Monday, August 25, 2008, 12:52 PMIt seems that human nature is such that, where a decision on some matter is to be made, members of society, or even a small group, will defer to those most willing to make a decision, provided those other members are themselves uncertain as to the right course. If the decision asserted seems a good enough one, they will follow it, and otherwise they will depart.
This strikes me as a relatively good arrangement. For example, on the scene of an accident, those with medical knowledge will speak up, and strenuously as to the right course of action, certain in their knowledge of the right. At the other extreme, a group deciding where to collectively go for dinner will often defer to the one who speaks forcibly, or most quickly gains adherents.
But can't this arrangement also fail its members too? What if the matter involves the unknown, or worse, the unknowable. What if it involves some marginal question of justice, or virtue, or some fine point of economics or science? Who will stand up then?
In situations like these (often found in questions of government), very few will stand, and due to the uncertain nature of the problem, those few will be as ignorant as the many. What characterizes those who stand then? Most likely they are charismatic folks willing to stand forward on ANY question, perhaps motivated by a personal interest, or perhaps just motivated by a love of the attention and power that comes with leading a herd.
Those who stand up to lead on problems of government are naturally as ill-suited to their task as the many, and probably more dangerous, since they will sell equal certainty regardless of their real level of ignorance. Even when the correct answer is "We should each find our own way", those who make such proclamations will be perceived as admitting their own ignorance, and also drowned out in noise and number by those who do wish to lead groups.
Lastly, in questions of government, one is seldom permitted to "depart" when one knows the answer the leader gives is a wrong one. Thus the natural selection of best circumstantial leaders by the wise instincts of social arrangements is thwarted, and the end is always and inevitably tyranny.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008, 03:33 PMBack in 1987, computer parts were not yet standardized and competition was fierce. All manner of microchip manufacturers, big and small, produced their own proprietary variations of commonly needed chip types for consumer electronics makers. One of those chips was the MCM514256ap80, a 256k by 4 bit 80 nanosecond ram chip in an unusual 20 pin package. One of their consumers was Commodore Business Machines, whose relationship with Motorola allowed them to acquire these chips for a new hard drive controller / memory expansion card they were making called the Amiga 2091.
The card was fitted with 16 slots, meaning it could hold 2 megabytes of memory, and recognize them in 512k increments.
Now, fast forward to 2008 and imagine: what if you had one of those 2091 cards, and one of the memory chips on the board went bad?
In a world without the internet, your prospects are very grim. You might start by contacting local electronics retailers, but those that don't laugh at you will give you the equivalent of a dumb expression over the phone. Your next step might be to contact local user groups for obsolete computers or HAM radio clubs. To do this you'll be back on the phone with those electronics stores, scouring newspapers, and generally asking around about such groups. If you are really savvy, you might even try hooking up with a local dial-up BBS to find the folks you need. And when or if you do find these groups, your mission has only begun. It might be several weeks before the group meets again, and the minute chance that anyone in the group might actually have the chip you are looking for may be frustrated by the fact that the right person didn't come to the meeting to hear your plea. And even then, if lightening strikes and you actually find someone with the chip, it's likely he or she is the only one they know who has the chip, and they might not be willing to part with it cheaply or easily. All in all, you will probably spend hundreds of man hours in your search and the likelihood of you coming up empty will approach 100%. If money is no object, you might, as a last resort, try posting ads in national magazines or newsletters, but the chances of the right someone reading your ad and responding seems hardly worth the cost you'll incur. And so your A2091 will remain quite dead, and by extension, the productivity of the computer it was plugged into. Unhappiness reigns.
Thank God for the internet, however. You see, I discovered I had this problem on Tuesday night around 10pm. Wednesday morning, I consulted the internet and found that a small electronics parts retailer called Quest Components in "City of Industry" California (a 'burb' of Los Angelos). Quest is the only company in the world who admits they have this chip available. They had sixteen (16) of them in fact. In three days I will receive them via UPS Ground. Because of the wonders of the internet, my A2091 will be reborn, and the Amiga 2000 I will plug it into along with it.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008, 01:31 PMThe side of public finance Adam Smith neglected to mention...
The beneficiary of government spending, by preferring the support of taxes to that of private trade, intends only his own security and wealth; and by directing public policy in such manner as it draws the most funds from private into state coffers, intends only his own gain. He is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which may have been no part of his intention. But it is always the worse for society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest in state taxes, the bureaucrat and politician promotes the withering of societies wealth more effectively than if he had really intended to destroy it.
Friday, June 27, 2008, 12:44 PMThe Second Amendment to the United States Constitution:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The Supreme Court has delivered its most comprehensive examination of the 2nd Amendment in history. The decision was a close one, 5-4, in favor of the 2nd Amendment. The four dissenters, led by justice Stephen Breyer, argued that the amendment is essentially meaningless, and that government has totalitarian power to disarm the public. So much for inalienable rights. Well, I won't even honor their opinion with a rebuttal, especially since Scalia, writing for the majority, did a fair job of it already. What I WILL do today, however, is quibble with the majority opinion itself.
In section IV, Scalia notes:
"It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service--M-16 rifles and the like--may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment's ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right." (emphasis mine)
This phrase is important, because it is the foundation upon which Scalia eventually defends the status quo banning of certain types of weapons and limitations upon their availability.
However, his reasoning is faulty, and at odds with previous reasoning in his same opinion. Scalia would have us believe that the second amendment reads "... the right of people found suitable by the government to keep and bear commonly-held consumer arms found suitable by the government shall not be infringed." This is an amendment with holes you can drive Rosie O'Donnell through! Considering the wording of his paragraph alone, one could derive the possibility of banning firearms entirely in places like DC, Chicago, or a Quaker village, where guns are not commonly held at all, but knives are the most lethal home device.
The flaw occurs because he is not considering the fact that the reason M16s and such are not commonly held arms is due to pre-existing government restrictions on their sale and availability. The paragraph above would have the effect of codifying these previous actions.
Had the Federal Government banned all firearms except BB-guns, and DC had then banned BB-guns, this opinion's reasoning would have protected BB-gun ownership alone.
Clearly, Mr. Scalia was not thinking very clearly.
Thursday, February 14, 2008, 03:29 PMThe supposition of Natural Law as the source of liberty has a firm grounding in the American tradition. And yet, consider this warning from Thomas Jefferson: "The natural order of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.".
On its face, the warning is a fitting, but pessimistic assessment of the history of human relations with their most powerful earthly peers. The disturbing thought, however, and one which I can not shake, is that this situation reflects a "natural order". Wasn't the very same Jefferson who, in his famous Declaration, informs us that all man are naturally "free and equal"? Which is true then, that by nature we are free, and tyranny represents a distortion of this natural state, or that whatever liberty we may rightfully possess is naturally abridged and suppressed by governments which are constantly gaining ground?
It seems to me that the claim of man being naturally free and equal, including the subtle implication that governments are, in fact, unnatural institutions, is correct. This is born out not only in their incompatibility, distortion of, and contention with proper, healthy, and virtuous human society, but also by their temporal instability. If governments were truly natural, they would be far more stable, and their activities less of an obvious hindrance to mankind wherever they are found.
However, it also seems to be the case that true crime and oppression of man by other men, along with man's natural tendency to organize their efforts in societies within societies, gives rise to the basis for Jefferson's first point, and provides the source of free society's eternal sorrow. Thus, while it is true that man is naturally free and equal, he must also spend his days enduring, tricking, avoiding, or suffering societal elements of varied strength, including official ones who call themselves "the government" which would thwart those pursuits.
"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." - George Washington