Tech innovations for court jesters and prostitutes

Some people think the flurry of sharing economy companies such as Airbnb and Uber is a fad or a bubble. I think the creation of new marketplaces, new trading floors, is a pretty powerful thing. Spare capacity, widely but thinly distributed: establishing a way to trade in such stuff is the idea. You have an unused bedroom part of the year when your kid is at school: put it on Airbnb. It’s not radical to rent out a spare room like this, but new, cheap, low friction marketplaces make radical differences in finding a market and facilitating transactions. You can be a minicapitalist without the efficiencies of a firm. A powerful notion, at any rate, I think, and still underexploited.

In certain markets, supply may be broadbased but demand may not be: taxi riders and taxi drivers constitute different strata. What about the market for entertainment? How would that compare? Who’s got extra cash and a jaded palate? Who’s got a spare 30 minutes all of a sudden now that she’s forgotten her sandwich at home and has a lunch break with nothing to do? So I propose…

Unter: matching bored magnates and jaded heiresses with entertaining broke people.

Short on cash? Know any songs? Let Unter home in on your GPS location and ping it to nearby entertainment-seeking neo-aristocrats.  Then let Unter help you use your spare time productively and earn some extra money.  So many options: sing some tasteful lieder, perform an expressive dance routine, tell some jokes, compose an impromptu encomium to your benefactor, or, by deselecting safe mode and submitting a simple clearance form signed by your physician, give adult mode a whirl.

So, heads up, Maecenas, I’ve got some downtime before my bus gets here and some plausible rhymes for “big-picture creative real estate strategist.”

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Posted in Economics, my life

Substantial burden, tender conscience, Hobby Lobby

Robert Middlekauff, The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728: 

On her deathbed [Increase Mather’s] mother thrust upon him another great burden, a wish expressed in great emotion, that if it were God’s will, Increase should become a minister. Filled with doubt that he was even one of God’s own, Increase shook before his mother’s parting words; as he later recalled, “the Lord broke in upon my conscience with very terrible convictions and awakenings.” For almost three months he suffered dreadfully from his sense of sin and his worry that he was not one of God’s chosen. His behavior reflected his unease—on several days he shut himself up in a room and listed his sins while appealing to God for mercy. His occasional isolation probably would have gone unnoticed by his friends, except that it was accompanied by “preciseness” and a ”tender conscience.” Increase’s altered behavior made his companions uneasy; and they made him feel their scorn for his new scrupulosity. The changes in actions doubtless amounted to little in behavior—he was always a good boy—but a greater seriousness in attitude and a conscientiousness in observing the simple pieties of Puritan life would have been enough to alarm his friends. 

Their derision did not deter Increase from his new purpose and his quest for God continued. Increase respected, even revered, his tutor John Norton, but something prevented him from seeking comfort from Norton. He loved his father and it was to him that he turned, asking for his prayers. The end to this agony came on election day in May 1655. Norton and his family left the house for the day and Increase, after hours in prayer, finally attained peace and the assurance that he had received God’s grace. Assurance came after he achieved a complete sense of psychological dependence upon God: “At the close of the day, as I was praying, I gave my selfe up to Jesus Christ, declaring that I was now resolved to be his Servant, and his only and his forever, and humbly professed to him that if I did perish, I would perish at his feet. Upon this I had ease and inward peace in my perplexed soul immediately; and from that day I walked comfortably for a considerable time, and was carefull that all my words and wayes should be such as would not offend God.”

The recent  Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court regarding the religious liberties of many for-profit corporations has potential effects on corporate productivity that should concern us.   With religious liberty comes religious responsibility: can our nation’s companies weather spiritual storms such as those described above, now that they have God-fearing souls to tend to? Optimists can hope that long-term the effects of improving corporate souls will be beneficial but we risk slowdown (or even a plummet back into recession) due to increased introspection, meditation, time spent parsing of theological fine points, or soul anxiety.  Hobby Lobby at least can get some needlework done while engaged in these contemplative pursuits, but other corporations may have more limited options.

[Note that  Increase got over his angst well enough to become president of Harvard, perhaps arguing— if for some reason we decide to stick to this particular analogy I’ve set up—  for the optimistic view regarding productivity.  It seems, however, that neither Harvard nor Increase thought much of his tenure.  Increase was pressured out as he was spending too much time back at his congregation, busy with ministerial duties.  Increase’s final self-analysis of his Harvard leadership years: [t]he Colledge is in a miserable state. [. . .] The Lord pardon me in that I did no more good whilest related to that society.]

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Posted in Economics, history, law


Epictetus: When the weather is not fit for sailing, we sit down and torment ourselves, and continually look out to see what wind is blowing. It is north. What is that to us? When will the west wind blow? When it shall choose, or when it shall please Aeolus; for God has not made you the manager of the winds, but Aeolus. What then? We must make the best use that we can of the things which are in our power, and use the rest according to their nature. What is their nature then? As God may please.

JINPR: Must I then alone have my head cut off?

Epictetus: What, would you have all lose their heads that you may be consoled?

JINPR: It’s a thought…

Time to remember that bit I made a note of in the Marcus Aurelius on failure in the pursuit of a philosophical life:

Be not disgusted, nor discouraged, nor dissatisfied, if thou dost not succeed in doing everything according to right principles, but when thou hast failed, return back again, and be content if the greater part of what thou doest is consistent with man’s nature, and love this to which thou returnest; and do not return to philosophy as if she were a master, but act like those who have sore eyes and apply a bit of sponge and egg, or as another applies a plaster, or drenching with water. For thus thou wilt not fail to obey reason, and thou wilt repose in it. And remember that philosophy requires only things which thy nature requires; but thou wouldst have something else which is not according to nature.—It may be objected, Why, what is more agreeable than this [which I am doing]? But is not this the very reason why pleasure deceives us? And consider if magnanimity, freedom, simplicity, equanimity, piety, are not more agreeable. For what is more agreeable than wisdom itself, when thou thinkest of the security and the happy course of all things which depend on the faculty of understanding and knowledge?

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Posted in my life, philosophy

stoic saints at the cotillion

A scowling look is altogether unnatural; when it is often assumed, the result is that all comeliness dies away, and at last is so completely extinguished that it cannot be again lighted up at all. Try to conclude from this very fact that it is contrary to reason. For if even the perception of doing wrong shall depart, what reason is there for living any longer?
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Southern belles and other smooth ladies confuse me. Lint free and delightful, and they never make you feel bad when they’re chatting with you, but maybe the superficial and the existential approach each other a little too closely for comfort for me. All ‘i’s not only dotted but dotted with hearts; I can’t be bothered, but what does that mean? They confuse me and I don’t know whether I feel contemptuous or jealous. I don’t know whether they have really been nourished in and have never exited a warm bath of affection and can’t help being so lovely (and therefore are, sort of, babies; enviably coddled, cherished babies)  or if this is a hard won good cheer, result of sheer force of will.  Surly teenagers will tip to the babies of trivia explanation, but perhaps far too late in life  I am increasingly sure of the other and am therefore now canonizing them stoic saints of friction free charm.

As an exemplar, let’s take Dora, David Copperfield‘s young wife.

In a lovely froth:

Miss Clarissa and my aunt roam all over London, to find out articles of furniture for Dora and me to look at. It would be better for them to buy the goods at once, without this ceremony of inspection; for, when we go to see a kitchen fender and meat-screen, Dora sees a Chinese house for Jip, with little bells on the top, and prefers that.

OK, granted, doghouse pagoda bells do not conform with my stoic saints set-up, but let’s move on and see how the accounts add up for Dora in the end.  Here she is dying, indeed dying, with a devotion to the smooth and considerate:

They have left off telling me to ‘wait a few days more’. I have begun to fear, remotely, that the day may never shine, when I shall see my child-wife running in the sunlight with her old friend Jip…Dora lies smiling on us, and is beautiful, and utters no hasty or complaining word.

It is morning; and Dora, made so trim by my aunt’s hands, shows me how her pretty hair will curl upon the pillow yet, an how long and bright it is, and how she likes to have it loosely gathered in that net she wears.

‘Not that I am vain of it, now, you mocking boy,’ she says, when I smile; ‘but because you used to say you thought it so beautiful; and because, when I first began to think about you, I used to peep in the glass, and wonder whether you would like very much to have a lock of it. Oh what a foolish fellow you were, Doady, when I gave you one!’

‘That was on the day when you were painting the flowers I had given you, Dora, and when I told you how much in love I was.’

‘Ah! but I didn’t like to tell you,’ says Dora, ‘then, how I had cried over them, because I believed you really liked me! When I can run about again as I used to do, Doady, let us go and see those places where we were such a silly couple, shall we? And take some of the old walks? And not forget poor papa?’

‘Yes, we will, and have some happy days. So you must make haste to get well, my dear.’

‘Oh, I shall soon do that! I am so much better, you don’t know!’

It is evening; and I sit in the same chair, by the same bed, with the same face turned towards me. We have been silent, and there is a smile upon her face. I have ceased to carry my light burden up and down stairs now. She lies here all the day.

The briefest backing off; she corrects herself instantly:

‘Only give Agnes my dear love, and tell her that I want very, very, much to see her; and I have nothing left to wish for.’

‘Except to get well again, Dora.’

‘Ah, Doady! Sometimes I think—you know I always was a silly little thing!—that that will never be!’

‘Don’t say so, Dora! Dearest love, don’t think so!’

‘I won’t, if I can help it, Doady. But I am very happy; though my dear boy is so lonely by himself, before his child-wife’s empty chair!’

[Try how the life of the good man suits thee, the life of him who is satisfied with his portion out of the whole, and satisfied with his own just acts and benevolent disposition. –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations again]

Me, in the David Copperfield universe, I still find myself pretty committed to the sharp ups and downs of Heepesque ressentiment.

But I’m humble, I am, and count my rosaries to the saints of the friction free.

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Posted in general observations, literature, philosophy

good morning

In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present- I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm?- But this is more pleasant.- Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature?
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Hey! I went a whole week in my new effort to  be more stoical. Buffing up on the classic texts and giving a go for the life of disciplined reason. Moderately successful! It fell apart a little near the end there but the overall big picture view could be a lot worse. Pretty awesome!

both to many others and to thyself it is plain that thou art far from philosophy.

No benchmarks for stoicism.

(Stoics don’t need nice new, modern translations shipped over from Amazon, right? Those somewhat dusty out-of-copyright free-online translations are just more stoical even if they’re a bit odd and sometimes confusing, I would think.  Maybe I’m supposed to be going to the library…. )

and from [Rusticus]I learned not to be led astray to sophistic emulation, nor to writing on speculative matters, nor to delivering little hortatory orations, nor to showing myself off as a man who practises much discipline, or does benevolent acts in order to make a display; and to abstain from rhetoric, and poetry


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Posted in my life, philosophy

Have you ever felt like you’re being cheated?

Stuck with myself all the live long day regardless of whatever/whoever else might be around I naturally get more bored with myself than with anyone else on the planet.  Note though that boredom with others is a tense affair: 5 minutes of chatter about your wretched  family vacation, your dentistry concerns, your brilliant Costco bargain hunting escapades, and my adrenalin is surging. “Ooooooo how can I live in a universe where I have to be subjected to this sort of thing. Escape by any means….” Boredom with myself, however, is supersubdued and at the worst merely mildly, nearly sweetly, depressoid. Why so different? I think it’s that the energy balance sheets differ.  Your boring anecdotes are not in truth so bad and surely better than being stuck in my own usual, but your pleasure so transcending my minor inconvenience leads me to think I’m engaged in a bad deal. Therefore adrenaline.  Conceding utterly to my own boringness, sinking into it,  is by contrast soothing. It locks down the energy loop completely into a perfect circuit. No cheating: the best of bad deals.

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Posted in general observations

Crap spirituality 2

People talk about self-help books and new agey type spiritual movements dismissively.  Too easy, too narcissistically gratifying.  None of the substance of the graver, more traditional belief systems that have more to do with existential matters and less to do with bank accounts and boyfriends.  But the very materiality of the sphere of action subverts this criticism by providing constant physical proof of the higher power’s indifference, making these some of the more taxing spiritual paths to be found. The horribly precarious gratification and the continually disappointed promise of happiness/elevation offers its own mortifications to rival the more obviously and traditionally stern codes and creeds.

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Posted in general observations