Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Mencius Moldbug Babysitting Fund

Dear UR readers,

Alas, the time has come to encumber you with that inescapable reality of the independent, not-for-profit blogosphere: the pledge drive.

A bit of background. Why do we need a pledge drive? And why haven't we had one before? Here is the reality behind UR. It is no big secret, especially not now that I've shown my face.

The reality is that, after dropping out of grad school in 1994, my plan was to make some money in Silicon Valley and then retire as an independent scholar - thus sating both the Talmudic aspirations of my rabbinical forebears, and my irresponsible aversion to bureaucracy.

To say that I executed this plan ably would be a profound overstatement. Nonetheless, after joining a large startup in 1998 a few months before the IPO, and writing the harsh, stateful guts of the world's most popular WAP browser (or at least, the most installed), I walked out onto the street in 2002, with a small pile of dollars that would support at least a few years of this entirely un-economic lifestyle. And immersed myself in old books, code, and surfing. (Alas, I haven't been in the water since 2007 or so - and even then, I sucked.)

With an adjustable-rate mortgage (about the best you can do under these Japanese conditions, actually, if you were so foolish as to buy a condo) and a little dabbling in the precious-metals markets, I have managed to stretch the pile to eight. However, it is just about gone. Also, I seem to have acquired a wife and a two-year-old daughter.

(In a blatant act of emotional manipulation, I cannot resist telling a Sibyl story. The Sibyl, it seems, is the Antichrist. While not in fact Jewish, the Moldbug household is a satisfied subscriber of the PJ Library, a free service that sends us one Jew-related children's book every month. Some of these books are awful, whereas others are merely bad. Sibyl enjoys them all immensely. Hm.

And the other day, we were reading her favorite - this Passover book, which tells the Passover story in a big block of text at the end. It is not an early reader; it is for reading to preschoolers. The Sibyl, now reading phonetically, can tackle a sentence but is always defeated by paragraphs. But she wanted to read it, so I asked her to look at the story and see if she saw any words she knew. She stared at it for at least ten seconds. Then she turned to me, and spoke. "Sacrifices," she said. Sibyl will be 2 in March. Support me - support the Antichrist.)

It would, of course, be very cool if UR readers could support me as an independent scholar. Obviously, if you're wondering what you can do to encourage my kind of thinking, this is one thing you can do. (Unfortunately, if you'd rather discourage it, your options are more limited.)

But I have no such inflated expectations, and even if I did I wouldn't admit to them. Therefore, in this first ever UR pledge drive, which will last exactly one week - normal service to resume next Thursday - I inaugurate the Mencius Moldbug Babysitting Fund.

The goal of this ambitious and unprecedented fundraising effort: hire a professional childcare provider, to ensure that MM spends his hours on UR and/or (at his discretion) Urbit - rather than on caring for the world's most wonderful 2-year-old. For those blissfully innocent, a professional childcare provider costs $20 an hour. Therefore, a gift of $20 to the MMBF buys an hour of UR and/or Urbit.

In theory, anyway. MM reserves the right to spend the Fund as he sees fit. Once it leaves your credit card, it's gone.

(And MM reserves the right to rent his head in the usual professional fashion; in fact, he probably will. For $100 an hour, I will do anything at all. If the work is not sordid and degrading, significant discounts are available. While I am a congenital generalist and can take a crack at anything, so long as it does not involve mathematics or home repair, my training and expertise is in system software. In particular, I am one of these people.)

My expectation, though, is that if the Fund raises $1000, I will spend it all on babysitters. If it raises $10,000, I will spend it on babysitters and my mortgage. If it raises $100,000, ditto. If it raises $1M, I will found my long-dreamed-of Froude Institute. (Alas, Carlyle is taken.) What will it raise? Dear readers, it is entirely up to you.

Whatever the take is - unless it be utterly risible - I will announce it next Thursday in this space. Since this is UR, we might as well have a coordination signal. Therefore, dear reader, you have a week to decide whether or not to donate in this, UR's first ever pledge drive.

But what, exactly, am I asking for? Of course, that's up to you. Any amount will be accepted, with my personal gratitude.

In case you can't decide, however, I've constructed a handy table of suggested donations. In fact, I actually have two tables: for regular people, and rich people.

If you are a regular person, the suggested donation follows this sliding scale (if you are not in the US, please convert to your actual cost of living):





under 18$0
financial stress$0
student/day job$10
good job$20
financial industry$50

If any of these numbers feels too small to you, please feel free to double it - just for being a true fanatic. But if the entire scale is just not right, perhaps you need the scale for rich people.

If you are rich, please donate by net worth:



$1-5M$100
$5-10M$200
$10-20M$500
$20M+$1000
Of course, with gifts on this scale, all requests are reasonable. But you at least get to buy me lunch.

Of course, no gift however great can affect my independence - if I was in that business, I'd be dealing with USG. Short of actual intellectual prostitution, however, I can be rented like a piece of meat in (almost) every conceivable way.

But finally: let me try to convince you not to donate. Since this is UR.

Here are some good reasons to keep your wallet closed:

One: it's important to recognize that donations to UR are not tax-deductible. Support me - support Caesar. This is only appropriate considering my political perspective. If you're considering donating, please remember it and make your decision appropriately.

Two: a fair percentage of my time lately has gone into a self-published book I'll be releasing in the next few months: Motivation and Architecture of the Antiversity. This started out as part 9c of the Gentle Introduction, but has become its own thing. It is not recycled blog text, but written to a higher level of quality control. While the print quality on these things is hideous, the royalty rate is not hideous at all - I can sell a book for $20 and go home with $10.

Therefore, if you're a cheapskate like me (have I ever mentioned that I'm half Jew, and half Scotsman?), and you prefer to purchase an actual product rather than just giving away free money to some total stranger, by all means wait until the Motivation is on sale. And there will be other paraphernalia, such as T-shirts (with Mrs. Moldbug's stunning, disturbing UR logo). But then again - you can donate now, and also buy the merchandise later. You may go about your business.

Three: when donating, you are paying for performance. But you are not paying for future performance. You are paying for past performance.

Namely, for the million-odd words I've posted at UR since April 2007. Did I mention that there are holes in my (original MacBook Pro) keyboard? There are holes in my keyboard. All this I have done for you, dear reader, and nothing charged. Until now, of course.

But have you actually gained from all this? Or have I just been entertaining you? There is no harm, of course, in the latter. Still, I have been entertaining people, for free, on the Internet, for literally over half my life. I hate to give up now.

Therefore, I have to ask you not to donate to the MMBF unless you've actually learned something here. What has UR taught you? If the answer is nothing, please do not give. If the answer is something, please consider the resources expended on your pre-UR education, which for whatever reason neglected to inform you of that something.

And again, since your donation is a payment for past performance, it does not oblige me to any future performance. I may spend the rest of 2010 on Urbit, for instance - or even on some actual, paying endeavor. I will never abandon UR, but posting may become arbitrarily sporadic. If donating under these circumstances would make you feel cheated, please don't donate.

Fourth: If I have unanswered email from you, dear reader - which is quite likely - and I receive a donation, I will actually answer it. If this transaction strikes you as vaguely sordid or undignified, perhaps demeaning to us both, by all means desist. Otherwise, I should note that I also do parties and weddings, corporate events, etc, etc. Basically, anything that doesn't require me to dress up in a Hitler costume.

Finally, if you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to contact me. My gmail account is moldbug. Otherwise: