Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meritocracy round 1

So I hope this will be a broad overview of the content of the book Rise of the Meritocracy.  If you are going to read it and don't want any spoilers well now would be a good time to stop reading because I have every intention of talking about all the bits contained in this book.  That said, I do think people should read it as I've said before, because it is an interesting snapshot from an interesting period of time.  The reason that you've heard of Huxley, Orwell, Viktor Frankl, and dozens more is the era they lived through cast a very long shadow on mankind and the things that where also happening around the globe where great cause for concern.  Michael Young wrote to tell of a different type of dystopia.  In his world the idea of equal opportunity had been carried to it's logical extremes, and an unbiased measuring stick was being used in Britain to determine the haves and have nots of the future society.  The trouble was very real, and will ring true with people in the current #Occupy movement but that's for later.  For now the actual what Michael said in his book.

The most obvious and top level thing to point out here is that the book was written very specifically about Britain, and it's particular place in the world.  The author was genuinely concerned that his country would take the lessons of the great war, and try to model society after that.  His concern was not unfounded given the amazing sway socialism had over such a large part of the world during and following WWII.  The major role model countries during the time where Russia, and America and as such the author references them often as the extremes that Britain was somewhere in between.  He modeled out how the country would transition from it's current (1960)  model of a mimicked Aristocracy to socialist ideals, and finally to a Meritocracy where the most intelligent and most driven ran the country and reaped great benefits for doing so, while the rest filled posts suited to their lack of ability.

The introduction serves as setup for the book that follows but ultimately you are trying to understand a fictional series of future events that occur in 2033.  The author list names and dates, talks about various ideological factions that are semi-impenetrable, and honestly made me want to stop reading.  If you've ever tried to read naked lunch you will know what I'm talking about.  It really takes a few pages of things that for the most part you can dismiss as nonsense before we get to the point.  The author suggests that all the events that he has been talking about are a result of the social order of Britain and offers to compare the present (2034) situation with the time period of 1914-1968 in Britain's history in order for the reader to better understand the "populist movement".

The first chapter covers a broad range of motivators for the Meritocracy, and introduces the term as a successor the previous social orders of Oligarcy and Plutocracy a nuanced replacement following the inheritance model of a Monarchy.  Numerous times in the chapter he references how the Meritocracy is really the final evolution of Socialism, and given how socialism is interpreted in the United States I have a hard time not taking these as false complements used to criticize the model further.  It's hard to de-contextualize this so this bias is worth noting.  The overall history lesson was somewhat interesting in the way the author covered the good aspects of the inheritance model (by staying put, people really had to practice stewardship of the land they worked for instance).  Ultimately though the second son (and third for that matter) found themselves the have nots as a matter of birth and the first a have for nothing other than calendar date of birth, this lead to chaffing in the family unit and caused the other children to strike out to make a better lot.  Even as the country transitioned away from inheritance, it was determined that family was the best way to raise good people (flies in the face of Huxley's model no?) but their influence had to be muted so as to insure only the best carried on to complete educations.  It was what was best for the country, and it was needed to stave off the clever foreigner.

The clever foreigner is used as a specter to strike fear in the hearts of the British that would rather their dull children reaped the education better suited to the people that could compete for the country the best.  The fear of being eclipsed by another country was a strong motivator, but ultimately the families undoing was socialism.  Socialists sought in various ways to ensure that children of poor households had the opportunities of wealthy ones, and lobbied successfully for inheritance taxes and death taxes to prevent parents from passing wealth unfairly to their children or grandchildren.  These contributed greatly, but the socialists largest contribution was the push for better education.  The masses rallied around the cause to improve their collective lot at the expense of the most privileged.  A society based on merit was the will of the people.

Chapter 2 covers an interesting transition where the will of the people seems to have been usurped by the clever few, and how socialist ideals of equality where usurped by testing and merit.  Some people where more equal than others,intelligence was the yardstick rather than wealth or the family you where born into.  It effectively replaced one unfair system with a new one, and the author suggests that it's the nature of people to not really believe that people are truly equal.  This bias helped but socialist didn't go quietly into the dark.  They tried to introduce comprehensive schools modeled after American High Schools, the flaw in this the author notes in in America you have equal opportunity for education but you have to compete once you graduate (to get a job, or make a living ect)  Britain didn't have the same history of private enterprise that encouraged competition, instead they choose to compete in school via intelligence tests to pick the winners earlier and earlier.  Russia was mentioned as not having a private industry to separate the wheat from the chaff, but the very high standards of Russian Universities made sure that the primary education was rigorous and forced students to compete for entry.  Ultimately the urge to get the best education for their children caused the socialist movement to be divided in itself as supporters undermined themselves by not choosing the integrated schools they proposed as an alternative to the of open primary, and testing to get into secondary.

Well, call this the end of the first post as it's getting a touch long and I'm getting distracted.  I'm about a third done with my notes so there should only be three posts on what the book actually said, but keep in mind I'm skipping a ton of the content.

Continue to Part 2 >>>

Monday, July 30, 2012


This is getting posted around a fair deal, but not a lot of commentary on the content and the implications for the future.  I really hope you watch it, because I'm about to spoil it.

Any how the protagonist is a fairly average appearing person living deeply embedded in an augmented reality life.  He doesn't seem particularly interesting in some ways, but there are hints at more sinister elements to come.  It goes from creepy to rapey at the end, and really gets to the heart of how will we know reality from fiction in the future when we are all fully augmented?  I think that this thought was what made the first Matrix so compelling, we where down the rabbit hole with Neo as he discovers that all the life he thought he had lived was not real.  The discovery that Plato's suggestion that what we where seeing was just shadows on the cave, was jarring and starling as a viewer but still in a sci-fi not really ever going to happen kind of way.  This provides a much more real, and terrifying example of the near future.  This is more akin to some of my favorite anime Ghost in the Shell, and dealing with the terrifying possibility of our prosthetics being used against our will.

Projects like Google Glass, have real and useful applications outside of the douchbaggy ukulele sunset serenade that Google envisioned, with their product concept video.  The Project glass is just an overlay, and added bonus to your actual eyes, if you extrapolate out and embedded that system into your eyes, literally usurping your native vision what are the implications of that level of access straight to your brain?  You don't know, and this is one terrifying version of what it may be like.  This short is a visual 1984 of how perpetual, embedded augmented reality could be abused.


I finally managed to get through that last bit of The Rise of the Meritocracy.  I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by the last pages and also sad by the implications.

I'm working on getting it all parsed out, and I have several current topics that are related to Venture Capitalism, and Feminism that are relevant to work on future blog posts for, but the first one will probably be just a broad summary of the book and what he wrote, vs how the word Meritocracy has come to be used in the current world conversation.  I think Michael Young was a pretty talented writer in the way that he laid out a path for transitioning from our current power system to a Meritocracy in very clear language, without being dull.  It may have helped that he had touchstones from the 1940's and 50's as jump off points and then got to make up the rest of what happened between then and 2030, but the way he wrote was really the standout.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Battery Powered chainsaws are garbage

Yeah, so I've been working on this chair for kind of a little while now and I can categorically say that electric battery powered chainsaws are a terrible idea.  I won't comment on ones that plug into the mains as I don't know how those would work, but lord I pray that they work better than what I've been working with.

The top three most annoying thing about this chainsaw?  1. It has a 10inch bar.  2. Batteries are a terrible, awful way to power it. 3. Batteries are a terrible, really awful way to power it.  I get about 30-40 minutes of work in with 3 batteries, but really its 5-10 minutes of good work then 30 minutes of shitty work.  Now I will say that the chain could probably use a sharpening, and I know that tightening the chain up made the process less awful.  All of that aside, really what it needs is some damn horsepower.  Really.

So at this point the chair is down to about 60lbs of wood.  It started close to 100lbs, a good deal of that was water weight so just getting it dried out will help, I pulled the bark off so the drying should be faster (if it ever stops raining here!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

16 pages to go!

I had a really great reading day yesterday, and am working on the final chapter of that stupid book.  Here's the thing, the author waited until the last chapter to get to the crux of what the opposition movement was about.  The length of the (fictional) history movement was just to dissect a transition from the society that we know to the future (dystopia) and all the levels of  society that had to be moved to get to a meritocracy only to basically make it sound like socialism was a pretty solid idea.  I hope I'm jumping to conclusions but the first section of the last chapter certainly seems to be leading that way.  It's slightly more nuanced than just socialism, but still McCarthy would have labeled him a pinko.

We'll see.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Small chainsaw art project

So I apparently am the guy that stops and picks up the tree cuttings you see on the side of the road with a sign saying "Free wood".  We went to the park with my son over the weekend and I saw this little beauty of a log that I just had to make mine.  What you see here is about 6 batteries worth of 10inch bar battery powered ryobi chainsawing action.  I have 3 batteries and 1 charger so that amounts to give or take all day.

I've worked on it through two more batteries so far, and have the seat level and am working on trying to square up the sides and back.

For some reason I decided that this would make an awesome little man chair, and have been steadily working towards making this thing into a chair.  When I started it weighed between 80-100lbs and was the upper limit of what I could carry around the side of the house up a hill and into the back yard.  For those of you that have browsed deep into my archive of posts you may realize I've kind of wanted to do a chainsaw project since 2006 or so.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Weirdly personal

So I've been keeping this blog a while now, and it's strange how less and less it's about me.  I know some reasons I was obscuring myself intentionally in the past few months, but I haven't been using this to keep track of things in life.

For instance I didn't write about either my brother getting a new job or about him buying his first house.  I'm surprised how nice it was to see things like that when I was reviewing old blog posts to keep track of my life and help me remember when things happened.

In June we went to Leavenworth for a wedding and V was in town.

So far this month we've bought my son an awesome inflatable pool, and he managed to fall down and get a black eye.  We went to the first birthday of a friends daughter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The agony and ecstasy of being a kickstarter

So I bought one of those new fangled Twine's on kickstarter way back in November, and have been (not so) patiently waiting ever since.  I had hoped that it would be here in time for this summer so I could data log temperatures in a friends basement to evaluate the space for use in storing and aging barrels of beer and or booze (what? we don't moonshine ignore that last bit).  Well the original March-ish came and went and they are now talking about August (sob), but the good news is that for the most part it doesn't strictly speaking matter if I miss this summer as measuring winter lows is just as important given how damn long our winter appears to be this year.  Still, sigh.  I hope to get it in time for some stretch of high temps here just so I know what kind of hot we can expect down there.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Meritocracy is becoming my Everest

I'm getting close to finishing this frigging book, and I'm super excited to get down to working on the take-aways and parallels in modern society.  I hope to have some solid interesting ideas on how this is playing out all around us and show the brilliance of this book.  Here's the thing I think that the author truly believed that implementing a meritocracy was a dangerous and short sighted road for the future, but unless he comes out a says it quickly I think he underestimated the potential for abuse in this system.  As he has written it, this system was born out of egalitarian motives, advanced with pure intentions and implemented with great fairness.  Any of that sound like something that would happen on this planet?  Right, Marx envisioned something similar with his communist manifesto (I have read it so shut up, but it was a while ago so bear with me) and really thought that with the right intentions we could have a better planet.  The rise of the meritocracy is more of a retrospective warning of what would happen had someone written a Meritocratic manifesto and it was implemented in Britain.  I think there is a chance I have my notes on reading the Communist manifesto somewhere or another, so it may make an appearance here (if for nothing than that the socialists where mentioned time and time again in this work).

Why do I mention it?  Well for the last few weeks I've dedicated the time I would otherwise spend to write posts here to reading that book outside in the sunshine (such as we manage to get here in the Pacific Northwest).  I'm down to about 40 pages remaining and really excited about the progress I'm making.  One strange benefit of dragging out reading this book is that it's been on the top of my mind when I'm reading other things on the internet and has made for some interesting connections.  I don't plan on making it a monolithic post thus far, it's just too much to try and cover but here's the thing I think everyone should read this book.  Skip the parts that don't make sense, ignore the bits about British government if they don't mean anything to you and don't try to figure out if any of his predictions came true.  Read it for the structure, and reasoned force of making a point.  It is some large part fiction extrapolated out from history with sociology mixed in for the seasoning, and some of the best writing in terms of clarity I've ever come across.  This books sets up his points delivers, and then summarizes without repeating himself.  I know that is how you're supposed to write, but I have to date never encountered a better example of it that didn't feel forced.  It's a story, and it flows but it's presented like a school paper with structure and grammar to match the substance.  Whether fiction or dry theory the author has great command of language, writing with a common voice without being common.

That's really hard to do.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

° symbol

So yeah I use the ° a lot.  I don't know why, but writing out degrees is lame ° is awesome.  I usually google degrees symbol and copy past it in.  For whatever reason I decided to learn the key combination for it today.  In a text field hold the alt key and type 0176.  That's all.

° winning °

Fireworks, the crud and sleeping babies

So I'm going to preface what I have to say with this. I grew up in a pretty rural setting, and I love me some stuff that blows up just as much as any other "country" person; and the 4th of July is a great time of year for that love of blowing shit up.  Here's the deal, that shit wakes my kid up.  It' illegal in most parts of my state, specifically in my city and all the cities that are adjacent as well.  There is literally no legal zip code for fire works in 20 minutes of driving, but that doesn't stop people from shooting off fireworks from sun down until 1 AM for the last several nights.  I assume it's the awesome factor that drives them to do it, I mean lord knows I've blown enough shit off the face of this planet (yeah, when I say rural I mean we built a 7' tall sky cannon aka mortar tube, a made black powder bombs and regularly had bottle rocket and roman candle fights) but damn it walking my kid back to sleep after things blow up and startle him out of sleep leaves me cranky.

Enough of the bitching about explosions, on to bitching about colds or whatever the fuck this congestion/chest bullshit I've got going on over here is.  It's (ostensibly) summer, and though it feels like April or late February around these parts I don't want a summer cold.  I really didn't want to give it to my wife, who because of her breast feeding duties cannot take literally anything for it.  I've at least got sudafed (aka sudampetamines seriously I cannot take this stuff after 3pm if I want to sleep at night) to fall back on.  So yeah, happy 4th of July or some shit.