The radical implications of “no”

It’s only two months until Scotland’s referendum. It’s an emotionally charged issue, and I know that some of my friends plan to vote differently than I would like them to. I still want to be friends afterwards, so most of the time I like to consider the matter calmly, almost as if it were just another everyday policy detail. But sometimes a piece of fiery, passionate rhetoric comes along that it just too powerful to ignore.

This article by Peter Arnott in Bella Caledonia is such a piece. Arnott points out that voting “no” in September has implications that are just as radical as voting “yes”:

Every vile piece of Westminster legislation that has attacked the poor and dismantled the Welfare State, every policy that has ensured that it is only the poor who have paid the price of the recession caused by the greed of the rich, every act of economic and social vandalism – it has been the comfortable posture of the well meaning voters of Scotland that none of these things have been your fault. That you didn’t vote for them.

Well, you won’t be able to say that any more.

Up until September the 18th, we have all been able to hide behind all that being someone else’s fault. Either way the vote goes, Yes or No, that comfortable position has already been shattered. Either we vote to take responsibility for our own economics , our own wealth distribution, our own decisions to make war or peace…or we are voting to mandate away control over all of these matters to Westminster forever.

Either way, we will be responsible.

If a Yes voter has to take on board the moral hazard of whatever happens for good or ill in an independent Scotland, a No voter must equally accept moral responsibility for having given Westminster permanent permission to do whatever it likes forever. No questions asked.

Moral Hazard works both ways.

Whatever austerity measures are coming down the line, all those policies that weren’t your fault before September 18th? After September the 18th, they will be your fault. No. Sorry. Every single one of them. Will be your fault. This is the trap that history has set you. And I understand your discomfort. I understand your wanting to wish all this away. But you can’t. You’re stuck along with the rest of us.

(Emphasis mine.)

This is more than just a policy detail; it’s a generational decision. If you can vote in the referendum, this may be the most important vote you will cast in your lifetime. I still want to be friends afterwards, but if you’re planning to vote “no”, please at least read the article.

(Additional commentary on the article over at Wings Over Scotland.)

Arguments for growth

The Social-Democratic arguments for Scottish independence are plentiful and good. I haven’t spent much time looking at other reasons in favour, though, which is why I found the article “I’ve Decided To Vote Yes” by Ewan Morrison so interesting. He notes that Scotland has low levels of investment risk and venture capital, and suggeste that a “Yes” vote could be a path to a Scotland more welcoming of innovation. (Having visited Codebase the other week, knowing a bunch of people working in startups there, and seeing how quickly it is expanding, makes me think that the potential is both present and eager to grow.)

Where is Scotland’s wealth, and why do adventurous and innovative businesses not benefit from the risk taking of venture capital? The answer is another example of how the clichés about the Scottish mindset are true. Scotland does have wealth but the wealthy in this country secret their wealth away in very conservative forms of investment – pension funds, mortgage funds. These are not really risk-taking forms of investment at all and are cowardly and stingy, offering only a few percentage points more return than the interest rates of any actual bank. The rich in Scotland are mean and they keep their money secret and to themselves, they don’t take risks with it, they are not enterprising with it, and the last thing they spend it on, at the moment, is reinvesting in Scottish business start-ups and innovative ideas.

This is a mindset problem that a new Scotland is going to have to address. I say Scotland and not ‘The New Scottish Government’ because we are already far too dependent on government, far too statist. The new Scotland should be a powerhouse of invention and venture, and should have to be reigned in by Government, not the way we tend to see it at the moment, as utterly dependent upon government and government hand-outs, that are only there to replace the lack of financial trust we have in our own people.

Relevant to this is “The Pitchforks Are Coming…For Us Plutocrats” by Nick Hanauer. (Via Abi on Making Light) Here is a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist making a clear argument for the necessity of increasing minimum wages:

The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.

What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.

It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines—and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.

Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around.

If you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you can’t afford to do business.

Soda Protocols

“Daddy’s magic thinking juice.” This is how I often describe the bottles and cans in my fridge, much to the confusion of friends and family.

“I didn’t know you even had kids,” they say, cautiously. “Nor that your shame over your escalating drinking problem is such that you feel a need to use an elaborate euphemism to conceal the scale of the problem from your loved ones.”

Well, neither thing is true. Often, alcohol consumption is linked to parenthood often in one’s frolicky teen years but I only have a nodding relationship to both concepts. No, I describe my onhand inventory of soda that way because over the course of a long writing day, a glass of something fizzy and tasty helps to grease the gears of productivity. When I’m in my last 20 days before a book deadline, my blood is about 20% phosphoric acid.

The Soda Protocols by Andy Ihnatko.

We went down the route of the diet soda long time ago, too. Full-sugar beverages taste excessively cloying to me most of the time. A couple of years ago I started to worry about the amount of artificial sweeteners I was drinking, and cut out carbonated sweetened beverages completely for a while, but the habit didn’t stick. Last summer I rediscovered Spezi, and went wild with fruit flavourings: slicing up half an orange or lemon (or both!), crushing them into the bottom of a cup, and filling it up with diet cola. This has the side benefit of making cheap off-brand diet cola taste wildly excellent.

My current preferred carbonated beverage is diet cola with a splash of orange juice, ideally the kind with lots of pulp. The pulp floats to the surface, and forms an orange-brown felted mat on the surface of the drink. To the uninitiated it looks like swamp water, but it’s fruity and refreshing with all same caffeinated goodness. In terms of protocols, I have two that I’m trying to stick to for my standard daily at-home routine:

  1. No caffeinated beverages after about 18:00 (ish). I find I get to sleep more easily without caffeine in the evening.
  2. Stick to 300ml mugs and cups. If I put the drink in a larger cup or mug, I drink it just as fast, and return to the kitchen just as often. That leads to increased bladder pressure and more bouncing around in my chair.

(Exceptions apply.)

When I’m in the office in Edinburgh, I drink my cola from cans or bottles. I drink more slowly from cans and bottles, because I tend to take a single sip and then put the container aside for a while. With a cup or a mug, I’m much more inclined to take several gulps at once, or drain it from half-way full. I don’t understand the psychology here. I suspect it’s because of the social pressure – when I’m surrounded by co-workers, I’m more inclined to show moderation.

Mixed media, 16 July 2014

At some point during my last trip to Edinburgh I watched The Machine after seeing JWZ mention it on his blog. It’s mostly forgettable. The scientist protagonist is unlikeable, and the “accidental hive-minding” turned out to be peripheral to the plot.

Here in France, I finished reading Hugh Howey’s Wool trilogy, which I found compelling all the way through.

I’m pretty sure that Julian recommended Signal To Noise by Eric S. Nylund to me years ago. We had a copy of it, and we must have brought it to France with us at some point in the past, because it was on the bookshelves here. I picked it up after finishing Dust, and read it on our mini-break to Montpellier over the weekend. Last summer I saw a copy of its sequel, A Signal Shattered in a bookstore in California, but didn’t buy it because I couldn’t remember if we had a copy of the first book. I’m regretting that now, because it isn’t available in any kind of ebook format for me to download and dig into straight away. (Not that I would have known to bring it with me on this trip anyway.)

Instead, I’m now about 200 pages into Nemesis by Jo Nesbo. As dark thrillers about alcoholic Scandinavian police detectives go, it’s pretty lightweight so far.

One of the things we do on holiday here is scarf down TV show box sets in the evenings after sunset. In previous years we’ve been through Merlin, Leverage, Burn Notice, and Fringe. This year, we’re on Elementary. We’re big fans of Sherlock, but Elementary has a whole different flavour, and is fun in a completely different way. Painting Holmes as a recovering drug addict is an excellent narrative hook; I hope that the fact it’s an American prime-time TV show won’t impose a set of excessively puritanical storylines. It shows promise with its playful attitude towards Holmes’ sexual needs, and the episode “A giant gun, filled with drugs” wasn’t nearly as self-righteous as it could have been.

Memory

One of the items in Alexis Madrigal’s Five Intriguing Things newsletters last week was the article “All You Have Eaten: On Keeping a Perfect Record” by Rachel Khong.

It’s about NASA’s first “Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation” (HI-SEAS) project, which is an attempt to simulate some of the conditions astronauts would expect on a mission to Mars. Eight people spent four months isolated in a special habitat 2,500 meters up the slopes of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. One of the goals of the project was to observe how the subjects dealt with a limited diet during that time.

Rachel Khong juxtaposes the project with her own experience of keeping a detailed food diary:

For breakfast on January 2, 2008, I ate oatmeal with pumpkin seeds and brown sugar and drank a cup of green tea.

I know because it’s the first entry in a food log I still keep today. I began it as an experiment in food as a mnemonic device. The idea was this: I’d write something objective every day that would cue my memories into the future—they’d serve as compasses by which to remember moments.

[...]

What I’d like to have is a perfect record of every day. I’ve long been obsessed with this impossibility, that every day be perfectly productive and perfectly remembered. What I remember from January 2, 2008 is that after eating the oatmeal I went to the post office, where an old woman was arguing with a postal worker about postage—she thought what she’d affixed to her envelope was enough and he didn’t.

I can see the appeal. I don’t think I have the persistence to keep a food log that consistently for so long, but I’ve certainly been enjoying the more frequent, more mundane “breakfast blogging” I’ve been doing this year. (I think I’ve written more this year already than in the last three years combined.) Just the act of writing things down fixes and emphasizes things in my mind. What’s mundane to everyone else is a bookmark for me, a chalk mark on the pavement of memory lane. Without these little hints, the past lose resolution over time. Entire weeks and months become compressed into a daily average — get the kids ready for school, go to work, make dinner — until the point where I can’t even be certain I’m really the one who lived through them.

But whenever I examine it, the mundane turns out not to be so minute after all. Almost every time I sit down to write one of my “mixed media” posts, I think I’ll just pop down a simple bulleted list, only to end up north of five hundred words an hour or two later; in the process stumbling over a dozen fleeting moments that had already begun to fade.

So: expect this to continue.

Mixed media, 29 June 2014

Before we picked up Dad from the hospital yesterday, Mum & I went in to Perth to pick up some bits and pieces. We hit Waterstones, where my eye fell upon a copy of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I read about this book on Wired a couple of months ago, and it went straight onto my wish list. I thought that Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye: My Life As a Weapon was one of the best things ever, and the premise of Sex Criminals sounded delightful:

Sex Criminals

Suzie’s just a regular gal with an irregular gift: when she has sex, she stops time. One day she meets Jon and it turns out he has the same ability. And sooner or later they get around to using their gifts to do what we’d ALL do: rob a couple banks.

It’s every bit as good as it sounds. Funny, touching, and sexy, but in an adorably geeky way.

I also just finished Wool by Hugh Howey, which is excellent. (Hat-tip to Alan for the recommendation.) The idea isn’t a new one — generation ships where the inhabitants have forgotten their origins is a solid staple of science fiction — but it’s well executed and gripping all the way through. I’ve already started on the second book in the series, Shift.

Musically, I’m still totally, gloriously stuck on De La Soul. I’m writing watching their performance at Glastonbury this year on the BBC iPlayer while writing this (what a performance!), and thinking that it’s waaaaaay past time that I attended a festival. It’s not going to happen this year, but I’m thinking that I might try to hit PinkPop or Lowlands in 2015.

Also a shout out to Blend Coffee Lounge next to the Thimblerow car park in Perth, where Mum and I stopped for lunch. I only had a diet coke to drink, but I did indulge in a bacon panini and a chocolate brownie, both of which were delicious. Their website puts a lot of emphasis on their coffee, but I’d go back for the friendly, relaxed, and unpretentious atmosphere.