Friday, September 16, 2011

Notes on automatic fire.

In this essay we examine automatic fire independent of platform. A heavy machine gun then is properly compared to a crew served weapon that has to fire from the ground or other stable mount – perhaps a 37 mm infantry gun. Automatic fire then is understood then as a trade of size for numbers.
There is no point to have a round that is any larger than necessary to destroy or disable your target. Thus a heavy machine gun is usually more useful than a small infantry gun because most targets are personnel
Automatic Fire has three purposes
1. Mowing down compact groups.
2. Decrease aiming requirements via ‘burst’.
3. Provide suppressive fire in conjunction with maneuver.
Opponents will adapt to 1 by dispersing their formations. Then the power of automatic weapons rests on 2 and 3 as a semiautomatic weapon can kill just as easily as an automatic one. The multiple bullets does not really allow the automatic rifleman to engage multiple targets as it must aim for each target. Tracers are an exception to this, but as they reveal the automatic rifleman as much as reduce aiming requirements they are best used in asymmetric situations (such as vehicle mounted weapons against dismounts).
Burst fire reduces the aiming effort of the user. He still must aim but he can take less time doing so because he has a spread pattern that allows him to aim with slightly less precision. This means that he can hit momentary targets, such as someone darting from cover to cover, more often than a semi-automatic rifleman. Also the user can make a horizontal ‘line’ across the target compensating for aiming uncertainty and increasing the overall chance of a hit. Burst of course reduces but doesn’t eliminate aiming.
Returning to the case of the small infantry gun v. a HMG, the SIG may have exploding rounds which might decrease its aiming requirements as well. In practice however this requires the detonation to occur at the right time in the flight path. That requires either precise fuze setting, or for aiming at something that will cause the explosion in the area desired. In other words the time and trouble to aim is effectively increased, not decreased. Thus HMGs are more useful than SIGs except in some narrow circumstances. An advanced automatic aiming system, such as the XM-25, increased the relative usefulness of the big rounds. It is our opinion however that an even more advanced automatic aiming system would be needed to make a SIG generally more useful than a HMG. A shotgun approach would reduce aiming requirements but this prevents rifling and reduces range negating the benefit.
The German army in world war 2 incorporated the ‘burst’ advantage into their doctrine and developed a number of weapons with extraordinary high rates of fire such as the MG 42. These high rates of fire were fine for bursts because the overall rate of fire could still be kept low, but the probability of hitting a momentary target is that much greater. The best example of this was the However most General machine guns have a more moderate rate, reflecting an understanding of the 3rd advantage of machine guns. The arena where this doctrine was most successful was their MK 108 auto cannon. It appears that in dog fighting there is no suppression and burst is the main function of automatic weapons. Since world war 2 automatic auto-cannons in aircraft have increased their rates of fire, with the introduction of revolver cannons and the re-introduction of their higher endurance siblings the Gatling cannon.
Suppression is using firepower to not necessarily destroy targets but to temporarily neutralize them. An automatic weapon is fired at the area where the enemy is known to be present. This forces the opponents in the area to take cover and prevents them from aiming or moving. The purpose of this is to allow friendlies to maneuver with much reduced enemy fire while they are exposed.
Suppression was not well understood but the logistical downside of spraying an area was which is the reason that armies were so slow in adapting automatic weaponry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Election Predictions

2010. Republicans do well in these elections. Democrat lead in the Senate is dented and the house is spilt almost 50-50. This is caused by anger over Health Care Bill and apathy amongst younger voters turned off by incrementary change instead of radical change.

2012. Obama will be re-elected (barring a foreign policy crisis) by a comfortable margin. This will be spurred moderate but steady economic growth (though unemployment will still be at about 8% and dampen his support), and chaos in the Republican Primary.
The Health Care Bill will in this election generate more votes for democrats than against, despite or perhaps because of Republican focus on this issue. Supporters gained from the Health Care Bill will be the currently uninsured because of poverty or pre-existing conditions, those affected by an touching ad campaign: ObamaCare Success Stories, and surprisingly Insurance Companies*. Votes lost will be those who were uninsured because they didn’t want to pay for insurance. Ironically Republican action after the 2010 elections will decrease this last group and drive insurers into the pro-Obama camp. They will take legal and legislative action to make the fines small and often unenforced.

2014. The big story this election is going to be a growing and uncontrolled government deficit caused by Social Security, Higher rates on Treasury bonds, and medicare. The higher rates will be caused by Social Security no longer loaning money to the Treasury (helping to drive those rates down) and by better investment opportunities elsewhere.
Also there will be anger over the fact that the economy seems to have stabilized into a pattern of steady growth and 7-8% unemployment. I see regular party politics being disrupted by independent movements within and without the parties. How exactly these disruptions go down will determine who wins in 2014, but both parties will attempt to court these groups covertly without actually adopting any of their planks.
The Health Care bill will not play into this election except as a minor note in the anti-deficit narrative. I.e it will not cause significant numbers to vote differently than they would have done.
One of those disrupting groups will be an anti-immigration anti-globalization crowd. They will do well this year but in many ways this will be the last hurrah for them for a while – until they re-emerge in a decade or two with substantial numbers of non-whites in their platform. However I expect the main effect of their efforts will be targeted industry protection, blocking amnesty (in 2013 or 2015), and a slight uptick in deportations.

*Regulations and subsidies are generally good news for an industry. These increase their market and will help the entrenched powers who can more quickly comply with regulatory procedures. Maybe not so good for taxpayers.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good for America, voting

In the previous post, how to best execute a voting strategy centered on local benefit was explored. In this post I want to explore my voting premise – in short what I consider best for the nation and the liberties we enjoy. I consider a local advantage voting strategy to be bad in the long run, as it will lead to bad feelings and lack of cooperation. The civil war was caused in part by regional politics. I think, things are different now because people move a lot from region to region from rural to city. I intend not to dwell on any specific policy proposals, and to consider the two parties as the only viable political contenders for power.

Since I've been paying attention to politics (about 1990) it seems that the best goverment occurs when power is split at the highest level. When one party controls both the white house and congress we are governed less efectively.
George H.W. Bush: always governed with an opposing party in control of congress.
Bill Clinton: Two years of a friendly congress, last six years opposing.
George Bush: Six years of friendly, last two years of opposing.

Consider these examples and time periods. What years were clintons best? what years were bushes best.

Why is this?
1. Principle of checks and balances – they keep each other honest.
2. Rule from the center. Each party has the tendency to elect candidates who are respectively left of center and right of center. These people having to work together or working against each other makes a rule from center more likely – certainly nothing is going to be passed that the majority of the country dislikes as one party or the other can make political hay in blocking it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rational Voting - state loyalty

Let us suppose that we are voting on purely regional lines. (As power is divvied up along regional lines via districts and the electoral college this makes sense as the default group loyalty – which loyalty is what makes voting rational)

Ideally one wants their region to have as much power as possible. To bring home the bacon or insure that governance is carried out as your region finds acceptable. Who, then should one vote for?

For Governors: The only value the governor has to acquiring federal power for your region is if he is elected president. Choose a governor that can plausibly make it on the federal scene: Charm and connections. But you have to weigh that chance against the power he will yield in your state. Usually not worth it as (Benefit of local prez)*(chance of election) < governor power. But that depends on how much the federal goverment can benefit versus the state goverment. At some point, (fifty times? less? more?) it makes sense to see the govenorship as mainly a platform for getting a local guy into the white house.

For representatives and Senators: Vote for the incumbent. That is because seniority and seats in committees make a big difference in how much power a congressperson wields. Vote for Charlie Wilson!
If there is no incumbent – Ideally you want a charming politician who could conceivably make it at a national level (he too could be president - but at leas speaker etc). Also, ideally, you want his party to be currently out of power, but soon to be increasing in power. (So the competition for committee chairs is lower, but the number of chairs available is increasing over all.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ambition and Equality

Ambition – the drive to climb in society. I always imagine to myself the small town kid determined to make it in the big city or college. Also, Napoleon comes to mind (I guess he was sort of a small town kid – definitely ambitious though).

Equality – every ones needs are equally deserving of satisfaction. Western societies are not really egalitarian. I am imagining an egalitarianism that says that if you own something that someone else does not have or anything equivalent you are bad. Contrary-wise if someone does have something exclusive and you and most everybody doesn’t you are justified in banding together to take it away.

Aristocratic impulse – therefore, if you do possess things you should be very generous with them and unconcerned (at least fake it) with wealth. Money is so crass. These then become the status of the truly elite – not that they give up the actual status symbols of wealth such as clothes, mansions, etc.
Thus we arrive at a common figure in history and literature: the broke billionaire, the destitute duke. This person is very generous, unconcerned with wealth, surrounded by luxury and the trappings of wealth and in hock up to his eyeballs. Thomas Jefferson or Michael Jackson – without their contributions in entertainment or politics.

The Bourgeois reaction – Hide your wealth, don’t overindulge. Keep it though for the troubles in life. Thus, the millionaire who drives an old economy car. Warren Buffet.

What does this have to do with society in general? I think the first reaction tends to impoverish society as a whole. Why? Part of the aristocratic impulse is to eschew work as degrading (although of course one fails to live to the ideal if one openly despise workers. One needs to sympathize and patronize and condescend to help them on their little troubles with ones vast power.) This harms society because their principal pursuit is the consumption of wealth. A few individuals doing this of course makes little difference but there are always many imitators. Soon all the ambitious (consuming wealth remember, not producing it) are in a fierce competition with each other to consume the limited pie – they turn their ambition and energies to corruption and oppression or losing out they become idle and indebted.
The bourgeois on the other hand see work as a positive ethic in itself. They continue to do so but now their labors are assisted by having a large supply of capital at their disposal. Their ability to innovate is unparalleled. Innovations increase the pie, so these driven people need not engage in cutthroat competition with each other, trampling law and custom. The society as a whole is wealthier. Branson and Jobs come to mind here.
I think that a good example of this is the antebellum United States. The South adopted the aristocratic model of handling wealth and enjoyed linear economic growth. The north adopted the bourgeois model and enjoyed exponential economic growth (something like 3 percent a year I believe).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Scope of Goverment under Democratic Moral Pluralism

The basis of law is a moral code. The purpose of morality (or ethics) is to allow people to work together without having to constantly redefine expectations of each other nor rules regarding interactions. Morality, clearly is cultural. One learns in from their family. One learns it from their co-workers. One learns it from the professors and various media.

Some morality is inherent. Not all. For example, killing another human is considered almost universally to be bad. But there are so many exceptions to the rule.

The question then becomes what of law that attempts to govern people who accept different moral codes? To apply it to yourself: does your goverment allow things you find unacceptable in a civilized society? Do you think your goverment meddles in things that are none of its business? Do you find it spending your tax money on reprehensible things?

In a democracy that has a common culture and a generally accpeted moral framework this is not an issue. Also this is not an issue under federalism. Finally, if one believes in the cosmic unity of mankind - i.e. that all people are the same and naturally gravitate to the same moral code than this is not an issue. I am reminded here of those studies by anthropoligists searching desperately for underlying commonality in the diverse peoples they study. Democracy works only under those conditions. You must be believe that the people voting are not going to force you to do immoral things, allow society to become hell (by your standards), or force you to support that which you hate via taxation. If you find your goverment destroying all that which is good and supporting evil the only allegiance you can owe it can be that which comes of coercion. I suppose that means that a fourth option exists for democracy: the majority morality can forcibly supress the minority - provided that the majority sees the minority as evil. I hate ... because they ...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Racism

First off racism is bad. (I believe God commands me to treat all men as brothers, racism clearly violates that command, from a more secular point of view it is also bad – if you are civilized)
I think this slate post on racism has misunderstood what racism is and what fuels it. It supposes that racism is about genetic differences and if genetic differences relating to IQ (among others) can be proven to exist then racism logically should follow.
I say: bullcrap. Racism has and never will be about genetic differences. Racism is pure and simply tribalism. Tribalism is the banding together of humans who define members of their group as being in the law (or tradition) and everyone else outside it as being prey and enemies. You are required to help and cooperate with the in-members but can do what you will to outsiders.
The Saletan theory accepts what racists say, namely that the other group is inferior because of ­­­­­­______ (IQ or whatever attribute is considered important at the time)
My theory explains what they do. For example, a Nazi party member would always have been valued over a Jew even if that Jew had demonstrably higher IQ, or usefulness to the state, solidarity or whatever attributes the party is claiming justifies persecution of Jews regardless of what they have done.
In other words, it ain’t IQ which is motivating racists – it is the instinct of humans to form groups in order to benefit themselves in competition with other similar groups. Before civilization, neighboring tribes would usually be genetically and culturally indistinguishable from each other – yet they would fight and paint the other group as cannibalistic demons and so forth. This benefitted the group who were in competition with neighboring tribes for resources.
Civilization was the realization that by cooperating on a larger scale, every one of various tribes could be benefitted. (First by trouncing the non allied tribes, then later trade and specialization and such.) Of course this first took place with tribes that were already culturally and genetically similar. For this to work, however new systems of preventing free-loaders had to be devised as the old ones would not work with the larger numbers of people involved. Under the new system tribalism had to be checked, controlled and punished just as individualism had been under the tribal system. (Individualism being defined in this use as the pursuit of self interest heedless of cost to others).
That being the case we would expect racist groups, like all tribal groups to be suppressed by various means by the society at large as they are overtly tribalistic.
Tribalism is of course a universal human instinct. Some people suppress it, other channel it into less rigid forms of tribalism; as an example partisanship. You can detect it whenever somebody is automatically assumed to be stupid, avaricious or immoral because of his group regardless of individual attributes and actions. Consider the hatred often directed toward southerners/the south/the redneck. (It never ceases to amaze me how people can condemn racism and then turn around and condemn southerners en masse as being stupid, ignorant and worthy of hate. The human tribal mind is subtle and very very ingrained.)
Take That Patrick Thomas.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Academic Incest

I am in favor of a moderate amount of it.

Let me explain. Academic incest is when a student goes to the same school for their bachelors, masters and doctorate etc. Or, when a schools faculty is (by design or not) all of the same academic background (I suppose uniformity in academic/ideological beliefs would also qualify for academic incest)

The reason why this is considered to be ‘incest’ (negative connotations intended) is because these practices tend to isolate ideas. These ideas once isolated tend to develop ‘in a vacuum’ and develop provincial school of thoughts: for example in economics: “the Chicago school”, “the saltwater school”, “the Austrian school”.

The assumption is that you can develop your institution into a dynamic center of learning and ideas if you can have some professors trained in each of the ‘schools’ and if your education includes a mix of all the school of thoughts. In short the idea is to take advantage of hybrid vigor.

The problem with the prevailing practice is that you need to create and maintain the pure breeds if you want to have cross breeds. If you do not, then every academic institution produces similar graduates who have been exposed to the same mixes of the different schools of thought and the whole system falls to a dismaying uniformity and lack of originality.

The second reason for moderate academic incest is that the hope of creating a master in all schools of thought is, I think, overly ambitious. It would require a polymath to keep them all straight and then be able to form a synthesis that was as valid and complex as the prior ideas. To expect this to happen as a matter of putting students through the classes is unrealistic. As a president of a corporation or of a nation my preference would be then, to have a board of advisors who are experts each in their own school (which I cannot judge between because of inexpertise).

The third reason for moderate academic incest is that not all schools of thought are created equal. What if the saltwater school of thought is fuzzy headed and mostly wrong? I would do a disservice if I hired professors who where trained in that school.
For example I believe that string theory is an academic black hole. Therefore I would, in hiring for the physics department, like to be able to choose between professors who had spent a lot of time studying it and those who had not. It is better to have choice between viable alternatives because it is more likely for there to be a right choice. If there isn’t the entire field is at least more conducive to new schools of though arising. The economic schools of though I mentioned are in a sense ancient – they all predate 1975 and are less defined now then they were – for the reasons I’ve mentioned.

Friday, June 19, 2009

RIP The Company Man

1950-1975: heyday of the company man. You went to work out of high school gave loyal devoted service until you retired. You earned good wages, had access to affordable health insurance and your company planned and provided your retirement. This is now exceptional.
In many ways this was an artificial time period, a product of World War II solidarity and the political supremacy of the old democrats.
(The old democrats controlled the party from ’32-68. The New Deal was their charter and they sought to provide a comfortable living for the working class and ‘common man’ through the ‘family wage’. I consider the riots of ’68 to mark the transition to the new democrats who wanted to re-invent the world by eliminating traditional mores and customs with the aim of establishing justice without judgment for everybody. To them, the common man is someone with deplorable prejudices and socioeconomic habits that must be re-educated. There are still old democrats in the party but the new are the leaders.)
The opposing political party was concerned with containing communism and promoting business interests. The deal struck between the two was to fund the cold war, protect business by allowing de facto car tels and monop oli es in exchange for conceding labor unions demands and expanding the safety net of the new deal. The market control of the cartels was sufficiently lucrative to let everyone have a piece of the pie.
But what happened to the company man? The new democrats did not dismantle the old system as it was still a source of political power – its decline is a little more complex.
1) Free Trade – this effectively destroyed the cartels as foreign competition put the competitors outside of any one government’s control. The new democrats supported it because it went hand in hand with their internationalist ideals. The opposition party supported it because it benefitted their business allies. (keep in mind business will deal - whoever is in power; so this ‘alliance’ is somewhat asymmetric)
2) Organizational Decay – this refers to the tendency of organizations to become bloated, insular, and unresponsive with time. This is due to inertia, groups within the organization acting for their self-benefit. Market disrupting innovation can hurt it or at best maintain its position as the market leader – therefore its incentive to innovate is small.

P.S. I believe a flux period is beginning for the parties where they can dramatically change across a few election cycles.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Guns of August

I recently read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. It dealt with the first month of WWI and was very good. You might recall that I did a little piece that dwelt on the First World War a while back. From this book I learned some of my assumptions were wrong but the main point: that railroads allow defenders to reinforce rapidly at any point thus preventing breakthroughs to develop to be sound.
First, the von Schlieffen plan was a surprise to the French and the British. I had assumed that it would be well known as it decades old—surely it would have leaked out? In fact the entire plan as an official copy had been bought from a German general, but the French staff discounted it (and other signs- For example; the German military controlled the railroads in Imperial Germany and had built railroads to the Belgium frontier for the purpose of supporting the mobilization and logistics required by the von Schlieffen plan.) as being implausible and most likely a German deception.
As for my point, two of the victories in the first part of the war were due to defenders shifting troops rapidly by rail. The Germans in the East shifted Corps from their position facing the first Russian army to flank the second Russian army in the south- annihilating it. Of course they were able to attack with one army momentarily uncovered because they were listening in on Russian communications (unencoded) and knew what the first army was going to do.
At the battle of the Marne, the French pulled a number of troops off of the line on their left as well as the Parisian garrison to rapidly exploit the hole in the German lines. One could not have imagines the Germans as being able to do something similar as their lines at that point were far away from abundant rails with their resupply and reinforcement.
On the whole the book was very excellent. One thing was missing, though: It mentions that in the month of August the Russians gained a decisive victory over the Austrians, capturing so many officers that the Austrians were crippled for the duration of the war. It did not go into any details of that battle, which was unfortunate in my opinion.
Also, the author states that after August (Really August plus a week or two) the war entered into a stalemate and attrition without anything interesting happening. I disagree. World War I is, among other things, very interesting because it is the first war where the strategy of technology is first consciously used with combatants deploying all kinds of new weapons such as gas, tanks, and vastly improving others such as planes, subs, siege guns etc. (The American Civil War had something like it but generally a bottom up sort of thing, not a top down). I highly recommend it for any military historian buff.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mens Foresight

As humans I think we can ‘see’ the future in a way that has no parallel. That is a scary thing, as what we see in the future are dangers and problems. The result of this is that we take action to eliminate those dangers and problems.
An example of this is the panther in Little House in the Big Woods. It attacked one man unsuccessfully and all of the men came together to hunt it down and kill it, no doubt envisioning the panther attacking them or one of their children. (This is why large predators are mostly extinct or endangered today.)
Generally this is good, and works out well for us. The problem that arises is when we try to us this same process (foresight-preventive action) on other people--- as they are not definitely our enemies but partially our brothers.
This affects government policy. First the whole idea of preventive war is based on the need to strike now to avoid future threats. This makes war much more likely and this mindset helped trigger World War 1 over a minor issue. However this is a bad example for my point because other nations, can, in fact be your enemy.
Better examples are found in domestic law.
Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in response to accounting scandals like those of Enron. It was intended to prevent fraud of that nature from even being possible. It has resulted in a slightly increased cost of doing business (more so for small companies) without doing much to prevent fraud. See Bernie Madoff. The problem is that unlike the panthers etc., our fellow humans are just as smart as we. Therefore we can make preventative measures and they can then unwind them and do what they want anyway. It makes it slightly more difficult for them, but then again it makes it slightly more difficult for us too.
In short: “good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws." –Republic Plato
I think it is sufficient that people who do commit fraud get caught and punished. As for prevention we should look to methods of instilling virtue, not to procedures. What protections we can make, other men can unmake. Also an examination of incentives are in order. Why was it that CEO’s pay was linked to short term stock price increases?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Subsidiarity should be a guiding principle when making laws, regulations etc. The essence of subsidiarity is that power, authority and decision making should be at the lowest possible level, and that organizations should be no larger than necessary.
Our anti-trust laws are an example of this principle already. I think our anti-trust laws do no go far enough for corporations and could be strengthened. I would go farther, though, and also apply something similar to government—returning power and decision making to more local levels.
Reason why:
Better decisions as the authorities are closer to the ground
Easier access to authorities to appeal decisions.
Local flavor.
People can shape communities to suit themselves/culture.

With respect to corporations---laws and policies that benefit the large and comparatively disadvantage the small should be reconsidered. Much regulation falls into this category. Sometimes such regulation is worth the cost (in terms of making our world more monolithic), other times it is not. Lawmakers need to think about this and rethink our current regulations on its impact.

In a nutshell, out quality of life is lowered when we constantly have to deal with employees who have no power to fix our problems --- or are ourselves in such a position. That is also true for government as well. I would add the caveat that there needs to be oversight where larger organization can step in and stop local oppressions. Of course one wonders what steps in and stops central oppression.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Future Generation

Families must be supported by the government. Raising children and teaching them civilized values is EXTREMELY important to society. Even if you don’t care what happens after you die, you should care what happens in your old age. Throughout history, support for the aged was primarily their grown children. Social Security merely pools that--- it assumes people are having and raising kids. Therefore the government that backs social security has an obligation to make the system workable by subsidizing fertility when it drops too low.
Some, perhaps, oppose such policy because they want the human race to die out or it’s numbers drastically reduced. At them I sneer, that is not going to happen; people have kids all across the globe despite adverse conditions-it is a fundamental human drive. Attempts to reduce fertility rates by government policy will merely ensure that more kids will be raised in poverty and by parents who have not been able to plan a secure future for their kids.
I consider deliberately having no kids despite the ability to raise them to be immoral, as a default to societal obligations (Imagine the effects on social security, pensions, investments, public services if no one/few had kids + 50 years. Substantially contributing to raising other people’s kids, I think, mostly mitigates the immorality of deliberate childlessness.) The government already spends a lot of money on supporting families and the raising of children, but I think more and better focused spending/tax breaks are needed.

That said, women, under all circumstances should have the final say on having children and how many—government and society can incentivize and persuade but it is immoral for them to dictate---either to limit or to mandate. I have not reached any conclusion as to welfare for single mothers with kids as it creates moral hazard. Ideally, I would like policy that supports such children without incentivizing fatherlessness-but nothing occurs to me so far.
I consider abortion immoral proportional to its proximity to birth. Infanticide is murder, contraception is not immoral, because of that, as a pragmatist, I would consider a political compromise where all but early term abortions are allowed in exchange for government subsidized contraceptives and matching available sex-ed. The goal is to reduce number of abortions per capita, especially late term abortions. Some exceptions for abortion: Incest, Rape, Mothers life at risk in carrying to term, and if the fetus will not survive childhood. That moral call in those cases should delegated to individuals.

One final issue: I oppose
designer babies for the following reasons;
1. We don’t know what to select for. This has always been the fundamental problem of eugenics. Consider
sickle cell and that our civilization may collapse or be radically different in the future.
2. It reduces the value of human life in a similar fashion to racism by making it plain that certain lives are to be valued above others.
3. It reduces human genetic diversity, which
impoverishes society and makes humanity less adaptable and less disease resistant.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lincoln, War and Slavery

President Lincoln when talking about the struggle of his countries Civil War, and his desire to see it through its end said, “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword..” Lincoln is proposing that the destruction of the civil war could be seen in part as punishment (Justice) for the misery and death allowed to perpetuate by the nation prior.
Logically, if that were the case, slavery world wide would need to also have been ended in a destructive struggle. I propose that the Napoleonic wars were that struggle, and that the most decisive blow against slavery was inadvertently dealt because of it.
The greatest blow ever dealt slavery was when the British Parliament outlawed the slave trade – not just for themselves but for every nation that sailed upon the deep. This simply couldn’t have happened without the Napoleonic wars.
Without the backdrop of war a measure that called for regulating all shipping on the seas not just British ships – would have been considered absurd. Such a course would surely lead to war – as in fact it did in 1812 with the Americans, upset that their commercial shipping was routinely boarded by the British. While it was true that many British citizens were sympathetic to the plight of slaves, it is doubtful they would have risked a major war to hinder the practice. In the middle of wartime however, the risk was minimal as Britain already was at war---and shipping everywhere was interdicted.
Since this ban was universal, it severely weakened the whole institution. First, in the future the mass expansion of slavery would be impracticable. Secondly, the practice of working slaves to death and then replacing them cheaply with ones fresh from Africa was no longer viable. If slavery was to survive it would have to be by treating the slaves well enough that they could replace their own numbers or even increase their populations.
The effect of this was to reduce the profitability of slavery drastically. In the long term, the economic system of slavery could not grow, (economically speaking), as quickly as the competing free labor system. With its economic power fading, slave owning societies lost power and eventually were defeated by anti-slavery factions both as internal politics and international politics. A good example of this is the divergence of the economic fortunes of the South and the North after the ban and its eventual conclusion in the American Civil War. Both economies grew, but the North simply outpaced the South.
In less than a century after the slave trade was banned, slavery was almost non-existent all over the globe. It is most fortuitous for humanity that cheap supplies of slaves were abolished just at the moment that the Industrial Revolution began in earnest. Certainly the inhumanities of that revolution took a mighty struggle to correct – and that was in a free labor markets system! I do not wish to imagine the horror that could conceivably have resulted.
Blood drawn --- 750,000 American CW, 4-5 million in the Napoleonic Wars
A lot of treasure lost in both wars.
Slaves brought across the atlantic, to North and S.America approx 15 million.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Class Mobility, Rent Seekers & Inheritance

I believe that socio-economic classes are a fact of civilized life. No society has mananged to prevent the formation of classes. (Look for the irony in the authors actions). Attempts to abolish class such as socialism or communism have resulted in a new class where rank is determined not by income but by how effectively one can control/influence the resulting all powerful bureaucracies. I believe any attempt in the U.S. to equalize incomes will have those same corrupt results
If we don’t know how to abolish classes then our design must be to minimize the harm that the existence of classes does. Namely: class warfare, inhumane treatment of lower classes, power accrued to upper classes in excess of their competence. In other words: revolution, oppression and incompetence.
Democracy solves many of those problems. However in order for it to function well, there needs to be healthy class mobility. This
Study shows there is still a large amount of class mobility. Some counter-arguments here. Our system is more or less working and attempts to increase income equality jeopardize income mobility w/o any substantial success.
To the end of increasing class mobility I propose abolishing capital gains taxes on small business (perhaps with a cap, after which taxes kick back in). I also propose giving poor kids school vouchers (especially in areas where school kid population is temporarily up) so they have opportunities currently available only to more privileged kids. Additionally;
I oppose rent seeking. Rent seekers are those who try to assure themselves a comfortable wealthy life style regardless of its effect on the body economic. Some examples are agriculturists who receive massive subsidies (
ethanol and corn comes to mind) for dubious economic improvement. Industries that get high tariffs/excessive regulations to block their competitors from their markets (We pay for those in higher prices and less selection). Unions that use their political muscle to dictate terms to their employees (Hello UAW). The effect of this is to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. Why did I go to school? That is not the worst though. In many instances these rent seekers block reform and contribute to general dysfunction. The teachers union is an example of this. Bad teachers can’t be fired, nor incentives put in place to reward good ones–even if their current salaries are untouched.
Finally, I think that inheritance taxes should be increased somewhat. I am concerned that an excessive long term concentration of wealth into a family or trust or foundation (I’m talking to you Harvard) leads to concentration of power in the hands of the incompetent. Additionally, it distorts my ideals of capitalism where capital tends to accrue to producers. Of course this is usually a
self-correcting problem.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Policies I am in favor of.

This is stuff that seems acheivable and desirable. It is intended to be a general framework, not a complete list and is vague in some places for that reason. I am going to expand on this points in future posts. One every wednesday until done.

1. Class mobility should be increased. I believe the elimination of classes is not possible as a function of public policy. Therefore increased mobility is the best method of preventing destructive class struggles. 2, 3 to support this goal.
2. Rent seeking should be curtailed as much as possible. It redistributes wealth to those who are already well off, and rent seekers protecting their turf often interfere with the adoption of sane public policy.
3. Inherited wealth should be taxed at high enough rate that it dissipates in two or three generations. Both for individuals and foundations.
4. Families should be subsidized and protected.
5. I oppose all forms eugenics, support free birth control, and want to restrict abortion more than it is now.
6. Advocate subsidiaritywhere practical with a larger entity to step in, in case of local failure – for both government and private entities.
7. Markets need to be corrected by government intervention. Some behaviors prohibited and externalities corrected.
8. Against the “This can never be allowed to happen again” mentality as its goal is unrealistic and unduly hampers normal functioning. As an example I oppose Sarbanes-Oxley.
9. Research should be amply funded, through various mechanisms. I have some ideas on how this could be done differently than it is now.
10. Practicality and people should always be above ideology.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Why the crucifixion?

I have been reading GK Chesterton. He advocates trying to see Christianity fresh as if you were someone who had never heard it before. I would be very confused if I did so.
The passion of the Christ is the central theme of Christianity. According to Christians this is the central act of the world and central to the message of Christianity. Some questions I would have. Q represents my fresh view. A my understanding.

Why did Christ need to die?
A: To save us from death.
B: But, God gave us life before. Why does he need to die to give us life again?
A: Because he is going to give us a better type of life: eternal life. In giving us that God takes something that is finite and makes it infinite. To balance that celestial checkbook something finite

A: To save us from sin, of which we are all guilty.
Q: What can God do about our guilt?
A: God can forgive us; we are then cleansed from sin.
Q: How can God be the one whose forgiveness we need if we hurt somebody else?
A: I don’t know. It just works. I know from my experience as well as others. Perhaps God can do this while we can’t because we are his, he made us.

Q: What is sin, and why do we need to be saved?
A: Sin is living contrary to the purposes for which God created us: namely to be happy together (unity) [this is why God is three]. Sin therefore is anything that separates us from God and with our fellow being. Separation refers not just to location but also desires, hopes etc. God as our creator knows these things better than we do. Ultimately it is only through his authority that we can hope to be more unified.
Q: Why does God need to be involved? Can’t I just change what I am doing?
A: No. You broke the order which makes it possible for people to live together. As an outlaw you are an enemy. How can they know you aren’t just lying in order to take advantage of them again? A trusted third party has to accept liability for you so you can be re-integrated into society. [this is another reason why god is three]

Q: Why didn’t Christs life create paradise here, why is this world still fallen? Also, why didn’t he do this sooner?
A: It was His plan from the beginning that we live in a fallen world, where because of imperfections we can have real choice. His kingdom is not of this world. Ultimately the choice is to reign in our own solitary hell, or be subjects in his kingdom.

To a certain extent I think that this is a true story that God is telling the world (as a character in it) so we can understand love.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Politicizing Science

I was recently reading an article in which the author references the “War on Science”
He advocates not only correcting this situation but radically altering the structure of the system to ensure it can never happen again. His proposal is that scientists should devote a lot of effort to re-educating the public to hold correct views, so that funding will remain constant and steady. Read it here.
This is a bad idea because it puts into place a feedback loop between scientists and politicians that is likely to corrupt both. Scientists would then need to convince the public that their science is the most important. Politicians would use this public opinion to get elected and then vote funds for the scientist allies. The scientists now are incentivized to overdramatize their findings and suppress ones that contradict that image. This already occurs somewhat as they fight for grants but the added politicization would merely exacerbate the problem.
As this relationship stabilized something akin to a state church would have formed. The government supports the church which has the task of teaching the public the ‘truth’. Curiously ‘the truth’ never condemns the rulers. If scientists worked “to win over the hearts and minds of the American public” it would be similar to the state church just substitute Science for ‘the truth’. I capitalize to distinguish the word as synonym for ‘the truth’ with its meaning as a system of inquiry and comparing hypothesis against repeatable experiments (preferable) and observational data. Historically Science has progressed amid is controversy and disagreement. Bad theories were generally replaced by newer better ones. Scientists doubling as politicians would be under a lot of pressure to conform to ‘consensus’ or risk funding cuts and marginalization. That is bad science.
As an example let us suppose an advocate of String Theory (Which has cool multiple curled up dimensions. I think it is a load of rubbish because it hasn’t made any successful predictions and if observed data contradicts this theory one merely has fiddle with its parameters and it is again in agreement.) Now suppose as part of our scientific re-education a supporter of string theory goes on Oprah. He is charming and good at describing his theory. Everyone then sees just how cool string theory is. A politician adopts extra funding for string theory as one of his planks and is elected. University departments now only want to hire people who want to work in string theory (the believers) because that’s where the grants are. If you doubt it is hard to find a job and you end up with either a less prestigious post or go work for industry. In any case your voice in the community is much decreased or nil. Rinse and repeat. Soon we have uniform consensus that String Theory is the word without actually having to refute pesky counterarguments. Dissenters are attacked by their fellow scientists and politicians because it is profitable for both that the feedback loop remain undisturbed.
The danger to the scientific community is real. There are numerous historical examples of vibrant scientific communities progressing and then ossifying while going through the same motions as their predecessors but merely cycling through the same old tired theories. Consider the early Greeks. Consider the flowering of Arab science. Contrast that with their later stagnation and ossification. Consider the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Maya, on and on.

We have a more or less functioning scientific community today. We must be careful politicizing it lest it not always be so.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Truth and Argument Part 1: The Private Sphere

I recently read a biography of John Adams. One thing I noticed was that Mr. Adams loved to argue and was convinced that argument was the best method of finding and convincing others of the truth. Of the founding fathers he was the most admirable to me because he had integrity, intelligence and many positions that seem reasonable even today.
And argument is indeed a great tool for finding truth – if we are the arguer. Argument forces us to clarify and state our positions. In doing so we can realize that they are not as solid as previously thought. Additionally argument exposes us to new information and new points of view. By incorporating these into our world view – or ultimately rejecting them as false our understanding increases.
Since argument is inherently a social activity we must consider the other people involved before using it for discovery. People deceive for a variety of reasons and we may be arguing with a deceiver or a deceived. For that reason argument should be avoided with individuals with greater knowledge or experience in that particular area except as part a complete program of learning and gaining knowledge in that area. The advantages of arguing yourself are that it makes you able to discern when people are ‘cheating’ in an argument. Straw man and ad hominem arguments are some examples of this.
Another thing to consider is that some arguments may be inherently more persuasive by their very nature independent of how true it is. For example our minds are drawn to compelling narratives. Our minds also like simplicity. A simple compelling narrative is difficult for us to resist. For a detailed exploration read this book about a theory of progressive history. (Oftentimes the truth is simpler yet the application is more complex and difficult such as epicycles versus elliptical orbits. Jungle of epicycles -> one simple equation, a new math and a need to account for all planetary bodies)
Those things that we want to be true comprise another category of intrinsically more persuasive arguments. Some of these are: arguments that make us seem more important; arguments that help us to be/feel part of an in-group; arguments that make us seem smarter; or excuse us from onerous duties that we would rather avoid. This fact is the basis of most advertising but is applicable to any discussion.
In short argument is a good method of learning truth. You have to know its limitations and pitfalls. And you have to consider that argument doesn’t create truth it is a secondhand source – and builds on it I suppose. Roughly this corresponds to verbal intelligence versus our ability to observe and create theories about our observations. Obviously these two need to be used together.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Truth and Argument Part 2: The Public Sphere

Truth and Argument Part 2: The Public Sphere.
The idea that argument is the best method of finding and convincing others of the truth is the basis of our public institutions. In the legal system a lawyer is nothing else if not a professional arguer. In politics a political campaign hosts debates and the campaigns in general could are an extended argument to determine who and what should be in our government.
I have heard general public discussion over what is right, what is wrong and over policy referred to as ‘the conversation’. This is broader than any issue, specific political campaign or court decision. It is almost universally accepted that this generally leads, over time, to the correct policy and viewpoint i.e. the consensus is correct and tends to become more correct over time. It troubles this basic premise is mostly unexamined.
But first let us consider an important aspect of debate that often determines who/what wins the debate. That is the medium in which the debate is conducted. Newspapers, radio and TV each were in their successive turn the dominant medium of the conversation. Men such as FDR, Kennedy and Reagan had enormous political power and influence because they had mastered the common medium of their time to a much greater degree than their opponents.
The medium of TV requires that one look good in front of the camera, manipulate images for public consumption, and that one has catchy sound bites that can be replayed when the news summarizes arguments for its viewers. If your argument cannot be reduced into a simple and powerful phrase, than it cannot become the ‘truth’ of the public sphere. In the newspaper age, however, more complex arguments were required.
An example of this is the effect that television media had on public perceptions of war. Casualties had to reach huge proportions in the newspaper age before protests would become widespread such as in Civil War New York. The public was only mildly concerned with casualties in World War I or in the Philippines adventure. Contrast that with the widespread protests at the fairly light number of casualties in Vietnam. The difference was TV. TV made it easier to follow the news, and presented death, blood and suffering in your living room. See the different versions of ‘truth’ that the conversation produced when the medium was changed. Which POV then is more correct?
Some arguments, by their very nature are more persuasive than others for reasons discussed in part 1. Arguments that are more persuasive will be propagated. If the argument also persuades to pass itself on (i.e. viral) propagation accelerates. These arguments then can be successful even in a community of interested, smart, truth seeking individuals regardless of their verity. Then add people who are manipulating public opinions as self appointed crusades and you can see that the consensus is likely to be skewed away from the truth in those directions. Caveat Auditor!

What effect does the medium of the internet have on the conversation?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Peace On Earth

Peace on Earth, goodwill to men. Of course there would be a lot of peace on earth if it weren’t for men. I am reminded of GK Chesterton, when asked what the matter with the world was wrote simply, “I am.”
In that vein let us consider what we, personally, can do to increase peace on Earth. There is little I can do to affect fighting in Darfur or Afghanistan. Even if I commanded armies and millions of dollars I am not sure if there is a clear road to peace I could follow. So let us think smaller and more relevant to our own lives and spheres of action.
What can we do increase peace amongst our friends and families? The fighting between friends or family is often of a peculiar kind. The combatants do not really have anything against each other and often times have a lot of compatible interests and goals. It seems to me that often times these fights escalate and get out of control because of pride. Neither party is willing to admit fault and make peace. In a nutshell they would rather be right than be reconciled.
Contrast this with the example that our savior Christ set for us. Christ in fact was always in the right. Nevertheless he set this aside and let himself be counted among the wrong doers, yea, he let judgment come upon him as the guilty one who had erred. The reason for this was so that reconciliation could be effected between the Father and his children – so that the prodigal son could be washed, leave behind his rebellion and return home. I am awed by the greatness of spirit that he has.
Unlike Christ we are not always in the right. But the path indicated for us is clear. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors the scriptures say. Of you it is required to forgive all men. Now in no way should my words be construed to mean that we should allow evil to flourish unchecked in its cloak of darkness and secrecy. No evil must be resisted and revealed whenever we get the chance. In my experience most people are neither evil nor very good especially in the small circle of family or friends. Let us than pray to forgive and pray for the humility to recognize our wrongs and apologize. Our even let ourselves be thought of as wrong.
My I always seek peace more than to be justified in my own eyes. Or another words may I seek God’s approval first, last and always.