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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

When you've lost Ann Coulter...

She wrote a book called "In Trump We Trust", yet she nowadays is only one tweet away from asking for his impeachment:
It was four nights after Coulter had aimed a bitter Twitter blast at the 45th president of the United States—who had complained last Friday, after signing the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that contained generous funding for liberal social and cultural programs favored by Democrats, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but zero dollars for his vaunted wall, that he would never do such a thing again.
“Yeah, because you’ll be impeached,” Coulter had tweeted to her 1.94 million followers, one of whom is Trump. (Later during the debate, she repeated a report that the president was seriously considering vetoing the spending legislation, but after White House chief of staff John Kelly explained that such a veto would mean missing his planned weekend at Mar-a-Lago, Trump said “f--- it!” and signed the bill instead.)

Of course, it is not easy to defend Trump and yet be coherent with any system of thought, if we can be kind enough to call her Nativism as such, given Trump is so erratic a thinker (again, I am very kind). It is then no surprise she nowadays hedges like this:

“I knew he was a shallow, lazy ignoramus, and I didn’t care,”

Well, I can't quite agree the man is lazy - he could be spending all of his time in Mar-a-Lago,  like any other good Floridian retiree, yet he is out there making the biggest reality show we've ever seen. No, lazy he is not.

At least Mrs. Coulter, sad as she is because that Wall keeps not coming, can still keep her sense of humor:
So you are in favor of giving the president a spanking?” Long quipped—the night’s only reference, and a veiled one at that, to the Stormy Daniels situation.
At which Coulter laughed and said, “I do not remind him of his daughter!”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Libertarian Suicide Pact

Regarding immigration, libertarians have a difficult decision to make. On the one hand, the free flow of both goods and labor across borders (borders shouldn't exist anyway in their opinion) is a fundamental tenet. On the other hand, at least according to a new paper, this sacred bit of their ideology is self-destructive:
While there has been much discussion of libertarians' (generally although not universally favorable) attitudes toward liberal immigration policies, the attitudes of immigrants to the United States toward libertarian values have not previously been examined. Using data from the 2010 General Social Survey, we asked how American-born and foreign-born residents differed in attitudes toward a variety of topics upon which self-reported libertarians typically hold strong pro-liberty views (as described by Iyer et al., 2012). The results showed a marked pattern of lower support for pro-liberty views among immigrants as compared to US-born residents. These differences were generally statistically significant and sizable, with a few scattered exceptions. With increasing proportions of the US population being foreign-born, low support for libertarian values by foreign-born residents means that the political prospects of libertarian values in the US are likely to diminish over time.
Though to me that seems to be the problem with most "isms" - if followed blindly with no flexibility they're all kinda self-destructive.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Precarious Future of Jobs

When someone quotes a dubious statistic in conversation, I often reply by interjecting the somewhat humorous, "Did you know that 47% of all statistics are made up on the spot?" I always use 47% as the made up number - it's a nice prime number and has a good ring to it in my opinion.

So I almost always chuckle when someone puts forth 47 percent as an actual statistic. In this case:
...a now-famous Oxford University analysis forecasted that 47 percent of all jobs are threatened in the United States [by robots and automation].
Yup, that definitely elicited a chuckle. Yet while the exact percentage of jobs that are threatened is of course completely unknown and the statistic is meaningless in any case without a timeframe associated with it (threatened by next week? Next year? A million years?), the concept is serious and perhaps deadly serious.

As a roboticist, I do see automation based on AI and increasingly intelligent and flexible computing accelerating. For example, autonomous vehicles alone could replace several million workers within ten years (maybe more, maybe less, who knows?).

I predict my company of 4 people will eliminate thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of jobs in agriculture over the next 5 years. And the problem is that as workers move to new jobs, we'll end up automating those too, making it difficult for them to ever get back to a stable job situation. That's potentially different than in the past. Sure, buggy whip workers lost their jobs once upon a time but then went on to work in the automobile industry which was stable for the rest of their careers. Maybe new industries and opportunities will develop as old jobs are automated away, but it looks to me like the destruction of jobs in Schumpeter's Creative Destruction process will far outpace the creation, especially the creation of lower to middle skilled occupations.

While automation could promise ever more plentiful availability of goods, it's possible that we'll face widespread poverty as more and more workers find it impossible to land stable and reasonably well-paying jobs. One straightforward way of mitigating that is the Universal Basic Income where all citizens get a fixed monthly stipend, no strings attached. That would at least keep people from starving in the streets. And if so much is automated and there's so much wealth being produced, the UBI would be easily affordable.

But what about work itself? Can humans live without working? Or is work part of what humans need to be fulfilled? Are idle hands the devil's workshop? Will opioid and other drug addiction become even more widespread? Will all these things lead to the collapse of civilization?

Or will we all become barbershop quartet singers (I'm the guy on the right) and live happily ever after?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wanna bet?

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.

Yet, I will risk making a few here, so we can check back later what I got right.

I predict that:

- D. Trump will keep firing people from twitter.

- Russians will keep turning up dead for mysterious reasons (yep, today another one).

- To the delight of Italians, the Azurri will make it to the 2018 World Cup even after not qualifying. I bet they will be the ones selected after England withdraws their team over its Russian friends turning up dead. Italians are looking for an entrance anyway possible! Maybe they are the ones poisoning Russians in order to incriminate Putin, it is a devious plan: and Trump knows Putin is innocent, and that's why he fired Rex - or that's my own conspiracy theory after reading this Atlantic piece.

- Brazil will lose the worldcup again, though I hope in less shame than before. (OK, this one is easy, but I had to hedge in case I get all the other ones above wrong.)

If you have predictions too, try it at the comments section!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

But why the perjury trap works?

One interesting aspect of Russiagate is how it was propelled by the very large access to information a powerful government like the USA, and its five-eyed friends, nowadays have.

If the Intelligence apparatus doesn't look particularly efficient at thwarting terrorist plots, it at least showed itself very good at snooping on Americans engaging in apparently legal behavior. We now know that, contrary to some overexcited initial reports, Obama's FBI did not rely exclusively on the Steele dossier, nor it had to withhold, from the FISA court, its connection to opposition research funded by opponents. That's because it had material of its own to start what looks like a very wide snooping of Trump's campaign, with far consequences to Mueller's probe today:

Pervasive surveillance has shown its power perhaps most significantly in creating perjury traps to manufacture indictments to pressure people to testify against others.

Mr. Van Buren finishes the piece above with an exhortatory remark:

Don’t be lured into thinking the ends justify the means, that whatever it takes to purge Trump is acceptable. Say what you want about Flynn, Kushner, et al, what matters most is the dark process being used. The arrival of pervasive surveillance as a political weapon is a harbinger that should chill Americans to their cores.

As a matter of principle, I tend to agree with Mr. Van Buren. Yet, for all the weaknesses associated to cases manufactured over perjury traps, I keep asking myself why the people involved were so eager to perjury themselves.

What was their mindset? Why would they all lie about things they could refuse to answer anyway?

Can you mount a case where most actors perjured themselves, but were still innocent?