Thursday, June 13

mid-June 2013

I am going to be off the net for a bit (visiting my family for the weekend) and I have a bunch of disconnected thoughts I'd like to write down somewhere so I can ignore them until I get back.

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Current headline news includes the "NSA" and Mr. Snowden

One of the most troubling parts of this is part of the congressional record:

   Wyden: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"
   Clapper: "No, sir."
   Wyden : "It does not."
   Clapper: "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly."

In my opinion, what Clapper should have said was something like this:

"Sir, our mission is to prevent threats to all Americans, and in that sense every bit of data we collect is data on hundreds of millions of Americans, regardless of what country we collect it in. That said, we rigourously scrub our intelligence, because we want to focus on those threats and we want to protect their targets. We believe that we do a damn good job of that, but in any event we collect far too much information to do anything else and it's an ongoing issue for us that we have to re-address on a continuing basis."

Instead, he said something nearly the opposite. And this is a problem because of the secrecy of the "NSA mission". Secrecy is an invitation for people to make up stories based on the little they know, and so every bit of released information is a basis for a story. And, information has an amazing ability to creep into the minds of anyone observant enough to notice it.

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I have read, on more than one occasion, criticisms of "American Imperialism" - what is that?

One concept has to do with the rapid expansion of the States. Back in the 1700s and 1800s, we had a large number of American tribes - extended families - that were killed and their property taken by the people of the U.S.A. This is disturbing to think about - but it was unfortunately typical of the way that governments back then operated - striking mostly in its successfulness.  In the early 1900s, we had some world wars, and the focus of the military shifted from internal conquest to external battles. We also developed nuclear weapons which for better or worse are so horrifying that no one sane will consider military conquest a viable option. So we are now a nation of shop keepers and dilettantes. And this is probably a good thing.

Nowadays, "American Imperialism" probably refers "the spread of democracy".

Democracy, perhaps ironically, seems to have been a superior form of government for military conquests - it seems to have been efficient for that. I like to think that it's also efficient in non-military contexts.

Democracy, in its essence, lets governments "fail early" before the failures become too troublesome. This lets us get past our problems and lets us focus on bigger issues. Unfortunately, this is not always popular, because people do not like failure. Getting past failure, and ignorance, is the essence of intelligence, and a successful democracy requires that we value this process. In other words, I think that ignorance should be relished as a temporary thing, and getting past that to greater understandings should be prized by any civilized country.

In other words, if someone tells you that you are stupid, you should probably ask for an explanation, and if what they have to say is relevant and useful you both should happy about the exchange. This can be a difficult thing to learn.

This relates particularly to the use of jargon (including such things as "American Imperialism" and "Bourgeoisie"). All too often we stumble over these things, or use them to refer to dead history or creative entertainment or something else which can be hard to relate to. When someone uses jargon and is not prepared to explain why they use it, do they even mean anything? Ignorance is bliss only when it's temporary or irrelevant - it's miserable when it's long-lasting and relevant.

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Similarly, there are numerous criticisms of "Capitalism". As an alternative for "War" I think that capitalistic "competition" is a good thing. Unfortunately, many of the advocates and practitioners of "capitalism" have been getting their math wrong. There are also criticisms of moral failings and I think that these are inevitable given some of the pervasive mathematical errors behind the decision making processes. This is probably a "good" example of long-lasting and relevant ignorance.

One such error is the "efficient market hypothesis". Another such error (and it's related) is the use of the gaussian distribution in economic statistics. I suspect that ANOVA can also be misleading (leading the users to take sucker bets and ignore important issues).

But fair exchange reduces misery, and fair exchange on a large scale reduces misery on a large scale. It's not completely stable for a variety of reasons (all infants have to offer is themselves and yet each person is their own judge of what's fair for them, for example), but getting people to work together seems like a worthwhile undertaking even (perhaps especially) at the scale of governments.

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I have been meaning to write on "value coupling" - this is what money is about, but how do you reason about value without taking money as a given? One approach is to take a look at what's being accomplished (this is a "by their fruits you shall know them" approach). If we think of money as representing people's work, then the value of money has to do with the number of participants in the system of exchange fot that currency. Scarcity lets us approximate this (because people that care about the scarcity approximate the number of participants).  The number of participants is also an approximation (if you pay someone to do something and they won't do that thing but instead break your stuff, that was not valuable).  I suspect that the "communist government" model is trying to come at this from a different angle (the rhetoric, or at least the name, seems to be about a sense of community). But communism apparently was not built to fail - it apparently doesn't respect its own people enough to trust that a majority of them can get over its failings. I say "apparently" because I have no first-hand experiences living under a communist government, and my only experiences of "community" have been from inside a somewhat democratic government.

Fail early, fail often, fail small.


Fail late, fail rarely, fail disastrously.

A good economy will have healthy members, with adequate nutrition, breathable air,

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Perversely, we need the ability to murder people. Some people will choose to do this. I think a goal of government is to minimize murders. That's why we have military bodies. That's also why we have police (but police are an investigative after-the-fact approach, if we have enough police to defend everyone then everyone is police and that doesn't let us fail easily - instead we wait for everything else to fall down around us because we were dealing with the wrong issues).

Anyways, we need a military, if only to sit on those nuclear bombs. But that's incredibly boring if done right and nightmarish if mishandled, and military needs an enemy or it has nothing to fight. So we need to fail, occasionally, in defending ourselves, just so we can identify our enemies (and, if we engineer those failures we are the enemy and we should expect that sooner or later someone will observe that).

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Secrets are temporary things. Privacy is also fleeting. These are related concepts.

Innovation - intelligence - in some sense dooms privacy. Every time we observe something new we potentially observe something that someone considered unattractive or private or secret (like a list of sales contacts or someone's naked body or anything embarassing). There's ways of observing that no one has even considered yet, and that will always be the case.

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A large part of our governmental inefficiencies center on our medical practice. We call this "health care" but honestly it's mostly not. A person who is about to die is incredibly valuable while a person with their life ahead of them is not. What we have is mostly focussed on emergency health care, and that can be decent care for the dying without any significant increases in health.

Here, we do not tolerate failure, and I think it's going to get bigger and bigger until we just can't deal with it any longer.

Health care must include things like exercise, nutrition, learning how to be valuable to others, clean air, and a good schedule. Medicine mostly does not address these issues.

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I have a feeling that all of these topics are related, and I see threads that connect them, but I am not prepared to create an overarching story that connects them. Instead, I keep seeing other, related issues (like the School to Prison Pipeline and the War on Drugs (which might be related to the Cold War in some sense) and Jihads (and other issues where people are killing other people because of long dead people having killed other long dead people)).

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Anyways, I need to get moving, so I'm just going to dump all these thoughts onto a page and maybe worry about them later.

Argh I overwrote one copy of this with another, and blogger doesn't give me an edit history that I know of. From memory:

I think the NSA is a problem because it interferes with "American Imperialism". In other words, by example, it interferes with the democratic process. In some sense, it is engaged defeating some enemies which it hides from us. But if we cannot know our enemies, our democracy cannot learn from our mistakes and cannot address the problems that made them our enemies in the first place. But, also, other governments look at us and they will follow our example (never mind that we were following their example in the first place - for this to be relevant those were not democratic governments in the first place - in other words, they do not tolerate failures and thus do not tolerate learning from their mistakes). Anyways, maybe some of this is justified - there's thresholds of boredom and so one and there's only so much we can cope with. But hiding court decisions from the immediate public record? I think that is wrong, and I think that that actively damages our country.

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