Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One interesting stat from early modern England

This is one of those times where a single statistic can open up a wealth of insight, and yet it does not come from our present but our past.  This one is coming from the Open Yale courses, which are freely available for viewing and have some of the most interesting professors that can have a wealth of information.  The stat comes from the HIST 251: Early Modern England which covers the time period of the late 16th century to the early 18th century and is presented by Professor Keith E. Wrightson.  To understand the transformation of England during this period it is necessary to see where it started from circa Henry VII, just before all the major changes in England took place.  I've been watching these with my lady and our side conversations tend to make the simple presentation quite long as it is necessary to pause the presentation so we can discuss material.  Thus the insight comes from that discussion.

In the mid- to late-16th century there was a relatively stable social stratification that has the Nobility at the top, the Gentry of landed estates and 'gentle birth' next, then the Yeomen class who were not of 'gentle birth' and tended to be well considered in towns and cities running trades and businesses (as well as some farms which was necessary for the era, the Craftsmen and those earning a living via craft work, and then gradations through the poor end of the spectrum which ends in Unskilled Labor.  The Clergy are considered separate (remember pre-Henry VIII) and while they can have power, it is not by lineage (as in the Nobility and Gentry) but by appointment to position (such as Bishop or Arch Bishop) by the Pope.  Literacy was low outside of those who could afford such education or that required it for daily operation (like the Clergy).  Schooling was done at home and as soon as children could contribute in any way to a household, they did so via work, first at home and then, if coming from a poorer family, by paying a Master Craftsman to take on a boy as an apprentice or by going to a household to work in any of a variety of tasks for a one year term.

This society can be characterized as stratified and one in which survival at all but the upper ranks of society is a constant pre-occupation.  Mercantile capitalism tends to fall in to the Yeomanry and Craftsman realms of society, and while the Yeomanry were socially limited they could earn quite a lot of money and purchase land from plying business trades.  Across all strata of the non-Clergy is one particularly interesting phenomena and the statistic of interest: marriage tended to be put off until the early- to mid- 20's.  This was done because establishing a new household is a costly affair (even for the rich) and must be done with much due consideration.  At the upper ranks of society choices in one's class were limited, and matches between young men and women could take time but also required agreement between families.  Sliding down into the Gentry, Yeomanry and Craftsman realms of society, men and women had a bit more in the way of choices and leeway, but parental and family consent made marriage a multi-lateral agreement in which any single party could hold a veto.  This sort of concern lessened going down to the lowest levels of society, where there was a lot more freedom for couples, agreement tended to be limited to parents, but start-up costs of a new household was high in proportion to the income of the poor.

From that this society can be said to have a high overhead cost of maintenance to it: it costs a lot of time as well as funds to get a household going.  Child birth, statistically, would happen within 18 months of marriage and then be a cyclic affair every 2 or 3 years of the woman's childbearing years.  Added to this was the high rate of infant mortality, endemic diseases, pandemics of plague, plus the normal assort of death by accidents, and life expectancy, while better than in Neolithic times, tended to be in the mid-30's with rare individuals surviving past 60.

Why is this interesting?

My lady was startled because of the American experience with families up to the early 20th century: large families with marriage happening in the late Teens.  Many marriage laws for what society would consider 'children' today included age of consent down to 12 in some States.

There are important changes by the start of the 19th century for Americans, but the life expectancy had not increased much over the 16th century, and while the Industrial Revolution would begin to transform America after the 1820's, American family size continued to be large even with advances in medicine, public sanitation and better diet.  Taking these factors into consideration, there is one other major factor that is encountered in the US that sets it apart from its Early Modern English forbearers in the 16th century: it is a society of not much in the way of 'classes' and it is one with a low overhead for maintenance.

The first is relatively self-explanatory, and while there were major land and slave holders in the Southern States (an equivalent of the Gentry class circa 16th century England)  and huge differences between those living in cities and those in rural areas, these are not largely different from the share-cropper system and differences between city and rural folk of the 16th century.  Without the rest of the class structure to burden the system and plenty of wilderness to settle in what happened is that the Americans of the early 19th century gained a definition that stuck until the early 20th century: a Frontier Culture.

By now, of course, this has interrupted all viewing of the course as this is a vital topic but approached in an oblique way.  There are large differences between a 'Settled' culture and a 'Frontier' culture, most of which revolve around the cost of maintenance of the infrastructure necessary to sustain the culture.  It is difficult to think of Early Modern England as a 'settled culture' but it has natural geographic limits to it, even when you consider Great Britain or the UK as a whole: these are islands and have definite boundaries and no frontiers.  Once an island has undergone initial exploration and settling, that is it for new resources and to get claimed land one must purchase it, which requires capital.  If you live in a town or city you can rent space, of course, but in the villages and household settings to have a new household requires land either by purchase or lease, and then a home on it.  There are many records in England from the late 16th century onwards, which allows us to glimpse a bit of everyday life via the records of deaths and coroner's inquests.  Prof. Wrightson recounts the death of one young woman who was working as a servant in a household who, at her death, had a total of 3 Pounds, 3 cows, and a chest containing items of clothing, bedding, bowl, spoon and the like.  Indeed an average of all deaths can actually yield that individuals owned perhaps as many as 25 to 35 items, total upon death.  The savings of a young woman was that of hoping to find a husband, marry, and establish a household amongst the poorer ranks of society.  She was already bringing something to the table for a marriage: she was gathering necessary overhead capital and goods for the start of a future household.

This is a stark contrast to the American Frontier experience that included clearing land, marrying early, and settling that cleared land for little to no overhead cost beyond sweat equity.  Raw materials were readily available, land was anywhere from free to cheap (compared to Early Modern England, at least), and the idea of 'go forth and multiply' was something that was held near and dear to the heart in reverence to God.

What is the condition of America today?


It has a high overhead cost of maintenance to start a household.  Even with politicians distorting lending markets no end, the cost of starting a household is high.  Those that learn the Trades in America, today, actually have a low overhead cost from education: there is less burden on them and a trade craft repays the cost of education in it quickly.  A distorted market in 'Higher Education' arising from the 'good deed'  in the GI Bill post-WWII flooded colleges and universities with people which then changed the requirements in the marketplace for what is a 'minimum necessary education'.  That 'Higher Education' no longer repays itself and is a debt burden to those who go through such education and have no useful job skills at the end of it.  It is a high cost that must be paid down before starting a family.  The result?  The age of marriage has increased, couples expect both parties to bring something to the new household, children are put off for a period of time after marriage, on average and yes there are exceptions to this just as there were in Early Modern England of the 16th century.

At the lowest end of the economic spectrum there is a payment of funds from tax receipts (or in added debt) to the poor to 'care for women and children' who happen to have children out of wedlock.  Women get payments based on number of children and husbands are no longer required to get support: government has taken on that role.  The result is a liquidation of the once solid poor family structure that was purposefully uprooted during the 'Urban Renewal' that started with the Truman Administration and the movement of poor families from homes they owned to tenements they rented from under the 'Great Society' programs.  Add in payments based on childbirth to women who are not required to be married and have a stable family situation, and you liquidate the foundations of the stable culture that was once a part of the urban landscape prior to the 1950's.  Although a Nation in which by any objective standard pre-1940 there is no poverty, at all, we still have the strange belief that the poor are a condition of poverty.  And yet the poor are always with us, as being poor is part of the condition of individuals within mankind. 

Poverty, as such, was transitional in America where anyone could aspire to be a 'rags to riches' story and maybe end up in the Middle Class or at least better off than one's parents in material goods and security.  What there also used to be was no support system for the rich who failed: you could go from rags to riches to rags and cycle back and forth between them.  The establishment of regulatory regimes to allow failing concerns to remain open (and even get direct government help via taxpayer funds) means that those who make poor decisions under those regulatory regimes no longer fail and they no longer succeed, either.  They become zombie concerns depending on the lifeblood of taxpayer funds and supported regulatory regimes to survive and exist.  Any comparisons between this and later English companies supported by the Crown and later found to be bankrupt is purely coincidental with the Modern England.  In the Early Modern England there was too much upheaval to allow for such things.

Thus there are similarities of type between the US of 2014 and mid- to late-16th century England, but not of kind.  There are entirely different sets of overhead concerns for starting a household, and yet they arise for the same reason of being in a settled and geographically limited society.  The Old West in America is just that: the historical Old West.  And while there are still unsettled lands in the US, no one can rightly call them a Frontier in the expansive way of the early 19th century.  Yes Alaska is still nasty, has a low population level and if you can gather the overhead costs to establish yourself there, it has a frontier-like feel to it.  Social stratification becomes more apparent in the modern US but not due to the gentleness of birth but the connectedness to corrupt government and those that serve and service its corruption.  Just as in Early Modern England this is not a stable situation.

The result in Early Modern England was the Industrial Revolution and the great colonization effort that spanned the globe.

America, today, is at the cusp of a similar sort of transformation, as well.  It is not a dour and bleak totalitarian one, that is if we don't work to counter it.  No, it is one that also had an antecedent in Early Modern England: a New Frontier.

America has tested its endless expanse and now is home to many private concerns that dream big dreams of endless expanses of territory and wealth to be made.  It can't be made just by the rich or even with robotic systems, as those are fragile to this new and hostile wilderness.  And in this wilderness children will learn from the earliest of ages how to survive, what to do and not to do, and the rest of 'education' as we know it will be geared to those concerns first and foremost.

What happened when the English had access to new territories?  Some people were banished to them.  Others fled to them because of the freedom they offered for a new life at great risk.  They were Frontiers.  No social stratification.  Relatively low cost of overhead compared to what was left behind. Great and terrible risk to eke out a new life together with those who also decided that this was better than being settled.  Vast populations from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy... they followed when the cost of transportation to the Frontier was cheap enough to escape the settled lands of their old homes.

As I've said before and say again: there isn't anything so wrong with America that a New Frontier will not cure.

Freedom and Independence will beckon to us, to all mankind.

No one from the time of Henry VII could have seen the rapid changes that would follow his death.

And we can compress those massive changes of centuries down to decades, and no totalitarian power will be able to stop it once the flood gates open.

All we must do is curtail the grasp of tyranny in the present, hold it off by all means possible, and a New Frontier will open to us.  Like Early Modern England seemed a strange place to look for such transformation in its stratified ways and settled lands, so, too, does America look like a strange place to expect the push for a New Frontier.  Yet Early Modern England was pre-adapted to such things by its history and America, along with a few other Nations, is pre-adapted to Frontier culture by its cultural heritage. 

It is easy to fight tyranny in space: open an airlock.  Nature plays no favorites, but you can.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


A personal retrospective on my physical well-being.

I hope to get some more normal posts up, but such is life.

Late in 2004 I began a trip into a land of darkness where my mind was slowly losing track of work and I was beginning to feel exhausted beyond anything I had experienced in my life before that.  With that also came a lack of awareness of these things and the simple and all too human attempt to rationalize these sensations.  Being made senseless and having one's mind dimmed when aided and abetted by rationalization meant that things that should have alerted me to my dire straights were passed off... until my body forced the issue by giving me a cataleptic attack while driving.  No accident resulted, but that warned me that something truly serious was going on, even through the mists of my befuddled state of mind and being, which was turning into a strange place where being awake and being asleep meant little difference at all.

By 2005 I just wanted to know what was causing these attacks and if they could be dealt with, and the list of tests I went through was long and deep.  The only change had been in a standard medication, one of the statins, and when my endocrinologist heard the symptoms he took me off them, but the damage had been done and worse was to come after that until the full extent of it was finally reached.  My brain had the normal attributes of someone a good 20 years older than my physical age, and yet that was not a natural thing.  Narcoleptic conditions run in the male side of my family and I had thought I had escaped them as they have two general periods of onset: up to teenage years and then again in one's 60's.  Well, my brain had reached that magic age, I guess, just decades ahead of schedule.

Climbing out of that pit meant trying to get my thought structure back together as it had been shattered and eroded by this condition.  I had become a creature of willpower alone, determined not to let this be the end of my life.  The hardest work in my life would not be physical, would not be trying to write great pieces of fiction or histories to last the ages, but to merely scrape back a formulation of my thoughts out of a land between waking and dreaming and back, fully, into the land of the waking and living.  We take the fact that we think for granted, at least most people do, but somewhere within my psycho-dynamic toolkit there is a repair kit that allowed me to begin the hard work of reconstructing my mental capabilities to get some thinking capacity up and running again.

Those dark days are dealt with in my early blogging, which take place after the internal collapse of my mental structure, diagnosis and the first medications to deal with the actual phenomena.  There is no magic pill to rejuvenate the mind, as yet, to repair damage and to regain lost capacity.  Maybe we shall have that in some future, but until that point one is stuck with the old fashioned way of hard work.  I set myself some tasks to exercise my mind: learn some rudiments of Javascript, find out just what terrorism is (not the talking around it to attempt to call it something else, but its actual being as an activity) and then to learn connectivity structures based on Person-to-Person systems which are the basis for so much of human life that it pervades the far reaches of the horrific and the criminal realms.  For, as my Uncle Joe used to say disparagingly of so many corporate and government affairs, 'it isn't what you know, its who you know'.

Thus diagnosis was done by others, but I was willing to go through just about any test they cared to put me through, and I would hazard a good couple of hundred of vials of blood were taken to that end.  I have a long, long, long list of things I don't have and for that I am very thankful, indeed!  I will give the Sherlock Holmes method of scratching off stuff from a list and whatever you are left with is what it is a hat tip: it works.  Unfortunately it is the brute force method of logic, and I prefer inductive reasoning of 'this is the only thing that fits to make the entire thing work' sort of approach to the list scratching business.  As I have learned, that is a bent of mind that one must have by some means other than education as no one can teach you how to take a look at a whole thing and then see where something is missing and say what it is.

Countering the effects of the problem, although not the problem itself, came next.  I was a Type 1 diabetic before this happened and can tell you that dealing with a problem is not the same as curing it.  For all the advances in genetics, biology, biochemistry, and 3D structural analysis of molecules and how they interact, plus the human genome, a simple auto-immune disease dating back into the far reaches of human ancestry is still beyond modern medicine to cure.  Somehow every promising approach is thwarted by it.  Yet one gains a toolkit of mental requirements to deal with such a problem on a daily basis and that means I had one available for yet another problem that has no cure.  We know that there are cases of spontaneous remission of Type 1 diabetes after about 20 years of having it: the poor immune system just gets tired of fighting that part of the body and natural regeneration takes place for islet cells.  That I still have the condition points to an immune system that is still misdoing its job!  Now I also get to take medications that modern medical science can say what its structure is, but has no real idea of how it works.

There are times when I suspect the strain of being known as Witch Doctor is still with us to this day. 'What is it, what does it do?' you ask and the response is 'Dunno, it just works, take it.'

I am not nor ever have been impressed by degrees sitting up on a wall.

Doctors are still practicing medicine.  They need more practice, less overhead, please, as the practice still is not perfected.

Now all of this research, fiddling with code, playing with stuff got me to firearms as there was a warning bell going off in my head circa 2007.  A good year before the elections, hell before there were candidates, some part of me was saying: Prepare For No Good Shall Come Of This.  I took NRA training to ensure that I properly understood function and safety of firearms, plus only rudimentary cleaning... there needs to be a real course on that, not just gunsmithing but just 'how the hell do you clean this piece of Swiss watchmaking called a gun?' sort of course.  And I like older firearms, so drift punches, springs, and scouring around for parts became a ready past-time.  All of this is DIY in the firearms community, and the modern arms are much, much simpler to work with than much of the older stuff until you get back to the bolt action rifle: those are, at least, pretty simple to understand.

My goal was to next find out what sort of useful skills I had or could gain, and I'm still on that path today.  Firearms leads to stocks made of wood and that means wood finishing.  In my family lineage is woodworking going back at least a couple of generations, and I had not only shop class but a father who did cabinetry in his spare time.  That means I had some of the old 'young shop assistant' sort of deal going on, although not a lot of it, enough to get me familiar with the tools of the trade.

Building back stamina became the major goal as of 2009-10 and woodworking, well once you start using the manual tools you now have a major way to utilize physical capacity and measure endurance, now, don't you?  Even on the power tool side, the lifting and toting of boards, planks, and other less savory bits of trees can get you all sorts of exercise, especially if you have a small shop and need to set up and break down the power tools so that you can have access to the rest of the shop when you aren't using them.

Up until the past few weeks here has been the deal: 1 day of a few hours of work, 2 days of recovery.  Doesn't matter if the day is woodworking, shopping, or whatever, either.  On rare times I could string a couple of days together and then need additional down time to recover.  That was getting me to an even keel, but the boat still had water up to the gunwales and I was bailing as fast as I could.  Stamina was not returning but I at least could keep what I had.

About a month ago I talked with my neurologist who told me that there are some preliminary longitudinal studies that indicate that for diabetics in Japan and Germany (two populations with a major concern over the disorder by genetic causation) that the use of a CPAP helps to lower the HbA1c (a basal blood glucose reading that you strive to get to 7% as a diabetic) by a full 1%.  That is an eye-opener, to be sure.  A real eye-opener as a CPAP improves flow of air to the lungs while sleeping.  I had tried a CPAP before as there were indications of some marginal sleep problems, and they continue to be marginal and the neurologist doesn't know what to make of the actual readings as they aren't showing a disorder but something else going on... but that a CPAP might help that and the the cause to actually get one.


The prior CPAP device made my sleep worse, not better.

There have been improvements over the last 6-7 years, not grand ones but gradual ones, to the point where I can actually tolerate the device, more or less.

It will take some months of use to see what it does for that long term basal blood glucose reading.

A more immediate effect is to get lots of oxygen into my system at night and well distributed through my body.  I do wake up logy, no two ways about it: it is the sleep of someone who has worked themselves to exhaustion.  I knew what that felt like, back before 2004.  It is the sleep that when you wake up you just had no idea of how tired you actually were.  Apparently I need that sort of sleep.

From that sleep I now have better and larger amounts of physical energy and mental awareness longer into the day and even into the evening.  I can accomplish a lot more with the energy once I get the logy feeling out of the system.  Learning to hand plane maple that has just been skip planed is really hard work, let me tell you.  Yet I haven't been tempted to power tools (although I have a planing jig for a router) because it just feels good to be able to put some actual physical capacity into the work.  For a few hours at a stretch.  So now I can have sore muscles when I wake up!  This is a good thing.

The next step of the recovery is actually reversing not just the effects of one of my major conditions, but the thing, itself.  Those require an actual, functioning medical system in which trying to redistribute wealth and making everyone sicker in the name of 'health insurance' is not the goal.  That is an enemy to actual scientific advancement.  Strange that the most backward looking people are now on the political Left: they are starting to sound like the old fogies who just want to do things the same, tired old way that doesn't work well because that is all they know and will tell you about how righteous it is to do things the broken, tired, old way.  Yet the 21st century isn't going to wait for them to catch up, and no matter how much kicking, screaming, and theft under the guise of 'doing good' goes on, this century is set to steamroller the prior 3,000 years of advancement with changes that seemed impossible just a decade ago.  Be it the first formulation for a warp drive or getting to the bounds of computer capacity and then leapfrogging that with quantum computing or finding out that the ways to deal with disorders and diseases isn't to just ameliorate the effects but treat the damned things with some skill ('what does this drug actually do?' 'I dunno, it just works') and get the idea of practice out of the way or education that is self-performed via online systems of study that can't be categorized but can be tested as to skill, knowledge and capacity to utilize it... everything, and I do mean everything, that has been the foundation for the modern world is about to undergo a sea change that will make the Industrial Revolution seem like something for children.

Thus my goal is to survive the current bout of MegaStupidity via Centralized Insanity of Government and get to this new age of Individual Freedom and Liberty writ large.

As has been my threat: the more I recover, the less I will be posting.

I hate repeating myself and that is mostly what I would be doing to no good effect.

I need to recover so I can join this up and coming age of wonder.

The age of Back to Basics, DIY and reaching for the stars and getting off this damned starter home of a planet.

And I hope you will join me.

For we are better than the old 20th century has led us to think.

And governing is the problem, and government is not the solution.