“The single most objectionable thing about the EU (in a crowded field)”

How can we deal with a body that is not just open about, but proud of, its readiness to bend the rules?

Anglosphere exceptionalism is summed up in the words John Adams used when designing the Massachusetts state constitution: “a government of laws not of men”. Actually, the phrase wasn’t Adams’s: he was quoting a seventeenth-century English radical called James Harrington – a reminder of the deep roots of our shared Anglosphere liberties. But the point holds: the Anglosphere miracle lies in the elevation of the law above the state rather than the other way around. How sad that, debilitated by 40 years of EU membership, we appear to have dropped that principle.

via  Telegraph Blogs.


“Almost Half of Modern Jobs Threatened By Machines”

So, if a computer can drive as well as you, serve customers as well as you and track down information as well as you, just who is safe in their job these days?

via RealClearTechnology

Tablets at restaurants: Applebee’s, Chili’s race to eliminate human interaction.

Score one for the machines. On Tuesday, Applebee’s announced plans to install a tablet at every table in its 1,860 restaurants across the United States. Customers will be able to use the devices to order food, pay the bill, and ignore their dining companions by playing video games.

Chili’s unveiled basically the same plan three months ago….

…The restaurants deny that the tablets represent an attempt to replace human employees with computers. Applebee’s is saying that it won’t change its staffing levels when the devices come online next year. And Chili’s is optimistic that the tablets will pay for themselves by bringing in extra revenue from impulse orders and at-the-table gaming. Not only will you not have to talk to a waiter when you want to order something, you won’t have to talk to your kids, either!

Then again, of course these businesses are saying they won’t use the tablets to replace employees. Announcing layoffs along with the tablet move would be begging for a backlash. The fact is, if the tablets work, they’ll make the ordering process more efficient and cut the amount of human labor that these restaurants require. At that point, do you suppose they’ll keep the extra waiters around out of charity?

via Slate

We like our ethics, our beliefs, our values, our philosophies – but then we want to control the outcome.

What Applebees is doing is economically rational. If people accept this as a way of doing business, it will have been the right decision. The solution to the problems presented here are solutions we as a society need to grapple with – starting with, what will we do when (not if, when) automation makes most human work obsolete?

And, no, simply passing laws to make businesses behave in an economically irrational factor is not a solution. As near as I can tell, there are only two solutions (though I’d love to learn about or figure out others): to directly subsidize – with taxpayer, not corporate, cash – the cost of hiring workers instead of machines, or to open up some new economic frontier – some new technological innovation that requires human workers, or some physical, literal new frontier, like colonizing the ocean or the moon.

Which isn’t as crazy as people like to think, given how concerned we are about overpopulation, global warming…and resources in general.

A few centuries ago, there were just a few widely used materials: wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, and silver. Today’s material diversity is astounding. A chip in your smartphone, for instance, contains 60 different elements. Our lives are so dependent on these materials that a scarcity of a handful of elements could send us back in time by decades.

If we do ever face such scarcity, what can be done? Not a lot, according to a paper published in PNAS. Thomas Graedel of Yale University and his colleagues decided to investigate the materials we rely on. They chose to restrict the analysis to metals and metalloids, which could face more critical constraints because many of them are relatively rare.

via Ars Technica.

I am just very bummed personally because I happen to like Applebees, and I have a funny feeling I won’t be enjoying their food so much now.

“Where Equal Is Worse?”

Beware statistics?

Though it makes use of hard data on men’s and women’s education, health, economic participation, and political empowerment in 133 countries, it is far from objective, as it is built on dubious assumptions about human flourishing. Any instance of women outperforming men is deemed good, regardless of how everyone in the country is actually doing. Setting aside absolute measures of wealth, education levels, longevity, and so forth, the WEF measures only the size of the gap between men and women within individual countries. All other questions about national well-being are irrelevant.

Under this inadequate framework, the Nordic countries top the charts in gender equality: nothing objectionable or surprising there. The problems arise a bit farther down the list. For instance, the Philippines is among the 22 countries that surpass the United States in the rankings: it comes in at fifth place, also far ahead of Canada (20) and France (at a pitiful 45), to name just a few places where women actually choose to live when they’re able to immigrate. The Philippines scores highly because women there are catching up to men on economic measures, outperforming men in education, and outliving them by several years.

But the story behind the country’s rising numbers is not a good one. Poor job prospects there have long forced the government to encourage Filipino men to look for work abroad. In the 1990s they also tapped women to join the outmigration, and today women are the majority of the country’s migrant workers. “Even in the low paying Persian Gulf,” explains New America Foundation fellow Jason de Parle, who is finishing a book on how globalization is affecting Filipinos, “a Filipina maid often makes $600 or more a month…considerably more than a starting school teacher at home.”

In other words, according to the WEF and a credulous media, a poor country where women, unable to make ends meet, are forced to leave their children and families for far-away jobs where abuse is said to be commonplace is worthy of our emulation (the top-ranked countries are “potential role models,” says the report) because, after all, they are closing the WEF-defined gender gap. Never mind that women are wealthier, healthier, and better-educated in many countries ranked far below the Philippines: what matters is only the gap.

Worse still, gender gap fundamentalism creates a zero-sum struggle between the sexes where women’s advantage is always good while men’s is always bad.

via Family Studies.

It’s very important to be honest with statistics – and that includes pointing out any distortions created by your data.

“When Privacy Is Becoming Expensive”

Silicon Valley has destroyed our ability to imagine other models for running and organizing our communication infrastructure. Forget about models that aren’t based on advertising and that do not contribute to the centralization of data on private servers located in America. To suggest that we need to look into other – perhaps, even publicly-provided alternatives –is to risk being accused of wanting to “break the Internet.” We have succumbed to what the Brazilian social theorist Roberto Unger calls “the dictatorship of no alternatives”: we are asked to accept that Gmail is the best and only possible way to do email, and that Facebook is the best and only possible way to do social networking.

But consider just how weird our current arrangement is. Imagine I told you that the post office could run on a different, innovation-friendly business model. Forget stamps. They cost money – and why pay money when there’s a way to send letters for free? Just think about the world-changing potential: the poor kids in Africa can finally reach you with their pleas for more laptops! So, instead of stamps, we would switch to an advertising-backed system: we’d open every letter that you send, scan its contents, insert a relevant ad, seal it, and then forward it to the recipient.

Sounds crazy? It does. But this is how we have chosen to run our email.In the wake of the NSA scandal and the debacle that is Healthcare.gov, trust in public institutions runs so low that any alternative arrangement – especially the one that would give public institutions a greater role – seems unthinkable. But this is only part of the problem. What would happen when some of our long cherished and privately-run digital infrastructure begins to crumble, as companies evolve and change their business models?

Now that our communication networks are in the hands of the private sector, we should avoid making the same mistake with privacy. We shouldn’t reduce this complex problem to market-based solutions. Alas, thanks to Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial zeal, privatization is already creeping in. Privacy is becoming a commodity. How does one get privacy these days? Just ask any hacker: only by studying how the right tools work. Privacy is no longer something to be taken for granted or enjoyed for free: you have to expend some resources to master the tools. Those resources could be money, patience, attention – you might even hire a consultant to do all this for you – but the point is that privacy is becoming expensive.

And what of those who can’t afford tools and consultants? How do their lives change? When the founder of a prominent lending start-up – the former CIO of Google, no less – proclaims that “all data is credit data, we just don’t know how to use it yet” I can’t help but fear the worst. If “all data is credit data” and poor people cannot afford privacy, they are in for some dark times. How can they not be anxious when their every move, their every click, their every phone call could be analyzed to predict if they deserve credit and at what rates? If the burden of debt wasn’t agonizing enough, now we’ll have to live with the fact that, for the poor people, anxiety begins well before they get the actual loan. Once again, one doesn’t have to hate or fear technology to worry about the future of equality, mobility and the quality of life. The “digital debate,” with its inevitable detours into cultural pessimism, simply has no intellectual resources to tackle these issues.

via FAZ.

“Don’t Dare Call the Health Law ‘Redistribution’ “

“Americans want a fair and fixed insurance market,” said Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who advised Mr. Obama’s team as it designed the law. “You cannot have that without some redistribution away from a small number of people.”

via NYTimes.com

That depends on who gets to define the word “fair”*….

*…also maybe the word “small”…

“What Castro Knew About Lee Harvey Oswald”

Mr. Latell set out to tell the story of Cuba’s “intelligence machine,” which outmaneuvered the U.S. for many years. In the process he uncovers startling details that suggest that Cuba fueled Oswald’s maniacal desire to prove himself worthy of Castro’s revolution during the American’s visit to Mexico City in the fall of 1963. Mr. Latell also presents strong evidence that the Johnson administration and higher-ups in the FBI and the CIA ensured those details were kept from the Warren Commission.

via WSJ.com.

It seems the one conspiracy myth we never hear about is the one that actually has some evidence behind it.

Richard Helms, though not yet CIA director, was “receiving almost daily phone calls from [Attorney General Robert Kennedy ] demanding to know what actions he was [taking] to remove Castro from power.” The agency recruited Rolando Cubela, a revolutionary insider, to do the job.

But Cubela was a double agent. And on Sept. 7, just after Cubela agreed to help the Americans, Castro gave an interview to an AP reporter in which he put the U.S. on notice that “aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders” would mean that “they themselves will not be safe.”

Castro didn’t need to look far for a willing partner to back up those words. It is “known with near certainty,” writes Mr. Latell, that Cuba had “opened a dossier” on Oswald in 1959, while he was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, in Southern California. Oswald was enamored of the Cuban Revolution, and he had made contact with the Cuban consulate in Los Angeles.

On Sept. 27, 1963, Oswald checked into the Hotel Comercio in Mexico City for a five-night stay. He tried to get a visa from the Cuban embassy to travel to Havana. He had a fling with an embassy employee and probably spent time with others who were intelligence agents. When his visa was not forthcoming, witnesses said he went on a rant at the embassy, slammed the door and stormed off.

According to Mr. Latell, during his Mexico City stay Oswald twice visited the Soviet consulate where he met with “an officer of the notorious Department 13, responsible for assassination and sabotage operations.” The KGB was training Cuban intelligence at the time, and “it seems certain that [Oswald’s] intelligence file in Havana was thickening.”

Castro’s claim about Oswald—in a speech 30 hours after Kennedy was shot—that “we never in our life heard of him” was a lie.

Why are we just hearing about this now? I’ve already watched movies about how everyone except Oswald killed JFK…

When Warren Commission staff asked Ambassador Mann about the Hotel Comercio’s reputation as “a headquarters for pro-Castro activities,” Mann answered: “it was not known generally at all . . . [but] only in intelligence circles.”

For Mann, it was too convenient that Oswald landed at that hotel. He pushed for more information about Oswald’s Mexico City sojourn. In his memoir, however, he wrote: “The Embassy received instructions to cease our investigation of Oswald’s visit to Mexico and to request that the Mexican government do the same.” Mann asked for reconsideration and was denied. The Warren Commission was never told of the CIA plan to take out Castro.

All of this leaves a giant hole in the official narrative about the assassination.

“Obama Removes ‘God’ from Gettysburg Address”

I am not a big Abraham Lincoln fan (as anyone who has read this blog already knows) but I do get annoyed when people try to remove “Under God” from things. It’s so petty. Yes, we know you’re an atheist, but that doesn’t mean Abraham Lincoln was – or should be rewritten so that people think he was.

Burns had filmed all living presidents as well as various Hollywood personalities and luminaries to pay homage to the speech which was delivered by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, today.Plante broke the story on Washington DC talk radio station WMAL on his mid-morning program, “The Chris Plante Show.

“WMAL reports: Curiously enough, in his version of the speech, President Barack Obama\’s delivery contained an omission – in a line that every other celebrity delivered as “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom,” the President left out the words, “under God.”UPDATE: A text box now appears on the Ken Burns website http://www.learntheaddress.org which states: “Did you know there are five versions of the Gettysburg Address? We asked President Obama to read the first, the Nicolay Version.” A cached version of the same webpage from several days ago shows no such reference.

via Breitbart.

No, I don’t believe for an instant that “we” (or Ken Burns, or his crew) “asked” Obama to read the ‘Nicolay Version’. That isn’t even plausible. Obama rules by appeal to hatred, and that hatred is aimed at Christianity; he would be nothing if so many young Americans didn’t have a visceral hatred-based need to scapegoat Christians and Christianity for everything that is wrong with America. Obama is the ultimate scapegoat POTUS – it’s his entire schtick.

I’d like to know why there are five versions of this address. Which one did Lincoln give? That is “the” address, isn’t it? Why are there five? Which one is the real one? How come this is not made clear? And how can we possibly expect children (or anyone else) to learn about, quote, or respect this important speech if we can’t even tell the speech from its draft versions?

History belongs to all of us. Nobody has the right to tamper with or attempt to rewrite it for personal – or ideological – gain.