Archive for August, 2012

“We gotta keep it all natural”

I’ve been thinking recently that I really want to get back into music blogging more. So I think I’m going to try to switch the emphasis of my blog a bit in the next few months. Maybe going a little lighter on the politics, and a little heavier on music reviews, sharing new musicians I find, posting sweet tracks, etc.

In that spirit, here’s a new track from one of my favorite ultra-indie artists from Sound Cloud, Scooter Oyama. This track’s called “Pie in Ten Minutes”:

Fork -> Spoon -> Knife

I can’t wait to introduce my team to our new Git workflow:

Know the best arguments against

One of the best maxims I learned in my academic study of philosophy, is that you should always understand the best arguments against the position you personally hold. I think that this is one of the many defects of modern political discourse is that few people give any thought to strong opposition to their positions. It is, after all, much easier to just accuse your opponent of bad faith and nefarious motives than it is to consider the potential strengths of their argument.

So, in the interests of giving my ideological opponents (broadly speaking, non-libertarians and federalists) a fair accounting, here are what I see as the three greatest arguments against libertarianism.

1.) Social influence matters, too. Occasional commenter B-Daddy made this point aptly over on his blog a week or so ago in making the case for why Libertarians need Conservatives. In essence, libertarians do spend an inordinate amount of time fighting political threats to freedom and prosperity without considering the social dimension. Probably the best form of this critique from a libertarian is Kerry Howley’s eloquent call for a “Thick Libertarianism”1, such as in her excellent essay “We’re All Cultural Libertarians“. (In keeping with the theme of this essay, that link also includes two rebuttals too Howley’s essay, but I have to confess that I don’t find either of them particularly compelling.)

2.) What about the children?! In most contexts, this is usually a bullshit objection, but when it comes to libertarianism, it actually has some traction. The status of children in a libertarian society is far from clear, and it’s obvious that protections for children would have to be considered under any libertarian system. They clearly aren’t fully functioning members of society. They can’t reasonably be treated as chattel belonging to their parents. (At least not without severe caveats.) If there are to be any social protections at all for children to keep them safe from abuse and maltreatment, then those need to be permitted or enshrined by any reasonable libertarian model of governance. That this was one of the first arguments brought up by commenter Citizen Jane in her objection to me memes-and-poverty post of a few days ago is no accident, and it’s definitely an argument that all libertarians have to have some way of addressing.2

3.) The Tragedy of the Commons. Like all good libertarians, I think that the answer to most instances of the Tragedy of the Commons is privatization. But there are some instances (e.g. air quality) where privatization isn’t just unfeasible, but impossible. Any libertarian argument must make some allowances for this and have some compelling argument for why these negative externalities would either be avoided or compensated for.3

So those are what I see as the three most compelling counter arguments against libertarianism. I (obviously) have personally compelling arguments to all three of them, but I’ll resist the urge to include them in this post. The purpose of this exercise (which I humbly suggest all my readers consider engaging in) is to understand the potential weaknesses of my beliefs, so that I have the best chance of detecting and identifying personal error.

1 I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever seen Kerry Howley use this term, but it’s the one I’ve adopted for the view that libertarianism needs to be about more than just cantankerous anti-authoritarianism.

2 Incidentally, this is the core of one of the arguments that prevents me from being an Anarcho-Capitalist. AnCap ideas are great, but they break down in a few important areas. Children, for me, are the most compelling of those areas.

3 This is the other major reason why I’m not an Anarcho-Capitalist. The AnCaps I’ve read haven’t had any compelling arguments at all regarding the detection, investigation, and proper accounting for violations of the commons.

The City is stronger than any one man’s meddling

It never ceases to amaze me that the people who are in charge of “planning” cities usually harbor a secret mistrust if not outright hatred for the city. They explicitly craft policies to try and contain growth and return parts of the city to nature. They take some of the most attractive qualities of cities (urban core density, robust mixed economies) and try to regulate them away.

Why are city planners so often opposed to some of the very qualities that make cities great?

Fortunately, cities are mankind’s natural habitat and greatest invention, and they are stronger than anyone’s misguided attempts to distort their purpose.

“[Patrick Abercrombie] proposed that London become a “circular inland city” composed of four rings– the Inner Urban Ring, the Suburban Ring, the Green Belt Ring and the Outer Country Ring. It was a way of containing the “inner city,” as if it were some dangerous or threatening organism which could not be permitted to grow. On most maps it is painted black. It was also important to remove industry and people from this inner darkness as if the act of so doing would render it less dangerous. In order to expedite the migration of a million people another part of Abercrombie’s report suggested the development of new “satellite towns” in the Outer Country Ring. Eight of these were built, and prospered, but the effects upon London itself were not exactly as had been anticipated and planned. As any historian of London might have told the various urban boards, neither schemes nor regulations would be able to inhibit the city. It had been proposed to check its industrial and commercial growth, by sitting new industries in the “satellite towns,” but London’s commercial prosperity revived after war. The manufacture of cars, buses, trucks and aeroplanes rose to unprecedented levels; the Port of London handled record numbers of goods, and employed 30,000 men; the “office economy” had restored the City of London so that it experience a property boom. The population of the capital had dipped slightly, after the dispersal of many of its inhabitants to the suburbs and to the new towns, but the effect was mitigated by sudden and unexpectedly high fertility. Nothing could withstand the ability of the city to rejuvenate itself, and continue its growth.” -Peter Ackroyd, London: A Biography, pp 739-740

“One day Jackson just didn’t show up to the party”

Poverty, Redistribution, and Bad Memes

Peter Risdon has an excellent post from a few years back about poverty, ownership, and self reliance. It’s a great post and it does an excellent job of highlighting a fact that a lot of people miss, which is that modern poverty is primarily caused by bad memes.1 Some of these memes are personal mental traits, some are social or group traits, but ultimately it is these dysfunctional ideas that are at the root of almost all poverty in Western countries. Which memes they are specifically (and I have my personal theory) is an important debate, but outside the scope of this post. It doesn’t matter what the bad memes are exactly, the fact is that poverty as we know it today will not change until those memes get replaced by better ones.

A natural consequence of this fact is that redistribution of wealth is not a solution to poverty. Taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor does not fix poverty any more than ingesting aspirin fixes a cold. It relieves some of the symptoms, and so it may be desirable in the short term, but it’s not going to resolve the underlying problem. In addition, as Risdon points out in his essay, redistributive welfare may actually foster bad memes. Implemented poorly, welfare encourages bad memes to go unresolved, to spread, or to get worse.2

Until we as a society start working to eliminate (through education and welfare reform) the bad ideas that keep people in poverty, we’re never going to appreciably reduce the suffering caused by poverty in America and the rest of the industrialized world. Again, whether you personally believe that the bad memes causing poverty are fundamentally personal (e.g. lack of future orientation or entitlement culture) or social (e.g. endemic greed, lack of charity, or interpersonal alienation) doesn’t really matter. The memes are the issue and wealth transfers won’t change those bad ideas one bit. Per Risdon, though, poorly-implemented welfare may actually worsen them, meaning that redistributive welfare might end up being not the cure for poverty, but the cause of it.

1 Two caveats to this post are that I’m not talking about poverty due to disability or mental illness, which are clearly not caused by bad memes. Also that poverty is relative and that poverty in the modern Western world is a different beast from poverty a century ago or poverty in the Third World.

2 For more evidence of this, see this CFP post showing that the War on Poverty correlated with the end of poverty numbers declining in America.

H. L. Mencken on Washington

If George Washington were alive today, what a shining mark he would be for the whole camorra of uplifters, forward-lookers and professional patriots! He was the Rockefeller of his time, the richest man in the United States, a promoter of stock companies, a land-grabber, an exploiter of mines and timber. He was a bitter opponent of foreign entanglements, and denounced their evils in harsh and specific terms. He had a liking for forth-right and pugnacious men, and a contempt for lawyers, school-masters and all other such obscurantists. He was not pious. He drank whiskey whenever he felt chilly, and kept a jug of it handy. He knew far more profanity than Scripture, and used and enjoyed it more. He had no belief in the infallible wisdom of the common people, but regarded them as inflammatory dolts, and tried to save the Republic from them. He advocated no sure cure for all the sorrows of the world and doubted that such a panacea existed. He took no interest in the private morals of his neighbors.

Inhabiting These States today, George would be ineligible for any office of honor or profit. The Senate would never dare confirm him; the President would not think of nominating him. He would be on trial in the newspapers for belonging to the Money Power. The Sherman Act would have him in its toils; he would be under indictment by every grand jury south of the Potomac; the Methodists of his native State would be denouncing him (he had a still at Mount Vernon) as a debaucher of youth, a recruiting officer for insane asylums, a poisoner of the home. And what a chance there would be for that ambitious young district attorney who thought to shadow him on his peregrinations– and grab him under the Mann Act!” –HLM, Damn! A Book of Calumny, 1918

“Like they never seen this before / like it’s 1954” [NSFW]

This is the song and video Katy Perry would make if she had more guts:

Things are Better Than you Think: US CO2 Emissions Are Falling

From the Associated Press, via the Washington Post (emphasis mine):

In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Data Archival == Solved Problem

Ever needed secure archives of data? AWS has got your back. Amazon Glacier seems like a dead-simple, dead-sexy solution to the problem of making sure your bits are preserved for the long term.

This is one of the things I love about working for Amazon and especially being in the AWS group. Amazon is in the process of perfecting (through re-invention where necessary) every common tech world use case and doing is securely and scalably in the cloud. The shear range of products being released by AWS truly amazing, and every one I’ve had the chance to use has been executed on incredibly well.

Congrats to the Glacier team on their launch!

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.