what course society should take. Once your mind is tuned to look for the undercurrents of commercial syndrome or guardian syndrome casts of mind, you will see them everywhere (at least you will of you are like me, anyway).

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Saturday, March 26, 2011


As I write this post, one of the most read/most emailed/etc. posts at the world's most influential newspaper, The New York Times, is 'Losing Our Way' by Bob Herbert (his last column for the Times).

Says Herbert,
"The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely."


"This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

As The Times’s David Kocieniewski reported, “Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”

G.E. is the nation’s largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people.

Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed."

And reading the comments on the article, the most popular ones all share the same sentiments, if anything expressed with more despair and resignation. The highest rated comment, recommended by almost 2,000 readers, says,
"I am afraid that America's decline is permanent, hopeless, and goes beyond the current political climate which is, after all, only a reflection of the people."

I don't know, maybe people are always inclined to pessimism, or this is just a normal mood as a recession comes to an end, but it doesn't seem normal, or promising to me.

It would be nice if I could write this as a smug Canadian, happy that we weren't headed in the same direction, but I think anyone paying attention knows that with a right wing party likely to stay in power or even gain more power running on a platform of military spending, prison building, and corporate tax cuts, we seem eager to follow the Americans down the exact same road.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

85. Treasuring Honour

Note: This post is the eighty-fifth in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

I've spent the last week thinking about what is meant by 'honour' - it's not as easy to describe as some of the other guardian precepts such as 'be obedient' or 'dispense largesse' and this might be a bit of a muddled post due to the lack of clear understanding on my part.

At any rate, looking at the Wikipedia entry for 'honour' it covers a wide range of topics, with a relationship to the guardian syndrome seeming to be the only common thread. After thinking about it for a while, the common thread that I came back to was similar to Wikipedia starts with, "Honour is the evaluation of a person's social status as judged by that individual's community."

After thinking about it for a while, I came back to 'Systems of Survival' and was reminded that Jane Jacobs had gone through a similar thought process,

"I put [honour] last .. because it's such a catchall. What does 'honour' mean? It's not honesty, with which it's often vulgarly confused. 'On my word of honour' can solemnize almost anything, including a promise to cover up the truth, or to lie if pressed. Even children know that. 'Honour among thieves' is not an oxymoron.

...consider what, if anything, the following have in common: the members of a monarch's annual honours list, students in a high school honours course; recipients of honourable discharges, honoraria, honorary degrees, and honourable mentions in competitions; bearers of honorifics such as the Honourable Member, the Honourable Penelope So-and-so, the daughter of a titled aristocrat, an honourary chairman, and His Honour, the mayor?

It comes clear once we recognize what dictionaries themselves tell us. Honour is recognition of status and the respect owed to status. It's much the same as 'face' in China.

Here is the crux, for either honour of face. The respect is owed, and the self-respect earned, because honour implies moral obligations, and it's possession certifies that the obligations attached to a position - whatever they may be - are honourably fulfilled."

We know that the Guardian syndrome is hierarchical, and that the hierarchy gives those on top power over those below and we saw how this can be mitigated by the precept of 'dispense largesse'. Honour serves as another bulwark against abuse of power by those at the top of the hierarchy. Those below don't have the power to affect the comfort or convenience of those above, but they do have some power to bestow or to withhold honours from their leaders.

The wording of the precept by Jane Jacobs, not 'Be honourable', but 'Treasure Honour' is interesting. It almost makes 'honour' sound like a quantity to be accumulated or hoarded, in the same manner that an avaricious person would treasure treasure.

The conclusion I'm led to is that, in somewhat the same manner that 'comfort and convenience' serves as the end goal for the Commercial Syndrome, the accumulation of honour serves as the goal for guardians. I say 'somewhat' because 'comfort and convenience' is the end goal for the commercial syndrome, while for the guardian syndrome honour is a personal goal for the guardians themselves - something that will keep them working towards the end goal of the guardian syndrome (the common good?).

It makes me think back to Howard Margolis' 'Fair Share model' in which people try to maximize two functions, one which represents their personal welfare and one which measures the welfare of the social group they are part of.

Still, trying to come up with an analytically workable definition of honour is difficult. It seems that honour increases with the level of power/status obtained and decreases to the extent that any abuse of that power or failure to use the power successfully (i.e. losing a war) takes place. Now all we need to do is measure all of those things accurately!

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Post This Week

Sadly, work is absorbing all my mental energy for the time being. Back next week...

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Difference Between Lending and Democracy

I read an article many years ago that questioned why banks were getting out of the student loan business when almost 3/4 of students paid back their loans. What the reporter failed to understand was that, unlike 'democracy', where if you have 40% of the people onside you're good to go with a 'majority' government, in the lending business you need a far, far higher percentage of loans to repay you in order to stay solvent.

The logic is simple (especially when lending to 'prime' customers (people with a relatively clean credit history, i.e. most people), where margins are fairly tight) - it takes a lot of 'good' loans that repay in full to offset one bad loan that a bank has to write-off.

I was reminded of this simple truth when reading an article in the Vancouver Sun today, which offered as good news that, "Almost three-quarters of respondents in the RBC poll said they are well positioned to withstand a decline in the housing market."

That is not good news! If there was a decline in the housing market, and one quarter of Canadians were not able to 'withstand it,' that would be a massive financial crisis for this country.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

84. Hierarchy, Obedience and Largesse

Note: This post is the eighty-fourth in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

Last post, I talked about how we model the precept of 'Be loyal'. This week, let's look at a cluster of other Guardian syndrome precepts, 'Dispense Largesse, 'Respect Hierarchy' and 'Be Obedient'

In a lot of ways, the Commercial and Guardian syndromes are opposites. The commercial syndrome shuns force and upholds honesty while the Guardian syndrome lauds force and deception when used to advance our shared interests. The Commercial syndrome calls for efficiency while the Guardian syndrome calls for rich use of leisure and so on.

The topic of hierarchy is another instance of this opposition. While the Guardian syndrome includes military-type hierarchical precepts such as 'Respect Hierarchy' and 'Be Obedient and Disciplined,' the commercial syndrome calls for 'Dissent for the sake of the task' and 'Come to Voluntary Agreements.'

In what sort of situation is a hierarchy useful? As Joseph Heath points out in 'The Efficient Society' it seems like there are a lot of such situations, as most of our life, our working life in particular, revolves around hierarchical structures. Heath figures that the hierarchy is more efficient and that, "The most effective hierarchies are ones in which subordinates have enough loyalty to the organization and to its leadership that they obey without needing to be forced" (emphasis added).

Heath adds that hierarchy's core virtue is that, "it helps us to avoid collective action problems"

By 'collective action problems' Heath is referring to prisoner's dilemma situations with multiple participants.

But what is meant by more efficient. In his book 'The Efficient Society' Heath generally means Pareto efficient (meaning some people are better off, nobody is worse off) but he's not specific in his discussion of hierarchy.

The classic prisoner's dilemma looks like the following:

Let's assume for now that without a hierarchical structure, Bob and Doug would end up in the uncooperative outcome with a total result of 2 (1 each) but that by forming a hierarchical structure with Bob in charge, now they end up at the 'cooperative' outcome with a total result of 10.

But whereas in the standard cooperative resolution the fruits are divided based on some predetermined formula, in this case the person at the top of the hierarchy could, by virtue of their superior rank, simply take the whole 'cooperative' result for themselves. If this were to happen, then the final outcome would still be efficient in this sense of achieving the best total result possible, but it would no longer be Pareto-efficient in the sense of providing a gain to all involved. The sucker at the bottom of the hierarchy ends up worse off than before.

Within the altered world of hierarchy, it makes sense for Doug to cooperate, even getting nothing out of the deal (because now Bob is his superior/boss and can punish him if he doesn't cooperate), but he'd be better off scrapping the whole notion of the hierarchy (i.e. starting a revolution) and going back to how things were before.

Commercially minded folks (e.g. economists) will be thinking to themselves that this can't happen because then the underling will just go somewhere else where they can get a better deal. But that's commercial thinking - in the guardian world, there is no 'competition' and there is nowhere else to go

In the Guardian world, the recourse is not to competition, but to force. In order to secure continued obedience Bob could resort to force as well, but it would probably be better for everyone if he instead decided to share some of the cooperative gain with Doug.

Thus brings us to the final precept I wanted to discuss in this post, 'Dispense Largesse.' The current round of uprisings in the Middle East is showing the difference between places (Oman, Jordan, UAE) where leaders practiced the guardian precept of dispensing largesse and places like Tunisia and Libya where leaders instead accumulated billions of dollars in their own private bank accounts (obviously there's a lot more going on, but I feel confident that the role of largesse is certainly a factor).

In game theory terms, the largesse plays a critical role in securing buy in (obedience and respect for) a hierarchical arrangement which is more efficient in dealing with Prisoner's Dilemma type situations. We end up with something like the following:

Maybe it doesn't seem completely fair (who put Bob in charge, anyway?) but everyone is better off (in absolute, if not in relative terms) under the new hierarchical system than they were in the old uncooperative outcome.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

On Vacation

Posting will resume next week. That is all.

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