Friday, April 22, 2011

Like the Internet, but for Energy

Lapland Landscape with Telephone Line

The Green Party was one of the big losers in the recent Finnish election. Their number of seats went from 15 to 10. They lost voters both to the left and the right, with people defecting to the Left Coalition, the Social Democrats, and the National Coalition. Being one of the defectors, I'm not surprised at all. It looks like the only thing they can agree on is "no more nukes" plus a general social liberalism shared by both the Left and National Coalitions, which isn't much to build on.

If you Greens want my vote back, you're going to have to do better.

You fucked up big-time in the electoral campaign. Trying to make political hay from Fukushima with your big "no more nukes" posters, after sitting in a governing coalition that approved permits for two more, is as transparently cynical as electioneering gets. Being allowed to vote against it after tabling the proposal, knowing that it would pass, doesn't make it any better. We're not that stupid.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

About Those Bailouts

7 Mesi Ti Amo

Well well, it looks like Finland is going to throw a spanner into the works about that Portugal bailout, and by extension the whole Euro stability mechanism. Who'd've thunk. Anyway, here's the deal in brief, with my thoughts about it.

The slow-motion train wreck we've been seeing in Europe is due to reality catching up with a structural problem that was inherent in the Euro to start with. The Euro is a currency that has a monetary policy but no associated fiscal policy. That means that the money supply is controlled by the European Central Bank, but bonds are issued by sovereign governments, who also set taxes and control government spending. It also spans a much wider range of different kinds of economies than, say, the dollar.

A number of Eurozone economies—Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain—have gotten their public finances into trouble. The reasons for this vary. Greece is just a structurally unsound economy, with a corrupt, bloated public sector; Ireland was seduced by the neo-liberal chimera and went from a massive debt-fueled boom into an equally massive bust; Spain and Portugal had a property bubble driven by plentiful foreign money, and Italy is... well, Italy. Each in their own way fell victim to hot money and the illusion of stability provided by the euro.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Democracy in Action

Shame On You Parties
Shame On You Parties

I'm not drunk. Just depressed.

I love democracy in principle. It can just get really depressing to see it in action. Yesterday was one of those elections. You might've heard about it, it was on BBC, Financial Times, the NYT, and Russian media too.

The international commentary mostly gets it a bit wrong, though. No surprise there; it's not exactly worthwhile to keep experts on Finnish local politics on call, most of the time. Here's a bit of clarification about who these True Finns are, and what their landslide victory means, and what a landslide victory actually is about under the Finnish system.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Arrxism!

Pirate and kids

Political movements start from ideologies, and ideologies are based on philosophies. The strength of a movement doesn't really correlate well with the solidity of the underlying philosophy; one of the strongest in the USA now is largely based on Ayn Rand's romance novels, and a certain Austrian corporal had a measure of temporary success with his Blut und Boden romanticism.

However, movements based on a silly philosophy tend to collapse once the philosophy collides head-on with reality. Hitler's nearly took a whole continent down with it, and Rand's is taking a declining superpower. Ideologies based on more respectable philosophies can survive a good bit longer. Two such mature ideologies have done more than any other to shape the world we live in. One is Adam Smith's, and the other, Karl Marx's.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Truth of Anger

Posters, Graffiti, Reflection

Buddhist theory states that acting out of anger or other destructive, selfish impulses creates suffering, both directly through the results of the action, and indirectly by reinforcing these unskilful patterns of behavior in yourself and others. Conversely, acting out of compassion or other unselfish impulses paves the way to transcending suffering, again both directly and indirectly. In Buddhist jargon, acting unskilfully creates akusala kamma which, when it matures, creates more unbeneficial states of mind, which push you to more unskilful actions, and so on. And vice versa.

Ergo, to make the world a better place, avoid acting unskilfully and act skillfully, thereby reinforcing skillful behavior in yourself and others, and letting unskilful behavior wind down. Simple enough.

Only it's not, when you try to apply it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reflections on Social Networks

Spider

I have lots of different kinds of relationships with lots of different people, online and off. Together, these relationships form my social network, or, really, a set of different, sometimes overlapping social networks. However, I often find myself grouping them into roughly three tiers: the agora, the village, and intimates.

This blog and my Twitter feed are in the agora. They're public space. Whatever I put there, I intend to be "out there," visible to anyone who happens to stop by. My other agora activities include my Flickr feed and the occasional article I've gotten published in print media, my professional identity, and so on.

At the other end of the scale is a circle of intimates. This includes family, a few friends, and one or two people I only know over the Internet. Some of them I see regularly in meatspace; others more rarely, but with all of them there is a level of trust that goes beyond the superficial. I'm ready to share things with them that I'm not ready to write about here, for example.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Marx, Consumerism and the Buddha

Harbour City

Prioritize the spiritual life in your spending plan.
— Laura Jomon Martin in Buddhadharma

Our bearded friend, Karl Marx, is responsible for a quite a few paradigm shifts in the ways we look at people and societies. One that's not all that often mentioned is about the relationship between personal ethics and society.

Philosophers and social scientists before him tended to look at societies in terms of morality. Adam Smith's first major work wasn't The Wealth of Nations, it was The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Enlightenment philosophers in general were primarily interested in questions of ethics. They worked from the individual on out, trying to understand how people should behave in order to create a just society, or trace the evolution of moral sentiments over the course of history.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April

The Eye

The winter's barbed-wire breath has left
my North-facing room, sulking. It rained last night
and left a thin mist, like a caress
on my face. My room faces South.

A pretty girl smiled at me on the street.
Or perhaps she smiled at my dog.
Either way, it was nice.

I asked the wall again, "What is it?"
The wall hasn't answered.
Nor my dog, when I asked him
if he has Buddha nature.
He just stares back at me, puzzled.