Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

Month: July, 2017

What. The. Actual. Fuck?

I think this has jumped the shark.

Not Being Stupid Is ‘Cognitive Privilege’ Now, Which Is Just Like White Privilege

With a headline this God-awfully stupid, I had to check the source articles.

Here: Williams: What Is Privilege And What Do We Do With It?

There are many kinds of privilege besides white privilege: cognitive privilege, for example. We now know that intelligence is not something we have significant control over but is something we are born with. We are living in a society in which success is increasingly linked to one’s intelligence. This is not to say that intelligence is the only factor that is important. All that is implied is that below a certain threshold of intelligence, there are fewer and fewer opportunities. These opportunities are being shifted upward to jobs that require heavier cognitive lifting or else are being replaced by robots. Thus, the accident of having been born smart enough to be able to be successful is a great benefit that you did absolutely nothing to earn. Consequently, you have nothing to be proud of for being smart.

Emphasis mine.

Okay, I understand the author of the original story’s point:

The purpose (of pointing out someone’s privilege) is to enlarge their moral consciousness, to make them more sympathetic to people who are less fortunate than they are.

Now if this was simply the observation: that men are only equal in the eyes of God but are not inherently equal to each other–well, fuck; that’s pretty much a mainstay of philosophy going back to well before the classic Greeks. And it’s an easy one to confirm: not all of us are born pretty, or handsome, or able to run fast, or naturally athletic. Some of us are born with genetic predispositions to deadly diseases such as cancer or diabetes or heart disease, some of us have potential but are born to poor families and can never achieve our potential; some of us coast through life thanks to our connected parents.

Life, as they say, isn’t fair. It’s worth having empathy for those who are less fortunate. Or, as some of us say when we encounter the less fortunate: “there but with the Grace of God go I.”

But in other quarters, “privilege” is an impediment to Social Justice, in that certain members of society start with an “unfair advantage” by the dint of their birth.

And “privilege”, ultimately, requires equalization:

If we can’t recognize the ways in which we have privileges, we will be complicit in a system that rewards some and not others. We will be co-signing inequity.

I’m suddenly reminded of a short story by Henry Slesar, called “Examination Day.” Unlike most folks I know who saw The Twilight Zone episode off which this was based, I actually remember reading the story first.

I’ve taken the liberty of including the full text of the short story here, with the closing note that I believe this is the inevitable end those who ask us to “Check Our Privilege” will actually lead us to. Not to greater empathy for those around us, not for empathy for the less fortunate. But towards a demand towards enforced equalization.

And the fee for a Government burial is ten dollars.

Henry Slesar: Examination Day

The Jordans never spoke of the exam, not until their son, Dick, was 12 years old. It was on his birthday that Mrs. Jordan first mentioned the subject in his presence, and the anxious manner of her speech caused her husband to answer sharply.

“Forget about it,” he said. “He’ll do all right.”

They were at the breakfast table, and the boy looked up from his plate curiously. He was an alert-eyed youngster, with flat blond hair and a quick nervous manner. He didn’t understand what the sudden tension was about, but he did know that today was his birthday, and he wanted harmony above all.

Somewhere in the little apartment there was wrapped, beribboned packages waiting to be opened. In the tiny wall-kitchen, something warm and sweet was being prepared in the automatic stove. He wanted the day to be happy, and the moistness of his mother’s eyes, the scowl of his father’s face, spoiled the mood of expectation with which he had greeted the morning.

“What exam?” he asked.

His mother looked at the tablecloth. “It’s just a sort of Government intelligence test they give children at the age of twelve. You’ll be taking it next week. It’s nothing to worry about.”

“You mean a test like in school?”

“Something like that,” his father said, getting up from the table. “Go read your comic books, Dick.”

The boy rose and wandered toward that part of the living room that had been “his” corner since infancy. He fingered the topmost comic of the stack, but seemed uninterested in the colorful squares of fast-paced action. He wandered toward the window and peered gloomily at the veil of mist that shrouded the glass.

“Why did it have to rain today?” he asked. “Why couldn’t it rain tomorrow?”

His father, now slumped into an armchair with the Government newspaper, rattled the sheets in vexation. “Because it just did, that’s all. Rain makes the grass grow.”

“Why, Dad?”

“Because it does, that’s all.”

Dick puckered his brow. “What makes it green though? The grass?”

“Nobody knows,” his father snapped, then immediately regretted his abruptness. Later in the day, it was birthday time again. His mother beamed as she handed over the gaily-colored packages, and even his father managed a grin and a rumple-of-the- hair. He kissed his mother and shook hands gravely with his father. Then the birthday cake was brought forth, and the ceremonies concluded.

An hour later, seated by the window, he watched the sun force its way between the clouds.

“Dad,” he said, “how far away is the sun?” “Five thousand miles,” his father said.

Dick sat at the breakfast table and again saw moisture in his mother’s eyes. He didn’t connect her tears with the exam until his father suddenly brought the subject to light again.

“Well, Dick,” he said, with a manly frown, “you’ve got an appointment today.” “I know, Dad. I hope …”

“Now it’s nothing to worry about. Thousands of children take this test every day.

The Government wants to know how smart you are, Dick. That’s all there is to it.”

“I get good marks in school,” he said hesitantly.

“This is different. This is a special kind of test. They give you this stuff to drink, you see, and then you go into a room where there’s a sort of machine …”

“What stuff to drink?” Dick said.

“It’s nothing. It taste like peppermint. It’s just to make sure you answer the questions truthfully. Not that the Government thinks you won’t tell the truth, but this stuff makes sure.”

Dick’s face showed puzzlement, and a touch of fright. He looked at his mother, and she composed her face into a misty smile.

“Everything will be all right,” she said.

“Of course it will,” his father agreed. “You’re a good boy, Dick; you’ll make out fine. Then we’ll come home and celebrate. All right?”

“Yes sir,” Dick said.

They entered the Government Educational Building fifteen minutes before the appointed hour. They crossed the marble floors of the great, pillared lobby, passed beneath an archway and entered an automatic elevator that brought them to the fourth floor.

There was a young man wearing an insignia-less tunic, seated at a polished desk in front of Room 404. He held a clipboard in his hand, and he checked the list down to the Js and permitted the Jordans to enter.

The room was as cold and official as a courtroom, with long benches flanking metal tables. There were several fathers and sons already there, and a thin-lipped woman with cropped black hair was passing out sheets of paper.

Mr. Jordan filled out the form, and returned it to the clerk. The he told Dick: “It won’t be long now. When they call your name, you go through the doorway at that end of the room.” He indicated the portal with his finger.

A concealed loudspeaker crackled and called off the first name. Dick saw a boy leave his father’s side reluctantly and walk slowly towards the door.

At five minutes of eleven, they called the name of Jordan.

“Good luck, son,” his father said, without looking at him. “I’ll call for you when the test is over.”

Dick walked to the door and turned the knob. The room inside was dim, and he could barely make out the features of the gray-tunicked attendant who greeted him.

“Sit down,” the man said softly. He indicated a high stool behind his desk. “Your name’s Richard Jordan?”

“Yes sir.”

“Your classification number is 600-115. Drink this, Richard.”

He lifted a plastic cup from the desk and handed it to the boy. The liquid inside had the consistency of buttermilk, tasted only vaguely of the promised peppermint. Dick downed it, and handed the man the empty cup.

He sat in silence, feeling drowsy, while the man wrote busily on a sheet of paper. Then the attendant looked at his watch, and rose to stand only inches from Dick’s face. He unclipped a pen-like object from the pocket of his tunic, and flashed a tiny light into the boy’s eyes.

“All right,” he said. “Come with me, Richard.”

He led Dick to the end of the room, where a single wooden armchair faced a multi-dialed computing machine. There was a microphone on the left arm of the chair, and when the boy sat down, he found its pinpoint head conveniently at his mouth.

“Now just relax, Richard. You’ll be asked some questions, and you think them over carefully. Then give your answers into the microphone. The machine will take care of the rest.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll leave you alone now. Whenever you want to start, just say ‘ready’ into the microphone.”

“Yes, sir.”

The man squeezed his shoulder, and left.

Dick said, “Ready.”

Lights appeared on the machine, and a mechanism whirred. A voice said: “Complete this sequence. One, four, seven, ten …”

Mr. and Mrs. Jordan were in the living room, not speaking, not even speculating.

It was almost four o’clock when the telephone rang. The woman tried to reach it first, but her husband was quicker.

“Mr. Jordan?”

The voice was clipped; a brisk, official voice.

“Yes, speaking.”

“This is the Government Educational Service. Your son, Richard M. Jordan, Classification 600-115, has completed the Government examination. We regret to inform you that his intelligence quotient has exceeded the Government regulation, according to Rule 84, Section 5, of the New Code.”

Across the room, the woman cried out, knowing nothing except the emotion she read on her husbands face.

“You may specify by telephone,” the voice droned on, “whether you wish his body interred by the Government or would you prefer a private burial place? The fee for Government burial is ten dollars.”

I’ve seen too many capitalist dystopias and too many socialist utopias in Science Fiction.

Blade Runner is a good example of a capitalist dystopia: a world where the rich are so rich and the poor are so poor that they represent… well, 9th century Japan’s caste system, I suppose.

And Star Trek–at least until Deep Space Nine and the J.J. Abrams reboot–show a good example of a socialist utopia: a world where everything is perfect because somehow we have overcome… well, capitalism, I suppose.

(Keep in mind that with the Next Generation, the Ferengi, when they were first introduced and said to have the same morals as “the ocean-going Yankee traders of eighteenth and nineteenth century America”, were suppose to be the new “big bad” of that series, until the writers realized just how dumb that was.)

I love fantasy as much as the next guy.

But I’d love to see someone try to portray a better future as a result of capitalism.

After all, it was capitalism–that is, the increasing freedom of individuals around the world to work as they will, make what they will and sell as they will and reap the benefits of their work that led the world towards one of declining extreme poverty and rising standards of living.

And socialism is simply a step backwards–towards a time when royal families controlled the means of production (the land and capital goods used to work the land), but with royal families replaced by citizen committees.

Why must the arrow of time point backwards to most thinkers today?

Or is it that they lack the imagination to think of a world that is any better than the post-revolutionary French period of the early 1800’s?

Who the hell knows? But at least we can try to understand.

Alan Dershowitz: Can Trump, or any other president, pardon himself?

President Trump’s tweets about his broad power to pardon have raised the ultimate question: Can the president pardon himself? The answer is crystal clear! And anyone who gives you a different answer is misleading you, because there is only one correct answer.

Here it is: Nobody knows!

No president has ever tried it. No court has ever ruled on it. The framers of our Constitution never opined on it. History provides no guidance. There is a clean slate.

Yet pundits and academic know-it-alls will express certainty on both sides of this issue. That’s what pundits and academics do. Rarely do they acknowledge they don’t know, because as experts they are supposed to know. But this is one question whose answer they cannot know.

Well, yeah.

They will have opinions, as we all do. But many will deliberately confuse the is with the ought. If they want the answer to be no, they will pretend the answer is no. If they want the answer to be yes, they will pretend it is yes. That’s the way some pundits and academics advocate: by claiming to be describing what they are not so subtly prescribing.

This has been the case especially with regard to Trump. Too many academics have said that noncriminal conduct by Trump and his administration is a crime, when they wish it were a crime, so that Trump can be removed from office. But wishful thinking is not a substitute for rigorous analysis, which has been sorely lacking among some of my fellow liberal academics.

See, this leads me to wonder what the hell liberals believe will happen if Trump is removed from office–if they make the question of Presidential criminal conduct a political question rather than a question of law.

Do they think we’ll get an election redo? Do they think the results of the election will be overturned and Hillary Clinton installed as President?

And do they think, if they reduce the question of impeachment to a political question regardless of any criminal conduct, that this won’t come back and be used on a future Democratic president? Do they think the same political process used to impeach unpopular Presidents won’t be used to remove unpopular congressmen?

Do they think that somehow, having the illustrious career of a popular politician who is not respected by the majority of other politicians ending in fines or jail time will somehow improve the quality of politicians who run for office?

Do they think destroying people who wish to change the status quo will encourage change?

Or discourage it?

Do they think criminalizing political opinions which counter their own makes things less contentious?

Or more?

Do they think that jailing Trump, stripping him of his assets, and sending a clear message to any conservative citizen that if you cross the liberal progressive movement you run the risk of being utterly destroyed will somehow make things better?

Or do they realize this will become a ‘tit for tat’? After all, Every. Single. President. going back to Ronald Reagan has had articles of impeachment drawn up against them–turning impeachment from a grave act reserved only for the worst actions taken by a President into a pointless political gesture by the opposition. Though up until the election of Donald Trump, opponents at least waited until the President was in the Oval Office before calling for impeachment.

And how would the liberal progressive movement react if a beloved and politically active left-leaning billionaire–such as Warren Buffett–was frog-marched to a Federal penitentiary as the question of criminal political activities is reduced to a question of politics rather than a question of law?

There is a wonderful paper I encountered on Medium by the host of EconTalk, a podcast you really must listen to, if listening to podcasts is your thing. Russ Roberts is a libertarian–but from his podcast and from reputation is probably the nicest gentleman you will ever encounter in the public sphere. His podcasts (where he interviews people of all different political persuasions) are respectful, and while he does defend his own point of view, he gives those he disagrees with tremendous room to express themselves. (It is a trait I wish we would see more of–the last time I saw this was with the Phil Donahue interview of Milton Friedman, which shows just how rare this is.)

His paper gives an interesting theory as to part of the reason why modern politics are in such disarray–though, to be honest, I’m not sure if this is a new thing. (The political screeching has become more shrill, the efforts to implement the politics of personal destruction sharper–but the screeching and the innuendo has always been there as long as I remember. And I remember President Carter in the late 70’s.)

The Three Blind Spots of Politics

Kling argues that our political discourse is dysfunctional because we look at the world through lenses that our political opponents do not share.

Liberals see the world as a battle between victims and oppressors.

Conservatives see the world as a battle between civilization and barbarism.

Libertarians see the world as a battle between freedom and coercion.

Take almost any issue and you see the debate play out along these lines.

Which is why we have so little empathy for political views not our own: because they may as well be speaking a foreign language. But if you realize, for example, that I personally see the world as a battle between freedom and coercion–where coercion can come equally from large faceless corporations as it can from large faceless government bureaucracies, then you may have some empathy for my point of view without concluding (as many liberals do) that I have no imagination and want nothing but to destroy the planet in my racist, xenophobic zeal to chase profits.

And when you understand my own viewpoint you can perhaps empathize with my own belief that the traditional liberal/conservative dichotomy often posited in the press of governments verses large corporations is a false dilemma: stating an issue as a choice between two evils. In fact there is a third way–of small mom-and-pop companies cooperating without being oppressed by a conspiracy of billionaire corporate leaders and powerful governmental politicians.

Remember too that coercion is not oppression or barbarism. Coercion can happen as a matter of process: of otherwise well intentioned people following a poorly designed process that has power over others. Oppression, on the other hand, requires seeing those being oppressed as the enemy deserving of their fate, while barbarism requires a certain nihilism: a certain disrespect for existing institutions and a desire to burn them to the ground regardless of who the enemy is.

Each political group, Russ Roberts goes on to say, has a blind spot:

In this essay I want to add a twist to Kling’s original vision. I want to speculate about the three blind spots of politics. Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians each have a blind spot that should give them pause and maybe reduce the confidence they have in the correctness of their position. (OK, that’s a bit of a fantasy, but I can dream.) Each of these blind spots is a natural outgrowth of the lens that each group adopts.

Those three blind spots?

Liberals first. In their eagerness to empathize with the victim, they can turn the victim into an object rather than an independent actor. Poor people are so oppressed in the liberal view, they don’t just have limited agency to choose and live life in meaningful ways. They have no agency. They are simply objects manipulated by powerful people around them.

Conservatives dehumanize in their own way. In their zeal to preserve civilization and the American way of life, they demonize those that they see as a threat to civilization. They can forget that most immigrants are hard-working individuals who want a better life for their children. They can forget that poor people face tremendous disadvantages and that while some can rise about their situation to find opportunity, the environment that many poor people live in makes making it, even in America, oh so difficult. …

My tribe, the libertarians, has a special set of blind spots all our own. We often romanticize the power of economic freedom. We struggle to imagine that some people are poorly served by markets, that some transactions involve exploitation of ignorance and that the self-regulation of markets can fail. In our zeal to de-romanticize government, we often ignore the good that government does especially in cases where freedom might perform badly. Our worst mistake is to defend the freedom of business to do what it will in situations where government has hampered or destroyed the feedback loops of profit and loss that make economic freedom successful.

I fear too many libertarians for example, defend Wall Street simply because it is the punching bag of liberals, forgetting that Wall Street helps make the rules that exempt the largest banks from the market discipline of profit and loss.

These dimensions and blindspots meld nicely with an earlier work by Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions, which posit two fundamental philosophical positions underlying all of politics:

Those who believe in the Unconstrained Vision see mankind as morally perfectible, and believe moral perfection towards a Utopian society is possible. Compromise and competition distracts from this path. And there are some, the “self anointed”, Bodhisattvas, who can act as surrogate decision-makers for mankind as they lead us to perfection.

And those who believe in the Constrained Vision who see mankind as fundamentally unchanging and self-interested. Individuals may improve; the species does not. Because of this they see the idea of Utopia as a dream, and practicality requires the constraints of the rule of law and constraints of tradition. Conflict and compromise is necessary and inherent to good governance. And so-called “Bodhisattvas” are to be distrusted, as no man can attain true Buddhahood— besides, they can no more lead mankind to a higher moral state than they can herd cats.

A difference between the two can be seen in how they see self-interest. The believer in the unconstrained vision may see general self-interest as a dangerous vice that carries us away from Utopia (a fascinating position given how so many liberal-progressives strongly defend the self-interest of sexual desire and sexual expression). The believer in the constrained vision, however, sees self-interest in the way Adam Smith does in “A Theory of Moral Sentiments:”

The administration of the great system of the universe … the care of the universal happiness of all rational and sensible beings, is the business of God and not of man. To man is allotted a much humbler department, but one much more suitable to the weakness of his powers, and to the narrowness of his comprehension: the care of his own happiness, of that of his family, his friends, his country…. But though we are … endowed with a very strong desire of those ends, it has been entrusted to the slow and uncertain determinations of our reason to find out the proper means of bringing them about. Nature has directed us to the greater part of these by original and immediate instincts. Hunger, thirst, the passion which unites the two sexes, and the dread of pain, prompt us to apply those means for their own sakes, and without any consideration of their tendency to those beneficent ends which the great Director of nature intended to produce by them.

The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.

In other words, God granted us “self-interest” so that we may take care of ourselves–and if we all act in morally restrained self-interest (meaning we work hard, don’t steal from others, and act with respect of others)–we act as if guided by the Invisible Hand of God.

These two dimensions: Unconstrained verses Constrained and the political dimensions of Conservative, Liberal and Libertarian intersect in fascinating ways.

While it is an easy shortcut to see those following the unconstrained vision generally being liberal-progressives, it’s not entirely true.

The Religious Right, for example, is a perfect example of conservatives who believe in an unconstrained vision of mankind. Certainly a number of conservative religious figures have held themselves out as Bodhisattvas of a sort: having attained a personal relationship with God they now seek to bring the Word of God to everyone. And if a few misfits and sexual deviants must be ground down to achieve a Godly Paradise on Earth, well, like all unconstrained visionaries, it’s a small price to pay.

After all, to the unconstrained visionary (liberal or conservative), sacrificing a misfit few for the greater good can be as necessary as breaking a few eggs to make an omelette. Perfection waits for no man–and those who, despite the best persuasion, refuse to stand aside must instead be swept aside.

With libertarianism, nothing precludes a Libertarian Bodhisattva from arising and leading us to Utopia separate from governmental intervention: certainly one can see shadows of this in the works of Karl Marx. (This intersection helps explains what always seemed to me to be a contradiction: so-called “liberal libertarians” who want to maximize freedom even if it means using greater coercion to achieve that goal.)

And Liberals who believe in a constrained vision of mankind certainly exist: they may believe Utopia is an unattainable vision and mankind as forever outside of the Garden of Eden, but still see oppressors who need to be punished and victims who need to be saved in a perpetual and ultimately personal battle. (Those Liberals may express suspicion about “self-interest”–but only in so far as the rich and powerful have the power to run roughshod over the weak and the helpless.)

To make my own politics clear: I sympathize with the libertarian movement in that I see the world as a conflict between freedom and coercion, though I have little patience for libertarians who tend to ignore the benefits of government. I believe the principle product a government provides its citizens is trust, trust in each other (through contract laws and property laws and law enforcement officials) as well as trust for institutions and organizations. Trust is what enables us to have a modern banking system: without trust that we can get our money back from a group of anonymous individuals any time we like, we’d be stuffing our life savings under mattresses. Without trust that we can invest our money with anonymous individuals and get our investment profits back any time we like without having them stolen, we’d never invest in the stock market. Without trust that we can borrow money for the long term without having our things seized at whim, we would never be able to build large corporations that provide us with cheap food, or buy homes with long-term mortgages, or borrow to build a better future.

Trust is such a vital product–but we have so much trust in America we forget it even exists. We forget so many places in Africa and Asia fail to function not because the people there aren’t smart or have access to important resources, but because they are unable to cooperate. Because their governments are untrustworthy and fail to facilitate trust–instead siding with the powerful or with those who have guns–or worse: being powerless to act in the fact of oppression and barbarism.

I also am a firm believer in the constrained vision of mankind. Individuals improve; mankind as a species will never improve. Further, I have a particular dislike for those who believe in the unconstrained vision of mankind, because I believe to succeed in their efforts to improve mankind as a species, they must destroy those things (such as desire or personal expression) which makes man superior to mindless ants. There is a reason why those governments which have managed to get farther down the road towards Bodhisattvas implementing Utopia murder millions–and I believe any attempt by unconstrained visionaries (liberal or conservative) to implement Utopia will require them murdering millions more. It’s as inevitable as night turning to day.

So when I write above “perfection waits for no man” I do so as an observation of what I consider an extremely odious and poisonous political position. I sympathize with their beliefs, and I see their source deeply rooted in Christian tradition–such as the tradition of Catholic social teaching which leads to Social Justice. I even see the wishful thinking: after all, who wouldn’t want to create a Paradise on Earth, where we all naturally cooperate as if guided by the Holy Spirit, and with an innate and almost supernatural empathy for our fellow man?

But I see this unconstrained vision as the wellspring from which all the modern evils of the 20th century, from Fascism to NAZIism to Communism, arose.

I have always believed that if you want to venture into the realm of politics with your own opinions and want to do so in a deeper and public way beyond just grumbling about the superiority of your own Tribe in the face of other Tribes–and note I use “Tribe” here in a derisive way as a shortcut for “tribalism” and our natural hatred for those not like us–that it is worth being contemplative not only of your own positions, but of the positions of those you disagree with.

The ability to construct the counter-argument to your own positions–and do so with honesty and fidelity, rather than characterizing your opponents as xenophobic racists or stupid hippies–provides you the intellectual power to sort through questions with honesty.

It may help teach you to honestly listen to your opponents rather than characterize them as worthless idiots or as racist assholes. (It’s not to say there are worthless idiot or racist assholes out there–but they are far fewer in number than our modern political discourse would have us believe.)

It may help you see beyond your own Tribe’s blind spots.

It may help you ask the most basic political questions with honesty, and help you see the consequences of actions being taken.

Such as “so what is the end game of the efforts to remove Trump?” and “what really would happen if Trump was removed?”

And, at a deeper level:

“Is the end-game really to remove Trump? Or just to extend a 2 minute hate for 3 and a half years, in order to create political deadlock before a Democrat can run for President?”

And, if you have a greater and honest understanding of your political opponents as well as an understanding of history–and a realization that many of the themes we see today have played out in a similar way going back hundreds of years–you may be far more optimistic about the Republic and about your fellow citizens.

Even in the face of a President which offends your sensibilities and a political climate which seems to favor violence and hypocrisy.

Well, that wasn’t very smart.

Sweden Accidentally Leaks Sensitive Info on Basically All Citizens, Police Officers, and Military Vehicles

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven confirmed on Monday that private information concerning citizens of Sweden had been exposed to serious security risks after the government outsourced IT services for the Swedish Transport Agency (Transportstyrelsen) to IBM in 2015.

IBM, in turn, left an astounding amount of information exposed to a number of unauthorized users around the world — including the names, home addresses, and photos of every member of the police, secret military units, information from the witness-relocation program, information regarding the weight capacity of all roads and bridges, and details regarding the specifications of all government and military vehicles (and their drivers).

Apparently, the transport agency mistakenly emailed their entire database of sensitive information to marketers in plain text. And upon realizing their error, the agency decided to merely ask subscribers to delete the old message and later sent out an updated one. The numerous security risks presented by this were only compounded by the fact that the outsourcing of this information in the first place apparently resulted in a number of IBM staff members from around the world being given full access to the transportation agency’s systems. …

“… emailed their entire database … in plain text.”

The problem is not that someone deserves to be fired.

Well, I mean, that goes without saying.

But the real problem is the world has become a complicated place–and sadly a lot of people, including technology people and government bureaucrats–have utterly and completely failed to keep up.

Which, to me, indicates a failure of management and a failure of systems as well as a failure of individuals.

Source: Governments are not in Control

As we contemplate the possibility of Jeff Bezos being the first person worth 12 figures, let’s review what wealth is.

A complaint of mine is that we don’t really seem to understand what wealth is–and in the process we tend to lump three types of wealth into a single bucket. Certainly any item in any of the three buckets can be translated (with some effort) into a different bucket–but there really are three kinds of wealth.

First, is capital goods. Those are things used to make other things. This is a hammer used by a construction worker, or a sewing machine used by a third world worker to help make clothes.

Capital goods are things used to help someone make money. So, for example, my desktop computer is a capital good: I use it to write software for a living. If I lost my computer, and couldn’t buy another one, I’d lose my job.

The third world, by the way, needs more capital goods in order to help its residents produce more things. And, if civilization were to collapse, our ability to reconstruct capital goods from scratch would be instrumental in reclaiming and rebuilding a modern civilization.

Second, is wealth that represents deferred consumption. This is what you have in the bank account. This is, to some extent, the equity in your home and the property you own. (Though I guess you could argue this represents a different class of asset.) This is what we think of, in other words, when we think of wealth.

It’s what you can lay hands on to pay for your lifestyle after you retire. It’s what you have on hand you can sell to pay the bills if you lose your job. Deferred consumption is how we set ourselves up to retire: by saving money we defer consumption to another day. And sometimes some of that deferred consumption can be passed onto our children, for them to spend.

Third, is corporate control. It represents, in other words, ownership in a company which permits you to control that company. In Jeff Bezos’s case, if his net worth reaches $100 billion, it won’t be because he owns thousands of personal homes or millions of expensive sports cars. It’s because he owns control of Amazon.

He can trade that control of his company for control of other companies. He can sell off some of his stock (and thus, some of his control of that company) for cars and homes and expensive toys. (Though note: if he sells off too much stock he loses control of his company.)

Most of the billionaires in our world do not own stuff. They own companies. Or rather, they are in charge of corporations–and one could consider their net worth the amount of money the market is willing to pay them to walk away, stop controlling their company, and allow someone else to drive.

And now, a very important video on how to make grilled cheese sandwiches.

I mean, I’ve only been saying this forever.

Researchers Have Been Underestimating the Cost of Wind and Solar

How should electricity from wind turbines and solar panels be evaluated? Should it be evaluated as if these devices are stand-alone devices? Or do these devices provide electricity that is of such low quality, because of its intermittency and other factors, that we should recognize the need for supporting services associated with actually putting the electricity on the grid? This question comes up in many types of evaluations, including Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI), Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), and Energy Payback Period (EPP).

I recently gave a talk called The Problem of Properly Evaluating Intermittent Renewable Resources (PDF) at a BioPhysical Economics Conference in Montana. As many of you know, this is the group that is concerned about Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROI). As you might guess, my conclusion is that the current methodology is quite misleading. Wind and solar are not really stand-alone devices when it comes to providing the kind of electricity that is needed by the grid. Grid operators, utilities, and backup electricity providers must provide hidden subsidies to make the system really work.

This problem is currently not being recognized by any of the groups evaluating wind and solar, using techniques such as LCOE, EROI, LCA, and EPP. As a result, published results suggest that wind and solar are much more beneficial than they really are. The distortion affects both pricing and the amount of supposed CO2 savings.

Two thoughts.

First, if you are serious about saving CO2, you must evaluate the entire system, not just cherry pick the data.

This is important because until now we’ve glossed over the real problems the intermittent nature of wind and solar–including “hot standby” coal and natural gas power plants, which are spewing CO2 to keep their boilers hot in order to provide energy at a moments notice when a cloud drifts by or the wind stops blowing for a moment.

Remember: the electricity you are using right now in your computer was generated microseconds ago. Electricity is not stored in the grid in any meaningful way, so that means if there is an excess of energy from a solar station, or a cloud drifts by and stops generation for a moment–one of two things must happen.

Either you accept the quality of the electricity drops: the voltage swings wildly, lights dim, sometimes computers fail and reboot if not backed up by an expensive UPS. Or you have a “hot-standby” station momentarily spin up a generator and supply the extra missing energy.

So for every “clean” solar power station or “clean” wind mill, somewhere out of sight is a power plant belching out carbon dioxide, often wasted energy, waiting to engage the generator in order to provide energy to fill in the gaps.

It’s one reason, by the way, that Germany, in its headlong rush towards renewables, has been building coal-based power plants like crazy. They need the plants to back-stop the intermittent renewable energy sources they are building.

To ignore this fact is to ignore the CO2 costs of “renewable” policy. It’s to pretend you’re clean because you’ve pushed your shit down the road. The shit is still there; you’re just ignoring it.

Second, if you are serious about evaluating the environmental impact of your policies, you must also consider the energy required to build, install, maintain, and eventually dispose of your power plants.

The heavy metals, plastics, electronics, transformers and exotic materials do not simply materialize out of nowhere. The massive fins of a wind mill generator are trucked out in diesel-burning trucks, the massive coils hoisted up hundreds of feet are hoisted up by helicopters burning aviation gas. The plastics used to build the components come from the same crude oil that other plastics come from; the copper in the wire was mined at the same locations the copper in the wire used in traditional power plants came from.

And the cost of all these materials–the environmental impact of the generator–translates into the financial expense required to build your wind mill farm or solar farm.

If you require subsidies in the form of tax rebates in order to make your farm make financial sense–it implies strongly that your environmental impact is greater than other alternative means of generation.

That is, tax incentives are simply another way to pretend you’re clean by shoveling your financial shit down the road. You’re asking others to pay for your inefficiencies with money that could have been used to feed the hungry or help the poor. And your shit is still there; you’re just ignoring it.

My criticisms of renewables has never been a denial of the wish of having a better way to power our modern world.

My criticisms has always revolved around the idea that, in the end, renewables are not as clean as claimed, are not as cheap as claimed, and that powerful interests have been taking us for a ride while doing absolutely nothing–in the final analysis–about reducing greenhouse gasses.

And ultimately my criticism boils down to this: until we find a way to store massive amounts of energy in the power grid in an environmentally friendly way–enough to power the entire United States using stored energy for hours–intermittent renewable energy sources will always be an environmentally unfriendly solution.

The progressive left won’t look at public choice theory with honesty, because they have bigger fish to fry: us.

Confirmation Bias Unchained: Nancy MacLean on James Buchanan, the History of Public Choice Theory, and Libertarianism (PDF)

One of the really unfortunate aspects of this book [Democracy In Chains] is that it is a missed opportunity for people in the humanities to get a better understanding of what public choice theory is actually about and why it might be helpful to the work that they do. Public choice could be a really valuable addition to the toolkit of humanities scholars. For historians, the uses seem obvious. Public choice is an analytical framework that need not generate any normative conclusions. Historians could use it to explain the machinations of the powerful without having to endorse any particular political views. Public choice’s focus on the pursuit of self interest in politics as well as in private life enables historians to offer new interpretations of historical events. Such applications of public choice theory would make for fascinating work in the hands of historians, but the worry is that MacLean’s book may have poisoned that well for the foreseeable future. If any time historians cite Buchanan or make use of public choice theory, the reaction is “isn’t that the racist theory that hates democracy?” then a huge opportunity for generating new knowledge will have been lost.

From my conversations of those on the political Left, I honestly believe there is so much prejudice there is no desire on the Left to understand the intellectually rich philosophical and economic theories on the Right, ranging from Milton Friedman to James Buchanan.

It leaves the Left with few options beyond name calling, and violent temper tantrums and playing political “gotcha” games with the police. But then, one could consider the vapidness of the modern Left by noting their most respected spokespeople are comedians.

It’s a shame there is little desire by those on the Left to actually read or listen to the arguments made on the Right. I myself have found myself on the receiving end of such nonsense–told that I’m a racist (despite being part Native American), a homophobe (those who know me well are laughing at that one), and a sexist (ditto the previous comment). And even when I construct an argument such as observing that poverty is a rational choice created by the poor design of poverty programs that take as much as $1.40 for every extra $1.00 earned by someone working their way out of poverty–the best I can hope for is a “well, you may be right there, but you are still a racist, sexist homophobe and a dupe of the Koch machinery.”

And I’m just a random blogger.

But I think the root of the problem with the Left’s complete lack of desire to understand the arguments raised by libertarians, public choice theorists and conservatives in general boil down to two things:

(1) Liberal Progressives in general hold to an unconstrained vision of mankind–one that holds that with the right arrangement of political, economic and social constraints mankind can evolve to a higher state of grace. Led by the right Bodhisattvas (a term I used to use sarcastically until I listened to Opera talk about Barack “The One” Obama), they believe that we can be led to salvation and ultimately gain re-entrance into the Garden of Eden.

And the conservative argument that this state of grace does not exist, that even the exalted ones are human–flawed, self-interested, and sometimes angry–just seems… cruel.

That is what Public Choice theory is to them: a mean spirited denial of mankind’s ability to evolve to salvation, offered by those who plainly deny the leftist “truth” that there is an arc to history, and that we can have everything we want if we only put aside our petty little concerns.

(2) Liberal Progressives have indeed appeared to have won all the major cultural avenues for how we learn–from universities to news papers to the Internet. Equipped with the “knowledge” that there is only one Truth, they see any corner where anyone disagrees–from a funny meme showing Trump throwing CNN to the ground to a paper on public choice and its impact on anti-trust enforcement–as a racist attempt to step in the way of Truth Inviolate.

And once one has reached the pinnacle of Truth Inviolate, there is no place to go but down. So the proper course of action is to close the mind, draw the shades, build the fence, and protect the Apex of Knowledge from any and all intruders.

It’s a shame, too, because I think a history of the United States from Reconstruction (after the Civil War) to the 1960’s, guided by the analytical tools of public choice (which seeks to differentiate between the statements offered by the rich and powerful in public office, and their actions) would make a fantastic book.

But it will never come to pass.

And instead we’ll continue to see histories constructed by the Left using the dominate Deconstructionist textual tools the Left has latched onto–textual deconstructionism mixed with Marxism which has led to so much vapid nonsense that they cannot be distinguished from computer-generated gibberish.

Having had our work so deeply misunderstood and maligned, including our commitment to improving the lives of all citizens, it’s understandable how strongly so many public choice scholars, and libertarian academics more broadly, have reacted to the book.

Well, no shit.

But it’s pretty clear to me, given the praise heaped on this deeply flawed book, that the Left just does not give a flying fuck.

How many people must die before a story is newsworthy? Well, it depends on the disaster.

Not all deaths are equal: How many deaths make a natural disaster newsworthy?

How many deaths does it take for a natural disaster to be newsworthy? This is a question researchers Thomas Eisensee and David Strömberg asked in a 2007 study. The two authors found that for every person killed by a volcano, nearly 40,000 people have to die of a food shortage to get the same probability of coverage in US televised news. In other words, the type of disaster matters to how newsworthy networks find it to be.

How about “start listening?” Or would that break your precious, precious bubble?

But Who Would Believe Them?

Start “teaching.” Guide them through the process.

Yes, Middle Americans love to feel like they’re the left’s students – that always plays really well – particularly knowing that the lessons come with a fair amount of “anger and hate” behind them as Redlawsk admits.

And if the instructions from our would-be betters are rejected?…

How about listening?

No, that won’t work, because most Liberal Progressives believe they have won the cultural revolution starting in the 1960’s and 1970’s. And while racism and prejudice was dealt a decisive blow in the 1970’s, Liberal Progressives believed they won every cultural war since–sweeping through Gramsci’s “Long March” through all of the cultural institutions, until society–long before the Internet–became one big liberal echo chamber. An echo chamber rarely broken except for lone voices like Rush Limbaugh, dismissed as a hate monger without ever receiving a hearing.

Which is why, when tested, liberals are completely unable to answer a questionnaire as a “typical conservative”–preferring arguably hateful caricatures little different than early 20th century watermelon-munching blacks–while conservatives and libertarians are able to answer a questionnaire as a liberal would.

The implication being conservatives understand liberals far better than liberals understand conservatives.

So I guess listening is right out.

So is, apparently, understanding the fact that “teaching” won’t work–because your political opponents understand your arguments. Hell, conservatives probably understand your arguments better than you do. They probably can even construct your left-wing arguments for you with greater fidelity than you can.

They just think you are wrong.

And need to be stopped.

Temper tantrums and wandering around like a homeless person with a mental defect muttering “Russia, Russia, Russia” under your breath when you’re not tearing down a street “peacefully” throwing rocks through store fronts while calling for the destruction of anyone who is better off than you are–none of that will help.