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It Wasn't Her Fault

Hard to really blame her as no Abimael Guzmán biopics have made it into Sundance yet.

"Sure they used to oppress human rights and kill anyone who spoke out against them, but that was probably just an 80s trend, like Members Only jackets and feathering your hair."

From nomadic community to dynamic nation, hurting the state

What is the most effective way to hurt the state? Various people have various answers to this question, it can be direct action, politics, grey market economy, education, lobbying etc. In my opinion, one of the most effective way to hurst the state is to use competition, to migrate from one place to the other. Not only can you enjoy more freedom this way, you are also pulling out your skills, your capital, your tax money out of the system you wish to attack. It is very effective. I live by my standards and emigrated from France to the US. Ok, New-York city can be as socialist as France is, but I still get better wages and enjoy comparatively more freedom. In the recent years, France has known an exodus similar to the losses of World War I. Highly skilled people (who enjoyed free education) are leaving, wealthy people are leaving... they export masters and phds and import welfare receivers...  when you export assets and import liabilities, bankcrupcy is near. OK, I made my point, moving is beneficial for you and hurts the State. Well it's not necesseraly beneficial for you, otherwise everybody would move... so what's keeping people from moving? There are many reasons, work permit is one: it can be very hard to obtain permission to work and live in a foreign country... few things can be done about that. There is also family and friends. People spend time during their lives to build networks of friendship, and they are not ready to live that behind so easily. Social recognition is also valuable and can be lost when emigrating. Last but not least, it can be hard to leave your job.

I think there is a way to attenuate this difficulties and make moving less painful, less costly. The key idea is to create a mobile community. A community of people enter into a covenant to agree to move from one place to another when decided through a standard procedure (say voting for example). They befriend each other, create ventures together, even families. The fewer the people, the more difficult it is to have an autonomous community (in term of social links), the more the people, the more difficult it is to enter into a covenant and make everyone move. I believe however that mobile communities of a few thousand people are possible. They can even incorporate which makes it easier to work in foreign countries. Since they are incorporated, wages inside the community can be paid indirectly with dividends which might be a way around income tax in many countries. There is also a possibility of influencing local politics. Think of it as a kind as a movable "free-state-project"...  Of course, the purpose is not to move 10 times a year, and since politics can be slow, it may not even be necessary to move within a 20 years or so, but creating a strong community sense may enable the community to move costlessly over the generations to te freest places available. As the community evolves it can grow bigger and stronger (imagine a million people) it then becomes more and more influent : it could negociate taxes directly with governments before settling somewhere, it could even overpower a small state and decide to ignore it.

Question for God

Protein Wisdom has got a post up titled "Answer Me, God" about "“If you could ask God one question, what would it be?”. The hypothetical being "accepting, for the sake of argument, that there is in fact a God".

Well here's my question:

Why can't you write a clear and concise instruction manual that isn't delivered with the anonymity and credibility of penis enlargement spam, and why so many different versions of these holy books?

... or is that two questions.

Snuff wrong sex baby and try again - legally!

Now, apparently, it can be done.

Mail-order blood-testing kits that can determine the sex of a fetus early in
pregnancy may be used for more than getting a jumpstart on deciding
whether to paint the nursery pink or blue, says a doctors group.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada says the
results of the early tests could be used by parents to decide whether
to continue the pregnancy or abort the fetus solely based on its gender.

This could in effect legalize gendercide and create a gender imbalance, with the problems that brings. Prostitution, onanism, and homosexuality may still save the day.


American and Canadian health care compared by patients who know both

Summary: America pluses are quality and speed, minuses are cost and connection to work.

Here is a comparison by Americans living in Canada who are presumably famliar with both American and Canadian health care systems, one of which is slightly more socialistic than the other, both of which are heavily shaped by government intrusion. There are obvious problems with this kind of comparison; this is only one of the most meaningful comparisons that I have seen, which is saying little.

Americans living in Canada prefer the U.S. health-care
system for speed, quality and diagnostic technology, says a new study.
But they also applaud the equity and cost-effectiveness of Canada's
system. And in the final analysis, 40 per cent prefer the Canadian
system. [...]

Overall, the Americans said they preferred the U.S. system for emergency,
specialist, hospital and diagnostic services, and said they preferred
the timeliness and quality of the American system. [...]

In all, 260 [out of 310 total] of the Americans identified wait times as the most significant negative feature of the Canadian system, while 192 identified quality
of care as the most positive feature of the U.S. system.

In all, 196 of the Americans said cost efficiency was the best thing about the
Canadian system, while 223 said cost inefficiency was the worst thing
about the U.S. system. [...]

Meanwhile, 32 per cent also noted that while they lived in the U.S., health
insurance concerns affected their decisions about where to look for a
job, and 29 per cent said it influenced decisions about whether to
remain at a workplace.

We Have Better Convenience Stores, That's Why

Americans work hard. We take fewer vacations than Europeans, and we retire later.  But guess who's happier?

Americans tend to score better than Europeans on most happiness surveys. For example, according to the 2002 International Social Survey Programme across 35 countries, 56% of Americans are "completely happy" or "very happy" with their lives, versus 44% of Danes (often cited in surveys as the happiest Europeans), 35% of the French and 31% of Germans.

 From AEI via Greg Mankiw.

Big on the internet, small in real life

This is showing my age, but the first two computers my family owned did not have modems. I remember when a more tech savvy friend brought over his modem and showed me how it worked. This was before the internet was known, so he showed me how to log onto bulletin boards. My first two thoughts were "That is really cool" and "Why would anyone spend money to do that?" If my third thought had been porn, I would be very rich today, but oh well. Having a conversation via bulletin boards is in just about every way inferior to having a conversation in person or over the phone. The only way it is better is that you can easily find people of similar interests to have the conversations.

So much has changed with the internet since then, but the fact remains is that chatting on computers is great for finding people with similar interests. For example, my favorite television show is Top Chef, so every Thursday morning I check out the blogs and forums to see what people are saying about the latest episode. To judge from the interest online Top Chef is a wildly popular show. However, this is not true. Sopranos was a wildly popular show and if I wanted to hear what people thought of the latest episode I didn't need to go online I could hear about it on the radio, television, around the office, and in newspapers. The fact that I have to go online to discuss Top Chef is symptomatic of the fact that it is a niche show. No one I know watches it and if I called in to discuss on a radio talk show, they would hang up on me. That is the great thing about the internet, it lets you socialize with people who share your niche interests. 

However, this can give people in those niches the wrong idea about how big those niches are. For example, I used to post on a message board with a lot of queers on it. One topic that would come up is how many queers are there in the US. Many people seemed convinced that 10% of the population is queer. Every survey done shows that the number of queers in the US is between 1 and 5 % of the population, yet many were and are convinced that the real number is at least double and most likely triple what the surveys show. One of the reasons is that queers are overrepresented on the internet and if you spend alot of time on the internet you get a skewed view of the world.

From my perspective the world would be a better place if the fans of Top Chef were as easy to find in the real word as they are on the internets and if libertarian ideas were as popular as offline as they are online. Sadly, this is not the case. Similarly, it is great that Ron Paul does so well in online polls and his fundraising is going well, but he has as much chance of being elected president as I do.

Warning: An Egg is Not a Complete Breakfast

What would the British public do without the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre? The wise men of the BACC screen and censor harmful ads, at no small risk to their own welfare.  If not for these brave bureaucrats, millions of ignorant consumers would suffer from exposure to the poisonous stuff -- like, for example, a TV spot telling viewers to "go to work on an egg" each day.

A BACC spokesman said the issue was not whether a daily egg with your breakfast would be harmful; only that it should be served with fruit juice or toast.

"We are not questioning the effect it would have on your health," Kristoffer Hammer told GMTV this morning. "Our role is to ensure that advertising that goes on television is in compliance with the [Communications] act. It's quite clear from the act that they should be presented as part of a balanced diet."

The cloud of unknowing

My father was a political science major in college. The name of that major amuses me because politics is obviously not science. In science we try to isolate variables to understand complex systems. In politics and policy there is almost no way to do this. There are too many variables to be able to isolate one. If we raise taxes will the economy grow or shrink? No way to predict because the economy is so complex it is impossible to isolate the effect of one variable. Thus Reagan cuts taxes and the economy takes off, and Clinton raises taxes and the economy takes off. 

So many things go into a growing or shrinking economy it is impossible to know what one factor will do to the economy. Plausible mechanisms and good theories and quality studies can give us an idea as to what certain policies will do but never certainty. For example, I was a big supporter of the balanced budget amendment during the "contract with America" days and firmly believed that if the deficit was eliminated interest rates would go down. I also remember President Clinton warning that if the deficit went away too soon our prosperity would be threatened. The balanced budget amendment was not passed, but deficits went down anyway. I was surprised when interest rates did not go down, and Clinton was surprised when the economy boomed. It turned out that the budget deficit's effect on interest rates was different than what I thought it would be. Interest rates turned out to be much more complex than I thought.
This complexity is common to many things. Read blogs on the left and right about income inequality and you will find many well thought out and well argued theories about why it has happened, what can be done about it and even whether it’s a bad thing. The theories vary wildly and most are probably wrong. Reading about global warming is similar. Every time I read a good article about it I change my mind. It is just too complex an issue to really know definitively what the truth is. All we have are guesses. Not all guesses are equal of course and the evidence for some guesses are better than others. But if climate researchers can't predict the number of hurricanes from year to year, how can they predict the weather in 50 years with any degree of certainty.Even if a policy produces the expected result, it is impossible to know whether the policy created the result or if it was just luck.  Small sample sizes are notorious for giving false results. I know people who believe a football games outcome is determined by the way they watch the television. If their team scores while they were in the kitchen getting a beer, they watch the rest of the game in the kitchen.

Such irrationality can be easy to fall into in politics as well. Until Carter electing a Democrat president in the 20th century meant getting involved in a war. Republicans are still trying to recover from the fact that the Great Depression happened while a Republican was president. The only way outcomes can really be separated from coincidence is to be tested over and over again. Even policies that have succeeded repeatedly elsewhere are not sure to work. For example, democracy has brought great prosperity to Europe and the US, but the results for Latin America are much more mixed. This is because Latin America is different than Europe and the US. Even in the same country can change drastically over time. The US lost 50,000 people in WW1 but Wilson is viewed by many as a great president. The US has lost 3,000 in Iraq and many of those same people think George W Bush is the worst president ever.

 Because of the complexities of the systems involved and the impossibility of meaningful experimentation it is literally impossible to predict what the correct policies are to address the problems a nation faces. That is why many policies have the exact opposite impact from what was intended. Communism was designed to free the working man and provide prosperity toward the masses; it accomplished the exact opposite of both those goals. World War One made the world safe for Hitler, not democracy. The New Deal prolonged the depression it was meant to end. The list could go on and on.

Given this lack of knowledge, what are the policy implications? If we wait for perfect information, nothing will ever get done and nothing will ever improve. However what we do change, we should change slowly. Governing is like parenting, it is hard to make a positive difference, but easy to screw things up. Changes should be small so if the results are bad they can be undone easily. Incremental changes are to be preferred over radical change. We should beware those who claim certainty and the fanatic who thinks he has all the answers. Modesty should characterize our political debates. When we see a problem we should map out intermediate steps to be taken rather than going to the solution in one leap.

For example, in education many want to completely destroy the public school system on the theory that things in education are so bad they can not get worse. However, if history has taught us anything (and it hasn't) it is that anyone can be killed, and things can always get worse. Thus instead of jumping straight to a complete voucher system, we should take small bites of the apple. First encourage charter schools to experiment in methods. Then open public schools to completion from each other. If these things work then we can move to a complete voucher system where private schools are treated equally with public schools.This may be a frustrating process and take a long time, but the older I get the more wisdom I see for policy makers to adopt a philosophy of "better safe than sorry". 

Iraq and the national psyche

We've talked on here before (specifically sourcreamus's posts) about how the lack of complete success in Iraq might effect not just Iraq, but the US long term. There was an editorial piece in yesterday's LA Times on this very topic by Christopher J. Fettweis.

The consequences for the national psyche are likely to be profound, throwing American politics into a downward spiral of bitter recriminations the likes of which it has not seen in a generation. It will be a wedge that politicians will exploit for their benefit, proving yet again that politics is the eternal enemy of strategy. The Vietnam syndrome divided this country for decades; the Iraq syndrome will be no different.

The battle for interpretation has already begun, with fingers of blame pointed in all directions in hastily written memoirs. The war's supporters have staked out their position quite clearly: Attacking Iraq was strategically sound but operationally flawed. Key decisions on troop levels, de-Baathification, the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the like doomed what otherwise would have been a glorious war.

The American people seem to understand, however — and historians will certainly agree — that the war itself was a catastrophic mistake. It was a faulty grand strategy, not poor implementation. The Bush administration was operating under an international political illusion, one that is further discredited with every car bombing of a crowded Baghdad marketplace and every Iraqi doctor who packs up his family and flees his country.

I disagree with the author on a few points. First, the Iraq War was not lost. Iraq nation-building is what we lost. The Vietnam War itself was lost. We didn't even get to the nation building in Vietnam. This is a vital distinction because psyches are much more prone to depression in response to battle losses, whether they be wars, football games, or workplace politics. Americans will easily get over Iraq, though they'll be reluctant to do something similar in the coming decades, because they didn't lose the War. They won the War.

It's a lot easier to accept the loss in nation-building because it's a lot less dependent on what we did, and what we might have done differently, and much more on what Iraqis did once Saddam was gone. We'll learn the lesson about nation-building for the future, but it won't hurt our psyches.

Fettweis then tailspins into a worst-case disaster scenario, except he makes it sound like the likely outcome.

Iraq has the potential to be far worse. One of the oft-expressed worst-case scenarios for Iraq — a repeat of Lebanon in the 1980s — may no longer be within reach. Lebanon's simmering civil war eventually burned itself out and left a coherent, albeit weak, state in its ashes. Iraq could soon more closely resemble Somalia in the 1990s, an utterly collapsed, uncontrollable, lawless, failed state that destabilizes the most vital region in the world.

Geez, get a grip! This paragraph reminds me of a particular Flash animation I saw prior to the start of the War in May 2003. It was a map of the Middle East with various icons and figures denoting armies and artillery, Risk style, showing the pessimistic scenario of what could happen in the region once activites started. It started out innocuously enough, but then veered into improbability after improbability. Everything that could go wrong did and every uninvolved country got involved. It ended in a nuclear holocaust.

Sure, Iraq could end up like Somalia, but conceivably, so could any other country in the region. The region is and has been "destabilized" for decades. The failed nation-building effort isn't going to change that, nor will it lead to collapse into barbarism.

These kids these days

Here's an article nostalgic about the "good old days" when children could be children.

When I was a kid in upstate New York in the 1960s we were forever turning up missing after school. We could sometimes be hard to find at dinnertime, and my mother had a loud bell that she rang on the front porch to summon me. Depending on the season, my friends and I played baseball and football, or ice-skated on a nearby lake. A snowstorm meant that school was closed and an entire day was devoted to building snow caves and snowmen (snowpersons nowadays?), and to sledding ("sleighriding" in upstate-speak), which included more snow shovel excavation projects, such as the engineering of "jumps." And in the warm months there were games of "Kick-the-can," "Army," and "Cowboys and Indians."

We used to play Cowboys and Indians on bicycles and with BB guns. The game itself draws PC frowns today, but the fact that we were actually shooting at each other with Daisy BB guns would surely elicit horror from the contemporary gun control crowd.

Is childhood really different today, or are parents simply more afraid to let kids be kids?

Lost Voice of Radio Beijing

In memory of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in 1989, I would like to share a little bit of aural history. I invite you to scroll down to Segment 2 under May 31, 2001 to listen to The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing.

Despite all my rage I am still just a...

(A funny parable)
A Rat is shocked when he touches a wall with his nose and so he stops touching it. Why did he do this? One guess might be that the rat either thinks that (or uses a mechanism that relies on the theory that) the future will resemble the past; if he touches it again he'll get shocked again. Well that seems reasonable, but another person (a Popperian) suggests that perhaps the rat had a former theory about the wall that was just falsified (the wall will not shock me) and he has moved on to a new theory which is- by the sheerest coincidence, of course -"Don't touch the wall" instead of a million other unfalsified theories like "Touch it only with your ear and you'll be fine." Curious, they try it again and again and always the rat the touches the wall once or twice and then ceases to. The Popperian- his master's voice perhaps ringing in his ear- unfailingly exclaims "Why you see- the rats are simply holding their first "Wall won't shock me" theory tentatively, changing it to the next random unfalsified theory (coincidentally it's always "I shouldn't touch the wall") and then maintaining and acting on the new "I shouldn't touch the wall" theory."
A dialogue starts:

Achilles: Wow, so it looks as if he hits upon the correct theory quickly, and you think that's always a function of chance?
Popperian: WOAH WOAH! "Correct theory" you say? Nonsense- his theory that the wall will shock him is no more likely to be true than any other theory (save, perhaps for his falsified theory "The wall is okay to touch")
Achilles: Well but right there we can see the voltage running through...
Popperian: Voltage? (he tentatively licks the place where the wire and electrified wall meet, he's painfully shocked and draws back) eeeeggghhhh!
Achilles: (grabs Popperian) What in the hell do you think you're doing?
Popperian: Oh it's aww in a days wowk. From my random bed of unfalsified theories I drew "The wire/wall connection tastes of delicious chocalate and will not hurt you."
Achilles: Well which new randomly unfalsified theory have you settled on now?
Popperian: Oh, um... "That wall will hurt me every time I touch it and never touch it again."
Achilles: Do you believe that's more likely than not to be true?
Popperian: Why..., er, of course not. It's- by the sheerest of coincidences- the new theory I've settled upon from my stack of possible theories.
Achilles: Why not "The wall wire/connective area will give me a hand massage if I touch it with my hand"? Is your theory better than that one?
Popperian: Oh not at all, they're just two unfalsified theories. No better, no worse.
Achilles: Well give that one a try then- there's no reason to keep your present theory (it's no more likely to be true after all) how about switching?
Popperian: Oh, er, hmmm... Well, I'm not quite certain that it would be er, rational to do so.
Achilles: interesting, but you're certain that your reluctance to touch the area isn't because you think it's more likely than not that you'll be shocked?
Popperian: (indignantly) not in the slightest.
Achilles: You think that the "hand massage" theory is just as likely to be true as you theory that the wall will shock you?
Popperian: Of course {this guy needs to read some Popper, sheesh...}
Achilles: And that you, and the rat, and everyone else who would almost immediately adopt the theory that "the wall will shock you"- they are all doing by the most random of selections? Simply finding a new unfalsified theory and then, for no apparent reason, dogmatically sticking to it even though (as you say) it's no more likely to be true than any other?
Popperian: Well you see, any other way would be irrational.
Achilles: Well in that case I have to ask something. You're obviously quite skilled in ex post facto justification. But your theory, falsification: is it really falsifiable?
Popperian: ...

Why is parenting so bad

When I was working day care I used to wonder why the level of parenting was so poor. If I could control 10 kids, why couldn't two parents control one or two? Plus the price of bad parenting falls almost exclusively on the parents at the age I was dealing with and good parenting is not much more difficult than bad parenting. Now that I am a mediocre parent instead of a good day care provider, I think I have some answers.
In parenting all of the cost is in the present and all of the benefits are in the future. For example, say your kid is throwing a tantrum over not getting a candy bar at the store. If you buy the candy bar you have bought peace for the moment at the cost of future tantrums. If you hold firm you have embarrassment now but less tantrums in the future. In daycare this is not true since if you give in to one tantrum the other kids see and you soon have ten tantrums instead of one. Also the amount of tantrums a parent will have to suffer through before the kid understands that they are not working is unknown. What most parents end up doing is rewarding some tantrums and ignoring others depending on their mood. Unfortunately random interval reinforcement is the schedule that results in the longest time for the behavior to stop. Inadequate coordination between parents also exacerbates this problem.
Parenting seems to be worse today than it used to be. However, this may seem just to be nostalgia, similar to the complaint that popular music is never as good as it was when a person was in high school. To whatever extent parenting quality has declined there are a few explanations for it.
People waiting longer to have kids and increasing economic prosperity means that people have more money to use to spoil kids. It is easier to refuse to spend money you do not have on your kids than money you do have. Also waiting to have kids means having fewer of them. Thus more money is available for each kid and it is easier to put up with one brat than three or four. Sex roles have changed, making it harder to pretend that the father is the scary authority figure. Previously, a mother could threaten a child with punishment when the father came home. Like a teacher threatening to send a kid to the principal's office. More egalitarian sex roles make women reluctant to do that.

Rule of law versus rule of men

Horrendous injustice.

The other students at the party took that deal and some of them are out of prison by now. Because Wilson thought he would be acquitted and did not want to be branded a child molester, he went to trial. The prosecutor blames Wilson for his sentence because none of the other defendants insisted on a trial; all the others “took their medicine.”

Please make note of the prosecutor's arrogance in that last remark.

In the immediate term a plea bargain may seem like a good deal from the defendant's point of view - after all, it is up to the defendant to accept or reject an offered plea bargain - but there are some problems in the longer term.

First, if the law is just, then the plea bargain is unjustly lenient - an immediate injustice arising from plea bargains. Turn this around: in an atmosphere of plea bargains, there is pressure to increase the severity of the punishment to compensate for the leniency of plea bargains.

It also allows unjust laws to appear and to persist without creating political difficulty because the plea bargain can reduce the injustice resulting from the unjust law - reduce it wherever it is politically expedient to do so (but keep the injustice fully in place wherever the prosecutor sees no real danger of a public outcry or other inconvenience).

(Edit: However, I would guess that the plea bargain is more a symptom of and expedient palliative for problems with law and the legal process resulting from external causes than itself the primary source of those problems.)

The unjust laws and the harsh punishments in turn will drive more defendants into the arms of the plea-bargain-offering prosecutor, and so a system of justice, characterized by courts, is gradually replaced by a system of prosecutorial authority, characterized by plea bargains offered at the discretion of prosecutors to defendants under threat of excessive punishment for having broken unjust laws.

So the effect is to corrupt the law itself and to shift decisive authority from the judge (who must judge according to the law and must defend his decision in detail in a way that can withstand review) to the prosecutor (who does not have those requirements placed on him), replacing the rule of law with the rule of men.

But the more I think about his case and the more I read about his case, the more I think prosecutors have a duty to make sure they don’t take cases to trial that they can win, when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

The writer is asking the prosecutor to rule justly. The very request implicitly acknowledges the rule of the prosecutor just as it explicitly acknowledges that the law itself has become corrupted. But as humanity has long known, if men were sufficiently virtuous to rule justly, then the rule of law would be unnecessary. The request that the rulers rule justly is as futile now as it always was. What is needed is not moral exhortation of the rulers as the writer attempts, but due process backed up by checks and balances - what is needed is the rule of law.

Power corrupts. It makes a man arrogant. The unjust use of prosecutorial discretion which the writer is complaining about, and the arrogance with which it was defended by the prosecutor (who called his exercise of power "medicine" and blamed the defendant for not "taking" it), illustrates this all over again.

The prosecutor's proper role is adversarial. The person who must decide justly is neither the prosecutor nor the defendant, but the judge. If the prosecutor is asked to decide justly, he is being asked to act as a judge. That would be fine if he acted under the same constraints that the judge acts under. But of course if he did that, then he would be judge and someone else would be prosecutor.