The Problem of Prediction

Nobody asked but …

Time is an abstraction.  It is not a thing.  More of us should understand this idea, and its implications.  I would recommend, highly, the book, Time: The Familiar Stranger, by J. T. Fraser for the beginning of understanding this idea.  (I first read this book about 10 years ago, but I continue to realize ideas from it frequently.)

There are events, each being an instance of the things that happen in time.  An event is both an abstraction AND a thing AND a set of things (people, places, connections, points in time, and other things) which help us to answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, and how.

The important individualist, voluntaryist idea is to take your proper place in the space-time continuum.  A few days ago, I was listening to the wonderful interview of Donald Boudreaux by Russ Roberts, presented as part of the Voluntaryist Voices podcasts on EVC, among other places. These two definitely have handles on locating things (including themselves) economically in the space-time continuum.

Another way to describe this type of orienteering is to say that one must know where and when you are in order to reference where and when anything else is.  If we are connected to reality, we have reasonable contact with facts, nature, and laws.  But the use of “reality” in this context refers to reality, not so much to news reports, books, movies, tv shows, and internet fare — the most confusing feedback we get is referred feedback.  Think about it … if you are a deer in the sights of a hunter’s rifle, you are experiencing reality, probably.  If you are watching Bambi, not so much reality.  First of all, one must shed the idea that “reality tv” bears any relationship to reality — other than it has some concrete, although perhaps misleading, parts.

Where is your portal to reality?  It is in the here and now, directly as accessed through your five senses?  The present is the only time and space you can sense as it unfolds.  You can only recollect the past, remembering with a fast fade the factual feelings you had just a few moments ago, and you can reconstruct that which you have been told — some correct, some accidently wrong, and a great deal absolutely wrong (often with malice of forethought).  Then it is with sensations of the present, and guidance from the past, that you can make fallible predictions about the near future, the very near future.  For instance, in traffic you know that a green light proposes a relatively safe passage … but not perfectly.  As soon as you try to go further into the future, your chance of being incorrect ascends exponentially.  A minute, an hour, a day are rapidly widening gaps.  In the end, all seers are totally wrong in substantial ways.

— Kilgore Forelle

 

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Real Democracy Requires a Separation of Money and State

As we enter a new year, the running battle between the world’s governments and the world-changing technology known as “cryptocurrency” continues. As 2019 drew to an end, Swiss president Ueli Maurer asserted that Facebook’s digital currency (not a real cryptocurrency), Libra, has failed “because central banks will not accept the basket of currencies underpinning it.”

Politicians want to regulate — or, if possible, kill — cryptocurrency.

Large firms like Facebook want to capture cryptocurrency’s potential without rocking those governments’ boats.

Cryptocurrency advocates want democracy. Yes, democracy.

Of all the important words in the English language, “democracy” (from the Greek demokratia, “rule by the people”) may be the most fuzzily defined. Some people define it in terms of raw majoritarianism, others as one of various forms of representative government.

I define “democracy” in words used by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. “Democracy,” to my mind, is government that enjoys the “consent of the governed.”

Not just the consent of 50% plus one of the governed, and certainly not just the consent of a few big players who can afford lobbyists and bribes to get their way, but the consent of ALL the governed.

One major hinge on which the door of democracy as I define it swings is control of money — who may create it, how it may be used, and what portion of it must be handed over to government for “public” uses those paying the bills may or may not approve of.

Involuntary taxation is the opposite of the consent of the governed. It’s the opposite of democracy. We can have financial regulators and central banks, or we can have democracy. We can’t have both.

Cryptocurrency threatens the reign of government over money. It bodes a future in which, as an old antiwar slogan puts it, the Air Force will have to hold a bake sale if it wants to buy a new bomber.

That’s the future I want. It’s also the future that politicians, regulators and central bankers fear.

They don’t want to have to ASK you to fund their schemes.  They’re not interested in requesting your consent. They prefer to simply demand your compliance.

The ability to anonymously handle our finances without reporting them to government or involuntarily giving it a cut is a revolutionary development. And it’s here, now. More and more of us are using cryptocurrency, and the politicians are panicking.

While cryptocurrency won’t entirely kill involuntary taxation — land can’t be easily hidden, so we can expect property taxes to persist — it will make the global economy harder for governments to manipulate and milk.

The inevitable future of cryptocurrency, absent a new Dark Age in which we all go back to plowing with mules and reading rotting old books by candlelight, is a future without income and sales taxes (to name two of the biggest and most pernicious).

The ruling class will do everything it can to prevent the coming separation of money and state.

They’ll fail. And democracy will flourish. See you at the bake sale.

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A Modest Proposal for Improving Senate Impeachment Trials

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) makes no bones about his position on the likely upcoming impeachment trial of US president Donald Trump. “I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind,” he tells CNN International’s Becky Anderson. “I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.”

Well, okay, then. Graham has publicly disqualified himself as, and should be excused from serving as, a juror.

Republican politicians, including Graham, have spilled quite a bit of verbiage whining — ineffectually and incorrectly — about a lack of  “due process” in the House segment of the impeachment drama.

Their errors on those claims are simple: Impeachment isn’t a criminal prosecution, nor is a House impeachment inquiry a trial.

There won’t be any “nature and cause of the accusation” for Trump to be “informed of” until the House passes articles of impeachment.

If impeachment was a criminal matter,  he would be constitutionally entitled “to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence” at trial. And in fact he will be treated as entitled to those things, even in the Senate’s non-criminal equivalent.

But Graham and friends want to talk about due process, so let’s talk about due process.

In addition to those aforementioned items, the Sixth Amendment also mandates “an impartial jury.”

If you’re accused of armed robbery, your brother won’t be allowed to serve on the jury at your trial. Neither will the bank teller who was ordered to stuff money in a sack at gunpoint, or the police officer who arrested you, or anyone else who’s known to likely be prejudiced either way.

Is there any particular reason why the due process requirements Graham hails as paramount wouldn’t mandate a similar standard for impeachment trials in the US Senate? I can’t think of one.

In Senate trials of impeachment cases, the Chief Justice of the United States (in the current controversy, John Roberts) presides as judge.

Once the House passes articles of impeachment, Roberts should order his clerks to drop everything else and get to work examining the public statements of all 100 members of the US Senate. His first order of business at the trial should be to excuse any and all Senators who have publicly announced their prejudices on Trump’s guilt or innocence from “jury duty.”

Yes, Democrats too. That should come as a relief to several Democratic presidential aspirants who would probably rather spend their time on the 2020 campaign trail than as impeachment jurors.

The Constitution only requires the votes of 2/3 of US Senators PRESENT at the trial to convict, so excusing those members who have announced their prejudice and partiality wouldn’t prevent a valid verdict.

Would “impeachment voir dire” render future impeachments more “fair” and less “partisan?” Probably not. But it would at least spare us some theatrics from the likes of Lindsey Graham by making pretrial silence a condition of participation.

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NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog; Euthanize It

In early November, French president Emmanuel Macron complained that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization  (NATO) is experiencing “brain death” as its member states go their own ways, with “no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making.” US president Donald Trump’s reply: “Nobody needs NATO more than France.” The two continued their duel over NATO’s future at an early December meeting of the alliance’s members in London.

Unfortunately, 2019 Trump isn’t nearly as smart as 2016 Trump, who noted that “NATO is obsolete.” In fact, it became obsolete 25 years before Trump called the fact to our attention. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact — the two enemies NATO was supposedly formed to protect Europe from — dissolved in 1991.

Wars of offensive choice, rather than defensive necessity, followed in the Balkans and Libya. NATO participated for more than a decade in the  US occupation of Afghanistan. Its current direction includes dangerous membership overtures to Ukraine and Georgia — countries bordering, and overtly hostile to, Russia.  NATO’s claim to be a “defensive” alliance of any kind has long ceased to pass the laugh test.

If the organization was merely brain dead or obsolete, that would still be good reason to dissolve it. But it’s actually far worse than that.

If there’s any real logic to NATO’s continued existence, that logic probably centers around its $1 trillion annual expenses. That’s a lot of money fed into the maws of various military industrial complexes by an entrenched multi-national bureaucracy who love their own paychecks, pensions, and prerogatives.

Maintaining those two welfare programs requires NATO to operate as an active and perpetual threat to world peace, a rabid dog wandering the globe in foaming-mouthed search of opportunities to “defend itself” against opponents who represent no threat whatsoever to it or to its member states.

Even if it attempted to maintain a truly defensive posture, NATO would still be too dangerous to keep around. Its 29 member states, stretching as far east as Turkey, each have their own grudges among each other and with external parties. Sooner or later, an otherwise insignificant spark is bound to set the whole book of matches alight.

When a person is brain dead, we mercifully turn off the ventilator. When an organization is obsolete, we shut it down and move on. And when a rabid dog threatens the neighborhood, we shoot it before it can bite us or our neighbors.

Nearly 30 years late is better than never. Let’s euthanize NATO.

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Instead of Acting Rich, Take Advantage of Your Time Billionaire Status

There are few things we young people like more than competing for status. Unfortunately, we’re often tempted in the direction of acquiring status by buying stuff we can’t afford so we can fool people into thinking we have wealth we don’t have.

Look – it’s not cool to flout riches under any circumstances. But if we absolutely *must*, why not flout our richness in time? Let’s act like the time billionaires we are.

Real monetary wealth (as opposed to rented Ferraris) comes with wisdom and age for most. But ask any 40 or 50-something what they wish they had, and they would covet what we young people have to spare: time.

Sure – we can’t afford Ferraris in our 20s. But we have ample time to restart a career in the automotive industry. We have the time to actually go to work for Ferrari, or any car company of our choosing (Tesla) and retrain, climb ladders, and build careers working around cars we love. The 60 year-old executive who can finally buy one of their vehicles can’t do that so easily.

We can’t afford houses, but we can learn how to build them. We can’t afford home cinemas, but we can dabble in acting. We can’t afford elite universities, but we can afford to spend weeks reading whatever books we want.

Why do we not find this luxurious in itself? We still have relatively limitless potential, (most) of the time in the world to realize it, and even some time for mistakes. Instead of cashing in on our futures by indulging in extravagant physical things, wouldn’t it be much more satisfying to indulge in extravagant uses of our time? *That’s* high-status in its own way.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Trump Sentences Accused War Criminals to Death

On November 15, US president Donald Trump pardoned two US Army officers accused of war crimes (one convicted, the other awaiting trial ).

Trump also re-promoted US Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher from Petty Officer First Class to Chief Petty Officer. Gallagher was convicted of a minor war crime (posing for a photo with a corpse) after he was accused of murdering the victim, but acquitted when a fellow sailor swung a deal for immunity, then reversed his testimony and claimed responsibility for the murder.

When he learned that the Navy intended to remove Gallagher from duty as a SEAL, Trump intervened again, by tweet —  “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin” — and had Richard Spencer fired as Secretary of the Navy for not treating the tweet as an order.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize Trump’s actions, but I only have room in this column for one of those reasons:

He has effectively sentenced future US soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to battlefield execution.

Gallagher’s crimes were reported by his SEAL comrades.

He was investigated and charged with those crimes by the Navy itself, which has morale and publicity incentives to only go after “the worst of the worst” for actions on the battlefield.

He was tried and convicted by a jury of his military peers in a process that actually offers more protections for defendants than the civilian justice system (for example, an enlisted defendant can demand that at least one third of the jury be enlisted personnel rather than officers).

When Trump short-circuited that process — first with the pardon, then with the re-promotion, and finally with the demand that Gallagher be allowed to return to his former unit — he very loudly sent a message to every member of the US armed forces:

“When you have a bad actor in your midst, take care of the problem yourselves. If you go through the proper channels, that bad actor will get off with little or no punishment and be sent right back to your ranks.”

Above and beyond the damage done to their direct victims, war criminals endanger their fellow troops. They make enemies out of people who might otherwise remain neutral or even friendly. They motivate those enemies to fight harder and to seek harsh vengeance.

If the military justice system doesn’t charge, try, and punish people whose crimes endanger their comrades because the president panders for votes from “support the troops” types, the (unsupported) troops will deal with such matters on the spot.

We who are veterans can attest to “blanket parties” for serial screw-ups,  “dry showers” with scrub brushes for guys who don’t maintain  personal hygiene in close living quarters, and other “light” punishments for minor offenses.

For endangering the lives of comrades, military vigilantism extends all the way to summary execution. In Vietnam, it was referred to as “fragging.”

Trump isn’t sparing future Eddie Gallaghers their punishments. He’s just robbing them of their rightful day in court.

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