Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Young Aristotelian Libertarians

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Young Aristotelian Libertarians

Another lightbulb went on today as regards the crazed Libertarians in relation to the Aristotelian Principle from Rawls' book on justice. As a brief review, Rawls argued that people were naturally motivated to excel, to seek to be the best people they could be. At the time it struck me as a ridiculous notion because most Americans (and lots of people elsewhere) have pretty clearly become couch potatoes. But ridiculous? Now I'd say "Not so much." It's a matter of age. Children really are driven by a kind of Aristotelian Principle because they eagerly want to grow up and become adults with full control over their own lives.

The concrete and probably genetically predisposed manifestation is that children love to play games. They just naturally want to spend lots of time playing, and they really do want to win and hone their skills. Without any incentives, they also want to learn or even create new games. Children really do have the kind of boundless enthusiasm that Rawls was claiming for humanity in general--but most of them grow out of it. I think that's mostly because as they grow they learn about the larger world and realize that there are always other more skilled and more creative players, so they realize they can't win. Or maybe the main influence is the need to go to work every day? Anyway, for whatever reason, most adults don't play as much as children or with the same boundless enthusiasm.

How does that relate to the Libertarians? They are quite like children in that they think they are going to win the game of life and they therefore deserve ALL the spoils of victory--just like children. The main thrust of Rand's writings was that the superlatively creative people are the only ones who should decide what they do, and the rest of the human scum are basically just parasites benefiting from their generosity in sharing their 'divine' creativity.

One of the pundits was describing Ron Paul's Libertarian supports as mostly being young, enthusiastic males. I'd like to see the demographics. but it certainly seems highly plausible. Libertarianism as a immature phase that they mostly grow out of? How many old Libertarians have you seen?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Boycott Bloomberg of New York City

Version 0.4

Boycott Bloomberg of New York City!

Sort of a joke because I have no plans to visit the Big Apple or do any business there, even via the Web. My detachment and disassociation is not a boycott per se, but just a natural extension of my increasing incredulity at the fantasy-based state of America. However there is a special and higher disdain, disgust, and even a sort of threat (of incarceration) that makes me want to stay far, FAR away from Bloomberg. It's not just that he's a dishonorable and hypocritical bastard. That's just the norm for American politicians these days, even for the amateurs like Bloomberg. (He's too rich from his Wall Street games to pretend he's any sort of professional politician.)

It's the lying that makes him a major threat to my personal liberty. I have a special dislike of flagrant liars, and if I were to meet him on the street, then I'd be likely to get so angry that I'd punch him in the nose. Boink! In the heat of the moment, I'd be quite likely to think (without real thought) that the jail time was worth it. If I was younger and as well armed as I was when I was in the service, then it might be much worse--and I'm pretty sure there are many such people among the large population of the once great city he rules with his little iron fist. I actually heard that he used to walk around on the public streets, but I don't think that's likely to be true these days. Never again, little Bloomy!

Why the special anger at Bloomberg? Because he is a BIG part of the problem, maybe even the leading part of most of the problems, and his pious mouthing about the First Amendment is hypocrisy above and beyond ANY legitimate call of his loyal duty to his own upper-upper class. His wealth came from his work in destroying the legitimacy of capitalism. I'm still convinced (but with less and less evidence over time) that democracy is the best political system, but I'm no longer convinced capitalism exists or can survive in any meaningful way, and Bloomberg is a leading part of some of the largest problems. His networked terminals have made him wealthy by encouraging technical analysis of share prices and thus discouraging fundamental analysis of the real values of the underlying companies. What does it matter if a company is making a good product or serving society when you can use a Bloomberg terminal to make money with a much more trivial question: "Can I sell this stock at a higher price in 10 minutes?" The more quickly it is sold, the better, and long-term thinking about the fundamentals lost out years ago. Not a coincidence that Bloomberg became rich at the same time. The entire notion of corporate shares as representing any real value in anything has been utterly destroyed. Congrats, little Bloomy!

Bloomberg made some noises about the First Amendment as he sent in the police to crush the protests against his OWN abuses of capitalism. However, my current feeling is that the "99%" protests are doomed. You might argue that the First Amendment protects the rights of the people to peaceably assemble, but that is for the purpose of presenting their grievances to the government. That has essentially nothing to do with the current situation, since the government has been captured by and become a facade for corporations. Corporations are people? No, the corporations are now running the show far above and beyond the pitiful people.

As a metaphor, for the 99% it has now become like individual cells complaining about what the corporate bodies are doing. (Actual, even the so-called 1% are quite self-deluded about their real and personal significance to the increasingly monstrous corporations. Does it matter whether the cell that used to be a CEO gets a golden parachute or a chartreuse chute?) Do you worry about doing something that might kill off a few of your cells? Well, that's just how the corporations feel about the people within them--or rather less so, since corporations don't even have the pretense of emotions to worry about anything. In the mindless corporations that conform to America's current legal system, it's more like asking a mindless cancer to worry about the death of the host.

Perhaps a Constitutional Amendment against corporate personhood would help. However, the bottom line is that there are things the government needs to do that are NOT business functions. For example, someone needs to be the referee and focus on keeping the game fair. If government doesn't do it, who will? The biggest cancer?

That part was mostly written before I learned about the pepper spraying of student protestors in California, but that topic is tightly linked and so I'm adding a comment here. There are various confusing aspects of free speech, but one aspect that is absolutely clear is that you can't speak freely in fear. It isn't just the fear of arrest now, but the fear of a face full of pepper spray no matter how quietly you're sitting there. That is the new atmosphere of America, and it has to be with the approval of the kleptocrats in charge.

Bloomberg? Where's my garlic?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Should Joe Biden Step Down as VP?

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Should Joe Biden Step Down as VP?

This is actually based on a comment I added to an article about replacing Joe Biden as VP on Huffington Post. My own answer is yes, he should step aside, mainly for the reasons below, most of which were not addressed in the article.

This article raised the political considerat­ions and then ignored the most important factor--th­e neo-GOP nominee. The best V-P pick to balance the Democratic ticket will crucially depend on who President Obama is running against. I actually like Joe Biden and don't think he's done a bad job, but he is fundamenta­lly too old to represent the future of the Democratic Party. Actually, I'm sure it was another metric of Dubya's fundamenta­l incompeten­ce that he didn't dump the big dick Cheney in 2004.

I actually think the most powerful V-P pick would be a progressive or even liberal candidate--from the OLD Republican Party. Someone who switched to the Democratic Party precisely because the GOP is no more. The dominant rightwing clique of the neo-GOP is actually strongly controlled by the Reagan Republican­s who used to be Southern Democrats. Unfortunately, I can't think of any examples of a prominent Republican who has switched to the Democratic Party. The neo-GOP party discipline puts Lenin's Bolsheviks to shame.

By the way, I don't think Reagan deserves much of the credit (or blame) for remaking the GOP into the far rightwing neo-GOP. That was mostly a negative reaction to LBJ's civil rights legislation, and Reagan was just an excuse that the Southern Democrats were waiting for. Almost any excuse would have done, and it was more like a supersaturated gas that suddenly condensed from gaseous Southern Democrats into Reagan Republicans. When I arrived in Texas in the mid-70s, there hadn't been a Republican governor of Texas since Reconstruction, but since the cloudburst of Reagan Republicans, there are no prominent Democrats in any statewide office in Texas.

Unfortunat­ely, as much as I respect President Obama, I think he lacks Reagan's skills as a propagandist and figurehead, and that is apparently what it takes to motivate Americans these days. Or maybe it's just the superior power of negative motivations? The Southern Democrats REALLY hated LBJ's civil rights laws... Maybe Obama could motivate a large migration of old progressive GOP voters into the Democratic Party, but I haven't seen any hint of such a trend.

In conclusion, I repeat that I think it's time for Joe Biden to step down as V-P. Though the original article dismissed him as regards State, I think he could and probably would do a good job there. However, I think that Clinton has done quite well there and he would probably be overshadowed for just that reason, barring some massive success such as peace in Israel.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Metrics of Democracy's Sickness

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Metrics of Democracy's Sickness

This is in response to John Dean's second installment on the destructive gaming of American democracy at

This is an important topic, but I really feel like you [John Dean] are focusing too much on some of the relatively minor fronts in the larger war. There are at least two other fronts where I think much larger battles are being fought--and lost--by the proponents of democracy. The first front involves gerrymandering, and the second front involves biasing the judicial system.

(1) Why do 40% of the voters ignore elections? That's far more than the roughly 30% that vote for the winning presidential candidates. Mostly because they believe their votes don't count and can't affect the results--and they are right. Their districts have been gerrymandered and their votes have been effectively precounted and negated before they are ever cast.

A metric for the degree of gerrymandering should be easy to calculate, and yet I've never seen a good one published anywhere. The effectiveness of partisan gerrymandering is in the degree to which you can waste or squander your opponents' votes. Equivalently, that means you want to distribute your own votes to maximize their impact. These effects must ultimately be measured by considering the anti-democratic results of the elections. The degree to which the electoral and policy outcomes differ from the preferences of the actual voters should be something that can be mathematically assessed and compared.

I can easily cite two examples of abusive gerrymandering, and both of them involve the neo-GOP politicans gaming the system. The earlier example is in Texas, where the Republicans forced early redistricting in 2003. My very own district was held by Lloyd Doggett at that time, but that district was stretched to Houston to include enough Republican voters to tilt it safely to the GOP, and Doggett was basically obliged to move to a different district with a much higher and newly concentrated percentage of Democratic voters--where more of those votes were now a meaningless excess. There was no massive shift in the voting demographics of Texas or in my original district, but in one fell swoop the Republicans were able to capture a large number of House seats from the Democratic Party.

The second example is in Pennsylvania. On a statewide basis the state voted for Obama in 2008, but the Democratic voters are highly concentrated in certain districts while many other districts have narrow (but safe) Republican majorities. I'm not certain how much of this situation was the result of deliberate gerrymandering, but the current situation is highly imbalanced. Therefore the Republican legislature is trying to change the rules regarding their electors. The math shows how Obama could win most of the votes in Pennsylvania while the gerrymandering would allow his opponent to capture most of the electoral votes.

I spent a while trying to define a good metric for the harm of gerrymandering. The best reference I was able to find was this paper on the geometric assessment of gerrymandering, but it doesn't consider the voters at all. It barely mentions them, so you wind up feeling like 'No harm, no foul.' It barely acknowledges the negation of voters. Based on that paper and my own struggles, I believe a good metric will consider the geometry, but not just the districts' shapes. The geometry of the voters must also be considered. In addition, to assess the harm, the electoral outcomes and even the legislative outcomes should be assessed. Finally a useful purpose for polling? Well, that would be nice, but...

Just to clarify the harms of extreme gerrymandering, I'm going to construct a little example here. We have two imaginary states, A and B, each of which has 10 equal districts of 100 voters. So as to include the most extreme case of the harm, we'll assume that each state's 1,000 voters are divided into 694 consistently blue voters and 306 consistently red voters. You can easily imagine the associated political parties, eh?

State A uses nonpartisan redistricting with the intention of producing the fairest and most representative possible outcome. The voters are somewhat unevenly distributed, with concentrations of blue and red voters. In this situation, it is not difficult to draw the lines to that 7 districts will be blue and 3 will be red. There is some threat of 'dictatorship of the majority', especially if party discipline is strong, but that is a known danger and we even have some established responses, such as some parts of the Bill of Rights and the judicial system.

The situation in State B is similar, but the red party is in charge of the redistricting and they are allowed to use perfect gerrymandering. They draw the districts so that their 306 voters are perfectly placed in 6 districts with 51 red voters each. The result of that election is that less than 31% of the voters would then control 60% of the legislature. If the red party has good party discipline, we can wind up with a fake democracy that is actually a strong dictatorship by a small minority.

I was going to say that the real situation in America is not that extreme, but now I find myself wondering. The actual percentage of Republican voters is only around 25%, and yet their party discipline is so strong that they were able to cripple the Senate with even fewer than 40 Republican Senators. The Democratic Party is fundamentally weak on party discipline, and the Republicans could pretty much always count on getting one or two Democrats to join them. Since gaining that 40th Senator, I feel the Republicans have gone way beyond crippling the Senate and right to the edge of destroying it as any sort of democratic institution. Then you have to consider that the Senate is not even apportioned fairly in relation to the population... Throw in the gerrymandering and various forms of disenfranchisement, and maybe the amazing thing is that the federal legislators EVER pay attention to the actual voters in this reputed democracy?

(2) The second front involves biasing the judiciary by appointing judges based on age and political opinions rather than based upon their judicial qualifications. I actually think this one would be easier to measure. There are only a few categories of data that have to be assessed. The easiest one is the age of judges who are nominated to the federal judiciary. If you think the neo-GOP is biasing things on a political basis, then the obvious prediction is that their judicial appointees will be significantly younger, the longer and better to thwart the voters' will when they pick the 'wrong' president. The other metric would be ideological consistency of the judges in their decisions. The prediction here would be that the judges appointed by Democratic presidents would be less ideologically consistent in their rulings.

If these are two of the main fronts in the war against democracy, then I think America is in a whole lot of trouble...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Can We Agree Even on the Main Problem?

Can We Even Agree on the Main Problem?

This is in response to a column in Justia written by John Dean on the gaming of democracy in America. It appears at

He closed with a request for reactions and feedback, but suggested Twitter as a channel for such replies. There is a non-Twitter reply mechanism there, but I don't know if it goes anywhere, so I've decided to compose my response here and send the URL as the so-called Tweet. To whit:

Few significant ideas fit within a tweet, but who knows if you will see this? Notwithstanding, I will attempt to be brief on these topics of shared interest.

First, I laud your treatment of the Tea Party as a facade, but two points to note. One, their cost is nominal to the players who are financing them. Two, I believe their primary use is to help tip the scales so that what used to be the far right is now perceived as the middle of the political spectrum in America.

Second, I've concluded that one of the most significant things is that though there is widespread agreement on various major problems, there is apparently almost no agreement on THE major problem. In other words, we evidently can’t reach any consensus on the priorities of our difficulties. Now I think that perhaps the major problem is the bigness itself. What can be bigger than big? Not so much big government but big business that both requires and depends upon big government. We have seemingly reached a consensus that it is natural for one company or organization to dominate in almost every sphere. (Now I wonder if this could be a projection of our monotheism?)

Third, as a result of this analysis, I’ve concluded we need to reach a deeper understanding of the economic history of America. Though I haven’t seen it described in this form, I think that America’s economic situation can be described in three phases. (1) Wealth through cheap land. (2) Wealth through REAL competition when anti-trust laws were powerful and effective. (3) Our imminent bankruptcy or eclipse after competition disappears in America. From that perspective, what is happening to the American political system is only one aspect of a more general malaise.

Is there a solution? I think it would only be possible if American laws were rewritten NOT to favor cancerous growth as the norm of business. We need something like a requirement for successful businesses to reproduce by division, thus creating MORE choice and MORE freedom and MORE competition in the economy. Not a penalty for success in gaining market share, but a reward of fairly creating new opportunities for greatness.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Libertarians are confused about freedom

Version 0.1

Interesting that this entry wound up suspended for a long time.

First is a meta-comment about the version numbers. I've decided to write more skeletal pieces without waiting for my muse. If there is some indication of interest, most obviously via comments with questions or reactions, then I will be motivated to flesh things out, but there isn't much evidence of interest. Or perhaps it should count as more evidence of the negative effects of the Internet on such intellectual activities?

Now to the topic at hand, freedom. Let me start by noting that "free" is an extremely confused concept, at least as the word is used in English. Just taking the online American Heritage Dictionary as a random source of authority, we find 17 senses for the adjective. Amazingly enough, or perhaps it's additional evidence of American confusion, but NONE of those 17 senses is the one that is probably the most common usage in the so-called real world. That sense appears near the bottom as a kind of footnote for an informal idiom defined as "without charge". In other words, the common monetary sense of "free beer" is barely noticed, but if you do a search for the word "free", most of the hits are related to that usage. Comparing three of the leading search engines for "free", Google, Bing, and Yahoo all list 5 of the top 8 for some sense of "free beer" (but the FSF is evidently gaming both Google and Bing for 2 of those hits in each list).

Since I want to focus more narrowly on "freedom", the situation isn't quite as bad. We don't have to worry about "freedom beer" and there are only 9 senses of the noun. Unfortunately, none of them is really relevant to my focus here, which is freedom for the individual. Sense 5 comes closest, and there are relevant aspects in some of the other senses, but none of them consider the context. Therefore I must begin with a short definition:

"Freedom" is about informed, meaningful, and unconstrained choice.

The "informed" part means that you need to know what the choices are, and your knowledge of the differences between the choices must be factual, sufficiently complete, and relevant to your own goals. The "meaningful" is both about the relevance and the number of choices. Having 1 or 0 choices is not meaningful, but having too many can also become meaningless, as in the famous example of trying to find the best pair of jeans among a hundred different styles. The "unconstrained" is mostly a tip to advertising, which is almost entirely about you to value mediocre merchandise more highly (and thus pay a higher price) or convincing you to want something without regard to your actual needs (and therefore buy unneeded stuff), but it can include any sort of interference or intrusive manipulation.

In contrast, Libertarians think "freedom" is about selfishness and the ability to do whatever they want. They usually say that's without hurting anyone else, but in the end that just means that whatever they want is still okay as long as the other people who were hurt were 'free' to get out of the way, and it's really the victim's own fault if the victim is too slow or too lazy or too stupid. The libertarian might agree that there is a moral obligation to consider the ramifications and side effects of the libertarian's selfish actions, but you would be infringing on the libertarian's freedom to try to specify how much consideration is appropriate.

They key thing about libertarians is actually evolutionary. It's just that they think they are the ones who deserve to win in the struggle for survival. You show me a strict Libertarian who has become physically crippled and who still clings to his Libertarian principles, and I'll show you a dead Libertarian. Maybe not right away, but soon enough.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The power of super-ignorance to destroy the economy

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The Power of Super-Ignorance to Destroy the Economy

Super-ignorance is one of several categories of information dysfunction that are helping to destroy America. This is a new condition that is greatly facilitated by the morally neutral tools of the Internet.

The basic idea is that people tend to believe what they want to believe, but the Internet makes it MUCH easier to do so. Everyone has a limited amount of time, but with the Internet search engines it is easy to saturate that time with so-called evidence of any crazy thing and thus completely avoid the much larger rational parts of the universe. Some years ago I anticipated this problem as 'pandering by the search engines', though now it is actively marketed as 'personalization and customization of the search results'. Basically the same thing, but I regard pandering as the dark side of the coin.

As it's working in America, this has become a key part of the political dysfunction that led to the recent manufactured crisis over the federal debt limit. It doesn't matter whether you favor democratic or republican forms of government, one essential for all such non-dictatorial forms of government is rational discussion of the problems of the real world before considering rational solutions. That is obviously NOT what happened over the last few months. It isn't a house divided against itself, but more like a house where certain rooms are in alternative universes, and never the twain shall meet.

At least two other information dysfunctions are of concern, both augmented by the Internet. One is just awareness by the impoverished of the way rich Americans live, causing them to see us as living high on the hog as a result of grinding their faces in the mud. The other is the malicious identification of borderline crazies to be pushed over the edge. Maybe the recent Norwegian madman or some of the American shooters were pushed?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Anti-neighborly Americans

Version 0.2

This is actually a combined reaction to some news and reading. The news was the recent spate of shootings in America. All of them involved the police at some point, but I was most impressed by the ones that started out with shooting at police. In particular, I was struck by the case of the armed lunatic who apparently walked into police station and managed to shoot four policemen (actually starting with a policewoman) before going out in a blaze of non-glory.

The reading was another passage from Little House on the Prairie. Though I've read a lot of related books, I've never actually read this one (at least since I started keeping records in 1971). It actually comes up in my Japanese study, so I'm only getting it second hand through the translation. However, the thing that struck me about it was not so much the independent streak as the dislike of neighbors and the selfishness. Probably some contribution from The Selfish Gene, too, but I plan to write more about that in my book review blog...

What it made me realize is that many people came to America for bad reasons. Yes, many of them had positive reasons like ambitions and dreams and a love of freedom as they imagined it existed in America, but many of them had bad reasons like disliking their neighbors and relatives or selfishness and greed. As it applied during the period of rapid growth in America, it meant that there were many small and rapidly growing families spreading across the country--families of people who basically didn't like the neighbors wherever they came from.

It drove a lot of expansion across America, killed a lot of Native Americans, and produced a lot of new Americans, but now there's no place for them to go. Too bad they still hate their neighbors, eh?

So they go nuts and shoot people or various other craziness. Now I'm reminded of the guy who flew his plane into the IRS building in Austin about a year ago...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Money is infrastructure

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Money is infrastructure. Early forms of money were basically accidental, in the same way early roads were basically accidental. The first roads were just the worn paths where many people had gone before. The original forms of money were just things that seemed valuable to people for various reasons. Later the standard units of money were defined by governments as coins. Greater convenience, but they already had to introduce laws against shaving coins, debasing them, or counterfeiting them.

Modern money is advanced infrastructure, basically made up out of whole cloth. The value of a pretty little scrap of paper is essentially zero, but our governments legally define a much higher value and actively work to protect it. Just one of many infrastructure-related services the government provides as part of our advanced civilization.

Wanting to have lots of money without paying taxes is like wanting to have all the benefits of civilization without paying for them. The proximate cause for noticing this is actually WikiLeaks, which apparently just received a list of prominent tax evaders who are hiding their money in Swiss banks.

The reality is that we need infrastructure. Try to imagine the situation if every road was a privately owned toll road that forced you to pay your share every time you used it. Each time you entered the stretch controlled by someone else, you'd have to stop and pay the toll. Without government to organize freeways, every trip would be incredibly inefficient and troublesome. Actually, that's kind of what they have now in Afghanistan, but that proves my point about civilization.

Another example is that everyone benefits from education--but it's quite difficult to see the direct linkages. Lots of selfish and short-sighted really people hate the idea of helping to pay for other people's education. It's not just that the benefits are years down the road. In many cases they are ignorant fools who don't even appreciate what little education they received.

This is under the America's fall because the anti-government anti-paper-money rants seem to be pretty clearly concentrated in America. They are part of the problem, NOT part of the solution.

These days America seems to be an almost boiling pot just under the insanity point. Last week in Arizona, the pot boiled over again, and we had yet another mass shooting.


About Me

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As a blogger from before there were blogs, I've concluded what I write is of little interest to the reading public. My current approach is to treat these blogs as notes, with the maturity indicated by the version number. If reader comments show interest, I will probably add some flesh to the skeletons...