Friday, August 17, 2012

Serfs Up!

Away from the college, and, upon my return, they have picked up on the whole hands-free hygiene mania. The restrooms now have those motion or obstruction activated soap dispensers and the Dyson airblade hand dryers. In a nice little marketing symphony, the soap dispensers cater to your infantile behaviors, in that, when they dispense soap, a little motor noise and a blue light is activated, so that you get a Fisher-Price reward with the foamy soap cum into your fingers. The airblade dryers, on the other hand, freak me out, in that they look and feel like they are going to chop your hands off at the wrist. All this, I suppose in our fruitless and fetishistic American quest for decontamination.

Me? I agree with George Carlin. An immune system needs PRACTICE! And, like George, may he rest in peace, I wash my hands when I get shit on 'em, which happens two-three times a week TOPS!

Anyway, back when I had a real job, I once worked in a ten-story glass and steel building whose floor plan looked like a rectilinear lightning bolt. You know, rather than a slant bolt, there was a right angle kink in the lines, kind of like the straightened-out sig rune used in the old Nazi SS insignia.

For a time, I had a cubical on the fifth floor that was at the internal corner of the lightning bolt. And soon after I and others was moved there, we noticed that pigeons kept on slamming into the glass windows. It got to be regular thing. Bam! Bam! slammed the pigeons, almost two or three times a day.

At first, we all figured, well, stupid pigeons. But then, one day, I happened to be in another part of the building delivering some kind of useless data print out to some drone executive, and I noticed his office had a bird's eye view over to the cul-de-sac pigeon death window target barrier. And there I saw something hilarious.

It turns out a flock of crows were regularly herding pigeons into that barrier. One or two crows would scare a flock of pigeons and chase them down the length of the building towards the internal corner. The pigeons would head right for the windows, and then in an attempt at aeronautic skill, try to veer off to the left at the last moment. But, a second group of crows would dive down at the pigeons from the roof, cutting off their escape route. The pigeons, trapped and panicked, would slam right into the windows. They would fall stunned to the ground, probably with broken necks, and then the crows would eat them.

Stupid pigeons? No. Smarter crows.

To me, this demonstrates the difference between r-type and K-type selection, and their role in competition. So, in evolution, r-type selection for survival is basically the Chinese Wave "overwhelm with sheer numbers' strategy - usually involves making a whole bunch of babies, not investing too much time or effort in raising them, and accepting large losses so that just enough survive. Insects do this a lot, prey species do this, and, for the largest part of American history, corporations with cheap mass production of shoddy goods. K-type selection for survival involves a small number of offspring, heavily invested in terms of time, energy, and information, and with a very high survival rate into adulthood. Predators typically use this strategy.

The interesting thing is people don't seem to recognize these two variations of competition, or that one can use different strategies, or even switch them.

So, you got pigeons and crows, if that's a competition. Perhaps a better example is the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during WWII. The Germans spent a great deal of time and effort producing small numbers of high quality, superior tanks, like the Tiger II. The Soviets cranked out the T-34s and the KV-1 and -2, often with the casting seams and welds not ground down to a finish on them. Why bother? Most would be blown up within the week, and they did not need to be pretty, just functional, and plentiful. Well, aside from the ghastly strategic ineptitude of Herr Hitler, there was still a mismatch of numbers on the battlefield. The Tigers could take out the T-34s, but there were many more of them. This would be the ongoing horrifying r-type strategy of the Soviet Union involving men and materials, and we know how that went for the Nazis.

How about the opposite outcome? Has there been something like this? Well, again, look to Germany. They produce high quality industrial products which, in the commercial marketplace, are in heavy demand. The shoddy methods of the Americans and Chinese allow for a larger number to be produced, but the choice, when it matters, always favors the German product. If, as a craftsman, I plan on abusing the tool, I'll get an American or Chinese POS. If, on the other hand, the tool will have limited or specialized use, or the job required more efficacy of control and consistent results, the German is favored.

Strangely, when applied to people, it generally doesn't work out quite as you would expect.

Take, for example, the labor history of America. Here you have a country specially coddled and protected for centuries, possessed of a natural moat in the form of two oceans, with no real military competition on the North American continent. Plentiful "free" land to the west, with some of the most productive soils in the world, provided a source for growth and a safety valve against class unrest to the ruling elites of the eastern coast. Couple this to government largesse towards business interests and a willingness practice trade protectionism through tariffs, and one would assume that things would be good for the working man. With labor was a scare resource - even with growing population of immigrants - one would assume, as Benjamin Franklin did, that this would result in high wages for workers. Prior to around 1850, this was true, but soon enough, the opposite became the norm. But from 1845 through the next ten years, the US population grew by an astonishing 30% (way beyond the biological maximum of the "native" settlers) as immigrants escaped the strife and unrest of (failed) revolutionary Europe. Labor was artificially made surplus by the bottlenecking of immigrants in the slums of eastern cities through a) the political obstruction of territorial settlement by aristocracy of the Southern states, and b) a series of deeply recessionary economic upsets brought about by corruption, fraud and stock market manipulations.

Fortunately (for immigrants), the Civil War broke the logjam on Western settlement, and a social crisis was averted. Nevertheless, the business elite, noting that mass unemployment depressed wages, took note, and did everything they could to continue the trend. As a results, through ruling class ineptitude, a nation that, by 1870, should have had the largest economy in the world, produced no more than 8% of global GDP. Germany, by contrast, with none of the advantages of the United States, accounted for as much, and with much higher literacy rates and scientific accomplishments.

Do we have to ask what Germany was doing right, and the US was doing wrong? Short answer? Public social programs, coordinated industrial and economic policies, strong public education, maybe?

Yeah, well, you know what? I've kind of run out of steam writing this essay. I guess my brain hasn't fully recovered from doing robot work the past two weeks. so, maybe I'll add more to this later when I can think coherently.

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