Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Advertising is an interesting business. Harley Davidson used to market itself to fishermen, hardly the "bad boy" image the company would later adopt after its motorcycles were featured in Easy Rider (1969). 
Nestle used to market Milo--now primarily a kid's drink--to active adults, touting its vitamins. 
From Singapore's National Library exhibit, "Selling Dreams," 10th Floor (July 2018 to February 2019). 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Isabella Bird, World Traveler

Isabella Bird, world traveler, on America, a "nationally sensitive" country, and the truth: 


Friday, July 27, 2018

Scandinavia, Socialism, Capitalism, and Taxes

1. The only two questions to ask when discussing an economic or taxation program are: 

1) Do the taxes or fees generate sufficiently positive returns for all taxpayers and residents relative to the tax or fee?; and 

2) Are the programs created or maintained as a result of the tax or fee sustainable over time when accounting for all expenses, both short-term (e.g. salaries) and long-term (e.g., pensions)? 

In short, what is the benefit relative to the tax, and is it sustainable? 

2. Here's a relevant link re: Sweden's pension reform: http://www2.ilo.org/public//english/protection/socfas/publ/discus/swedish.pdf 

3. "The key to Sweden's success is that it slashed taxes, greatly reduced its public sector, and underwent a massive privatization program in the 1990s." -- Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People (2014) 
4. Increasing funding for a program doesn't always improve the program because much of the new funding may go to existing obligations, not new employees or new improvements. More here: https://bit.ly/2LF6tgx 

5. Full video here discussing issues more in depth: https://youtu.be/sMlCn66_yFo 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Elin Ersson, Hero

Let our descendants not think none of us did something. A few did something. A few disrupted the security apparatus. A few acted out of conscience. And from a few, many can be added, if not today or tomorrow, then at some undisclosed time in the beautiful future.


For the first time, someone figured out how to resist. Elin Ersson is a hero. Adults will not create lasting change on their own; change must come from the young and foolish: 


Update: apparently, the male subject of Ersson's intervention was not the same person she originally believed was on the plane but a different Afghan refugee, one with a criminal record. He was eventually deported. Yet, the lesson is the same: if a citizen cannot disrupt the security state non-violently in favor of a universal principle, the security state's convenience has superceded individual agency. Whether such supersedence is appropriate depends on whether a publicly-engaged citizenry has access to all the facts and the ability to remove leadership. Some call this democracy in action; others would prefer citizens practice governance once every four years and not a second more.

["The majority will always vote for the status quo because their livelihood depends on it." -- Michael Booth (2014)]

Bonus: https://www.dw.com/en/elin-ersson-and-ismail-k-how-an-activist-tried-in-vain-to-rescue-an-asylum-seeker/a-47295356 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Dear Kids: It's Up to You Now, and It Always Has Been

Philip Larkin was more right than he realized. They do f*ck you up, your mum and dad, but this time, they've managed to f*ck up the entire world. Let us count the ways--and provide a few lessons from their failures. 

1. Segregation has been the defining feature of 21st century Western civilization, as has constant warfare. You'd think more people would make the connection between conflict and segregation, but you'd be overestimating humanity's ability to self-analyze--especially when much of its wealth derives from selective inflation in residential property. Seen properly, segregation constitutes unconscionable insider trading on the future of one's neighborhood at the expense of all other residents. 
From Perry's Singapore (2017)
To fight this alliance between respectable taxpayers and the shills they elect, we must understand segregation is not the natural result of registering property, respecting property rights, insurance company incentives, or Hernando de Soto-style capitalism. ("The issue in the 21st century in the West is assetless paper and everywhere else it is paperless assets.") It is the result of lawyers and governments creating legal systems that prioritize tax revenue using short-term metrics (i.e., not factoring in long-term costs of segregation) and then delivering services based on assumptions of expected tax revenue. To take one extreme example, during the 1992 L.A. riots, LAPD cordoned off affluent Beverly Hills, leaving Koreatown and other minority areas to fend for themselves. Of course more prosaic examples of segregation's long-term inefficacy exist, but by now, even the most myopic must see two systems: one for respectable taxpayers, and another for the ones left behind invisible lines until a crisis makes them visible. 

Once we realize the primary evil in the world can be reduced to a single phenomenon, we can marshal our resources to eliminate it. Unlike abstract wars on poverty and terrorism, a war on segregation is capable of producing tangible results. Complexity by and for lawyers can be made simple; government hiring practices can be reformed to avoid nepotistic job structures often benefiting one race, one religion, or one ideology; and mafias thriving in the ruins of political neglect can be co-opted. 

Any decent sociologist or city planner's goal should be to create James J. Guild's Indonesia, the opposite of segregation: 

This is not a city of sanitized and detached nuclear families living in insulated bubbles and disconnected from one another. It’s a city of bonds, where neighbors — probably because they are packed together so densely — chat with one another and hang out on the curb eating fried tempe with raw chilis. The city may not be perfectly planned, but everyone that lives here — minus the super rich — experience and share in those imperfections together.

There has never been a sustained War on Segregation. Its supporters are too numerous, too united, too powerful. Brown vs. Board of Education failed even as it succeeded, but as the world becomes increasingly globalized and diverse, I foresee mandatory conscription if civilization is to continue.  

2. Any entity that can attract and deploy capital without consequences will become corrupt--often with unforeseen consequences. For example, study Project MKUltra or review America's "black budget," estimated at 50 billion USD annually (as of 2016). Ted Kaczynski, a domestic terrorist caught only because a family member recognized his handwriting, was part of Project MKUltra. Some lessons: community collaboration and other factors not part of any formal accounting mechanism can be more valuable than tools valued at billions. Meanwhile, progress is often packaged with expensive bells and whistles to prevent you from seeing gifts proffered are less valuable than the ones you already have. 

3.  Incremental change is common in advanced societies because compromise is a sign of maturity. When consistent, incremental change occurs in pursuit of a specific goal benefiting all--educational reform, tax reform, etc.--progress continues. When incremental change occurs because political factions are preserving their own bailiwicks, social cohesion suffers, revolution inches closer, and propaganda proliferates. If you see stagnation and greater inequality--potentially fatal self-inflicted wounds when others are improving living standards--be flexible in your choice of location unless you have a long history in one place.
From Jim Rogers' Street Smarts (2013)
4.  Don't read or listen to people who rely on secondhand information. Every single scenario has two sides--look at Barry Seals' life, for example--and remember: if one person's motives and motivations vary so vastly by the month, large organizations with hundreds of individuals cannot be summarized in neat packages. 

5. You will hear others telling you to keep your "inner child." They mean your sense of wonder. To that end, watch and find good movies. Almost anything with Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, or Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai will do. These are my sources of wonder--yours may differ. 

6. Be careful whenever you establish legal preferences. First, all laws will be enforced by Establishment-minded employees, whether police, lawyers, or judges. Second, the enforcement of the law matters far more than the law itself. (Selective drug arrests and prosecutions are simple examples of the aforementioned principle.) Third, the original purpose or intent of any law will always degrade or attenuate, and as society itself changes, laws made by previous legislators are more likely to be useless over time--except to characters within the Establishment desiring to entrap political or other enemies.

7. In the end, the world is filled with charlatans, liars, and thieves, but it has always been this way, and one of your ancestors may have been one of them. Your lack of knowledge about the past--and the future--does not excuse you from being honest and forthright. In the end, each generation must contend with an ever-increasing pile of dung, so get your shovel, and get to work. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review: Murakami's Norwegian Wood: Sex, Suicide, and Love in 1960s Japan

"Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that." 
A cross between Joyce's Ulysses and Kerouac's On the Road, Haruki Marakumi takes the reader on a stumbling, windy journey from teenager to adult in Norwegian Wood (2000). Set in the 1960s, our protagonist Watanabe is out of place at his university but takes on habits--obsessive cleaning, wanton sexual flings, etc.--of his more polished, affluent students. He quickly tires of the pomp and false fronts--characterized by one suicide after another--and sets out to find himself. In the meantime, he is caught between two women: Naoko, a friend in a strange, bitter love triangle who cannot bring herself to consummate her relationship with Watanabe more than once; and Midori, a carefree, unpredictable woman also out of place among affluent classmates but from a working class background that grounds her and her sister. Midori is so captivating, so passionate, the book pales until she enters, like the Kate Winslet character in the 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Later, another woman enters the mix and allows Watanabe to move forward, but until the very end, his desires vacillate between a love he cannot have and a love he cannot predict. 

Unfortunately, the translation from Japanese to English creates stilted dialogue. Only Midori's conversations seem unforced. Perhaps Watanabe intended Midori to be the only interesting character in the book, but it's hard to believe he deliberately made all other characters bleak in order to let Midori's light shine that much brighter. If you can tolerate the dreary first 65% of the book, the final 35% is well worth your time.