Archive for the ‘news’ Category

No News Is Bad News

Thursday, 16 February 2012

On 24 December, the Stratfor computer site was learned to be hacked; e.mail, e.mail addresses, and credit-card information were stolen. Initially, Anonymous couldn't agree within itself whether its members were responsible, but the deniers fell silent.

The credit-card information was used to make charitable donations, which subsequently had to be returned (at a net loss) by the charities. Those whose e.mail addresses were stolen had them publicly dumped (and thus made available to spammers), and were subjected to hoax mailings by Anonymous.

And we were told that the e.mail itself would be released, so that the world could see that Stratfor were really a malevolent force, which revelation would ostensibly justify the hacking.

After seven weeks, the e.mail that was supposed to expose the wickedness of Stratfor has not been released. There's more than one possible explanation. Perhaps the responsible members of Anonymous have obscure but compelling reasons to release the information all-at-once, and to organize it before doing so. Perhaps these members have been found and whisked-off to secret internment camps, along with anyone who might have reported their disappearances. Or perhaps the e.mail would reveal no more than that Stratfor communicates off-the-record with sources, some of whom could (reasonably or otherwise) be regarded as villains, and perhaps other members of Anonymous noted that almost any reporting and news-analysis service does the same thing, so that Anonymous would appear to subvert freedom of the press.

(I kinda favor that third explanation. Like many members of the Occupation Movement — who also like to claim the prerogatives but duck the responsibilities of association, and to wear Guy Fawkes masks and fantasize about being Vs — many members of Anonymous seem inclined to try to silence those whose views they find greatly disagreeable, but only so long as these members aren't made to recognize that they're engaged in censorship. [Up-Date (2012:02/27): It has now been announced that the e.mail is being released in coöperation with WikiLeaks.])

But, whatever may be the reason, the e.mail has not been released, and that failure or delay is itself a news story — which story you've not read in the Times (of London, of New York, or of Los Angeles) nor heard from the major broadcasters. Possibly that's because they're such lack-wits that it hasn't occurred to any of them that there's a story here. I rather suspect, however, that it's because they're scared. A group such as Anonymous could take-down pretty much any of these news services just as they did Stratfor.

…But Fool 'Em Twice then Shame on Them!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

In eartly August, I wrote of how most of the political left had lost its sense of conviction in the decades following the '60s, of how their ability to believe had been restored by the 2008 Presidential campaign of Barack Hussein Obama, but of how that sense of belief was disintegrating in the face of the actual Presidency of Mr Obama. Well, a large share of the left has since found something new from which to draw Hope — the Occupation movement.

It's widely noted that the Occupation movement lacks a programme. They've made it plain that they think that there's a 1% who are the Enemy; but, aside from the intention to somehow beat wealth out of this group,[1] the movement as a whole is short on specifics. Individual members or groups within the Occupation movement may espouse something more precise, but other members deny any sort of responsibility for those proposals. There isn't even meta-agreement within the Occupation movement on a protocol for agreement.

In lieu of a programme, what the Occupation movement gives us is a sort of attitudinal posture. That ought to remind people of something. In particular, it ought to remind people of Barack Hussein Obama in 2008. Granted that, in his case, the ambiguïty was a deliberate choice, whereäs in the case of the Occupation movement it results from collective indecision. Still, once again, a large share of the political left has invested itself in a cypher.


[1] The urging of state action may not itself be immediately violent, but the whole point of using the state is to employ its capacity for violence, to threaten or worse.

Monkey Dancers

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

[This post was delayed from yester-day, as my hosting service had a technical failure, and it took me rather a long time to persuade them of such.]

I read

This past week it was reported that the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous claimed credit for taking offline over 40 websites used for sharing pedophilia — and for exposing the names and identifying information of more than 1500 alleged pedophiles that had been using the sites.
But the actual list is of user aliases, not of personal names.

Not only are pædophiles not being exposed here, but non-pædophiles who've had the misfortune of pædophiles' using the same aliases (by chance or from malice) are going to come under suspicion by those who think that they recognize them on this list.

Further, if agents of law enforcement were themselves working to track-down the actual legal identities of the pædophiles, their investigation has now been severely compromised, possibly fatally so.

Once again, Anonymous has done less good than they have led the gullible to believe, and have caused more damage than they have acknowledged.

Beware of Greeks Bearing Scrips

Monday, 12 September 2011

A financial bond or note is a promise to pay some fixed amount at some given date. Two things, beyond the promised amount of payment, determine the price of a such an instrument.

First, there is the associated danger of a default. A possibility of default turns the bond or note into a sort of lottery, in which the actual pay-off could be the full, promised value, or nothing, or anything in-between (at least, anything reaizable in terms of the minimum division of the payment), or even some new pledge, promising a later payment of some sort. Each of these outcomes has some associated plausibility, and the lottery is valued accordingly.

Second, there is also the fact that the instrument is a promise of future payment; since pay-off cannot itself be put to immediate use (as consumption or as investment), its price is discounted to reflect time-preference and the forgone productivity of assets used to buy it.

Just to get the gist of that clearly, imagine that the value of a lottery were simply that of the mathematical expectation of its pay-off. The price of a bond would then be discounted expected pay-off.

So far, the causality here is just flowing one way. Possible-pay-offs and their probabilities determine an expectation or something like that, and then time-preference and productivity determine the present value of that expectation or expectation-like value, and that's the price of the instrument. And if the pledge were issued by a private institution, that would generally be it.

On the other hand, when such instruments are issued by a state, politics can make things interesting.

The Greek state is going to default on repayment of its borrowing. Its citizens are simply not willing to accept the costs to them of full repayment. In fact, they're not willing to fully repay what remains after politically possible subsidies from other states. Those who have lent money to Greece will receive less than they were promised.

The price of bonds issued by the Greek state already reflects the expectation of default. This reduced price is going to be used against bond-holders, both against those who are paying it now, and against those who paid a higher price and have held onto their bonds even as value dropped (as they gambled that the Greek state would not default or at least not default as much as some expect). What will happen is that populists, anti-rentiers, and opportunists will argue as if all bond-holders had paid that steeply discounted price, and as if those who paid that price lose nothing if they only recover the nominal purchase price.

And what makes that interesting is that it means that causality should now be flowing cyclically, where present price pronouncèdly affects the relative plausibilities of possible pay-offs, even as these continue to affect present price.

I've not sat down to work-out a formal model. But, while I don't expect that the equilibrium price of a Greek bond would be zero, I don't know that one can rule that out. (On the other hand, while economic equilibria are useful in understanding and approximating, the world is never in equilibrium.)


I do think that something might be said here about the ethics of sovereign debt.

It isn't heads of state or of government, or treasurers, or legislators as such who repay this debt. It isn't voters as such who pay-off this debt. It is tax-payers as such who pay-off sovereign debt (except where it is paid by selling assets such as territory and state enterprises). Sometimes the tax-payers weren't even born when the state went into debt. Moral claims against them for repayment are thin at best. I once read buying sovereign debt compared to buying shares in pirate ships (which one could at one time do openly in some places, and can still do quietly in some places), and I think that comparison quite apt.

On the other hand, it is plain that most of the Greeks protesting against austerity measures are signally unconcerned about the welfare of the Greek tax-payer; they just want any resources drawn from him or her to be directed to them.

Plan 9? Ah, yes.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Sometimes a person or group of persons will present a system of lies that they know to be unsustainable, with the intention of gradually abandoning the pretense. The purpose is largely to pay the costs of truth in installments which, by virtue of their distribution, are more bearable than would be the cost if borne more immediately. (There may also be the hope of identifying a point at which the lies remaining are sustainable.)

This is how the Clinton Administration handled its sex scandal (calling the process telling the truth slowly) and how John Edwards seems to have handled his.

It is now how world leaders are handling the disintegration of the European Monetary Union.

The prevailing rates of time preference and understandings of the nature and origin of wealth vary markèdly amongst the cultures within Europe. By comparison with northern European nations, southern European nations tend to have very high rates of time preference and have less reälistic understandings of wealth, so that they are relatively less willing to save and to invest.

Under a union of shared fiat currency, if fiscal policy remains at the discretion of each state, then some states are able to adopt an otherwise unsustainable fiscal policy which other member states become obliged to support in order to support the shared currency.

A system of enforceable fiscal policy rules was not adopted at the time of the monetary union. The states of all of these nations are representative democracies of one sort or of another, with a strong sense in each nation that popular will must ultimately be obeyed, so that unpopular regimes would be quickly over-thrown; and national sovereignty is important in most or all of these nations. Additionally, few state officials are keen to lose their own power, and therefore most resist a surrender of power to the European Union unless they imagine themselves either as retiring or as moving on to positions within the Union as such. Under these circumstances, a monetary union could not be founded with sufficient mechanisms to compel southern European states to behave like northern European states, especially as northern European states wanted an ability to stray at their own discretion from their norms, during extraordinary circumstances; so, instead, the union was formed based upon wishful thinking.

Rather than behaving as many wished, some member states acted as was feared and as should have been expected.

The peoples of the southern European nations might like best to be bailed-out by the tax-payers of other nations; but failing that option, with their rates of time-preference and with their illusions about wealth, they would rather leave the monetary union than adopt the habits of northern Europeans; they would certainly not be willing to subject themselves to the rule of German bankers, regardless of what their states might want. Meanwhile, whatever northern states might want, their peoples are not willing indefinitely to subsidize the vacations and retirements of southern Europeans. And the democratic impulse will bend the wills of these states to those of their respective peoples.

The political leaders of the European Union are acutely aware of the beliefs and powers of the peoples of their respective nations. Most leaders of Western-style democracies understand the situation as well. (Officials of states such as that of the PRC are, however, likely to stare with a sense of outraged bewilderment.) Yet virtually all are maintaining the pretense that the EMU may plausibly be saved.

Nor is it merely state officials who are doing this. Newspapers and magazines have been confronted with explanations of why the Monetary Union cannot be fixed, but most choose to pass over them in silence. The financier George Soros, who has been insisting that the EMU must be preserved, has more recently spoken of the desirability of Greece and Portugal leaving it; yet he is aware that Italy will almost certainly default, and that Spain is very likely to do so as well.

It may be that these leaders are stalling with absolutely no Plan B, but I believe that the real point of present discussions ostensibly on how to save the Monetary Union is actually to buy time to develop and agree upon a plan to unwind it, with a minimum of political fall-out and of economic damage. The unstated objective is to preserve as much as possible of the existing political and economic order, with most or all of the same people in its ruling class.

Fourteenth Amendment Redux

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Back in May of 2010, I posted an entry about the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and the national debt. I'm not sure that readers found that entry particularly interesting at the time, but it gets an ever-increasing number of hits, as the United States approaches default, and as parts of the political left have begun drawing attention to the Amendment. More specifically, parts of the political left have claimed that the Amendment actively requires Congress to increase the debt ceiling, and other parts have claimed that the Amendment empowers the President to increase the debt limit without consent of Congress. It's that latter claim that I will now examine.

Let's return to the actual language of section 4:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

(Underscores mine.) Now, an important phrase here is authorized by law; the question is of how a debt as such comes to be authorized by law.

The Constitution itself is law, superior to any-and-all further legislation. It is the Constitution that creätes the Presidency. Before and after the Fourteenth Amendment, the Constitution does not invest any law-making authority in the Presidency beyond what can be said to exist in ability to negotiate treaties with foreign powers (and these treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate), and Congress has not delegated to the Presidency the authority to increase the debt ceiling.

So the question truly is of whether and when the Fourteenth Amendment might, as parts of the political left claim, be itself exactly the law that empowers the President to increase the ceiling. And the answer is that it is indeed that law — where the only way not otherwise in violation of the Constitution to pay debt that has come due is to borrow beyond the existing limit. If the debt can be paid in some other way, then no special authority can be found for the President in section 4.

And there is the rub. The President doesn't get to say that he or she must raise the limit to continue funding institutions to which he or she can apply profound and moving terms, unless those institutions are indeed Constitutionally mandated. The political left will find none of its distinguishing programmes amongst these institutions. (And, should they bother to read what's actually there, the political right would find that many things that it regards as essential are not actually required by the Constitution.)

…and kinda goes like this…

Thursday, 5 May 2011

As the stories being told by the White House and by the Pakistani state continue to evolve, to contradict each other, and to contradict themselves, and as the conspiracy theories breed and mutate like irradiated fruit flies, I cannot resist noting that Ossama bin Laden is an anagram for anomalies and B.S..

(Yes, I take advantage here of the ability to transliterate أسامة in more than one way.)

Enjoy This?

Monday, 14 March 2011

This morning, I went to the website of NBC New York, to read a news story and a promo on the right-hand side of the page caught my eye: [image of Victoria Beckham (a.k.a. 'Posh' Spice), headlined 'ENJOY THIS' and captioned 'Plastic Surgery Gone Wrong'] So NBC not only expects that I would enjoy reading about the mutilation of these people, but openly caters to such presumed enjoyment, and encourages its readers to indulge in it.

I am not aware of any reason that I should find gratification here.

I'm not a fan of cosmetic surgeory except to effect some bona fide reduction of injury. Most cosmetic surgeory instead represents an falsification of youth, of health, or of preferred genetic endowment, and does so at a cost of lasting (though perhaps concealed) injury. Nor am I a fan of celebrity (a creätion of journalism, with its need for material), nor of most celebrities, who are, as the saying goes, well-known for being well-known, and rarely arrive at their status by by virtue of desirable character traits. And, sure, to some extent, virtually every one of these people has brought it on themselves, but so would most other people if given a chance.

Celebrities did not and could not elect themselves to celebrity; for all the celebrities out there, there are many more people who try for it and fail, and an even greater number who simply wish for it to be thrust upon them. And whatever one might claim about actual celebrities wasting the opportunities that they are given, my experience of other people convinces me that a share as great or greater of the wannabe celebrities would make as much a mess if they had those opportunities. If I should wish ill upon the actual celebrities, I should wish it upon most of humankind.

Nor is cosmetic surgeory driven by vanity or by insecurity just an indulgence of the famous. If I flip through an issue of the local weekly, I find plenty of advertisements for such procedures, and I'd be rather surprised if NBC New York weren't selling commercial time to plastic surgeons. I certainly see plenty of women with utterly unnatural breasts, and occasionally see ruined noses or lips. I'm not sure what I'd find at the beach, but it probably wouldn't be pleasant. Some of the rich may keep going in surgical self-destruction, but many of these other folk have merely run short of funds and of collateral.

There's nothing new in the proposition that envy, sadism, or a lack of empathy will cause some people to indeed enjoy reading about plastic surgeory gone especially wrong, and looking at images of the results. But our culture has coarsened; the presentation and enjoyment has been moved into the mainstream. Bad enough that, for some, it's a pleasure; now it's a pleasure without a sense of guilt or even of shame.

Unappealing Court Logick

Tuesday, 7 December 2010
Court weighs constitutionality of gay marriage ban by Paul Elias & Lisa Leff of the AP

The panel […] seemed worried about allowing the governor and attorney general to effectively kill Proposition 8 by refusing to defend it.

Note that the question here is not whether state officials are required to defend the law in the original hearing, but whether officials are permitted to accept the ruling of the lower court when that ruling rejects a measure. If officials are not permitted to accept such a ruling by a lower court as to the constitutionality of a measure, then one has to ask why these matters shouldn't as a rule go first to the Supreme Court.

Given the present court system, requiring state officials to exhaust their appeals in defense of a measure would creäte an asymmetry in favor of whatever measure had passed; laws would always have to be accepted as in accord with the constitution unless challengers had the resources to fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Beyond that, the residual function of the lower courts would be to allow appeals courts and the Supreme Court to moderate their work-loads by refusing to hear an appeal.

The question of whether supporters of Proposition 8 have standing to appeal the lower court ruling should turn not upon whether this were the only way to ensure that a law is fully defended, nor upon whether it is the only way that what may plausibly be their rights should be defended, but upon whether indeed it is at all plausible that their rights are at stake, regardless of whether state officials are doing anything to protect those rights. If a party were not given standing to defend its rights, on the grounds that state officials were providing such a defense, then state officials could erode those rights by providing a weak defense.

Not a Financial Crisis

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The self-styled SD Planning Committee, formed to fight cuts to state funding of education, health care, and social services, has posted flyers that declare

We face not a financial crisis, but a crisis of priorities,

I don't know why they end that with a comma, as it's followed by a sentence in which it cannot participate. In any case, it's a somewhat puffed-up way of saying that

There's plenty of money for the budget; it's just not being spent well.

Interesting concept, there, that there could be plenty of money in a budget, but that the money is not being well spent. They just might try applying that same concept to just those portions of the budget that are allocated to education, to health care, and to social services. Perhaps, even after cuts, there would be plenty of money, if only it were spent well. And perhaps even if funding to these programmes were increased to the greatest possible levels, it would be spent badly.

Okay, so there's no perhaps to it; that's just how it would be.


On the other hand, I have to grimace when I hear or read of linking teacher pay to performance.

I understand the desire to pay teachers based upon the quality of their teaching. And, outside of the teachers' unions, almost everyone understands that it's not a good thing to link teacher pay primarily (let alone directly) to years of service. But I'm pretty sure that real-world attempts to link teacher pay to ostensible measures of performance are going to increase

  • disincentives for teachers to accept jobs working with less able students,
  • incentives for teachers to teach to the tests by which student achievement is purportedly measured,
  • student time tied-up in taking those d_mn'd tests, which themselves teach nothing to students beyond test-taking skills.

A profoundly different model of education is needed to get something that will work.

A part of that model would be to use markets to price teaching, recognizing (amongst other things) that different teaching contexts correspond to different markets.

Unfortunately, another part of that model is for parents to accept a significantly greater degree of responsibility for ensuring that their children are properly educated. The vast majority of parents seem willing to pass the buck to state-funded schools, regardless of their performance. It isn't sufficient to say Hey, I sent my kid to school! The school dropped the ball, not me!