Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Examining Cipolla’s “Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, Part II: The ‘Intelligent’ Group

"In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous."  - Robert G. Ingersoll

To expand on my first article discussing Carlo M. Cippola’s essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, I want to look at each of the four categories in detail.  Today’s focus is on the ‘intelligent’ group and where they are (and are not) in society.

Cipolla’s definition of an intelligent person is one who tends to usually make a gain while yielding a gain to another.  Or put more generally, one who contributes to society while at the same time producing a benefit for themselves.  This definition is a little different than what most people think of as ‘intelligence’, i.e. smarts and quickness of thought.  But I think it is a more accurate definition, at least when considering intelligence in the framework of an entire society.  How many smart people do you know that, despite being quick-thinking or very well-read or a math-whiz, manage to act in a manner that is nonproductive or even counterproductive to either their own or society’s welfare?  Such people may be ‘smart’, but not ‘intelligent’.  Depending on whether they themselves or society as a whole realizes a loss, they would instead fit in the intelligent subgroupings of the ‘helpless’ or ‘bandit’ groups, respectively.

At the same time, this definition would include people that most would not normally consider to be “intelligent”.  Borrowing from popular culture, Forrest Gump would be a good example.  The character may be slow-thinking and not prone to deep thought, but at the same time he’s aware of his limitations and still manages to go through life and not only benefit himself (becoming wealthy) yet also yield a benefit to others and society (opening a successful business among other things).  Sure it’s an extreme example and a story involving quite a bit of luck, but it still applies.  His sort-of-girlfriend Jenny on the other hand, despite being quicker of thought than Forrest, would fall in the ‘helpless’ category for most of her life as she was often a victim of others and her own self-destructive behaviors.

So who are the intelligent people in our society?  From this definition, it would include anyone whose lot in life improves while at the same time making a positive contribution to society, even if it’s a small one.  This would be the small, mid-size, or large business owner that offers a useful service or product to society while providing people with the opportunity for employment.  Or the scientists, engineers, inventors, artists, and ‘creators’ who not only bring new technologies, ideas, and useful or aesthetic things into existence.  Or the doctors, nurses, and researchers that actually improve peoples’ health or expand the frontiers of medical knowledge (note that this doesn’t include ALL doctors and such… there’s a good number that would fit in the ‘bandit’ category, otherwise the dysfunctional state of American health care could not exist).  Or the blue-collar tradesman (carpenter, mechanic, plumber, etc.) or service provider (trucker, janitor, repairman, housecleaner, etc.) who manages to contribute a net positive to society, even if it’s a small contribution, while still managing to save and turn that income into a better life for themselves and their families (it may be a lot harder these days for such people to personally prosper in these occupations, but it still does happen).  The scale of the combined benefits to both society and themselves may put one person like more solidly in this category than another person, but as long there IS a net benefit realized for both themselves and society they’d both be considered ‘intelligent’.  

As for myself?  Well I suppose there are very few who don’t think of themselves as being in the ‘intelligent’ group, right?  I admit that I do, but I will also be the first to admit that my current contributions to society and the benefits I’m receiving in my career are not nearly as big as they should be.  Without going into detail, I currently work at an IT job that, while providing some small benefit to the government organization for which my company works, is not producing that much of an overall benefit to society.  Part of it is the nature of the work, but the greater part of it is the fact that the client is a government organization that is horribly run and inefficient (though by comparison its parent organization and other government agencies it’s probably a top performer).  In fact if I were to judge my contribution to society based solely on my current job, given my job’s decent salary but minimal societal contribution I’d probably be really close to that line crossing from the ‘intelligent’ group to the ‘bandit’ group, just because the job's effective contribution to society is so minimal.  And that is the biggest reason I will not only be leaving my job next year, but do something entirely different by striking out on my own.  I feel if one has the means and opportunity to do something greater, to not at least try for it is not only cheating oneself but is also a bit of a slap in the face to those who never get the same opportunities.

So I challenge you to ask yourself this.... how would you rate your job's or career's true contribution to society?  Are you contributing, or are you actually taking more than you give?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Link of the Week

Presented without comment, because it needs none….
(From kitchenette.jezebel.com)

“Ill-founded or just plain lying negative reviews on Yelp are usually a reason for restaurant owners to lose sleep, as are Yelp's extortionist business practices. The owners of one restaurant near San Francisco, CA, however, have come up with the best and snarkiest possible solution to the problem.

Chefs and co-owners Davide Cerritini and Michele Massimo of Botto Italian Bistro in Richmond, CA (both originally from Tuscany) finally got tired of Yelp's attempts to extort money from them through repeated "advertising inquiries" and review manipulation (a practice which, let's remind everyone, a federal judge recently ruled was totally OK).* Cerritini says he would be happy to not even participate in Yelp's dog-and-pony show and has asked them to be removed entirely from their site, but Yelp never responded. So what did Cerritini and Massimo do to finally address the problem? Did they just grin and bear it, like 99% of all restaurants that regularly have to deal with Yelp's garbage? Was their response thereafter to send a sternly-worded letter to Yelp? Perhaps they sought the advice of legal counsel?

NOPE. Their answer to the problem was way, way funnier than any of those: they started offering discounts (25% off any pizza and a chance to win a cooking class) for any customer who left them a 1-star Yelp review. You read that correctly: they are deliberately bringing their review average as low as possible in an effort to f*** with Yelp.”

You can read the full article (including some hilarious user reviews) here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Examining Cipolla’s "Basic Laws of Human Stupidity"

I came across a real gem recently; an old essay from historian Carlo M. Cipolla (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_M._Cipolla ) called the “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” (http://harmful.cat-v.org/people/basic-laws-of-human-stupidity/).  I’m not necessarily accepting the essay as the definitive truth on the subject, but I do find most of it rather compelling and worth pondering.  The laws of stupidity he outlines are as follows:

First Law

We always underestimate the number of stupid people.

Not as obvious as it sounds, because:

1.people we had thought to be rational and intelligent suddenly turn out to be unquestionably stupid;

2.day after day we are hampered in whatever we do by stupid people who invariably turn up in the least appropriate places, and

3.the underestimation is after the first law itself is already accounted for.

Second Law

The probability of a person being stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

Third (and Golden) Law

A stupid person is someone who causes damage to another person, or a group of people, without any advantage accruing to himself (or herself) — or even with some resultant self-damage.

Fourth Law

Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid people. They constantly forget that at any moment, and in any circumstance, associating with stupid people invariably constitutes an expensive mistake.

Fifth Law

A stupid person is the most dangerous person in existence.

The essay also breaks people into 4 general categories (to help define the differences, he gives the case where one person conducts a transaction with another person): 

1) the ‘helpless’ – a person who ends up suffering a loss while producing the gain to the other.
2) the ‘intelligent’ - a person who can make a gain at the same time while yielding a gain to the other. 
3) the ‘bandits’ – a person who makes a gain while causing a loss to the other. 
4) the ‘stupid’ - a person who, like the third law states, causes losses to others while deriving no gain and sometimes even incurring losses himself.

It further breaks the helpless and the bandits each into two subcategories: those that tend towards intelligence, and those that tend towards stupidity.  For example, the ‘bandits’ who tend towards stupidity tend to realize gains less than the losses they incur on the others (i.e. the thug who smashes your car window and ruins your dash to steal your car stereo), whereas the ‘bandits’ who tend towards intelligence tend to realize gains greater than the losses they incur on another (i.e. an embezzler whose day-to-day job performance still manages to provide some benefit to the company).  The ‘helpless’ who tend towards intelligence would be those who tend to incur some minor losses, though still do well enough that they manage to get by throughout life without too much discomfort (i.e. the average joe that obediently accepts what his government, political party, mainstream media, etc., tells him while they manipulate and steal from him in myriad small ways).  Lastly, the ‘helpless’ who tend towards stupidity would be best classified as useful idiots, those who get fleeced and manipulated on a regular basis by everyone from salespeople to their elected officials.  Like the fast food worker who gets a subprime auto loan to buy an expensive new truck at an absurd interest rate (or, on the flip side, the clueless investor who blindly invests in securitized products based on said subprime loans). 

He goes on to say that the fraction of stupid people remains constant despite the culture, race, class, or time period, and that prospering societies have the same proportion of stupid people as declining societies.  But he does state that the balance of the ‘helpless’ and ‘bandits’ towards intelligence or stupidity IS variable, and that a society’s fortunes are determined in part by which way the balance leans.  He further goes on to state that poorly functioning societies also tend to be those where the ‘stupid’ are allowed by others to be more active in society.  Supporting this is Mr. Cippola’s assumption that the ‘intelligent’ and the intelligent end of the ‘helpless’ and ‘bandits’ are net contributors to society, whereas the ‘stupid’ and the stupid end of the ‘helpless’ and ‘bandits’ are net takers or drags on society.

So then…. let us indulge ourselves with a thought experiment and for the moment assume this is all true.  How does American society fit into this scheme? 

Well I would certainly classify America as it exists today as a declining society.  The economic, political, and cultural spheres of the US all show varying signs of distress or dysfunction.  One of the few bright spots left is that we are still progressing technologically, though I’d argue the rate of this progress is slowing and the effective returns of the new technology are shrinking.

Economically and financially, I’d say there would have to be relatively few ‘stupid’ and ‘helpless’ people of any stripe amongst the power players and people of influence in that sphere (plenty of ‘helpless’ types in the rank-and-file though… after all SOMEBODY has to be the ‘dumb money’ as some might put it).  I would expect the majority to be in the ‘intelligent’ and ‘bandit’ categories, as those would be the types most likely to flourish in that area.  What I think has changed in the past 20-30 years is that the proportion of ‘stupid bandits’ to ‘intelligent bandits’ has increased steadily, with more and more of the decision-makers, policy-makers, and business leaders focused more on accumulating wealth with hardly any thought of long-term economic and financial stability.  The increase in collaterized debt obligations, subprime and NINJA loans, quantitative easing, and co-opted regulatory bodies are just some of the signs of this trend.  This growing percentage of ‘stupid bandits’ are like locusts, eating up everything in sight without no thought to the long-term other than their intent to move to greener pastures once they’ve exhausted everything here. 

Politically, I’d say that while there are some people I’d classify as ‘stupid’ in Congress and perhaps a (very?) small handful that may qualify as being in the ‘intelligent’ category, I think most of them (at least 50%) fit in the ‘bandit’ category.  And few of those are in the ‘intelligent bandit’ category either.  If you think about it, has Congress (or the President) produced more (in the form of effective laws or effective policies) than they take and consume?  Most of them, the President included, or more interested in keeping and adding to their positions of power than doing good things for the country, and this dynamic of taking more than their giving fits the ‘bandit’ profile perfectly.  Furthermore, the benefits they receive tend to be less significant than the losses or damage they incur on others (via idiotic tax, business, military, international trade, and social policies), which would square with the ‘stupid bandit’ category.  I suppose there are some in the ‘intelligent bandit’ category in Congress and the Executive Branch that know there need to be some changes or the gravy train comes to an end for everybody, but they’re hampered by an inherently flawed political system and outnumbered by the ‘stupid bandit’ majority that is much more short-sighted in their systemic thievery and graft.

Culturally?.... heck, I don’t even know where to begin.  There is no shortage of examples of stupidity here, and it is the easiest to see given the 24-hour news cycle and the plethora of shows catering to the lowest common denominator.  Ultimately since our culture is largely (though not entirely) representative of the state of the American public, this is basically an assessment of Americans themselves.  Since we’re taking the essay’s assumptions at face value here for this thought exercise, we will assume the proportion of stupid people is still the same.  They might be getting a disproportionate amount of TV airtime and media coverage than they used to, but the percentage in the population is unchanged.  So that leaves the possibility that the percentage of the ‘intelligent’ is shrinking, or the proportion of the stupid range of the ‘helpless’ and/or ‘bandits’ are increasing.  I expect it’d be a combination of these, though in my opinion it’d be more heavily weighted towards the ‘helpless’ and the ‘bandits’ moving to the stupid end of their respective groups.  For one, the growing realization that the system is rigged and that much of the leadership (in politics and business) is just as greedy and corrupt as any low-rent criminal tends to influence the public towards acceptance of and participation in the ‘bandit’ philosophy.  And if we couple that with society’s excessive focus on short-term gain and instant gratification, the stupid end of the ‘bandit’ category is likely to see the largest increase.  Second, we look at the government and mainstream media and how they constantly are pushing fear our way.  This is by its nature designed to instill feelings of helplessness and a dependency on whoever claims to protect you (the politicians and the government) or whoever tells you what you supposedly need to hear (the media).  Such an environment actively discourages intelligent, independent thinking and favors emotional triggers & responses, so it’s reasonable to conclude it would push some of the ‘intelligent’ into the intelligent-leaning ‘helpless’ category, and some of the smarter ‘helpless’ types into the stupid-leaning ‘helpless’ group. 

Now bringing this thought exercise to its conclusion, how can these trends be reversed?  Well I don’t think they can, at least not right away.  As long as life is (relatively) cushy for most Americans, they will remain asleep and not have sufficient incentive to change their ways.  I think the only thing that would force a reversal in this trend would be if a majority of us experienced substantial hardship that forces us to improve ourselves out of necessity.  And I don’t think we’ll have too long before that happens, within this decade I expect.  While I rather enjoyed the film Idiocracy and find it sometimes hits a little too close to our current situation, I never worry that we’ll ever get close to that level because the system as it is just can’t sustain itself that long.  This positive feedback loop of increasing stupidity has a short lifespan simply due to the systemic instability of our debt-based economies and the over-reliance of our infrastructure on declining reserves of fossil fuels.  I’d much rather we collectively choose to change now and build our economies, cultures, and societies in a wiser fashion, but even if we don’t, one way or the other the universe WILL force change on us and give us the massive bitch-slap needed to shake out the excess stupidity.  For many it might be really painful or even lethal, but there’s no avoiding it.  Eventually, ignorance will truly become painful.  But until then….

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Scottish Referendum and the Older Generations’ Attachment to the Status Quo

Grampa: "Happy birthday, Bart."
Bart: "Thanks, Grampa."
Marge: "Where'd you get all the money?"
Grampa: "The government. I didn't earn it, I don't need it, but if they miss one payment, I'll raise hell!"  - The Simpsons

Well sadly my prediction came true, and Scotland voted ‘NO’ for independence.  Myself and others who favor more local governance can at least get some small comfort that it was as close as it was (55% Yes, 45% No), and the fact that the vote was allowed to happen at all.

But what I found really interesting was the split between younger and older voters, and the biggest reasons given and issues considered among those who voted no. From Zerohedge:

The following post-referendum poll from Lord Ashcroft does a good summary of who voted how and why. However, the most telling distinction is the following:
  • Voters aged 16-17: YES: 71%; NO: 29%
  • Voters aged 65+: YES: 27%; NO: 73%
How will last night's vote look like in 5, 10 or 15 years when today's 17 year olds are Scotland's prime demographic?”
The results of the post-referendum poll from Lord Ashcroft: 

The 16-17 year old segment voting overwhelmingly yes is interesting, but I don’t consider it that meaningful given the average teenager’s tendency to be impulsive, emotional, and (some might say) have their head up their ass (I remember feeling this way about most of my peers in high school, and I doubt that has changed any in the two decades since).  It was the 65+ (and to a lesser extent the 55-64) age group leaning so heavily towards ‘NO’ (73%) that caught my attention. 
Furthermore, when looking at the most important issues for the ‘NO’ voters and the primary reasons given for voting no, an interesting pattern is shown.  They have 47% of ‘NO’ voters listing ‘the risks are too great’ as the biggest reason for voting no, and they have pensions, defense & security, tax & public spending, the NHS (the UK’s public healthcare network), and the pound as heavily weighted issues in their decision making. 

So to break it down here, the decision to vote no was largely made because of folks, a majority of them who are past middle age, who are afraid.  Afraid of changes to their pensions.  Afraid of developing and being responsible for their own healthcare system.  Afraid of being responsible for their own defense & security.  Afraid of managing and being responsible for their own currency.  Ultimately, afraid of making changes to the status quo!

Now I can respect voters who weigh the pros and cons logically and come to the conclusion that staying in the UK is more beneficial on the whole (especially if one believes the UK will really give the Scottish parliament more power and more say in its future).  But the most heavily weighted issues I described are obstacles that CAN be overcome and worked through, and in fact most are simply a part and parcel of self-governance.  What I see is that a significant portion of the ‘NO’ voters voted the way they did out of fear of the unknown, fear of making their own decisions, and fear of rocking the boat.

Ultimately, this speaks to a generational split that I expect will be a dominant trend and the basis of much political and social strife much of the world will see in the next 10-20 years.  Here in the US, we already have the Millennials and, to a certain extent, Generation X growing increasingly unsatisfied with a political, social, and economic system that greatly favors the majority of the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.  We know that these previous generations have to some extent become as prosperous as they have by borrowing money they expect us and our children to pay back.  And to boot, the political leadership overwhelmingly comprised of these older generations have kicked the can down the road and created a future disaster for us to deal with by printing money and expanding easy credit to absurd levels, instead of facing the problems of too much debt and unsustainable spending head-on.  In many other countries the generational divide may be taking a different shape or have different issues they fight over, but in almost all cases it boils down to the young wanting to change a status quo that the older folks are afraid to lose.

What I would like to see would be the older and younger generations finding some common ground to build a future that doesn't completely suck.  Hopefully us younger generations would understand that many of those Boomers and Silent generation people have had no direct hand in shaping the current status quo, and some are getting shafted as much and feel the same as the younger generations.  Odds are, if our generations’ positions in time were reversed we’d probably have made the same mistakes and oversights… that’s just the cycles of history at work.  And at the same time, I hope the older generations become more open to change, and realize that by unconditionally supporting and clutching to a status quo their children and grandchildren oppose, they will sow the seeds of their own undoing.  Excessive fear of loss often tends to lead towards losing that very thing one is so afraid to lose.  Learning to let go of that fear and accept that a little risk is necessary to make any progress. 

But I do have concerns that this generational split will turn into a generational war.... The young get fed up and use violence and destruction to lash out at the power structure, while the old use the apparatus of the state and the status quo to subjugate, marginalize, and beat down the dissenting young.  And I have few doubts that the people running things would use that opportunity to grab more power.  One think to look for in the coming years is a media blitz of commentary and articles on generational strife meant to get both sides riled up.  When it comes, I hope people don't fall for it as much as they have in the past with illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, etc.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Link of the Week

This week's link of the week comes from the Wall Street Journal, and the title of it pretty much says it all.  I swear this should belong in the Onion, but sadly it appears mostly on the level.  It sounds like some of these schools are better armed & equipped than some prisons.... and this 'protect our children from every remote and/or minor risk' crap that many Americans mindlessly support is well on its way to turning the schools into 'prison-lite':

Federal Program Supplies Surplus Military Gear to Schools

"A federal program that has drawn criticism in recent weeks for supplying surplus military gear to local police has also provided high-powered rifles, armored vehicles and other equipment to police at public schools, some of whom were unprepared for what they were getting.

In the wake of school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere, some school security departments developed SWAT teams, added weapons and called on the federal government to help supply gear. But now, the program is facing renewed scrutiny from both outside observers and schools using it.

The Los Angeles Unified School District stocked up on grenade launchers, M16 rifles and even a multi-ton armored vehicle from the program. But the district is getting rid of the grenade launchers, which it never intended to use to launch grenades or use in a school setting, said Steven Zipperman, chief of the Los Angeles Schools Police Department. The launchers, received in 2001, might have helped other police in the county disperse crowds by shooting rubber munitions, he said.
In July, the district received a massive MRAP armored vehicle. Mr. Zipperman said his department thought it could be useful for evacuations and to save lives in a “sustained incident.”


In Texas, near the Mexican border, the sprawling Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District has 34,700 students and operates its own SWAT team, thanks in part to military gear it received in recent years from the federal program. The gear included two Humvees and a cargo truck, as well as power generators, said district Police Chief Ricardo Perez. The district applied for weapons, too, but wasn’t given any, so instead purchased its own M4 and AR-15 assault-style rifles, he said.

The weapons are given to schools through the 1033 Program, created by Congress in the early 1990s to allow law-enforcement agencies to obtain excess Defense Department supplies, paying only for shipping. The program has transferred $5.1 billion in items, including $4.5 million worth in 2013."

Full Wall Street Journal article here.

Perhaps I should create my own school district, because I sure wouldn't mind having some M16's, grenade launchers, or a mine-resistant armored vehicle....

And for those who are interested in reading more, blogger Mike Krieger, wrote a piece on the article as well:   It’s Not Just the Police – The Feds are Also Militarizing Public Schools with Grenade Launchers, M16s and Tanks

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scottish Independence

The Scottish independence referendum is only a couple days away, and it’s getting a lot of buzz (deservedly so) on both the mainstream and alternative media.

Now as much as I’d like it to be otherwise, I suspect there’s a slightly higher likelihood (perhaps 60%?) that Scotland will end up staying in the UK. I don’t base that so much on the polls as much as the fact that it is certain that the financial and political status quo would prefer things remain the same. An independent Scotland would force a great number of changes in the UK and Europe, and while the UK is no longer the dominant power it was many decades ago, it IS still a very important financial hub in the global economy. No one truly knows how an independent Scotland would affect the financial balance of the UK and Europe, and without there being a clear benefit to some of the financial elite I would expect them to work hard to kill this possibility.  Now does that imply that the votes of the Scottish people in the end count for a little less than the desires of political and moneyed interests?  Well while I wish the answer was no, I have no illusions about the UK being any less corrupt than the political system here in America.  While the political and financial elites in the advanced Western economies tend to stick to manipulating the masses through mass media in order to get their way, we would be fools to think that they are afraid or squeamish about cheating and fraud.  This doesn’t mean that if the referendum result is ‘NO’ that cheating or fraud must be involved…. only that the Scottish people should consider it a real possibility.  The nature of power and the people that possess it is that they typically will fight tooth and nail to keep from losing even a portion of it. 

Now one reason I don’t assign an even higher likelihood to Scotland staying in the UK is that the gains for the independence side have surged so close to the referendum date.  The political elite may have a great deal of power, but in most cases the nature of their power and their organizations doesn’t lend itself towards quick responses to unforeseen events.  They very well may have been largely complacent from earlier polls… according to this poll tracker at bbc.com (as with all polls take it with a few grains of salt), the polling was at 41% yes to 48% no as recently as August 5th, and changed to 46% yes to 47% no as of September 12th. That’s a pretty fast shift in my opinion, and I can’t dismiss the possibility that it caught the UK’s political leadership with their pants down.

Now if the vote goes yes, I don’t necessarily expect it will be the earth-shattering financial shockwave that a few in the alternative media space believe it will be.  However, I DO expect it will bring the UK economy, and to a lesser extent the global economy, into a more fragile state.  One that will make the financial system more vulnerable to other shocks like, oh I don’t know… a Russian partial or complete shutoff of gas supplies to Europe?  So it’s a baby step towards systemic breakdown, but I doubt it’ll be the black swan that singlehandedly brings about a crisis similar to one we suffered in 2008-2009.  I do acknowledge however that a ‘Yes’ vote might have a certain domino-like effect with independence movements in other parts of the world, particularly the already sizable movement in the Catalan region of Spain. 

Now if it brings the global economy even a little closer to breakdown, why would I actually consider Scottish independence as a good thing?  Well, the first reason is that I generally favor any action that leads to a peaceful decentralization of existing political and financial systems.  Generally speaking, the more local and decentralized the society and economy, the more responsive it is to the needs and demands of its citizens and the less prone it is to systemic risks.  The second reason is that it’s my opinion that the global economy and financial system that currently exists is unsustainable, and the more effort made to sustain it and the longer it is propped up, the more painful the eventual transformation will be.  I would much rather the global economy and financial system experience this transformation in many smaller stages than one or two giant crises.  Smaller changes give people and societies more opportunity to adapt and intelligently plan for the future, whereas abrupt, severe changes usually result in chaos and leave most people in a world of hurt.  And lastly, I generally support the right of any group of people to determine their fate for themselves.  My impression is that the majority of the Scottish desire an independent Scotland, and it is mostly fear of the unknown that’s giving many of them pause.

So even though I don’t think Scottish independence is the higher probability, I am sincerely hoping that events this week prove me wrong.  Though the subsequent wild celebrations and their drunken aftermath may end up more than a bit..... messy.

 (Yes, he's in fact doing in that chimney what it looks like he's doing...)
More at the link here (warning, somewhat NSFW)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Link of the Week

“There's only two people in your life you should lie to... the police and your girlfriend.”  - Jack Nicholson

This link of the week is about the abhorrent practice of police confiscating money and valuables under the umbrella of civil forfeiture. To summarize, civil forfeiture is essentially when law enforcement accuses the valuables or the property with being party to a crime, but not the owner. The original idea behind it was supposedly to attack the economic assets of organized crime and drug smuggling operations, but in some areas the local police departments are abusing the practice by targeting innocents where there is no reason to suspect a crime. Many cases it’s as simple as “you’re driving around with several thousand dollars and that fits the pattern of being proceeds from drug activity, so we’re confiscating it”. Often they try to intimidate the victim into thinking if they don’t consent, they’ll end up in jail. Isn’t that scary as hell? One can try to get it returned in court, but that can potentially take years and that’s only if you haven’t already been intimidated into signing a waiver when the cash or property was taken. Why would some police do this? Well turns out their departments get to keep a chunk of it. Yeah, no conflict of interest there…..

"On its official website, the Canadian government informs its citizens that “there is no limit to the amount of money that you may legally take into or out of the United States.” Nonetheless, it adds, banking in the U.S. can be difficult for non-residents, so Canadians shouldn’t carry large amounts of cash.

That last bit is excellent advice, but for an entirely different reason than the one Ottawa cites.

There’s a shakedown going on in the U.S., and the perps are in uniform.

Across America, law enforcement officers — from federal agents to state troopers right down to sheriffs in one-street backwaters — are operating a vast, co-ordinated scheme to grab as much of the public’s cash as they can; “hand over fist,” to use the words of one police trainer.

Roadside seizure

It usually starts on the road somewhere. An officer pulls you over for some minor infraction — changing lanes without proper signalling, following the car ahead too closely, straddling lanes. The offence is irrelevant.
Then the police officer wants to chat, asking questions about where you’re going, or where you came from, and why. He’ll peer into your car, then perhaps ask permission to search it, citing the need for vigilance against terrorist weaponry or drugs.

What he’s really looking for, though, is money.

'Authorities claim it’s legal, but some prosecutors and judges have called it what it is: abuse. In any case, it’s a nasty American reality.'

And if you were foolish (or intimidated) enough to have consented to the search, and you’re carrying any significant amount of cash, you are now likely to lose it.

The officer will probably produce a waiver, saying that if you just sign over the money then the whole matter will just disappear, and you’ll be able to go on your way.

Refuse to sign it, and he may take the cash anyway, proclaiming it the probable proceeds of drugs or some other crime.

Either way, you almost certainly won’t be charged with anything; the objective is to take your money, not burden the system.

You’ll have the right to seek its return in court, but of course that will mean big lawyer’s fees, and legally documenting exactly where the money came from. You will need to prove you are not a drug dealer or a terrorist.

It might take a year or two. And several trips back to the jurisdiction where you were pulled over. Sorry.
In places like Tijuana, police don’t make any pretense about this sort of thing. Here in the U.S., though, it’s dressed up in terms like “interdiction and forfeiture,” or “the equitable sharing program.”

Authorities claim it’s legal, but some prosecutors and judges have called it what it is: abuse.
In any case, it’s a nasty American reality."

Link to Full Story Here

Another related article

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rise of the Strongman President

"When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts … Germany lost the Second World War. Fascism won it. Believe me, my friend."  - George Carlin

Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast stated in some of his more recent podcasts that he believes that the next president will be a 'strongman' (or perhaps 'strongwoman'?). I’ve kicked it around in my head for a time, and unfortunately I have to agree with his prediction. I’ve already been expecting that society would continue to turn increasingly authoritarian over the next decade, and certain recent events and recent memes in the media certainly support the notion of our next president being a modern-day Mussolini. 
Even for all of Obama's over-the-top belligerent and aggressive stance towards Russia, we're still seeing shouts from both sides that he's too weak or ineffectual or indecisive to handle the new threats to the US. That's right, despite his overzealous push for going to war with Syria and an abundance of drone strikes throughout the Middle East responsible for a shamefully high number of civilian casualties, he's just not militant ENOUGH. Last month Hillary Clinton was already busy working that angle:


"I know that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad -- there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle -- the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said in the interview.
“Americans deserve to feel secure in their own lives, in their own middle-class aspirations, before you go to them and say, ‘We’re going to have to enforce navigable sea lanes in the South China Sea,’” Clinton said."

Sounds to me like Hillary is not only trying to distance herself from Obama, but is also desperately trying to establish her strong(wo)man credentials early. And I suspect that most of the presidential candidates in 2016 are going to be trying to out-do one another on their "strong, decisive leadership" qualities, competing over who is the biggest hard-ass on America's enemies. And the one that wins will probably be the most aggressive, authoritarian, and militant of the bunch. The escalation with Russia is merely helping set up the narrative of "America's enemies are everywhere and so we have to be stronger and more ruthless than ever". It'll be an ironic twist that the new US president in 2016 will probably mimic many of Putin's own repressive domestic and economic policies.

The more conspiratorial-minded might say this is all part of some master plan by the political elite to seize more power, whereas others might say this is simply a result of arrogance and overconfidence on the part of the leadership of a declining power. While I favor the latter explanation, it probably doesn't matter which one it is since the outcome will likely be the same..... a strongman/strongwoman president eclipsing the power of the Legislative and Judicial branches, more government controls & restrictions in our lives, more moves to crush or silence dissenters (as with the Sedition Act of 1918), more US military involvement throughout the world (some being proxy wars with Russia and perhaps later with China), and more calls for the American people to make 'necessary sacrifices'.

The sad thing is some, if not most, Americans will probably DEMAND such a person and strong measures to "keep them safe".

As the so-called economic recovery continues to leave more and more people behind, we will see more incidents like the recent Ferguson riots. Riots and civil unrest tend to persist in environments where there are a shortage of economic opportunities and options for upward mobility. As I mentioned before in the Ferguson post, the shooting was merely the spark; the anger and frustration and resentment that allowed the civil unrest to happen were already present and waiting to provide the fuel for the unrest. As the current economy continues to break down, we will see more people who've been pushed to the economic fringes lash out violently. Sometimes it will be at people or institutions they see as the cause of their misery, and other times it may just be at anybody they perceive as having 'more' than they do. And that is going to scare the crap out of the Average Joe.

In addition the politicians and the media will continue to hype up threats such as ISIS, Russia, Ebola, ‘domestic terrorism’, and whatever else they can dig up. Why? Because they want you to be afraid, and they want you to feel helpless in the face of it all. Now don’t get me wrong, there are legitimate threats out there and some of these things are worth keeping an eye out for. But for the most part they are either greatly exaggerating real security concerns (such as ISIS ‘coming to America’) or largely fabricating them (Putin being the ‘next Hitler’). Just about the only threat they cite that I feel they haven’t blatantly exaggerated is that of cyber-warfare and cyber-attacks on our financial and physical infrastructure. But even that is not something I’m going to obsess about (I’ve already made what prudent preparations I can make so there’s no point living in fear of it).

So I expect these things will steer the American majority towards a dictator-in-chief. Only later when they see that things have continued to get worse and see all they lost will they have their Homer Simpson "Doh!" moment. I still have hope for America in the long term, but in the short term we still have too many people that are willing to believe the comfortable lies rather than face the uncomfortable truth.

Who will end up as the final contenders for that position in 2016? I don’t really know, but I think the odds favor Hillary Clinton for the Democratic ticket. On the Republican side I’m less certain, but I think it’ll probably lean towards Mitt Romney. Rand Paul probably doesn’t have a chance in hell as he’s not militant enough (I’m not saying it’s right, only what I expect). But let me be clear; it doesn’t really matter who wins because both parties favor the same outcome and will pursue the same oppressive domestic and foreign policies. Sure you’ll have your small assortment of social issues they will make a big game of fighting over, but those are largely there just to keep us divided and unaware of how we’re being played.

So if I expect it’s already baked into the cake, then why do I bother talking about it?  Well, one of the things I hope for is that enough seeds are planted in the minds of Americans that the public will realize its mistake sooner rather than later, and that the less people supporting the new president the more likely it is he/she will hesitate to implement some of the more heinous domestic and foreign policies they want to enact. It’s not about changing the current political system, but more about preventing some of the damage that the current system might inflict as it dies its slow death. Second, the less energy people waste on this political system that’s already beyond repair, the more energy and thinking they’ll devote to improving their own lives and thinking ahead about what kind of system they’d like to see replace this old one. And last, I want people to think about taking steps to protect themselves in such a political climate. Speaking out against authority will be more dangerous, so if you plan to do it make sure you ready yourself for increased retaliation. Which may include anything from being actively monitored by federal authorities and surprise IRS tax audits on the low end, all the way to including freezing one's financial accounts or being charged with vague accusations like ‘supporting terrorist activities’.

In the meantime, if voting for either party’s candidate doesn’t change anything, you can at the least use your vote to make a statement or even have a little fun at their expense. I’ve already got my write-in candidate in mind…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Link of the Week

This week's Link of the Week is a short video from Chris Martenson of PeakProsperity.com, and covers nicely the BS in the whole Ukraine-Russia mess. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"But it’s Got Electrolytes!"

I know I’m not the first and probably won’t be the last to post about this latest article, but I can’t resist the temptation to pile on. Now I’m not taking everything in this article at face value, but I also can’t deny the overall trend of brainlessness on the rise in this country.

"Technology may be getting smarter, but humans are getting dumber, scientists have warned.

Evidence suggests that the IQs of people in the UK, Denmark and Australia have declined in the last decade.

Opinion is divided as to whether the trend is long-term, but some researchers believe that humans have already reached intellectual peak.

An IQ test used to determine whether Danish men are fit to serve in the military has revealed scores have fallen by 1.5 points since 1998.

And standard tests issued in the UK and Australia echo the results, according to journalist Bob Holmes, writing in New Scientist.

The most pessimistic explanation as to why humans seem to be becoming less intelligent is that we have effectively reached our intellectual peak.

Between the 1930s and 1980s, the average IQ score in the US rose by three points and in post-war Japan and Denmark, test scores also increased significantly - a trend known as the ‘Flynn effect’.

This increase in intelligence was due to improved nutrition and living conditions - as well as better education - says James Flynn of the University of Otago, after whom the effect is named.

Now some experts believe we are starting to see the end of the Flynn effect in developed countries – and that IQ scores are not just levelling out, but declining.

Scientists including Dr Flynn think better education can reverse the trend and point out  the perceived decline could just be a blip. However, other scientists are not so optimistic.

Some believe the Flynn effect has masked a decline in the genetic basis for intelligence, so that while more people have been reaching their full potential, that potential itself has been declining. 

Some have even contentiously said this could be because educated people are deciding to have fewer children, so that subsequent generations are largely made up of less intelligent people."

(link here for the full article)

Now a good number of people have seen the movie Idiocracy by now, and those that have would see the similarity between the movie’s premise and the statement in bold above. Now the article (and to some extent the movie) imply that the lower intelligence passed on is largely due to genetics. I would argue however that the subsequent generations are not getting the short end of the intelligence stick as a result of their parents’ genes, but rather through substandard upbringing on the part of their parents and society.

So how smart (or dumb) is America?
Countries With The Highest Average IQ
Rank Country Average IQ
1 Hong Kong 107
2 South Korea 106
3 Japan 105
4 Taiwan 104
5 Singapore 103
6 Austria 102
6 Germany 102
6 Italy 102
6 Netherlands 102
10 Sweden 101
10 Switzerland 101
12 Belgium 100
12 China 100
12 New Zealand 100
12 United Kingdom 100
16 Hungary 99
16 Poland 99
16 Spain 99
19 Australia 98
19 Denmark 98
19 France 98
19 Mongolia 98
19 Norway 98
19 United States 98
25 Canada 97
25 Czech Republic 97
25 Finland 97

According to this reference, we’re tied for #19 in IQ. With Poland ahead of us at #16, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick in telling Polish jokes (but hey, at least we kicked Canada’s butt! Yeah! USA! USA!)

Now on one hand, whether it’s genetics or environment it doesn’t really change the overall situation; i.e. the lack of intelligence has been and is still being passed on regardless of the means of transmission. But on the other hand if I am right about environment being the dominant factor, it means that the trend can be reversed relatively quickly and easily with the proper amount of effort applied in the right direction. Apathy in this case is the key obstacle here that needs to be overcome. If more parents simply took some active interest in their children’s development and education we’d see a lot of improvement. Even if the parents in question are lacking in book learning and rusty in their critical thinking skills, just the encouragement and personal engagement with the child is enough to make a difference. And by active interest I mean doing more than simply looking for a good school or occasionally helping with homework… parents who do that but little else are still passing the buck to the schools. And the schools are a big part of the problem in the first place.

Now some people at this point would start shouting “more money for education!”, “better schools!”, or “reform the educational system!”. But I remember these being common refrains back in the 80’s and 90’s when I was in school, and despite doing all those things the educational system as a whole continues to get worse. So I say no, the system of public education is at least in part contributing to the decline, and needs to be swept away and replaced with an entirely new system. Trying to reform and tweak and modify the current system simply amounts to polishing a turd…. you might be able to put a good shine on it, but at the end of the day it is still a turd.

The next step in reversing this trend is for more people to watch less TV. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those “Oh, I don’t watch TV” types (some people come by it honestly, but I think more say it for the snob appeal). And there is actually a decent handful of shows and programs out there. They aren’t the majority by a longshot, but they ARE out there. Unfortunately, you have to acknowledge there is far more mindless drivel than quality shows. But while the Kardashians, Honey Boo-Boo, the Bachelor, and the other various assorted drek is not doing any wonders for American intelligence, I think equally damaging is television's nature as an exceptionally passive form of entertainment along with its tendency to stimulate people heavily on an emotional level. These two factors combined make for a situation that not only doesn't require deep thought, it tends to steer us away from it. Even the news on TV tends towards content and delivery that triggers emotional responses more than logical responses. And then we have the political advertising, which has elevated emotional manipulation almost to an art form. Emotion is a part of who we are and is not bad in and of itself, but too much emotion does tend to diminish a person’s ability for critical thinking.

Ultimately that’s what the leaders on both sides of the aisle (as well as many other world leaders) want… less critical thinking. They want people asleep enough so we continue to swallow all the false promises, shallow hyperbole, and lame excuses they send our way. They want us to leave the critical thinking to the political class and those running big business, or the new aristocracy as I like to call them. They want drones that will mindlessly do as they’re told and keep working to support them, either directly through taxes or indirectly through debt and mindless consumerism. I don’t really believe they will get what they want, but I have little doubt this is what they desire. George Carlin summed up the situation beautifully:

“They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting f***ed by a system that threw them overboard thirty f***ing years ago. They don’t want that. You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly sh***ier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.”

But is our decline into brainlessness inevitable? No.... I really don't see that happening. The new aristocracy may fancy themselves as vastly more intelligent than the unwashed masses, but I think they've proven their lack of true intelligence from their recent history of making ever greater messes in areas economic, environmental, political, and geopolitical. So their  can't keep the current game going for much longer. Additionally, I think some of our collective mental laziness has been nurtured by virtue of having it too easy and being coddled by an environment of relative plenty and abundance. When that environment changes and we find ourselves having to struggle and figure out how to get by with less, all but the toughest who insist on remaining idiots will find themselves at an extreme disadvantage. far more than they could have imagined. It will be a painful process, but ultimately hardship and struggle are the things that push us towards self-improvement.

As for that small number that still refuse to learn? Well, I imagine that problem will eventually sort itself out....

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Link of the Week (Super-Tardy Mega-Late Edition!)

That's right, I neglected my blogging duties for the sake of the Labor Day weekend. Because for me apparently sitting on my ass typing is still a little too close to being work....

The (very late) link of the week: U.S. Hikes Fee To Renounce Citizenship By 422%

(Forbes.com) "Over the last two years, the U.S. has had a spike in expatriations. It isn’t exactly Ellis Island in reverse, but it’s more than a dribble. With global tax reporting and FATCA, the list of the individuals who renounced is up. For 2013, there was a 221% increase, with record numbers of Americans renouncing. The Treasury Department is required to publish a quarterly list, but these numbers are under-stated, some say considerably.


Now, the State Department interim rule just raised the fee for renunciation of U.S. citizenship to $2,350 from $450. Critics note that it’s more than twenty times the average level in other high-income countries. The State Department says it’s about demand on their services and all the extra workload they have to process people who are on their way out.

The notice says:

1. Consular officers must confirm that the potential renunciant fully understands the consequences of renunciation, including losing the right to reside in the United States without documentation as an alien.

2. Consular officers must verify that the renunciant is a U.S. citizen and they must conduct a minimum of two intensive interviews with the potential renunciant. Consular officers must even review at least three consular systems before administering the oath of renunciation.

3. The final approval of the loss of nationality must be done within the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C. After that, the case is returned to the Consular officer overseas for final delivery of the Certificate of Loss of Nationality to the renunciant.

4. These steps  add to the time and labor be involved in the process. Accordingly, the Department is increasing the fee for processing such requests from $450 to $2,350." 

All these steps are the exact same as consular officers have always had to do, to the best of my knowledge. I suspect in reality, each 'case' only represents 3-4 hours of work for the consular officer. Perhaps to be generous, we'll say a whole work day. But even so, the new fee is way out of proportion to the cost of paying that worker for one day and any trivial miscellaneous costs (printer ink, paper, data transmission). No, this is really more about discouraging US citizens from separating themselves and their finances from the US government and the US' absurd policy of taxation on all worldwide income (no matter where it's earned or where you live). The increase in renunciations makes the country look bad, and rather than eliminate the FATCA law that's responsible for most of it they'd rather punish anyone who's considering it. I have no plans to renounce or relinquish citizenship myself, but given FATCA's draconian reporting requirements and penalties for non-compliance I can't blame those dual citizens who don't want to deal with the headache anymore (most renunciants cited the reporting costs and difficulties in doing business overseas stemming from US policies as their primary motivation to give up their citizenship, not so much the actual taxes they had to pay). I don't really see it as unpatriotic to divorce oneself from a government and its bureaucrats that see its citizens solely as tax cows to be milked.