Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Why I Do This

There are two reasons that I am keeping this weblog. The first is deeply personal. I enjoy the opportunity to put out my thoughts, heck, even to force them into a coherent form, and to possibly have them examined under a similarly interested scrutiny. I can create new ideas, for me at least, and have them tested by the rest of the world. If they are found wanting, the reasons that they are wanting come back to me and I can consider them and change the ideas if necessary.

When I first started writing this, I had an imaginary audience in my mind, and I wrote to them. After a few weeks, however, I stopped feeling that presence. That was probably when I put on the Site Meter and saw that I could go days without a single hit. That actually gave me the courage to start wrtiting down a more perssonal narrative. Obviously I was only writing for myself, so why not?

The second reason is really the first in a way. I came upon blogs and the connectivity with the rest of the world that they seemed to have. This article makes a lot of the points that lead me to take up this hobby. The idea of reading many different impressions on an event, each one from a different reference point, is very striking for me. I go on and on about how the world is fractal and that to properly understand it, one can not rely on one master view but instead need to have many smaller views from many smaller places. The environment of bloggers, known as the blogosphere, is tightly connected, with ideas able to bounce from one end of the world to the other and back again in seconds. I myself have posted comments on boards all over the world. The first comment to this blog came from England, how cool is that?

I believe that the blogosphere is similar, perhaps analogous, to a mind. Information comes in, is noticed by other elements around it, and is reacted to. If the reaction is positive, then the idea spreads, where it interacts with even more ideas. If the response is negative, it clashes with other ideas, and it dies off. The iterative nature of the exchange is fundamentally chaotic, ideas grow and change like storms over the ocean.

And like the apochryphal butterfly, this blog might just play a role in one of those storms someday.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Stamp Out American Imperialism!

No wonder the rest of the world hates us. Especially when we have senators saying that America should get what it wants by throwing a little weight around:

Kerry's campaign aides said the Democratic candidate wants the United States to pressure the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase production and apply diplomatic pressure to the member nations to reduce prices.

Just who does Senator Kerry think we are, to go around and diplomatically dictate what other countries should do with their resources? Come on, lets get and ANSWER on this, pronto.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Gotta Love the Irony

Just overheard a conversation about people having seen bootlegged copies of The Passion of The Christ. It just seems a little odd that someone who would want to see the movie badly enough would also be willing to get an illegal copy.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

I'll Say it When It Needs to be Said

And I'll say it again when the opportunity comes to make the point more clearly. I don't blame Clinton or Bush for 9/11. I blame Osama for that. I believe that only eight months is not enough time for Bush to have done anything to Al Qaeda. I also believe that without an extreme event like 9/11 Clinton could never have mustered up enough political support to do what Bush is doing. Yes, Al-Qaeda was backing Ramzeh Yousef when he and his group blew up the bomb under the WTC in 1993. That it failed to accomplish destruction on a military scale would have had Republicans howling if we had responded to it militarily.

Scott Ganz, aka Doctor Suarez, on half of the husband and wife of The Protocols of the Yuppies of Zion makes this point very well. Granted, Clinton may have handled most of what he did do poorly, in this arena, but the Congress would never have backed him enough to really do it right.

So don't let it be said that I never criticize Republicans. Next time you hear about some idiot bombing an abortion clinic, I'll be right with the Democrats yelling to fry the bastard. Although the Democrats tend to be anti-death penalty, so I'll still be pretty lonely. You get the point, anyway.

Is it OK to Start Getting Scared Now?

Last Thursday, blogger Matt Margolis was assaulted at a demonstration outside of a Bush appearance in Boston. I'm not sure of the details, Matt has them on his site, and the actual occurrence of the assault is not what I want to write about.

What has me concerned has been some of the reaction of some people to justify assault. That one person does not have equal recourse to the arena of verbal debate, the author argues, is justification to move to the arena of fisticuffs.

And then there is a comment left on Matt's site:

Hitler had his beliefs, just like Matt has his. Sometimes violence is the only way to show people how devastatingly bad their ideas are. When society is so distraught about policy that individuals feel the need to take violent action, revolution is not only expected, but necessary. I'm no union man, but I'd have probably taken a swing at you too.

Maybe violence is the only way, sometimes. That some people are already starting to think this way has me really worried. If Bush wins re-election, I would seriously doubt that he will make it all the way through his term without a domestic attempt on his life. Come on, people, this is still America. We don't work this way.

Thanks to Michelle at A Small Victory

Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Right Methods and The Right Results

I just finished reading this post: Pejmanesque: "THE HOLOCAUST SHRUG". Once I get more than a few minutes of breathing time I'll read the whole articles. What I have seen so far reminds me of the post I made below. Who do you reconcile "War is NOT the Answer" with the potential that Iraq now has? I can allow that some people truly believe that Bush is a fascist thug who is looking to crush rights all over the world. I would ask those people, can you not agree that at least the lesser of two evils won?

In philosophy, there are two positions that are opposed to one another, two positions that describe the divide I see in civil discourse. The first is the Categorical Imperative, the most visible portion being that it is immoral to treat another person as a mean to an end rather than as an end in and of themselves. We often see this expressed as "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." "War is NOT the Answer" also derives from this. It is a necessity of war that one kills the other side and any other poor slob who gets in the way. The Categorical Imperative would hold that one must not seek out the right ends in a way that exploits or infringes on the rights of others: If one can secure the health and well being of all the world at the cost of the life of one innocent new-born infant, then the Categorical Imperative would say that that is too high of a price.

The opposing view is derived from Consequentialist Utilitarianism, so long as an act creates a net increase of good as opposed to bad, then the act was moral. The articles in the top referenced link take the Utilitarian view. In the first season of The Shield, a police officer beats a kidnapping suspect in an interrogation room until the suspect confesses where he is keeping his victim. Given that the girl would have eventually died where she was buried, the Utilitarian would have said that it was moral to have beaten the man to save the life of the girl. One can look at the necessity of paying taxes at the simple end, to the extreme of saying that it is allowable that 51 people, to ward off starvation, kill and cannabalize 49 others.

My philosophy is of the utilitarian avenue. I come to it because I have learned that to choose not to act is still a choice that will lead to real consequences. To categorically deny that a method is absolutely wrong is dangerous.

That last sentence was difficult for me to write. That is because I want to be able to say "Terrorism can never be a right means." Terrorism is a means to an end. Al Qaeda and all of the terrorist organizations have goals, from get money to remake the world into an Islamic world. That is why the War on Terror is unlike any other ever fought. We are not at war with any individual or group, we are at war with a method. If we capture Osama bin Ladin and every other person in the world who has ever applied the words Al Qaeda to themselves, the war would still go on, because there would still be conditions in which the means of terrorism would still be attractive.

That is why I supported the Invasion of Iraq. Iraq is the means to end the conditions that push people to terrorism. With Iraq fallen, Saddam Hussein is no longer paying the families of suicide bombers in Palestine, he is no longer bribing UN officials in charge of the Oil-for-Food program (indeed, the sanctions aimed at him that were hurting his people are now gone, a plus for the people of Iraq), and he is no longer torturing and murdering his own people. All of these would have continued if the US had not invaded.

MAYBE Bush lied, full-on knew-it-wasn't-true-but-said-different-anyway, lied about Iraq having stockpiles of WMD. If he did, I would feel very indignant and deeply offended. Is that indignance and offense enough to offset the good that has come about due to the war? I hardly think so.

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Count is Now: 70

I might just be able to appreciate that some things are so horrible that a person's mind would not wish to acknowledge it. Certainly the events of September 11 are a case in point. But to go to such an extreme that such a thing is not horrible, and is in fact good grist for a comedy, is entirely beyond the pale. I would like to write about making a counter-proposal about producing dramatic recreations of all of the bombings in England carried out by the IRA in mime. However, even the extended 15 count has still not gotten me past the image of carrying out the addage: Why not kick a man while he's down? He's that much closer to your foot.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Something to Torture Yourself With Over Lunch

Stumbled on these Mind Games during my lunch break. I am proud to say that I got the math challenges right, even the ones I hadn't already seen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Thank God We Won the Revolution

Or else we would have to live in a country that would imprison a man for killing one of four men breaking into his home. Or maybe we could be in a country where if a man is found to have been wrongfully incarcerated the government, upon his release, can charge him for room and board that he was obviously not entitled to.

God bless the USA. (For now at least)

And You Wonder Why We Haven't Found Bin Ladin

Take a look at this photo taken by a Marine Corp aviator. Could you imagine trying to find a moving target in that type of terrain?

Makes Me Wish I Could Just Turn Around...

so that I could use my hindsight to see what's coming. A panel is investigating the intelligence acitivities of the US with respect to Al Qaeda throughout the nineties and up to September 11, 2001. The implications made in that inquiry are that the US was too cautious in its reading of the intelligence.

Not two weeks earlier, however, we have another panel grilling George Tenet, Director of the CIA, over whether the intelligence regarding Iraq's WMD stockpiles and programs were spun to sell the war to the public. Personally, every time I hear the voice of Ted Kennedy (D-Mas), I have the urge to ask people to call me by my real given name for the rest of the day.

The Game is Intelligence. The object, figure out what the other guy is hiding while preventing anyone else from discovering what you are hiding. The second part is far easier than the first. In the second part, you look at all of the evidence your activities leave behind and ask yourself, "If Sherlock Holmes had this evidence, could he figure out what I'm up to?" If yes, get rid of the evidence. If no, get rid of it anyway, because you can't be sure if the other guy isn't better than Sherlock Holmes.

The discovering side of intelligence is the hard part, because, face it, you never have Sherlock Holmes on your side. All that you have are a bunch of people, buried under a pile of information in which useful clues look no different than random noise on first, second, or third look. It would be like looking for a needle in all the hay in Kansas.

Remember, these are people who, while patriotic, are doing a job to put food on the table. They face the constant dilemna of Get it Done versus Don't Screw UP. Before 9/11, the juiciest stories were when the US would go in only to find that they had the wrong target. "Heads Must Roll!" would be the cry from the Congressional Oversight Commitees. So someone's head would roll, and all the rest would keep their personal favorite heads down. To do nothing would usually be the safest course of action unless the rare golden perfection of "knowing" was reached. Since that almost never happens, nothing is what was usually done.

And Nothing was done, until 9/11 showed that the safety of doing nothing was far from perfect.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Why a Good Education in Science is Important

This article starts off as an expose of Ralph Nader and fails miserably. It tries to impugn Nader's credibility by pointing out the apparently intentionally sloppy work done by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). With no other, more direct, link between unethical activities and Ralph Nader, his premise falls short.

What the article does bring up is an issue near and dear to me: the misuse of science for political purposes. This is a condition I blame on the way that science is taught today. For the most part, science classes, particularly on the elementary level, are taught as a rote set of facts. What tends to be lacking is a study of the method by which scientific data and conclusions are reached. In the article, NYPIRG is cited repeatedly for willfully bad methodologies, apparently for the purposes of achieving results that would invite the political action that they are seeking. Without a proper grounding in the proper methods of science, people would have no way of telling what are reliable results and what are not.

As it currently is, science is taught much like history, a series of facts with no indication or basis for justification. Science taught like this allows the unscrupulous to slap the label of "Scientific" on something without being called on it. Science taught like this is like a catechism, something handed down by an anonymous authority that has to be taken on face value.

Monday, March 22, 2004

So What is it That You Want?

James Lileks has a very good look at the anti-(whatever it is they're against) protests over the weekend.

Do the ends justify the means? That is one of the big ones, really. I'm sick of war, but can I say that there are not things worth fighting for? No. The line we try to draw between ends and means gives lie to the truly fractal nature of the boundary. Is it right to go to war for this? It could be that there are fingers of yes reaching into no that any small change of the conditions can change the answer. That is why we one can not say yes all of the time, or no all of the time. That is why I will keep my little head as far away from actual leadership as possible. I just don't want the headache.

Guilty as Well

It is shameful how some former members of the Clinton administration are pointing fingers at members of the Bush administration for not following up on their warnings about Al Qaeda in the eight months prior to 9/11. Many people are jumping all over them pointing out that Bush had eight months, Clinton had eight years.

Glenn Reynolds links to a number of sites on this topic, but he makes a point in the update that applies to me as well:

Well, I'd give Clinton a bit more of a pass on this than Hewitt does. I think a lot of people -- including me -- viewed Islamic terrorism in the 1990s as a minor threat that could be contained until it collapsed under the weight of its own stupidity. That was wrong, but I don't blame the Clinton people for getting it wrong.

The cruise missile attacks took place during the Lewinsky scandal. I recall my impression, as I was looking at a headline in a sidewalk newspaper machine, when I first read the name Osama bin Ladin. Here is a billionaire Saudi oilman using terrorism to take over the world. Out of what James Bond novel did Clinton find this guy? It was so transparently a ploy to take attention off of Lewinsky's grand jury testimony (or somesuch new event in the scandal) that bin Ladin just didn't merit my mental faculties.

Count me among those who didn't take the guy seriously enough.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Just a Random Thought:

In the age of television, people have been conditioned to think that something that can be photographed is more real than that which can not.

Case in point: the steel tarrifs President Bush pushed through a couple of years ago. A video camera can be pointed at a dilapidated steel factory and the workers filing out of it with a voice over telling us that these men will not be returning for another shift. One can see the line and be told that 800 men at this one plant will be out of work. The result, hue and cry for government to Do Something to either prevent the plant from shutting down or to prevent the workers from suffering too badly.

On the other hand, tariffs are enacted and the price of steel goes up. Thousands of small to midsize companies, running thin margins to begin with due to tight competition, have to cut loose four or five employees apiece in order to stay afloat. The thousands put out of work due to the tariffs are diffused across the country. No plants go under and there are no lines of workers all in one place to point a camera at. No hue and cry, no single legislator with enough voters discomfitted to make a point about, yet, by shear number of unemployed, no one can doubt that the tariffs have made things worse.

With no pictures, however, how do you convince people of that?

(So I may have lifted this line of argument from Tom Clancy's The Bear and The Dragon. Its been a couple of years since I read it, and the point is still a good one.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Tolkien Knew Good vs. Evil

Apply this to debates on either the 2nd Amendment or the War on Terror.

Those who have not swords may still die upon them.
--Éowyn, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Link via baldilocks

I Think Someone Has Been Watching Too Much CSI.

Even better that this happened in Las Vegas. Its very good that the guy has finally been caught, but I just couldn't help but chuckle at this paragraph:

Malsom said he called the FBI in Cincinnati but said they were skeptical. He went back to the bar after McCoy had left, retrieved items that McCoy left behind and turned the objects -- including a matchbook and a drinking glass -- over to the FBI. He also downloaded photos and other information on the suspect from the Internet.

Gus Grissom would be proud.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Somebody Who Gets It

Via Vodkapundit, I read this entry from The Daily Ablution. His Open Letter to Osama really spells it out.

This is war, and the enemy has shown that it will be fought all or nothing. More than your life is at stake.

Peace is Never Unilateral (The Count is Now: 55)

By the time I decided whether or not to include this article in The Count, I had cooled off enough to proceed without it. At issue today is an editorial from the Guardian of the UK. This was written in response to the bombings in Madrid.

An international conference, to bridge the divide between Muslim and Christian communities, should be one first step.

I don't think that I have ever seen a clearer example of "Since what we have done hasn't worked, let's see if more of the same will do the trick" reasoning. We have been talking and discussing and conferring for the past thirty years. How many people have died due to terrorists in that time? By what reasonable measure can it be said that this is working?

We need to take the fight against terror out of America's hands.

I did add to The Count just now. "We need to the the fight against terror out of America's hands."? I suppose that might be a good idea. After all, the only things that have happened since America took the fight in its own hands have been the fall of the Taliban, the fall of Saddam Hussein, over half of Al Qaeda's leadership dead or in prison, the handover of Libya's WMD programs, Iran allowing IAEA inspectors to examine their nuclear weapons program, and North Korea engaging in multi-lateral talks. No, nothing positive at all.

We need to get beyond the them and us, the good guys and the bad guys, and seek a genuinely collective response.

I'm going to add my response to "War is Not the Answer" to my critique of this line. I entirely agree. I am thirty years old, and I am tired of all of the war and violence and bloodshed in the world. I fully believe that war and violence are the worst possible things that humans can bring upon this earth.

My question is: When do the terrorists learn that? When do they get past the them and us, the good guys and the bad guys? Yes, we need a collective response, but those who are attacking us have to be part of that collective. Unless and until then there can not be peace. I am not racist enough to think that the Muslim world is incapable of holding up its end of any type of peaceful consensus, nor do I think that the Western world can or should ensure peace only by its own action.

When was the last time Al Qaeda issued demands stating what had to be done in order to prevent further attacks? Never. If they have demands, then it is only that we should cast aside anything that is not Muslim in our culture and embrace the will of Allah. They are on a Crusade. They hate us because we give lie to their religion. We do not adhere to the tenets of their faith, and yet we are prosperous, healthy, and reap all of the other benefits that Allah should only bestow upon the faithful. Therefore, we must have gotten what we have by evil means, and that they must be the avenging hand of God to smite the unrighteous down into their proper place. Al Qaeda are not "beyond the them and us, the good guys and the bad guys." They are the Good Guys, and we are the Bad Guys.

I want my as of yet hypothetical children to never have to fear that their lives may be turned upside down, or even ended, because they are different than someone else. There are only two powers that can make that come to pass. One is for those who follow the path of radical Islam to set aside their weapons and agree to live and let live. The other is for us to destroy them. If they show us a sincere intent to use the first power, then we shall have peace. If they continue to fail to do so, then they shall be destroyed, and we shall have to continue wondering who else in the world hasn't yet gotten the message.

(via Andrew Sullivan and The New Republic)

Monday, March 15, 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen, Can I Get a "D'oh!"?

Right now, some paralegal is wanting to crawl into a hole and pulling it in after him/herself. Because of some "bad research" the city of Aliso Viejo was contemplating the ban of any product made with dihydrogen monoxide.

The problem: dihydrogen monoxide is water. So much for "Eight a Day for Health".

For more information on this well hidden menace, you can check here and here.

Friday, March 12, 2004

It Is Chilling

Stephen Green the Vodkapundit makes several good points in his reflection on the Madrid bombings. What really got to me was a quotation posted in the comments:

As word of the bombings spread, many people frantically called family and friends on cell phones.

"On many bodies, we could hear the person's mobile phones ringing as we carted them away," said Beatriz Martin, a doctor who tended to victims at El Pozo.

Mentally hear this sound when you vote Kerry in November....

Posted by: Chilling on March 12, 2004 06:38 AM

Some of my friends can't understand why I still consider the War on Terror to be the primary issue of our time, and why I am still considering voting for Bush in November (Yes, my feeling on the issue have been renewed). I admit that I still kept a distance, didn't let my emotions get to me when I was first reading the reports of the attacks. The comment above drove it home. I am outraged. I feel the outrage that I wish more people outside the United States felt on 9/11.

I have never been to Spain, but my parents have. They came back with the requisite pictures, and a story about cell phones in that country. They told me of seeing a business man walking down the street, carrying a briefcase in one hand and holding a mobile phone to his ear with the other. Suddenly, another phone he was carrying started to ring, forcing him to tuck his briefcase between his knees so that he could answer the second phone.

I have not heard or read anything about Americans being killed or injured in the blasts. Honestly, I don't really care. The story my parents told me was just a silly little anecdote, but that it was silly is what made that guy human. Is he still alive? Might he have been one of the people whose friends and family were trying desperately to get hold of him?

Was he able to answer those calls?

Not Good All Around

The reporter on this story was unable to get a statement from the woman at the center or it, but from I read so far, it does not look good for her. Regardless of her reasons, I still have to swallow my disdain for her decision and say that she had the right to make it.

What I am really bothered by is the direction that the decision to prosecute her and the decision to charge Scot Peterson with two counts of murder. The Courts are being forced to charge into that quagmire of deciding when rights begin. Unlike most other instances, there is no bright line to say yes/no, alive/not alive. The legal system does not like grey, and there is no greyer area than this.

Self-Righteousness Lead Astray

You say "self-righteous" and the first image that comes to mind is some bible-thumping preacher with a southern accent hollering about how God is going to smite the unworthy (read: everyone he believes to be unworthy). I can't stand those people.

Self-righteousness does not come solely from the reactionary religious, however. Take the case of Susan Lindauer, a former journalist and congressional staffer. Here's the key statement in the story:

"I'm an anti-war activist and I'm innocent," she said after her arrest in her hometown of Takoma Park, Md. "I did more to stop terrorism in this country than anybody else. I have done good things for this country. I worked to get weapons inspectors back to Iraq when everyone else said it was impossible."

Yes, I believe that we can all now see that it was her daring efforts of conciliation on behalf of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, and not the hundreds of thousands of US troops sitting on his border, that lead Saddam Hussein to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq. We should be thanking Ms. Lindauer rather than treating her like a spy.

[end sarcasm]

As things look now, this woman makes me sick. I'll try to curb my gut reaction and keep my opinion flexible pending new information.

Update: Via Instapundit and Eugene Volokh (both of whom are law professors) I have learned that my use of the term "spy" above is incorrect. Ms. Lindauer is being charged with being an unregistered agent for Iraq. The term "spy" requires that secrets be exchanged, which it seems that Susan Lindauer was not in a position to do.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Nanny and The Cop

When it comes to government intrusion into people's lives, there are two ways it can show itself. One I call the Nanny and the other the Cop.

The Cop is what comes to most people's minds when they consider government interference in their lives. We can imagine jack-booted thugs in police uniforms breaking in doors to search for immoral, and hence illegal, acitivities (John Aschcroft, anyone?). This William Safire cloumn looks at the way surveillance is encroaching on privacy. The assumption behind the Cop is that freedom must be curtailed because everyone can be a criminal.

The Nanny does not get as much attention. This force of government interference is responsible for mandatory helmet and seat belt laws. It tells us that companies have to provide greater and greater protections for their workers. This Telegraph of the UK article talks about wide ranging smoking bans. The assumption behind the Nanny is that everyone is too stupid and/or helpless to be able to take care of themselves.

As a Libertarian, I would like to cordially tell both the Nanny and the Cop to go screw themselves. I don't want protection from myself and I can be trusted to keep and deviancy I may or may not practice in my home in my home.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I'll Stop Laughing any Minute Now

Oh, Dear Lord, can You please deliver us from politicians bound and determined to make California the laughing stock of the world?

State Sen. John Vasconcellos is obviously aClass II Granola Californian . The various classees of Granola Californian are:

Class I: Fruit
Class II: Nut
Class III: Flake

Here's a clue for the clueless: Teenagers are idiots. I most certainly was a Teenage Idiot. They are in the process of learning about how to get along in the world, and can not be relied upon to hold up to the full burden of responsibility that we demand adults to carry. Hell, I know more than a few "adults" who still can't figure that out.

Fortunately, this idea has about the same chances of passing as John Ashcroft had of passing that gall stone through his pancreas. And even if it did, you can figure that American Idol would still get better turn out than American Presidnet.

I'll Stick with Essays

For a brief time I thought about keeping my posts short and very much to the point, as Halley recommends here.

I don't like to make assumptions as to what is known and unknown to my readers. Actually, its more a matter of writing the assumptions that I make in my thoughts that is useful, it forces me to question them. Afterward, I feel more confident that I have not left a gaping hole in my argument. Since blogging is best done in the voice of the writer, I say now that I embrace my inner windbag.


Here's the story for you: Dear Abby Almost Falls for 'Simpsons' Spoof.

You know that it is only a matter of time before Matt Groenig uses "I will not write fake letters to Dear Abby" as the chalkboard line.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Is TV losing out to video games?

Short answer: Yes

While it may not be on the Playstation, (my Playstation 2 sees far more use as a DVD player than game machine) I currently spend far more time currently playing Star Wars: Galaxies far more than watching TV. I, like most people, watch TV to be entertained. Lately, the game has done a far better job of doing that than the Ol' Boob Tube.

Friday, March 05, 2004

That's Why He's the Professional

A couple of weeks ago I really surprised a friend of mine by admitting that I hadn't ruled out voting for Bush this November. Not that I would vote for him, but that I hadn't ruled him out entirely. She asked me how, and I responded that I still consider the war on terror to be the most important issue in the country.

Today's The Bleat by James Lileks captures why I still feel the necesity to continue the war the way it has been going. Just head on down past the domestic paragraphs to where he starts his screed. I truly envy his ability to convey what I want to say in a third of the space it would take me.

I remember how I felt on that day. So far, the memory of that intensity of uncertainty and fear is still mostly fresh. I don't want to be protected from the feelings those memories carry. I want to be protected from feeling them for a whole new set of victims.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

More On Chaos and Economics

In the first comment to this post below (first comment ever, truth be told) Tom questioned my assertion that the patterns that emerge from lower level interactions are essentially illusory. He points out that our use of technology has been developed using higher level patterns observed without our awareness of the lower levels.

Considering his argument, I have to admit that was overbroad in my statements. There are many cases where one does not need to invoke the lower levels to describe the behavior of an entire population. In some cases, the behavior "flattens out", the chaotic effects cancel leaving an easily figured linear system. For example, one would not need to calculate the quantum paths of every quark in a ball to deduce the ball's trajectory. Another case is where a large number of "random" events form patterns that reflect the probabilities of those events. Insurance actuarial tables and radioactive half-lives are both cases where one can make predictions on the large scale but is denied predictive power over individuals.

Tom made a very good point about how those who understand the patterns that emerge have an advantage in increasing the value in their lives. I fully agree with that sentiment. The brain in a very complex system, and one of the ways that it is truly amazing is that it can create models of other complex systems. A person who can create a more accurate model of a prey animal's behavior will be a better hunter. If a person has a better sense of the behavior of the market, then that person would be the one I'd want managing my retirement fund. This process is not entirely conscious, I believe that this is from where feelings of intuition and hunches arise.

While there are many cases where complexity in nature has denied science predictability (weather, turbulent flow, etc.) I intended in the post below to apply the concept of chaotic unpredictability only to social systems. The simple systems that I listed previously are simple because there is relatively little feedback of information in those systems. I can say that a flipped coin will land on Heads 50% of the time precisely because each flip is not "aware" of what previous flips have done.

I changed the tag line of this blog just before posting this entry. It means that those who are aware of the rules and all of their implications tend to come out better. It is incomplete (I was going for pithy) because one would also need to know the conditions in which the rules are being applied. This is where chaos in social systems really get out of hand. The possession of information changes the system. This includes the degree to which patterns are recognized. There is an old schtick that is illustrative: I know that he knows that I usually go right, so I'll go left. But he knows that I know the he knows the I usually go right, so I can't go left. etc., etc., ad nauseum. The degree to which information is fed back into the system is huge, and any change made to the rules or knowledge gleaned about patterns resulting from the rules will have far reaching effects.

Have you ever read those "Investing Secrets from the Pros" in financial magazines? Don't bother with them. Those are patterns that have emerged from the rules of the market, and the only reason that they might have worked is that they were secret. Once a large number of investors start pursuing those strategies, the relative advantage decreases and there comes a counteracting force applied by those who wish to profit from the behavior of the first group.

I had meant the first post of this line to be a critique of social engineering in light of chaos theory and emergent phenomena. Much of social science in the past decades has been to develop rules that will provide predictive power over the actions of groups of people, an Ideal Gas Law for people or Laws of Mechanics for social institutions. The problem is that should those laws ever be discovered, we enter into a feedback loop (He knows that I know the he knows that I know...) where those laws themselves become causes generating unpredictable effects because no law can describe the repercussions of its own knowledge.

The feedback loop ensures that System I is not the same as System I + New Law or System I + Knowledge of Pattern. One might argue that such change would be minimal, but please recall that the Butterfly Effect tells us that there is no such thing as a negligible change. The systems may remain similar for a period of time (the period of time where the parties with the knowledge of the pattern are profitting), but after that period the systems diverge to where the Law or Knowledge are operating in conditions that they were not created to address.

Ummm, Excuse Me?

Looks like McDonalds is phasing out their Supersize Fries and Drinks. I'm just a little confused by some of the wording.

Maybe the coffee hasn't kicked in yet, but since when is removing options the same things as giving them choices? If I hadn't been numbed to these types of "people can't be expected to take care of themselves" stories, then I would have added to the Count. In that respect, don't even get me started on this idiot:

An award-winning documentary called "Super Size Me" has heaped on more unwanted publicity for McDonald's. The documentary, which chronicles the deterioration of filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's health during a monthlong experiment eating nothing but McDonald's food, won a directing prize at the Sundance Film Festival and is set for wide release this spring.

I say we should find this guy and pour hot coffee in his lap until he admits that no one was coercing him to eat only McDonald's food by threatening to pour hot coffee in his lap.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

A Salute to a True Man of Science

You have to respect a person who, in the name of Science! will put themselves on the line. He went from concept to experiment with scarcely a look back.

Sir, this blog salutes you.

Chaos Theory in Economics

This post has been knocking around inside my head for some time now, and this post at Samizdata helped me to finally get it started. The link refers to a discussion over a quote by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book Pyramids of Life:

As Adam Smith understood long ago, an illusion of harmony and real efficiency will emerge in an economy dominated by self-interest at a lower level.

Brian Micklethwait, the author of the Samizdata piece, then goes on to question the use of the word "illusion" in the above quotation and to analyze the assumed metaphor that underlies the quote. To paraphrase whichever poet, "Market, red in tooth and claw."

Dawkins's reference to Adam Smith in the quote credits Smith with a very early understanding of what has become a fundamental aspect of Chaos Theory, the idea of the self-organizing system, in which a large number of individual units acting independently give arise to a system that appears to act in a coordinated manner. The "appearance" or "illusion" of coordination is no more real than the coordination of ants in a colony (it is being learned that individual ants do what they do by instinct and that the queen is very far from being some sort of central brain), or the illusion that a storm is a singular thing rather than a huge conglomeration of air and water molecules dancing to the dictates of the laws of physics and thermodynamics. What is happening in all of these systems; market, ant colony, and storm; is the result of a large number of individuals acting in accordance with a set of rules. These rules are applied over and over again, with the situation each individual finding itself in being the result of the previous applications of the rules by itself and its neighbors.

What the field of self-organizing systems is discovering is that the complexity of the final system is not necessarily reflective of the complexity of the underlying rules. An individual ant's instincts are not very complex, and the rules of physics that apply to a molecule in the atmosphere are rather well known. The complexity arises from the repeated iteration of the rules. A classic example is the Game of Life. Each square on the grid can be either on or off (populated or unpopulated in this simulation) and its state is determined by a total of four rules. From these four rules many shapes occur that appear as if they must have been deliberately designed, the Large Exploder is my personal favorite.

An important thing to remember is that the rules remain constant. There is no cosideration made for the fact that a cell is part of a glider or and exploder or any other form that we might give a name to. The only elements that exist are the individual cells, any other pattern that occurs is an accident of the system.

These patterns can either be self-reinforcing or self-destroying. The difference between the two is whether continuing the pattern makes it easier or harder for the pattern to continue. Ant colonies are a good example of a self-reinforcing pattern. A species that destroys it's food supply is a self-destroying pattern.

Two important revelations about these types of systems emerge from their study. The first is that the patterns that emerge from the repeated applications of the rules can not be predicted merely from the rules. The only way to discover the results is to observe the system or to create a simulation.

The creation of simulations leads to the second revelation: the degree of change to the initial conditions does not create a proportional change to the final results. An arbitrarily small change can create a completely new result, the infamous Butterfly Effect. When we look at weather patterns, we wonder why we can not achieve predictions greater than five days with any reliability. The problem is that five days is the effective limit placed on predictions due to the sensitivity of our measuring tools. In order to have a perfect model for predicting the weather, we would need to know the initial conditions of every atom in the atmosphere to an infinite degree of precision. That would be an impossible standard to achieve, and that doesn't take into account some jerk in Bangladesh throwing it off by sneezing.

Tying it all back to economics, and by extension sociology, I hold that all of the patterns we see between individuals and government, namely communities, races, demographic subgroups, etc., are all illusory. They emerge from the interactions of individuals acting to basic sets of rules. The problems that arise from the study of the field of economics and sociology arise from trying to establish rules that apply to the larger scale patterns when there is no reality to those patterns in the first place.

Even greater problems occur when we try to manage the large scale patterns. Three problems arise: we do not know for certain the rules that individuals are using, we do not know to the necessarily infinite degree of precision our initial conditions, and we do not know to the necessarily infinite degree of precision how much change we are adding to the system. When we add uncertainty to uncertainty, you absolutely bet that we are going to be getting results that will be uncertain, the oft spoken of Law of Unintended Consequences. It is from this understanding that I say that Karl Popper was heading into Chaotic territory when he posited that any attempt to predict the "Historical Destiny of Society" would be an exercise in futility.

If you can not predict what is going to happen in the future, then it is equally futile to try to change what is going to happen. How can you change the direction of society when the whole appearance of a society is an accident? How do you change the direction of a storm? The storm is a huge mass of atoms moving in a temporary pattern.
Where would you push?

The temptation in social systems is to change the rules by which individuals operate. However, if the complexity of the final patterns can not be predicted merely by the rules, and if we do not truly know the initial conditions on which the rules are acting at every individual level, then it becomes impossible to predict the effect the change in rules would have, and consequentially it becomes impossible to judge which changes would be the ones to lead to the desired outcome.

My solution: leave each individual to seek to increase the value of their lives. Teach each individual to value the ability of others to increase the value of their lives. Empower each individual to reward or punish other individuals' adherence to those rules. Those patterns that are rewarded (an honest business, a friendly neighbor) with greater value, while those that are punished (a dishonest business, an unpleasant neighbor) will suffer or be removed. Only so long as everyone has some power to influence the world around them can everyone be influenced to do the greatest good.

Monday, March 01, 2004

At Least He is a Principled Jerk

I've railed againt former Justice Roy Moore in the past. He gave an interview recently where he came out against stated his oposition to a proposed amendment to the federal Constitution against gay marriage.

Damn it, I suppose this means that I have to give him some degree of respect. Having principles can be tough.

Inventiveness and Determination

And two Cubans who had tried to land in Florida last year on their pontooned 1951 Chevy truck (but were turned back by the Coast Guard) tried again with a pontooned 1959 Buick (but were again turned back).
MSNBC - News of the Weird

I tell ya, America needs people like this, if only for new episodes of Monster Garage.

Motive is Everything in a Conspiracy

One of the latest offerings of Conspiracy du Jour is that United States forces captured Osama bin Ladin months ago and that the Bush Administration is holding him until shortly before the election.

Obviously this notion is entirely laughable. Bush is very aware to what happened to Winston Churchill immediately after WWII. We've even seen it happen to a small degree with Bush's poll numbers falling after the capture of Saddam Hussein. People don't like the reminder of things being bad, and the leader from the bad times is exactly such a reminder.

Obviously, Bush is waiting until after the election to announce the capture of Osama bin Ladin.
(Link poached found via Andrew Sullivan)

God Hates Shrimp

(Begin Sarcasm)

It's about time that someone has started to apply the Will of God consistently as presented in the Bible! As I have said, when God roasts the homosexuals in the time of judgement, He shall save a place beside them for all those who partook of the Shrimp, Shrimp, and More Shrimp special at Sizzler. Know now that God Hates Shrimp.

(End Sarcasm)

(via Andrew Sullivan)