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Monday, October 28, 2013

Target date for the Ballard store: Nov. 7

by John MacBeath Watkins

Things have been taking longer than expected, but it looks like we will be able to open the
Ballard store the day after Guy Fawkes Day.

(edited to add: Oops. Let's say two days after Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 7, which is Thursday.)

From a couple weeks ago:

From a few days ago, the office is under control and we're beginning to tackle the main room, with many of the shelves up:

From a couple days ago, Thad Higa shelving:

From yesterday. All the shelves are up, now all we need to do is shelve all those books. Shelving party next weekend, noon to six both days!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lest we forget: Black Like Me and To Sir With Love

by Jamie Lutton

There are two outstanding short autobiographies, To Sir With Love by E. R. Braithwaite , and Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. both published in 1960, that chronicle an era now almost as remote to us as the Civil War. That is the Civil Rights era; the period from the end of World War ll, 1945, and 1968, the death of Martin Luther King.

One book is by an American, the other is by a  British citizen. But they are both about the great struggle for human dignity that the black man faced then- the struggle for  human dignity in the face of blatant white hostility and racism.

Both these books pivot on a paradox to the readers of the time; a black WW ll veteran teaching 'ignorant'  poor white teenagers in London, and a white writer choosing to pass as black in the South, when it was  the war zone of the Civil Rights era.

The first book is more familiar because an excellent film adaptation was made of it at the time. To Sir With Love is the autobiography of a a few years in the life of a black veteran of the British Air force, an engineer, becoming a teacher. He could not get work in London after World War ll, and had to take up a teaching position in a slum school in East London, as that was the only place that would hire him.

Most of the book concerns his close observation of his teenage students, and the neighborhood in which they lived.  How he had great difficulty in getting their attention and respect, and what methods he used.
The film made from this book was a tool for recruiting teachers to teach in bad neighborhoods for decades after it was made.   This is a story of the making of a teacher, first, and the strange journey he took to become one, and what he made of his school,  the neighborhood, the other teachers, and most of all, the impoverished kids he taught.  This book lends itself to rereading ,as the author is  passionate about his profession, and his 'children'.It could be read for the atmosphere alone.

This book was very popular in America, as an  autobiography of a black man, telling his story of double triumph over racism and learning how to be a good teacher in a bad school.  The prejudice and hostility he faced, while job-hunting and trying to find a place to live in East London, was filled with xenophobia, as much as race hatred.  If you cannot find time to read the book - which I strongly advise you to do, as it is amazing - at least watch the movie, which is not dated at all. There still is a great problems in fairly and effectively teaching  children who have not been exposed to books in the home, and who live in  poverty.

The other autobiography, Black Like Me, is the account of a few months in the life of  another World War ll veteran. An American white man who had served in the South Pacific, been blinded in the war and then regained his sight over a decade later. He had written several books before this one.

Griffin wanted to know, by personal experience, what it is like to be black in the deep South. in the midst of the struggle for civil rights for black citizen   He decided to try to pass as black, and see for himself what the situation was, and report on it. .

He underwent a tricky and dangerous treatment to his skin, usually used to diminish birth marks,, plus the use of a tanning lamp and some stain. He then shaved his head and arms, and with the help of a few friends, traveled across the deep South as a black man in November and December of 1959, and kept a careful daily journal of his experiences.
What amazed me was the level of hatred leveled at black people (or as the book uses the word 'Negroes') by whites in the Deep South.

The Civil Rights movement had begun about six years earlier, with agitation for voting rights and desegregation. Black Americans and their allies were working through legal channels and by passive resistance to get justice from the legal system when they were wronged, and such issues  as the access to white beaches, bathrooms and restaurants.

At the time Griffin went South and passed for a few months, the white population he observed was  nearly universally harassing black men; black people in general. He was met with many, many hate filled stares, and contemptuous treatment by bus drivers, people on the street, people in shops, and observed similar treatment to other black people.

White youths several times called him the N name and others, and threatened to kill him for sport. He was refused service when he tried to use traveler's checks over and over, when he wanted to buy a bus ticket.

There was very few places that he could buy a meal or use the bathroom, as 'colored' bathrooms and restaurants were few and far between He went around and looked for work, as a black man, using his 'white' resume, and there was no interest in hiring him. In one place, the manager told him that there was a plan to drive all the blacks out of this state (Alabama) so that when equality came there would be no blacks there.

He hitchhiked, (which was more common 50 years ago)  and was met with weird sexual questioning (!!) repeatedly, or white drivers who boasted or raping black women (!!). This was not universal, he met with a few kind white people, but they were in the minority.

All the hatred seemed tinged with fear, the author surmised. The idea that blacks could have the right to vote, the right to eat where they pleased, good jobs, etc., terrified many of the whites in the deep South, so they were literally shaking with rage toward black people.

Griffin, a native of Dallas, Texas, had to move to Mexico for several years because of threats to his life and the lives of his family after the book was published. A group of white men in Mississippi beat him with chains and left for dead in 1964, so he knew how serious those threats were.

This era seems as remote to people in 2013 as the American Civil War.  But the American legal system - which targets black offenders with harsher treatment and longer sentences, has not faded. The War On Drugs has always been a war on poor blacks (and whites) as reflected by our huge prison population .

We cannot understand the struggle of the people of color in this country, (and in England) without understanding just how bad it was, 50 to 60 years ago. The many young white men who cursed Mr. Griffin and  threatened his life are senior citizens now; but their vitriol is still tainting the air.

Just go online, say, to Yahoo, and read the many nasty race based anonymous things said about President Obama and his family,  who have become lightning rods for lingering race hatred.

These books are a fine gift for any young friend who does not understand what Martin Luther King and all black citizens ware struggling for, and has only a hazy idea of how bad the American apartheid in the South was 54 years ago

Lest We Forget.  Well, that is said about all our wars and our veterans, since our Civil War. The veterans of this time should not be forgotten either. Men, women and children died to wrench the Deep South into the 20th century; we should honor them by remembering just how bad it was. These two short autobiographies are a good place to start reading about this era. .

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"I'm from the Republican Party, and I'm here to help."

by John MacBeath Watkins

Ronald Reagan famously said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

A fellow who rejoices in the screen name waard on the WoodenBoat Forum has updated this:

The ten most terrifying words in the English language are: "I'm from the Republican Pary and I'm here to help," he informs us.

After all, they said they were going to make the country default on its debts and were comfortable with crashing the economy, all, they said, to prevent the economy from being harmed by the Affordable Care Act. No, really, that was the official logic.

Now comes the news that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is thinking of intervening in Republican primaries, which have been dominated in recent years by organizations like The Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Clearly, the Chamber thinks business is losing control of the Republican Party.

 Given how the science of gerrymandering has made it rare for congressional seats to change parties, this makes all kinds of sense. If the winner of the primary will go on to win the general election almost inevitably, the place to spend money is in the primary.

The 1812 political cartoon that introduced the word "gerrymander.
Another alternative is to have the top-two vote getters in the primary go on to face each other in the general election, thereby in theory giving people with the broadest appeal a leg up, but I'm not sure that's been shown to reduce polarization.

A gerrymandered seat will provide a comfortable but not overwhelming advantage to the incumbent of the gerrymandering party. Voters for the other party will be concentrated in as few districts as possible, which might give the moderates the advantage there, but in districts gerrymandered to favor the dominant party, it is quite likely that the top-two vote getters will be a Democrat and a Republican. Close to half the voters in Republican primaries are either Tea Party loyalists or sympathizers. About a quarter of Republican primary voters are moderates.

Some money backing traditional business Republicans in the primaries has got to help fix the dysfunction of Congress, and I think that would be a very good thing, because I don't think Democrats are in a position to dominate both houses, so we won't likely see sanity returned by that route. And in any case, one party rule tends to bring with it a tendency to think you can roll the other party and not compromise. But then, Republicans only control one house now, and they think that already.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What is money? Talismans of value and the market in favors (Rethinking liberal theory part 13)

by John MacBeath Watkins

I have stated that I believe property is not objects, but the system of rights, obligations, and meanings we apply to objects and ideas. But what is money?

This is a troubling matter for many people, and for the current crop of conservatives, it is a question they wish to forget. After all, if money were gold, it would be an object, and not so complicated. It would be harder for people to fool with it and somehow more concrete and easier to understand. This is a peculiar view, because gold is not valuable in and of itself, it is only valuable in that people value it. It is a symbol of wealth, but then, so is a stack of greenbacks.

And we left the gold standard for good reason. It resulted in a system that undermined economic performance during the Great Depression. Getting rid of the central bank and going back on the gold standard has been tried with disastrous results.

And money is really not a simple matter. Economists have several measures of how much money is out there, based on several definitions of what money is. The process by which money is created is not intuitive, if you are a believer in hard and unchanging values. Here's a graphic from Wikipedia on how money is created:

The notion that money can be created by issuing loans and destroyed by paying them back seems wrong to people who don't understand what money is.

Money represents a favor owed. We might call this the The Marquis de Carabas standard, after a character in the Neil Gaiman novel, Neverwhere. When the Lady Door needs his help, the Marquis asked what his payment will be. Door answers, I will owe you a very big favor, and the Marquis is satisfied with that.

Because in fact, all trade is a trade in favors. If I buy you dinner, you will owe me dinner, or else some other exchange of favors is at work (perhaps you are my favorite nephew or niece, and I enjoy the favor of your company.) But perhaps I can say, no, buy my friend a meal, I owe him one.

Money makes favors fungible. I am a bookseller, and I can do someone the favor of giving them the book they want, and instead of doing me a favor in return, they can give me a talisman that represents a favor, a symbol such as a $20 bill or even a favor represented, as someone writing on the Ron Paul blog once put it, nothing but "blimps on a computer screen."  (That typo has since been corrected, but I find the imagery so appealing I wish it hadn't been.)

I can use these talismans representing favors to repay my landlord for allowing me to operate a bookstore in his space. The talisman is a symbol of the underlying meaning, and the meaning is that someone is owed a favor. That is the value money represents.

This market in favors can be tricky. It represents the values of all those who participate in it, the value of a back rub from a skilled masseuse, a meal prepared by a cook or chef, which may very in the quality of materials, the skill of preparation, and the surroundings in which it is consumed, or the company of a courtesan.

Prior to the marginal revolution, we could not even articulate why diamonds are worth more by weight than water.

A system that allows us to trade favors with strangers has many pitfalls. Some are obvious, such as efforts to obtain favors, not by doing favors, but by force or subterfuge, such as robbery or fraud. Some are less obvious, such as the paradox of thrift: If everyone in a society tries to pay back their debts at once, it will impoverish society and leave everyone poorer, because just as money is created when debt is issued, it is destroyed when it is repaid without being loaned again.

Another problem is the debasement of currency, which can happen when a nation's central bank doesn't function properly. In 1493, a book by Charles Mann about the Columbian exchange, Mann describes such a situation in China.

Paper money was invented in China, first with merchants issuing what amounted to letters of credit (an instrument still widely used in the shipping industry.) Then, the Chinese government discovered that it could issue paper money, and it needed to, because China's silver mines, which had supplied the material for its more valuable coins, were getting paid out.

But China did not invent central banking. Repeatedly, Chinese governments issued too much paper money, causing inflation, effectively meaning its citizens were owed fewer favors than before.

So, they went back to using silver. But as you carry silver around and exchange it, there is wastage, silver wearing off the little bars you carry in your purse. China was faced with a shrinking money supply -- not enough talismans to represent all the favors owed -- which was a drag on the economy. Essentially, there were not enough talismans around to represent a growing number of favors, so each talisman had to represent more favors.

One way of thinking about the resulting deflation is that when we do a favor, we expect its value to decline over time with human forgetfulness. If I fed you yesterday, I'm more likely to get a reciprocal meal today than if I fed you 20 years ago. Deflation privileges older favors over doing favors now, which is to say, it privileges existing wealth over the creation of wealth, and savings over labor. Inflation fits with the attitude, what have you done for me lately?

We seem to have accepted that the gradual erosion of the value of favors over time, in that most central banks now target inflation at 2 percent or less. I'm unclear on why this number was chosen, since it puts interest rates perilously close to the zero bound, and limits what the central banks can do to respond to a crisis such as we saw in 2008. Probably economists must do more work on how quickly past favors lose their value.

The solution to the shrinkage of China's money supply came when the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines with silver from Central American mines. The Chinese actually began purchasing silver to use as money from the Spaniards with products of their industries and agriculture, and in fact, it was about the only thing the Europeans had that the Chinese wanted until the British introduced opium. In 1743, George Anson captured just one of the treasure galleons that engaged in this trade, and it was a prize greater in value than any other taken while the prize laws applied to naval warfare.

It was a British subject, a Scot named John Law, who first argued that paper money was preferable to metallic money, which should be banned.  Unfortunately, he had to flee the British Isles after winning a duel. From Wikipedia:
The wars waged by Louis XIV left the country completely wasted, both economically and financially. The resultant shortage of precious metals led to a shortage of coins in circulation, which in turn limited the production of new coins. It was in this context that the regent, Philippe d'Orléans, appointed John Law as Controller General of Finances.
France really did suffer from a shortage of money, but while working to solve this problem Law created another, the Mississippi  Bubble, which resulted in his dismissal from his post. He used his brilliant mind and capacity for quick calculation to support himself by gambling for the rest of his life.

The Grey Lady of Threadneedle Street, (AKA the Bank of England) completed the work of inventing the role of the central bank, mitigating the paradox of thrift by acting as a lender of last resort when the financial community panicked, and in general provided a steadying hand on the banking industry which helped England to industrialize.

Much of macroeconomics is concerned with stabilizing the market in talismans representing favors in such a way that people will continue to do each other favors. After all, I would be delighted to give people books without asking for anything in return, but I do ask the grocery store to provide me with food, and if I have no favors to trade to them, why would they, when they don't know me from Adam's off ox?

Marx thought people should do each other favors without the intermediation of money, but no one has managed to make this work on a large scale. Trying to make an economy work without money or property is a bit like banning language becomes you don't like people shouting. Any powerful system of human organization can be abused, but to ban a useful and ancient institution because it is sometimes abused seems an odd response. Any powerful social institution can be used for good or ill, including property, religion, money, and government.

The key is to structure society in such a way that these institutions do far more good than harm.

Links for this series:

Rethinking liberal theory 1: Thomas Hobbes, blasphemer and patriot
Rethinking liberal theory 2: The outlaw John Locke, terrorist, liberal, and advocate of freedom
Rethinking liberal theory 3: A compact to protect property, or a conspiracy to create meaning?
Rethinking Liberal Theory 4: John Milton and the many shapes of truth
Rethinking Liberal Theory 5: Adam Smith, moral philosopher of the marketplace
Rethinking Liberal Theory 6: Mythmaking and manufacturing
Rethinking liberal theory 7: Hegel, the end of history, and the triumph of the liberal idea
Rethinking liberal theory 8: Liberalism and individualism: The invention of the Util and the way west
Rethinking liberal theory 9 Property and freedom: Why language is the basis for the social contract 
Rethinking Liberal theory 10: Physiocrats & mercantilists: The economic philosophies of the founding fathers
Rethinking Liberal Theory 11:Stateless income, global capital, and the death of empires
Rethinking Liberal Theory 12:Capitalism:So much more than market
Rethinking liberalism 13: What is money? 
Rethinking Liberalism 14: Tribalism and the emerging new world order
Rethinking liberalism 15: The poverty of neoconservative philosophy
Rethinking Liberalism 16: More on the poverty of neoconservative philosophy

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Evolution of the planing sailboat

Blogger has defeated me on this one, so I had to post it on Scribd as a PDF, which seems to have worked with all the illustrations.



Monday, October 7, 2013

The real goal of the current crisis: Destroy Obama

by John MacBeath Watkins

I'm breaking silence on the budget/debt ceiling crisis, because few people seem to see the real goal and the real motivations behind it.

I haven't written about the government shutdown or the likelihood that it will segue into a default crisis because so much has been written by others, and most things about it are blindingly obvious.

For example, it's pretty obvious that the Republicans never had a problem with raising the debt ceiling under Reagan or either Bush, and they had no problem with deficits under Reagan or Bush the Lesser. Bush the Greater did not get reelected in large part because he thought doing something about the deficit was important, and alienated Republican voters by doing something about it.

So what is this really about? It's not about health care reform, which was based on ideas put forward by the conservative Heritage Foundation and implemented at the state level by the Republicans' last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. The deficit has been falling rapidly under President Obama, so it's not concern for the financial well-being of the country. It's not about improving the economy, because the Republicans seem ready to destroy the economy to reach their goal.

It's about destroying Barack Obama.

I don't think there will be a default. I think there will be a constitutional crisis, and it will turn out that the debt ceiling violates the 14th amendment.

John Boehner had been assuring big donors in the business community that he would not allow a default. Word leaked out, and he got some backlash from the Tea Party, so he's taking a hard line now. If it goes to the wire, does he have the guts to put a clean debt limit up for a vote? He's the weakest Speaker of the House in history, so I wouldn't bank on it.

I think Boehner will get boxed into forcing Obama to act, declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional and asking for a Supreme Court ruling. I think this could lead to another impeachment, which has been talked up since a couple weeks after Obama took office. Since the Republican Party became the party of the South, they have not believed any Democratic president could be legitimate. It's 1860 all over again, the parties have just switched places.

 I don't believe it's entirely about Obama's race, although that clearly has a role in it. I think it's about the fact that since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the South and other areas culturally like the South have seen the Democratic Party as representing the interests of non-whites.

This is clear from the voting patterns, which match up pretty nearly with the boundaries of the states and territories that allowed slavery prior to the Civil War. It is clear from the racist signs the appeared at so many Tea Party gatherings. It is clear from the strategy that Richard Nixon and Lee Atwater executed in the 1960s and 1970s. Pat Buchanan, then an aid to Nixon, even called for distributing bumper stickers advocating nomination of a black Democrat for president and doing " what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”

Here are Atwater's own words, and I ask that you pardon my reproduction of his language, but it makes things very clear: 

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Nor is it just about blacks. Nativist sentiment always increases during periods when there's a lot of immigration. There is a sort of ethnic panic here, where people are worried about what it means to be an American. This toxic mix of racial and nativist sentiment has fueled the Republican Party increasingly since 1968, and since its rhetoric is built around an effort to conceal that fact, the party has difficulty explaining itself in terms of coherent policies to govern the country.

Unfortunately, that incoherence has become official policy for what has become an increasingly destructive party. The kind of Republicans I used to vote for have largely been hunted down as "RINO," Republican in Name Only. Much of this has been done by organizations like the deceptively-named Club for Growth, which now advocates destroying the economy in order to destroy its enemies.

What does it mean to be a Republican in more than name?
"Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
But whites get hurt too, so why would they do that? Lyndon Johnson, faced with racist protest against his Great Society ideas, had a pretty shrewd idea about that. Here's how Bill Moyers recalled their conversation:
We were in Tennessee. During a motorcade, the President spotted some ugly racial epithets scrawled on signs by a few plain, he called them homely, white women on the edge of the crowd. Late that night in the hotel, long past midnight, he was still going on about how poor whites and poor blacks had been kept apart so that they could separately be fleeced-. ''I'll tell you what's at the bottom of it," he said. "If you can convince the lowest white man that he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll even empty his pockets for you."
And it's still going on. A friend has come to see the Republican Party as a coalition of the greedy and the stupid. I would say, the greedy and the racist. It is financed by the greedy, one percenters like the Koch brothers, who found that Atwater's "we want to cut this" could be used to lower their taxes, but the votes come from the people Johnson was talking about. And right now, in a conflict between business interests who don't want the economy crashed and people who are motivated by racial and nativist sentiment, the bigots are winning control.

The current crisis brings up one of the constitutional provisions put in place because of worries the South, once re-admitted to the Union, would try to destroy it with the power of the purse. From Fortune Magazine:
Though triggered by specific threats the country faced in the aftermath of the Civil War, Section 4 of the 14th Amendment remains relevant to our world. Yale's Balkin explained on his Balkinization blog in June 2011: "Section 4 targets the worry that, once fully readmitted to the Union, senators and representatives from Southern states ... would deliberately refuse to repay debts incurred in suppressing the confederate rebellion." Still, he continued, the provision "was stated in broad terms in order to prevent future majorities in Congress from repudiating the federal debt to gain political advantage, to seek political revenge, or to try to disavow previous financial obligations because of changed policy priorities."
And that provision is President Obama's last-ditch hope for defending the nation from default.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” - See more at:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” - See more at:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” - See more at:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” - See more at:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ballard store is a couple weeks away

by John MacBeath Watkins

Edited to add: Looks like we'll be opening Nov. 7, this Thursday.

For those of you waiting eagerly for the Ballard store to open, I'm working hard on it. The contractor, understandably, is focused on getting Bauhaus Coffee, which I'm subletting from, open first. They've got most of the work done, and the chairs and table are in. I think Bauhaus is about a week away from opening, and I'm hoping to open a week after they do.,

The workmen are still using my space for storing stuff and working with their table saw, so I can't install the shelves yet. I've been pricing like a madman, and I've got most of the stock ready to throw on shelves. I've still got to move the on-line store (and myself) from Vashon, but things are coming together rapidly.