Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Intensification + peaking (full PR mode!)

Last time I talked about programming I was in the middle of the accumulation mesocycle, wondering if I would go through a traditional intensification one, and then do a traditional taper before taking maxes again (and pretty sure I would get an improvement of 15-20 kg in my powerlifting total), or I'd adjust to an almost forced week out (travel to see family around Xmas) and go for those PR's right off the bat after accumulation, with minimal intensification and almost no taper.

Turns out I'm already doing the latter. Last week I did a single microcycle of 3's (so that's all the intensification I'm getting) of which I'm pretty proud, specially if I compare it with what I was doing (and struggling with) in April this same year (feels like a million years ago, but actually it's only 8 months):

                                 April 2014                                     December 2014
Bench Press              2 x 3 x 95 kg                                 6 + 5 x 3 x 105 kg
Squat                        5 x 3 x 132.5 kg                            8 + 6 x 3 x 145 kg
Deadlift                     2 x 2 x 175 kg                               3 x 200 kg (although this one almost kills me)

So I'm pretty confident I'm quite stronger now than I was back then, so although it may have been nice to milk the intensification phase for one or two weeks more, I started peaking right away, with a session of singles in each main lift, seeing again a nice improvement in the weights used since March (I didn't do a week of singles in April, but jumped right into the fake meet to make the date coincident with Spain's powerlifting Championship):

                                March 2014                                     December 2014
Bench Press              3 x 1 x 105 kg                               6 x 1 x 115 kg
Squat                        7 x 1 x 142.5 kg                            6 x 1 x 155 kg
Deadlift                     2 x 1 x 190 kg                               (*)

(*) Haven't yet trained the DL for singles, planning to do it later today, but I do not think I'll go for a high number of relatively intense singles (my original planning was doing 4-5 singles w 205 or 200, depending on how it felt), as my lower back got really trashed last session, when I barely got the triple w 200, and I still don't feel it has fully recovered (it still aches most of the day, and is pretty stiff when I wake up in the morning), so I'm planning on doing some lighter speed deads, focusing on flawless technique, applying as much force as possible to the bar, accelerating it crazily, keeping very short resting periods and moving a reasonable weight (most likely 150 kg would do the trick, around 65% of the 220 I've set my sights on for the next max session). I'll probably do 'em E1/2MOT1/2M (every half minute on the half minute), which really doesn't allow for much recovery, and after the first five minutes is extremely demanding, both from a strength (its devastating for the grip and the erectors, but in the end just everything feels demolished: quads, hammies, glutes, lats...) and from an endurance perspective, trying to get to 20 reps in 10 minutes.

If after that I still can breathe, I may try some really heavy rack pulls, to gain some extra confidence, and no more heavy training until the 30th of 31st, when I'll take maxes and see how productive the year has been strength wise (and use the input to plan 2015 accordingly). I'll keep everybody posted.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The problems with a Universal Basic Income

In my previous post I settled upon the idea that the key element to dismantle the undesirable features of our (late) digital capitalism was instituting a state sanctioned revenue stream that would allow people to live free of the need to work, as proposed by the likes of Philppe Van Parijs. I have the gut feeling that just enabling a significant amount of the population to live, and live decently, without working (of course we are talking a life relatively free of luxuries, but well stuffed with the real necessities of life: clothing, food, shelter and some entertainment) may have dramatic consequences in everybody, substantially hollowing the system's core claim that life requires the continuous and unabashed pursuit of ever greater levels of production. Just having enough people leaving contented, meaningful lives without participating in "the rat race" and sacrificing 100% of their time to "keep up with the Joneses" would significantly ease the lives of those more inclined to compete and accumulate, as the level of consumption required to stand above the masses would substantially drop, and driving a Porsche to a 40,000 square feet McMansion while sporting an Armani suit and a Rolex watch to meet there a trophy wife that cheats on him and a couple mentored and tutored and helicopter parented (by salaried surrogates) offspring he barely knows may seem less of an achievement to brag about when other people can boast of getting by just fine without a) having to kiss any ass at all and b) having tons of spare time to devote to other pursuits, some of which may look more worthy of admiration the moment they are not tainted by the stigma of not paying enough for a living.

But of course I still have to refine that gut feeling and establish more firmly the relation between paying everybody the equivalent of a living wage and getting rid of the crazy drive to accumulate more wealth than your neighbor. That is work for another post, but before getting there I want to examine some common objections I've read, heard or thought myself about such an schema. In no particular order:

  • It would be inflationary (so the money the state distributed would in the end loose all its value, and people receiving it would end up as poor as before, and as in need of an additional source of revenue through work): it stands to reason that if the state decides to conjure a vast amount of money out of thin air to distribute equally between the population, and spends it on top of everything that it is actually spending (we will see that it would mean increasing its disbursements between 60% and 80%) with no equivalent increase in its receipts, all that additional money chasing the same amount of material goods would have a highly inflationary effect. We will be analyzing where the money may come from (either at the end of this post or on a separate one), but we can state that the way we see a UBI working, it should not suppose an additional burden on the state, it would essentially replace current expenditures, not add to them, so its inflationary effect would be null (another issue is to what extent, in a situation of liquidity trap, some moderate inflation, now and in the foreseeable future, would be a good thing for the economy... my own opinion is that to a great extent, but that is small potatoes compared with the possibility of changing the dominant reason and the whole socioeconomic system, so I won't pursue it further)

  • It would dis incentivize work: and that is supposed to be an objection? I am more than willing to agree that a society that pays all its citizens to do nothing (or does not link that payment to them doing something) will probably produce less than one which forces them to produce or else. My contention is that we are collectively producing much more than we a) need to live decent, meaningful, flourishing lives b) can afford if we want to leave to our descendants a planet as full of possibilities for their own flourishing as we enjoyed and c) maximizes each individual utility function. Only the third one requires some explanation, but it has been shown time and again that people enjoys more having more free time against having more income, having more social relations than having more recognition at work, and having a more pristine environment than having a bigger home or a bigger car... but to enable each individual to enjoy those "higher", more pleasurable goods they have to be saved from their own greed and need to flaunt their possession of markers of social status bigger and bolder that their immediate neighbor's... It made (limited) sense to force everybody to produce more when capitalism was born, in an environment of inter societal competition when letting the society beyond yours produce more in aggregate would translate sooner rather than later in military defeat, humiliation and a substantial lowering of your standard of living, being confined to the periphery or semi-periphery of the single world-system that was being formed (as Wallerstein analysis show). Even when the competition between capitalism and communism was at its full it could be (partly) defended, as communist societies who lost that material production race can attest, being forced to join the world-system in most unfavourable terms of which most still have not recovered. But now? what's the price of producing less (in aggregate) than your neighbor? a potential depreciation of your currency and some inflation if you want to import goods from him (assuming there still are different currencies, and we may have hit upon the root cause of Europe's integration woes, which will require a deeper look in a separate post)? big deal, you always can import less of his stuff, or substitute for it with local production.

  • It is morally wrong to pay people to do nothing with what is taken from hardworking citizens, it distributes resources that have been created with the effort of some individuals to the "undeserving poor" (well, and to the supposedly deserving rich): Desert is one of those things that seem to be very much in the eye of the beholder, as this line of critique is most likely to come from the ranks of the right, which typically see no problem in the system being highly slanted in favor of the already rich. In times of new rentiers ("trustafarians", hedge fund managers and their descendants, untalented start-up "entrepreneurs" whose sole merit was being in the right place at the right time, entertainers and athletes... the list goes on and on) it takes galls to make that claim, and it normally just denotes a subtler (and older) complain: if we gave money to the lower classes it will become awfully expensive to entice them to serve us! so this objection reveals more about those who voice it than about the system towards which it is directed. Indeed it would likely make domestic service dearer, by providing a plus of dignity to those that nowadays are forced to perform it, as they would have the choice to stay at home playing Call of Duty or watching Reality TV rather than going to the upper class mansions to clean their WC's and do their laundry, but I honestly can't see how that is a social evil

  • It is demeaning to people to give them handouts, it will rob their lives of meaning and purpose: not to be mistaken with the previous argument, this one opposes UBI on the grounds that it is bad for the receivers, not for the ones that will, regardless of it, keep on working and toiling and thus generating the wealth to be distributed. I confess that I am somewhat (surprisingly) partial to this line of reasoning, as indeed the main problem of humankind, since at least the XVIIIth Century, is to find meaning, not to find what to eat, or what to wear, or where to sleep (not that the last three have been universally solved, but for the vast majority they have, indeed), and in a scenario of growing secularization work has become the ultimate source of meaning, of social identity and of relationship building for many, if not most... However, we have to keep things in perspective here, and not forget who the main beneficiaries are likely to be, and how meaningful and fulfilling the jobs they are performing today are. I'm not proposing a Basic Income to improve the lot of University Professors, Middle Managers in large corporations, Management Consultants, Web Designers, Screenwriters, Orchestra Conductors and whatnot, most of whom would continue doing the work they like/ love regardless of any financial help from the state, albeit may be at a less frantic pace. We have to think about janitors, fast food chain employees, supermarket clerks, warehouse operators, bricklayers... Its not like the job they are doing (and that they would have the chance of keep on doing, only without having to compete for them with a hundred candidates as little qualified and as desperate as themselves, being thus able to negotiate in better terms) is that great, or that the alternative (being paid approximately the same, but without the drudgery) may be that condescending... Nothing that gives them additional freedom, additional choices and the possibility to develop additional capabilities can be
  • It is too expensive, we just can't afford it: I started thinking it would be easier to come up with the savings in all the rest of the services the government currently provides as to rob this particular argument of its strength (we are after all a very rich society -this applies to all first world economies, roughly Western Europe, USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand-), but when I started looking at the numbers they did look daunting, and even made me think there is some merit to it. As this post is already too long I'll just leave it at that, and defer to my next one the calculation of how much implementing a UBI society-wide would cost, and where the money would come from. The take away points I'll leave you with are a) it can be done (the state is collecting, and already spending, more than enough to pay everybody a living wage) b) it requires a major rethinking of how a modern state operates (forsaking traditional ways of distributing money back to society, specially the money coveted by powerful interest groups, so it is both more democratic and more likely to be bitterly opposed by those groups) c) it can cover the basic necessities of life, but not many luxuries (so any accusation that it may corrupt the moral fibre of society turning every citizen in a decadent slob is probably overblown), so I guess most people would still choose to pursue some occupation that would bring in additional income (which is a good thing, as somebody has to keep paying the taxes that in the end fund the whole schema) and d) it has the potential to reverse current demographic trends, turning offspring back to assets and a way to a better, fuller life (not net liabilities, as they seem to be now for most)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What should be done (IV)

Back in July (in this post and this one) I was wondering how one should live in a system like ours, late capitalism (or, as I called it there, "digital capitalism"), which I considered unfair, corrupted and non conductive to human flourishing and the development of the higher good (whatever that may be, to condemn our social organization requires just that we agree producing as many material goods as possible is not it). Before finding out, I felt I had to identify what were the distinguishing features of said system (which you can find here), and the "moral valence" of each of those features, assuming the ones morally deemed more corrupting would need to be changed.

There were three features I left unanalysed then, and which I'm not going to cover as they are "dependent variables" (the degree of technological progress, which thanks to automation, cheap and abundant energy and ubiquitous communication allow for the satisfaction of everybody's basic needs without anybody having to work much for it; globalization in terms dictated by big corporations, that is, enabling the almost free flow of merchandise and capital; and the rise of information and digitization of every conceivable experience, with marginal cost of that information approaching zero) that have attained a life of their own, and their reversal would require enormous societal costs (may be a bit less so for the second one -corporate-led globalization- I may revisit that one further down the road).

The conclusion of that study was that two features stood up as the more morally problematic: the fact that in all times capitalism has succeeded by forcing everybody in society to contribute as much as they could to the production of material goods (that's almost it's definition, specially according to Graeber Debt: the first 5000 years summary in Wikipedia) and the main mechanism it developed to enforce that compulsion, the labor market (the form that compulsion takes is by making it more or less explicitly mandatory to sell one's time in exchange for a salary -or a number of clients' revenue streams if you choose the route of self-employment, under the guise of an apparently free agreement whose negotiating terms that are designed to be abusively favourable to the employer/ client). The other mechanism it had developed (commodity production) was bad insofar as it was a paradigmatic behavior of the warped priorities identified in the first point (material production maximization), was most likely to disappear, and was not to be mistaken with the labour market asymmetries (I mentioned that considering work as a commodity was one of Marx main conceptual errors in a work richly plagued by them... the problem with learning your politics from a journo).

So, if those are the really big problems of our current socioeconomic system, what has to be done starts to become a bit more clear: the only acceptable course for a man is try to change that system so it a) does not force everybody to devote all of their energy to produce material goods (to earn more money and possess more wealth, but only wealth that can be measured in monetary terms and thus exchanged for money), which in turn requires that b) people are set free from the need to sell their time in a labour market which they approach in a situation of utter helplessness (as, if they do not play by the rules, they would be left dispossessed, entirely outside of the social hierarchy and even under the risk of starvation -if not literal, in terms of prestige, access to health care, etc.-)

Before looking in more detail how those pursuits (or pursuit, as you can not eliminate one without seriously weakening the other) may look like in practice, it may be worthwhile to review the revolutionary movements of the past 250 years, and under what premises they tried to change society, as we may learn something from their struggle (and their in the end entirely unsatisfactory results). Applying our framework it is immediately evident that they focused on the wrong features of the system, targeting private property (protected by stable laws) and money (a social technology for keeping track of debts regardless of social background or group belonging) as the sources of inequality of their time, when both are relatively old concepts, and thus capitalism is in no way dependant on them (money was discovered in Lydia about 600 BC, and has been around since then, and private property securely protected by law may be even more ancient, almost coeval with writing, 3000 years BC). Indeed, the societies built on those premises (no money and no private property, at least regarding the "means of production") did not escape from the need to produce as many material goods as possible (and not being able to produce as many as their competitor is what made them for in the end), only with the wrong set of incentives (trying to do it by coercion enforced by a bureaucratic elite proved to be less efficient than making each man his own foreman, or his own taskmaster, as capitalism succeeded in doing).

As it happens, we do not need to get overly creative to see how the two main undesirable features of late capitalism can be overcome, as the idea that can end them has already been around for some time. If you can guarantee people that they can subsist comfortably without having to work, keeping a modest amount of thingies in the process, you suddenly weaken both the impetus to overproduce that is damaging so much the environment (as now we force people to produce even if there is no demand, and even less need, for their product) and the asymmetry that forces them to undersell their time in conditions they find barely preferable to full slavery. There has been a (quite modest and muted so far) claim for that kind of guarantee going on for a few years, under the name Basic Income (BI), or Universal Basic Income (UBI) to differentiate it from other claims more limited in scope that propose paying only certain segments of the population (unemployed, or employed but below certain salary threshold). I will be talking in another post about how it may look like, where the money would come from, and give consideration to some traditional arguments for and against it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hammering the iron while it is still hot

This past Saturday I set a new PR in the Bench Press, after breaking my prev one little more than a week ago. After a hasty warm up I did 100 for a triple, 110 for a double (probably a new 2RM), 120 for a single, and seeing it went up pretty solidly (no loss of speed of the bar around mid lift) loaded the bar w 125 and started visualizing the lift.

I used to be somewaht sceptical of the use of those "cheap" mental tricks, but as I grow more experienced I've come to realize the iron game is a highly mental activity. When you fail a lift and let the bar go down it is never (never that I've seen in myself, at least) a "real" muscular failure (well, maybe for very high rep ranges, with a comparatively low percentage of 1RM), but a ceasing & desisting of the will to continue exerting herself to keep the muscle pushing. You let the bar go "in your head" before the muscles let go physically (I know this dualistic language would be highly suspect in the philosophy of mind circles that have become overwhelmingly dominant, but I'm tending more and more towards a kind of neo cartesianim whose full explanation would take me far, far away from the original intent of this post). So anything that helps the mind complete the exercise, and thus keep on truckin' (sending orders, firing neurons or whatever non-mentalistic language you deem to prefer) 'til the deed is done is not to be taken lightly.

So I visualized the lift, and focused more intently, and visualized some more: the feeling of the knurled bar in my hands, the slight strain in my right pec and front delt while lowering it, the slight pressure in my chest when it touches there, the reversal of direction, and how most likely it would deccelerate at about 3-4 inches from lockout, and how I would struggle, and tense the glutes more and use the legs to push the chest higher and get some additional leg drive whilst keeping the butt firmly planted in the bench...

But of course there comes a time when you have to stop playing mind games and go for the real shit. So I set up (my routine, or rather ritual is: first plant feet firmly on ground, slightly behind knees, then tense glutes to nail 'em to the bench, then arch hard the back, then retract the scapulas and finally align the wrists under the bar and, after a big breath, start pushing), unracked authoritatively, got some additional air in for extra stability in the belly, and started lowering the bar...

It came down very controlled (a mixed blessing, it gives you confidence that you can reverse direction at any moment, but it tires the pecs and front delts more than just letting it come crashing to the chest), slightly touched right at the lower end of the sternum, and up it went. In all the months this year that I haven't trained the bench press at all (the majority of them) I must have changed the strength balance between the different parts of my upper body, as a year ago I usually stalled a couple of inches above the chest, and now I start struggling when the bar is much higher (that means stronger pecs, which is somewhat surprising, as I never train 'em directly, except may be with weighted dips). This time was no different, and it was when 2/3's of the lift were already done that I found myself in trouble, as the bar was almost stopping, and I noticed I had driven it too far backwards (as it noisily hit the lower part of the j-hook in the rack). I was not to be defeated so far into the push, so I regained my bearings, braced some more, pushed with the legs, drove the back of the head harder in the bench, clenched my teeth and slowly and agonically drove the bar all the way to a successful lockout.

Then to round out the session I did 5 triples with 105, every two minutes on the minute (so really minimal rest), which after the 125 felt pretty easy (maybe with the exception of the last rep of the last set, which was quite a struggle again). So I did for triples what at the beginning of the year (last time I trained BP consistently) I could only do for singles. Definitely much stronger in this lift, which, due to my comparatively long arms has been the bane of my lifting existence.

Now I'm doubting if it would be better to have an additional training session with triples before one based on singles and then going for a final max, or just singles, rest and max attempt... the 125 felt much more limit than the 122,5 of the previous week (duh!), and I have the feeling that there is not much more than I can milk out of this cycle, so I'll probably go for a new max ASAP, and then start with some added volume again, from a foundation set comparatively higher than where it was five weeks ago.

Friday, December 12, 2014

About the decrease in the rate of technological progress

When I reviewed "The second machine age" I thought the idea of a decceleration in the rate of technological progress was a minority one, held by few people outside of Tyler Cowen, Robert Gordon and myself. But lately I'm finding more and more instances of scientists, engineers and science journalists piling on. Latest two are Of flying cars and the declining rate of profit, from the always thought-provoking Dave Graeber (although he has less to say about the rate of profit than the whimsy title suggests) and The Golden Quarter by Michael Hanlon. The alst one is specailly interesting, as it extends the landscape of stagnation to medicine, a field I'm not very familar with and where I couldn't be so sure there was not at least a simmer of progress (although I was well aware the average life expectancy was not progressing that much in most places -where nota ctually regressing, like in Russia), specially if you discount the effect of the society-wide decision to stop poisoning ourselves with tobacco smoke.

I have to thank a quite surprising source for both links: both were suggested by the guys at Repulsive right wing claptrap (not the real name, poor guys), which I read because you have to a) be familar with what the proverbial other side of the aisle thinks (not that I'm particularly "this" side of any aisle) and b) I'm of the opinion we should all force ourselves outside our little bubble and have a healthy daily dose of exposure to ideas as different from our own as possible. Regardless of why I read them, it surprised me that they are so consistently linking progressive sites, although it makes more sense on reflection (denunciation of progress, or of lack thereof, has always been a mainstay of conservative thinking).

It is also interesting to note the common diagnostic of both authors as to the root cause of the (quite abrupt, altough most popular opinion still doesn't seem to have caught up with it, as Brinjolfsson and MacAffee illustrate) loss of steam of the technological juggernaut set in motion in the XVIIIth Century: they both maintain that it is the current form of capitalism. Graeber insists more in how, when it has to choose between its own preservation and any possible improvement to make it more humane, or more inclusive, it has opted for the former (which, as far as analysis go, is afflicted from what I denounced in this post: Some problems with typical leftist critique of our current system, as "the system" is not really choosing anything at all, and what would make for a more interesting analysis is why some people with enough influence are making those decisions, and how those individual decisions are steering society in that direction). Hanlon focuses more on how the aversion to risk and the orientation towards short-term profit maximization (which in the realm of consumer products directs research energies towards thingies that are similar enough to what is already in the amrket with a closer enough obsolescence date), paired with misguided subsidies and academia (the almost universally despised peer reviewed publications also decried by Graeber) have derailed the march towards the possibilities dreamed of by our forefathers.

Which ties nicely with my concerns, which I started drafting in a series of old posts ("What should be done", in June and July 2014), about which of the defining features of modern day capitalism should be replaced, and which ones could be left if we wanted to build a better society. The betterment I had in mind then was the reduction of inequality, the ensurance of a minimum of maetrial well being and security for all and the possibility of leading fullfiling lifes, which require a certain freedom from all encompassing toil (specially in deadening jobs). But it seems that such a good society should very well be more open to innovation and neccessarily more conductive to the old idea of accelerated progress, as there are a number of problems with today's organization (resource depletion, demographic collapse, loss of biodiversity, climate change) that seem to require for their resolution of technological capabilities we still do not have, and that would never came too soon...

So time to get back to think on how we should change current society (the current "system", however much I'm getting to dislike the term), taking this into account now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Are we entering a new feudal age?

I have been thinking a lot about the surviving feudal features of our current socioeconomic system (as part of my research into what makes "capitalism" capitalist, exactly) for the last couple of years, and have had some (eventually nasty) discussions in some forums where people post easy epithets without knowing much what they mean...

However, last Friday I stumbled upon this post: Feudalism in corporate governance that I found better argued that the usual rants about the subject (which tend to be a way of disparaging modern capitalism, or its likely evolution, accusing it of something not very precise that just smells like old and stuffed and really uncool), and made me want to systematize a bit my own thoughts on the subject.

First, lets start by what most of the people I've read seem to think this new feudalism means. In most cases, it is a denunciation of the growing inequalities we are witnessing, that make them think that if current trends continue we will soon be living in a society of serfs (i.e. very poor people, with just enough to get by and no formally recognized rights) surrounding a minuscule elite of superrich (the equivalent of the feudal lords of yore) unbounded by laws or statutes, as their vast wealth would enable them to do basically what they please, without any fear of the consequences. Under that scenario, the modern nation-state that emerged in the XVIIth Century would finally crumble, unable to compete with the likely private armies of those plutocrats after being gradually deprived of resources by the emptying of its traditional, middle-class based revenue source, a process we havebeen witnessing for some time now, and which will only acelerate with the retirement of the boomer generation. An extreme illustration of the kind of society we may be heading to is depicted in the comic Lazarus

As the first post I referenced points out, feudalism is indeed a response to the lack of power of the central authority (that's why it appears after the crumbling of the Roman empire), in which the peasants (albeit unwillingly) renounced to some of their freedoms (like, in the end, the freedom of abandoning the land, or the freedom to work in whatever they pleased, or not to work at all) in exchange for protection, and the lords (originally local chiefs marked by their fighting prowess) aquired an enhanced status, and control over the meager surplus produced by the peasants. That control required they had the equivalent of today's legislative and judiciary powers (to command, enact and arbiter in case of dispute, in a fragmented monopoly of violence).

So we have today a situation with some analogies, as the international system based on nation states as main actors, on which the powers "to command, enact and arbiter" are invested (and thus who can wield the monopoly of violence) seems to be if not crumbling, at least weakening, thanks to the technological advances that have reduced the cost of transport and communications almost to zero (at least for merchandise), and made the enforcement of national borders more and more problematic, as any first world country bordering with a second or third world one (with the exception of Japan) can attest. So an evolution towards a social order in which people gravitates towards alternative sources of authority may not be so much off the mark (specially if the hollowing of the state championed by certain sectors of the right continues apace). And the foundation of that authority maynot be the capacity to exert force (or the holding of a monopoly over violence, which may even be outsourced or privatized, as some anarchocapitalists dream) but the command of vast sources of information (the most advanced of the three sources of power identified by now infamous futurist Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave)... or the command of vast sums of capital, if there is still a social structure where capital is scarce and recognized as valuable.

Indeed, to some extent, as the original post I linked suggests, feudalism has very much survived in the heart of the modern corporation. Where once land was the main source of value, and possession of the land was the paramount sign of power, and the authorization to work the land was the only way to subsist for most people, today capital is the main source of value, possession of capital (and the ability to display that possession) is the highest mark of social status, and authorization to use that capital (to produce wealth for others, in exchange for a salary) is the only way to subsist (more so in those countries where the "social safety net" is weaker). I would add one additional parallelism: Max Weber, one of the fathers of modern sociology, spoke  in his magisterial Economy and Society of charismatic power (invested in an individual) as opposed to bureaucratic power (invested in a position with fixed duties and responsibilities documented in some written form) as a sign of archaic societies. Well, anybody that has worked in a big enough corporation, specially in "modern" ones (in the IT sector) can immediately recognize the preeminence of charismatic power in it, and the subsequent building of cliques, fiefs, and tribes around the main executives, along with other signals of highly personalized hierarchies, as paradigmatically shown by the cult of the "rock star" CEO (and CFO, and COO, and so on in a fractal structure of imitation of the upper echelons at lower and lower levels). So the shift towards more informal, more "flexible", flatter, less defined (less bureaucratic) organizations is a change towards more charismatic (more feudal) forms of control and command...

So I tend to agree that we are seeing a reinforcement of the more feudalistic tendencies within our societies, specially within the economic realm, a reinforcement that is only lacking the formal recognition of separate legal statutes for the lords (the owners of enough capital) and the rest, making de iure what already exists de facto. It will be interesting to watch, as it will require a new legitimizing metanarrative similar in scope and strength to the Christian view that legitimized the three orders of medieval society. Can the scientific/ materialist worldview that is closer today to be a coherent metanarrative play that role? it's difficult to say, and I would expect it to be replaced by something new, more metaphysical and more accomodating of the differences between the different classes. But wait and see, as I have few doubts about its eventual rise.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Just for fun... a little Bench Press PR!

Today I broke my all time PR in the bench press with a nifty 122,5 kg (previous one, set on January this same year, was 120 kg, and I have failed twice at 125 since then, first in my fake meet on April, and more recently in the powerlifting seminar I attended four weeks ago).

Not that I can proudly point out what a beast I am, as it is not such a big weight, but going beyond 120 had been a really sought after target of mine, and it seems it has taken me forever to reach it! I find it remarkable, also, that I have done it in the midst of an accumulation cycle, and after a year of almost no bench pressing, in which I just kept frequent dipping (both weighted and unweighted) to avoid loosing pressing power in pecs & tris. The next two weeks are for intensification (triples and singles), and I won't likely go above 120 again until new year's eve (or my birthday, depending on how I feel after lunch with the family and driving 460 km from Campoamor), limiting myself to some submaximal work.

However, after today's little feat I'm confident I'll be good to go for 127,5, and maybe even 130, which would be a truly significant milestone, as that's the goal I set for this 2014 exactly a year ago, and it would be the first time I meet my BP programming yearly goal. But let's not sell the bear's pelt before we have actually hunted the bear down

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Back to Freud - Gasp!

Decided to give a final push to my dissertation, which I want to have pre-finished by the end of the year, which means I have essentially to finish  Part II (of III), dealing with the influence on the dominant reason (of his time, and to some extent even more of ours) of the father of psychoanalysis. To be able to do that I have to finish reading the part of his works I still hadn't processed that I considered important: "Group Psyschology and the Ego", "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality", The published letters (mostly to Fliess, including the "Project for a Scientific Psychology") and the main Case Stories (Dora, Rat man, Wolf man and Little Hans). A truly dreadful prospect, as I feel more and more repelled by the man and his thoughts, and I have come to believe that in his system, as another psychologist said of Von Hartman's The Philosophy of the Unconscious, "in it what is new is not true, and what (little) is true is not new".

So just to let of a little steam already in the middle of such Psychoanalytic smorgasbord, I'm going to briefly list some things that tick me off in the illustrious doctor's ramblings, in no particular order:

  • the "homunculism", and explanatory vacuousness of his theory of mind. Identifyng a "preconscious" and "unconscious" instances of the mind (first topology) that act as repositories of desires and drives that ultimately explain our actions doesn't explain that much. Even less do identifying more abstruse (or outrageous, depending on point of view) instances, like ego, superego and id (second topology). Each one of those instances act for all practical purposes like a little person (the homunculus) which remains as unexplained as the big one that they reside? in. Take hysterical symptoms (forgetting for a moment that hysteria is a make believe nervous illness that has disappeared from the DSM -if it ever was there- making one wonder what it is that was wrong with the poor souls that visited the good doctor in search of treatment). According to Freud, the superego's cruelty towards the Id (where impulses originate, regardless of how sociably acceptable they may be) causes repression (blocks most of the desires it harbors from consciousness, so they can not freely bind to their objects. or "cathect" and so they create an increase of libidinal energy that is darkly perceived as a source of displeasure. But that repression is not always fully successful, and the violence done towards the Id in repressing its wishes and impulses may manifest itself as the aforementioned symptoms (seizures, constipation, compulsive behavior, nervous coughing, fever, almost anything could be a neurotic or hysterical symptom for Freud). But what causes the superego to be cruel, or more or less cruel, or what causes the Id to harbor its desires more or less violently is not just left unexplained, but is conceptually unexplainable using that contorted framework (should we assume the superego has its own internal organization, formed by a super-superego, a super-Id and a super-ego? ooops, infinite regression, as homunculus based explanations are wont to cause) 
  • The ubiquity of homosexual tendencies (or as he termed them, inversions). Freud would have us believe that homosexual behavior is caused by childhood trauma that aborted the normal development of sexuality beyond the anal stage, or by a too loving mother that fed the child narcissistic impulses making him substitute her image for his own in his ego ideal, so future love objects would be copied for the ones the ego assumed she would choose (men). As almost anything could cause a trauma, specially give the tumultuous view of the child's psyche he believed in (see next point), it is no wonder he identified homosexuality as pervasively surrounding him, from friends to patients (and partly in himself, as freely attested in his letters to Fliess)...
  • The entirely delirious belief in an "adult" form of infantile sexuality. Where to start with this one? according to the good doctor, children from age two to five have a "polimorphously perverse" sexual life, full of masturbation, exploration of other children genitalia and (admitttedly in some more infrequent cases) full blown sexual intercourse with other children their age. The simple and affectionate act of brestfeeding was undoubtedly sexual (he describes it twice, in the New introductory lectures and in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, in those terms, stating that "anybody who sees a child a few months old falling asleep, his cheeks flush and beatifically smiling, after suckling can recognize the pradigmatic attitude of post coital satisfaction"). He was so sure of having witnessed those unmistakably sexual behaviors himself (and he believed to such an extent the descriptions of similar behaviour in his friends' and patients' children) that he accused everybody who questioned them of bad faith, insufficient scientific spirit, being overtaken by the weight of unfounded tradition and outdated morals and other vitriolic niceties. Of coure, everybody knows full well when they first actually masturbated, already in puberty, but the doctor theorized that there is a (so convenient) veil of forgetfulness that shields of our memories previous to the onet of the latency period at age five... well, I have had three sons myself, and seen the development of a few more boys and girls (sons of friends, nieces and nephews) and I can pretty confidently state that Freud's observations are the biggest load of crap I've ever read. Regarding breastfeeding, he either never actually witnessed it (quite the most propable option in the prudish Vienna of late XIX Century, where women of some class never breastfed themselves, hiring a wet nurse for that), or he projected his own sick attitude towards the feminine bosom, as the attitude fo the little ones is as different from a horny adult as can be imagined... It is interesting to note that one of Freud's pupils, confidante, late nurse (and I can not avoid the suspicion that eventual lover), her own daughter Anna, specialized and gained recognition in child psychology. I can not but wonder (and have to research) if she kept her father's totally crazy and empirically unsupportable ideas, or if she quietly rejected them after seeing first hand (she started her career as a techer) how off base they were
  • The continuous, self-serving disqualification of anybody critical of his ideas. This is all too human, but the tone resorts systematically to the ad hominem attack. Whoever disagrees with him is unintelligent, hasn't bothered to read his arguments, is uninformed, is in the grip of oudated ideas and received opinions, is an enemy of the enlightenment, an unthinking traditionalist, unscientific, an enemy of progress... it is funny to read in parallel the works of Freud and another great polemicist and master of the invective against his critics, Karl Marx, to find the many parallels and common expressions they both use to denigrate and belittle any non-sycophantic acolyte. Marx has a few additional tropes we do not find in reud (tellingly, bourgeois, with or without being prefixed by "petty", as I have found Freud was a prototypical one, and most likely proud of being so). Closer to our own times, it also reminds me of Cosmides and Toobey attacking anybody (but specially Butler, in such a venomous and merciless way one can only assume they would have made Freud proud) that does not accept the perspicuity and validity of evolutionary psychology...
  • The tireless appellation to the (supposedly) scientific nature of psychoanalysis, and the endless circularity of the ideas associated with the movement. It is difficult to find a page in some of his writings without reading "psychoanalysis has proven that..." or "psychoanalysis clearly tells us that..." but of course, psychoanalysis is a sondly scientific theory because all of those things that it proves and tells us rotundly and without a hint of doubt correspond with reality. Only no, they don´t... the list of unprovable and unfalsifiable items would be too long to enumerate (Oedipues complex? please!), and the only reason I can see it has not been done earlier is because of the circular nature of most of its constructions. Take the example of dreams: Dreams are wish fulfillments. If what happens in a dream in under no guise or circumstance desired by the dreamer it is because a) it is a repressed desire (pretty circular, uh? if everything in a dream is a wish just by the fact of being there, no shit sherlock that all the content of dreams turns out to be the fulfillment of wishes) b) it is prooof that the dreamer is a masochist, and thus really desires what she apparently dreads or c) is caused by a deeper desire to prove the anlyst wrong (which of course has the effect of making him never wrong).  Its the same with infantile sexuality, with the reappearance of the suppressed in neurotic behavior, with the reduction of any impulse to the love or the death instincts (eros and thanatos)...
So, given I found the style of Freud's writings stilted adn pretentious, and its content highly unpalatable, why on earth am I writing my dissertation on them?

A darn tough question, that will most likely require a separate post, as this one is already too long

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The devilish subtleties of deadlifting Sumo

As I mentioned in a previous post about my attendance to a powerlifting seminar a few weeks ago, I finally bit the bullet and started experimenting with Sumo DL's. Now I'm doing two sets of five reps with the working weight I've previously used for an AMRAP set (conventional), which I increase 5 kg per week, and we'll see where it takes me.

What I noticed last week (working w 155 kg) is that I was first straightening the legs (while keeping the back angle relative to the floor constant) and only then raising the bar, which I did in two noticeably distinct phases: a first one (until the hands touched the thighs) that required mainly glutes and erectors contracting, which I'll call Stage III, and a second one (to lockout) requiring more upper back, Stage IV. Something like this:

Not very nice, and regardless of how much I tried to engage the lats and keep the bar close to shins (& then knees) I felt it tended to hang too far in front, so stage III in the drawing was a pretty ugly, draining thing.

Yesterday (DL day again!) I focused on keeping the back more upright since the get go, trying to make Stage III unnecessary. That requires to put the hip a tad lower, puff up the chest so the shoulders are also a tad more behind the bar and start moving up by straightening the legs (pure quads) while thinking in pulling back, so the bar brushes the knee and touches the thigh at the exact moment in which the upper back is retracting the shoulders to lockout.

Being tired as hell and with the hands utterly shredded I found it quite challenging overall, and if the bar (or rather, the hands holding the bar) makes contact with the leg one inch higher or lower than where they have to be at the end that makes locking out the knees almost impossible. However, I think it is the way to go training-wise, as it definitely puts a lot of pressure on quads, hammies and glutes (and not so much on erectors, which is great as they are thrashed enough by previous conventional sets), and of course on flexors.

However, still have to investigate more what kind of proportions (between legs, torso and arms, and also between femur, tibia and fibula) make sumo deadlifts more advisable to see if I have to progress them into higher intensity ranges. At least, if I finally decide to do so, the foundations are more solidly layed out than a month ago

Friday, November 21, 2014

The second machine age (Brinjolfsson & McAffee) - II

In my latest post on the subject (which you can find here: The second machine age I if you are too lazy to scroll down about 20 cm...) I denounced what I felt was a very incomplete (albeit common) understanding of what AI was about, and its potential impact on how we manufacture and distribute stuff. I told then that I would deal with the economic aspects of the book in a separate post, and this is going to be it.

To give some credit where credit is due, the book managed to exceed my (admittedly very modest) expectations regarding economic analysis, as in the central chapter it recognizes the three main trends that are shaping the fate of the workforce in all advanced countries: diminishing growth (in year over year increase of GNP), stagnant (for the 90%) or even diminishing (for the bottom 20%) income for salaried workers and growing inequality (as both the income and the wealth of the top 10% -mainly concentrated in the top 1%, and even more so in the 0,1%, has indeed growed at an ever increasing pace). Many techno-utopians and naive optimists simply ignore those trends, either by minimizing their importante, outright denying their existence, or balancing them with the increase in output and standard of living in the emerging economies.

Too bad the book then forgets almost entirely about them, and in the final chapters go back to its authors unfounded cheerfulness, stating without proof that, because technology has given us driverless cars (that are not yet fully operational, and may never be: Google self-driving car may never actually happen), voice recognition software that doesn't completely suck and maps that suggest the fastest path under conditions of heavy traffic, it will magically solve all of society's current problems. Well, it very well may not, because a) as I mentioned in the first post, technology may not be advancing that fast at all (and may even be regressing, a fascinating possibility that merits a post of its own) and specially b) those problems may not be solvable by technical advances alone, as they do not have to do with producing more stuff, but with how the stuff that is indeed produced gets distributed. Many people (like these bozos The zeitgeist movement and these The Venus Project) maintain that with the current level of technological advances we should be able to get rid of war, hunger, poverty and disease, and transition from a society where scarcity rules (hence the famous definition of Economy by Lionel Robbins as the sciente of allocation of scarce resources) to a "resources based economy" where everybody has plenty of everything, and doesn't need to unneccessarily toil to survive (the Utopia of a society where work is optional, people can devote their time to creative, artistic and intellectual endeavors and nobody has to obey the orders of anybody else is a constant, from More to Marx). According to such naive view (that, interestingly enough, coming from evident nerds and technophiles, show a blatant misunderstanding of how technology really works, at least "dirty", "stuffy" technology, not Sw development and IT systems, which is probably where most of this ingenues come from) the only thing preventing us from achieving that golden age is the greed of a tiny clique of plutocrats, the heads of multinational corporations that have all of the world's politicians in their pockets, who selfishly deny all of humanity the unlimited boons of our age...

But I'm not going to loose any time pointing to the obvious stupidity of those visions, which are not shared (at first look) by the authors of the book under review. I only wanted to note that the naivete is the same in both cases: Sw allows us to do wonderful things (normally self-contained, as Sw does not generate energy, does not grow crops, does not give us shelter, does not take us phisycally anywhere, and only tangentially, and with the use of vast amounts of capital and raw materials, builds things), hence developments in Sw enabled by that most wondrous of laws (Moore's) will neccessarily put an end to all of humanities woes. Indeed, the authors note one glaring hole in their theory: if technological advance is the mechanism that explains economic growth, how is it possible that we have (thanks almost inevitably to Moore's law) ever fastest technological advance AND for the last two decades, ever slowing economic growth (measured in terms of GDP)???

Brinjolfsson and McAffee propose two explanations, but both of them fail: first, they state that it takes some time for a GPT (General Purpose Technology) to elicit the associated changes in processes and behaviors required for the society to be able to reap its rewards, citing the example of the gap between the invention and ubiquitous availability of electricity and its translation to improved output in the industries that adopted it. Second, they contend that GDP is not a comprehensive enough measure of our well being (duh!), as it does not capture the additional richness that new (mostly electronic) gadgets bring to our life (all the music and movies and photos you can store and stream and enjoy almost for free now). The first argument fails because comparing IT with electricity and thinking it is almost a magical wand that creates boundless increases in the productivity of every industry it touches is, quoting Sheldon Cooper, "baloney with a side dish of malarkey". If you read enough academic papers (written by professors paid directly or indirectly, in terms of access and information, by the same companies that profit from the installation of those IT systems) you may end up believing such a thing, but I'm gonna go over one foot here and call it for the load of BS it is. I spent 15 years of my professional life designing and implementing those very same IT systems everybody raves so much about, and not in a single instance did I see any productivity gain at all, and not a single business benefit other than the maintenance of the grossly overpaid consultants that did the implementation (and that in the initial years of the industry, departed afterwards , leaving the hapless users to deal with the monstrosities we were paid to put in place... of late it is the same consultants, or their underlings, who do the subsequent quite unpleasant dealing, which at least has some poetic justice). I've done most of them: ERP's, CRM's, DW's, GL, AP, AR, B2C portals, B2B portals, B2E portals, you name it, and I would gladly debate with anybody about the real productivity gain derived from the tiny sliver of those that were actually implemented, and not discarded after years of fruitless struggle.

The second argument also fails, for reasons that would take us a bit far from economics into social commentary and, finally, ethics (what are the ingredients of a life well lived, and what part do material goods play on it). Let us say that I find any contribution to our well being brought about by the Internet (because it all boils down to that) dubious at best. Take music: the authors argue that we have better and more varied music available at our convenience, without having to go to a shop to purchase it, and it being (almost) always on (or at least one click away). Sounds great. Now go to any teenager's den and have a look at what he is hearing (in any corner of the world): the same rubbish, from the same limited menu of choices. Uncultivated teenagers, you may say, are not representative of the wider society. OK, go to any salaried worker house, any average Joe, and see how much music they are hearing, and how varied it is. Or how many books they are reading (different from 50 Shades of Grey and any crap from Dan Brown). Or how many films they are watching. Ooops, reality TV and having a couple jobs to make ends meet don't let them much time to hear sophisticated music, read profound books or see intellectually challenging movies... or, outside of Harvard professors may be not many people is enjoying those non-GDP registered advantages of the IT revolution.

Finally, Brinjolfsson & McAffee contend that the decrease in the percentage of people participating in the workplace we see the world over (more marked, again, in the most advanced economies) is a temporary thing, and that the productivity gains enabled by the wider and wider use of more and more intelligent machines will in the end make all of us richer, specially those who learn to collaborate with those machines, and use them to their advantage (in their words, those who "race with the machines, instead of against them"). Again, claptrap. I was also of the opinion that considering the total amount of work a fixed quantity to be distributed between an ever increasing population was a fallacy, and that you could always identify new needs to be satisfied, and hence more work to be done, and that ingenuity and inventiveness are the real limiting factors to economic growth nowadays (that's exactly the authors' position), but I've evolved my position. The fact is, most ideas require increasing amounts of capital to be monetized, and most people do not have the cognitive capabilities to harness that capital. There is indeed a limited amount of well-paid work to be done, and more and more it requires pretty exclusive (uncommon, and difficult to expand) skills. Most of the work that well-heeled people is willing to pay for to those with a more limited skill set is menial, and what they (we) are willing to pay for it is a pittance. So, contrary to what B&MA say, Tomorrow's (or Today's) world is not going to be chock full of opportunities for web designers, fashion consultants, marketing gurus, music composers and successful screenwriters, but moderately  abundant in unfilled positions for boot polishers, maidservants, nurses, burger flippers and the like, paid barely above the subsistence salary to do repetitive tasks, with almost zero chances of professional advancement.

And the solution does not lie in more technology, or hoping that Moore's law will deliver us from dystopia ensuring effortlessly a renewed economic growth that lift all boats. The solution is, as always has been, political. The decisions to be made have to do with how we distribute the goods we produce, with who gets what, with who DESERVES what. And there is not (and there will probably never be; as we do not have a hint of a clue of how to algorithmize it) a procedure to decide the optimal distribution that we can unload to a machine, as "artificially intelligent" as we deem it to be. We will need to discuss, to empathize, to bargain, to painfully renounce to some things we cherish to gain others we consider more worthy... the same old same old we have been doing for millennia. Just thinking we have come to a point in our development as a species where we can forgo that tiresome discussing is just delusional, as delusional as the unfounded optimism that permeates the book we have just discussed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Back in powerlifting mode

When in January I laid out my plans for the year I settled on generic 2-4 month blocks with the following structure:

  • Jan-apr powerlifting, using roughly a beyond 5/3/1 approach (2 days for the competition lifts and 2 days for becoming more explosive -sprints and throws)
  • May-aug for improving the Olympic lifts, cleaning up the technique a bit but doing basically snatch, C&Js and squats (which I started doing high bar for its supposed better transference to the Snatch and C&J)
  • Sep-? for becoming more explosive in order to put the shot farther, using submaximal loads in Oly lifts and some power lifts (specially squat, still high bar, and getting some bench press back in, plus lots of explosive pulling -but no DL's)
Now, depending on how the first two months of the last cycle went, I would either keep on trucking around shot putting, or switch back to powerlifting mode. As the weather has consistently worsened (it is Autumn allrighty), and seeing in vid that my putting technique is not that far off (so many years practicing seem to have left a pretty stable sediment after all) I fnially decided to give my powerlifts a final push within 2014, as I am slightly behind the goals I set at the beginning of the year. I'm also curious to see how the investment in "explosiveness" pays off after I go back to slow, grindy lifts.

So from the last two weeks, and up to the first months of 2015 (probably until feb-mar) I'll be training in full powerlifting mode, to see where I can take the three main lifts (I intend to do a couple fake meets to test maxes). The program is structured around 8 days microcycles (which I've seen work better for me than the traditional weekly microcycles), training 4 days per microcycle, one centered around squats (Low bar again), another one around BP (competition stance and grip), another one around DL (again, competition stance, although I'm toying with some sumo sets) and finally one light, fast & easy session to keep the Olympic moves groove greased . Each day will have a main block around the power lift, going to a daily max (w good form and keeping good sped on the bar), then an AMRAP set starting around 75% of my current Training Max (as long as the set goes at least to 10 reps, I will add 5 kg the next week to the lower body lifts, and 2,5 kg to the bench press) followed by back off sets w the same weight to get some volume in. After that I'll do an additional block of accesories to round up the needed frequency for the muscle groups involved in the main lifts (so I'll squat every session to keep an f4, I'll do some heavy dips to keep the pressing muscles on an f2, and I'll leave the Dl with an f1). It looks something like this:

Day 1:

  • Low bar Back Squat : singles to a daily max, then AMRAP set (starting w 120 kg), then 4 x 5 w same weight
  • Push press: 4 x 5 starting around 70 kg
  • Chin ups: 5 x 6 (or as many as possible, trying to improve each week over previous one)
Day 2:

  • Bench Press: singles to a daily max, then AMRAP set (starting w 85 kg), then 4 x 5 w same weight
  • Power Clean: 8-10 total reps, as fast as possible (starting around 80 kg)
  • High Bar Back Squat w 80% of the weight used in the AMRAP set of prev day
Day 3:

  • Deadlift: singles to a daily max, then AMRAP set (starting w 150 kg), then 2 x 5 w same weight
  • Power snatch: 10-12 total reps, as fast as possible (starting around 60 kg)
  • Front Squat: 4 x 5 w 80% of weight used in HBBS of previous day
Day 4:
  • Full Snatches: 6-8 singles, or 4-6 doubles with a weight that allows for perfect form
  • Full C&J: 4-6 singles or 3-4 doubles w 20 more kg
  • Paused low bar back squats: 4 x 5 w same weight used in day 2, 3-4 secs pause at bottom position
  • Weighted dips: 4 x 3-5, starting w 20 additional kg
  • Farmers' walks: 6-8 30 yards walks w 46 kg in each hand (increase around 5 kg per hand per week)
Every week the AMRAP stays above 10 reps, I add 5 kg (to lower body lifts) or 2,5 kg (to upper body). Accesories move up based on feeling and available time (I may do them w less weight bumping up the reps to finish faster, as needed). After 4-5 weeks working w 5's in the 75% range I'll probably move to 3's (I should be in the 85% range already), and after 2-3 weeks there I intend to have a week of heavy'ish singles (95% 1RM range) and then test maxes again. Let's see how it works

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The second machine age (Brinjolfsson & McAffee)

Finished this past weekend "The second machine age", which I knew I was not going to like, and with which I knew I would mainly disagree. Boy, was I right.

The whole book is a fine example of what has been called "present bias", or the tendency of the human mind to give recent experience an inordinate weight when assessing its own situation (it's the same phenomenom that makes us think the crime statistics must be at an all time height after being mugged, regardless of the objective fact that they are at a minimum not seen since the 60's, or thinking air travel must be more dangerous than other means fo transportation after hearing from a plane crash, when it is actually one of the safest ways to move). According to the authors, we are (right now, aren't we lucky?) at a critical moment in the history of the human species, as we are about to enter the "2nd machine age" of the title, with the effect of witnessing ever increasing improvements in our standard of living, our well being and our material (and spiritual) wealth. ¿How so? mainly due to the exponential growth of computing power (captured by the by now all too famous Moore's law) which has enabled the development of ever more powerful Artificial Intelligences (AI's) that will in turn boost our productivity, and thus produce growing amounts of goods (both material and cultural, as in many cases the only product of Today's industries is information) with decreasing consumption of resources (be them capital, natural or labour).

There are a number of obvious flaws in that reasoning, starting with the fact that the "brilliant technologies" that just a few years ago "seemed like science fiction" the authors are so besotted with loose a lot of their luster after a closer examination (and quick acclimation, few things look as dated as Yesteryear's wonders): yup, Google has developed a car that drives itself under most circumstances (but not in heavy city traffic, which is precisely the kind of driving people loathe most); IBM has developed a software program that beats human champions at the game of Jeopardy! (this one tends to impress less us non american audiences, who are not that fond of the game in the first place) and may be used for clinical diagnostic; Waze uses the location of its users to dynamically calculate the fastest path between two points (which is less useful in European, Asian or African cities with older centers -not grid-like- where there may only be one way to get from point A to point B, so all Waze can do is let its users know the amount of misery unavoidably in front of them)... and that's about it. Convenient? certainly. Shocking? Earth-shattering? Hardly.

What the cheerleaders for the beneficial and unprecedented impact of what we could legitimately call the "IT revolution" do not seem to grasp is that technologically we havent progressed that much in the last four decades. We produce most of our energy with power plant designs made in the 60's-70's. We travel in planes, trains and boats designed in the same era. Even the cars that mostly populate our roads are based in designs that haven't changed that much (as Bill Gates famously noted in a much ballyhooed comparison) since the 40's of the past century. Construction-wise, our buildings, offices and factories use the same materials, shapes (with the exception of Santiago Calatrava's and Frank Gehry's creations) and techniques that were developed a century ago. Even our ability to put payloads in orbit has not evolved that much since the late 60's. We do have almost viable solar energy (that's a novelty), almost viable electric vehicles and almost viable cheap rocket launchers, but I'm hesitant to declare that's a significant breakthrough that heralds a new era of ever increasing productivity gains and unmatched progress. That doesn't mean I am ready to dismiss that aforementioned revolution and declare all the recent developments in IT and communication inconsequential. I do think it is affecting our society in fundamental ways, and that indeed it will end up spelling the end of capitalism as we know it, and will end up being as significant as the discovery and popularization of the printing press (a good parallel, the printing press didn't significantly impact the material conditions of its era, it most definitely didn't usher a new era of productivity gains or economic development). But for reasons that have nothing to do with what Brinjolfsson and McAffee present in this book.

Amost as an aside, I have to say I found specially tiresome and uninformed their comment about the tremendous impact IT is having in the "human sciences" (as it should, no area of human interest can be left unaffected by such important develpments!), advancing the nauseating name of culturomics for a purported new approach to the study of social disciplines heavily reliant on the use of computers and numerical analysis. Such approach has already brought to light, by parsing millions and millions of pages written in the past centuries, amazing discoveries, to note:

  • fame is achieved faster this days than it used to be, but it also fades faster
  • the total number of words in the English language has grown a 70% between 1970 and 2010
  • byt the middle of the 20th Century interest in darwinian evolution was fading, until the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick reignited it
Well, this just blew my mind! such insight! such depths! this really convinced me the time of the machine had finally arrived, as only sophisticated algorithms poring over unimaginable amounts of raw data could have reached such counterintuitive, deeply disturbing conclusions! Steven Pinker would be proud (and Leon Wieseltier put to shame) of such brilliant, scientifically sound inroads in the dusty muchy world of the humanities...

Jokes apart, the reason the authors expose themselves without noticing to such ridicule by posing as "interesting" what any scholar worth his salt would consider trite (if not downright moronic) just highlights the problem with this techno-optimism: when chanting the praises of AI it tends to forget that we still do not know (and do not have an operational working defintion of) what "NI" is. It is great to declare we are building better and better Artificial Intelligences, but you don't need to scratch very deep to find that we would never know if we truly are, as we still do not agree (are quite clueless, frankly) as to what "Natural Intelligence" consists in. And this is not just wordplay, but a classical case of people with hammers seeing the whole field as a nail.

By the beginning of the last Century, as we learned to compute w machines, we got all excited assuming that was all that intelligence conssited in: really complex computations. So you got a machine computing and following algorithms at enough speed and voila! you would have an intelligent machine (this may sound whimsical, but completely serious philosophers of mind said exactly that: put enough processing power in a sufficiently small volume and sentience and intelligence would almost amgically "supervene"). Now we have become able to implement via algorithms some sorts of pattern recognition, and we have duly come to the conclusion that pattern recognition is really what intelligence is all about (see "On intellligence" by Jeff Hawkins: On intelligence in Amazon, which impressed me much when I read it for the first time eight years ago, but which I now find much less compelling), and are feeling again very excited thinking we are on the verge of getting really "intelligent" machines without the need to really undersand how our own intelligence works. Well, sorry to disappoint but I'm afraid we are as far from getting anything resembling intelligence as we have always been. More and more I see intelligence requires things like "caring about" and "valuing", just for starters, that we are utterly clueless about how to implement in a Sw program (or in a Hw substrate, btw), and without which there is not much progress to be made (apart from cleverer and cleverer "maechanical turks" that may someday even pass the Turing test without really having a single thought).

But having economists being all wrong about neuroscience and philosophy of mind is really par for the course, and doesn't really surprise me at this point. What saddens me is seeing obviously brilliant people being als mostly wrong in the economic analysis that should be their core competency. But we will need another post to dwell on that...

Friday, November 7, 2014

Reflections on the life of Marx

I recently finished the superb biography "Marx. A ninteenth century life" by Jonathan Sperber (may be a tad light in the history of ideas department, but the author is an historian, not a philosopher, and he deserves extra points for trying to grapple with Hegel's influence and present his "system" in a comprehensive, albeit neccessarily schematic way), and that got me thinking about the man and his influence.

It confirmed one intuition I have had after rereading the 1st volume of Das Kapital: The man was first and foremost a journalist. Maybe more scholarly than most (more steeped in the tradition of Wissenschaft, so he naturally tended to see the world and articulate his own ideas in reponse to it in the fashion of an eighteenth century German university professor, needing to seek a number of previous  opinions -between a quite limited set of authors- to refute or advance and framing his arguments in terms that wouldn't seem out of line in the Berlinische Monatschriff) but his mindset was first and foremost that of a reporter at large, dwelling on a certain issue (like the condition of the working class, to which he never belonged, from which he never had any friend and with which he never shared interests, goals or outlook; or the history of Political Economy, as formulated half a century before he came of age) from the outside, so he could better inform about it, with all the shades and the nuances sacrificed in the name of a more shocking perspective, one that could better grab the attention of his readers.

That explain a lot of the apparent contradiction between his life and his preachings: he advocated for a violent revolution to overthrow the government and put in its place members of a class (the proletariat) he did not belong to; he scathingly criticised the moral values of the class he indeed did belong to (the bourgeoisie), and whose values he not just shared, but to a certain extent epitomized (even in his darker days of abject poverty he could not do without his domestic service, preferring to pawn the scarcer and scarcer family possessions and not to pay his daily providers than to dismiss his maid; he sent his daughters to a middel-upper class school so they could be properly groomed to enter the "right" social milieu...) he denounced the exploitation of the workers by the capitalists, but reached a more or less implicit agreement with his friend Engels to live precisely from his wages as a factory owner, obtained according to his own economic analysis by unfairly appropriating the surplus value created by those very same workers in whose name he calimed to speak (this last contradictin was not lost neither on Engels nor on himself)...

I can symapthize with some aspects of his character, a passionate man very much in love with a woman (Jenny von Westphalen, although that love didn't prevent him fathering a child with his maid Lenchen Demuth) but who, apart from hers and probably Engels, was much more comfortable with the company of abstract ideas than with other human beings'

Which leads us to the impac this ideas have had. When some half baked, willingly obscure when it comes to concrete means and precise steps to get to a very vaguely defined utopian state is so ardently embraced by so many people we have to turn to the socioeconomic conditions that make such embrace not only possible, but almost unavoidable. I do not think analysing Marx ideas (again, seen with enough detachment they are neither very convincingly formulated nor very appealing) is particularly interesting. As I've stated in other places, (like in this recent post: Of value and wages), his whole theory of value, taken almost verbatim from Ricardo (who in turn took it almost verbatim from Smith, and which was wrong and unsubstantiated back then, and is still more wrong and less substantiated now) is almost laughable from Today's perspective; his dialectical view of History (strongly influenced by Hegel's logic) as "explained" by the class struggle is revealed as smoke and mirrors the moment you realize there is no such a thing as "class" formed by a homogeneous group of people with the same interests and the same relationships to the "means of production" (which in turn are as varied as the realtionships people have to them);  His determinism, which seemed scientific and hardheaded (ditto his atheism) has been as disproved by science as a metaphysical prejudice can be (beyond the necessary limits to knowledge we can gain in teh hard sciences imposed by our quantum understanding of reality and the non-linearity of most important physical phenomena, specially int eh realm of biology, which makes prediction impossible, we have the contradiction in the knowledge gained by the social sciences identified by Popper in his Poverty of Historicism -a very Marxian title indeed)...

What we have in the end is a powerful denunciation of the evils of capitalism in his era, many of which have been corrected in the first world (not so much, as factory disasters in Bangla Desh or any other cheap labor country remind us periodically), which can still serve us as cautionary warnings, and as a yardstick of the progress we have made and which we should not renounce.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Powerlifting seminar in CrossFit SingularBox

This Sunday I attended a seminar in a CrossFit Box, centered around the basic powerlifts, and some applications of more explosive movements (derived from the Olympic lifts) to stregth training, imparted by three very knowledgeable true masters in their disciplines (Felix Saman, Jorge Pérez and Andrés Mata).

It was a wonderful experience, although it was aimed at a somewhat more basic level than mine (not that I consider myself advanced, I think I'm still a rather intermediate lifter) I took a lot of tips from it, and it was good to confirm that my overall technique is good (less so in the dynamic lifts, where, specially if tired, I tend to collapse upper back and have difficulties keeping a proper upright posture under heavier loads). A vey good plus for me was getting to know in person some of the more experienced lifters in the Spanish scene (Felix happens to be the founder of the forum where I post more: Foro fuerza, and both Jorge and Andrés are extremely well accomplished lifters in their respective areas), and getting to know a bit about how they train and what they do for a living.

Another good thing I took away from the seminar was getting to see firsthand how crossfitters train, as there were a number of sessions going on (and of athletes doing their WO by themselves) in tha absolutely stunning installations. I came out with the impression that these guys are pretty damn serious about their training, and at least in that particular box pretty damn proficient in the Olympic lifts, so I have another option to go for some classes after I finish the main body of my dissertation (hopefuly by the beginning of next year)

From a training perspective, it was also good to confirm I'm in a pretty decent shape, as I could keep a good pace for the whole session (starting at 10:30, and lifting until 18:30 with just one hour rest for lunch) and went to a 1RM in the three powerlifts (for what it's worth, after not going heavy in any of them since April, I reached a not too shabby 160 in the squat, 115 in the bench press and 190 in the DL... both suquat and BP were followed by failures with 5 kg more, so that's definitely my current limit, whilst in DL I probably could have gone 10 kg heavier for a truly limit rep), so I totalled 465 kg... time to get back to slow, steady, grinding work and regain those 35 kg that should get me back above 500 (and experiment how that gain of "slow" strength affects my shot putting)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Shot putting again!

I'm going to get more personal than usual in this post, and share some of my own history (as nobody but me reads this anyhow, there is no great risk involved in sharing) as the context it provides ties nicely with some of my recent concerns.

When I was a kid, I considered myself first and foremost a shot putter (well, maybe a reader, and then a shot putter, but reading voraciously was such an integral part of almost everybody around me that I considered it just part of what being human consisted in, and not something that set me apart). Because I developed Osgood-Schaltter syndrome (pain in the insertion of the patellar tendon) running was painful most of the times (and, to be honest, I was not that good at it), and being moderately big and burly putting the shot was a reasonably good fit for me, and I got acceptably proficient at it. Fron my early teens to my first year at Uni I trained it twice a week (basically lots of puts, plus some sprints here and there), lifted weights once or twice a week apart from that (just clean&jerk -w the awfulest technique you may have ever seen; bench press and squat -with no rack, so had to clean and press overhead the weight first; with an occasional snatch here and there), and competed almost every weekend when in season that lasted from spring to early summer, plus the odd contest in the winter months.

Because it is such a minority sport (kids that go to train athletics usually are lean, spry, and think of jumping & running, be it short distances insanely fast or long distances very fast, not the chubby kind that succesfully transfer most of their momentum to an iron ball or such similar implement) the competition was minimal, and I always did well, finishing most contests in podium positions and winning a couple medals in regional championships (both silver, one outdoor and one indoor). Not bad, definitely not outstanding and absolutely not national level.

Which was OK, as I realized soon I did not have the genetic endowement to shine (you need to be a real monster for that, once growth finishes well over 6 feet -I reached 6 by the nick of a dime- and above 240 pounds, when I never passed 190 then), and it never occured to me that consistent overeating and a much more systematic approach to weightlifting could have gotten me much closer to that "monsterness" that I thought possible (however, who that is not already wants to be fat & big as a teenager? I always prized myself of not caring about looks, or what others thought about my image -being an old fashioned rockabilly and all that, but may be excess bodyfat was just a beach too far). When I started my university career my puts had stalled for over a year (w a best put of 13m 41cm), I was becoming less and less competitive and I found rugby, so I stopped putting altogether when I was around 19 years old, and never ever putted again. In came an absorbing job, marriage, family, kids, as Zorba put it, "the full catastrophe"... some running (as Coach Rip puts it, LSD, "Long Slow Distance") once or twice a week not to completely crumble physically and the acceptance that my best days (fitness wise) were well behind me, such was the order of things and nothing could be done about it.

But when I was 36 I went to live to Mexico City, and the apartment we hired had a small gym with a few basic machines, a few treadmills... an a barbell w free weights. I started dabbling w the machines, as that is what I was familiar with (have had a few attempts at going to gyms in Madrid and Chicago, and "knew" that was the proper and safe and rational way to train), but the memories of grabbing a bar loaded with more than your own bodyweight and powerfully launching it overhead kept coming back every time I looked at the empty bar. Soon I was already using all the plates in the machines, and the heaviest dumbells in the rack (which probably weighted a paltry 20 kg or so), so I decided to give that poor, forgotten bar some use, and started searching in the Internet for some guidance on how to perform the basic exercises, and what kind of routines to use, and what I found blew my mind. There was a whole sport, called powerlifting, of whose existence I had previously not the slightest inkling, where people essentially my age lifted from the floor the equivalent in weight to a small car (and squatted and benched similarly ridiculous amounts). And there were lots of evidence that machines didn't do anything for you at all, but training with free weights had an almost miraculous effect (a little later, I found it nicely summarized -including the Zorba quote- in Dan Duane classic article for Men's Journal: Everything you know about fitness is a lie).

I've recounted elsewhere how in five years I went from a relative weakling dreaming of deadlifting what he once clean & jerked (100 kg) weighting at 94 kg with above 25% body fat to a robust guy who deadlifted more than twice his bodyweight, squatted 150 and bench pressed 110. 3 years later I was deadlifting 215, and clean & jerking 100 again (wheight was back to 92 kg, but this time  mostly functioning muscle that showed very apparently every time I went to the swimming pool or the beach). I got pretty absorbed in powerlifting and weightlifting, and thought that it was one of the most fulfilling things I had ever done (it still comes after being a good husband, good father and good son & brother), just for the fun of it. At that point I believed I had always enjoyed lifting, no need to do it for the sake of something else (like put the shot farther).

But then, a couple of months ago, I decided to try shot putting again... Almost as an accesory movement to help progression in the barbell lifts, as I wanted to get faster (mostly to be able to change direction after the 2nd pull in the Olympic lifts in less time, so I could end up moving under more weight), and that means using lighter weights, plyometric training (jumps, depth drops, depth jumps, etc.) and... throws. I asked my father to lend me his master's shot (only 6,25 kg vs. the 7,257 I would use in competition, and had used all my life, but you make do what you've got), went to the park in front of my home, drawed a circle 2,134 m in diameter in the floor (no toeboard, but again, you use what you have) and after minimal stretching I started putting again, 25 years after my last puts.

I'll be reporting in a following post how it went, and how it links with the evolution of my current training philosophy

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Olympic lifts and their power versions

This last Sunday, in my Intensity day I got a new full snatch PR lifting 60 kg. Still less than my power snatch PR, where a couple months ago I made 70 kg (equalling my all time best). Similarly, I got a new all time full C&J of 90 kg, which again compares unfavourably with my all time best power clean (and ultra shitty jerk that defies any labeling) of 100 kg.

That got me thinking to what extent was it wise to devote my energy to improve on the full lifts, when I probably could get more benefits from using the heavier (for me) power versions, with the added advantage of not abusing my troubled knees so much. Actually, you search the interwebz and for each article extolling the virtues of the Olympic lifts you can find a hundred saying how the power versions are just as good for most purposes (including even the improvement of the competition version of the lifts).

However, being the rationalist asshole I am, I wanted to find some reason (that could be successfully defended in front of my fellow humans, as a reason is only such to the extent that it can be shared, discussed and accepted by someone in similar circumstances to ours) for keeping on performing the lifts, apart from their overall awesomeness and badassery, and this article from Joel Smith on Juggernaut gave me jsut what I needed: Joel Smith on his assitance to Become Unstoppable 3

Essentially, what he harps about, what resonated most with him of the seminary he attended, was how to be fast you need to learn to relax very quickly some muscles, so you can contract others. That's exactly what the full lift gives you that the power version does not: in order to catch the bar low you have to accelerate it through a much shorter range of motion and then completely relax the muscles you have just contracted hard so you become flexible enough to adopt a very flexibility-demanding position.

Taking the snatch as an example, in the full snatch as soon as I feel the bar passing the navel I have to stop pulling to change direction and start going down in order to arrive there before it reaches its zenith, when I have to be already much lower than the bar so I can straighten my arms and start stabilizing it while I finish riding it down. In the power snatch, on the other hand, it is just pull, pull, pull, then pull some more, and finally try to straighten the arms when the bar is already overhead (something similar applies to the clean).

Now, it could be argued that this "pull faster 'cuz you have less time and less range to do it, then relax completely the muscles you were pulling with to be able to stretch them insanely" has very little transference to anything outside the ultra-limited realm of Olympic weightlifting (the actual sport, not the recreational application of it), and that developing the ability to just pull fast w more weight, damn the torpedoes about relaxing anything during the movement, has a more direct application to most sports... maybe, maybe not. I'm guessing that for the particular endeavor I'm currently involved with (throwing a 16 pounds iron ball as far as possible) it may come in handy, as I have to accelerate the implement in a relatively short time and space, and have to go through a number of positions that also require some stretching in order to better impart speed to it before I let it go.

I could be more scientific and run a couple of training cycles, the first one performing the full version of the lifts, the second one focusing on the power version w more weight, and seeing which ones correlates with longer throws, but for now on I'll just go with my gut and keep receiving as low as I can in the gym (which is not that low, given the limited flexibility of one of my knees, but as for now I'll just run with it)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Some problems with typical leftist critique of current socioeconomic system

Just finished reading "Unequal Freedoms" by John McMurtry, for which I had the highest expectations, as I (wrongly, it turns out) believed it would come from a similiar philosophical background (Francfortian interest in understanding how the dominant reason shapes our perceptions of reality, biasing them so we are more accomodating of the system's multiple drawbacks and have our critical capabilities more blunted -indeed, the leitmotiv of the whole Francfortian effort is probably to determine how it is possible to still think critically in a world of different totalitarianisms, be they forcibly imposed or voluntarily accepted by the masses, but I digress) and reach similar conclusions to the ones I'm approaching, some of which I've been sharing in recent posts.

To say I was disillusioned would be a gross understatement. The arguments were crude (the criticism of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, specially, seemed mostly based on a cartoonish misreading of fractions of their works, selected more by its polemical content than by its coherence or alignment with their whole worldview, and its influence on their contemporaries; the constant recourse to quotes of Milton Friedman was also characteristic: we get it, the guy was a monster, a champion for selfishness and a wicked anthropology -man as maximizer, although I would use more the work of Gary Becker to pounce on that..., there is no need to come back again and again to his pretty shallow and in the end uninteresting ideas to advance an argument, although it probably has its uses to rally the troops and arouse the animus of the like-minded), the philosophy almost nonexistent (the book is a litany of depressing facts, which would have benefited from some editing and proof reading, as it contains some blatant errors likestating that 60% of American seniors live below the thrshold of poverty -they are actually wealthier than the average of the whole population, or that the world population is approaching 56 billion -it actually reached 9 billion this year) and the alternatives pretty schematic and not much flesehd out (out of generic calls to "organize from the ground up" ¿around what principles, to fight for what causes, according to what organization: political parties, civic groups, friends & family?, "resist the money-code" ¿doing what, voting for different education, starting a commune, taking pro bono work? or "stand up against big corporations and their government lackeys" ¿not paying taxes, not buying their products, what when they are utility or communications monopolies?).

Its dubious use of the term metaphysics to denounce what he perceives as the deification of the market also made me cringe a number of times... I've grown used to progressives having no clue whatsoever of what believers think or understand of their faith (actually, even aknowledging there may be different takes on what there really is "out there" that seriously consider alternatives to the dominant materialism seems to be already too much of a stretch for most so-called philosophers nowadays), so it was no surprise to find here the same misconceptions (about the fundamentalism of the market, which any religious fundamentalist would find quite puzzling to see compared to his attitudes toward God, knowledge and fallibility), what disheartened me was to see it coming from somebody supposedly steeped in philosophical discourse (just shows the pityful state of fragmentation of academic philosophy that a professor on the subject can so utterly misconstrue what metaphysics is all about).

At least, reviewing my furious scribblings on the margins around that paragraphs that I disagreed more strongly with, I came out with a better understanding of my dislike of most of the "radical" criticism of the system coming from the left: it is the (seemingly) unavoidable tendency to personalize, or rather, homunculize, what is a complex set of institutions, practices and modes of thinking and reasoning (that, admittedly, are faulty and frankly improvable, although not from a naive and misinformed ideology with too many debts with supposed alternatives from the past that shared most of its problems). I very soon grew tired of reading how "the market" was cruel, evil, selfish, etc. Sorry, but an institution (and even less so one that encompasses almost all of Today's smaller institutions inside it) cannot be any of those things. A thinking person, what used to be called "an agent" can be any of them, as they presuppose freedom, intent, a perceptual apparatus that can give feedback on the results of her actions and the ability to set goals, understand symbolic signals (and usually also be able to create them) and use them to adjust those goals accordingly. If someone has a "bad character" (like that homunculized market definitely seems to have in the eyes of its leftist critics) that in turn leads him to perform bad actions, you can discuss how to improve it through education, providing the right stimulus (or, in market parlance that may give the author under analysis an apoplexy, the right incentives), reasoning, or even deterrence through the threat of punishment.

But you can not use any of those responses on an institution (what I'm saying about "the market", or "the market mindset" would apply equally well to "the big corporations" -I'm really fed up with people stating naively how evil, destructive, misbehaving, corrupting, perverted, etc. they are... sorry but no, maybe their top executives, or even all their employees, share in some of those character traits, but not for sure the juridical fiction that only metaphorically they "work for"-, the "money code", or, from the other side of the political spectrum, "terrorism", "feminism", "environmental absolutism"...). This is why their proposals to end what they perceive (rightly, I happen to think) as a sad and intolerable state of affairs are normally so lame, and end up being no more than empty wishes that humans would change and end up "seeing the light" and rejecting wrong ideas about selfishness, greed, excessive individualism and utility maximization. Sorry again, but even if proclaiming it may be (marginally) better than doing nothing, it is not going to take us very far, specially in light of the (typically unaknowledged) fact that even through the current recession/ depression the last two to three decades have been pretty good for the majority of the world population. It can be discussed how big is that majority, and to what extent the increase in all the measured variables of well being (from caloric intake to monetary income to average height to life expectatino) has been equitably distributed (it has obviously not), but the "brute truth" is taht the awful, irresponsible, hateful, distasteful, deceiving, lying, scurrilous, detestable, anti-humane, life-denying world system we live within has been actually pretty decent for at least the 2 billion people who have stopped being poor in the last decades, plus for the 3 billion people that were already out of poverty back then, the vast majority of whom stayed out...

I do know that "progress" has come at a price, in terms of environmental degradation, continuing pockets of violence (which, however, has declined substantially from historical standards) and cultural impoverishment, but negating its very reality is as blind and idiotic as focusing one sidedly on its advantages.

So from now on I forsake any leftist tendency I may still had. The system is indeed "improvable", but not through naive calls for its demise, not by naive calls to revolutionary tactics that stopped being viable a century ago, not by naive denunciations of its exagerated evils (I think the true ones aer justification enough for wanting to replace it with something better)... Not by naive calls that in the end change nothing, but through detailed changes in the legislation and in the organization of society that can be actually achieved, be it through the existing political process or by other alternatives that would in turn need to be clearly laid out. That is from now on my litmus test for any book I read on political philosophy (or sociology, or politics, or anything at all now I come to think about it). I'll consider them good insofar they map out a realistic path towards achievable improvement, and I'll discard as useless those that confort themselves and their readers with vague appellations to improve human nature or educate the public better (the public condones all the evil and undersirable features of the current system not because they are misinformed and require an enlightened pundit to clarify how things really are for them, but because they still derive more benefits than discomforts from the system, in their own terms, according to aht they really value... until that calculus is materially changed by actually modifying those benefits and discomforts no change will ever be forthcoming).