Sunday, December 17, 2006

Two Phrases That Destroyed American Culture

Check out this great rant: Two Phrases That Destroyed American Culture.

This rant calls on us to stand up to the snobby bullies who harass service workers everywhere. The story about the bagel shop sounds eerily familiar (except for the intervention)--either the author lives right around the corner from me, or this sort of shit happens everywhere.

For a theoretical treatment if this issue, you may appreciate Breaking Ranks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Rise of the Network Age

Recently, I Stumbled-upon a review of the new cultural awareness of networks, called Post-Modernism is Dead: distributed culture and the rise of the network age by Samuel R. Smith (CV-pdf). This is the first time that I've seen a formal review of how network-thinking is changing our social awareness. I was happy to find this essay, as I've been thinking about this topic a lot, mainly arising from my readings on the scientific studies of networks (see below for a bibliography).

I expect that network-thinking may permeate our culture over the next couple of generations, leading to great advances in science and society. I expect that we will be more likely to think of ourselves as an active part in the vast network that is the world with more or less influence over the smaller or larger (respectively) structures within those networks. We will no longer be satisfied to be cogs in someone else's machine; we will realize that we have influence outside of "the system" (ideologically defined social structures, such as "the law") and use that influence to direct our own lives.

This network awareness is reflected in institutional statements such as the Unitarian Universalist Covenant, which calls on us to affirm and promote "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part".

Below are a few books that I've read (at least in part), that provide a glimpse into the how network-thinking is influencing science.
  1. Six-degrees : the science of the connected age (my review) by Duncan J. Watts.
  2. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity by Stuart Kauffman. This book introduced me to neato concepts such as "auto-catalytic set" and "expanding into the the adjacent possible".
  3. Handbook of Graphs and Networks: From the Genome to the Internet, edited by Stefan Bornholdt and Heinz Georg Schuster.
Additional resources for looking into networks:
  1. Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science". This has cool descriptions of non-linear dynamics (which include network dynamics), just don't buy into his self-aggrandizement.
  2. Nature Publishing Group's new journal: Molecular Systems Biology

Monday, November 06, 2006

"None of the above"

A nice feature of the new touch-screen voting machines--it's easier to write in a vote. Why would I want to write in a vote? ...just to record my dissatisfaction with the candidates on the ballot.

I've started to write "none" as write-in votes when I'm unhappy with the candidates. I prefer this over simply not voting for two reasons

  1. It's clear that I am paying attention, and I bothered to turn out to vote, and am explicitly rejecting the candidates on the ballot.
  2. It is actually counted in the vote total, thereby decreasing the portion of the votes captured by the winning candidate.
Happy election.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Conspiracy theories -- Terror Storm

I've been working my way thru the film Terror Storm, and have already learned a couple of things from it. For example, it inspired the previous post: I learned something new today....

Terror Storm presents a "War on Terror conspiracy theory"--basically, it suggests that Western governments have been complicit in the terrorist attacks of the past few years. I haven't really gotten into the details of these accusations yet, and I expect that there will be no conclusive evidence one way or another.

However, the film opens by making the argument that Western governments are capable of doing such monstrous things, and at this level, there does seem to be conclusive evidence. Operation Ajax was one example of C.I.A. sponsored, "false flag" terrorism.

So far, the film has been informative, so I'm noting it here. However, I have not confirmed its accusations (beyond the Operation Ajax stuff), so do not take this as a general endorsement of the ideas found in the film.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I learned something new today...

Just when I thought that it couldn't get any worse, my opinion of the state has reached a new low. Today, I learned the details of Operation Ajax.

I had known that the CIA was involved in a coup in Iran back in the 50's (the state department website admits as much), but I wasn't aware of how much this coup involved manipulation of the general population, even staging terrorist attacks in order to whip up anti-government feelings.

Furthermore, the story of Operation Ajax illustrates the "open secret" of the American Ruling Class. Note that certain families (Roosevelt, Schwarzkopf) are always running this country, and apparently they have no qualms with decieving and threatening everyone else.

For more info, see the following:
New York Times Special Report: The C.I.A. in Iran

Update: I removed the Google-video link to Terror Strom. See the next post for an explanation.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This government must be punished

For the past six years the Republican Party has had complete control over the Federal government, and has proceeded to undermine the foundations of our security, our liberty, and our prosperity. Much of this is due to their ignorance and arrogance, but they have even succumbed to pure greed and power-lust, corruptly lining their own pockets and the pockets of their supporters.

They must be punished. They must be punished as individual incumbants, and they must be punished as a party (which is the only way to hit their leadership). They have provided a perfect illustration of the old adage "Power corrupts".

There is way too much power concentrated in the hands of the Republican party. For the sake of liberty and democracy, we need to return one or both houses of Congress to the opposition party (the Democrats) in order to produce a divided government--which is the only way in our system to have government by consensus, and the only way to restrain government intervetion in society.

To aid in that goal, I am publishing the following information, which publicizes the misdeeds of Republicans running for election this year:

--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl

--AZ-01: Rick Renzi

--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth

--CA-04: John Doolittle

--CA-11: Richard Pombo

--CA-50: Brian Bilbray

--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave

--CO-05: Doug Lamborn

--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell

--CT-04: Christopher Shays

--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan

--FL-16: Joe Negron

--FL-22: Clay Shaw

--ID-01: Bill Sali

--IL-06: Peter Roskam

--IL-10: Mark Kirk

--IL-14: Dennis Hastert

--IN-02: Chris Chocola

--IN-08: John Hostettler

--IA-01: Mike Whalen

--KS-02: Jim Ryun

--KY-03: Anne Northup

--KY-04: Geoff Davis

--MD-Sen: Michael Steele

--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht

--MN-06: Michele Bachmann

--MO-Sen: Jim Talent

--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns

--NV-03: Jon Porter

--NH-02: Charlie Bass

--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson

--NM-01: Heather Wilson

--NY-03: Peter King

--NY-20: John Sweeney

--NY-26: Tom Reynolds

--NY-29: Randy Kuhl

--NC-08: Robin Hayes

--NC-11: Charles Taylor

--OH-01: Steve Chabot

--OH-02: Jean Schmidt

--OH-15: Deborah Pryce

--OH-18: Joy Padgett

--PA-04: Melissa Hart

--PA-07: Curt Weldon

--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick

--PA-10: Don Sherwood

--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee

--TN-Sen: Bob Corker

--VA-Sen: George Allen

--VA-10: Frank Wolf

--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick

--WA-08: Dave Reichert

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Attitudes towards poverty

The following is a long comment I made at the Freedom Democrats website in response to a previous comment bemoaning the patronizing attitude of many Democrats towards the poor:

Interpretations of poverty seem to fall between two extremes--individualized and socialized. At one extreme, poverty is viewed as a trait of individuals, and the solution to poverty is for those individuals to get out of poverty. At the other extreme, poverty is viewed as a by-product of social factors, and the solution is to eliminate those social factors that impoverish individuals.

In America, the strict individualized interpretation is associated with Republicans. They believe that people are poor because they are lazy and/or stupid, and the solution to poverty is for impoverished people to adopt the values of prosperous individuals.

Democrats generally seem to hold a hybrid view (exemplified in the "micromanagement" approach above), wherein a person is poor because he lacks some sort of development, be it education, savings, or social networks. They may view this poverty as the consequence of historical wrongs (such as slavery), or arising from a disconnect between modern society and man's natural development (requiring formal education). In the end, the responsibility to end poverty rests with the society in general, but it ultimately depends on the development of the individuals.

Both of these individualized views take poverty as the "original state" of mankind, and so implicitly, a poor person is a backwards savage who needs to become civilized.

The socialized view is that poverty is an inevitable byproduct of social conditions. Society is structured in a hierarchy, and for every person who moves up the hierarchy, someone else must move down, and poverty cannot be eliminated without eliminating that hierarchy. I think that this is the view that we emphasize here -- we emphasize how poverty is created by "rankism"--the tendency of the powerful to exploit the less powerful.

There's value in both the individual and social approaches to poverty reduction, however, I believe that the individual approach will be ineffective as long as the major social causes of poverty remain--the underclass will tend to grow and its members will resist appeals to reform their own lives.

We could also make an argument that individual approaches complement the social approaches: for example, literate individuals are more effective at resisting exploitation.

The importance of popular support for war (i.e. Bush is a terrible leader)

I've been engaged in a discussion at Reason: Hit and Run regarding some polls showing increased public opposition to the Iraq war and the Republican regime.

There's a line of thought that is especially common among Bush supporters that claims that a policy is right or wrong independent of public support for the policy. I disagree with this opinion for a number of reasons, but in the case of wars, it is complete BS.

Basically, if a policy can only achieve its goals with sustained support from the public, then it can only be a good policy if there is reason to believe that the public will support it until those goals are achieved. Bush's Iraq policy was one of these policies, and he initiated the policy when it should have been clear that he did not have sufficient support to achieve the goals of the policy.

I laid out the argument in a comment on the Reason blog, and figured that I'd republish it here:

First, on the eve of the war, polls showed that support/opposition to the war was something like 60%/20%. Sure, it's a majority, but I don't think that it was enough to support a medium-size war. It probably would have been enough for an invasion of Grenada, but not an invasion of Iraq. For something like Iraq, I'd want to see a 5/1 ratio of support/opposition...especially considering that many of the supporters had weak reasons to support the war, and couldn't be counted on to sustain their support.

I say that support was weak because I don't think that many Americans would have said that they supported an invasion if the President hadn't already made it clear that he was planning to invade. Many Americans were simply giving the president the benefit of the doubt. Many Americans were also swayed by pro-war assertions that were blatently false to any informed person; as time goes on, we can expect the people to learn the truth and support for the war will erode to the extent that support was based on false beliefs. Two assertions in particular were problematic: Iraq supported Al Qaeda, and the transformation of Iraqi society would be easy.

Any reasonable person knew that Iraqi society would not be transformed overnight, and as time went on, the supporters of the war would realize that they'd been duped by the hawks, and support would evaporate. When support evaporates, it is impossible to complete the mission (whatever it was) and the whole thing falls apart.

That is the mark of a terrible leader, and that is what these new polls are reflecting.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Subsidies for centralization

I've been reading much of Kevin Carson's work on how government policies provide subsidies for economic centralization (highways, for example). Now that I've become aware of this tendency, I can see examples everywhere.

For example, I recently bought a used car in PA and now I have to pay sales tax. It's stupid enough that I have to pay sales tax on a used car (the original owner already paid the tax for the car), but the situation is made worse in that the seller faces several hundred dollars in extra taxes because he decided to sell the car to me rather than trade it in to the dealership where he bought his next car.

According to PA-DMV FactSheet on "BUYING OR SELLING YOUR

Pennsylvania sales tax is 6% (7% City of Philadelphia and Allegheny County residents) of the purchase price or the current
market value of the vehicle.

If a motor vehicle is taken by the seller as a trade in, the tax is imposed upon the difference between the purchase price of the
motor vehicle purchased and the value of the motor vehicle taken as a trade in by the seller.
To be explicit, let's use some numbers. Let's assume that the used car is worth $10,000 and there's a 6% tax on sales. The ultimate buyer of the used car has to pay $600 in tax regardless of whether he buys it from the previous owner, or buys it from a dealer after trade-in.

The difference (i.e. distortion) affects the previous owner, who has to pay an extra $600 in taxes on her new car if she sells the old car for cash to another individual rather than trading it in to the dealership. That's a considerable incentive to funnel business thru the dealers--i.e. whoever has gathered enough capital that they can keep cars in stock and trade them for each other, rather than using cash.

I'm not suggesting that this law was designed with the intent of aiding dealers. While that is plausible, it is also plausible that this unfairness arises from some technicality in how taxes are assessed (though I can't imagine why that would be--there are various ways to estimate the value of the trade-in). However, we can be sure that if the unfairness ran the other way (favoring the small guy over the big guy), then the car dealership trade-group would be applying a lot of pressure on government officials to "fix" the problem.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Just break down the fence

I like this parable that is attributed to Tolstoy:
I see mankind as a herd of cattle inside a fenced enclosure. Outside the fence are green pastures ans plenty for the cattle to eat, while inside the fence there is not quite grass enough for the cattle. Consequently, the cattle are tramping underfoot what little grass there is and goring each other to death in their struggle for existence.

I saw the owner of the herd come to them, and when he saw their pitiful condition he was filled with compassion for them and thought of all he could do to improve their condition.

So he called his friends together and asked them to assist him in cutting grass from outside the fence and throwing it over the fence to the cattle. And that they called Charity.

Then, because the the calves were dying off and not growing up into serviceable cattle, he arranged that they should each have a pint of milk every morning for breakfast.

Because they were dying off in the cold nights, he put up beautiful well-drained and well-ventilated cowsheds for the cattle.

Because they were goring each other in the struggle for existence, he put corks on the horns of the cattle, so that the wounds they gave each other might not be so serious. Then he reserved a part of the enclosure for the old bulls and the old cows over 70 years of age.

In fact, he did everything he could think of to improve the condition of the cattle, and when I asked him why he did not do the one obvious thing, break down the fence, and let the cattle out, he answered: "If I let the cattle out, I should no longer be able to milk them".
This dynamic was apparent during the days of the American slavery, and I think that it underlies much of the current American welfare state.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Strike the Root: Decentralism vs. Rational Markets

I found a good article by Carlton Hobbs at Strike the Root called Decentralism vs. Rational Markets, which addresses the nature of markets and formalizes some ideas I expressed earlier when I said "If you don't like the market, leave it!

If you get around Hobbs' academic references to libertarian moral and economic theory, you'll find some good criticisms of market fetishism. Among them are...

...a free market advocate should not just put faith in the free market and just float unthinkingly down the river of the spontaneously ordered market.Entrepreneurs do not “just put faith in the market.” They actively seek out real imperfections in the current market. Notice that it is a bit contradictory to praise the entrepreneur and then attack someone just for claiming to see a market failure. To quote Warren Buffett, “I'd be a bum on the street with a tin cup if the markets were always efficient.”
Libertarian judicial theory is mainly concerned with the voluntaryness of an exchange, but it is not the end of human action. Individuals can make foolish market decisions. When millions of people all make foolish decisions on the market, it doesn’t make the total less foolish.
Hobbs also explains how and why we may consciously structure our market interactions, the idea of which seems anathema to the "free-market fetish" crowd, who take for granted that whatever happens in the market is inherently good.
Lenin wrote that capitalists would sell him the rope to hang them with, and he was too often right.... Market advocates have failed to account for the long term disvalue of treating friendly customers equally to customers who are hostile to the market.
He examines how our market decisions put us at risk for exploitation:
All else equal, a free market society should seek to minimize extended supply chains, especially to those dependent on markets controlled by hostile entities. If one system of production is more centralized or extended, it is more vulnerable to risk exploitation. Decentralism enhances security and decreases risk. Risk is a component that governments have massive power to manipulate both from inside (through buying and selling agents) and outside the market.
Finally, he suggests that small producers and co-ops are natrual allies of libertarians, whereas large heirarchical coporations are natural enemies. There's more to the article, but I can't do it justice here.

(tip to Kevin Carson)

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Movement of the Libertarian Left

I have decided to affiliate this blog with the Movement of the Libertarian Left. I hesitated to do this, because I didn't want to appear partisan. However, I get the impression that the majority of my readers come via other MLL websites (especially Freedom Democrats and The Mutualist Blog), so I might as well join the club.

Someday, I hope to describe how I came to identify with this movement, and also describe some of the better writings in this movement. But for now, you can take a look at the webring controls to the right, and browse the webring.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Lies in Print

I recently wrote this letter to the editors of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. When you realize how pathetic and destructive political discourse is in our society, you'll understand why I am compelled to write on the Internet.

Dear Editors,

After reading last Sunday's opinion section cover-to-cover, I was bothered by what appeared to be two blatantly false statements made by two columnists in an attempt to damage the reputation of their political opponents.

First, was Jonah Goldberg's assertion that "...the ACLU... finds powers not created by the Constitution every day and periodically declares such inanities as the idea that the Constitution forbids teachers from reading "The Chronicles of Narnia" in class lest the tykes' young minds be corrupted by hidden messages about Christianity".

This sounded odd, and unlike the ACLU. I did a rather thorough web-search on the topic, and could not find a single mention of the ACLU objecting to the reading of "The Chronicles of Narnia"--and I even searched "". I only found one case where a group had objected to the use of "The Chronicles of Narnia" in public schools, and that objection came from "Americans United for the Separation of Church and State". Furthermore, even if Goldberg had confused the AUSCS with the ACLU, his representation of the situation was distorted to the point of being deceptive.

The second misrepresentation came from Ann Coulter, who wrote that "(Democrats) oppose every bust of a terrorist cell, sneering that the cells in Lackawanna, New York City, Miami, Chicago and London weren't a real threat...". I doubt that any Democratic office-holder or party-official "opposed" the bust of any group planning to commit violence. In fact, while roaming the Democratic blogosphere, I have never noticed any opposition to these busts, even though any nut can post to a blog. As I understand the debate, the relevant information is that most Democrats claim that Bush and his policies did not contribute to these successful busts. So to make it clear, Democrats were CELEBRATING these busts, while denying that Bush had anything to do with them.

I assume that both of these authors were paid for their columns, and it is disappointing to find that they got away with such shoddy research. I can find better commentary on blogs.

Adam Ricketson

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I like music, and I like Defiance, Ohio.

This post was inspired by two things:
  1. The cover of the new Wired magazine (on newsstand, but not online)
  2. A band I recently discovered and want to talk about (Defiance, Ohio)
The Wired coverstory is about "the new age of music" or something like that...basically applying The Long Tail to music. They proclaim that the radio stations and record companies are history, and now the music industry will be driven by artists and fans. If I know Wired, then they are basically celebrating the end of the commercial system of culture monopoly, defined by superstars and enabled by the state: with legal monopolies (copyrights) and mass distribution systems (such as stadiums). (This system is just a state-sponsored transfer of wealth from regular folk to a bunch of millionaires, embodied in domestic law and foreign trade restrictions such as NAFTA and CAFTA, but that's another story.)

Anyway, the end of the monopoly system relies on the voluntary abandonment of copyright protections (see the Wired CD, IndyTV, and Defiance, Ohio's recording collection), and small scale distribution (i.e., the Internet, and Internet "radio stations" such as Indy.Tv and

Now let's talk about Defiance, Ohio (and please forgive any inaccuracies or misuse of terminology):

This is a folk-punk band from Ohio with six members, making music with drums, strings, and vocals. I particularly like their most recent album The Great Depression, which includes a range of songs: fun songs, angry songs, uplifting songs, introspective songs, and mellow songs--in both punk and folky styles.

They first caught my attention with Petty Problems, which really struck a chord with me. The opening verse is "In Columbus they were shopping on the first day, the first official day of war", which summoned a discomfort that I have had with how Americans have responded to the wars of the past few years. This introduced me to their lyrical style, which is both clever and meaningful.

Petty Problems also introduced me to their instrumental style, which contrasts the staccato of drums and plucked strings with the legato of bowed string instruments. I've been able to pick out three vocalists in their songs (two male, one female), who sometimes sing solo and sometimes in harmony. One male sings in a harsh "punk" manner, the other sings with a standard singing voice, and the female excels at singing in a folky style.

All three of these voices are on display in Oh, Susquehanna!, the second song that really caught my attention. I also really like two other songs lead by the folky female vocals: The New World Order and Lambs at the Slaughter.

So, check out Defiance, Ohio (their music is free). Also, take note that they are planning to play in Pittsburgh on September 12. I hope to make it to that show, but they haven't lined up a venue yet and I expect my schedule to be rather busy at that time.

Monday, August 14, 2006

RSI of the wrists

I'm developing RSI in my wrists, so I need to cut back on my computer use. Unfortunately, this blog (and related activities) will have to go until I work out something.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The nature of the state

"[T]he State's criminality is nothing new and nothing to be wondered at. It began when the first predatory group of men clustered together and formed the State, and it will continue as long as the State exists in the world, because the State is fundamentally an anti-social institution, fundamentally criminal. The idea that the State originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. It originated in conquest and confiscation -- that is to say, in crime. It originated for the purpose of maintaining the division of society into an owning-and-exploiting class and a propertyless dependent class -- that is, for a criminal purpose. No State known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose. Like all predatory or parasitic institutions, its first instinct is that of self-preservation. All its enterprises are directed first towards preserving its own life, and, second, towards increasing its own power and enlarging the scope of its own activity. For the sake of this it will, and regularly does, commit any crime which circumstances make expedient."

Quote by: Albert Jay Nock (1870-1945)

Source: The Criminality of the State, America Mercury Magazine, March, 1939

Addition (July 8): Perhaps this post deserves some explanation. I've been thinking about the nature of the state, and I came across this statement from Nock that reflected my thoughts. It seems that everyone uncritically accepts the feel-good description of the state that we've been fed in childhood: "the state exists to maintain public order" or "to serve the public good" or whatever. However, if we just look at the history of the state and its current structure, there is nothing to justify those views. Those are just explanations dreamed up by apologists after the fact to justify the state. The purpose of the state is rather clear: the state exists to concentrate power into the hand of a privileged elite. That elite will do what they want with that power, and there's no reason to believe that they will be any more benevolent than the average person would be, if power were allowed to be rather diffuse. In fact, there's good reason to believe that the elite will tend to be selfish, megalomaniacal, and generally destructive.

The institution of elections helps to reign in the elite, but does not change the fundamental nature of the state. In the end, elections just serve to confuse every issue. Rather than being you and I sitting down and figuring out how to manage our conflicts of interests in a mutually acceptable way, we are driven to manage our conflict through this incredibly complex institution that neither of us really understand, and neither of have any meaningful control over. In the end, every conflict turns into a power-play: one of us wins, and the other loses (and often, we both lose).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Different kinds of elites (and different kinds of elitism) |

Interesting post at an interesting blog:

Different kinds of elites (and different kinds of elitism) |

It seems important to me to keep these different types of elites in mind as we think about the intersections of technology and social change. One way of achieving change is by appealing to the state's powerholders — traditional power, that is. But throughout history, coalitions of people without this power have banded together to effect change. It may be that among the three other types of elites, a social movement can emerge that represents true democratic change.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

New York decriminalizes the female body: This is what it looks like

Originally published at the Freedom Democrats site, please comment there.

I just stumbled upon a collection of photos by Jordan Matter of all types of women going topless in NYC.

It took me a few minutes to get used to the images of topless women on the street, but eventually it started to look natural. Two pictures really emphasized how natural it is: one of a woman breast-feeding in the park, and another showing an older couple running up the steps from Penn Station with their shirts off.

There's also a video on the front page of Jordan Matter's website, which includes the photographer reading (bare-chested) from a court decision striking down laws that prohibit women from going bare chested just like men.

The USA has eliminated a lot of sexism from its laws, but we're not quite finished yet.

Voting guide: support the opposition

I've been meaning to write up a little "Guide for the common voter", to express my ideas on how regular folk should approach elections.

Basically, elections are a big waste of time and effort; no regular person has any hope of influencing the outcome of an election.

But regular folk should still vote. We should just get in, pull the lever, get out, and get back to doing the real work of the world (because we know that the politicians and lobbyists aren't doing anything useful).

However, an miscast vote is no better, and possibly worse, than no vote at all. Is there any way that we can quickly come to a decision on who to vote for, but still be confident that we will generally vote for the "right person"?

In this article, I propose two strategies for quick and efficient voting: vote for gridlock, and vote for change. They are both based on the observation that "power corrupts".

Vote for gridlock: When one party controls all branches of government, the government goes to shit. The opposition party is powerless to force accountability on the dominant party. Basically, the dominant party just uses its power to steal everything it can get its hands, and divides the spoils among its politicians, its campaign donors, and its voting constituencies. When power is split between the parties, each party will have the ability to hold the other accountable for any abuse of power, and legislation will only get established with near-consensus. So, if power is not evenly divided between the two major parties, vote for the candidate from the weaker of the two parties.

There's a nice piece on this from Reason: Vote for Gridlock: It's the patriotic thing to do

Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reasons.

Vote for change: If it isn't clear how to produce greater gridlock, then just vote against the incumbent. Incumbency provides too of a re-election advantage, and too much power in Washington. A constant turnover among politicians assures that they don't forget what its like to have a real job, and also provides the people with a constant supply of ex-politicians who can openly debrief us on what they saw in the halls of power.

Before we end, I'd like to address one common objection to these strategies: both of these strategies decrease the power of the elected representative from the voter's district, but a voter should want his representatives to have more power to advance the interests of his district. Poppycock. This is a simple choice between advancing parochial interests or advancing the general interest. Voters are free to use their votes to support the interests of a narrow group in society, and many (if not most) voters do just that. However, a narrow approach to politics undermines the entire purpose of having a political union. If voters are acting out of selfish aims, we should just dissolve the government, and end this farce.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Know your place

I recently stumbled upon a friend's copy of Jack Welch's recent management book: Winning.

Being familiar with Kevin Carson's analysis of the motivational propaganda put out by corporate management, I was wondering if this book espoused the same rankist ideology.

Looking at the Table of Contents, one chapter subtitle caught my eye: "That damn boss". So, what does the great Jack Welch have to say about disliking your boss?

I was pleasantly surprized that he quickly got to business by recognizing that "The world has jerks. Some of them get to be bosses."

However, for the most part, he goes on to advise the reader to just deal with it and hope for protection within the system. He phrases this in terms of "don't be a victim"--which on one hand is sensible and self-empowering: you don't give up on your life or your career just because you have a bad boss. On the other hand, among the "victim" behaviors he includes "bitching and moaning to your coworkers." I don't see anything wrong with expressing your opinions and concerns with people who might have some insights into the situation or might be able to help you overcome this crappy situation. Yes, it is painting yourself as a victim, but you may have actually be in an unjust situation. The solution to victimization is to find effective remedies for the injustice. By saying that we shouldn't even discuss any victimization we experience, Welch seems to suggest that there's nothing to be done about it, and we should just "deal with it."

He goes on to suggest that quiting is not a real option: He describes the outcome as being "out on the market, with no recommendations...". You might need to quit as a last resort, but you have to realize that your current boss not only controls your day-to-day worklife, he controls your future prospects as well. So much for free markets.

Next, he examines reasons why your boss might treat you like dung. One possible explanation is that you are a "boss hater", and your boss is just reflecting your own attitude on you (amplified tenfold, of course). You might be able to get away with this attitude if you are really talented, but most poor schmucks can't pull it off.

So basically, unless you are really sure of yourself, you should just give everything you've got to your boss and hope that he's a reasonable person and will reward you. If he isn't, you can really only hope that the corporate system will solve your problems: the higher-ups will eventually learn that you are a good worker and the boss is a bad boss, and will put you out of your misery by transferring you or firing him. You can cross your fingers and hope for this emancipation from above, but of course there is rarely a formal remedy built into the system, and talking to the boss' boss is generally counterproductive.

He finishes the meat of this chapter by saying that you need to decide whether to endure the bad boss or quit. Then you need to "come to grips with the fact that you are staying with a bad boss by choice. That means you've forfeited your right to complain." Of course, you owe your boss your unswerving loyalty. Know your place, slave.

I don't doubt that Welch is dispensing sincere advice, unlike the cynical crap put forward in Fish! and Who Moved My Cheese?, but the takehome message is still the same: you are not a free person. The (economic) world is not structured around the exchange of goods and services among equals; instead, it is a huge hierarchy and the only way you can move up (or get out from under the others) is to play the game and win the good graces of those who are already at the top.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Mises Economics Blog: Abolish the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Mises Economics Blog: Abolish the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

From the TTB website:

Distillation of Ethanol - In recent days, we have seen several news items on people distilling ethanol at home to supplement their gasoline needs. Unfortunately, some of the reports do not inform the public that it is illegal to distill alcohol without first obtaining a Federal permit through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Failure to obtain a Federal permit prior to engaging in this activity is a criminal offence under the Internal Revenue Code.

Mises Economics Blog: Abolish the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Mises Economics Blog: Abolish the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

From the TTB website:

Distillation of Ethanol - In recent days, we have seen several news items on people distilling ethanol at home to supplement their gasoline needs. Unfortunately, some of the reports do not inform the public that it is illegal to distill alcohol without first obtaining a Federal permit through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Failure to obtain a Federal permit prior to engaging in this activity is a criminal offence under the Internal Revenue Code.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Threats to equality on the internet

There are currently two bills before the US House of Representatives that could greatly impact the continuation of egalitarian communication on the internet.

The first is Michael Fitzpatrick's (R-PA) Deleting Online Predators Act, which would create a Federal mandate that schools and libraries "prohibit access by minors to commercial social networking websites", which are websites that "allow users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users and offer a mechanism for communication with other users."

Basically, if this law worked perfectly, this would block minors from viewing any commercial website where a regular person can add content, and where users create accounts and user's pages. In reality, schools and libraries will probably be error on the side of caution, and end up interfering with web-use by adults, and also block sites that are non-commercial. This would impact almost every interactive part of the web, including Blogger, Wikipedia, and community sites like Daily Kos. A person who relies on a library or school computer for internet access would be limited to static websites that are created and maintained by those with immense financial resources, or the random junk that "regular folk" are able to post on the web somewhat independently.

This legislation is a major over-reaction to the problem of online predators for two reasons:
  1. This can be handled directly by schools and libraries. Washington should only provide guidance and tools such as software.
  2. This can be handled without blocking websites. A simple solution is to turn off "cookies" on the computers' web browsers, such that users are not able to log-on to their accounts, and consequently can't receive messages sent to them or add personal information.

For more info and discussion, see: Freedom Democrats

  1. Fitzpatrick is being challenged by Patrick Murphy in November 2006
  2. American Library Association opposes DOPA (from CountSwackula)

The second bill opposes the adoption of content discrimination by internet service providers. John Conyer's (D-MI ) Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act, would mandate "Net Neutrality"--that ISPs cannot discriminate among content providers. Without this provision, ISPs would probably provide preference to content providers who are able to shell out the big bucks for fast data transmission. I doubt consumers would even be aware of the reason why some sites are faster than others, and would just stop using the slow sites, assuming that it's a server problem.

I'm not thrilled about restrictions like this, but I think it would be a good idea to place a moratorium on any content discrimination, in order to allow consumers some time to figure out how to deal with this. If ISPs are going to discriminate among content-providers, they should be limited to doing it in situations where they are providing the consumer with a free connection, or they are explicitly telling the end-user that a particular connection is slow because the ISP chose to give that connection a lower priority.

For more info and discussion, see: Freedom Democrats

Update: A bunch of links for discussion on this issue:
  1. ALA supports Net Neutrality (from CountSwackula)
  2. A neutral panic (against Net Neutrality, via Kevin Carson)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

a picture

There's no real content to this post. I just want to add a picture to my profile, and this is how Blogger says to do it.
I wish I looked as cool as Knappster

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Kevin Carson has been harping of the motivational techniques used by management to get workers to do more work for less pay (i.e. "increase efficiency"), with a particular focus on books that are apparently assigned reading in some corporations. Part of this is a reflection on management's attitude that people should love their jobs, regardless of what their jobs are. He describes management's conundrum as follows:
"It takes a lot of effort to get people's minds right and stamp out those last vestiges of ownlife. And surprise, surprise, surprise: there's an entire Motivational Mafia out there focused on getting people to love Big Brother and think of their jobs as the center of their life. "
I was especially drawn to a new word that he used: "ownlife". As a kid, I read most of Fred Sabrahagen's Berserker series of stories, in which the genocidal (or "biocidal") machines refer to their human servants as "goodlife", while all other life is implicitly "badlife" due to its innate desire to survive. Using this style of terminology, "ownlife" would be lifeforms that insist on purusing their own ends; but what would be the opposite? Ownedlife? Worklife?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ripple: An Online community currency system

I've been interested in community currency systems for awhile, and was pleased to discover Ripple-pay while reading the Mutualist Blog. For more info, check out "about ripple-pay", the "Ripplepay FAQ", and the Ripple Project sourceforge homepage.

I'll cover two issues in this post: first, why Ripple is better than other community currency systems that I've heard of, and second: why we should bother developing community currency systems.

Ripple is special because anyone can get into the system just by opening an account with the website/server. However, you can't do anything until you get someone to extend a line of credit to you (either a merchant or a friend) or you agree to accept someone else's IOU in exchange for services. This feature is dependent upon the main innovation of Ripple: there is no centralized organizer for the system -- it is based on one-on-one relationships between users, and the community dynamics develop from the network created by pairs of users. Consequently, each individual can understand the system and his own role in it.

However, this still allows particular users (accounts) to serve as connector nodes-- for example, a merchant may be willing to accept IOUs from many of his customers (so he can move his wares quickly), and likewise many of his customers may be willing to accept IOUs from the merchant because they know that they can exchange those IOUs for the goods that he sells. Another type of connector would be a credit-rating agent-- a trusted intermediate-- who makes a living from judging whether individuals are creditworthy and then exchanging his own, (widely-accepted) IOUs for their IOUs.

Why bother with community currencies? I believe that people should have control over their own lives, and that means that they should have control over the material items and social institutions that are necessary for their survival. Most of us need money to put a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, so it bothers me that our money system is controlled by distant, effectively anonymous bankers in NYC and politicians in Washington who are hardly accountable to regular Americans. In America and around the world, these elite-run monetary systems have repeatedly failed and driven millions of regular people to desperation. The most recent example in the USA was during the Great Depression, but these currency crises still happen on a regular basis around the world, and I doubt the politicians when they claim that the USA has developed the magical system that will never fail.

I prefer to have a system that lets me know where my dependencies lay, and gives me control over maintaining them, and rebuilding them in the case that there is a systemic breakdown. That's why I support the development of community currency systems.

Addendum: To paraphrase Douglas Adams : "If a system is labeled as 'unbreakable', you can be sure that there will be no way to fix it when it breaks".

Additions: Some similar credit systems from the article "The virtual moneylender" . However, these are profit oriented.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Controlling our information

Despite the amazing information technologies (IT) being developed, many of us fail to gain the promised benefits because we don't consider how some of these technologies deprive us of control over our information. We end up giving away this control and consequently our future options are limited. Before IT consumers invest in learning new IT systems and entering our information into these systems, we need to evaluate whether we retain control over that information once it is in the system.

I expect all IT systems to embody the following guideline:

All information entered into the system by the user may be reused by that user without any technological or legal barriers.

While I don't expect any software to follow that guideline perfectly, I have noticed great variation in the extent that different IT systems follow it, and this has become a major factor in my choice of which software to use. The most important consideration is that the software supports open file formats, though the user interface and structure of the IT system itself can also be factors.

So here are the practical applications of this rule:

  1. My music player must support OGG Vorbis, as all of my CDs have been ripped into that format. Good bye iTunes (and iPod). Hello Winamp (with appropriate plug-ins)

  2. My office suite must support the Open Document standard. Good bye MS Office, hello and StarOffice. Here's a good article about Open Office: OpenOffice Is 10 Years Behind MS Office? That's Fine!

  3. I'm am wary of Google's offers to store all of my data on their servers (starting with Gmail, and extending to Gdrive). The benefits are too small, and aside from privacy concerns, there's too much risk that they'll keep me from easily recovering all of my information and moving it to a new service.

Rant: I really dislike Apple Computers. They have always seemed to be control freaks, and while they may have relaxed their grip a little, I still think they're worse than Microsoft in this respect. I was also frustrated that iTunes displays RSS Podcast addresses in such a way that the user can't select the text and copy it to the clipboard, which meant I had to copy the addresses into Winamp by hand. Limiting the user in this way is either a stupid oversight on the part of the designers, or an intentional scheme to limit their options.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Mutualist blog: Who Moved My Cheese, Revisited

I don't have time to write anything about this, but Kevin Carson wrote a good post about the constant propaganda campaigns of the powers-that-be to convince the powerless that their condition "natural" and inevitable.

Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism: Who Moved My Cheese, Revisited something that "just happens"; it's presented in much the same way Tom Friedman presents "globalization": not as the product of human action, but as an inevitable and impersonal force of nature. We're expected to accept as it comes, and deal with it within whatever framework is established by (those who control our social institutions). The idea that some authority figures are in a position to dole out cheese, and that we must jump through whatever hoops they require in order to get it, goes without saying.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Promoting the rule of law (the death penalty, and public defenders)

Originally published at the Freedom Democrats site

America prides itself on being a land of laws. We can rest easy, knowing that if we have broken no law, the police will not bother us.

The Bush administration has recently shaken our confidence in this fact: they assert a right to spy on and even imprison American citizens on American soil, without any reference to those individuals having violated a law. This is a troubling development, but for some segments of American society, the rule of law has always stood on a shaky foundation.

Americans are regularly arrested despite having committed no crime, and most are found "not guilty" after standing trial before their peers, yet some are wrongfully convicted. The American legal system is designed to err on the side of liberty--guilt must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt"-- so we might be tempted to accept that any wrongful punishments are the unavoidable side-effect of a human system that punishes the guilty.

We shouldn't dismiss this so easily. Wrongful conviction and punishment is the greatest infringement on personal liberty possible by the government in our society, and eliminating wrongful punishments should be a top priority for anyone concerned with liberty or fairness in our society.

I generally don't feel qualified to judge the legitimacy of individual convictions, but I can judge the system as a whole, and I know that the United States of America are punishing, even executing, individuals who did not commit the crimes that they were convicted of. Even worse, I know that Americans from particular communities are much more likely to be wrongfully convicted than other Americans, and I know that these wrongful convictions and punishments are not necessary.

We should take all reasonable measures to minimize wrongful punishments, but we don't. To minimize wrongful punishments, we should severely limit the use of the death penalty, and provide any funds necessary to provide legal consul to indigent Americans who have been arrested.

For information about wrongful execution, see Science versus the Death Penalty at Scientific American Observations. And for a lyrical representation of a wrongful execution, see Johnny Cash's song, The Long Black Veil.

The issue of public provision of legal consul for indigent defendants is a bit more complicated than the death penalty. Often, the state claims that it just doesn't have the money to provide adequate defense. As critics of government profligacy, readers of this blog may be sympathetic with the view that criminal defendants should be left to find their own lawyers. However, we must remember that the loss of freedom that comes from our current tax rate is completely insignificant in comparison to the loss of freedom that comes from wrongful imprisonment, and the cost of a fully funded public defender's office is insignificant in comparison to other expenditures of state governments. Also, we should recognize that the defendants legal costs are generally imposed by a state that constantly criminalizes additional activities, and these costs should be treated as an unavoidable part of the criminalization of any activity.

For information about providing an adequate defense for indigent criminal defendants, see the American Bar Association's Ten Principles of a Public Defense System (PDF) and the ACLU's website on justice for the indigent.

To get an idea of how this issue is treated in public discourse, check out this editorial from the Virginia-Pilot, Indigent defense loses out again, and how Virginia measures up using the American Bar Association's evaluation system, rated by the Virginia Indigent Defense Coalition.

Finally, for some perspective, consider the view of a poor person living in a poor community. In addition to the risk of being the victim of street-crime, this person may also worry about police harassment and the risk of being convicted of a crime that he did not commit. If he views the police as a threat to himself and his loved ones, he will likely be filled with fear and anger, and will undermine fundamental societal institutions. The risk of wrongful imprisonment may be viewed as part of an oppressive regime, with consequences described in the essay Oppressed People Suck

Please comment at the the Freedom Democrats site