Friday, January 22, 2021

How the Fed Fails

The Fed has a binary choice: preserve America's global hegemony or further enrich the billionaires. You can't have both.

The Fed will fail as a result of two dynamics: diminishing returns and the U.S. dollar's role as a global reserve currency. The Fed's reign as the godhead of financier-banker supremacy has been fun and games for the past 12 years of stock market euphoria, but that's about to change.

All those expecting the Fed to sink the USD to near-zero to "save the stock market" don't seem to realize that they're also expecting the U.S. to surrender its global hegemony, which rests entirely on the U.S. dollar. The USD is the world's dominant reserve currency--please examine the chart below. The USD dwarfs the next largest reserve currency, the euro. The Chinese yuan--due to its peg to the USD, essentially a proxy for the USD--is a tiny sliver of global reserves.

The owner of a reserve currency can create "money" out of thin air and trade it for autos, oil, semiconductors--real-world goods that were not created out of thin air. All these real-world goods required tremendous investment and significant costs to be produced and transported.

No wonder trading something for nothing--a remarkably good deal--is termed an exorbitant privilege.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the ability to create "money" out of thin air and trade it for real-world goods is the foundation of America's global power. If the Fed prints USD to near-infinity and the USD loses value relative other reserve currencies, the U.S. loses its exorbitant privilege of trading "money" created out of thin air for real-world goods.

So everyone expecting the Fed to "print" the USD to zero is claiming the Fed is consciously choosing to lay waste to the foundation of American power--just to boost Big Tech Robber Barons and zombie global stock markets.

Recall that the Fed is not the Empire, it is the handmaiden of the Empire. The Fed's dual mandate-- for PR purposes, stable employment and prices--is actually balancing the conflicting demands of a global and domestic currency--Triffin's Paradox writ large.

The inherent problem with a reserve currency is that it must meet global economic needs and domestic needs, and these are intrinsically in conflict. America's billionaires and pension funds want the US stock market to loft higher on the back of a declining USD, but that diminishes the global purchasing power of the USD--a trend spiraling down to economic ruin.

The Fed's balancing act has run out of runway. It's either destroy American hegemony by crushing the USD or secure hegemony and let the stock market function as a "market" rather than as a device to further enrich the top .01%. (Recall that "nearly half of the new income generated since the global financial crisis of 2008 has gone to the wealthiest one percent of U.S. citizens. The richest three Americans collectively have more wealth than the poorest 160 million Americans." The Dangerously Diminishing Returns on Monetary and Fiscal Stimulus)

As for diminishing returns: consider what the Fed "bought" by handing $1 trillion to financiers, banks and billionaires in 2008-09 and what it "bought" with $3 trillion last March. The Fed's balance sheet shot up from $925 billion on 9/9/08 to $2.08 trillion on 9/9/09-- an injection of $1.16 trillion to "save" the global financial system (and the U.S. stock and debt markets) from complete meltdown.

The Fed continued goosing markets higher, adding another $1 trillion by 2013 (balance sheet $2.96 trillion). So the Fed "bought" a five-year rally in global risk assets--a rally that sent wealth and income inequality into orbit--for a mere $2 trillion.

Last year the Fed had to print over $3 trillion in three months to "save the markets" from a reckoning with reality. Take a quick look at the chart below. Notice how the Fed's "saves" are tracking a near-parabolic curve. So will the next "save" require $5 trillion, or will it be $7 trillion? And what are the consequences for such insanity on the U.S. dollar's global hegemony?

So the Fed has a binary choice: preserve America's global hegemony or further enrich the billionaires. You can't have both. Hegemony requires a currency that's increasing its value relative to other currencies, not plummeting to near-zero.

If the Fed chooses to further enrich the billionaires and top .01%, then the skyrocketing wealth-income inequality will unravel the domestic social and political orders. There is no way that will be a "win" for the Fed, as the resulting backlash against the Fed's stripmining the nation to enrich the top .01% will have consequences for the Fed as well as the nation.

So the Fed will fail. If it spews endless trillions to further enrich the billionaires it will destroy the exorbitant privilege of the reserve currency and the global hegemony that privilege enables. If it preserves global dollar hegemony by not spewing endless trillions, global stock and debt markets will experience the equivalent of a financial tsunami, earthquake and hurricane hitting all at the same time.

It's either/or--there is no win-win. Choose wisely, Fed.





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The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Salon #35: The problem is that nobody knows what "Kuleana" means (58 minutes)


My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Dangerously Diminishing Returns on Monetary and Fiscal Stimulus

Allow me to translate the risible claims of Jay Powell and Janet Yellen that their stimulus policies haven't boosted wealth inequality to the moon: "Let them eat cake."

The euphoria of ever greater monetary and fiscal stimulus overlooks the diminishing returns and higher risks generated by near-exponential increases in stimulus. I prepared a chart that graphically displays the extraordinary increases in stimulus and the declining results in the primary goals of economic policy: broad-based opportunity to get ahead and reducing systemically destabilizing wealth inequality.

Looking back on this era, the fatal irony that all this stimulus has rocket-boosted wealth and income inequality while gutting the bottom 90% will be glaringly obvious. It's actually glaringly obvious right now to those not blinded by euphoria. Consider this excerpt from the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, an article entitled Monopoly Versus Democracy (paywalled):

Like their forebears in the early twentieth century, today's Americans have experienced decades of growing inequality and increasing concentrations of wealth and power. The last decade alone witnessed nearly 500,000 corporate mergers worldwide. Ten percent of Americans now control 97 percent of all capital income in the country. Nearly half of the new income generated since the global financial crisis of 2008 has gone to the wealthiest one percent of U.S. citizens. The richest three Americans collectively have more wealth than the poorest 160 million Americans. (Editor's note: emphasis added.)

In most industries, a few companies control the field, dictating terms, squeezing out competitors, and using differential pricing to extract cash and power. Three companies control digital advertising, four companies dominate beef packing, and an ever-shrinking number own the country's hospitals.


While RobinHood stock traders may reckon their hot hand will boost them into the ranks of millionaires, it would take trillions of dollars of gains to even move the needle of our immense inequalities of capital and income: the top 10% skim 97% of capital income and own about 90% of all capital.

The ugly truth is all the monetary and fiscal stimulus of the past decade has only served to boost wealth and income inequality and reduce opportunity to gain a foothold in the New Gilded Age. In terms of offering those in the bottom 50% a stake in all this ballooning wealth, monetary and fiscal stimulus has failed completely: The richest three Americans collectively have more wealth than the poorest 160 million Americans.

The euphoric faithful also overlook the systemic risks created by exponential increases in stimulus that overwhelmingly benefit only the top 10%, top 1% and most especially the top .01%. The exponentially asymmetric benefits of ever greater stimulus generate social disorder that eventually breaks down the entire social order, while the exponential increases in debt, leverage and speculation increase the risks of a systemic financial collapse.

Allow me to translate the risible claims of Jay Powell and Janet Yellen that their stimulus policies haven't boosted wealth inequality to the moon: Let them eat cake. And we all know how that worked out.



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Salon #35: The problem is that nobody knows what "Kuleana" means (58 minutes)


My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



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Monday, January 18, 2021

A Few Notes on Deflation/Inflation

The consensus is that asset inflation is unstoppable and forever. History begs to differ.

Not unsurprisingly, people want a binary option: do we get deflation or inflation? Unfortunately, reality is messy.

Broadly speaking, globalization is deflationary as capital seeks the lowest cost labor, parts and materials, the least stringent environmental standards and the most corrupt governance to maximize profits by any means available (in this case, exploitation and corruption).

Wages lose purchasing power as every labor force competes with the cheapest available pool of global labor, and domestic companies must lower prices or face obliteration by the global corporations.

Broadly speaking, financialization is inflationary as the costs of services increase as financialization enables monopolies and cartels to dominate entire sectors. Once they control the sector, they increase prices while lowering quality to maximize profits by any means available (in this case, monopoly, cartels and political corruption). As the profits gush in, corporate monopolies and cartels can "invest in corruption" by using a sliver of their profits to buy political favors and protection.

Financialization lowers the cost of credit to corporations and financiers, giving the largest entities an unmatchable competitive advantage: they can borrow immense sums at near-zero cost and use this money (or newly issued stock) to buy competitors, insuring their monopoly won't be challenged by either regulations (since politicos and bureaucrats have been bought off) or competitors (all bought out with "free money".)

While many hold that inflation is always a monetary phenomenon, real-world scarcities are also inflationary. If you were waiting in a long line at a gas station in 1973, hoping to get a tank of gas at only double the price of a month earlier, you'll know that scarcity is absolutely marvelous at sending price soaring regardless of what's happening with the money supply.

So inflation can be driven by either or both monetary and scarcity dynamics.

Enter the pandemic. Needless to say, restrictions in travel and gatherings are deflationary in travel-leisure-dining sectors as airlines lower prices to compete for a shrinking pool of passengers and surviving restaurants suppress prices to attract scarce customers.

As millions of workers lose their jobs and depend on unemployment, the insecurity of future income weighs on overall consumption.

Lowering the cost of credit does little for these sectors while rocket-boosting speculation and financialization. The monetary "solution" to deflation is always the same: lower interest rates to zero and flood the financial sector with unlimited liquidity. The resulting stock market bubble and corporate orgy of borrowing and stock issuance are predictable results of unfettered, near-infinite financialization.

But lowering the cost of credit and incentivizing monopolies and cartels to expand their control doesn't actually help the economy. Enabling rapacious monopolies and cartels is systemically inflationary, while lowering the cost and availability of credit also increases the attractiveness of automation as a means of lowering labor costs, a dynamic that is deflationary as lower wages equals lower consumption.

The reality is relatively few gig economy workers earn a middle-class income working 40 hours a week. The large-scale reduction of wage and benefit security--i.e. the transition to a precariat work force--is highly deflationary in terms of wages and consumption, as precariats cannot count on future earnings being reliable or sufficient.

The political "solution" is Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a means of supporting consumption. But supporting the consumption of essentials doesn't magically incentivize innovation or the expansion of capacity and real-world production.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve will continue giving unlimited "free money" to corporations and financiers to increase the concentration of financial and political power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. This fuels the dominance of corporations and financiers and increases the risks of monetary over-reach, which introduces the potential for a non-linear sudden and unpredictable explosion of monetary-driven inflation.

All of this sets the stage for both monetary and scarcity inflation. Monopolies and cartels are free to exploit their stranglehold on the nation by jacking up prices and reducing quality (while the bought-and-paid-for political class theatrically wrings their hands while skimming millions in campaign contributions). This is rabidly inflationary.

Since there are few incentives to expand real-world capacity and production, this sets the stage for scarcities in essentials and non-essentials alike. With Peak Globalization in the rearview mirror, the deflationary forces of globalization are ebbing.

The fly in the ointment is speculative bubbles always pop. All the inflation in the system has flowed into excessive speculation, which has inflated unprecedented bubbles across most asset classes. When these all pop, the results are deflationary as the wealth effect reverses and over-leveraged corporations default and/or go bankrupt.

I marked up this chart of the S&P 500 about a year ago, and since then the market crashed and then soared to new highs (SPX 3,826). The basic message here is extremes get more extreme until the rocket runs out of fuel--something the consensus now claims is "impossible." The consensus is that asset inflation is unstoppable and forever. History begs to differ.



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Salon #35: The problem is that nobody knows what "Kuleana" means (58 minutes)


My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



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Friday, January 15, 2021

Designed To Fail, Failure Guaranteed

Yet it still comes as a great surprise to everyone when 'doing more of what's failed spectacularly' ends up collapsing the whole rotten structure.

Systems and nations are designed to fail without anyone even noticing: nobody set out to design the current broken system to fail at critical points, but now failure can't be avoided because the incentive structure has locked in embedded processes that enrich self-serving cartels and insiders at the expense of the nation and its populace.

Nobody chose America's insanely perverse healthcare system--it arose from a set of initial conditions that generated perverse incentives to do more of what's failing and protect the processes that benefit cartels and insiders at the expense of everyone else.

In other words, the system that was intended to benefit all ends up benefiting the few at the expense of the many.

The same question can be asked of America's broken higher education system: would any sane person choose a system that enriches insiders by indenturing students via massive student loans (i.e. forcing them to become debt serfs)?

Students and their parents certainly wouldn't choose the current broken system, but the lenders reaping billions of dollars in profits would choose to keep it, and so would the under-assistant deans earning a cool $200K+ for "administering" some embedded process that has effectively nothing to do with actual learning.

The academic ronin a.k.a. adjuncts earning $35,000 a year (with little in the way of benefits or security) for doing much of the actual teaching wouldn't choose the current broken system, either.

Now that the embedded processes are generating profits and wages, everyone benefiting from these processes will fight to the death to retain and expand them, even if they threaten the system with financial collapse and harm the people who the system was intended to serve.

How many student loan lenders and assistant deans resign in disgust at the parasitic system that higher education has become? The number of insiders who refuse to participate any longer is signal noise, while the number who plod along, either denying their complicity in a parasitic system of debt servitude and largely worthless diplomas (i.e. the system is failing the students it is supposedly educating at enormous expense) or rationalizing it is legion.

If I was raking in $200,000 annually from a system I knew was parasitic and counter-productive, I would find reasons to keep my head down and just "do my job," too.

At some point, the embedded processes become so odious and burdensome that those actually providing the services start bailing out of the broken system. We're seeing this in the number of doctors and nurses who retire early or simply quit to do something less stressful and more rewarding.

These embedded processes strip away autonomy, equating compliance with effectiveness even as the processes become increasingly counter-productive and wasteful. The typical mortgage documents package is now a half-inch thick, a stack of legal disclaimers and stipulations that no home buyer actually understands (unless they happen to be a real estate attorney).

How much value is actually added by these ever-expanding embedded processes?

By the time the teacher, professor or doctor complies with the curriculum / "standards of care", there's little room left for actually doing their job. But behind the scenes, armies of well-paid administrators will fight to the death to keep the processes as they are, no matter how destructive to the system as a whole.

This is how systems and the nations that depend on them fail. Meds skyrocket in price, student loans top $1 trillion, F-35 fighter aircraft are double the initial cost estimates and so on, and the insider solutions are always the same: just borrow another trillion to keep the broken system afloat for another quarter.

Yet it still comes as a great surprise to everyone when doing more of what's failed spectacularly ends up collapsing the whole rotten structure.

Consider a spacecraft as a metaphor for a system which is designed not to fail but that can fail anyway. There are two basic ways the spacecraft can fail: a single essential component can fail, or a single failure can trigger a domino-like cascade which leads to the entire craft failing.

If the craft's single oxygen tank ruptures, the crew dies. 99% of the spacecraft is still working perfectly, but the system failed in its primary purpose: keeping the crew alive.

If an electrical failure causes a cascade of subsystem failures, you end up with the same result: a powerless craft and a dead crew.

But 99% of the system is working just fine is little solace to the expired crew.



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Salon #35: The problem is that nobody knows what "Kuleana" means (58 minutes)


My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Is 2021 an Echo of 1641?

If you don't discern any of these dynamics in the present, what are you choosing not to see?

The reason why history rhymes is that humanity is still using Wetware 1.0 and so humans respond to scarcity, abundance and conflicts over them in the same manner.

I am struck by similarities between the conflict-torn mid-1600s and the present: global climate change (The Little Ice Age in the 1600s), political upheavals and wars which intertwined civil and imperial conflicts. Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the 17th Century is a fascinating overview of this complex era which disrupted regimes and empires from England to China.

Climate change (The Little Ice Age) generated scarcities of grain in a time of burgeoning human populations. As in the present day, everyone assumed ample harvests would continue forever--expanding abundance is the New Normal. Alas, Nature is not a steady-state system and cycles are not tamed by our desire for ever-expanding abundance.

Humans respond to scarcity by assessing who's getting the biggest pieces of the shrinking pie. When hunger begets desperation, various dynamics are set into motion as those without agency and capital, i.e. political and financial power do whatever they can to get enough to survive while those holding the majority of political and financial power, jockey to maintain or expand their power.

These dynamics are fluid and prone to non-linear flows in which relatively small actions unleash enormous consequences that are not predictable. If we squint, however, we can discern some repeating patterns in this chaotic swirl:

1. Private owners of capital (i.e. elites) seek to influence the state to protect / expand their holdings.

2. The dispossessed / disenfranchised masses seek redress / succor from the state.

3. The geopolitical balance of power becomes increasingly precarious as competition for control of resources and political power heats up.

4. The state's resources are diminished by famine, decline of trade, etc. as pressures from geopolitical rivals, elites and the masses are spiking, reducing the state's ability to respond to the multiple challenges / overlapping crises.

5. The overlapping crises reveal and exploit the weaknesses in the political, social and economic structures, and in the competing elites.

6. Leaders concentrate centralized power in the hands of the few as a coping strategy by reducing the influence of broad-based councils, assemblies, etc. This concentration of power at the expense of the many (including lower-level elites who were accustomed to holding some consequential power) increases resistance of those being cut out of the decision-making and increases the odds of catastrophic errors of judgment in the few at the top.

7. As the state falters or divides into warring factions, the most powerful elites take control of resources and power from the state, both as a defensive measure and as a means of exploiting the crisis to their own advantage.

8. Populist leaders arise demanding a fairer distribution of resources and power. The more repressed the masses, the greater the disorder created by this emergence of long-silenced voices.

9. Each node seeking to defend or expand its share of resources and power projects and amplifies persuasive rhetoric, symbols and beliefs to unify its supporters around deeply held values and aspirations.

10. With so many loyalties in play--local, regional, linguistic, political, social, religious and economic--each node / faction seeks to decisively cement loyalties by establishing all-or-nothing hard lines via ideologically "pure" rhetoric that demonizes competing factions, effectively dividing the populace into us-and-them camps that leave little middle ground for compromise or negotiation.

11. In this fevered competition for loyalty and trustworthy followers willing to sacrifice for the faction, leaders view every advance as evidence that compromise is unnecessary as total victory awaits the next "win."

12. Given the grievous losses and potentially devastating consequences of competing factions gaining ground, the victors of each battle hasten to take revenge on the losing faction, laying waste and inflicting cruelties that harden the hearts of the surviving losers and inciting their own determination to exact a full measure of revenge when fortunes turn their way.

13. Only when the land, people and treasure are all exhausted does the promise of total victory fade, and the factions seek some negotiated settlement that leaves whatever power they still have intact lest they lose everything.

14. The eventual settlement could have been reached in the initial stages of disorder, but the leaders of the factions were too myopic, too confident in their own judgment and power, too greedy for more and too hubris-soaked to appreciate their own weaknesses and the immense pitfalls ahead.

If you don't discern any of these dynamics in the present, what are you choosing not to see?



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

https://youtu.be/9XRUyTGcBVM Jay Taylor: The Fourth Estate's Role in Thrusting America into Fascism (27 minutes)


My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Ajay G. ($100), for your outrageously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

 

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