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Friday, August 31, 2007

Gee Guys - could you do a better job?

In a previous post titled memetic infection I displayed what Eric Raymond calls suicidal memes meant to undermine Western Civilization. They certainly infected many Intellectuals. These ideas were part of an evolution of mistaken notions dating back to the 1700's. Some of the history and roots of these ideas are presented with differing points of emphasis in three books.

The Counter-revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason by F.A. Hayek. He shows how some thinkers demonstrated perhaps the ultimate example of what Richard Feynman called fragile knowledge. In Intellectuals by Paul Johnson he makes the point:
By "intellectual", Johnson means scientists or artists who go well beyond their abilities and try to design new codes of behavior, new systems of government and new moral rules for the humankind. That is, people who, just because they are good at doing something, think they get the moral right (and duty) to tell the rest of the world how to conduct their affairs.
In Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault Stephen Hicks traces these same ideas that having failed in the real world and have devolved into the philosophical deadend of Postmodernism. But they still won't die.

If this is not enough of a fisking of intellectuals, I came across a book titled Common Genius:
During the past half-century, the scholars and academics, descendants of those disparaged by Machiavelli, have failed abysmally to advance the lot of the poverty-stricken people of the Third World. They have relied mostly on handing out charity, much as they might give crumbs to beggars. And, being scholars, they have held conferences, written monographs, and given talks, none of which has helped one whit. One of the most damning records in intellectual history is this sixty-year failure to remedy the ongoing human misery in much of the world. So we must forget for a moment the abstract theories and ideologies that have failed, and seek the effectual truth. If economic history is to serve some practical purpose it must identify the fundamental lesson that has lain hidden beneath the jumble of history and academic jargon. Most of the academics who study and write about history have never been able to accept the truth, although it has always been there before their unbelieving eyes.

A major theme of these pages is that all historical progress has bubbled up from the bottom—from the actions of common men and women. A secondary theme is that most of history's evils have flowed from the top—from the intelligentsia, organized groups, and soft-science experts who arise in mature societies and are the pied pipers of their decline. In the final chapters, we will examine how the decline of free societies has often resulted from the transfer of authority and leadership from those who built the society to a destructive intelligentsia who arrive after the heavy lifting is done. The arrival of the intellectuals also marks the time when knowledge and decision-making appears to enter a steep decline. The notion that intellectuals are wise and should be listened to is a persistent, recurring, and insidious error that has doomed most past civilizations.

I do not mean to demean all people of intellect—most of them are great assets to their communities. However, there is reason to beware those with little practical experience in any field, who parade their "expertise" before the public, and operate primarily as critics rather than participants.

Any history of mankind and its successes must begin at the beginning; and in the beginning, there were no intellectuals. However, there were people struggling to exist and improve their lot in life, and mankind made magnificent strides, advancing from harsh and primitive tribal and nomadic life to complex and prosperous civilizations. The growing influence of intellectuals in the relatively recent past has served only to confuse, divert, and subvert that progress.

Political and religious freedom and economic opportunity have been exceedingly rare during these millennia. Since the first stirrings of civilized society in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley and the days of King Solomon, freedom and opportunity were only a dream, out of reach of the common man. Instead, his lot was to labor under tyranny and oppression that were ever present and that in much of the world still linger malevolently. This dream of freedom, the dream that became reality in America and has endured to this day, is borne of the uniquely human characteristics of man—his ability to reason, his natural curiosity, his instinct to innovate, his independence of spirit. These qualities, sometimes summed up as "free will," distinguish man from the beasts, and they set his destiny. Only one thing has stood in his way: the lust of other men to rule and appropriate for themselves all the good things in life.

Throughout history, such leaders have made life as difficult as possible for the bulk of humanity. The expression of man's genius had to be fought for, and opportunities for its release have been restricted to a few brief moments and places in time. Such moments were the "accidents" of history, but there was nothing accidental about what subsequently happened. The achievements were never pre-ordained but arose from a long-term struggle by ordinary people to advance, one step at a time, over thousands of years. But wherever individual men and women got even a little such opportunity, freedom and prosperity followed. They built it piece by piece, not by trying to apply utopian theories, but by solving one problem at a time and moving ever forward.

Now, this is a revolutionary idea and perhaps in a perverse way, will delight most of the average Joes out there who are pestered by those "beautiful people" who want to tell them what to do and how to do it. I know this discovery has emboldened me to set forth this hypothesis; a hypothesis passed on to me by my wife's uncle, a simple Polish immigrant named Harry Radzewicz. I suspect many of the best and brightest will scoff at my message, saying that I simplify too much, that things are much more complex than I can comprehend. But that is okay with me, for as observed earlier, it is better to seek the "effectual truth" than to build vast conceptual edifices or perpetuate grandiose theories that don't work.

An advantage of the Radzewicz Formula is its ability to simplify a complex question so that it is easily understood. It was explained to me as follows: "History's progress," I was told, "can actually be reduced to a simple equation. It's easy, like simple algebra, or Polish notation." He put it on paper: CM + S - O = EF

"CM, the common man, with Security, minus Oppression, equals Economic Freedom, and that leads to Prosperity. It also subsequently leads to Political Freedom."

And there it was—neat and simple. A fundamental principle missed by all the intellectuals. Deliberately missed, perhaps, because there is no "I" in the formula—intellectuals have never had anything to do with progress.
No grand designs and radical remakes of society please. Incremental improvement will do.

Update: I think this boils it down rather nicely:
Indeed, one could, without too much effort, extend the Long War analogy back to the end of the 18th Century and argue that the real struggle is between various rational egalitarianisms growing out of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution vs. the faith-based republicanism of the Anglosphere.
Update 2 [12/08/2007]: Fixed the link to "Common Genuis"

An interesting idea - but it will never happen

Given the state of our politics, the rot in Congress exhibited by both parties and the nature of self-selection for elected office, this idea from Pete Du Pont is rather intriguing:

At the reception after the debate, an old lady asked me how, if I were still in Congress, I would vote on proposing such an amendment. I replied that I would have voted against changing the First Amendment to allow Congress to fiddle with our free speech and legislate what we may say, to whom we can say it, and when in a campaign we may say it.

"But what would you do about all this horrible fund-raising and spending that goes on in campaigns?" she asked. With a cheerful smile (and tongue in cheek), I suggested we get rid of all campaign spending by returning to the Pericles plan of the Golden Age of Greece 25 centuries ago: Instead of electing House and Senate members, have them chosen by lottery from people of constitutional age (25 in the House, 30 in the Senate) in each district and state.

Such a lottery democracy would not only end the campaign contribution corruption that had been discussed in the debate, it would make Congress look like America. Instead of just 16 women in the Senate, there would be about 53; there would be more blacks, Hispanics and younger people and fewer millionaires and senior citizens.

Now that's thinking outside the box!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Revising history

History is written by the victors and can also be revised by the Vladimirs.
Vladimir Putin has put through a law giving the government approval of history textbooks. His concern is that the Soviet era has been portrayed in too negative a light. His government is more interested in some sort of balancing that doesn't make Russians ashamed of their past.

It's not really human to strip all nobility from the narrative. Of course this would not be the only case of revisionist history. Some unflattering things have been watered down in our history texts. Ridiculous versions are available which wildly over correct this. I'm a little more concerned that modes of thought have been subtly altered in ways of which most people are unaware. There are omissions and mischaracterizations in the story which incline people towards statism. (This is beyond even the impulses provided by human nature itself.) Brink Lindsey does a fine job of dealing with this in his book Against The Dead Hand and it is touched upon by Joshua Muravchik in Heaven On Earth:The Rise and Fall of Socialism.

At some point I hope to followup with some posts drawn from source material, that differ from the conventional wisdom regarding important aspects of economic history.

David's Secret Blog's Comment Feed

Since David has returned from his hiatus (thankfully), his global (as opposed to per-post) comments feed is:

They'll Defeat Themselves

One of the things that was astounding about the economy of the ex-Soviet Union was that, on average, it managed to consistently destroy value:
The Soviet economy was value-subtracting rather than value-adding throughout its life span. Explained simply, the world market value of almost all Soviet-made products was below the world market value of the natural resources and direct labor used to produce those products. The seemingly inexhaustible supply of easily-extracted natural resources made this possible.
The Soviet economy was not sustainable. It was doomed to failure from the beginning. Perhaps Reagan hastened the collapse, but it would've eventually failed no matter what. There was only so much value they could afford to subtract before they could no longer continue. Reagan was in the right place at the right time.

The larger the Soviet empire, the faster value was subtracted. Most of those east-bloc satellite countries were subtracting value at a good clip, as was Cuba and other client states. This depleted the Soviet's easily-extracted natural resources faster than if Russia had just operated on its own. In addition, the cost of maintaining a military presence in all the client states to enforce communism exacted a further toll on the Soviet's treasury.

From this, it follows that the collapse of the Soviet Union would've occurred even sooner if they had taken over the entire world except the United States. There would've been some other advantages as well. All of the other nuclear powers would've been united under Soviet control, so there would've been fewer problems with proliferation. Terrorists would've been focused solely on the much larger (population wise) Soviet empire and wouldn't've worried about the United States at all. When the collapse inevitably occurred, instead of being the sole super power, the United States would've been so far ahead of the rest of the world that we would've been the sole super-duper-hyper power in comparison. For sure, it would've been unfortunate for another few billion people to live under Soviet tyranny, but let's ignore the moral argument for now.

If we had let the Soviets take over the middle east, what about all the oil? Well, if the Soviets had taken over the whole world, hardly anybody would be using much oil other than the United States so it would be dirt cheap and they would've been dying to sell it to us (so they could do more value subtracting). Even if I'm wrong about that, the United States had (and has) adequate resources including oil and the markets would've adjusted the prices to allocate those resources efficiently and innovations would've come into being that would've mitigated any serious shortages. It would be a different world, but we'd still be way, way ahead.

While I think the domino theory was correct, I think we should've considered just letting it happen. So sorry Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, etc. But it would only be for a few decades. Don't get me wrong - once we decided to go into Vietnam, I think we should've stayed as long as needed. I just think that if we'd just stayed home and let the dominoes fall, it might've been a feature, not a bug.

Now let's consider a Grand Islamic Caliphate which united Muslims from Morocco to Pakistan and perhaps Indonesia. A Taliban-like rule of shari'a law oppressing over one-billion people. This would also be a wonderfully non-sustainable regime and not just because of economic value subtraction, either. The Taliban took Afghanistan all the way back to the stone age and kept it there and I think it quite likely that a Grand Islamic Caliphate would do the same for the entire Muslim population.

A people that oppressed, backward, and poor would pose no significant danger whatsoever to the west.

I know what you're thinking: they'd figure out some way of producing weapons of mass destruction and use them on us!

Oh yeah? How? Somehow they'll add sections on nuclear physics and biology to the Qur'an and study it in the Islamic Madrassas? I don't think so.

Note that the only Muslim country that has successfully tested a nuke is Pakistan and they developed that capability when they were a democracy. The only other country that's close is Iran and they're an almost democracy and they haven't succeeded yet anyway. If the whole region was under a Grand Islamic Caliphate, there would be no way for them to even maintain the current nuclear capability of Pakistan, much less expand it. Furthermore, since they'd be a "grand and great" nation, they'd be deterrable. The people at the top (Osama bin Laden I presume) would want to wait until they could do some real damage to the west before risking total annihilation, and that day would never come since they would being sliding backwards towards the stone age.

In my opinion, since we're in Iraq, we ought to finish the job, however long it takes. Especially since al Qaeda has been beating themselves:
Al Qaeda has been badly battered. It's lost top leaders and thousands of cadres. Even more painful for the Islamists, they've lost ground among the people of Iraq, including former allies. Iraqis got a good taste of al Qaeda. Now they're spitting it out.
Some of these men will admit they were insurgents who switched sides because they realized that they are more likely to get what they want with a stable government. Al Qaeda promised them everything under the baking sun, yet al Qaeda killed people who smoked—and Iraqis like to smoke. They killed people who had satellite dishes or televisions, but al Qaeda would be drinking and with prostitutes. Iraqis have told me some interesting anecdotes about the religious technicalities of prostitution. They are not supposed to have sex out of wedlock, so they marry the prostitute (and the house of ill-repute has the proper religious authority present to make the marriage), and then they divorce the prostitute after completing their business. Another rumor in the area is that al Qaeda tried to force shepherds to make their female sheep wear underwear...
But I do wonder if just letting Osama achieve his vision of his Grand Islamic Caliphate wouldn't've been the easier path.

Our enemies always ultimately defeat themselves with their non-sustainable ideologies. All we have to do is wait and go about our lives.

Monday, August 27, 2007

memetic infection

This little gem was embedded in a VDH interview:
Marxism lied to us that history is only the story of material interest, rather than the narrative often of the psyche, emotion, and only perceived self-interests. ... More generally, history has become in the university a medieval morality tale, in which we deconstruct the past to find those guilty of sins against gender, race, and class, and then use the standards of the present to condemn them postfacto on grounds of illiberality—as if someone illiterate five centuries ago without electricity, running water, a toilet, or antibiotics should have been as racially sensitive or tolerant of the "other" or as environmentally conscious as we are in Palo Alto or Madison.

In general we forgot that education is simply the ability to translate daily chaos into abstract wisdom of the ages—impossible without a data bank of names, dates, concepts, and a methodology of inductive inquiry; in turn both impossible without a liberal education of languages, literature, history, philosophy, and basic science.
The ridiculous practice of judging past actions by present moral standards speaks to very shoddy reasoning skills (or perhaps very good propaganda skills). This is often done by people adhering to Postmodernist modes of thought which is a notion simply dripping with irony (no truth). It also reminds me of this Eric Raymond post which I've linked to before.

In a previous post on Suicidalism, I identified some of the most important of the Soviet Union’s memetic weapons. Here is that list again:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Call it what you will — various other commentators have favored ‘volk-Marxism’ or ‘postmodern leftism’. I’ve called it suicidalism. It was designed to paralyze the West against one enemy, but it’s now being used against us by another.

The first step to recovery is understanding the problem. Knowing that suicidalist memes were launched at us as war weapons by the espionage apparatus of the most evil despotism in human history is in itself liberating. Liberating, too, it is to realize that the Noam Chomskys and Michael Moores and Robert Fisks of the world (and their thousands of lesser imitators in faculty lounges everywhere) are not brave transgressive forward-thinkers but pathetic memebots running the program of a dead tyrant.

The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.

Again, this is by design. Lenin and Stalin wanted classical-liberal individualism replaced with something less able to resist totalitarianism, not more. Volk-Marxist fantasy and postmodern nihilism served their purposes; the emergence of an adhesive counter-ideology would not have. Thus, the Chomskys and Moores and Fisks are running a program carefully designed to dead-end at nothing.
Simple awareness starts to bolster resistance.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Local Climate Change

I went to high school in upstate New York. We lived in a house in the midst of what would be considered to be suburban sprawl. The developers cut the forest down and then built roads, infrastructure, and houses. Some small trees were planted here and there, but, for the most part, as we looked at the hill that our house was on we would see the rows of houses and the roads and not really even notice those little trees.

It was seven years between when I graduated from high school and when I went back for a visit. I was astounded that when looking at our hill this time, all I could see were trees. Big trees. The trees' canopy completely obscured all signs of houses and roads.

Orange County, California has an interesting history. In the 1800s, it was primarily scrub brush and grassland and was used for cattle ranching. In the first half of the 1900s, agriculture such as oranges (thus the county's name) became dominant which meant that huge tracts of land were covered with trees. In the second half of last century, the trees were leveled and replaced with suburban sprawl and Disneyland. Of course, some small trees were planted as part of the associated landscaping effort, but it was a superb example of a concrete jungle.

I used to go up to Orange County weekly in the 1980s for some work my company was doing at the time. I hadn't been back (except driving through) since then until we went to Disneyland this week. Once again I was very surprised at how big the trees got. Looking out of our 14th floor hotel room, it looked like a forest in every direction. Sure, there was an occasional big building (or group of buildings) sticking up out of the trees, but it looked remarkably lush and natural. Except, of course, for the minor detail that Orange County is very arid and would not naturally be a forest.

These local makeovers have a major impact on the local climate which will probably dwarf the effects from global climate change for a long time to come. Trees can make the temperature several degrees cooler in the afternoon (6-8°F) and perhaps a tad warmer in the middle of the night. Though I can't confirm it, my experience is that trees make it a bit more humid (which is quite nice in a dry place like San Diego). The air definitely smells different (Orange County was far less smoggy than last time I'd been there). Trees also reduce the wind at the ground level.

The most important thing I've noticed about local environments and climates, is that no matter what happens, the ecosystem always manages to adapt. That's true for volcanic eruptions like Mt St. Helens in 1980 ("[t]he single greatest surprise to scientists entering the blast zone shortly after the eruption was the realization that many organisms survived in, what initially appeared to be, a lifeless landscape"), the area around Chernobyl after the escape of radioactive material ("[s]cientists studying the site from the International Radioecology Laboratory just outside the zone have reported a startling return of many rare species to the area and a general increase in the diversity of many wild plants and animals"), concrete jungles like Orange County and Los Angeles where my brother-in-law now routinely encounters bears in his back yard, upstate New York suburbia where deer are everywhere you look and are a serious driving hazard, and my own backyard in the middle of San Diego where we have possums, skunks, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, and birds, birds, and more birds.

The one thing I've learned during my decades on this planet: life always comes back, no matter what. Climate change, whether local or global, won't stop it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Anarchy Versus Religion

Instapundit linked to an article titled Anarchy Unbound, or: Why Self-Governance Works Better than You Think by Peter Leeson. I was starting to write a post about this very interesting article but The Belmont Club beat me to it and took it one step further by intertwining it with The Politics of God, a recent article in the New York Times. It's long, but I found it well worth reading and heartily recommend it. Here's one small excerpt:
What both articles have in common, apart from their startling thesis, is the request that the reader put aside any preconceived notions that European political development in the late 20th century represented anything like the highest development of civilization. Both imply that we are not at the End of History and the sooner we disabuse ourselves of that idea, the greater our chances at survival.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Excellent Health Care Blog

I recently came across John Goodman's blog and found some excellent posts here:

...If the answer to the first question is "no," the plan will not control costs. If the answer to the second question is "no," the plan will not improve quality. If the answer to the third question is "no," the plan will not increase access to care. If the answer to the full set is "no, no and no" (and I believe in almost all cases it is "no, no and no"), the plan is hardly worth talking about.

Two hundred years from now, anthropologists will look back on our era and wonder why there was so much sound and fury over plans that from the get-go could not possibly succeed. To help them out, I plan to entomb this Alert in a cornerstone somewhere.

Health care is a complex system. It may be the most complex of any social system. Complex systems cannot be managed, planned, controlled, etc., from above. If they are functional, it is only because the people down below face good incentives and feedback loops. If 300 million potential patients make just 10 health care decisions every year, that's 3 billion decisions on the demand side of the market alone. No one can manage, plan, control, etc., 3 billion decisions, to say nothing of the supply side of the market. The problem with all of the plans you have been thinking about is that they all violate this principle.

How do we know if the participants in a complex system face good incentives and good feedback loops? We can begin by asking whether they have the power to make things better. Although the three questions above are very good questions, here are three that are even more fundamental:

4. Does the plan allow doctors and patients to freely recontract, so that a better, higher-quality bundle of care can be provided for the same or less money?

5. Does the plan allow providers to freely contract with each other to reduce costs or raise quality?

6. Does the plan allow the insured and the insurers to freely recontract in order to change the boundaries between self-insurance and third-party insurance and arrive at more desirable allocations of risk?

The really disconcerting thing is not that the answer is "no, no and no" for all of the plans. I'm sure you already anticipated that. The really troublesome thing is that the answer is "no, no and no" for the current system.


In our fee-for-service payment system, doctors are slaves to the way they are paid. It doesn't matter whether the payor is public or private. It also doesn't matter whether we are in the United States or in Canada. Doctors have no freedom to repackage and reprice their services. More precisely, regardless of how they repackage, they cannot reprice. So almost any innovation that raises quality or lowers the patient's costs means less - not more - net income for the physician.

Fortunately, there are exceptions to this generalization. There are isolated markets here and there that are bustling and teeming with entrepreneurial activity. These islands of health care innovation are easy to spot. They are the places where the third-party payers are not.

TelaDoc is headed toward its one millionth customer. If that doesn't immediately knock your socks off, stop and consider: Almost one million people have stepped outside the traditional health insurance system and paid with their own money for a few simple services that our institutionalized, bureaucratic, archaic, third-party payment system cannot deliver. In addition to telephone consultations, TelaDoc patients have portable electronic medical records. Also, their prescriptions can be ordered electronically, taking advantage of software that reduces medical errors.

Another entrepreneurial venture — walk-in clinics in pharmacies, supermarkets and shopping malls — has recently discovered for medicine something nonmedical professionals have known about for several decades: the computer. Nurse practitioners not only enter patient data electronically, they follow computerized protocols in making decisions, and they can order prescriptions electronically as well. A MinuteClinic survey of 58,000 sore throat cases found that the nurses conformed to evidence-based treatment guidelines 99.15 percent of the time. By contrast, the RAND Corporation found that system wide, doctors deliver appropriate care only 55 percent of the time.

Big market changes are not driven by entrepreneurial buyers. They are driven by entrepreneurial producers and sellers.

The posts are impressive for their clarity and emphasis on really important insights.

Rebranded liberalism

The liberal label does not sell so well in American politics. That name was appropriated by American socialists as a deliberate deception of which both Hayek and Schumpeter remind us. It was originally attached to people interested in liberty. The rebranding of a politics with only limited appeal is smart although yet again deceptive politics. This time the chosen label is progressive or is that Progressive. Let's have a look at that term with the help of retired professor John Ray. This document is a bit long but here are some key points:

And who was the best known Progressive in the world at that time? None other than the President of the United States -- Woodrow Wilson -- the man who was most responsible for the postwar order in Europe. So Mussolini had to do little more than read his newspapers to hear at least some things about the ideas of the very influential American Progressives. And who were the Progressives? Here is one summary of them:

"Originally, progressive reformers sought to regulate irresponsible corporate monopoly, safeguarding consumers and labor from the excesses of the profit motive. Furthermore, they desired to correct the evils and inequities created by rapid and uncontrolled urbanization. Progressivism ..... asserted that the social order could and must be improved..... Some historians, like Richard Hofstadter and George Mowry, have argued that the progressive movement attempted to return America to an older, more simple, agrarian lifestyle. For a few progressives, this certainly was true. But for most, a humanitarian doctrine of social progress motivated the reforming spirit"

Here is a brief summary of the "Progressive" era from a non-Leftist perspective:

"The Progressive Era is a period of one big lie after another, crafted upon the false belief that modern government somehow could replace a free market, private property order and create an economy marked both by prosperity and "fairness." From "scientific" management to "enlightened" religion (called theological liberalism and, later, secularism) to Prohibition to "objective" journalism, the belief was that modern society had found the key to "onward and upward" progress."

And a scholarly summary can be found here in a book review of David W. Southern's book on the Progressive era. The following may be a useful excerpt:

The Progressive movement swept America from roughly the early 1890s through the early 1920s, producing a broad popular consensus that government should be the primary agent of social change. To that end, legions of idealistic young crusaders, operating at the local, state, and federal levels, seized and wielded sweeping new powers and enacted a mountain of new legislation, including minimum wage and maximum hour laws, antitrust statutes, restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol, appropriations for hundreds of miles of roads and highways, assistance to new immigrants and the poor, women's suffrage, and electoral reform, among much else....

Yet the Progressive Era was also a time of vicious, state-sponsored racism. In fact, from the standpoint of African-American history, the Progressive Era qualifies as arguably the single worst period since Emancipation. The wholesale disfranchisement of Southern black voters occurred during these years, as did the rise and triumph of Jim Crow. Furthermore, as the Westminster College historian David W. Southern notes in his recent book, The Progressive Era and Race: Reform and Reaction, 1900-1917, the very worst of it-disfranchisement, segregation, race baiting, lynching-"went hand-in-hand with the most advanced forms of southern progressivism." Racism was the norm, not the exception, among the very crusaders romanticized by today's activist left.

At the heart of Southern's flawed but useful study is a deceptively simple question: How did reformers infused with lofty ideals embrace such abominable bigotry? His answer begins with the race-based pseudoscience that dominated educated opinion at the turn of the 20th century. "At college," Southern notes, "budding progressives not only read expos,s of capitalistic barons and attacks on laissez-faire economics by muckraking journalists, they also read racist tracts that drew on the latest anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, eugenics, and medical science."

And as this article shows, the American "Progressives" of the late 19th and early 20th century were not only Leftists but they were also war-glorifying militarists.

Wilson even foreshadowed Hitler's racism. Note this quote about his actions in 1912:

"Upon taking power in Washington, Wilson and the many other Southerners he brought into his cabinet were disturbed at the way the federal government went about its own business. One legacy of post-Civil War Republican ascendancy was that Washington's large black populace had access to federal jobs, and worked with whites in largely integrated circumstances. Wilson's cabinet put an end to that, bringing Jim Crow to Washington. Wilson allowed various officials to segregate the toilets, cafeterias, and work areas of their departments".

So Wilson actually reversed more tolerant policies put in place by Republicans. Racism was very LEFTIST in Hitler's day. Leftists like to portray Wilson as a visionary. They neglect to mention that the future he envisioned was a racially segregated one.

Unlike the American Leftists of today, the Progressives were in fact thoroughly patriotic, and Croly -- arguably the leading light of Progressivism -- was certainly explicitly nationalist. And one of Croly's disciples was both vastly influential and a remarkably exact model for Mussolini's imperialistic nationalism. The disciple concerned? Yet another American President: Theodore Roosevelt.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it must be noted that it is only in very recent times that the two major American political parties have become clearly delineated as Leftist and Rightist and so the Progressives were an influence that could and did operate within both major parties of that time. And before his break with the Republicans it was the progressive wing of the Republican party that TR was identified with.

And the following description of American Progressivism in the early 20th century could just as well have been a description of Fascism:

"Progressive policies embodied an underlying philosophy repugnant to Jeffersonianism. As Ekirch describes this philosophy, "Society in the future would have to be based more and more on an explicit subordination of the individual to a collectivist, or nationalized, political and social order. This change, generally explained as one of progress and reform, was of course also highly important in building up nationalistic sentiment. At the same time, the rising authority and prestige of the state served to weaken the vestiges of internationalism and cosmopolitanism and to intensify the growing imperialistic rivalries." In their statist cause the progressives, who were now appropriating the name "liberal," enlisted Social Darwinism, economic determinism, and relativism.

So 20th century Fascism was in fact an American invention, or more precisely an invention of the American Left. Like many American ideas to this day, however, it proved immensely popular in Europe and it was only in Europe that it was put fully into practice. As it does today, American conservatism kept the American Left in some check in the first half of the 20th century so it was only in Europe that their ideas could come into full bloom.

So where did the Progressives get their ideas? Did they invent their ideas out of the blue? Of course not. Right up until World War I it was popular and even fashionable for American intellectuals to study in Germany -- where the thought of Hegel was very influential. And many of the Progressives were included in that movement.

Because they are so embarrassing to the Left of today, there are always attempts to deny that the American Progressives of a century ago were Leftists.

Well the new label may sound good, but they better hope people don't do any homework or that their political opposition is ineffective in exposing who they really are.

Progressive perspective

When I was away a couple of weeks ago, this cartoon about the founding of our nation garnered some attention from a noted talk-radio host. (scroll down)

Brief History of Great Guys

They say that "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" and that's a good thing since it allows us to concentrate on the argument itself rather than on who is making the argument. While I can't rationally disagree with that, not knowing who's making the argument still doesn't sit well with me, and I often find myself curious about a person who posts something on a blog.

In a recent comment on this blog, erp asked:
I see this was posted by Howard, but Howard who and who are the other great guys posting on this blog?
Since I can relate to erp's curiosity, I've decided to post the following history of this blog.

Eight of us who went to the same college (MIT) and now live all over the place get together once a year (usually sans spouses and children). We jokingly call it the Great Guys weekend. It's certainly a great weekend for us guys! We had such enjoyable conversations during those weekends that we decided to start up a private team blog to continue the conversations (in writing) throughout the year.

Two or three of us never posted at all and two or three others only ever posted a handful a times. Three of us were very active in the beginning. One of those three dropped out after a few months. There was one guest blogger a year or so ago (not one of the original "Great Guys"), but he also stopped posting after just a handful of posts. It seems that this blogging thing takes somewhat more energy and/or a thicker skin than most people have.

That left Howard and me as the only active members.

To answer erp's question almost directly, Howard is a turtle. Really! I'm not kidding! Not the type with a shell, of course, but rather this type:
To settle this dispute with William Eckhardt, a friend and fellow trader, in 1983 Dennis recruited and trained 13 people who became known as the "turtles." Many turtles have gone on to successful careers as commodity trading advisors.
Howard is still trading futures. He's one of those boring, single career type people.

Not me! I'm well into my third career. Signal and telemetry processing systems for defense applications in the 1980s, working with Howard to provide him with computer support for financial data collection and artificial intelligence modeling for his futures trading in the 1990s (I also traded futures privately), and vision based robotics in the 2000s. I'm not sure what I'll do during the 2010s, but I doubt it could be any more fun than the futures trading or the robotics. Perhaps I'll just be an old stuck-in-the-mud and stay with robotics.

Futures trading is an extremely unforgiving occupation. Every mistake, every misconception about how economies and markets work, and every hint of arrogance and certitude is immediately and irrevocably punished by the markets. I read tens of thousands of pages about markets, economics, and finance during those years I worked with Howard and Howard's study dwarfed mine by an order of magnitude. I believe that study coupled with the immediate and harsh feedback provided by the futures markets leads to a very specific and practical worldview. If Howard and I seem to have a very similar perspective, that's probably why.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Future of Autonomous Automobiles

Cars will, one day, drive themselves.

The technology is not an issue. Between the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges, the ability of an automobile to get about safely on its own will surpass that of a human driver in the next few years. Actually, relative to some drivers I've known, robotic cars are already far better. Add another five to ten years beyond that to make the technology cheap (less than $1,000 per vehicle) and autonomous automobiles will be ready to roll by 2020 (more or less).

But will cars drive themselves by 2020? Some might, but I doubt that very many will. There are many cultural issues that will stymie the adoption of robotic vehicles.

The biggest problem is that even a car that has perfect software will still occasionally get in an accident. Its frequency of accidents will be far below that of an average human, but it will still get in accidents. Driving on roads is sheer chaos. Sensors will stop working, joggers will jump in front of the cars, bicyclists will bound on by, meters will malfunction, streets will be unexpectedly slippery, etc. It's not clear how blame for accidents involving robotic cars will be assigned and how the damage will be paid for (I've given one humorous example here). My observations lead me to believe it will be many decades, perhaps even centuries before these critical issues are resolved. If every time someone is killed in an autonomous automobile accident (and it will happen), the software company is bankrupted via lawsuits, robotic vehicles will never gain any traction. That would be true even if they reduced automobile accidents by a factor of ten overall.

Ultimately, I think demand for such vehicles will be so strong that we'll figure out the legal and cultural aspects. The military will drive the technology whether or not there ever are non-military robotic cars. After all, the military uses far more dangerous weapons and people are killed all the time. For the military, safer and higher performance are better, even if people still die.

The elderly will increasingly need cars that drive themselves. Many states are now taking away licenses of older drivers who are likely to be high risk (for example, because they can't see). But taking away licenses has a huge cost of its own. It consigns the elderly to their houses, making it very difficult for them to get out and receive the stimulation required to maintain physical and mental health. It also makes it difficult for them to get groceries, buy clothes, and otherwise take care of themselves, leading to earlier transfer of these citizens into expensive assisted living situations.

For the elderly, cars that can drive themselves are the perfect solution. They needn't endanger themselves and others, yet they still would have the mobility they need. In fact, their mobility will likely increase, since many elderly drivers avoid going out at night because of vision issues.

So that's where I see robotic cars getting their toehold for non-military applications. The clout of the elderly voting bloc (and their children) will force the legislation required to enable the elderly to have such vehicles. I'm hoping by the time I'm old enough to need a car to drive me (approximately 2040), that we'll have gotten through all of the necessary societal hurdles.

Once this happens, I predict the flood gates will open. Taxis will drive themselves, greatly reducing cab fares. In fact, I predict that cab fares will be so greatly reduced that more and more people will take taxis everywhere and won't even bother owning a car. The autonomous taxis will be so smart that there will always be one of just the right size available for you and the group you're with right when and where you need it. Eventually, almost nobody will own a car since having a car sit in your garage is allowing a great deal of capital equipment sit idle.

Cars will talk to each other (electronically). As a result, they'll be able to drive much closer to each other which will enable far more of them to fit on existing roads even while traveling at much higher speeds. Most cars will have one or two seats enabling even more cars to fit on the roads. Fuel efficiency will increase further since the cars will "draft" off of each other. It will be possible to fit approximately 5 times as many cars on a typical freeway.

I see all of this happening within twenty years of when cars begin driving the elderly about. The first step is the hardest, the rest will happen very quickly.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Comments Feeds

Erp has now added a legible recent comments section and I'm sure The Daily Duck is close behind.

On my sidebar, there's a "Subscribe to Comments" link. I was going to describe to erp how to get that, but it's not really necessary. One can just type the comments feed URL into bloglines or whatever you happen to be using for your feeds.

For erp's new blog:

For The Daily Duck:

For Great Guys (if you don't want to right click on "Subscribe to Comments"):

For Thought Mesh:

Beats the heck outta me! Maybe aog can enlighten us.

Update: The instructions on how to use those comments feeds URLs above no doubt varies depending on which tool you're using to manage your feeds. I use bloglines so I can give instructions for that tool. To add a feed, I click on "add" under the feeds tab which brings up a dialogue that says "Blog or Feed URL:". That's where I paste the above URLs (one at a time) and then click on subscribe.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Never mind

Fortunately, there are plenty of voices countering the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) alarmists. It's an interesting theory, but as formulated so far it doesn't holdup to scientific scrutiny. Some of the same limits of understanding exit that existed when I surveyed the literature 30 years ago. This latest correction to the recent temperature record doesn't help their cause:
According to the new data published by NASA, 1998 is no longer the hottest year ever. 1934 is. Four of the top 10 years of US CONUS high temperature deviations are now from the 1930s: 1934, 1931, 1938 and 1939, while only 3 of the top 10 are from the last 10 years (1998, 2006, 1999). Several years (2000, 2002, 2003, 2004) fell well down the leaderboard, behind even 1900.

In other words: Four of the top ten are in the 1930’s, before mainstream scientists believe humans had any discernible impact on temperatures.
Much of the evidence cited by AGW proponents is much weaker than they realize. Perhaps I'll touch upon that in a future post. As for Mr. Gore's claim of scientific consensus, he should know better:
What most people don't know is that real science is a giant debating society, filled with skeptics. It is only mature science that is stable and agreed-upon. But mature science comes only after centuries of cumulative evidence, and constant, heated debate. It took 20 centuries after the planets were observed in the night sky, before Newton and Copernicus settled the nature of the solar system. Einstein's Relativity Theory happened three centuries afterwards, and even in his own lifetime, part of Einstein's universe was overthrown by Quantum Mechanics, which Einstein fought all his life. (He was wrong on that).

Climate science is a new kid on the block. It's woefully immature, as shown by the admission in this week's ScienceMag that current climate models have only now attempted to account for natural variation. But how can we tell how much of the observed variation is due to "man-caused global warming" if we don't know how much is due to natural variation? We can't.

This is still very immature science. It's only Reuters and its ideological ilk who feel sure they know the answers. And they aren't interested in real science.

Larisa Alexandrovna States Her Position

In the comments section of this post, commenters (including me) were trying to classify Larisa Alexandrovna's world view. I think that there was the assumption that since she was attacked by the right wing bloggers "The Sanity Squad", that Larisa must be left wing. Larisa was kind enough to outline her world view in the comments which is reproduced by the following:
So my position is basically the following (very high level), listed as sort of statements (you decide on the label):

1. All forms of centralized power work against the people, although representative government can work well if the people are indeed represented.

2. Basic survival needs should not be delivered by a for-profit structure, like water, for example, delivered by Halliburton, for example. Same goes for law enforcement needs.

3. Companies who make their bottom line demands by profiting off of war are dangerous to a democracy, because they make their biggest profits during war time.

4. Illegal immigration allows for human rights abuses and allows for the importation of slave labor. It is a human rights issue first foremost.

5. The Constitution is more important than any single person or office and it must be defended if we are to have a democracy. Party above country is the Soviet Union, if memory serves.

6. Voting rights, free press, civil liberties, and human rights are all key foundations of democracy.

7. Separation of church and state are necessary to the survival of a democracy.

8. The death penalty is amoral because a). we cannot be 100% sure that every single person put to death is truly guilty or rightly sentenced and b). because we can never be sure that human beings with power won't abuse it.

9. Terrorism is not a country, it is a type of crime and should be treated as a criminal act, not an act of war (with but a few exceptions).

10. There is no single property more valuable nor more fully my own than my body. The government or religious groups or anyone else has no right to tell me what I can and cannot do with my body. I am pro-choice, but also responsible choices.

I'm going to end this post here and begin commenting on her various points in the comments section. Please join in!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Boy, that worked well !

Now that the Democrat controlled Congress is making populist noises about playing the class warfare card, let's visit a little piece of history. WSJ columnist Kimberley Strassel asks the question: Do Dems finally understand the collateral effects of taxing the "rich"?

Back in the hot summer of 1990, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell proudly engineered the infamous "luxury tax," a nasty little tithe on everything from furs to jewelry to yachts. Democrats were proud: Not only were they throwing new dollars at the Treasury, they'd done it by socking it to the rich. The wealthy, in the words of then-House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, would finally pay "their fair share."

Within a year, Mr. Mitchell was back in the Senate passionately demanding an end to the same dreaded luxury tax. The levy had devastated his home state of Maine's boat-building business, throwing yard workers, managers and salesmen out of jobs. The luxury tax was repealed by 1993, though by the look of today's tax debate, its lessons haven't been forgotten. Top Democrats are working to implement a new class-warfare tax strategy, only this time they're getting pushback from those in their party who fear the economic consequences.

Tax hikes are flying out of House and Senate committees, though what they all share in common is that each is laser-targeted on some rich or disreputable industry. The carried-interest tax would soak greedy hedge-fund managers. The "Blackstone tax" would hit wealthy private equity partnerships. A new farm-bill tax would siphon dollars from the U.S. subsidiaries of big foreign corporations. A repeal of a domestic deduction would suck money out of dirty oil companies. The tobacco tax needs no explanation.

And, they hope and pray, it allows them to raise money while avoiding the tax-and-spend moniker. After all, they aren't giving America tax hikes, they're giving America "tax justice." If you see what they mean.

This isn't to suggest some of these bad taxes won't go through; they will. But it's encouraging to know that, even amid this latest round of Democratic class-warfarism, the party harbors a minority who understands that taxes do have economic consequences. You can almost hear the ghost of the luxury tax past rasping away in the background.
Not only did the luxury tax cost jobs, it lost revenue on balance.
  • The lost jobs cost $24.2 million in unemployment benefits plus income tax revenue the government didn't get, so taking into account the $16.6 million collected, the net effect of the taxes was a loss of $7.6 million in fiscal 1991.
Boy did they stick it to those rich people. I would call it justice if politicians paid the price for this blunder but they almost never suffer the consequences of such bad policy.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Kettle and Pot Boiling Over

A few days ago, the Pot was calling the Kettle black, but now they're both boiling over and scalding me! That's what I get for not staying away from the hot stove.

The "Pot" in this case is Dr. Sanity. The "Kettle" is Larisa Alexandrovna who runs the blog "".

Sanity described one of Alexandrovna's posts as histrionic. Alexandrovna is threatening to file an ethics complaint against Sanity:

...And this is a professional opinion then is it? Interesting, because the professional opinion of a 2 bit shrink distributed in order to smear a journalist for political reasons sounds to me like exactly the type of extremism I am talking about and smells terribly familiar of the Soviet stench. It is also a very good reason reason to file a an ethics complaint against the good doctor.

In the Soviet Union - a police state - medical experts often trotted out to discredit dissidents and free thinkers by applying such standards of medical practice. She appears to be proving my point rather nicely.

I suggest the good Dr. clarify her statements rather quickly because I will file an ethics complaint against a medical "expert" for using her expertise and professional authority to attack me in public and smear me as mentally unstable for my political views. ...

Sanity basically told Alexandrovna to stuff it:
You are a fraud. You wouldn't mind a police state at all as long as you and your friends were in charge. Your threats towards me and those of your commenters demonstrate a obvious desire to silence anyone who dares to have an opinion differing from your own. I would also suggest you hone your reading skills since the post in question merely uses your confused and convoluted rhetoric ("It's official, we are in a police state..."!!!!) as an example of the kind that is often found on your side of the political spectrum.
Foolhardily, I made a comment on Sanity's site that pointed out that, in my opinion, Sanity was attacking the messenger as well as the message:
Dr. Sanity wrote: "I would also suggest you [Alexandrovna] hone your reading skills since the post in question merely uses your confused and convoluted rhetoric ("It's official, we are in a police state..."!!!!) as an example of the kind that is often found on your side of the political spectrum."

That doesn't seem accurate to me since later in the post Dr. Sanity also wrote, "[t]hus our adolescent drama queen linked to above can say with absolute sincerity and passion...". That seems to me to explicitly link Alexandrovna to the rest of the post and the "diagnosis" of hysteria.
Sanity didn't think much of my comment and wrote a long response (my snarky comments are interspersed):
Bret, several points.

1. Her [Alexandrovna's] post is in my PROFESSIONAL opinion a perfect example of the kind of hysterical rhetoric that passes for intellectual thought on the left.
Got that.
2. In writing that post she is behaving like an adolescent drama queen (or, didn't you bother to read her post about the police state we are in?) and I called her on it. "Adolescent drama queen" is not an approved psychiatric diagnosis as far as I know.
Yeah, I read her post. But did Sanity read my comment? I wasn't complaining about her calling Alexandrovna an adolescent drama queen, rather I was pointing out that she was linking the messenger to the message and that Alexandrovna's reading skills were adequately honed for this purpose.
3. "hysteria" is not a diagnosis either but a perfectly acceptable descriptive term to describe overly exaggerated emotional behavior. Psychologically, the exaggerated behavior is specifically and often unconsciously used by the individual to obscure some aspect of reality that is unpleasant or unacceptable. Usually it is the case that it obscures some unpleasant truth about one's self (e.g. a person likes to think of themselves as being a champion of freedom and justice, but actually is a closet tyrant and only cares about their own freedom and is intolerant of other's speech)
I know that "hysteria" is not a diagnosis. That'd be why I put diagnosis in quotation marks in my comment.
4. You know the expression "if the shoe fits, wear it" ? Well Alexandrovna is not only wearing it, she's modeling it proudly to the world in her subsequent post. Fine. She can say whatever she wants about me and even disagree with anything I say; and she can be as ridiculous as she likes--it is a free country after all in spite of the BushHitler Police State and all the oppression we have to suffer under--but I will continue to describe HER behavior using the skills in which I have been trained.
I don't wear shoes (literally, as my co-blogger can attest - why do you think I moved to San Diego?) Alexandrovna did not use the term BushHitler. Sanity was and is putting words in Alexandrovna's mouth and claiming she modelled shoes that she never even wore. And those shoes are really ugly!
5. Ask yourself who is trying to censor whom here. I describe her behavior and call her to account for her exaggerated fearmongering rhetoric and she talks about "reporting" me to the state board for some sort of unethical conduct. Good luck with that. Clearly she hasn't a clue about what psychiatry or psychiatrists do or even what a psychiatric diagnosis is. My guess is that I hit a sensitive nerve and that she knows exactly what I was trying to say and that it cut through her emotionalism to the real person beneath. It must be very upsetting for her. Tough.
In my opinion, both are clearly trying to suppress the speech of the other. One through appeal to authority and ad hominem intimidation, the other via an ethics board. Bad, bad girls, both.
6. And here's a non-diagnosis for you: You are an idiot. I don't think that's in the DSM, but it sure describes a lot of the behavior of trolls like yourself.
I'm wondering if it's possible for Sanity to write anything without resorting to insult. I'm also wondering which behavior she's referring to. Me making a comment?
7. You have a nice day, too. Preferably somewhere else.
You got it, babe. Since I don't think my comment was particularly abrasive, I have to conclude that Sanity wants a pristine echo chamber to sound off in. I'm not exactly banned, but clearly very unwelcome, so per her request I'll stay away. At least she didn't delete my comments like some other bloggers we all know.

I sure hope Sanity doesn't work with mentally ill patients. I'm imagining that her bedside manner might leave a wee bit to be desired.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Universal Seduction and Distraction

The provision of employer based tax preferred health coverage in response to WWII wage and price controls has been with us for over 50 years. Medicare and Medicaid with their growing set of rules and regulations have been around for over 40 years now. The cumulative effect of these items have driven us further from a market based approach to health care than most people realize. Reforms that move us in the direction of consumer driven free market based care and insurance are more likely to help improve things as compared with a more regulated or collectivist approaches. Arnold Kling presents a pretty good article describing the calls for universal coverage to be a distraction:

The main proponents of "universal coverage" want to throw more money at the current health care system, which strikes me as unwise. I believe that the "universal coverage" mantra is dysfunctional for the same reason that "more money for public schools" is a dysfunctional mantra for education. When your current approach is digging you into a hole, the sensible thing to do is not to dig faster. It is to stop digging.

"Universal coverage" is a popular solution in health care. Too bad it does not address the important problems. Even economists on the liberal side of the spectrum recognize that broader reforms are needed.

My thought is that calls for universal coverage are worse than a distraction. They are a seduction that if mommy or daddy government takes care of it we can rest easy. Looking around the globe, I don't find this to be an attractive idea.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Pot Calls Kettle Black

I find it amusing when someone hysterically accuses someone else of being hysterical. This post by Dr. Sanity accuses this post of being a histrionic post, though the latter post seems to me to be calm, cool, and collected by comparison. The following are some of the more emotional quotes from Dr. Sanity's post interspersed with my admittedly snarky comments...

"...increasingly lunatic left..."

Increasingly? Seems like they've been maxed out for quite a while now.

"...self-indulgent and overly dramatic adolescent girl..."

My older daughter is one of those and I don't appreciate her being insulted by being compared with the "lunatic" left. She's much more rational than they are.

"...narcissistic left raises the decibel level of their pouts and whines..."

But what about the decibel level of Dr. Sanity's post? I had to put earplugs in for this one!

"None of the rhetoric has anything remotely to do with reality..."

Absolutely nothing? Oh come now, I'm sure at least an occasional sentence reflects reality.

"That particular emotional state essentially describes today's political left as they sonambulate..."

I rather doubt that the person was sleep walking when she wrote her post.

"For them, Bushitler is more dangerous than Bin Laden..."

This one is absolutely true and reflects reality perfectly. Here's my analysis. Since the 2001 attacks, about 1,000 people per year have died on average including those who died on 9/11 and everyone who's died in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 15,000 per year have died in automobile accidents, an activity that everybody engages in and nobody thinks twice about. So in comparison with typical activities such as driving, you're exceedingly unlikely to die in the "war" on terror. You're also exceedingly unlikely to die because of Bush. Since death is not much of a factor, it is true that Bush has helped roll back many of the programs and stopped much of the momentum of those on the Left. As a result, Bush objectively is much more dangerous to the goals and objectives and lifestyle of those on the Left than Bin Laden (who's probably dead anyway).

"psychological strategies ... [have] been recently taken to new heights by a certain segment of the population since 9/11..."

New heights? They were already at pretty dizzying heights. How do you measure the height anyway?

Several statements of the form "by using [psychological mechanism X], some people are able to convince themselves that [Y]..."

Sure, some people can convince themselves of anything. That doesn't mean we need to much worry about them. When I see a homeless guy rummaging through the garbage mumbling about how the world is against him, I feel pity, not fear.

Dr. Sanity parrots Leftist rhetoric: " is you! It is not they who are projecting, it is you! It is not they who fail to see the danger, it is you!"

Well, I admit I am rather unable to see the danger pointed out (incessantly) by the Left. However, I'm also rather unable to take them particularly seriously - at least not to the (to me) hysterical level of Dr. Sanity's post.

"It gets excessively wearisome..."

Good thing Dr. Sanity is such a trooper then!

I think the Dr. Sanity crowd is taking Leftist rhetoric way too seriously to the point of sounding a bit hysterical themselves.

I know, I know, they'll just claim I'm in denial. In that case, they need to explain to me why I'm not dead or living under a grand caliphate. Why my wife and daughters aren't wearing burkas. Why the economy continues to grow nicely in the midst of this "war". Etc.

They might reply that we're on our way there (and, of course, because of the lunatic left). However, the future is predicted reality, not objective reality.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Autonomous Automobiles

The DARPA Grand Challenge was a 132 mile race for autonomous (robotic) vehicles, sponsored by DARPA. The qualifying winner (turned out to be a team from Stanford) received a $2 million prize.

I recently learned from a colleague who worked on one of the teams that entered a robotic car in the competition that possibly the first robotic car collision with a private vehicle has already occurred. They were testing the robot in a parking lot where somebody had mistakenly left his van. The robot collided with the van in the parking lot.

Apparently, the interaction between the insurance adjuster ("Adjuster") assigned to the case and the owner of the van ("Owner") didn't go very smoothly. Though the exact conversation wasn't recorded, I imagine it might've gone something like the following:

Adjuster: Who was driving the car that hit your van?
Owner: Um, er, well, nobody.
Adjuster: Nobody was driving? Was there anybody in the car?
Owner: Uh - no.
Adjuster: Oh, is this one of those cases where somebody forgot to put on the parking brake...
Owner: Yeah, that's it, the parking brake definitely was not on!
Adjuster: ...and forgot to leave it in gear...
Owner: Um, no, er, well, the car was in gear.
Adjuster: Then why was it moving?
Owner: Well, er, because, um, the engine was running.
Adjuster [looking confused]: The car was on?
Owner: Um, well, yeah.
Adjuster: And it was in gear?
Owner: Yeah, um, yeah.
Adjuster: And nobody was in it?
Owner: Yeah, nobody was in it.
Adjuster: And it rolled across the parking lot and hit your van?
Owner: Um, yeah, that's right.
Adjuster: So did someone start it, put it in gear and jump out?
Owner: No, no, nothing like that.
Adjuster: Okay, so give me a hint. How did this car come to be rolling across the parking lot, engine on, in gear, with no driver?
Owner: Well, er, they, um, asked it to do that.
Adjuster: Pardon?
Owner: They, er, asked the car to drive around the parking lot.
Adjuster: They asked the car to drive around the parking lot.
Owner: Yes!
Adjuster: I'm not following. Who might 'they' be?
Owner: You know, the people who own the car.
Adjuster: And did 'they' talk to the car and say, "Hey car, drive around the parking lot"?
Owner: Er, no, they sent it a message.
Adjuster: Like an email?
Owner: Well, kinda like an email, I suppose.
Adjuster: And the message said, "Hey car, drive around the parking lot"?
Owner: Well, um, it sorta did say that, yeah.
Adjuster: Why didn't the message also say something like, "Hey car, don't hit that van over there."
Owner: It supposed to avoid other vehicles without being told.
Adjuster: So then why did it hit your van?
Owner: I think it just didn't see my van.
Adjuster: See it? The car has eyes?
Owner: Oh yeah, of course! It has lots of senses.
Adjuster: Well, why didn't it see your van?
Owner: It made a mistake.
Adjuster: The car made a mistake.
Owner: Yes, of course, it was an accident, it didn't hit my van on purpose.
Adjuster: And how long have you been under the impression that cars can be asked to drive around, see, think, and "make mistakes".
Owner: Oh, well, for a few years, I guess.
Adjuster: I think you should see a psychiatrist. I know a good one.

Well, maybe it didn't go quite that badly, but I guess there was quite a problem categorizing the accident since there isn't a category for autonomous vehicle collisions. At least not yet.

In a future post, I'll present my predictions for when cars that drive themselves will be available. I'll argue that the technology will be ready in the next ten years or so, but the legal, social, and cultural adjustments could take many decades.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Good Bye Good Friend

I've removed the Autorantic Virtual Moonbat from my sidebar. The moonbat was a dear friend who always put a smile on my face, but I've tired of his clutter on this blog's sidebar and the extra time it takes for the blog pages to come up. I figure I can always visit him (or her?) here, when I need my fix of automatically generated moonbattery.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Education and Success

A theme frequently visited by Larry Kudlow (of CNBC's Kudlow & Company fame) is contained in the following excerpt:
This is a point I keep making—that if you earn a college degree or better, the unemployment rate is 2 percent, whereas if you don’t graduate from high school it’s closer to 7 percent. Moreover, the wage gap between these groups is very significant and continues to grow.

Simply put, it pays to stay in school.
Does it pay to stay in school? After taking into consideration the cost of the additional education, opportunity costs, risk and discount factors, and personal preferences, and then comparing it to other investments (which also pay), I rather doubt it pays much, if any, on average. If it does pay to stay in school after such factors are considered, it points to a significant market failure which nobody has yet identified or explained. In other words, if it pays so well, why don't far more people do it, leading to increased supply of skilled labor with a corresponding reduction in skilled wages and a decreased supply of unskilled labor with a corresponding increase in wages until it all balanced out? You know, like any other market. In which case it wouldn't pay relatively better than any other investment once other factors are considered.

I agree that the correlation Kudlow points out is clear. Those who graduate from high school and college are more likely to be employed than those who don't and they're likely to make substantially more money as well. That extra money seems to more than cover direct educational costs and opportunity costs over the course of a lifetime.

However, correlation doesn't indicate causation. There's no direct evidence in Kudlow's statement regarding employment and education that staying in school causes a higher likelihood of employment or higher salaries.

There are many other factors that also play a role in attaining higher wages and success in general. For example, personal characteristics including intelligence, perseverance, intensity, focus, dedication, reliability, willingness to delay gratification, etc. is one such factor. I think that those individuals who possess such traits are more likely to be employed and with a higher wage than those who don't possess such qualities. In addition, it seems to me that those who have such traits are more likely to be able to finish high school and get into and finish college. In other words, I think that those traits are the fundamental causes of success (including higher rates of unemployment and wages), whereas a college degree is only a symptom of having the traits necessary for success.

Can I prove this? Nope. The relevant data is not available. I'm not even sure relevant data can be collected. For example, how exactly do you measure many of these traits?

Can anyone prove me wrong? Nope. The same relevant data is not available. This is just one of those superempirical moments when we simply need to bail on empirical analysis and take refuge in our belief systems. Kudlow believes that staying in school pays. I doubt that it pays all that much better than any other investment (on average). How about you?