Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Living Objects in the Field

Which title might fit well in some naturist post but here is an extension of my last post on Field and Ground as it relates to Objects in Four-Dimensional Space.

To recap we have an object with attributes of extension and duration interacting with forces and other other objects. These forces and object interactions manifest as effects of gravity and momentum transfer and electrical charge and radiation individually or in combination. For example 'heat' can either be the product of direct collisions between objects of differing energies or transfers of energy or by direct input of radiation.

Alright what if we introduce the attribute of Life to that object? Let us say in the form of lichen on a stone. Now both the stone and the lichen are objects, each has extension and duration, and each interacts with the field of forces and objects. What then differentiates them?

First consider the lichen. It is in fact a symbiote, two different lifeforms dependent on each other. In this case it is composed of a fungus and algae with the fungus providing structure, water and nutrients to the algae which then uses photosynthesis to supply food energy to the lichen. Note that both the verbs 'supply' and 'provide' build in agency/intentionality and still with no need to appeal to mystical or metaphysical notions like 'life force' or 'great chain of being'. We have agent, action and intended outcome without any Ghost in the Machine.

We can then oppose this to the stone. Now you can say of a stone that it 'sits' or 'leans' but those are both verbs that denote states and not actions with outcomes. The closest you get to agency would be when you might say "the stone provides shadow" the "stone provides shelter" to some other object but these two are in context states and not outcomes, certainly not outcomes of any action.

To some this may be a distinction without a difference. And frankly it wouldn't detract much from my ultimate object if you attributed intentionality to that stone. The larger point is that it makes sense to discuss intentionality and action without reference to consciousness. That is whatever ideas you have about the existence of minds or self-consciousness in so-called "lower animals" it surely is stretching that to the limits to try to extend that to lichen just in order to enable the use of action and intentionality.

Now using this vocabulary what is the relation of the lichen to the outside world, the relation of THIS object to THAT field. Well clearly the lichen responds to the field. While it has developed in a way that allows it to survive in low light or low water conditions it can't survive forever on a zero supply of either. And at the other extreme an overabundance of radiation will kill it as well, if nothing else by direct heating effects. Few I think would blink at any using a claim that "lichen respond to moisture and light levels".

All of which brings us finally around to the big question: as lifeforms gain in complexity of interaction with the field that surrounds at what point are you impelled to introduce the Ghost into the Machine? At what point do we make the claim that those interactions are 'voluntary'? For the most part the modern Anglo-American thought system would deny that to plants. We might talk about 'Kudzu running wild' or plants 'stretching towards light' or reporting trees that 'turn their leaves to the Sun' but few modern westerners would see that as anything more than a metaphor. But our ancestors might have seen it in a much different light as would many non-western cultures separated from us by both space and time. Nor is it totally unheard of for ostensibly modern westerners to play music for their plants or talk to their rose bushes.

Turning from plant to animals it would seem that it is much easier and more natural to talk about the latter in terms of agency and intentionality. After all an ant dragging some item larger than it back to the nest is clearly 'something' 'acting' on an object with 'intent'. But is there really a need to appeal to something larger working than the fungus partner in the lichen 'providing' water to 'its' algae 'partner'? Or can we just formulate it in the following form: "the interior organization of the object we call an 'ant' is simply responding to forces and objects exterior to it in a way that produces an intended outcome". If not, why not? And if so why should't we apply that same formulation to a lizard as an ant? To a cat as to a lizard? To a cat as to a chimp? Or a chimp as to a human?

Which isn't to say that there is no sort of defensible line here. Just that it might not be as easy as one would think to work from intentional act to voluntary act as one might think.

The Bruce Project: Epistemologic Background (and Foreground)

You could call the Project "The Grand and Unified Theory of Bruce" Which is to say that it is about everything while in the bigger scheme of things about nothing. I mean 'Who is Bruce'? Well Bruce is a guy who has been reading and thinking about certain topics in philosophy and history starting from particular places and authors which latter include Wittgenstein, Whorf, Popper, Kuhn and Searle combined with some ideas on History as a discipline gained while I was preparing to be an academic historian from the mid 70's to the early 90's. I thought and think that all of this was interesting and also thought and think that my contributions to all of it were or could be interesting. If not necessary original. So if what follows seems derivative well then fine, because in my view all knowledge is derivative. Or in more high-falutin' terms: socially constructed. To the point that you could call the Bruce Project "The Social Construction of Reality: Linguistic, Political and Economic". But first let me start at the beginning:

Field and Ground
The basic problems of Epistemology can be stated as "How do we know what we know" or perhaps "Can we logically know anything". And the basic problem with this basic problem is that we (to the extent that we are justified in assuming any 'we') are launched into an infinite regress. "What do you mean by 'know'?" "For that matter what do you mean by 'mean'?" and "How do I know that there is any 'you' to start with? Maybe I am just wired up in a tank orbiting Jupiter. Or dreaming." And boom we (if that is 'meaningful') are off to the solipcistic races and trying to out-Cogito Descartes. Because stated like this we are like Archimedes with a potentially all powerful Lever but with no firm place to Stand.

And no I don't read or speak Greek. More below the fold.

"Les Pensees de Bruce": a new Project

With apologies to Pascal.

Setting the scene: A cafe somewhere in Entre-Toubz. A man, not young and yet not aged is sitting at a corner table alternately scribbling away in a journal, leisurely reading a book or newspaper, or simply sitting with a glass of wine or brandy or cup of coffee. He is almost always alone at the table and yet some people drop by for a minute or sit down for an hour. A Visitor to the cafe asks an apparent Regular:

V: Who is that?
R: Well that is Bruce, he is almost always here.
V: What is he doing?
R: Hard to say, he seems to be working on something but hard to say what it is or what it is about. But the books he reads tend to be about philosophy or history while his newspaper reading seems to be mostly political or economic. If you like you can ask him.
V: Well he seems awfully intent and kind of reserved, I wouldn't want to bother him.
R: No, no, Bruce is friendly enough and doesn't mind folk reading over his shoulder or asking questions or making comments. Which isn't to say that he suffers all Fools gladly or won't ignore you or ask you politely to go away. But if you seem intelligent and have something to say why he generally seems to have time. Whatever he is doing doesn't seem to be on deadline.

Bruce here.
I am not working on a book for publication. Though I might put bits and pieces up on other blogs or as comments. On the other hand this is not a "Dear Diary" project either. Most of it is published to the web via this blog and generally the Comments will be open. Which is to say that there is an Intended and Implicit Audience. Which may or may not include any specific Reader. So if much or all of this just seems like intellectual drivel or perhaps the typically soft-headed production of a Libtard then feel free to pass by or leave some derisive Comment. I may respond or I may not. And your Comment may survive or simply disappear. Who knows?

What I do know is that first and foremost the BruceWeb is by and for Bruce Webb and whoever cares to read what Bruce produces. If anyone. The Project begins with the next post.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Untangling the Bruce Web-A Relaunch

Like a lot of people I have been frustrated by the overlapping nature of blogging and social networking where say vitriolic comments on some political blog magically end up in your Facebook stream or your Public Google+ circle. So I am going ahead and setting up three separate web spaces to support the four Bruce Webbs: Social Security Bruce, Employee/Co-Worker/Professional Webb, Uncle/Friend Bruce, and Just Bruce Webb.

Social Security Bruce. The Bruce Web was originally a 'mostly Social Security blog'. But in 2008 most of my Social Security work moved in 2008 by invitation to econoblog Angry Bear. Supplemented in late 2011 with the introduction of DK4 Groups on Daily Kos by founding the Social Security Defenders group, which serves as an aggregator for DK Social Security diaries. Just before this I had set up a new dedicated blog Social Security Defender with the same intent. Well I have now established a dedicated Google account to back all that up including a GMail address, a Google+ site, and shared folders and Google Docs on Google Drive. All that tied to SocSec.Defender at GMail dot com. Among other things this means that some Social Security friends and colleagues will be getting invites to new Google+ circles and maybe excised from ones no longer related to Social Security.

Uncle/Friend Bruce. Well by definition this is going to be private and controlled. There is a GMail account to go with it, and all the other Google things, and friends who want to be included can just ask via any of my e-mail accounts. But since the space will contain details on family kids as well as information of interest to identity thieves, access will be limited.

Professional/Employee Bruce. Well Mr. Webb needs employment. Preferably in the East Bay (Berkeley/Oakland0 of the SF Bay Area but given incentives anywhere. And the front end of that will remain my current public e-mail bruce dot c dot webb at gmail dot com. But I am going to revive a back end consisting of my old employment blog Plan Webb. On it you will find posts and links to various versions of my resume. But you won't find any more of that explicitly at the Bruce Web.

Just Bruce Webb. Well you are at the right place. The new Bruce Web will be devoted to my non-work and non-Social Security interests. I am currently doing some genealogical work on the pioneer Arbuckles. It turns out that my distant ancestor James Arbuckle (1713-1793) oversaw a mass migration of his siblings and multiple children to America in and around the 1740s where they proceeded to marry into other pioneer/immigrant families before and after. And by the third generation there were approximately a gazillion Arbuckles descended from that James and between them represent a huge proportion of the ancestry of many to most American Arbuckles, and certainly those of Indiana. So expect some cool graphic charts soon. Also in another life I was an academic medievalist specializing in  Wales and pre-conquest Britain generally both in terms of its history, myth and literature. Additionally I did a good bit of reading in analytical and linguistic philosophy and theory, and in Ancient History. Plus I have a budding interest in leveraging iPad Apps into actual productivity and reference use and as a book reader. So expect the Bruce Web to feature posts on all of that.

But not Social Security. Or family stuff. No longer will I be risking cross-boredom by having material from one leak to the other. Anyway we will see how it goes.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Ploughlands and work weeks Ch 4: 'Virgates and Bovates'

Here we introduce some new terms, and in particular one to replace 'hide', which early on in actual English history and now perhaps even for our Anglish history diverged from a strict association with ploughlands and land sufficient to support a family and instead became mostly a taxation unit. The new term, which clearly continues its more direct connection to land units and plough teams is the 'carucate' of the English Danelaw but which we will adopt here to replace the hide across all of our Angle-Land. From Wiki Carucate:
The carucate (Medieval Latin: carrūcāta, from carrūca, "wheeled plough") or ploughland (Old English: plōgesland, "plough's land") was a unit of assessment for tax used in most Danelaw counties of England, and is found for example in Domesday Book. The carucate was based on the area a plough team of eight oxen could till in a single annual season. It was sub-divided into oxgangs, or "bovates", based on the area a single ox might till in the same period, which thus represented one eighth of a carucate; and it was analogous to the hide, a unit of tax assessment used outside the Danelaw counties.[1]
In the schematic adopted here one carcuate = 120 acres = 8 oxgangs = 15 acres each. In the sidebar of the Wiki article we find another term, the virgate of 30 acres which in later medieval England and hence our Angle-Land is basis for land holdings. That is a substantial peasant would typically be a 'virgater' while the next level down, but still largely self-sufficient would be a 'half-virgater' or a 'semi-virgater' in our sources. And richer peasants and 'farmers' (which means something different in England than it does in America) would be described as holding so many and a half virgates rather than any larger unit.

In chapter 3 we established the equation one ploughteam = one acre per day, to which we can add our carucate/ploughland = one ploughteam per year. And further we established that under the three course system one plough year = eighty half days broken into two forty day plough seasons.

Now the illustration in the Wiki piece shows a two-oxen team and represents the stock of a typical ox-gang (or semi-virgate) of fifteen acres, which indeed implies two oxen in a single yoke. But as the definition asserts an actual plow team would include eight oxen which together would give enough traction power to plough a furrough-long in a single pull. What this implies, and is borne out by even some casual browsing in the English Domesday Book of 1086, is that in most cases supplying a plough team is a cooperative endeavor, with virgaters and semi-virgaters supplying oxen in proportion to their own holdings. Which in turn means that each virgater would supply two oxen EVERY day which with those of another three virgaters or perhaps six semi-virgaters would make up a full ploughteam sufficient to plough all four to seven of their holdings during ploughing season. But since it only took one ploughman to handle the plow (plus an ox-boy to goad the oxen) that same virgater only has to supply heavy labor in his own person or via some other able bodied member of his household EVERY FOURTH day. And the semi-virgater only one day in eight.

Which begins to turn our view of the relation of labor time in a peasant economy right around. The notion often found in popular historical depictions of peasants being exploited by their landlords and simply not having time to tend to their own plots starts getting turned around. Indeed the more 'capital' wealthy you are in terms of land holdings and live stock the more you have to supply labor in your own person or by hiring it, while a peasant living closer to subsistence, (and families did support themselves on a semi-virgate (although perhaps not solely on its actual physical harvest)) the more spare time you had.

Ploughlands and work weeks Ch 3: 'Plough seasons and teams'

We now have a schematic shaping up:
One hide = 120 acres= forty acres per field in a three course system
One acre = one furlong x 4 roods = amount of land ploughable by one eight ox team in one plough morning
Twenty days = amount of plough days needed to cultivate each of the two fields under cultivation in any given year or Forty plough days per year per hide.

Now ploughing is not at all the only task needed to cultivate grain, but it is certainly the most intensive in terms of pure human and animal effort. And given the numbers so far it would appear that a single ploughman could do this particular task for an entire hide in eighty days a year. Which works out to one day out of five, though typically grouped in two stretches comprising forty plough days each which with Church mandated Sunday and Holy Days would require around two months, weather permitting (and light rains on balance assist rather than detract from this kind of plowing).

But the important point here is that needed labor input is inherently limited not by the amount of labor hours in the day, but instead by the land available to plough and the plough teams needed to plough it. Just as important there is no particular bonus in intensification of the human labor, the furrough is plowed correctly or not and there are no practical do-overs, and the time required is dependent on the speed of the ox-team. And while you can get a team going by use of the ox-goad, you can't speed them up beyond their natural speed, under normal soil and weather conditions it will take that half a day to plough that acre.

So if we return to our original picture of the Engle-Exxon warrior peasant cultivating his own hide using man power drawn from his own household and oxen pastured on his own fallow field plus shared pasture we find ourselves far indeed from the standard picture of medieval serfs laboring behind a plow from dawn to dusk but instead the need for each household to come up with one half day of labor each workday for around four calender months a year, which in turn leaves substantial time for other agricultural or other tasks. For example the task that puts 'warrior' into 'warrior-peasant'.

Now as we will see it will not be the case in our fictional Angle-Land anymore than the historical England that this picture of equal free peasants on uniform hides of 120 acres each, whether or not an accurate depiction of immediate post Engle-Exxon conquest conditions, had transformed almost beyond recognition by a year some six centuries later, as seen in the Anglish year 1250, equivalent to A.D. 1250 on the parallel English caldender. But still leaving behind the fundamental structural reality: one eight-ox plough team could cultivate 120 acres per year with total human labor input for THIS SINGULAR TASK of one ploughman and one ox-boy for each of eighty half days. That is one plough = eight oxen = one ploughman = one acre = one work day. That simple equation will continue to operate no matter how you distribute the acres per cultivator/tenant/owner. And will have immense implications for our view of what Marx called the 'feudal mode of exploitation', at least in respect to labor time.

Ploughlands and work weeks: Ch 2 'Furroughs and Roods'

To recap. We have a fictional Angle-Land inhabited by a race of Engle-Exxon warrior farmers led by the 'hus-bund' who with his 'wif' oversees a 'family/household' drawing their subsistence and other income from the products of their 'hide' consisting of 120 acres of arable spread among an open three-field system plus rights over common woods, pastures and meadows.

An Anglish acre is amazingly enough exactly equal to a modern American statutory acre (English acres varying by region), which American acre measures 43560 sf. But your Anglish farmer did not measure by the square foot, instead each of his acres, topography allowing, was one furlong by four roods or perches wide. A 'furlong' was considered to be the length of a 'furrow', or grain planting strip, that could be plowed by a standard eight-ox plough team in a single pull, being 220 yards or 660 feet long. A 'rood' or 'rod' or 'perch' was the length of the ox-goad typically carried by the ox-boy who with the ploughman made up the human component of a plough-team, with that goad or 'rood' being 16 1/2' long. Now if our Anglish ploughman had a four function calculator he could have multiplied a 660' ft furrough-long x 4 x 16.5' rood and come up with a calculated 43560 sf (660 x 66). That is our American land measure system only seeming to be arbitrary.

And here is where things get interesting. The following is a description of an 'acre' from an English web page Hemyock Castle: Glossary of Ancient Weights and Measures
Acre (area):
(Anglo-Saxon field.) The land area that can be ploughed by one ox team in a day - actually in a morning because the Oxen would need resting in the afternoon: They would trudge 11 miles while ploughing an acre. Traditionally in the strip field farming system, an area 40 rods long by 4 rods wide (ie. 220 yards by 22 yards). Sometimes used as a measure of width: One acre = 4 Rods wide. One tenth of a square furlong. Similar to the French Journal, and German Morgan or Tagwerk. The modern acre is 4840 square yards.
At this point the average work day and work week of the Anglish ploughman starts coming into view. One the actual portion of the day spent plowing was just half the day with the oxen being turned out onto pasture or the fallow field to browse, rest, and btw to naturally produce the very valuable manure needed to maintain fertility for the planting the next season or year. And the task of leading the oxen to pasture, to watch over them as necessary, and to lead them home could be left to the ox-boy, or as we will see boys, the ploughman himself freed up to perform other tasks. That is already we are pretty far from the Piers Plowman view of the poor villein plowing from dawn to dusk, not because he couldn't be driven to do so if need be, but because any given ox-team can only be driven so far, and oxen at least are valuable production items not to be wantonly wasted (even or especially in times when human labor and life are cheap). The implications of all this for the work week and year will be developed in the next chapter.

Ploughlands and work weeks Ch. 1: 'Once upon a time'

Physicists have thought experiments, economists have models. In each case they present an initially simplified model to make a tentative argument which may then be elaborated as variables are added back in. Me I am a medievalist. And a mythologist. And we pose our thought experiments and models in a slightly different form: the fairy tale. So here goes:

Once upon a time there was a land called Merrie Olde Angle-Land. It looked a great deal like medieval England, just simplified and viewed through a golden glow.  But just because Angle-Land is fictional doesn't mean that a story about it doesn't illustrate some truths about the parallel historical kingdom of England. On the other hand readers shouldn't interrupt the story with notes that "Well gee, field systems and social organizations were different in medieval Kent, what do you say about that!?" Just this: well that is England, this story is about Angle-Land and an Anglish historical and economic and social environment that is derived from but not identical to its English counterpart. So let's recommence:

Once upon a time there was a land called Merrie Olde Angle-Land. At the time of our story it was some seven centuries remove from an invasion of the Engle-Exxons who had slaughtered or driven out the previous Keltic-Romish inhabitants (after asking them for names of certain rivers and cities). The Engle-Exxons were a race of free Germanic peasant-warriors who while having a native aristocracy and ruled by kings organized their daily and yearly routines via a rude democracy consisting of male householders who held local courts and a yearly Witangemoet to settle such things as taxation. (on the other side of the Anglish Channel, the Frankels called it a 'parlement').

After the conquest of the portion of Keltic-Romish Brittia they would call Angle-Land, the Anglish divided the fertile regions into 'hides', each consisting of enough arable (i.e. plougable) land and associated woods, pastures and meadows to support a free peasant 'family'. As a side note the Anglish 'family' was not typically either the modern nuclear family or a Mediterranean style multi-generational family led by the oldest surviving male but instead a 'household' headed by a 'hus-bund' and 'wif' (our modern 'husband and wife') and including minor children and often one or more dependent/retired parents of the hus-bund or wif plus a handful or less of house and farm servants often enough the young adult children of neighbors who had yet to marry and establish their own 'family' in their own household. But on this perhaps more in later chapters.

The 'hides' as originally established in Angle-Land consisted uniformly (unlike England where the variety was bewildering) of 120 acres of arable distributed thoughout a large 'open' field itself divided into three parts to facilitate what was known as 'three course' farming. In this style of farming each field would be in a different stage of the growing cycle, one ploughed/seeded/sprouting, a second in full growth/being readied for harvest, and a third lying 'fallow' or unploughed at any time in that year. And here we have our first implication for labor exploitation: in any given year only 80 out of every 120 acres even gets ploughed, and only 40 acres in any given ploughing season (meaning there are two). As we will see in the next chapter or so this has large implications for the typical work week.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mandate NO! MLR SI! (from Angry Bear)

(Crossposted from Angry Bear)

No not the striking down of the mandate part, heck probably a thousand fingers were poised over an equal number of 'Send' keys when the ruling came down. Me? I took a shower and started thinking about the practical implications of ACA as it will operate under current law as modified today.

Starting with the MLR. Which you did hear about here first in this AB post from July 2009 HR3200 Sec 116: Golden Bullet or Smoking Gun . MLR stands for Medical Loss Ratio which in the final version of ACA was set at 85% for the Group market and 80% for the Individual market for health insurance policies issued by private insurers. Now 'Medical Loss' is itself an interesting term of art, it represents the actual amount of insurance premiums collected 'lost' via being expended on actual care paid for under your policy. That is for insurance companies the actual end service being delivered from purchase of their product is from their perspective a dead loss to be reduced. Hence a business model built around denying claims.

MLR minimums start to flip that model on its head. Under the rule if the ratio of premium collected to provider payments issued exceeds 15% or 20% respectively in Group or Individual market the difference has to be rebated to the policy holder. And indeed such rebate checks actually went out this year, this provision having already kicked in. Well after this morning's ruling that rule will continue to operate until specifically repealed. And it is important, though maybe not as much as I was able to convince Donny Shaw of when he put this post up on Open Congress on Nov 14, 2009 The Most Important Health Care Reform Provision You've Never Heard Of. For example Richard Escow of HuffPo and elsewhere is of the opinion (expressed semi-privately to me and some others), that while important MLR can be gamed. And in fact I discuss that somewhat in my original 2009 post, feel free to rip on this in comments. Me? I still think MLR is transformational.

So what things are NOT included as 'medical losses'? In short: administration, management, and direct profits from operations. (For example gains from retained and reinvested profits would not I think count against the company). Currently a lot of health insurance administration is focused on making sure that people likely to submit claims don't get signed up and/or denying claims to those who for whatever reason obtain coverage. Well various separate 'must cover' 'no pre-existing condition exclusion' rules take care of much of the first part, under ACA the companies have little room to just turn customers away. And MLR installs limits on the second part. While companies have an incentive to trim their medical 'losses' as close to the minimum as possible, every dollar spent doing so puts a squeeze on the same 15% or 20% of premiums they need to pay management salaries and return profits to shareholders. While every dollar squeezed out of the claims process by increasing efficiency and throughput of claims (i.e. actually paying providers on a timely basis with a minimum of paperwork requirements) leaves that much left over for management and shareholders. Gosh all of a sudden we have a business model based on efficient DELIVERY of services rather than DENIAL of them.

Paging Rusty Rustbelt! And Mike Halasy! Because I would love to see how this argument plays to people from the provider community. Particularly folk who have been on both sides of the overall issue. And of course I welcome comment from everyone else. I have been largely absent from the Health Care Debate since actually passage of ACA, the ball went into the lawyers' court and I am if anything less a lawyer than I am an economist. But after this morning we are right back in the policy analysis game. To which I say "Put me in coach!"