US Citizens: Wake Up

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 22nd, 2011

If people were paying attention, they would already know things have gotten pretty crazy in the world regarding civil liberties. This is just a really blatant example… how clear does it have to get before people notice? (Presumably, when they are shipped to a secret prison…)

Your Money or Your Rights

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 17th, 2011

There seems to be a steady erosion of civil and personal rights: surveillance without warrants, erosion of free expression, removal of habeas corpus, extra-judicial killings, police brutality, privatization of intellectual, and cultural material and so on. There is also a stagnation or worsening of living standards and social mobility. When I debate these issues, people often mention that we cannot afford civil rights, given the turbulent economic situation. The time for civil rights is apparently when “the economy has recovered”. However, when we return to a stable (or bubble) economic conditions, people don’t have as much need of civil rights, since everything seems peachy, and they are moved off the political agenda. So when is the time for civil rights?

We are presented with a false dichotomy: go along with pro-monopoly, pro-totalitarian laws (under the guise of being pro-business) or face economic ruin. In other words, surrender your civil rights or starve. Given the prevalence of consumerism, people choose “bread and circuses” over seemingly abstract speech and political rights. However, much that we agree is worth protecting is based on those very principles of the rule of law, checks and balances, habeas corpus, free exchange of ideas, and various other enlightenment ideas (although many of the ideas originated well before then). Once you kick out the foundation and hand power over to a police, theocratic or fascist state, there is nothing stopping some authority figure taking whatever you wanted to protect in the first place and you won’t have any recourse.

Arguably, we already have lost our connection to these foundations and handed over political power to banking technocrats. Oh well. I take comfort in the sentiments expressed in the US declaration of independence.

Anti Citizen One

PS Looking back at this, I notice a certain similarity with Klein’s The Shock Docrine.
PPS Despotism Circa 1945

Acta Treaty

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 1st, 2011

Socially Learned Responses to Alchohol Consumption

Posted by Anti Citizen One on October 12th, 2011

In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.

The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol. Kate Fox

That is insightful, particularly we consider moralists who try to tackle social problems – they always confuse the effect (drinking alcohol) with the cause (being a violent person who has socially conditioned to only act that way after drinking).

The Death of Big Ideas

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 16th, 2011

We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information. Where are you going? What are you doing? Whom are you seeing? These are today’s big questions. NEAL GABLER

PS Russell: The Divorce Between Science and Culture

BBC: Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 5th, 2011

It is part of the mainstream Dutch Protestant Church, and the service is conventional enough, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord’s Prayer. But the message from Mr Hendrikse’s sermon seems bleak – “Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get”.

“Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death,” Mr Hendrikse says. “No, for me our life, our task, is before death.” BBC

Voting Systems, Yes2AV

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 17th, 2011

With the UK having a referendum about changing voting systems, I thought I’d say a word. Many countries have a representational system of democracy. Of course, one democratic alternative is direct democracy, where the electorate directly make laws, and appoint officials. In a representational system, the representatives perform the law making and executive functions and are selected by the electorate. The question is “how do we select the representatives?”.

A side note is that many philosophers and commentators recognise that the decisions that most affect our lives are not even taken by politicians! Most famous philosophers seem to be anti-democracy (Plato, Nietzsche), but I exclude polemicists, such as Thomas Paine, who often fall back on “natural rights” as a basis for democracy. Anyway…

Regarding Alternative Vote

Alternative voting system attempts to select the candidate with the most broad support of the electorate. If an electoral representative is intended to represent the views of the electorate, than AV matches the intention of an ideal system! The extent that AV succeeds in “broad support” candidate selection is a matter of dispute. Also, the UK is working with single candidates representing a single constituency, which is an un-proportional system. A proportional system would be better than AV in having the overall selection of representatives better reflect the overall views of the electorate. Given this constraint, AV seems like a step in the right direction but is imperfect compared to a PR system. The popular vote of the winning party has been scandalously low in recent elections – the winning party in 2005 with a large majority had a popular vote of 35.2%!

One interesting objection is the order candidates are eliminated in voting rounds can change the outcome of the final result. This can lead to some votes having an apparently larger influence. I am NOT referring to the fatuous claim that AV votes are counted more than once and it defies “one person, one vote” – that is simply an abuse of terminology and a play on words. (Each person has one vote under AV, but one or more preferences.) The candidate eliminator order quirk would probably be a rare event considering normal voting conditions and in the overall formation of parliaments. However in cases when there is no clear front runner candidate, it can make the outcome rather sensitive to one or two votes. However the resultant candidate would still have to gain a reasonable popular support, so in a way AV still fulfils its function.

An alternative voting system can be changed in future to a semi-proportional system AV+. Or it can be replaced with a fully PR system some point in the future. If AV is rejected, I think PR would be made even less politically feasible, so I recommend that PR supporters ignore any distaste of AV and tactically vote for it, as a stepping stone to a more ideal solution.

Regarding First Past the Post

The main advantage I can see of FPtP is that it is simple to implement. Frankly, electorate understanding of how political systems work is not really of critical importance (although it would be a bonus), as long as it resulted in good candidate selection (however you define “good”). But this simplicity is useful in disputed counts, were one or two votes can change the result. A FPtP is quicker to recount than AV. However helpful that is to individual candidates, this is not a significant benefit to a typical overall election outcome.

Another claim is that FPtP leads to strong governments. Apparently AV would have produced similar results in recent UK elections. However, who is to say voters would vote in the same way if the election system changes? But strong governments have not served us well, leading to presidential running of the UK leading to various fool’s wars and economic bubbles. I am not sure narrow majorities or politicians would serve us better, but they have been selected by a wider base of support. I guess if it all goes wrong, a larger proportional of the electorate is “responsible”…

A major problem with FPtP is of candidates splitting support when in fact they are similar in policies. If there are some hypothetical political positions A and B, with politician X supporting A and politicians Y and Z supporting B. It is often the case that although support for politicians that think B, the votes are divided between Mr Y and Mrs Z. This leads to politician X winning under FPtP, who then implements unpopular policy A. This phenomena has a large effect on the overall balance of candidate selection but FPtP poor in addressing it.

In Conclusion

Yes to AV!



Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 6th, 2010

Why do news agencies repeatedly report the various condemnations of leaked information being publish, without challenging it? As I understand it, the documents released are done in partnership with the news agencies themselves – and if there were any blame, they are at least as responsible as wikileaks and Julian Assange! The news agencies should stand up to this indirect criticism, which is effectively governments criticising the freedom of the press. The press tacitly acknowledges it things the information is in the public interest; otherwise they wouldn’t have published it. Perhaps this defence has already begun as the International Federation of Journalists has issued a statement condemning the backlash against wikileaks.

I found Hillary Clinton’s condemnation of the leaks is very ironic. She is responsible for that information. If that information leaks, lives would be put “at risk”, at least according to her. So that information should be carefully controlled. This information was not sufficiently protected – as shown by the recent leak. She is therefore negligent. Governments should learn that electronic records held in a database are at risk of abuse and unauthorised access. They should be distributed and properly secured – the weakest link is the human – particularly if there is no one who “watches the watcher”. Or as wikileaks puts it:

Big brother is watching. So are we.

I am apparently in a minority that agrees with wikileak’s stance – freedom of information is more important than saving embarrassment of politicians and civil servants. Accurate information is essential in a healthy democracy – voters need information to be informed. If politicians don’t like this, “if its too hot, get out of the kitchen”. Unfortunately, governments are generally interested in releasing information that fits their agenda. The “dodgy dossier” springs to mind. Freedom of information is too important to be left to the politicians. Admittedly, diplomacy has historically involved keeping secrets. Tradition is not, in inself, a reason for secrecy. A possible compromise between the need to protect negotations while satisfying the need for transparency: a 12 month limit on secrecy of documents would enable people, who would often still be in office, to be held accountable. Government practices, including mass surveillance, secrecy, large central databases and assuming new powers are all typical methods for centralising power. We need to challenge the assumption that centralising power and control is always a good thing.

Anti Citizen One

PS is their current IP
PPS The previous batch of leaks was similarly claimed to put lives at risk, but more recently, no evidence has been found of that was available that lives were lost.

PPPPS. Julian Assange has been arrested. I regard this as pressure applied to individuals that undermine state power. Hopefully he doesn’t end up like David Kelly. As JMS wrote:

Your credibility has become a threat to their credibility.

Universities and Employment

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 4th, 2010

The UK university teaching funding by taxation was cut by 80%. This effectively shifts the burden of paying for undergraduate university tuition to the students. The living cost of university is already paid for by students – or if my limited experience is anything to go by – their parents. The funding changes will massively increase the burden on students and their parents. I am perhaps an idealist; I think that learning for it’s own sake is worth pursuing for its own sake. Of course, it has the secondary benefit of being economically wise to have an educated work force. Funding for access to learning is repellent. UK social mobility has been reducing and I would not be surprised if university fees are a regressive policy.

This is compounded by many graduates struggling to find an appropriate job, based on their training and aspirations. OK, yes most get a job – but most jobs don’t really require a degree. What is the point in training superfluous graduates? The oversupply has increased competition so one almost needs a law degree to get a job in a cafe (being a job not really requiring a degree). This is a waste of resources and an absurdity. Students are being charged for something that society doesn’t need.

Several ideas come to mind:

  • More jobs should be created that require a degree level of training.
  • Universities stay funded by taxation and abolish student fees.
  • Limit places on courses where jobs don’t exist. This includes most of the “soft” degree subjects.
  • Reduce the university places by 80%, in line with the funding cut. This option is strangely tempting.

The lib dems agonising over their commitment to abolish student fees, only to now increase fees is poetically tragic (but not the outcome I would have preferred). The target to have 50% of students go to university seems unnecessary to me. I love learning, but I doubt that 50% of students want to get a degree just for fun! Even economically, it doesn’t make sense apart from the lack of jobs. So basically employment is messed up, therefore universities are messed up.

Having students end university in massive debt is not a good place to be. Of course they will gradually pay it back, but our society already relies too much on debt. As the vastness of the debts increase, people are reduced to economic slavery and, if we lose confidence they will pay up, we have financial crises. That’s what seems to have caused the recent recession: too much debt.

I also think we might abandon our fractional-reserve banking. It’s only of the few things the abrahamic religions got right. Usury is – or was – a sin. It’s yet another ethical choice that is not closely examined by religious believers (at least in my very limited experience).

Anti Citizen One

PS I have been watching “Ian Hislop’s Age of the Do-Gooders”, and I note there are at least two reforming trends he highlights: the rise of meritocracy over hereditary aristocracy, and improvements in conditions of the working class. This ideas are often distinct.
PPS The “Ancient Worlds” documentary is also good. I really dig the most recent programme that pointed out civilisations created by armies (e.g. Alexander the Great) actually achieved very little impact on history and people’s lives, but ideas created and dispersed can change EVERYTHING.

There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come. Hugo

The greatest events – are not our noisiest, but our stillest hours. Not around the inventors of new noise, but around the inventors of new values, doth the world revolve; inaudibly it revolveth. Nietzsche

Justification for Torture and Other Ramblings

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 9th, 2010

It’s really grinds my gears when I hear attempts to justify torture. George W Bush recently said water boarding saved lives. This is NOT a valid justification for torture, simply because there is no valid justification AT ALL. (Well OK there probably are hypothetical situations that I might support torture, but they don’t occur in recent times, like the trolley problem.) Until this “torture is OK” attitude is fixed, any military interventions based on “liberating” countries, or criticising countries for human rights abuses is complete hypocrisy. We need to prosecute those who practise torture. Now.

No person shall be […] deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. US Constitution, Fifth Amendment.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. Eighth Amendment

It is also questionable that we should be trading with countries that practise torture – we are complicit in their torturing (benefiting from oppression) and we supply logistics (airports for rendition, etc), equipment, diplomatic assistance that enables them to carry on torturing. Unfortunately, that includes most countries. This makes globalisation highly questionable.

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee. Beyond Good and Evil

The UK is apparently building two aircraft carries it doesn’t need. Since the government would be responsible for the cost of winding down the shipyards if the orders were cancelled, it is cheaper to build them, apparently. A third option that occurred to me: cancel the aircraft carries, keep the yards open and build something useful! At a last resort, it could be warships – but make them ships that are more appropriate to actual needs. On the other hand, wasting military spending would probably lead to a safer world. The MOD might be up for a nobel peace prize?

The government also said it plans to force “some” long term unemployed to do manual work for continuation of social benefits. The criteria of who exactly they plan to force into work is not exactly defined, as far as I know. The devil is in the detail. But considering we don’t have full employment, it seems unfair to force people to work, when there are not enough real jobs.

That reminds me of the university funding debacle. The university budget has been cut by 40% (£4.2bn from £7.1bn), with the costs passed to students. Most students will not have significant funds for their own development and will accrue large debts. This creep of debt to the majority of the population (not to mention the house mortgage system) is a form of economic slavery. The ban on collecting interest is one of the few things I agree with in the Qur’an and the Bible. Except most believers seem to have ignored this teaching. Although I have a love of learning (and therefore of free education), I see the current increase in university places as farcical, unnecessary and potentially counter productive as economics increases its hold on university policy.

To connect the employment and university issues, we seem to be training graduates for non-existent jobs. OK, some jobs exist that require that level of study – but too much is being made of the “need” for a degree to get a job. Most jobs don’t need it – it is only the under-supply of employment that makes competition for the job intense – and drives the need for practically superfluous degrees. Full employment has some interesting economic consequences. A job guarantee program might be better than forcing manual labour on virtual benefit slaves.

Rant concluded.

Anti Citizen One