Taboo Socialism

by Curlydock

In 1949, Albert Einstein published an essay in the May issue of Monthly Review entitled “Why Socialism?”. The following is my take on what he said. His essay can be found on the Web at “http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einst.htm”. I strongly recommend you read it. Your take might not be exactly the same as mine.

Now, as then, the terrible and subversive topic of socialism is “under a powerful taboo”. I agree with Einstein; we need to break this taboo.

He said it is important we express our views even if we are not experts in economics, science, philosophy, etc. I am taking him to heart here and now.

Economics, he said, is such a messy topic that it cannot be studied with rigor like other fields of science. Socialism is more an end than a means. While engineering, math and science might help us find a better way to an end, there is nothing they can really say about whether socialism should be our goal. We each will have to study, think, discuss with each other and come to our conclusions as best we can. As for myself, I have decided to abandon capitalism for socialism and to promote this decision. It is gratifying to know that a mind the caliber of Einstein’s would concur.

Einstein believed we are in a cultural crisis that is ultimately rooted in a self-contradiction in what it means to be a human being. Within each individual are conflicting needs. We need to both stand apart and stand together with others.

Our sense of freedom demands we go our own way. But the reality is that we cannot do without others. Somehow we came to see our individual interests as in conflict with the interests of society. Calm reflection tells us we are all in the same boat, but we still seem to need to assert ourselves over everyone else. How does this come about?

Is this internal conflict natural, from the time of birth, or is it something we learn from growing up in a culture devoted to greed and competition?

Einstein said there are no easy answers but for the sake of inner equilibrium we must try to orchestrate the demands of our contradictory nature. Unless a solution is found, a person cannot contribute significantly to society’s well-being.

In the development of solutions, we must hold faith that “nurture” can trump “nature”. We have memory and communication abilities that allow us to take charge of our development.

Anthropology has shown that cultural patterns are not fixed. We can choose our culture if we only will. Thinking and wanting can help determine what we will become, unlike ants and bees which are fixed in their cultures. This is a job for our imagination.

However, he said, while we may adjust some things to enhance life, some things that used to be possible will never be possible again. Man will never again be able to choose self-sufficiency as an individual or small group. To sustain the population level, we must continue to use the technologies that allowed the population to grow this large. We must continue to use extreme division of labor and large scale production if we are to satisfy our material needs. This must be done even in a socialist culture. Whatever else is possible, a global network of production and consumption must continue.

The root of our problems today, the source of evil, is the economic anarchy of capitalism. Workers are not paid based on the value of what they produce. They are paid only enough to keep them engaged to the process. The difference in value is taken by the owners of the means of production. This makes a parasite of the owner and a slave of the worker. Wealth accumulates to the few and the many are impoverished.

The intense concentration of wealth in a few hands nullifies democracy by corrupting the government, the press and the educational system. Competition, profit motive, and technological advancement keeps too many people unemployed. Selfish use of capital for the short term causes instability in the system which then cycles through periods of overproduction and underproduction; boom and bust.

Einstein said the worst evil of capitalism is the crippling of individuals. This comes early in life by an educational system geared to stress greed and competition above all else.

The only cure Einstein could see is a planned socialist economy and an educational system emphasizing social skills.

He cautioned, however, that a planned economy is not the same as socialism. True socialism is achieved only through the liberation of the individual. He said we must carefully avoid the centralization of power, whether it is based on government or business.

That is my take on Einstein’s essay.

I agree with most of it, but I wonder about the need to keep extreme division of labor, the current level of technology and a world-scale productive network. Our population, even larger now than when Einstein wrote, may already have passed a level that can be sustained even with the continued use of big and complicated production. These techniques have only worked in the short run by cheating in the accounting of all the costs to the environment and non-renewable resources. We may be on the verge of a very hard limit. On this I certainly hope I am wrong.

Dear reader, can you convince me otherwise? Did I make a mistake on my take of Einstein’s essay? Please feel very welcome to comment.

Somewhere in Time and Kentucky

Somewhere in time and Kentucky,
‘tween furnace fire and frigid flurries,
beats the heart and warms the blood
and finds the brain
bittersweet in joy and pain.

By cast iron stove the scuttle sits,
full of coal and snowy bits
melting, glistening, into drips
that rust the metal bucket’s pit
and reinforced wire upper lip.

Though the scuttle’s galvanized,
acidic anthracite denies
longevity; yet, for today,
keeps my heart alive
and ice and cold at bay.

Quiet rooms; silent home;
floor of wood on cornerstone;
Bible fast by telephone;
I do not feel alone
for I know and I am known.

Good of Service: A Poem

So, here I am. Again:
back in my chair
with my pen in my hand,
determined to drag it out,
kicking and screaming,
by the hair if I have to:
the TRUTH.

Here I am, in pain again,
consorting with anger.
The muscles in my jaw contract;
the tips of my incisors ache
to rip and tear apart
the curtain between me
and TRUTH.

But is there a need to bleed?
I hope not.
I should rest, cool my engines, then
explain.

-…-

Ok; I’m chilled out now.
Where to begin?

I cannot begin at the beginning;
I lost that long ago.
So, I begin at the end:
I am full of rage.

Rage I need, I believe, to save me
from depression’s dark paralysis.
Before the rage, there was depression,
I recall.
I remember how
the pain bound me in a straight-jacket
while the world yet waited
for me to tie my shoes and begin
another day. No
way.

They wanted me to leave my home and,
in some strange land, take a stand,
weapon in hand and
kill or be killed.

It was very clear: no thought was required.
I was not to think it through first. No, I
was just expected to
do it. I
refused.

They then rejected me,
for the good of their service, and I
was supposed to believe:
there was something wrong with me;
not with them.

For a long time now, still I know
not what to believe. But, then as now,
one thing was, and is, certain: I
will not allow myself to kill
another being, be it human or not,
unless I know, beyond a doubt,
that it is right
to do so.

Of that I was and am still sure.
But they were not prepared
to let me think it through. No, I
was just expected to
do it.
No. Way.
I refused.

-…-

Before that, there was school;
a place where I was trained
and strained past the breaking points
clicking like prayer beads, one
against the other,
along the thread of time.

School, a place
before time, out of time, where I
was expected
to dance to their tunes,
sing their songs,
crack their books,
and flee from shame as bugs might from the light
finding the over-turned playground rock,
only to be crushed
under the feet of young bullies.

School, a place
where discipline is by disgrace
and you are to learn your place.
A place where there is no place
to hide when they laugh in your face.

School is for my own good,
they said.
Looking back now, I think: not.
I think:
school is only for the good
of their service.

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Simplest Radios

by Curlydock

The simplest radio

receivers require no batteries, gasoline, coal, oil, nuclear, wind, geothermal, tidal, or solar power.

And, they are indeed simple. Using them and building them out of parts found in the junkbox or scavanged from yard-sales will not hurt the planet and will not make Greedy Gates even richer.

I built this one for a recent experiment. It has only five electrical components. The only power it requires exists in the signal it receives. In our metro area (Louisville, Ky) in one afternoon I received eleven stations loud and clear. These transmitters were all local and within about a twelve mile radius. Their powers ranged between 500 watts and 50 Kilo-watts. The 500 watt station is roughly 5 miles away.

These radios are variously called crystal sets, crystal radios, or foxhole radios. In the “foxhole” variety, the home-made simplicity includes the signal detector, which is a razor blade and piece of pencil lead!

The All-Powerful Antenna

For this type of radio to work well, every consideration must be made to conserve the precious power that arrives in the signal. This typically requires a very long and high outdoor antenna and a good ground connection. This antenna is a wire between 30 and several hundred feet long. The ground connection can be a cold water pipe (but only if it is metal into the earth) or a metal rod or pipe driven 4 to eight feet or so into the earth. Good performance depends on a good ground connection and such connections are sometimes hard to come by. For safety, one should also install some kind of lightning arrestor and disconnect the radio during bad weather. Also, one should install the antenna well clear of power lines. All this may be difficult to impossible in a metro environment.

Until this experiment,
I believed crystal radios could not be made portable or operate effectively with an indoor antenna. Now I know otherwise. You still can’t stick it in a pocket, but you can easily carry the radio and antenna around while you listen to a station.

Given the appearance of the antenna, you would attract a lot of attention outside. Whether attracting attention is good or bad depends on you and your needs and the particular setting, I guess.

Anyway, here is a picture of the crystal set and antenna I built and used in this experiment:

crystal set used in experiment

It sits in the comfortable chair, for scale, next to the special loop antenna. The loop antenna has a 32-inch outside diameter. This installment is really about the antenna, because that is what made the radio able to receive as well as it does.

The antenna is not as heavy as it looks because the bulky part is cut from thick sheets of styrofoam insulation, which is mostly gas and therefore light. The rings are glued like a sandwich over the sector fingers, which were made of scrap pieces of a wall covering that resembles pressed fiber board (like some clip boards are made of). The antenna can easily be lifted from the pvc pipe support and carried around slung across your shoulder, all the while supplying signal to the radio.

Other materials can be used. In other versions, I used bamboo chopsticks taped in pairs on either side of wood popsicle sticks, creating the slot that the cable is woven through. I have also cut the whole ring and set of sectors and slots from large sheets of cardboard. To strengthen large diameters, you might want to use white glue or flour paste to build up several layers of cardboard. Use styrofoam, plastic, wood, cardboard, pvc pipe or plexiglass but keep the use of metal in the antenna to a bare minimum. Even the non-metal structure should be kept to the minimum needed for support of the wire. For example, if you use large sheets of cardboard, cut out the middle so that it is a ring instead of a disc. Discarding anything that is not needed in the viscintiy of the antenna will improve it’s quality. Ideally, if you can figure out a way to support the wire on nothing but air, more power to you (and to your radio)!

The weave of the cable is important. Here is a close up showing how this weave was accomplished on this antenna:The weave in the sector slots

This neat alternation is possible only with an odd number of sectors. Use 5, 9, or 11 sectors, but not 6, 10 or 12, etc. No, it is not numerology. I am not superstitious. Try it and see!

The reason for this weave is that it keeps the individual turns of wire separated from each other. The separation is needed because if the wires lay close together, as in a close-wound coil, something called capacitance will build up with each added turn to such a degree that it spoils the quality of the coil. I know it sounds like I am just pulling this out of my…, but, believe me, it’s true!

The wire

I used in the antenna was about 90 or 100 feet of cable from a spool labeled: “100-Ft. (30.4m) Telephone-Station Wire 8-con.(4 twisted pair) 24-Ga. Solid Color-coded.”

It was copper wire.

I first wound the whole antenna and then went back and cut each turn.

That can be done neatly if you cut all the cable on each side of one particular support slot but on only one side of the plane of the disk. That sounds complicated, but however you end up with a coil of eleven turns with one tap per turn and an extra tap for the odd end is ok with me.

The eight individual wires in these cuts were then cleaned of insulation and soldered together. The ends were then re-joined as they were before they were cut, along with a wire from this joint that terminated at a tap made of a tiny brass nail embedded in a piece of plexiglass. Each end of the original cable was treated the same way. Since the antenna has eleven turns, there are 12 taps.

Here is a close up of the taps:

eleven turns and twelve taps

The reason for all those taps is that it offers the most flexibility in choosing the way the antenna is connected to the other components.

The reason for connecting the eight individual wires in the cable in parallel for each turn is that the cable becomes a rough approximation of a special kind of wire called “litz” wire that is ideally used for this sort of purpose but is expensive and hard to come by. At the very least, wiring our telephone cable this way reduces resistive power losses by increasing the copper conductor cross section.

You could also use coaxial cable of the type for connecting between TV or FM antennas and their equipment. It doesn’t matter exactly what kind of coaxial cable as long as it has a large diameter and a good shield. Then, ignore the center conductor and use only the shield when you make your taps. The copper cross section in the shield is much more than that of the center conductor. You could connect the center conductor to the shield at each opportunity but it will probably not matter much. The signal will all want to flow in the shield anyway, due to something called the “skin effect”. No, I am not making this up.

Now is a good time to introduce

The schematic:
schematic for crystal radio
See the taps? There are two sub-circuits to connect, each having two alligator clips.

Where the variable capacitor is connected determines the tuning range. Select taps enclosing more turns to lower the minimum tuning frequency. Connect the capacitor across fewer turns to tune to higher frequencies. I have found the whole AM broadcast band is covered with two taps.

Where the germanium diode circuit is connected affects the selectivity, or the ability to tune one station at a time. It also affects signal loudness because the different taps affect what is called “impedance matching”. In addition, there is a transformer action, but the actual transformed output voltage will depend on the “Q” or bandwidth. The theory is complicated but fortunately the best tap points are easily found by trial and error (as long as you don’t have to keep cutting and soldering over and over again. That is the beauty of having each turn with a permanent tap.)

Generally, the radio works best when the detector circuit taps between a number of turns equal to about a third of the number of turns the capacitor is tapped between. But the best position can change if you change the type of detector or earphone.

Speaking of earphones,

the kind you get with just about any electronic equipment these days will not work. The earphone has to be a high-impedance type. A few places still sell them. If you can’t find one, look for an older telephone. Sometimes the receivers on them work passably well, indeed very well if you can find a matching transformer. Details about how to fix these sorts of problems can be found elsewhere on the Internet. Just do a search on “crystal set” or “crystal radio”. It is a remarkably popular topic.

Here are a couple of shots of the box housing the variable capacitor, resistor, germanium diode and various binding posts. I took a bit of artistic licence with one of them.

crystal radio

close up of crystal radio

If you build one of these I would like to know your results. Just post a comment here to that effect. I am particuarly interested in knowing how this design functions outside of the city. How many stations will it receive in a non-metro environment?

Also, if you have any questions about the design feel welcome to post them here.

Frankly, I am looking forward to spring so I can put away my winter projects and get back to gardening.