August 16, 2014

in defense of rioting: a translation

Filed under:— cwage @ 7:40 pm

"woo wooooooo murder aw yeah this is cool"

There's a post about the rioting (which didn't really happen) in Ferguson that's going around in jacobinmag, a magazine named after Jacobins. Jacobins, if you're not familiar with history, were a group of French revolutionaries whose main claim to fame is coopting a revolution in order to stage a couple of years of widespread creative decapitation. The name of the magazine isn't ironic, by the way. I know, it was a head-scratcher for me, too. So anyway, this article can be a bit hard to read if you're not familiar with the parlance of these modern-day authoritarian jacobins, so I thought I'd post this handy translation of the key parts:

Rallies and protests erupted as people took to the streets — eventually culminating in a riot. Crowds went from holding candle light vigils at the site of Brown’s death to burning down a number of businesses and lighting molotov cocktails during confrontations with police. How did we get here?

Translation: recent mass protests over a police killing had a few instances of damage to property and looting which we're going broadly characterize as "riots" in order to use it to justify everything that follows in an exercise of our lust for violence, power and -- hopefully! -- murder!

Riots, like other forms of political action, can build solidarity. They can create strong feelings of common identity.

Translation: Defense against aggression can be co-opted to empower authoritarian shitheads like us who want our hand on the tiller so we can start putting heads on pikes.

Rather than evidence of illegitimacy, the presence of these “outsiders” reflected the magnetic power of the political moment.

Translation: huge groups of people wielding power give us a giant murder-boner

The community was unified and ready to take action. The police were the problem, and they had to be stopped.

Translation: *whispers* muuuuurder-boooooner

Not only is this a more substantive analysis than what is often offered on the Left, but acting on this analysis is the only way to eradicate entrenched racial hierarchy.

Translation: rioting is the only way to eliminate racial hierarchy (ed: say, how's that workin out so far?)

riots are often galvanizing community events with the potential to unleash concerted political energy in dynamic and unpredictable directions, the stale politics of respectability only leads to further marginalization and dislocation. Now, it’s possible to disagree with the utility of insurrection. But these communities’ responses to subjugation must be discussed in political terms and not simply dismissed out of hand.

Translation: Riots are "unpredictable", so who knows what can happen! Maybe murder. Maybe not all murder is bad! let's get started!

On the surface, addressing the effects of rioting is an important political issue. By framing themselves as a customer in need of their “corporate neighbor,” it’s possible that this person is acting not out of concern for the working people that lost their jobs — their actual neighbors — but from the fear that their shopping routine will be disturbed. Like Deandre Smith observed, we identify more strongly with broken windows than broken people.

Translation: this person is claiming to be sad that they don't have a place to buy things from their neighbor anymore, but they're wrong. They are stupid, and we know better. This rioting might be a good opportunity to put us in charge, don't you think?

"Let’s find ways to honestly observe and discuss their political needs, rather than simply criticizing the nature of their response to social violence."

Translation: uh ...

"social violence"? Seriously? I don't know how to translate that. I give up, fuck these people.

May 29, 2014

tent city eviction questions

— cwage @ 7:39 pm

After reading a Tennessean article that reports the magnanimous graciousness of metro police in "allowing" a Nashville resident to continue residing in a makeshift tent encampment on the banks of the Cumberland, I'm left with a few lingering questions. The article posits matter-of-factly that the land belongs to metro. I've heard from other sources working with metro to delay the eviction that it's not immediately clear who the land belongs to. According to Lindsey Krinks with Open Table, "they wrote trespassing citations a while back stating it was state property and now they are saying it's metro property, but it's more likely private property or the Army Corps of Engineers property"

The questions I have are:

  1. Who owns the land the camp is located on? My best approximation of the camp's location is here, but that is an imperfect guess -- I based that by matching up the appearance of some buildings across the river in this photo. If that location is right, it appears the camp would be on land owned by Lone Star Industries (thanks to @jrlind for the help):

    The rest of the surrounding riverfront property appears to be owned by metro water.

  2. What was/is the impetus for his eviction? Did the owner (lone star industries?) make a complaint citing trespassing?
  3. If the owner is metro, what is the problem with his residence there (absent a better emergency, short-term or long-term affordable housing solution), and in what way is evicting him a solution to that problem?

Good quote from Lindsey that says it all:

The police continue to remind us that they have the power and that they alone exercise the "legitimate" use of force and violence here. "The police department could have taken action some time ago," Don Aaron said. "We've elected not to." This article should be a story about how so many police officers and sergeants continue to harass our people. This should be a story about the dire shortage of affordable and accessible housing in Nashville and beyond. But instead, it is a watered down pat on the back to Metro PD for not doing what they could (and would) have done "some time ago" - shut down another camp and further entrench the poor in cycles of poverty and criminalization. We still also have not seen who actually owns the land and we are making great progress on finding housing with the guys. It shouldn't take months (or years) to find housing in Nashville, but for so many, it does. And yes, THIS is the real crime.

May 19, 2014

rev’s thing

— cwage @ 9:15 pm

This is st_rev's, but I find myself referencing it a lot, so I'm putting it here:

You want to sell product/project/policy X for dealing with Z. Z is guaranteed to 1) get worse, 2) get better, or 3) stay the same.

If 1: "Z is getting worse, we need more X!"
If 2: "X is working, we need more X!"
If 3: "X kept Z from getting worse, we need even more X!"

Originally got this analysis from Penn & Teller regarding quack medicine, but it applies to public policy just as well. Drug war? Stimulus?

Drug use is increasing, we need more drug war! Drug use is declining, we need more drug war!

Stimulus kept economy out of depression, we need more stimulus! (tm Paul Krugman).

May 6, 2014

don’t vote

— cwage @ 2:02 pm

In modern democracies, election seasons are often accompanied by public-service campaigns
designed to encourage citizens to turn up at the polls and vote; regardless of one’s political leanings, it
seems, it is important that one votes for something. In some countries, governments go so far as to
legally require voting.

These campaigns are a terrible idea. Most voters have no idea what is going on–they may not
even know who their leaders are, and certainly do not know who is the best candidate. Imagine that
someone asks you for directions to a local restaurant. If you have no idea where the restaurant is, you
should not make it up. You should not tell the person some guess that seems sort of plausible to you.
You should tell them you don’t know and let them get directions from someone more knowledgeable.

Ignorant voting is even worse than ignorant giving of directions, because voting is an exercise
of political power (albeit a very small one)–to vote for a policy is not only to make a recommendation,
but to request that the policy be imposed on others by force. Collectively, the majority imposes policies
or personnel choices on the rest of society. To be justified in participating in any such imposition, one
must have some strong justification for thinking that the policy or personnel choice is beneficial. This
justification is almost always lacking for the great majority of voters. In the great majority of cases,
therefore, voting not only fails to qualify as a civic duty; it is positively immoral.

One might suggest that citizens have an obligation to become informed, and then vote. But
becoming sufficiently informed to know who is the best candidate in a given election is typically
extremely difficult. Indeed, it is not implausible to think that for most people and most elections, the
task is actually impossible–no matter how much they study, most voters still will not know who the
best candidate is, and may not even attain a reasonably high-probability guess. Even if it is not
impossible, discovering who is the best candidate is clearly very onerous. It is therefore unreasonable
to demand that an individual undertake the enormous costs of acquiring this knowledge, merely to
secure a probability of, say, one in ten million of producing a modest benefit for society.

In short, it is most plausible to say that individuals have no obligation to vote, and that if they
are ill-informed (as nearly all citizens are), they are obligated not to vote.

-- "In Praise of Passivity", by Mike Huemer. (hat tip to st_rev for this essay)

Happy election day!

April 27, 2014

it’s time to abandon the term “free market”

Filed under:— cwage @ 6:28 pm

Libertarians of all stripes would be well-served to abandon the term "free market". I know it's near and dear to a lot of them, and I get it, I do: the words should hardly be controversial -- who among us can deny the value of "freedom" and "markets"? (well, many can and do, but that's neither nor there). There are a few reasons the phrase has lost all useful communicative value:

1) Many people misunderstand our governmental and economic status quo. They see our system as a fight between "capitalism" and "regulation" -- "capitalism" being a poorly defined/understood bogeyman: a sort of Hobbesian corporate state of nature, in which evil corporations run amok in a battle royale, dragging society and the environment down with them. Therefore, "Free Market" to them does not mean what it does to most libertarians. It means the absence of the regulation keeping this nightmare scenario from unfolding -- a precarious balance only barely kept in check by the unflagging efforts of the modern progressive.

2) The term has been coopted by conservative/right-leaning politicians seeking to "privatize" elements of government function. Though they use the term "free market" to justify and earn the sympathy of their constituents, the ultimate goal is not a free market, but mere profiteering. Any politician seeking or in office who claims to want to limit government and promote freer markets is at best disingenuous, as the advocacy of free markets is unlikely to be accomplished via legislative fiat. As Steven Teles pointed out in last week's Econtalk, most attempts at privatization only further the entrenchment of a social/"public" function of government (with a few more hands in the till, to be sure):

Some of the largest consulting firms, especially around here in the Washington, D.C. area, their primary and in some cases the exclusive purchaser of their services is government. And I think some of that's come from the fact that conservatives thought that if we actually, even if we are going to perform, if some function is going to be considered to be social, if we can push it out into the private sector then that private sector will become a lobby for further privatization. But in many cases those private contractors become a lobby for the continuing socialization of the function, so long as they are the ones who end up getting the benefits.

3) Consequently, the term has also (fairly) been vilified by leftists who look at the consequences of purportedly "free market" policies, and see nothing but exploitation of the system. However, they also, unfortunately, use the term as a pejorative to denote/signal to their constituents that corporate profiteering via privatization is imminent -- to the detriment even of potential governmental policies that could actually help encourage a truly freer market.

If libertarians truly want to change the minds of others, they should abandon this unproductive phrase. For all the reasons above, it does nothing but conjure up an aura of harmful exploitation. Instead, focus on what is (for some) at the heart of libertarian ideals: opposing coercion/aggression. "Anti-aggression" is a phrase likely to get you a lot more traction in any discussion with your average statist, because it focuses the conversation on something which libertarians share quite deeply with most liberal statists: the deeply held belief that aggressive violence is harmful. From here, a genuine conversation about the trade-offs we make with respect to freedom is much easier, or at least it cuts to the heart of fundamental disagreements much more quickly. Waving the flag for "free markets" might score points with people that already agree with you, but it will do nothing but confuse and confound potential allies who grossly misunderstand your goals.

February 19, 2014

google fiber

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 11:52 pm

Because I'm a contrarian (or should I say buzzkill. get it? buzz? kill? google buzz? get it? SEE WHAT I DID THERE), I'll play devil's advocate to the frenzied excitement over Google Fiber in Nashville. Some supposed factors driving the excitement:

Fiber is fast
Well, fiber is a physical medium that is quite capable of fast transfer. But a network has to be built to take advantage of that. This involves several points of expansion:

First, your own network infrastructure has to support these gigabit speeds. Maybe you're rollin on gig-e wired throughout your house, but if you're like me and 99.999% of internet users in Nashville, you're using a macbook on the same shitty $50 802.11n WAP that everyone else uses -- which maxes out at about 300Mbps and usually clocks in more realistically at 100-150Mbps. Yes, this technology will evolve and grow. When? Pro-tip: not till more than 3 trial cities support these next-generation speeds.

Second, all the services you use now that ostensibly would benefit from 1Gbps bandwidth -- a surprisingly short list, currently -- have to scale their own infrastructure to support all these new clients desperately wanting to saturate their shiny new broad pipes. Will these vendors -- Dropbox, say, for example -- have incentive to do so? Well, maybe. Are you willing to pay for it? Are enough people transferring big enough files that people are willing to pay a competitive rate? Maybe -- over-the-wire backups are a clear need here.

Third, google itself has to have built the infrastructure to support -- not everyone at 1Gbps at once of course -- but an infrastructure that will support the average number of users using their fiber service and some margin for bursting/excessive load/etc. This may sound like it goes without saying, but consider how often wireless carriers roll out a New Bigger Faster 8000G wireless platform but clearly don't expand the network capacity behind it (I'm looking at you, AT&T. and Sprint. and, well, everyone.) Did/will Google scale this appropriately? Maybe. Hopefully? Who knows. Minor but real concern.

That said, yes: there is an "if you build it they will come" effect wherein larger capacity spurs innovation. But it won't be some magical lightswitch that flips on once you have something with "fiber" in the name such that everything will be 10X faster. It will be an incremental, evolutionary path of growth -- which is good! -- but not magical or instant. Just like the transition from the days of ~56k/ISDN to broadband was not magical or instant, this transition too will take time. Maybe add an exponent or two here allowing for Moore's law, sure.

Video streaming with cable sucks -- fiber will fix that
Video streaming with cable (e.g. Comcast) sucks because Comcast is throttling services that threaten Comcast's dwindling legacy cable bread&butter. This gets into the territory of advocates for so-called net neutrality, but that's a debate for another day. So, it's great that Google can provide some competitive incentive for Comcast to evolve or die. Conversely, though, I see no indication that Google intends to do anything other than enter the fray of this very competition for the same media services and thus be incentivized to perform the same sort of throttling of their competitors. In short, streaming problems have long since ceased to be a problem of technology: Netflix's HD streaming (for example) maxes out at around 5Mbps. The remaining problems of shitty user experience now revolve entirely around competitive throttling. Google may or may not be just as bad.
I'll finally have the upstream/symmetric bandwidth to host personal video servers!
Sure. Explicitly against Google's ToS for the service, but hey. How aggressively will they enforce this? That remains to be seen.
Free internet!
TANSTAAFL. Ask yourself why Google is willing to offer a tier of free internet service. This is a company that has capitalized on the decreased privacy of its customers at every opportunity. The only conclusions you can draw are ... uncomfortable. How will they treat your data? How will they sell it? How will they treat traffic that ensures privacy (VPN/SSL/etc)? Will they even allow it? There's a good case to be made (sadly) that so few people even care (or are educated enough to care) about their privacy such that the few people who do will be a non-issue.

To sum up: competition is good. Even competition from Google is better than nothing. But you won't find me frothing at the mouth or fawning over the mere prospect. Google is a company that wants to compete with everyone by doing everything. This means they not only compete with Comcast for internet access, but they will (in all likelihood) compete with Comcast (or anyone else) for the same legacy content that has motivated Comcast to depriorize/throttle its content and generally be shitty at the one thing they're supposed to be good at. It also means (because Google isn't particularly specialized) that they're probably going to suck at it, and/or sacrifice innovation, support and progress for its multitudinous other endeavors (witness gmail). How many products with satisfied customers have already been sacrificed at the altar of Google+? Why do we believe this will be any different?

It's possible that Google could surprise me by being focused and efficient in providing this one service, but they're a company that's spent the last 5 years doing the exact opposite.

High-speed fiber internet access provided by a competitive company with no interest in selling me anything other than reliable, fast, hands-off internet access? Now we're talking -- I'd be excited about that. Oh, Google? Yawn. How long will I be using that product before they decide to abruptly EOL it? (Yes, I'm still bitter.)

BOOM. Debbie downer out. *drops mic*

UPDATE 1: -- some good comments from facebook:


I got called a "pessimist" for even hinting at the points you bring up.

You bring up a lot of technical points (and there is _some_ counter argument to them) but the bigger reason why I was non plussed about the announcement (again, more providers in a market is a good thing) is less about technical and more about economics and consumer empowerment.

The best thing that could happen is Metro opens up it's considerable fiber assets and leases them to service providers. Not only do the tax payers own those resources, but it keeps control and ownership here in town rather than Palo Alto. This can be done in a cost neutral model and in some examples, it even generates a profit for tax payers (shudder).

Having Google come to town is good but as you say, there's nothing indicating the they won't be the same oversubscribed and low bar customer service as the existing oligarchy already is. If Nashville really wanted to be respected as a "entrepreneurial tech leader" then it should be insistent on some things. Infrastructure issues you raised but also free access to the poor, ubiquitous coverage across the county (or MSA if we're really thinking ahead), and the ability to extend the wireline into wireless services for all citizens.

Let's have some self respect and stop slobbering all over ourselves because some popular girl looked our way.


agreed, and well said. The technical aspects I bring up are not so much to dismiss the progress, of course -- I'm not a luddite -- but just to point out that this is nothing new. Google didn't invent fiber -- as you say, we've got shittons of it, which we paid for, sitting dark. So yeah, excuse me if I don't fall over myself faint with praise because google throws around the words "fiber" and "gigabit".

Knowing this and then reading the cryptic (and sinister in its ramifications, depending on your opinion of our current metro administration) language about how google is "evaluating" the cities and that they'll "work with our city leaders" is ominous. What exactly is there to "work with" them about? (hint: incentives). Which I guess we're supposed to be excited about and fall all over ourselves to support instead of asking ourselves "hey didn't we, like, already pay for a bunch of fiber? why are we paying more to convince google to do the same thing?"

Google is very clever indeed, using the aura of privilege and prestige to "select" cities to deign with their service instead of just launching it. This enables them to court their suitors and cherry-pick the very best of the state-subsidized incentives.

and I have no doubt our mayor would railroad this through as quickly as he has our other bread&circuses with nary a thought to what actually makes sense. So then we have a big-ass national company with government incentives serving us internet. Great. How is this any different, exactly? Except that google is also trying to do 23948234 other things? Meet the old boss, same but infinitely more distracted as the old boss.

But hey, at least we'll be really cool -- woo woo, #itcity.

To clarify succinctly: I don't care if Google wants to come compete. I have no problem with that. The excitement to me is ill-informed, and the minute that our political class attempts to turn that excitement into government-subsidized incentives for Google, you'll see me raise holy hell. (Or, more realistically, post a whiny blog entry and go back to work.)

January 14, 2014


Filed under:, , — cwage @ 7:17 pm

From this Wired piece on bitcoin derivatives:

What we need is a bitcoin market that operates on a much larger scale, one that’s approved by financial regulators.


"The derivatives, futures, options market is largely undeveloped," Ehrsam says. "You might say the counter-party is risk is unacceptable." Part of the concern is that existing services may run afoul of regulators, either in Europe or in the U.S.

What we need now is regulation, but it's a problem because of the risk of regulation. Regulation: the cause of and the solution to all of life's problems. (Disclaimer: I do not nor would I ever consider a successful derivatives market -- whether regulated or not -- a prerequisite for some cryptocurrency's success.)

January 3, 2014

socialism in a nutshell

Filed under:— cwage @ 11:28 am

Probably the most succinct description of socialist thought (as concieved by Warren, Proudhon and Marx) I've encountered:

From Smith’s principle that labor is the true measure of price—or, as Warren phrased it, that cost is the proper limit of price—these three men made the following deductions: that the natural wage of labor is its product; that this wage, or product, is the only just source of income (leaving out, of course, gift, inheritance, etc.); that all who derive income from any other source abstract it directly or indirectly from the natural and just wage of labor; that this abstracting process generally takes one of three forms,—interest, rent, and profit; that these three constitute the trinity of usury, and are simply different methods of levying tribute for the use of capital; that, capital being simply stored-up labor which has already received its pay in full, its use ought to be gratuitous, on the principle that labor is the only basis of price; that the lender of capital is entitled to its return intact, and nothing more; that the only reason why the banker, the stockholder, the landlord, the manufacturer, and the merchant are able to exact usury from labor lies in the fact that they are backed by legal privilege, or monopoly; and that the only way to secure labor the enjoyment of its entire product, or natural wage, is to strike down monopoly.

-- from State Socialism and Anarchism, by Benjamin Tucker

December 30, 2013

an actual intelligent article about bitcoin

— cwage @ 8:03 pm

This is probably the best and smartest article I've read about bitcoin to date. Go read it. I don't agree with all of it, necessarily (see below), but her criticisms are well-founded and part of what makes this experiment so fascinating to me.


December 17, 2013

big government and big corporations

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 3:39 am

An interesting, if obvious, observation as to why large government's success hinges on the existence and success of large corporations:

The key mechanism that makes third-party tax enforcement successful is the combination of verifiable book evidence that is common knowledge within the firm and a large number of employees, as any single employee can denounce collusive tax cheating between employees and the employer by revealing true books to the government.

From Why Can Modern Governments Tax So Much? An Agency Model of Firms as Fiscal Intermediaries.

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