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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Ease of Tyranny

The most frightening aspect of tyranny is how easily and quickly it can be established. Consider a small-scale tyranny, a hostage situation. Two or three guys with guns can easily hold hundred people hostage. In a similar way, most dictatorships only need to imprison or execute a small percentage of the population in order to wipe out all opposition. North Korea has about 200,000 political prisoners, which works out to less than 1% of the population. That figure is similar for the USSR under Stalin and Germany under Hitler. Most people who live in dictatorships face little hardship as long as they obey.

“The evils of tyranny are rarely seen but by him who resists it”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Karen Straughan weighs in on Amanda Marcotte

Karen Straughan is the creator of many great antifeminist videos on YouTube. I sent her an email informing her of Amanda Marcotte's open challenge and was pleased to get a response. Here is the exchange. Click the pictures to enlarge.

I asked if I could put pics of these emails on my blog. Here is her response:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Anthony Weiner's website is still up

And can be viewed in all its glory here.

In case it gets taken down soon, here is a screen grab:

The thing that stood out to me were his 125 ideas. Successful politicians generally only push 3 or 4 main goals and are lucky if they accomplish even one of them.

To be fair, not all of the ideas are bad. But taken as a whole, they look preposterous. Here are some examples:

#29- Create a single-payer healthcare system for NYC
#68- Combat mold in public housing

Those two ideas appear on the same page. If the city government can't keep public housing free of mold, what chance is there that it could run a decent healthcare system? It's like a kid with a lemonade stand fantasizing about being a billionaire. Here's an idea- don't start a new project until you complete or close one you already started.

#65- Modernize the Dept. of Health's gender policies

Trans people are complaining that the gender on their ID does not match the gender they self-identify with. Currently, a sex change is required to change the gender on the ID. Is this really one of the most serious problems in NYC?

#67- Create an asthma map

I wonder if some of the asthma is from all that moldy public housing?

#85- Add financial literacy classes for high school students

Considering NYC's debt, the folks in city hall should take some too.

Here is about the only bit of sense I found on the whole site:

"Starting a business anywhere is hard. Launching one in New York City can be extra difficult because of the myriad of forms, regulations, and applications. Once launched, life doesn’t get easier in the face of ticketing, surprise inspections, and a relentless bureaucracy."

And does Weiner propose doing anything to reduce those bureaucratic obstacles? Nope!

None of the people running for office in NYC appear to understand what made the city prosperous in the first place. NYC in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was like Hong Kong today- a free market paradise which attracted hardworking entrepreneurs from all over the world.

And it was a safer city in the past as well. In 1943, NYC had only 44 murders, despite having a population of more than 7.4 million. NYC has 8.3 million people now and had over 414 homicides last year- and that was heralded as an improvement!

It is endlessly depressing to see how this once great city has been run into the ground.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

There have never been identical groups of people

It's simple statement, but it has profound implications. One of the articles of faith among the left is that if a group such as women or blacks are smaller percentage of another group such as doctors, it can only be the result of discrimination.

This is false because there have never been proportional representation in any occupation or other group. Whether you compare races, genders, or nationalities, you will never find a situation where both groups are represented in a third group equal to their representation in the population. This has been the case throughout history.

"What's amazing to me is this notion, that people would be evenly represented, except for these institutional policies. That notion has such momentum behind it without a speck of evidence being asked or presented."

-Thomas Sowell

Take it away, Mr. Sowell

Great quotes on the difficulty of changing minds

"It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."

-Jonathan Swift

"The driving dream of the idealist is that if he could only explain things to enough people, carefully enough, thoroughly enough, thoughtfully enough—why, eventually everyone would see, and then everything would be fixed."

-Michael Kelly

"Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm– but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

-T S Elliot

 "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

- Upton Sinclair 

No answer from Amanda Marcotte yet

And it appears I'm not the only one who's been ignored.

Feminists don't seem to like honest debate very much.

I have found some decent debates on feminism.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Did Obama get into Harvard because he was a legacy?

Obama's father graduated from Harvard, thus making his son a legacy. About half of legacies who apply to Harvard get admitted. Obama admits to being a poor student at Occidental, which begs the question of how he got into Colombia.

Obama's other main claim to fame is that he was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. On Harvard Law's website, I found this:

"Membership in the Harvard Law Review is limited to second- and third-year law students who are selected on the basis of their performance on an annual writing competition."

It also says that a total of 46 students become editors each year. Interesting, because every time I read about Obama at Harvard, they make a big deal about him being an editor.  


"Fourteen editors (two from each 1L section) are selected based on a combination of their first-year grades and their competition scores. Twenty editors are selected based solely on their competition scores. The remaining editors are selected on a discretionary basis. Some of these discretionary slots may be used to implement the Review's affirmative action policy.

Emphasis mine.  That's from this year. I don't know what it was years ago, but if anything, there were probably more discretionary slots. But suppose it was the same. 46 - (14+20) = 12. If Obama was one of those 12, it would appear that this achievement is not all it's cracked up to be. 

I would like to emphasize at this point that the only thing dumber than affirmative action is legacy admission. Obama may have benefited from both. I am much more impressed by achievements that have objective/measurable criteria, because that means the activity was not a suck-up/popularity contest. Getting into Harvard and becoming an editor look a lot like suck-up/popularity contests to me.  And for things like that, all it proves is that you are good at getting a person or a small group to like you. That's a useful skill but hardly extraordinary. I know because I've done it and so has everyone else who's ever gotten a job. 

I am tired of hearing about how Obama is brilliant because he went to Harvard and was an editor and graduated with honors. Why? Because anytime someone asks about his grades the immediate answer is that it was a long time ago and so doesn't matter. 

Let me show you how easy it would be to resolve this issue. My college GPA has come up a few times during job interviews and I never hesitate to reveal it. It's 3.78. See? Piece of cake. And I feel no need to hide it because it's pretty good. Ask anyone who majored in engineering and they'll tell you it's hard to keep a good GPA. If Obama is really proud of his academic achievements and earned them fairly, he has no reason to keep his grades secret.

I'm going to rip-off Bill Maher and make a new rule. New Rule: if boast about your Ivy League background, you must reveal how you got in and what grades you got. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Power and Equality Cannot Coexist

This is the main problem of all political systems. If you believe in government, you believe that some people can rightly have power over others. However, to believe that, you have to believe that the people in government are better than the rest.

So either:

1) everyone is equal, in which case no one can rightly have power over another


2) some people are better and can have power over others

Power and equality cannot coexist.

Various ideas have been thought up to solve this problem like the divine right of kings and the social contract, but really government and authority are just a game most people agree to play. Bottom line, if you believe in government, you must believe that some people are better than others.

Answering Amanda Marcotte's Feminism Debate Challenge

Below is my response to Amanda Marcotte's open challenge:

Ms. Marcotte

I recently learned of your open challenge to debate the claims of feminism with secular non-feminists.

I accept the challenge. Here are some feminist claims I think are provably wrong:

1) the belief that women are equal to men in all ways except anatomy 

There is a plenty of evidence that men differ substantially from women in intelligence and personality. The bell curve for IQ is flatter for men. Women have higher average IQ, but men have a larger share of the most intelligent and the least intelligent. Men make up the vast majority of both Nobel Laureates and Darwin Award winners. 

Men are much more aggressive and competitive and take more risks on average than women. This is why around the world, the vast majority of people in prison for violent crime have been men. It is also the reason why men die younger and are more likely to die from violence and accidents.

2) the belief that women have been oppressed like slaves

While women have been denied political power for most of history, it's a hard case to say they were on the same level as slaves. Every society in history has prioritized the safety and well-being of women and children over the safety and well-being of men (eg, "women and children first"). Women had little power, but they also faced less danger and had fewer responsibilities. 

The second thing to remember is that throughout history, the vast majority of men have been just as powerless as the vast majority of women. When the suffragettes were marching for the right to vote, disenfranchised American boys were getting blasted to bloody shreds and choking on poison gas on the battlefields of WWI. Women got the vote before military-age men did. What does that tell you about who has more pull? 

3)  the belief that women are just as capable at men in traditional male jobs like soldier, police officer, etc.

I invite you to look up the minimum standards for physical fitness for men and women in the Army. You will see that a passing score for a woman is equal to a failing score for a man. The average man has twice as much upper body strength as the average woman and a much higher ratio of muscle to fat. These physical differences are the reason why sports are segregated by gender. Except for maybe gymnastics, the best female athletes in the world would never come close to outperforming the best male athletes in the world. Men don't compete with women in sports for the same reason lightweights don't compete with heavyweights in boxing- it's just not a fair contest. 

4) that women are paid less than men for the same work

The oft-quoted statistic that women as a whole make much less than men as a whole is misleading because men and women are not evenly represented in all jobs. Men work most of the high-paying and dangerous jobs. But even when men and women work the same job, men often work more hours. This is because women prefer to work part-time when they have young children. Women also tend to leave the workforce for years at a time which lowers their lifetime earnings. Finally, there's the logic of it- if women were really willing to do the same work as men for less money, why don't businesses just hire all women and cut their labor costs? It's not an accident that there are very few women on oil rigs and fishing boats. 

I am perfectly fine with female pilots, soldiers, surgeons, police, and so on as long as they met the same standard as the men. The only way people can be equal in a meaningful way is if they are held to the same standard.  

Lastly, I encourage you to watch this video from non-feminist Karen Straughan:


Thomas Harty 

Valerie Jarrett Explains Obama's Personality

“He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

-Valerie Jarrett 

Feminist Fraud II: Useful Idiots

Yeah, I know it's old news, but how galling it is. Lubricated William was the personification of everything feminists claim to hate. He repeatedly cheated on his wife and used his power to seduce and coerce his subordinates for sexual favors. 

Below is a representative sample of the feminist reaction to Clinton's behavior:

"Oooh, imagine swallowing the presidential cum."- Erica Jong, writer and self-described feminist

A few others attempted to deflect blame by saying the Bill's sex life is private and who cares who he screws as long as he defends abortion. Being pro-choice covers a multitude of sins.

In other words, it doesn't matter if a politician treats women like hot garbage as long as they hold the correct stances. See also Ted Kennedy. That drunken womanizer actually killed a woman.

And the feminists still defended him!

And finally, on a completely unrelated note, here is the definition of the phrase "useful idiot":

In political jargon, useful idiot is a pejorative term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.
The term has been used to refer to Soviet sympathizers in Western countries. The implication was that, although the people in question naïvely thought of themselves as an ally of the Soviet Union, they were actually held in contempt and were being cynically used. The use of the term in political discourse has since been extended to other propagandists, especially those who are seen to unwittingly support a malignant cause which they naïvely believe to be a force for good.

Feminist Fraud- More Team Blue Stupidity Dismantled

Part 4- Based on real conversations

A: The gender pay gap is a myth.

B: Women get paid less than men for the same work.

A: Not when you factor in the number of hours worked. Women prefer to work part time so they can spend time with their children. They also tend to drop out of the workforce for years at a time to raise children. Men also tend to work more dangerous and unpleasant jobs. Even leaving out the military, over 90% of workplace deaths are men.

B: Treating women differently than men is sexist.

A: Is it sexist when the military holds women to lower standards than men? A passing score on the Army's physical fitness test for a woman is a failing score for a man.

B: Women can be just as good soldiers as men. They should be allowed in infantry and special forces. Many countries have co-ed armed forces. Grrrl power!

A: Don't you think it's interesting that around the world and throughout history, war has been the domain of men? Do you think this is just a coincidence or perhaps it might be due to the fact that men are on average taller, heavier, stronger, and more aggressive than women?

B: Why are you such a sexist?

A: Do you believe men and women are equal?

B: Yes.

A: OK, then why are sports segregated by gender? Why don't we ever see boxing matches between men and women of equal weight? Or weightlifting? Or running?

B: You're just another sexist neanderthal who wants women to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

A: I'm glad you brought up pregnancy. Did you know the Navy experimented with co-ed ships during the Persian Gulf War? On one ship, over 30 women got pregnant- 10% of the women on that ship.

B: Why won't you let women serve their country just like men?

A: There are many roles for women in the military, including some combat ones. But infantry, special forces, and ships, just don't work out, and there is plenty of evidence to support that.

B: Too few women are CEOs, scientists, engineers, and politicians. We need diversity.

A: Are women the same as men?

B: Yes.

A: OK, then why is it necessary to encourage more women to enter those jobs?

B: OK, women are different. Diversity is important.

A: If women are different, does that mean they should be held to a different standard or even excluded from certain things?

B: No! Women are equal to men.

A: So they're equal to men, but you still think they should be held to different standards?

B: You always make my ideas sound stupid when you rephrase them.

A: That tends to happen when you apply logic and common sense to Team Blue slogans.

B:  We need laws to protect women like the Violence Against Women Act.

A: If women are equal to men, why self-described feminists supporting special laws to protect them? Make up your mind. If women are equal to men in a given situation, they must be held to the same standard. If they are held to different standards, they are not equal.

B: I can see there's no getting through to you, you ignorant misogynist.

A: I predict your future husband will be 37 cats. 

Derpin' 2: Electric Boogaloo- Min Wage Debate Redux

Behold part 3 in my continuing series to expose Team Blue talking points. Again, the following exchange is based on real conversations.

A: The minimum wage is unnecessary and increases unemployment.

B: You heartless, money-grubbing bastard! Without the minimum wage, we'd all be working in sweatshops for a dollar a day!

A: Really? Henry Ford doubled the wages of his workers in 1914 because it was cheaper to pay them more than pay the costs from high turnover. That was before any minimum wage laws. At that time, US factory workers were the best paid in the world.

B:  Working people with families deserve a living wage!

A: Less than 3% of American workers earn minimum wage. Almost all of them are high school or college students working part-time for pocket money.

B: Companies can afford to pay more. Look at the obscene salaries CEOs make.

A: If you make anything more expensive, you create an incentive to buy less of it. If you make unskilled labor more expensive, you create an incentive to buy less of it. Do you think gas stations or consumers would benefit if they government if the government set a minimum price for gasoline?

B: There plenty of states and countries that have high minimum wages and low unemployment.

A: The 5 states with the highest unemployment have the highest minimum wages. Ditto for all the countries. Singpore has no minimum wage and the lowest unemployment in the world at 2.5%. Switzerland has no minimum wage and its unemployment rate is 3%. Hong Kong had no minimum wage until 2010 and its unemployment rate was during that time was also less than 3%. During the Coolidge years, the US had no minimum wage and an unemployment rate of less than 2%- the lowest in US history.

B: You're a racist.

A: I knew that was coming. Say, did you know the unemployment rate for black teens in the US has gone up in tandem with the minimum wage? The minimum wage hurts black people more than any other group. Doesn't that mean the minimum wage is racist?

B: I'm taking my ball and going home! 

Matthew Yglesias: A Victim of Solvent Abuse?

The following are actual quotes from Matthew Yglesias. His current job title is Business and Economics Correspondent for Slate. Keep that in mind as you read these. He actually gets paid to write this stuff.

What if we had a 95 percent marginal tax rate on income over $10 million? What dire consequences would flow from this? Perhaps a certain outflow of top-flight baseball talent to Japan. But I don't see this leading to any kind of economic calamity. 

Conventions around dead people are ridiculous. The world outlook is slightly improved with Andrew Breitbart dead.

Bad Decisions Don't Make You Poor. Being Poor Makes for Bad Decisions.

National governments go into debt frequently, and some indebted states suffer growth slowdowns that mechanically increase their debt:GDP ratio. By contrast through what mechanism do these high debt levels cause slow growth? 

Gee Matt- ever think that money paid on servicing debt is money that isn't around for something else?

The Case for Getting Drunk at Work 

Is that how he comes up with ideas?

The housing bust, meanwhile, has been followed by an epic construction slump that’s actually left us with a shortage of homes.

I can't go on any more. If you absolutely must, you can find more of his empty-headed opinions all over the intertubes.

Obituary for the Dollar

The Dollar passed away yesterday after a long battle against inflation and fiscal lunacy. The world's reserve currency for over 50 years, the Dollar was treasured as a hard currency for the purchase of oil and for global trade.

The Dollar enjoyed over 150 years as a standard of value backed by gold and silver. Sadly, the Dollar entered a long decline in 1973 when it lost its gold backing.

The Dollar was preceded in death by the Zimbabwe Dollar, the Yugoslavian Dinar, the Hungarian Pengo, the Weimar Mark, and many others. It is survived by the British Pound, the Australian Dollar, the Euro, the Yen, the Swiss France, and the Yuan.

In lieu of flowers, the following videos may be sent to the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, the President, every member of Congress, and every voter:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Standard Team Blue Propaganda on Racism

I decided I'm going to spend the next few posts outlining all the tired Team Blue Propaganda I've heard over the years. Below is a composite dialog of many real conversations:

A: In the US, black men are 7% of the population and commit 50% of the homicides.

B: That's not true. And even if it is, you are a racist for saying it.

A: But it's true- look it up if you don't believe me. How can a fact be racist? Is it racist if I say black people are more likely to get sickle-cell anemia?

B: Just because it's true, doesn't mean it isn't racist.

A: Do you think that statistic might be the real reason black men have trouble catching a cab a night?

B: No. It's all racism.

A: But a lot those cab drivers are from places like Ghana and Haiti. Are those black people racist against other black people?

B: [long pause] I don't know. Maybe. But black people in the US are still suffering from racism. Blacks earn less than whites. That's proof that racism is still a problem.

A: But on average, black immigrants earn more than white Americans and have more education. Jews and Asians also earn more and have more education than native whites. If the powers that be in America are white racists, why are black immigrants, Jews, and Asians better off than whites?

B: [long pause] But black Americans still suffer in numerous ways- lower income, more poverty, more unemployment, more in prison, and so on. All that is from the lingering effects of racism.

A: What would your reaction be if I told you that the black unemployment rate was lower 50 years ago? Or if there was lower percentage of black people in prison 50 years ago? Because that's what happened. If both those things have gotten worse since the Civil Rights movement, how can racism be the cause? Has racism gotten worse over the past 50 years?

B: Black children go to terrible schools. How can they catch up?

A: And why are they stuck in terrible schools? Could be due to teacher unions and other pressure groups that oppose private schools and vouchers? Could it be that many blacks do badly in school because studying is derided as "acting white"? Could it be that the bad English many black children learn from their parents makes it harder for them to learn how to read? Could it be that many schools quietly hold black students to lower standards?

A: Affirmative action programs are still needed to ensure diversity. Disproportionate representation is proof of discrimination.

B: Really? Blacks are disproportionately represented on basketball teams. Is this because the owners & coaches are racist against non-blacks? Should affirmative action be used to increase diversity on basketball teams?

A: Liberal programs like affirmative action and welfare have helped black people.

B: If that's true, why did the rate of illegitimate childbirth for blacks skyrocket in the 1970s? How about the skyrocketing number of black single mothers? We know that boys raised by single mothers are far more likely to be criminals. Could it be that these well-intentioned programs backfired?

A: There are more white people on welfare than black people.

B: False. White people aren't even the biggest recipient, which is shocking considering they're more than 80% of the population.

A: You're a racist.

B: In the words of Thomas Sowell, racism is Team Blue ketchup- they put it on everything.

A: Thomas Sowell is an Uncle Tom. So is Walter Williams.

B: Do you see anything ironic about beating your chest about how tolerant you are and then smearing people you don't like with an insulting label? Sowell and Williams were both liberals in their youth. Aren't you even the slightest bit curious about what caused them to leave liberalism?

A: LALALALA-I-am-not-listening!

Libertarian Overlap With Conservatives/Republicans

Libertarians are often lumped in with conservatives and Republicans. This is because there is broad agreement among all three groups on many issues such as the minimum wage, regulations, homeschooling, taxes, and guns.

The problem though is that while Republicans often say the right things, they don't always do the right things. Republican hero Reagan put America deeper in debt than any president up to that time. Nixon ended the gold standard. Bush promised no nation-building (a weasel word for empire) and then began the two longest wars in US history.

Republicans call themselves the party of small government, but they aren't. They are often the party of less government when compared to the Democrats.

That said, there's nothing wrong with libertarians voting for Republicans. In tight races in small elections, it makes sense to vote for whichever less-government party which has the best chance at winning. It's even possible in some situations for the less-government candidate to be a Democrat.

I think the best bet is to vote for the less-government candidate from a major party in local elections and then cast a principled vote for true libertarian candidates in state and national elections.

To sum up, Libertarians generally agree with Republicans when it comes to guns, the minimum wage, homeschooling, taxes, and regulations. They generally agree with Democrats when it comes to abortion, gay marriage, and the death penalty. And they disagree with both parties when it comes to government spending, the war on drugs, victimless crime, and foreign policy.

So, by this, I see that libertarians agree with Republicans on 5 issues, with Democrats on 3 issues, and with neither party on 4 issues. Thus, Republicans are about 67% better than Democrats when it comes to who is closer to libertarians.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Favorite Libertarian Quotes

From Thomas Sowell:
There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.

There are few talents more richly rewarded with both wealth and power, in countries around the world, than the ability to convince backward people that their problems are caused by other people who are more advanced.

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

From Lysander Spooner:

All governments, the worst on earth, and the most tyrannical on earth, are free governments to that portion of the people who voluntarily support them.

A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.

From Frederic Bastiat:

The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.

If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind? 

When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.  
From Milton Friedman:

One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.  

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

From Harry Browne:

The police can't stop an intruder, mugger, or stalker from hurting you. They can pursue him only after he has hurt or killed you. Protecting yourself from harm is your responsibility, and you are far less likely to be hurt in a neighborhood of gun-owners than in one of disarmed citizens - even if you don't own a gun yourself.

Government is force, pure and simple. There's no way to sugar-coat that. And because government is force, it will attract the worst elements of society - people who want to use government to avoid having to earn their living and to avoid having to persuade others to accept their ideas voluntarily.

From Robert Heinlein:

The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.

An armed society is a polite society.

The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak.

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.

From H L Mencken

Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping, and unintelligent. 

The New Deal began, like the Salvation Army, by promising to save humanity. It ended, again like the Salvation Army, by running flop-houses and disturbing the peace.  

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule. 

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed - and hence clamorous to be led to safety - by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

From Voltaire

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. 

In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.

From Henry Hazlitt

The whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.  

From Ayn Rand

There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws. 

From C S Lewis

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

The Standard Propaganda Cycle- Gun Debate Redux

There is nothing new under the sun, as the old saying goes. In propaganda, it is the same. Even the word itself is a kind of propaganda, for what is propaganda except another word for lying?

In my experience, liars almost always follow the same steps as sure as birds flying south in the winter. First, they ignore. Then they deny, lie, and insult. When they get backed into a corner, they change the subject.

The easiest way to spot a dishonest person is to listen to them argue and see if they ever admit they are wrong. Since no one knows everything, everyone is bound to be wrong about something sooner or later. Honest people will say they were wrong when they are given the proof. Liars will quickly change the subject. Another way to spot a liar is to ask them a simple yes-or-no question. Liars almost never answer them.

Let's look at a few examples based on actual conversations I have had. Note the steadfast refusal to answer questions and the frequent subject changes.

A: If the US had fewer guns, there'd be fewer gun deaths.

B: Switzerland and Israel have higher rates of gun ownership than the US and lower gun homicide rates.

A: Those countries are completely different from the US so they don't count.

B: There are also many countries with much tighter gun laws that have much higher rates of gun homicide.

A: Those countries are also completely different from the US so they don't count.

B: But even in the US, there are many large cities that have strict gun laws. Yet, the rates of gun homicide are much higher in those places.

A: They get those guns from outside the cities.

B: So? Even if guns were outlawed nationwide, that wouldn't stop people from getting them. Marijuana is against the law too.

A: Marijuana doesn't kill people.  

B: So? Besides, if you're worried about people getting killed, why aren't you pushing for tougher driving laws? More people die from car accidents than from guns.

A: Cars aren't designed to kill people.

B: Neither is a baseball bat, but it can be used to kill. Besides, most of the time, guns are used defensively without killing or even injuring the other person.

A: You're more likely to hurt yourself or a family member with a gun than use it defensively.

B: If that's true, why do police carry them? Why do celebrities hire body guards?

A: Those people are trained to use guns.

B: So am I. So why can't I carry one like the police? Learning to use a gun safely isn't harder than learning to drive a car.

A: Here's a video of a cop shooting himself in the foot. See? If cops make mistakes with guns, non cops would be even worse.

B: The fact that some people use guns recklessly is no reason to outlaw them for all. Should we ban cars because of car accidents?

A: I already said cars aren't designed to kill people. The 2nd amendment only allows for people to have guns if they are in a militia like the National Guard.

B: If that's true, why do almost all state constitutions explicitly guarantee the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense?

A: The 2nd amendment only allows people to own guns that were available in the 1700s.

B: Does the 1st amendment only allow people to use communication devices that existed in the 1700s?

A: You would let people own machine guns and flamethrowers.

B: There are people who already do. Why not? If they aren't used for crime, what's the harm? By the way, almost all gun crime is done with handguns which are obtained illegally.

A: You wouldn't be able to protect yourself from government oppression with just handguns and rifles. They have tanks, planes, and so on.

B: If that's true, why do oppressive governments always outlaw private weapons? Our country was founded by people who fought off an oppressive government with simple weapons.

A: I can see there's no getting through to gun nuts like you. I hope you shoot yourself in a gun cleaning accident.

B: OK. I'm glad would could talk about this like thinking people.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Games for Asymmetric Warfare

Although sports and games are often likened to war, there is one great difference: symmetry. Sports and games are set up so that both sides begin with equal strength with skill determining the outcome. The purpose of this is to even the odds between the players so the game is more interesting. However, in war, it is common for the opposing armies to be very different in structure, size, leadership, technology, and so on. Asymmetric warfare is a popular catchphrase these days, but it's redundant- warfare in general is asymmetric.

I think it would be useful and fun to create games to model asymmetric warfare. One idea I had was to take the game of chess. One side would have the usual pieces and the other side would start with one row of pawns in the normal place. But, that side would also have 40 extra pawns in reserve and could add them one at a time to its back row. I wonder what strategies both sides would create to deal with this situation. What strength of pawns would be enough to overwhelm even the best chess player?

Another possibility would be a variant of the Battleship game. One side would have the normal set-up and the other side would have only a patrol boat. However, that side would be know the location of all the enemy ships. The side with more ships would be allowed to take two shots per turn. I wonder whether firepower would win over intelligence in that kind of set-up.

Of all the war games, I think Stratego does the best job of simulating the fog of war as well as the importance of deception. A good way to make Stratego more interesting would be to give each player some equal number of resource points at the beginning and let each player purchase units as they see fit. Since each player has no idea what the opponent will be throwing at them, would they buy a variety to balance their strengths or would they focus on only a few unit types?

A good war game should incorporate aspects of supply, morale, terrain, mobility, uncertainty, surprise, luck, and intelligence. I know of no such game at the moment and I would be interesting in seeing one.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Batman Principle

The uncomfortable fact about Batman is that he is not very good at fighting crime. True, he fights crime in very heroic and entertaining ways, and he usually succeeds in defeating his adversaries, but never for good.

His distaste for killing is admirable, although that often leaves the villains alive to cause more mayhem later. Since he doesn't have any problem with taking the law into his own hands, I always wondered why he never captured and locked the villains in his own prison rather than ones they always easily escaped from. That would stop them permanently and not violate his taboo against killing. Of course, the reason he doesn't is that the writers want to keep the story going.

I think many real problems are made worse by the desire to look cool while trying to win it instead of winning. I call this the Batman Principle.

This principle is often seen in actually law enforcement with gaudy uniforms & vehicles, questionable practices such as high-speed pursuits, and frequent failure to catch criminals. It is also present in big businesses that spend more money on flashy ad campaigns than looking for new opportunities.

Of course, the best place to see that Batman Principle at work is the military. The military wastes vast sums of time and money on useless training, vehicles, and propaganda. I think the single best example of this is the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Originally intended to be a simple scout vehicle and troop carrier, it morphed into an armored vehicle with lousy armor, a scout vehicle too slow to scout, and a troop carrier that hardly carried any troops. All this because the generals wanted a vehicle that looked cooler. See the clip below for more details:

Another good example is the US Air Force's desire to replace the tough and effective but slow and ugly A-10 with a sleek, new fighter-bomber.


Rethinking the Nuclear Triad- Cutting the Price of Deterrence

The idea of the triad was to prevent a first-strike by not putting all the nuclear eggs in one basket. However, the whole idea of a first-strike is almost impossible anyway. The only way it can be done is if the missiles are positioned so that the flight time is less than 10 minutes, which is what the Soviets tried to do in Cuba and what the US tried to do in Turkey. Both nations ended up removing their missiles.

The Soviets developed a fail-deadly countermeasure called Perimetr. This system when activated would send signals to launch missiles automatically if it detected an attack.

I wonder if decoy missile silos might be a better solution to the first-strike problem. The blast radius of a typical warhead is 4 miles or so, which works out to about 50 square miles. The US is about 3.8 million square miles. An enemy would need to hit the US with about 76,000 warheads to cover all that area if the missiles were evenly spread out and hidden.

If thousands of decoy missile silos were built across the US, the enemy would not know where to aim its missiles and it could not possibly build enough missiles and warheads to destroy all possible missile locations.

I haven't run the numbers, but I suspect building a few thousand decoy silos and sprinkling the real ones among them would have been a lot cheaper than building and maintaining the other 2 legs of the nuclear triad for 50 years.

Another possibility would be putting the missiles on mobile launchers disguised as civilian vehicles- perhaps as a freight train. The Russians did just that with the RT-23 Molodets missile. The US equivalent program was never deployed.

"All warfare is based on deception." -Sun Tzu


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Understanding Bureaucracy: Beavers & Peacocks

All large organizations are bureaucracies. Since it is very difficult to make decisions quickly by consensus in large groups, hierarchies are used instead. So, some become leaders and the rest must become followers.

The second principle of bureaucracies is inertia. Since most subordinates are afraid to disagree with their bosses, policies & procedures rarely change. Instead, they tend to become highly formalized. By requiring subordinates to follow strict procedures, subordinates are prevented from doing things that might make their boss look bad. 

The third principle of bureaucracies is attention. This is where the peacock comes in. A peacock gets attention because it uses feathers to make itself look bigger and stronger than it really is. It does this to get the attention of peahens so it can mate. In a similar way, subordinates in a bureaucracy compete for the attention of the bosses so they can get promoted. Bureaucracies also compete for attention with other bureaucracies for customers, etc.

Thus, the most important goal for employees & bureaucracies is to look good even if you aren't and avoid looking bad even if you are. For subordinates, this means sucking up to the boss and covering up mistakes. Agreeing with someone and copying them is the easiest way to get them to like you. And the one the boss likes the most gets promoted. For bureaucracies, this means looking big and impressive with nice buildings, fancy logos, and eye-catching ads and deflecting bad publicity.
So, bureaucracies are like peacocks- style over substance.

In contrast, the beaver is small, ugly animal. It has buck teeth and funny tail. But beavers are hard-working, intelligent animals. They build dams to create deep ponds. Then they bury green branches in the mud at the bottom. The cold water preserves the bark in the branches so the beavers have something to eat in the winter. They also build lodges so they have shelter in the winter. They dig canals so they can get to trees without having to walk on land where their predators are. Beavers work smart and think ahead. Indeed, it's interesting that a creature with a brain the size of an egg is better at planning for the future than a fair number of people.

Individuals and groups can accomplish more by being more like beavers and less like peacocks. The key to success is focusing on results- not appearances or intentions.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Waste of Smothering Grenades

If you read the Medal of Honor citation archives, you will find many instances where a soldier deliberately threw himself on a grenade to protect his comrades from the blast. The military needs to train soldiers not to do this.

Why? It is not necessary. Being close to a grenade when it explodes does not mean certain death. Max Cleland was almost touching a grenade when it went off and he survived, although he did lose both legs and an arm. Most grenades have a 4-second fuse and do the most damage in about a 15-ft radius. If a grenade lands nearby, you have 2 to 3 seconds to find cover. That few seconds is enough to get at least 15 ft away from the grenade. If that is not possible, getting as flat as possible on the ground stomach down and head facing away will protect vital areas enough for survival. Getting shrapnel up your ass like the watch in Pulp Fiction is unlikely to kill you quickly.

For a more in-depth discussion on this topic, I suggest this article from Vietnam-Vet John Reed.

Securing the Border With Atomic Power- Or, How to Kill Two Birds With One Isotope

The US has thousands of tons of nuclear waste uselessly decaying in containment facilities. At the same time, all efforts to secure the border with Mexico have failed. Could there be a way to solve both these problems at the same time? I believe so.

I propose the construction of an atomic fence on the border. This fence will be made up of thousands of blocks of Cobalt-60, which has a short half-life but still produces enough gamma radiation to make safe approach impossible. Small gaps could be left in the fence at major crossings so as not to interfere with regular commerce.

Additionally, any creatures unfortunate enough to venture too close to the radiation fence would quickly die and their ghastly corpses would serve as a further warning to trespassers.

Radiation has a number of advantages over lesser obstacles such as landmines or a burning river of napalm. Among these are lower construction and maintenance costs as well as greater killing power.

All that is left is to come up with a catchy name. Here are several suggestions:

1) The Great Wall of America
2) The Freedom Wall
3) The Atom Shield of Democracy

I think 3) is a real winner. Jonathan Swift would approve.  

Cryptography in a Nutshell & Steampunk PGP

My views on cryptography as a rank amateur:

It is best to prevent the enemy from detecting or intercepting messages if possible, but radio, internet, mail, and phone are easily intercepted. So it's safe for certain people and groups to assume their messages are being intercepted and that the enemy will try to decrypt them.

The goal should not be to make an unbreakable code, but make decryption difficult enough that the enemy won't waste time with it. A few basic principles greatly increase the difficulty of breaking a code:

1) No spaces between words: spaces indicate single words which can be guessed if enough context is present.

2) If possible, large amounts of bogus messages should be sent to keep the enemy busy intercepting and decrypting nonsense.

3) Simple substitution cyphers are quick, but easily broken. The best codes never encrypt the same letter in a consistent way. The German Enigma machine was a good example of this.

4) Real messages should be short and rarely sent. The more messages that are sent, the more data the enemy has to analyze.

5) Codes should be changed frequently. However strong a code is, if the machine and code books are ever captured, that code is now a tool for the enemy. The Germans and the Japanese thought their codes were safe and kept using them even after they were broken. This was a major factor in their defeat.

6) By the same principle as 5), if an enemy code is broken, the information must be exploited judiciously to avoid warning the enemy. During WW2, the US could have exploited decrypted Japanese messages in many ways, but the only made use of them to win the Battle of Midway and to kill Admiral Yamamoto.

I invented my own code today that I call Steampunk PGP (pretty good privacy). The first part is to write the message in all caps with no spaces. For example: EDWARDSNOWDENISAHERO

Next, each letter changed into a 2-digit code according to a cypher. To make things simple, I'll let each letter match up with its alphabetical order. That gives:

05 04 23 01 18 04 19 14 15 23 04 05 14 10 19 01 08 05 18 15

Next, I use a pair of dice to add a random 1-digit number to each of the number pairs. I disregard 12 and treat 11 as 1 and treat 10 as 0.

That gives something like:


This message can be easily decrypted by disregarding the first, fourth, etc. digits and then matching up the numbers according to the cypher.

An enemy analyst who tried to decrypt this message would likely notice that the number of characters in every message is a multiple of 3, and use that to try to break the code into 3-digit groups for letters. However, since letters are encoded with a random leading digit, they would have a hard time telling whether 205 is the same as 505 or 705. To make the code even stronger, a random digit could be added in front of every code digit. Thus, each letter would be encoded by a 4-digit number with 2 random digits. The process could be repeated for even greater secrecy although doing the encryption and decryption by hand would probably be too slow. Also, approximately 1/6 of the random digits will be 7 as that is the most common outcome of rolling 2 dice. Still, I think it's random enough to be a good code.

I call this method steampunk because it requires no special equipment- just pen, paper, and dice.


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Difference Between Ignorance & Stupidity

A person who is ignorant lacks knowledge. In fact, the etymology of the word "ignorant" is "without knowledge". A neurosurgeon who can't fix a car is not stupid, nor is a mechanic who can't do brain surgery. For the same reason, most children are not stupid.

Stupidity is more complicated. One kind of stupidity involves being short-sighted, such as sitting on the wrong side of the branch they're sawing. Another form of stupidity is really more a kind of laziness. A good example is a person who is too lazy to gather information and check it before doing something new. Yet another kind of laziness-stupidity is the inability to sort truth from falsehood. The last and most severe form of stupidity is the inability to learn. This includes learning from mistakes, learning from others, and using logic.

To sum up:

A wise person learns from others' mistakes, a sane person learns from his own mistakes, and a stupid person never learns.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Brilliant Youtube Comedy

The Case for Abolishing Summer Vacation

Summer vacation exists because in the days of yore, children were needed on the farm to help with harvesting crops. Since child labor is no longer needed for that, the original reason for summer break is obsolete.

If the school year lasted 12 months instead of 9, students could complete 1 and 1/3 grades per year instead of just 1. This would shorten the overall time needed to complete 12 grades from 12 years to 8 years. Furthermore, since students would not need to relearn material forgotten over the summer, the total time to complete 12 grades could probably be reduced to 6 years.

I don't know about you, but I would have gladly sacrificed 3 years (12 3-month breaks = 36 months) of summer vacation in order to get out of school 4 to 6 years earlier.


My Favorite Yakety Sax Clips


Behold the Power of Cheese

Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It's A Wonderful Tax

George: Well, I tell ya, I wish there were no taxes! Oh, now wait a minute. That's an idea now, isn't it?

Clarence: What do you think? Ahhh... All right, George, you've got your wish: there are no taxes.

* * * * * * *

George: Wait a minute, what happened to the Cowboy Poetry Festival?

Clarence: There isn't one, because you didn't pay taxes for it.

George: And Farmer Joe, what happened to his subsidy for corn ethanol?

Clarence: He doesn't have one either because your taxes weren't there.

George: Where's the tattoo parlor and the strip club and the army base?

Clarence: They're all gone. The based was closed and without the soldiers, the tattoo place and the strip club closed too.

George: OH GOD!

Clarence: Strange, isn't it? Each man's tax touches so many other lives. When it isn't around it leaves an awful hole, doesn't it?

* * * * * * *

Clarence: You see George, you've really paid a wonderful tax. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just keep your own money?

George: Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence! Get me back! Get me back, I don't care what happens to my money! Get me back to my taxes! Help me Clarence, please! Please! I wanna pay again. I wanna pay again. Please, God, let me pay again.

* * * * * * * 


Sunday, October 6, 2013

How Much Does It Cost To Kill a Terrorist/Insurgent/Whatever?

Art Buchwald wrote a column during the Vietnam War in which he calculated the cost of killing a Viet Cong soldier- something like $300 in 1960s dollars, which works out to around $2000 in current dollars. He arrived at this figure by dividing the monthly cost of the war by the monthly enemy body count.

I thought it would be interesting to repeat this exercise for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to see if the military has found more cost-effective ways of killing over the past 40 years.

One difficulty is that the military has not been keeping track of how many enemy fighters they have killed, so I decided to estimate the enemy killed at 100,000. The total cost of the wars to date is approximately $1.5 trillion. This means that it costs approximately $15 million dollars to kill one bad guy. Keep in mind that the bounty on Osama Bin Laden was $25 million.

40 years since Vietnam and it costs more to kill? I think this figure best summarizes what is wrong with the strategy in these wars. If it costs the US $15 million to kill one guy, the US is going to run out of money way before the Taliban runs out of men.

For a few thousand dollars, most of these guys could be bribed into giving Americans foot massages.