TypePad has been down all day working to recover from another denial of service attack. My apologies for the shared frustration. TypePad uses Twitter to aprise those interested in its status when such outages occur.
[This is the addended version of my regular KVMR commentary which was broadcast on 4 April 2014.]
Recently our government has had some problems forecasting events critical to the conduct of America’s foreign policy. We seem to have missed the boat on calling the response of Iran in its nuclear weapons development, the reaction of Syria confronting our ‘red line’, Al Qaueda’s attack in Benghazi, Putin’s reaction to warnings about Crimea, and the list goes on.
Similar problems have been encountered for years by government and private sector economists and analysts in forecasting our economy’s response to various fiscal and monetary policies, and, of course, how people would react to new social programs offered by the feds. The bottom line is that economists, analysts, bureaucrats, and politicians are always surprised by reality when it happens.
The art of forecasting such events and responses has been a mainstay of our intelligence community, and a lot of effort has gone into coming up with new methods and processes to improve the accuracy of forecasts. Today this research has involved lots of ordinary people who are neither forecasting nor intelligence specialists. The field is loosely described as soliciting ‘the wisdom of the crowd’.
It turns out that when you ask a lot of people to estimate some outcome, and then aggregate their answers, you wind up with a surprisingly good result. This was discovered about a century ago when fair goers in England were asked to estimate the weight of a steer. It turned out that the average of the several hundred submitted estimates came within a pound of the correct weight of the well over a half ton animal. Since then this has piqued the interest of researchers, and today there are several organizations using ‘crowd sourcing’ to forecast events.
This weekend Jo Ann and I, along with some Nevada County friends, attended the annual retreat in Scottsdale, AZ put on by the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies (both at George Mason University). The conference for liberty prone supporters was a welcome opportunity to hear stimulating speakers, attend breakout sessions on various national issues, and eat great food at the Montelucia resort.
The format of the retreat allows its attendees (slightly north of 200) to have ample time for one-on-one discussions with nationally recognized scholars and well-published pundits. I especially enjoyed my chats with economists Tyler Cowan and Peter Boettke, and philosopher Matt Zwolinski. It was good to re-establish that one’s understanding and interpretations of what is going on in the country are not a lonely collection of notions shared by no one else. While we did identify some differences, they were not of the magnitude that would put us in different ideological camps. It was truly a libertarian lovefest.
[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 10 January 2014.]
Did you know that college enrollments in the country are dropping? For all the hullabaloo about American students placing well down on the list in the world’s youth smarts, it turns out that today fewer of our high school graduates are going to college to prepare themselves for the workplace. All this in spite of the administration’s touting college as “the ticket to the middle class”. As an aside, older listeners will remember when high school provided that entry point for almost all Americans. But today it seems that undergraduate college is the new high school for the remedial work that students require to adequately read, write, and cypher.
But the real reason for declining college attendance is that it no longer provides reliable value for its enormous costs which have been rising much faster than inflation, and more importantly, much faster than the difference in salaries earned by high school and college graduates. In fact the salary differences have been decreasing by ten to twenty percent during recent years, while the cost of college has gone up over 16% since 2006.
[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 20 December 2013.]
If you have been following the non-political side of the news recently, you no doubt have picked up on a hot topic getting hotter – robots and robotics. In these commentaries we have covered the social impact of robots, and there is more to be said about that. But today there is a new buzz on new robot developments and how robots have already become part of our everyday lives. By robots we mean software, machines, and humanoid looking characters that have more than a little intelligence built into them, and that intelligence is growing daily at an astounding rate.
‘A Future of Failure?: The Flow of Technology Talent into Government and Civil Society’ was just published by Freedman Consulting, a progressive policy consultancy run by former staffers of Democrat administrations. This important report was sponsored by the MacArthur and Ford Foundations, organizations that are much in tune with leftwing causes and central planning. It recognizes failures – most notably healthcare.gov - by all levels of government to understand, incorporate, and operate systems that have a high technology component.
The report is timely, given what has happen and what portends for Americans as the federal government continues to stumble and bumble in such efforts to inject themselves more and more into our lives and fortunes. Through extensive interviews with government and “civil society” (i.e. NGOs and non-profits) officials and management, the authors conclude that governments are woefully lacking in STEMM (they add ‘medicine’ for the extra ‘M’) knowledge and expertise. RR readers will not be surprised by any of the factual aspects and even most of the conclusions in the report.
Tonight we recorded the sixth edition of Breaking Bread at the NCTV studios. BB6 may be the last program recorded at the former Grass Valley Group facility since the station is undergoing a transition which involves moving to new quarters for the new year. I hosted the program in which we introduced a new one-on-one format – a conversation between the host and invited guest.
The topics that I sought to explore Sheriff Royal’s views on were the militarization of the nation’s police and sheriffs, the constitutional sheriffs movement, and Nevada County’s preparedness for large scale emergencies. The hour went well, we both felt comfortable in the conversational format, and all topics received appropriate coverage.
BB6 was hastily arranged and scheduled for tonight. Producers Terri Hicklin and Patty Smith wanted to get in one last edition of BB before NCTV had to start disassembling its studio this Friday. After some thought, I volunteered to do the program due to the apparent unavailability of any of the other hosts. The program airings will be announced on the NCTV website, and it will be archived there for later viewing on demand. The working title of BB6 is ‘A Conversation With Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal’. I will post the link when it's available.
Many thanks to the crew of all volunteers who showed up on a rainy evening to at least provide a professional effort behind the cameras. These folks make community television possible.
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” Groucho Marx
It turns out that the Census Bureau faked the 2012 pre-election jobs report. That is reported by zerohedge.com, Armstrong & Getty on AM650, and the National Review. The list of underhanded things that Team Obama did to continue the Big Lie from Pennsylvania Avenue has grown to remarkable proportions, and the end is nowhere in sight. (H/T to several correspondents)
“Misdiagnoses are among the most common, costly and harmful medical errors. But they are also some of the most preventable.” (18nov13WSJ) Medical mistakes kill way north of 100K people a year in the US. That is like a jumbo jet crashing every day with all aboard killed. Were that to happen, there would be a national outrage with continuing demonstrations in front of the FAA headquarters and major aircraft manufacturers' facilities. Yet we the sheeple are so cowed by the sanctimonious medical industry that we make not a peep. How long will it be until we demand that physicians start using the available cloud-based AI diagnostic tools instead of flying blind with their fingers up their sunless orifices? And with the atrocity of Obamacare looming over the land, the ongoing development of more capable ‘AI docs’ should be a national priority.
Bill Gates is guest editing the Dec2013 issue of Wired on how to fix the world. And Bill Clinton is there to lend a hand. Check out the thoughts of a thoughtful man after having so much that he can’t spend it all. (more here)
Desperation time at The Union? Did you see that its Other Voices column now contains infomercials with product descriptions and contact information included. I was a bit taken aback by today’s piece on life coaching by Chuck Petch in the op-ed section. (paywalled here)
Control and estimation theory join with algorithmics to illustrate the art of the possible with ‘athletic quadrotors’ in this amazing TED video. The presenter’s narrative is accurate, succinct, informative, and entertaining as the miniature helicopters do their stuff in front of a slack-jawed and obviously beguiled audience. I was entranced watching the video demonstration because it took me back to the same kind of work that I did as a DoD contractor, although the platforms that I worked on were designed for a more deadly kind of athleticism against Soviet submarines, surface ships, and aircraft. But take it from me, working in control/estimation algorithmics is one of the most challenging, fulfilling, and enjoyable jobs in engineering (and they even pay you good money!). In my ken, only AI research is its equal. And when you embed AI into such algorithms, well, it doesn’t get better than that. Enjoy the video.
[update] Just got this link to Congressman Tom McClintock's House floor speech - 'The Toll of Obamacare' - delivered today. It summarizes well his remarks delivered last Saturday at the Nevada County Tea Party fundraiser.
Another Obama foreign policy masterpiece? Afghanistan’s Karzai, that staunch tower of ethics and rectitude, has announced that he has gotten agreement for an ‘apology for mistakes made’ from our president. He demanded this as a pre-condition for letting American troops remain in the country after December 2014 – and do what, continue ‘nation building’? All this is reported with a straight face in the 19nov13 WSJ. I sincerely hope that this is nothing but bluster from Kabul. No one has spelled out what are America’s continuing interests in Afghanistan, yet we seem to act as if these remain significant as we field a constant shower of camel crap that is flung at us by the country’s corrupt government and warlords who have grown rich from the “hundreds of billions” we have spent in the country during the last decade. Absent persuasive interests, what say we let the Taliban come back, cut their heads off, publicly whip their over-educated women, and put the country back on a solid footing of pre-medieval sharia law? Since UAVs can now operate from carriers (here), we can then drone their terror-exporting butts as/when necessary, which is what we are doing now anyway.
NSA strikes deeper into our lives. The IEEE reported last week that NIST has compromised its random number algorithm to our nation’s electronic spymasters. Specifically –
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has an image problem. Last month, revelations surfaced indicating that the National Security Agency (NSA) may have planted a vulnerability in a widely used NIST-approved encryption algorithm to facilitate its spying activities. And cryptographers are also questioning subtle changes that might weaken a new security algorithm called Secure Hash Algorithm-3, or SHA-3. Encryption experts say NIST’s reputation has been seriously undermined but that the security community would like to continue using it as a standards body if it can show that it has reformed. (more here)
Given the muffled diktats by secret court orders, there is no credible reform that NIST can profess. And Forbes reports that the private secure email company LavaBits has also shut down, rather than compromise its customers, subsequent to the FBI demanding that it open ‘back doors’ to allow the bureau to read emails sent through its servers. (more here)
New Fed chairman nominee Dr Janet Yellen does not perceive America’s systemic unemployment problem. Economist Yellen made her bones under her mentor, nobel economist James Tobin (of Tobin’s Q Ratio fame), whose Keynesian interpretations of monetary policy held sway in the US through much of the Cold War years. Yellen believes that the prime function of the Fed is to manage the business cycle by tuning money supply and interest rates so as to minimize unemployment. (more here) She gives no hint that she recognizes how accelerating technology has changed the economic landscape for the country’s workforce, and seems to be convinced that continuing to apply the demonstrably failed policies of the 1930s is the way to fix and maintain America’s economy.
As an economic Austrian, I shudder to think about the immediate future years as she inherits the debt, deficits, and debilitating policy of perpetual easing (currently at $85B/month). That the latter is now an established and freely accessible spigot will give her great comfort as the rest of us worldwide scramble for alternatives to the dollar.
[update] The problem of evil. I was perusing the AP news site in bed this morning and came upon a piece reporting that ‘Shutdown Driving Debate Over Role of Government’. In it this center-left news service describes the purposive atrocities that our federal government has instituted “to make things as difficult as possible” for Americans during this shutdown. The piece echoes RR’s long-held notions about big government – better late than never.
Today’s news is full of horror stories about the gratuitous and intentional shutdown of services, closing of facilities, and denying access to public venues that have nothing to do with the normal workings of government staff. In fact, staff has been added where possible, and asked to work extra in order to intimidate and deny Americans what they could still enjoy during the shutdown. A sinister case in point is TSA now announcing at airports that you may be arrested for making jokes about their security procedures which today includes regular groping of your genitalia. (more here and here and reaction to shutdowns here)
A highlight of AP’s light bulb going on is their questioning of what the country would be like if most of those 800,000 federal workers were dismissed (recall my interim plan was to furlough them permanently with full pay). Many (most?) Americans are beginning to understand that life could be much better without them, and most certainly no worse than it is with them 'doing their jobs'.
These pages record my (and our readers’ wide ranging) thoughts on the more ideal and/or proper role of government. But here I want to just touch on the notion of evil that invariably is spawned in all organizations (public, private, religious, …) as they grow. After a certain size the complexity of such institutions gets to be such that the constructive feedback paths are reoriented and replaced by feedbacks that are destructive to the original intent and mission of the institution. Add to that the inevitable dark side of human nature, and you get the large scale atrocities that decorate ‘modern history’. And in the small scale you get the unavoidable product of central planners with examples like Obamacare (read Anthony Watts’ recent experience with California’s insurance exchange).
But what is evil? Dictionary definitions are mostly lame and confusing (example here). Most definitions make evil out to be a notion that is understood only relative to a belief system that contains certain mores, religious beliefs, ideology, and/or legal code. But in the real world most of us understand that evil is simply something that increases human suffering in an intended way or through purposeful neglect. De facto (vs de juris) evil is ecumenical, it exists in and of itself, free of any interpretations from approved belief systems. According to my lights, all big governments naturally exude evil, as do many small ones and as do other bloated institutions wherein proper feedback and feed forward paths have been corrupted and/or severed. Evil seems to spontaneously arise through the mixing of power and ignorance in various measures suitable to the occasion. More to be said about it on a future post.
A number of emails, articles, and recent announcements came together that made me again revisit the notion of man’s dream of physical immortality. What if there were developed a pill that would genomically and/or proteomically rejuvenate a person, and taking such a pill every so many years would keep him going indefinitely? It seems to me that such a pill, or even a more complex rejuvenation procedure, would put the continued existence of humanity at risk.
A friend and former colleague, Dr Keith Dutton, just informed me that the company that he coufounded – Lively - was successful in closing a second round of funding, and is now off to the races. Lively offers a system that enables single older folks to continue living alone and maintaining their independence over a greater span of their life, thereby fulfilling a basic desire by all of us to maintain the homeostasis of normalcy for as long as possible. Nevada County probably has a lot of customers for such a system.
Then there’s all the buzz on how education delivery is moving online (see RR posts on MOOCs and all the universities starting to offer their curricula over the internet). The more important part of that is the efforts of older workers and even retired people who are enrolling in these courses to keep learning more stuff, develop additional skillsets to sell in the workforce, and to continue the never-ending pursuit of fulfillment. The age cutoff for retiring from a stimulating life seems to be rapidly disappearing.
My old pal Dr Larry Press at CSUDH (professor of information technologies) has been a longtime promoter of all things internet and networking. His blog is a good resource for keeping up with the latest in everything from network applications to distance learning. Apropos to living a longer and much more productive life, Larry’s 23sep13 entry introduces us to FutureLearn, a collaboration of a group of UK universities. “Their slogan is 'Learning for life', indicating a focus on students who are not seeking credit and degrees. That audience may turn out to be more important than traditional university students -- more lucrative and more beneficial to society.”
During these pre-Singularity years the pursuit of life extension (cum immortality) is reaching the entrepreneurial levels of business activity. Early evangelists like Ray Kurzweil are now being joined by start-ups like Calico (California Life Corporation) which Google has announced as its latest business venture (more here). Actually, since Kurzweil joined Google, their investment in Calico is probably his doing.