Creative Destruction

December 13, 2016

Creative Destruction

The name of the blog, Creative Destruction, is correct, but only partially. The definition offered at Wikipedia, drawn from Austrian economics, is a “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” The term proposes an ongoing process of birth, death, and rebirth. With U.S. presidential election results a little more than a month old and the inauguration a little over a month away, we have embarked on the path of political, economic, and cultural transformation with few clear objectives other than jettisoning progressive ideology and instituting radical conservatism. It will be the reverse of the last change of administration: hope without change (Obama) vs. change without hope (Trump). Thoughtful consideration would suggest we will get only the destructive part of creative destruction and that revolution, mutation, and creative rebirth will be long delayed, if indeed they ever come at all.

August 3, 2015

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brutus @ 2:59 pm

The Spiral Staircase

Everyone knows how to play Rock, Paper, Scissors, which typically comes up as a quick means of settling some minor negotiation with the caveat that the winner is entirely arbitrary. The notion of a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament is therefore a non sequitur, since the winner by no means possesses skill, or strategic combinations of throws devised to reliably defeat opponents. Rather, winners are the unfortunate recipients of a blind but lucky sequence, an algorithm, that produces an eventual winner yet is indifferent to the outcome. I can’t say quite why, exactly, but I’ve been puzzling over how three-way conflicts might be decided were the categories instead Strong, Stupid, and Smart, respectively.

Rock is Strong, obviously, because it’s blunt force, whereas Paper is Stupid because it’s blank, and Scissors is Smart because it’s the only one that has any design or sophistication. For reassignments to work, however, the circle…

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April 17, 2015

Mature Technology

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brutus @ 6:03 pm

The Spiral Staircase

When any given technology reaches maturity, one might think that it’s time perhaps to stop innovating. A familiar, reliable example is the codex, also known as the book, now many centuries old and an obvious improvement over clay tablets and paper scrolls. Its low cost and sheer utility have yet to be surpassed. Yet damn it all if we don’t have inferior alternatives being shoved down our throats all the time, accompanied ad naseum by the marketers’ eternal siren song: “new and improved.” Never mind that novelty or improvement wasn’t slightly needed. A more modern example might be Microsoft Word 5.1, dating from 1992, which dinosaurs like me remember fondly for its elegance and ease of use. More than 20 years later, Microsoft Office (including MS Word) is considered by many to be bloatware, which is to say, it’s gone backwards from its early maturity.

So imagine my…

View original post 790 more words

August 2, 2011

Studies in Irony

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brutus @ 4:46 pm

From msnbc in Europe:

An Italian parliamentary commission has approved a draft law banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public.

The draft passed by the constitutional affairs commission Tuesday would prohibit women from wearing a burqa, niqab or any other garb that covers the face in public.

This is making news in Rome, following the French example. Rome!? You know, the home of Vatican City? Since I can only surmise these new restrictions are religious in nature, I can only say look to thine own self for silly, religious costuming:

December 17, 2006

Post-season Prognostications

Filed under: Uncategorized — Off Colfax @ 6:39 am

The majority of this post has been lifted from one of my various alter-egos throughout the www. This one is stuck in a password-protected forum, however, so I figure there’s few chances that any of you would accidentally stumble onto these words unless I copy-pasted them for you.

Those of you who don’t like football, or are dirty foreigners who can’t figure out why these pansy wimps need to rest in between plays (Much less why they can’t do anything without touching the ball with their hands, by Jove!), can ignore this post. For the rest of you, venture with me below the fold for some football wonkery.

December 11, 2006

Use Iraq in a Two-State Solution to the Palestinian Situation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Robert @ 3:22 am

Let’s kill two birds with one stone.

Let’s give the Palestinians a state in the middle of Iraq. Give it a nice big infusion of US dollars and US infrastructure, and then let it govern itself internally as an autonomous statelet akin to Lesotho under the old South African regime. Invite the other Arab nations to send material support to this new Palestine as it grows and prospers.

In the rest of Iraq, this provides a new source for desperately needed national unity: the new, hated Palestinian minority.  Since the Palestinians will mostly be hundreds of miles away, the dislike can be merely cordial and expressed in violent soccer games. Any Palestinians who are honestly anti-Semitic will be highly pleased at the relative absence of Jews.

The Iraqis will of course be very angry at us for doing this. This is actually good for us, because it might replace some of their anger at us for effectively trashing their country. On the other hand, if we pitch the deal right, they might end up not hating it so much. Surely we’d have to buy an awful lot of land from an awful lot of people – perhaps people who wouldn’t mind getting a good market price for land they currently don’t want to live on. That makes a little more room for the Palestinians, too, and means that they aren’t going to arrive to an empty desert. And I’m sure the government of Iraq could see the benefit of a bunch of US-built infrastructure in the middle of the country.

In Israel, the Israelis and whichever Palestinians decide to throw their lot in with the hated Jewish oppressor will be happy. Presumably enough Palestinians will stay for the sake of their jobs that the region won’t be thrown into economic chaos, but I imagine they will manage. Since I assume that any Palestinian who honestly hates the Jews will toddle off to the new homeland, hopefully terrorism and violence there will be greatly reduced.

Other than the cost to us, I can’t see a downside.

December 10, 2006

Malware Gangs using ‘KGB-tactics’ to Recruit Tech Grads

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gled @ 5:20 pm

Important if true:

Organised crime is “grooming” a new generation of would-be cybercriminals using tactics which echo those used by the KGB to recruit operatives at the height of the cold war, according to a new blockbuster study by net security firm McAfee.

McAfee’s second annual Virtual Criminology report sensationally claims that crime gangs are targeting academic high-fliers in much the way Soviet intelligence agencies recruited spies such as notorious traitor Kim Philby in the 1940s. The study, which we reckon might prove a plausible basis for the next Tom Clancy blockbuster, suggests that net savvy teens as young as 14 are being “attracted into cybercrime by the celebrity status of hi-tech criminals and the promise of making money without the risks associated with traditional crime”.

November 19, 2006

Are you religious?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gled @ 10:53 am

I’m an atheist.

Robert, I know, is Catholic.

What about the rest of you bloggers and regular commenters?

November 16, 2006

Diff’rent Strokes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Off Colfax @ 7:02 pm

Last week, Americans made clear their dissatisfaction with the President and his policies at the voting booth.

This week, an Indonesian man made clear his disdain for the President with a voodoo ritual.

Different strokes for different folks.

Ki Gendeng Pamungkas slit the throat of a goat, a small snake and stabbed a black crow in the chest, stirred their blood with spice and broccoli before drank the “potion” and smeared some on his face.


“I am doing voodoo, because other ritual would not work,” he told reporters after he conducted the gory ritual about 1 kilometers from the palace.

Strange as it sounds, you just can’t make this stuff up. Almost sounds like the plot for a John Gresham novel. Or maybe Laurel K. Hamilton.

(Yes, I know it’s not exactly voodoo that he did, as that is strictly part of down-bayou lands and Carribean islands. I get the feeling that the reporter could only find one suitable and close enough translation for the story. YMMV.)

[Turn signal: TPM]

October 18, 2006

How to Win

Filed under: Uncategorized — Robert @ 9:42 pm

For Republicans to win this thing, they’re going to need to throw somebody over the side. I nominate businesses that rely on illegal labor.

If Bush and the Congressional Republicans come out with a solid reversal on illegal immigration issues and agree to get serious (and if we believe them), then I think they could still pull it out.

(We need an Election 2006 category.)

October 9, 2006

North Korean Nuclear Bomb Test – Neither a Fizzle, nor a Mini?

Filed under: Current Events,Uncategorized — Robert @ 5:10 pm

Donald Sensing thinks it possible that the North Korean bomb test wasn’t a fizzle (the prevalent theory), but that it was instead a successful proof-of-concept test for a bomb design. The North Koreans are probably short on fissionable materials and don’t have any to waste on showy tests. It’s a credible idea.

Another possibility is that the test was a complete success – of an attempt to fool Kim Jong Il into believing his country has a WMD program. North Korea is desperately poor. It is on the borderline of credibility that they could mount a successful nuclear research effort. But it is believable that Kim Jong Il has ordered such a program nonetheless – in fact, any other proposition here IS unbelievable – and that some poor bastard in North Korea is trying to make it come true. And probably failing – but where it is difficult to build a nuclear bomb, it is relatively easy to make a stack of conventional explosives – and to pass it off to your nut of a boss as a successful small-scale test.

There’s reason to believe it’s happened before; it’s almost certain that Saddam Hussein thought his regime had certain capabilities which in fact only existed in Potemkin fashion. This is a standing problem with certain forms of authoritarian governance. But sometimes the royal visitor says “that’s a lovely shop, let’s dash in for a moment”, and Potemkin is forced to go to more extreme measures. It’s possible that’s what happened here.

September 8, 2006

Is this the most odious online registration ever?

Filed under: Content-lite,Uncategorized — Gled @ 6:08 am

After carefully reading their terms and conditions, (you wouln’t want to agree to something you hadn’t read, now, would you), and clicking the appropriate button, you are presented with a form which asks, not just your name age and email, but your job and your salary too. All in ‘required’ fields.

Oh, and my sixteen character password was rejected because it had non-alphanumerics. “Your password is too secure. Please choose a less secure one”.

Do they seriously believe that people are going to give them correct information? Normally when I see “registration required” I’m out of there, but in this case I really want to read the linked article.


July 26, 2006

The curious case of the Google in the night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gled @ 1:06 am

In my recent post, I noted that when you perform a Google blog search repeatedly on the same string, the figure given for the number of “is occasionally anomolously different”. In fact, it was usually the first search that was apparently anomolously high.

I didn’t make a note of what that high value was then. However, I noted something curious when I repeated the experiment today using the same search strings. The number of results reported from three sucessive searches were:

  • ‘Iraq women rights’ – 65,382, 2,652, 2,827
  • ‘Iraq men rights’ – 48,813, 2,568, 2,730
  • ‘Iraq men killed’ – 73,664, 73,603, 73,549
  • ‘Iraq women killed’ – 69,964, 2,999, 3,188

Subsequent searches returned figures broadly in line with the second and third for each string. (The slight variations each time are explained by the fact that Google has multiple data centres which are not kept synchronised. Sucessive searches get dispatched to the various centres at random.)

What I can’t explain is the marked drop in the figure after the first search on three of these strings, nor can I explain why it is not happening with the ‘Iraq men killed’ search. It didtwo days ago.

The upshot of all this is that I no longer have confidence that the number of results reported is meaningful.

July 18, 2006

Quick Quote Of The Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — Off Colfax @ 4:29 pm

The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.
—– Winston Churchill

[Turn signal: William Gibson] (Yes. That William Gibson.)

July 12, 2006

Superman Returns

Filed under: Popular Culture,Uncategorized — Robert @ 2:56 pm

Mostly spoiler-free for your enjoyment. But for the truly spoilerphobic:


June 19, 2006

Would it have killed them to include a link?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ampersand @ 3:27 pm

From a piece by Linda Hirshman in Sunday’s Washington Post:

The reaction started within a day or two of my article appearing on the American Prospect Web site. “Everyone’s Talking about Linda Hirshman’s ‘Homeward Bound,’ ” said “Alas, a blog.” “I was thinking of writing something” about it, the blogger continued, “but first I thought I’d see what other bloggers were saying . . . and that turned out to take up all my available blogging time.”

Geez, I get quoted in the WaPo, and it’s such a lame quote. Oh, well.

(Here’s the post she’s quoting, in case you’re curious.)

Curtsy: Family Scholars, where Elizabeth is annoyed that Linda H. has called their site a fundimentalist Christian site. But in the WaPo article, it’s clear that Hirshman is reacting primarily to Brad Wilcox; and if Brad isn’t an evangelical Christian, he sure as heck writes like one. And as for the difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists, I think it’s like the difference between Marvel superheroes and DC superheroes; sure, it’s an important distinction to those immersed in the subculture, but to outsiders they all look pretty much alike.

May 25, 2006

Link Farm & Open Thread #26

Filed under: Link Farms,Uncategorized — Ampersand @ 11:52 pm

Seems like it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these….

May 24, 2006

Sand Art

Filed under: Art,Uncategorized — Robert @ 12:28 pm

This is frickin' amazing. Via the Corner.

May 18, 2006

Let’s Not Discuss Dick Cheney’s Weight

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ampersand @ 10:41 am

Although I’m a big fan of Shakespeare’s Sister, I didn’t like her choice to include, in a post about that “I Am Man” Burger King commercial, a quote from Vanity Fair about Dick Cheney’s weight. Here’s the quote:

The extent of his atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries, which, if it extends beyond the heart to the brain, can cause hard-to-recognize changes in cognition) is unknown. Bypass surgery itself has long been associated with subtle changes in neurological function. At age 65, Cheney is easily 30 or more pounds overweight, seems to have slacked off on what was once a more rigorous diet, and appears to suffer from recurrent bouts of gout. At a roundtable lunch with reporters a couple of years ago, two who were present say, he cut his buffalo steak in bite-size pieces the moment it arrived, then proceeded to salt each side of each piece.


1) Why is this even here? SS’s take on the Burger King Ad, is that it says being a man requires eating unhealthy food. She then makes the leap from unhealthy to fat, because – why? No healthy people are fat? All thin people are healthy? All people who eat Whoppers are fat? All fat, unhealthy people got that way eating whoppers? She then jumps to Dick Cheney’s eating, because Cheney is “one of the manliest men of them all,” and he’s fat and unhealthy.

2) I really, really hate the way people feel entitled to monitor what fat celebrities eat. (And do I need to point out the obvious problems of observer bias and reporting bias?)

3) On average, folks who are 30 pounds “overweight” live as long (or slightly longer) than folks at the “ideal” weight; and there’s no evidence that losing 30 pounds would make Dick Cheney live longer.

4) Cheney’s fatness was dragged into the post because Cheney is a disliked political figure (just as Bill Clinton’s alleged chubbiness and overeating was, as I recall, brought up by conservatives back in the 90s). It is only in a climate of widely accepted prejudice against fat people that Cheney’s fatness can be used in this political fashion.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a fan of Shakespeare’s Sister. I don’t accuse her of bad motives or anything like that.

But it’s off-putting to follow a link to an ally’s site, going “oh goody, SS on the stupid Burger King commercial, this will be fun!,” only to have a metaphorical door slammed in my fat face.

Warning! Spit-Takes Ahead!

Filed under: Blogosphere,Uncategorized — Off Colfax @ 1:20 am

Proceed with caution.

I may have been bad at math tests, but never that bad.
[Turn signal: Zach Wendling of In The Agora]

May 16, 2006

Two Predictions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Off Colfax @ 4:53 pm

One: Monday's speech will keep President Bush from sinking into the sub-25% polling bracket. Indeed, it may give a temporary boost to the numbers, but nothing over 4 points.
Two: The average price of gasoline in America will reach $3.50 per gallon before the 4th of July.

(For you folks on the more civilised side of the pond, that would be .72 euro per liter. You may now commence the traditional "Hah! You think what YOU pay for petrol is bad!" uphill-both-ways-in-snow speech.)

May 12, 2006

Real Quick Question

Filed under: Blogosphere,Uncategorized — Off Colfax @ 1:22 am

Has there ever been a time when another blogger was challenged on Duncan Black's little blog where he actually linked to the person in question? Seems to me that all he does is read the blogs of those he agrees with and tosses up a quick "Yeah, me too!" comment without actually reading the entirely of the post that drew the ire of the original poster. Not even his various and frequent plugs for the Media Matters For America, the organization he works for, have any actual content.

You can see this trend most prominently whenever the phrase "paste-eater" is mentioned on Eschaton.

Time for another panel on blogger ethics? I think so.

May 3, 2006

Fairly Accurate Summation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Off Colfax @ 5:42 pm

Here's a good one-liner for folks out there:

When you realize Jane Hamsher and Michelle Malkin are the same beast on different sides of the political spectrum, we can sit down and talk.

I find nothing wrong with this statement. Of course, I'd add in Black vs. Hewitt just for gits and shiggles, but that would be fundamentally unfair to Hugh Hewitt. Even on Double-H's worse day, he's much more verbose than Duncan Black can ever be, even on his best day.

May 1, 2006

This is a great book, just ignore the back cover blurb.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ampersand @ 11:13 pm

Blogging Against Disablism DayI’m in the middle of reading Harriet McBryde Johnson’s essay collection Too Late To Die Young. I’m enjoying it; Johnson’s an excellent writer, and one of the essays included in this book, “Unspeakable Conversations,” would certainly make my “desert island” list if I had to pick ten essays rather than ten books. (By the way, Johnson’s novel, Accidents of Nature, is due to be released tomorrow).

But man, does the most prominent quote on the back cover suck. Here it is as it appears on the back cover (you can read the full review on the book’s Amazon page):

There is a small but discrete literature by writers who have experienced personal or family tragedy: William Styron on his depression, Reynolds Price on his paraplegia, Kenzaburo Oe on his brain-damaged son… To read these stories can deepen everyone’s humanity. Too Late to Die Young can proudly take its place among these other important books.

Let me just say: Oh, vomit.

If there’s any single point Johnson’s book makes, it’s that her disability is not a “tragedy.” And to say the stories of her life “deepen everyone’s humanity” is condescending in a way that reminds me of the Jerry Lewis Telethon (and Johnson makes it clear that she loathes the Telethon). Contrast the back-cover quote with this one, from Johnson’s introduction:

Because the world sets people with conspicuous disabilities apart as different, we become objects of fascination, curiosity, and analysis. We are read as avatars of misfortune and misery, stock figures in melodramas about courage and determination. The world wants our lives to fit into a few rigid narrative templates: how I conquered disability (and others can conquer their Bad Things!), how I adjusted to disability (and a positive attitude can move mountains!), how disability made me wise (you can only marvel and hope it never happens to you!), how disability brought me to Jesus (but redemption is waiting for you if only you pray).

For me, living a real life has meant resisting those formulaic narratives. Instead of letting the world turn me into a disability narrative, I have insisted on being a subject in the grammatical sense: not the passive “me” who is acted upon, but the active “I” who does things.

It’s not really in keeping with the spirit of Johnson’s book to have a back cover quote selling it as a Hallmark Inspirational Narrative ™, is it?

I realize that authors don’t get to control what the publisher puts on the back cover. But I wonder what Johnson herself thought of it. Did it piss her off? I suspect it did. Or did she think “well, maybe the people drawn in by that quote are exactly the people who need to read my book”?

By the way, this post is part of blogging against disabilism day. Follow the link if you’d like a list of other participating blogs to browse around.

April 25, 2006

An Intellectual Property Primer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brutus @ 5:59 pm

This post is preliminary to a response I have yet to compose to Adam's post on The Open Source of Art. I believe it's necessary to provide this background first, which is ruthlessly condensed from what it probably should be.

There are three principle types of intellectual property: patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Each of them awards exclusive rights over an intangible creation or tangible invention, which is balanced by a recognized need for a free flow of ideas to foster further creativity.

In the area of patents, a creation might be a business method, a design for a manufactured item, or an invention or improvement on an invention. A patent owner is given a monopoly on use and/or license of the patented creation for a period of 20 years, after which the property falls into the public domain. In obtaining patent rights, the workings of an invention become public information, and others are encouraged to design around the patent to improve technology. If disclosure is undesirable, an inventor may decide not to seek patent rights and keep the invention secret. The recipe for Coke is an example of a trade secret.

In the area of trademarks, a monopoly is granted to use a word, phrase, slogan, design, logo, or combination of these to distinguish the source of certain goods and/or services. Most of us are familiar with trademark use in connection with brand development. Trademarks are renewable in perpetuity.

In the area of copyrights, the creator of a work, such as a novel, a poem, a painting, or a musical composition, is granted a monopoly to copy, modify, distribute, perform, and display the work publicly. Copyright duration for a work created after 1976 is the life of the author plus 70 years, after which point the work falls into the public domain.

Public domain means that anyone, for any reason, can use, adapt, and/or reproduce the work without having to pay a licensing royalty to the creator or his/her assigns. Shakespearian plays are public domain, as are the writings of Thomas Jefferson, or the musical compositions of Johannes Brahms. The mere fact that something is made public does not mean that it is public domain.

U.S. intellectual property law stems from English Common Law. Intellectual property rights are granted in the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8.), which states that Congress shall have the power "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." The first United Kingdom patent was issued in London in the fifteenth century; in the U.S., the first patent was granted in 1790. The first United Kingdom trademark legislation was in the late nineteenth century; in the U.S., the first Federal trademark legislation was enacted in 1870. In the United Kingdom, the Statute of Anne from the eighteenth century established the first copyright protection; in the U.S., the first copyright law was passed in 1790.

Ongoing tension exists between the right of a creator to enjoy the fruits of his own creation and the public's desire to either make use of other's creations (often in a derivative sense) or simply copy a creative work — especially when technology allows for an efficient and low-cost or cost-free mechanism for doing so. It is considered an infringement of the rights of an intellectual property owner to defy the exclusive rights granted to him or her and enshrined in law. The government does not generally police acts of infringement. It is up to the owners of intellectual property to monitor use of a creation and to seek redress for unlawful use. Unlike other laws, a decision to not seek redress for infringement — sitting on rights — does not relinquish those rights. The monopoly includes the right to tolerate a certain level of infringement.

April 22, 2006

Food Etiquette Abroad

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brutus @ 4:28 pm

Who knew there were so many etiquette rules when dining outside the U.S.? This quiz should challenge even the most wel-travelled folks.

April 12, 2006

Schrödinger’s Fetus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tuomas @ 10:04 pm

One, often overlooked point on the debate* about Choice For Women (abortion rights) and Choice For Men (paper abortion for men):

The woman’s choice (abortion) terminates the pregnancy, and kills the embryo/fetus (blunt, but essentially true), the man’s choice does not, and the embryo/fetus can (may/may not, depending on the woman’s choice, in which the man has no direct say inside Pro-Choice framework) still grow to a born human, a person with rights.

Thus, analogous to Choice For Men would be a hypothetical situation where abortion was uncertain to succeed, and a law in which a woman’s desire/attempt to have an abortion would be enough to absolve her of parental responsibilities. In the current situation, a woman whose abortion for some reason or another fails to terminate the pregnancy (and a childbirth ensues) is just as responsible for the baby as the father is.

* It is very unfortunate (as Cathy Young, who is pro-Choice for Men, has often observed) that many times opposition to C4M merely boils down to “You should have kept your pants up”. Coming from those who are Pro-Abortion Rights, this is rampant hypocrisy. Yet I believe a good argument for supporting Abortion Rights and opposing Choice For Men exists, and needs not to be mere woman-firstism.

April 8, 2006

The American Dream Revisited

Filed under: Uncategorized — Adam Gurri @ 11:31 pm

Ok, time for my promised response to Brutus' critique of the American social model.

I don't want to muddle this discussion with more methodological bickering, so I'm going to try and play by the terms of debate that Brutus himself set up.

"I have a real problem with citing numerical data as it quickly becomes a nearly infinite regress to interpretation, methodology, who might be funding the research, and what agenda the person(s) conducting the research may have, etc. It is also quite common that numerical evidence is incomplete, skewed towards political policies or agendas, or inadvertently misleading. Moreover, there is a lot of evidence that simply does not lend itself to presentation in numerical form.

So the numbers I present below are provided rather grudgingly, lest I be accused of dreaming up my arguments out of thin air. I am probably no better than others with respect to giving evidence to support my contentions; I obviously went in search of things that support my agenda and discarded or ignored other evidence. That's my point about our fetish for numbers: they may not prove very much in the end."

Obviously in order to have a discussion at all, I'm going to have to quibble somewhere; but I will make a few promises on what I won't do.  I'm not going to pull in other studies to try and contradict yours–we can avoid an escalation of your studies vs. my studies that way.  Nor am I going to question the motives of your sources at all–I will take their arguments and their information on the merits.

I'm not going to argue with your conclusion about tax rates; I agree that they are flatter in the US than in Europe.  I disagree with you on that being a bad thing, but that's a debate for another time. 

I will, however, bicker with your conclusion about economic mobility.

Both of your sources tend to focus primarily on the frequency of the very bottom getting to the very top.  For instance, the Wallstreet Journal article states:

"Only 14% of the men born to fathers on the bottom 10% of the wage ladder made it to the top 30%. Only 17% of the men born to fathers on the top 10% fell to the bottom 30%."

Yet this does not seem so important if you consider the actual data in the first source that you provided. 

In Table 4, we see that 62% of all kids whose parents were in the bottom 20% when they were 16 have, by the time they turned 30, ended up moving up at least one quartile.  Likewise, 57% of the top quantile earners' children had moved down at least one quartile by the time they were 30.

How much more mobility can you ask for?  And if you intention is to compare the European model to the American one, then are they any more mobile?

"The chart at the very bottom of this page at the Census Bureau indicates that the median mortgage in 2004 was $1,212 and median rent was $694. Out of those with a mortgage, fully 32% of owners pay 30% or more of income for housing. (It is unclear whether that accounts for more than the mortgage.) For renters, it is 48%. I take those numbers to indicate that there are a lot of folks overextended in paying for housing. This article articulates many of the same points as above, including that the "poor entered the 1970s spending 30 percent of their income for housing; by 1995, they paid 58 percent." That is a serious burden. ABC News also has an article on the subject supporting the same points."

But what none of this addresses is whether people have been able to make their payments on time.  Because the prices would not be going up if people were unwilling to shell out the money.   If people are willing to pay more of their income to own a house, then what's the problem here?  Unless you can demonstrate that people are going bankrupt or that there is a serious loss of standard of living occurring here.  If people are able to afford to own or rent a place to live, and are willing to pay a little more to do so…well, I fail to see the trouble with that.

"There was little or no discussion of the heart of the issue, which is the relative inhumanity of the U.S. in its refusal to care for its own in comparison to most European countries' insistence upon it."

Well, ok, let's discuss it.  How easy is it for Europeans to get a new house?  How often do the very poor in Europe improve their lot within one lifetime, or if you prefer,  across a generation?  How does the standard of living for the average American compare to the average French citizen, or Spaniard, or Brit?  You could look at this in terms of consumption rates, or in terms of income, or in terms of any number of things, but it doesn't seem to me as though the evidence you've provided has painted America in anything but a positive light.

Of course, I know that you didn't pretend your information to be proof, nor will I pretend my rebuttal has any finality–but I do think that taking your sources on their merits shows nothing to be concerned about. 

The Situational Element of Natural Selection

Filed under: Uncategorized — Adam Gurri @ 3:42 pm

I knew there was a reason I wanted to start a group blog!

Over at Sophistpundit, I had just finished a post responding to a friend of mine.  We were quibbling about the relationship of economics to natural selection; my argument was that often times evolutionary biologists focused on the genetic side of natural selection, while free market economics provide an engine for situation change.

""Survival of the fittest" is of course a term which most scientists would disavow, but has none the less polluted our understanding of evolution. A single example demonstrates the absurdity of it: do we really believe that the dark-colored moth which survives when the trees match its color is "more fit" or better than the light-colored moth which is more easily discovered by predators? Or vice-versa, when the situation is reversed?"

"It is important to distance ourselves from the notion that evolution makes things progressively superior. What it is is the weening out of those things which had thrived under a situational advantage when the circumstances alter and they are unable to cope. It may very well be that the situation will return to the way it was previously, when that species had the advantage–but the species has died in the interim and all we are left with are the ones who could survive and may now once again meet a disadvantage."

Having completed that behemoth, I returned to make good on my promise to Ampersand that I would respond at length to our debate in the comments section of a previous post.  I intended to use this notion of situational evolution to explain memes in the manner that I had just finished using it to explain economics.

But lo and behold, Tuomas has beaten me to the punch.  His post is far more profound, and technically adept, than anything I could have produced.

"Ampersand commented: Also, I’d point out that even the concept of a “self-destructive idea” is dubious. It’s probably more accurate to say that an idea is self-destructive in a certain environment; that same idea may be harmless in a different environment.

I’d say it goes further than that, I’d say an idea that is self-destructive in some environment is actually good in some other, and tends to spread."

This is basically the heart of what I was trying to get at when I spoke of situational evolution; that nothing is the "fittest" except for in specific circumstances.

It's probably obvious that when I used the example of a "self-destructive idea", I was grasping at straws in the middle of a debate that was quickening in pace.  I'd like to take a moment to flesh it out a bit.

Look at the Shakers.   If you want a direct link between procreation of flesh and of ideas, look no further than this odd little religious anomaly.  Believers in strict celibacy, they were applauded for their virtue, but I'll let you guess how many of them are still around today.

It is true that memes can spread by other means.  But once again, I can't add anything to Tuomas' poignant conclusion on this one:

"since memes are fairly resilient in themselves, as is obviously the choice in game theory tactics, due to the fact that humans have a both natural and cultural tendency to become attached to pet theories (possibly fed to them by upbringing and culture), I believe the demographic problem is quite real, and not sufficiently debunked by “let’s spread memes, not genes” -meme (heh)."

A good case can be made that breeding is one of the largest variables in the survival of a meme, and when coupled with upbringing, it may very well be the most crucial element.

On Non-Adaptive Memes and Game Theory, Politics and Demographics

Filed under: International Politics,Uncategorized — Tuomas @ 1:05 pm

This post and the excellent discussion it spawned prompted some reflection. Go read it if you haven't already.


Memes are not always spread in a free marketplace of ideas, thus ideas do not die and prosper simply by their validity. Some memes have defense mechanisms make them remarkably resistent to conversion, and this resistance is further increased by social pressure and even laws (that are usually part of the meme). Nowhere is this more apparent than in religion: Religious communities punish those who leave them by ostracism, or even by death. Classical liberal values have to be whole lot better as ideas to compete (as they do not punish wrong thinking), or ironically, a free society must be an exclusive club for like-minded people.

There also seems to be a persistent meme that views non-adaptiveness as a virtue (no doubt furthered by other non-adaptive memes) , that views people who adapt to new situations as "reactionaries", or "traitors to the cause", and it seems that generally "my way or the highway" – thinking is held up as a sign of assertiveness and strength of character. This thinking is readily apparent on the far-left and the far-right. Political memes, unlike religion, generally view themselves as rational (and the opponents as irrational). Nicely demonstrated by the terms/descriptions some blogs with definite echo-chamber quality use for themselves: "Anti-idiotarian headquarters", or "Reality-based community" (I'm not going to provide links, but if you're at all familiar with the blogosphere, these should be familiar terms).

That was a preamble for talking about Game Theory.

Ampersand commented:
Also, I’d point out that even the concept of a “self-destructive idea” is dubious. It’s probably more accurate to say that an idea is self-destructive in a certain environment; that same idea may be harmless in a different environment.

I'd say it goes further than that, I'd say an idea that is self-destructive in some environment is actually good in some other, and tends to spread. In the prisoner's dilemma variation, theoretically "the tough but fair" is good (alway cooperates at first, but always cheats those who have cheated him). However, I don't believe this is the best one in modern first-world situations, as it completely lacks the benefit of doubt -aspect and forgiveness, which are usually quite useful in normal social dealings. Thus, I suspect that the model of reciprocal cooperation is, due to the privileged position of most first-worlders (hey, I used the dreaded language of privilege), subverted by the always cooperates -model, which tends to give fairly good outcomes (as the success of the Scandinavian welfare state indicates)in optimal conditions, among like-minded people.

On to politics.
This wouldn't be a problem, if the rational, forgiving and generally nice people just hanged out with each other. Someone steals? Oh, that happens, let's not get all out of shape for that. Bad day, he won't do it again. Someone gets violent? What made him that way? Did I say something wrong? Let's seek understanding. What do you mean we are at war with people who say they are at war with us? What are you, some reactionary?

Such thinking will look naive (hint: check the date. And sorry for beating the dead horse, this was just too good to let pass) in less-than-optimal conditions, and is self-destructive.

And since memes are fairly resilient in themselves, as is obviously the choice in game theory tactics, due to the fact that humans have a both natural and cultural tendency to become attached to pet theories (possibly fed to them by upbringing and culture), I believe the demographic problem is quite real, and not sufficiently debunked by "let's spread memes, not genes" -meme (heh).

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