The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: December 2015 Page 1 of 2

Live Preview for Comments

I’ve had a number of requests from commenters asking me to provide the ability to preview their comments. That is now possible. Unlike many previews, this one happens as you type, below the comment field, NOT after you press “Submit Comment,” so be sure to check your grammar, links, punctuation, and so on before clicking.

The preview does not show lines between paragraphs. They appear after posting.

Thanks to commenter and past guest-author MarkFromIreland for the suggestion of a preview which runs client-side and not server-side, to keep my hosting company happy.

New CAPTCHA Added for Comments

Most readers never comment, if that’s you, ignore this missive.

The site went down today for a few hours because of a comment spam attack.

Comments that trigger the site’s spam filter will now be given a CAPTCHA to complete. If you complete it, your comment will go into moderation.

If you fail the CAPTCHA, your comment will be deleted immediately and permanently so that my ISP doesn’t shut the site down again.

So, if you are served a CAPTCHA, I strongly suggest you make a copy of the code (CTRL-C on a Windows machine) before filling in the CAPTCHA, in case you make a mistake.

Hope you’re all having a great Christmas week!

On Hate

My recent article on Hillary Clinton and the reasonableness of hating her caused some confusion, especially when I said I don’t hate Clinton, though surely there are good reasons to do so.

The issue is this: While it is reasonable to hate people who have done great wrong to ourselves or to other people, hating does the hater little good and much harm.

Hate, and its brother, anger, can supply energy and motivation, but they are like shots of adrenaline. Over time they damage  the body and poison the mind. If used at all, they should be used in moderation, lest you hurt yourself more than the person you hate or at whom you angry.

Worse, this world is full of people it is entirely rational to hate. From those who run the corporations poisoning the world, to those engaging in wars which should not be fought, to those profiting from those wars, to—well, the list is, if not endless, long enough that no one can reach an end, though Dante tried in the Inferno.

Hate is thus never-ending, a poison cup which runneth over. No matter that you drink it to the dregs, it is ever full.

And, for me at least, hatred and anger are unpleasant. I do not enjoy the experience. Oh, like adrenaline or coffee, there’s that shot of energy, but it’s an ill feeling overall. It’s very hard to feel free and easy and happy and be topped up with hate.

Nor is hate necessary. There is no need to hate Clinton, or Bush, or Obama, or ISIS or anyone else in order to oppose them. Not hating doesn’t mean you have to be “nice” or “agreeable,” it simply means you are choosing not to allow a particular emotion to be your experience of the world.

Feel free to oppose evil with glee or happiness or delight. The evil doesn’t care about your hate, only the effectiveness of your opposition.

You can oppose evil without allowing it to control your mind or your emotions at all. If you find you can’t stop the anger or hate (or any other emotion), well then, you no longer control yourself, do you? Your enemies, in effect, are choosing your consciousness for you.

That seems like a very great power to give to one’s enemies, or to anyone else, for that matter.

So, no. I don’t hate Clinton, or even Bush, Jr. Not any more. Nor am I angry at anyone for longer than an hour or two, and rarely even that long any more. The last time I was angry for long was during the Greek crisis and I didn’t like it. So the question I asked myself was: “Is my being angry helping the Greeks in any way?”

No, it wasn’t.

So I stopped being angry, and was happy.

Letting anything in the world, let alone your enemies, control your consciousness, is foolishness. Again, if you think you’ve made a choice to hate, try to choose the opposite. Say: “Today, I will not hate or be angry, I will choose to be happy instead.”

If you can’t, you may have a problem.

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Merry Christmas

I hope the day finds you well, and happy.

The Problem with Hillary Clinton

Hilary Clinton Secretary of State Portrait

Hilary Clinton Secretary of State Portrait

A lot of people don’t like Hillary. Some on the left even hate her.

For a few, it may be because she is a woman. For most it has much more to do with policy.

Pretending that people are unreasonable when they hate a politician who voted for a war which was a war crime is good spin, but it’s not honest.

Hillary Clinton voted for war with Iraq. She defended that vote for years, though she now says it was a mistake.

Hillary Clinton defended the “Welfare Reform” put in place by her husband.

Hillary Clinton was for the Patriot Act.

Hillary Clinton voted for TARP.

There are real reasons to dislike, and even hate, Clinton.

Let us be clear, I do not hate Clinton. In 2008, I supported John Edwards, but when he dropped out, I supported Hillary. I did so, because after reading her platform and Obama’s, I decided she was slightly to his left. I also believed she would be far more likely to remove Bush apparatchniks from government posts, something Obama eventually did not do. I believed that Clinton was slightly to Obama’s right on foreign affairs, but not enough to matter.

The fact that Obama made Clinton his Secretary of State indicates I was correct on that last point.

Indeed, when Clinton said she was staying in the primary race because you never know what might happen, and the left-o-sphere exploded with accusations that she was calling for him to be assassinated, I defended her, and I believe I was the only person who did so on Huffington Post’s front page.

None of this is to say that Clinton was, then, a good candidate, simply that I considered her better than Obama.

So, I don’t hate Clinton. I don’t even dislike her. I am only one step from her, I know a LOT of people who know her, some of whom are her friends. By all accounts, she is a very likable person.

But, based on her policy decisions, she is either monstrous, or has terrible judgment. She is, at best, a “Lesser Evil” candidate. It is not deranged for people to dislike her or even hate her–she has supported policies which have impoverished  and killed millions. If that isn’t reason enough to hate someone, I don’t know what is.

Of course there are those who do hate her for being an uppity woman, or for various conspiracy reasons (Vince Foster!), but it’s perfectly possible to hate her based simply on her public policy positions over the years.

I don’t like Sanders that much. He’s far better than Clinton on domestic issues, and he’s been on the right side of some important foreign policy issues, but he’s quite problematic on foreign affairs overall. Still, he’s clearly been better than Clinton on enough big items that matter, which is to say that, yes, if you’re a Democratic Primary voter, I think you should vote for Sanders.

Hillary also appears to have become worse on Foreign Affairs over the years. Her hatred of Putin and Russia, in particular, worries me. It feels to me that Clinton still views Russia as the USSR, and that she personally dislikes Putin (not surprising, given he has personally denigrated her for being a woman).

I don’t see Russia as that significant of a threat, and I think treating it as if it is one is more likely to make it one. I also don’t like saber-rattling against a nation which has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world multiple times over.

Hillary is a conservative politician with bad judgment. Bernie is a left-center candidate whose policy suggestions would be mainstream in most European countries (for instance, real universal health care).

Hillary is good on women’s rights and she is a woman herself. There is an argument that having a woman president is important. It is, from a left-wing perspective, the only strong argument I can think of for choosing Hillary over Sanders.

But, to me, at least, it doesn’t trump voting for the Iraq war. That’s a lot of dead people to write off.

Your mileage may vary.

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The Late (Internet) Telecom Revolution Is Not Such a Big Deal

Look, I know the Internet is great. I like it, it’s changed my life. But it’s not big a deal when you compare it to other technological revolutions. This is true even if you throw in increases in computing power (which were happening long before the Internet was opened to the public).

Let’s get it out the way: The one, unqualifiedly great thing the Internet has done is provide access to information. Movies, books, news, technical papers–all of that. Today, I can find out information which I would have needed to visit a library to find out in 1990. Often, I can find out information I would have need a university library to find.

This is a great, good thing, especially as the Internet spreads to the third world, where access to good libraries is often sparse.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year.  If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

What else, though?

  • The Internet’s effects on the GDP are minor at best. The GDP in first world countries (and most third) has been growing anemically through most of the “Internet age,” and most of the increases that did occur can’t be traced back to telecom. Housing, finance, etc…all those sectors can boom and bust just fine without telecom and high-speed computers.
  • Productivity effects are elusive. They just aren’t showing up–and people have looked.
  • Online communities are great, I love them. But to the extent they replace offline friends and communities, they are a net negative, because offline friends are more beneficial to people’s happiness and health than online friends.
  • As Ha Joong Chang points out in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, the Telecom revolution isn’t nearly as impressive as what washing machines did: liberate women from most domestic drudgery.
  • As Telecom revolutions go, it isn’t even as impressive as the telegraph, if one wants to be strict about this.
  • The Telecom revolution did make it possible to outsource and offshore work that couldn’t be before, but the period from 1945 to 1970 still saw most third world countries growing faster.
  • The largest country which benefits most from outsourcing is India. Mysteriously, in the past 30 years, the average number of calories eaten in India has dropped.
  • The Telecom revolution is not as important as electrification, municipal sewers, the automobile, the airplane, air-conditioning, the mechanical loom, the steam engine, antibiotics, or even washing hands before surgery.
  • As one of its negative side effects, the Telecom revolution enables a panopticon surveillance state which is far more intrusive than what Orwell imagined in 1984 or which the Stasi created in East Germany.
  • Most of the big wins in telecom have been things like Amazon, Uber, AirBnb, and so on. They reduce costs, but they do so by also reducing earning, thus aggregating the majority of earnings to themselves. They are primarily upwardly redistributive. Efficiency gains are often real, but they go to a very few people.

None of this is to say that the Telecom revolution is not important. It is, and it has had vast effects on our lives. It will continue to do so as it’s logic is run through. But as technological revolutions go, it is neither the most important in recent history, nor is it the most beneficial. It is nowhere near as beneficial as the revolution in sanitation was during the 19th century, for example. It does not change how we live nearly as much as automobiles and trains did, or washing machines or air conditioners. (When asked how Singapore has succeeded, Lee Kuan Yu said it would have been impossible without air conditioning.)

Perspective, people, perspective.

The Internet and Telecom revolution could yet make the world a vastly better place, but they haven’t so far. Information doesn’t “want to be free” and the rise of the Internet has seen a vast tightening of copyright and patent laws, rather than a utopia of free information you are actually allowed to use.

Early radio adopters were like early internet adopters; they saw it as a democratizing force, a force for the people, etc, etc. When the Titanic sunk, it was claimed (falsely) that the ships SOS messages couldn’t through because smaller, private radio users were tying up the lines. Radio frequencies were then auctioned off to the rich. The same path (minus the hysterical lies) was followed with the television spectrum.

In the US and many other countries, a few large companies control the pipes. A few App stores do most of that business, and the advertising revenue goes to search engines (aka. Google).

So, Telecom Revolution: Important, yes. Good?  Yes and no.

The next coming of the washing machine, or the washing of hands, or antibiotics?

Not yet.

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(Corrected—A Not-Unreasonable Action) If You Don’t Want People to Compare You to Nazis, Don’t act like Nazis, Denmark Edition

So, this:

On Thursday, December 10, the center-right Danish government proposed legislation that would enable immigration authorities to seize jewelry and other personal valuables from refugees.

Vox says this can’t be compared to what the Nazis did.

I say if you don’t want to be compared to Nazis, don’t act like Nazis.


Correction (Dec 18): I have been informed and agree that I misunderstood. Apparently the law applies only to those applying for welfare, and Danes are also required to realize assets. Thanks for the correction.

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CEO Martin Shkreli Arrested for Securities Fraud

Shkreli is the pharma CEO who famously raised the price of an AIDS drug over 5,000 percent and bought an one issue Wu-Tang record that no one else will hear if he doesn’t want them to.

Securities arrests don’t happen by accident, and they don’t happen just because someone has committed securities fraud.  There is so much securities fraud that practically anyone involved the markets beyond the retail investor level could be charged with something. Many investigations are ongoing at any given time, and only a few can (or will) be prosecuted–and prosecuting someone as rich as Shkreli is always a political decision.

This is a message:

Rook the proles as much as you want, but don’t scream it to the world. We have a good thing going here, sonny, and we don’t tolerate people who might wreck it.

Despite his cartoon-villain behaviour, Shkreli is far from the worst CEO in America.

Billionaires may do as they please. There is only one rule: “Don’t destroy the game.”

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