I Guess I’m a “Statist”.

Short one.

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I get that accusation from time to time.  It seems to center on four things.

First:  I’ll sometimes talk about what law currently is, rather than what it should be (or shouldn’t be).  Basically, “these are the constraints we have to work under at the moment.” Since I’m not immediately dismissive of any unjust law, or, well, let’s be honest, of any law at all, and advocating ignoring/disobeying that law I apparently “support” it.

This, in some minds, makes me a “statist.”

Second, I think that some small amount of government with the coercive force that implies, properly managed is necessary in all but the smallest societies to maximize liberty.  I call this the “paradox of liberty” and have discussed it more here.

That, in some minds, makes me a “statist.”

Third, I believe that given the gargantua our government has already become, great care is needed in pruning it back.  It can’t be done quickly any more than it was quickly built to its size and intrusiveness.  Attempting to do so can cause hardship which will cause the populace to push back hard against the reductions leading to a redoubling of the growth and intrusiveness of government leaving us worse off than when we started.  I’ve discussed that before too, most recently here.

That, in some minds, makes me a “statist.”

Fourth, I believe in looking at achievable goals, not some pie-in-the-sky utopian dream.  Furthermore, I have to deal with the reality that there are other people out there with their own utopian dreams that they are trying to reach and that will affect what goals are actually achievable.  And sometimes that might mean I’m going to lose and the best I can hope for is to minimize the loss.  But since I don’t throw all practicality and achievability to the wind and stand on unadulterated “principle” regardless of whether it actually helps achieve anything or not is a crime in some eyes.  I have discussed that before too here.

That, in some minds, makes me a “statist.”

In short, I work toward an achievable approximation of my ideal which will fall short of perfection in this imperfect world filled with imperfect people.  That makes me a “statist.”

I can live with that.

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Think “Things” not “Words”.

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Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said (among a great many other things): “Think ‘things’ not ‘words’.” Words can often confuse matters.  “Things” are often much clearer.  Thomas Sowell is wont to repeat this statement in terms of economics.  And there is much truth to it.

Consider, for instance, the much maligned “unfavorable balance of trade.” This comes from the old merchantilists.  At the time, (before Adam Smith and his treatise on The Wealth of Nations), a nation’s “wealth” was considered to be the amount of gold and silver, specie, that it possessed.  If one imports more than one exports, the result is a net flow of specie out of the country to the folk who were exporting.  More specie going out than coming in meant smaller reserves, less wealth as they saw it.

This use of specie as the measure of wealth was really only of importance to the upper classes of society.  The well-being of the population as a whole was not considered significant.  The nation could become “wealthier” so long as there was more gold and silver, even if that wealth was obtained on the backs of an impoverished population.  Adam Smith’s key insight–that it’s the goods and services available to a population, not the amount of specie, that’s the true wealth of a society and that trade increases that–made the term, as used, obsolete.

Where thinking “words” instead of “things” comes into play is that this outdated concept of “unfavorable balance of trade” remained in place and people take it seriously.  And yet, the US had a “favorable balance of trade” during every year of the 1930’s (also known as “The Great Depression”).  And some of our best “boom” times?  And the record “unfavorable balance of trade” in 1984?  That came in the midst of a huge economic boom averaging 4.3% GDP growth and 2.8% employment growth.

The “words” were “unfavorable balance of trade” but the thing was “more goods and services available to the American people”.  The thing promoted more prosperity, and with it more jobs and more wealth, exactly the opposite of what the words brought to mind.

Words, particularly in the political arena, are often used to mask the “thing”.  Words can be manipulated more easily than “things.” The “thing” doesn’t change, but it’s easy to use multiple meanings for a word, and to change the meaning one is using without notice (the Fallacy of Equivocation).

So look beyond the words to the things.  Think things, not words.

“Not True Communism/Socialism”

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Whenever one points out the horrors of communism and socialism historically, folk pushing the latest round always dismiss them saying they weren’t “true communism” or “true socialism.”  First let’s dispose of the difference which is mainly in how you get there.  They both involve seizure of control of the means of production for what they profess to be the “common good.” The only real distinction is communism generally involves armed overthrow of the existing system and socialism does so through lawfare.

But let’s go with the idea that it wasn’t “true communism/socialism”:

Lenin: “Let’s do Communism/Socialism.”
Russia: “Okay.”
Horrors follow.
“That wasn’t true Communism/Socialism.”

Mao: “Let’s do Communism/Socialism.”
China: “Okay.”
Horrors follow.
“That wasn’t true Communism/Socialism.”

Ho Chi Minh: “Let’s do Communism/Socialism.”
Vietnam: “Okay.”
Horrors follow.
“That wasn’t true Communism/Socialism.”

Castro: “Let’s do Communism/Socialism.”
Cuba: “Okay.”
Horrors follow.
“That wasn’t true Communism/Socialism.”

Kaysone Phomvihane: “Let’s do Communism/Socialism.”
Laos: “Okay.”
Horrors follow.
“That wasn’t true Communism/Socialism.”

Pol Pot: “Let’s do Communism/Socialism.”
Campuchea: “Okay.”
Horrors follow.
“That wasn’t true Communism/Socialism.”

Chavez: “Let’s do Communism/Socialism.”
Venezuela: “Okay.”
Horrors follow.
“That wasn’t true Communism/Socialism.”

Bernie Sanders: “Let’s do Communism/Socialism.”
USA: “?”

I don’t care if it’s “true” (however you define “true”) Socialism/Communism.  The pattern after “Let’s do communism/socialism” and “okay” remains what it remains.

How about “let’s not.”

Pure Sentiment: A Musical Interlude.

 

I have a playlist of love songs but given the state of my…personal life let us say, well, listening to them could be a hit or miss proposition whether they’d make me feel good or trigger a depressive bout.  I’d compare the music with my reality and…

Well, one of the things I’ve had to learn is that there are worse things than being alone.  Much worse.  As the late Robin Williams put it:  “I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone.  It’s not.  The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”

I’d kind of understood that intellectually, but until I actually grasped it on a visceral level it was just words.  But once I did, I learned to appreciate where I am.  If anything happens in my life, great.  If not, that’s okay to because there are far, far worse places I could be.  And once I really understood that, I could listen to the music without the need to compare the music with my life.  I could simply enjoy the music.

So here’s some of it.  The music tends to be simple, likewise the “story” of the song.  Evocative imagery and powerful use of metaphor is used to evoke unrestrained emotion.  The musical styles, indeed, are often not to my normal taste but the expression here makes them an exception to all my usual tastes.

 

I have heard it said that a good song is one you groove along to; a great song is one that grabs you, holds you so that you just sit there with goosebumps.  This is one of those songs.

 

Remember, I grew up in a religion where the very idea of heaven was the ongoing, eternal continuation of love and family.  I was still a believer in that religion when I first heard this one and it still has enormous power to move me.  “If love never lasts forever, then tell me what’s forever for?”

 

 

This is actually a medley from a religious musical.  I don’t have to believe the religion to enjoy the story–and the second part of this, the “Eternity is You” part?  Wow!

 

And let’s wrap up with two of the most powerful (in my opinion) love songs ever written:

 

Now, excuse me while I go find some tissues. (Yes, I can be a sentimental softie sometimes.)

Feeding the Active Writer: Spicy Garlic Chicken

I have always liked the Spicy Garlic sauce on wings at Buffalo Wild Wings.  The problem with most sauces in most places is the amount of sugar in them.  BWW’s Spicy Garlic isn’t too bad (4 grams net carbs in a small order).  It is, however, enough that I want to carefully watch the rest of what I eat during the day (like I don’t do that already).

There are recipes online that purport to duplicate the taste of BWW’s recipe.  I’ve tried one or two and…frankly, they’re more trouble than they’re worth.  Fortunately, I’ve come up with something simple and quick that falls nicely in the “active writer” aspect–those of us who are crunched for time.  It’s also simple, with only five ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • Cooked chicken pieces (see description below)
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp hot sauce of your choice (I like Cholula original)
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup sweetener (any “measures like sugar” type–I use a store brand Splenda equivalent)  Yes, if you’re not low-carb/keto you can use sugar.

The chicken can be any chicken you’d like.  Or you could use pork, or really anything.  Since the sauce is strongly flavored this is a good choice or blander meats. I wouldn’t use it on more flavorful cuts of beef or anything like that.  If you’re a traditionalist, you can use sectioned wings.  I like to get boneless skinless chicken breasts (available for $1.99/lb in 4-6 lb packages at my local supermarket) and bake them until cooked through and store in the refrigerator until needed.  I cut off as much as I need at a time and cut into bite-sized pieces.  6 oz of the cooked pieces makes a nice base for a meal.  Heat it in the microwave and you’re ready for the sauce.

In a small bowl mix the other ingredients.  The amounts given are appropriate for about 6 oz. of small chicken pieces.Adjust as needed for however much chicken you’re coating.  Also, don’t be afraid to adjust the amounts.  If you like it hotter add more hot sauce and reduce the amount of mayonnaise.  Less spicy?  Reverse that.  Like more garlic?  Go ahead.  Do you prefer it sweeter?  Cut back on the hot sauce and add more sweetener. If need be you can add a small amount of water to thin the sauce.

Dump the sauce onto the cooked chicken pieces and stir until the chicken is well coated.

Enjoy.

“Not Today”

Defence of northern and central regions

Forces in Europe during the cold war were described to me once this way. Their job was to get the Warsaw Pact leaders to look across the border, look at their own disposition of forces, and decide “not today.”

They didn’t have to win to be successful, they just had to create enough doubt in the minds of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact leadership to get them to hesitate “today” (for any given “today”) and then do it again the next day.  It would be nice to be able to win a conflict, but creating enough doubt that the conflict doesn’t happen, at least not in the battlefield with direct war between the major powers, was sufficient.  As a result, the conflict moved to different venues–proxy wars and, most telling, economic competition.  It was this latter, economic competition, which brought about the downfall of the Soviet Union.  The greater efficiency of the market economy over anything centrally controlled meant that they were forced to open up markets “a little bit” (Gorbochev’s “Perestroika”) which turned into unexpected floodgates and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That creation of uncertainty is the roll of an armed citizenry.  Get would-be tyrants to look at the citizenry, look at the forces they can count on to enforce their orders, and decide “not today.”

And it’s worked.  Because of that, would-be tyrants of all political stripes have been reduced to chipping away at the edges of liberty–a bit here, a bit there, but nothing great enough at once to trigger open revolt.

To this end, finding “soundrels” to use as excusses for new oppressive laws and regulations has been a remarkably effective tool.  As H. L. Mencken said, “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” All too many pro-freedom people are less willing to do so when it makes them look like they are defending bad actors.  Yet that is exactly what is needed.  If you want to defend Freedom of Speech at all you must defend it for people who say the most vile and despicable things or the very exceptions you make against those things will, not may but will, be used against you all too soon.  Libel, Slander, and direct and immediate incitement to violence is about as far as one can safely go in a restriction on speech and even those restrictions are not without their dangers to liberty.  Likewise for any other of the freedoms we used to take for granted.

The restrictions start to be applied, then, not on actual controversy but on things that have sweeping consensus as being bad.  Restricting “hate speech” by “Nazis” is not done because these beliefs have widespread support in the population, but because they have extremely little support.  The numbers get inflated (to increase the perceived “risk”) by including “white supremacists” with “white supremacy” having a very flexible and elastic definition to include anyone who argues that behavior is far more important than skin color in determining life’s outcomes in the US.  But actual Nazis are so few that they have little support and people are afraid to defend freedom when its restriction is applied to them because “defending freedom” gets described as “supporting Nazis” and almost nobody wants to be seen as supporting Nazis.

This is a war of words and ideas that must be fought as words and ideas.  The same reasons why defending liberty must include defending scoundrels also means that you can’t just go shooting folk who disagree with you politically.  Your reasons for restricting liberty against those you see as scoundrels will just as easily be turned against you as theirs.

So it becomes a war of incremental approaches, one those favoring Freedom have barely begun to engage in.  And so, in the course of things, the other side has gained almost total control of the warfighting forces of that particular battlefied:  Education, News media, and Entertainment.  Walter Cronkite was once described as “the most trusted man in America.” All that meant was that he could lie with impunity and no one would call him on it.  And those who did know that some particular statement was, contrary to fact let us say (example his reporting of the Tet Offensive and its aftermath in the Vietnam War), they’d go to his next statement and just assume its truth because “Most Trusted Man in America.” (Gell Mann amnesia has long been with us.)

For these and other reasons those opposed to human freedom been uncomfortably successful at that incremental strategy.  That they’ve been reduced to that approach is actually a major success of having an armed citizenry.

Fortunately, the order of battle on the words and ideas front has been changing.  The rise and increasing ubiquity of the Internet and “New Media”, indy publishing being able to get widespread dissemination, even things like this blog allow people to get ideas, information, and viewpoints out without being completely dependent on media controlled by the opposition camp.  So far it’s just a start, but it’s growing.  Keep the faith and keep the pressure on.

And keep your guns to hand so that, when it comes to forcibly cramming their tyranny down their throats, they keep deciding “not today.”

Why Falsifiability?

Some people have pointed to certain “theories” as being extremely “robust”, which means that they can fit any observations we make in the real world.  Far from being a strength of those “theories” this “robustness” is a fundamental flaw.

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In formal logic there’s a kind of statement called a “tautology.” This is a statement where, no matter what the state of the various parameters of it, the statement itself works out as true.  Given the statement p OR NOT(p) the statement is true regardless of whether P is true.

One fact about tautologies.  They can tell you nothing about state of the variables involved.  Consider:  “either it is raining or it is not raining”. This statement is always true.  Either liquid water is falling from clouds in the sky making one side of the “or”, and thus the entire statement, true, or liquid water is not falling from clouds in the sky, making the other side of the “or”, and thus the entire statement true.  The truth of the statement tells you nothing about whether you need an umbrella or not.

To tell you anything about the world, a statement must have some possible conditions, at least in potential–whether they occur in the real world or not–where the statement would be true and others, again at least in potential, where it would be false.  In that case, the truth of the statement gives you information about the world.  “It is training” might be true, might not be, but if true than we know that an umbrella could be advisable.  In order to tell you anything about the world, a statement has to exclude possibilities.  It must also permit possibilities–a statement that is always false no matter the state of the elements in it is called a contradiction and is similarly useless in conveying information about the world.

These are simple examples and may seem trivial but the concept is extremely general.  Any statement, no matter how simple, or how complex, that is always true (or always false for that matter) regardless of the state of the various elements in it is a tautology and cannot actually convey information.

This is an important concept in the physical sciences.  There must be possible observational results that, if observed, would lead to the conclusion that the theory is wrong.  Without that, it’s a tautology and conveys no information.  It’s not right and it’s not even wrong.  It’s not meaningful enough to be right or wrong.  It’s just empty words.

The late Richard Feynman described this process in his famous physics lectures.  How to find new laws of nature.

  1. Guess what the new law might be. (Generally after much observation to try to discern a pattern.)
  2. Calculate what must happen if your guess is true.  This might be an individual result–a rock will fall when dropped–or it might be something of a statistical nature–half of the electrons emitted will be spin up and half spin down.  But either way the specific result expected must be calculated.
  3. Compare the results of the calculation to experiment.  Now, some people will object that some things you can’t do in a lab.  No, you can’t.  It’s rather hard to create a star and observe its evolution to test theories of stellar evolution.  However, you don’t need to do that.  You take the predictions of what we would observe from existing stars then look out with our instruments at the sky and see if what we see matches those predictions.  Same with other things that can’t be done in a lab.   Determine (calculate) what must happen in nature then go look.
  4. If experiment does not agree with the results of your calculations you’re wrong.  When observation and theory don’t match it’s the  theory that must go not the other way around.  Yes, observational error can happen.  You can have non-representative data where some other factor is affecting the results and it’s valid to check for that.  But not fitting your theory is not reason by itself to dismiss the data.  And you can’t use your theory to “correct” the data or even as a benchmark to say when to stop.  The data must stand or fall on its own and the theory either fits it…or not.  If you want to exclude “bad data” you’d better be able to justify it without appeal to your theory.  If you want to “adjust” the data for measurement error, you’d better be able to justify that without appeal to your theory.  And you’d better be prepared to show the original data, the exclusions and adjustments, and the justifications for them so that others can validate the work.
    1. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are or what degrees you have.  None of that matters.  All that matters is whether or not it agrees with observation.
    2. Note, though, that you make the calculation first.  You don’t go through all the data available and pick some that seems to fit your initial guess.   You need to make your testable predictions first, then look to see if they hold up.  If you simply grab on things that happen to agree you’re not doing science.  If your calculations say that A must happen and B can’t, and you look and see both A and B happening, well, guess what.  You’re wrong.  All of the predictions that come out of the theory must hold for the theory to hold.
  5. One thing that Feynman did not say was when you’d know the theory was right.  The reason for that is simply.  You can’t.  The most you can ever say is that it is consistent with available data.  There always remains the possibility of new data invalidating the theory and having to start over at “guess.”

In the end, a theory that can never be falsified, that no possible data can ever overturn is no theory at all.  It’s neither right nor wrong.  It’s too meaningless even to rise to the level of “wrong.” But it might well be very useful politically.

I’m sure we can all think of examples.