Thursday, May 24, 2007

US Warns Iran as Armada Enters Gulf

"The US today threatened new UN sanctions to punish Iran's nuclear drive as it ratcheted up tensions with the biggest display of naval power in the Gulf in years. A bristling US armada led by two aircraft carriers steamed into waters near Iran for exercises, hours before UN watchdogs said Iran was expanding its uranium enrichment program..."

This is something I haven't seen much of in the news I read recently. Most of what I've seen has to do with the Republican debates, and how everybody is excited by Ron Paul's cantidacy. Let us not forget that the election is still some time away, while our current President is steadily moving the government along toward war with Iran.

People will say "but they're making nukes." Indeed, the press is afire with reports of a steadily increasing program of enrichment. Remember, however, that this is the same bunch that was absolutely certain there were WMDs in Iraq.

Even if they are building nukes, honestly, it doesn't scare me in the least. They'd have to be incredibly stupid to actually use them. Of course, once they have them, we'd have to be incredibly stupid to invade, which is probably what they're going for--assuming they are building them at all. The US Government has a history of invading and abusing nations that cannot defend themselves--they leave people who do have nukes alone.

read more | digg story

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Trouble With Government Grants

There are many ideas that many people put a great deal of faith in, with the justification being "A majority of scientific organizations say..." A majority of scientific organizations say the current global warming is caused by increased CO2 emissions. A majority of scientific organizations say that AIDS is caused by HIV. A majority of scientific organizations say even tiny amounts of certain substances can harm certain people. The thing people fail to realize is that a majority of scientific organizations can be wrong.

However, it isn't enough to say "truth is not established by a majority." These are, after all, scientists, and scientists are expected to know about these things. Lately, I've taken to responding to the "a majority of scientists say" comment with "A majority of scientists are selected and funded by politicians." The article linked goes into great detail as to how they are selected and funded, by whom, and how this entrenches a dogmatic orthodoxy within the "scientific community." It calls for new kinds of funding with less government control.

Of course, my solution is to end government funded scientific funding altogether, other than funding designed to produce results for specifically governmental use, such as military research. Never mind the tax dollars that would be saved; cutting off funding for an entrenched, hierarchical model of scientific research would do a great deal of good in and of itself.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Small War Guaranteed To Damage a Superpower

Patrick Cockburn and Tom Engelhardt describe what the Bush Administration Has Wrought in Iraq.

It starts out an "excellent essay on the misadventures of our Empire" (Billhaynes). At the end, the solutions he advocates include a committment to strengthen the U.N., international arms control, and protectionist trade policy (including a reference to "free trade" as "outdated doctrine").Perhaps tarrifs would be a good temporary source of funds to pay down the national debt, but if they are to be used, they should be maintained at a revenue-generating level, and not a level designed to implement an "industrial policy." The way to "reduce our dependence on our trade partners" is not to hinder international trade, but simply to stop creating artificial credit--end the Federal Reserve.

The only credit that should be available is that which is willingly offered and accepted by individuals at rates determined in the marketplace. The People can figure out best how to reduce our dependence, each in their own way, without the interferance of government.Bad loans should have consequences, and irresponsible creditors lending to iresponsible debtors should not be bailed out by the government. We are reaching the point where this will be enforced upon us by nature itself--the government itself is close to going bankrupt. By attempting to protect people from the disciplinary pain of minor bank failures, we have set ourselves up for one big, final, world-destroying bank failure: the bankruptcy of the U.S. Government and the collapse of the U.S. Dollar.

read more | digg story

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Fall of Santiago

Musings on a game of Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Lfe.

(note: I updated twice today. Don't miss Drains of Value 5, below)

Not long ago I acquired a copy of Pirates! for my XBox (actually, I have a 360; the game works fine except for the Live leaderboard... the game won't connect). In this game you take on the role of a pirate, plying the Carribean and the Spanish Main for treasure, prestige, and, when working for one of the great powers of the day (England, Spain, France, and the Netherlands), rank. You capture ships, raid towns, and, if your force is large enough, you can capture them, installing a governor from a rival power. In a recent game, I did just this, replacing the Spanish governor of Santiago with an English one.

Santiago is one of two major settlements on the island of Cuba, the other being Havana, on the north coast. At the time. I had a large and unruly crew... I needed plunder. Santiago was described as being a "wealthy Spanish capitol." What that meant is that there was a lot of booty to be had by taking Santiago, but also a lot of soldiers to beat to get to it. Even with my three-hundred and fifty men or so, I wasn't going to be able to take it.

So I partnered up with another band from a nearby pirate haven. I allowed them to fall on Santiago's defences, weakening it, and then I and my men invaded, claiming the prize. They had been weakened to the point where I was able to take total posession of the town, and installed an English governor. The city went from being a wealthy Spanish capitol to a poor English outpost overnight.

The town deteriorated further under English rule, until finally England declined to defend it at all (it was defended by no soldiers at one point), and the Spanish finally retook it. It began to recover a bit at that point, but for the remainder of the game. Santiago was never the same. It made me think about similar incidents in actual human history.

Let us consider the circumstances. First off, the justification is that somehow, all that individual prosperity that happened under the Spanish flag was somehow an affront to English security. My personal motivations, while partially motivated by a desire to advance military rank (at that point, I think I was working up through titles of nobility), was mostly motivated by a personal problem: too many men, not enough money. Attacking Santiago was a cynical attempt to reverse that calculation: eliminate some of my men while increasing our gold stores. Yes, my primary goal involved killing not Spaniards, but my own men! The people of Santiago suffered greatly because of my black hearted avarice.

It reminds me of Kiev. Kiev was a Russian city on the Black Sea (I think) and was, and one point, the cutural and commercial center of Russia. It was a prosperous and commercial city, a relatively free city. Under Kiev's leadership, Russian might have become something admirable, but it was not to be. Mongols destroyed the city, and took tribute from the rest. Kiev never fully recovered, and when Russia finally did develop some kind of central identity, it wasn't a commercial center that won that honor, but rather the most productive collector of tribute for the Mongols: Moscow.

The Mongols also ruined Islamic civilization. Prior to the Mongol invasion, Islamic areas were well known for philosophy, mathamatics, engineering, commerce, even some novel and forward thinking ideas. The success of the Mongol invasion left them grasping for the answer to a question: Why? The conclusion they came to, as it so often is for religiously centered civilizations that are conquered from without, is that God was punishing them for being insufficiently rigid and intolerant. The Islamic world was never the same.

A similar thing happend in Iran. A revolution overthew the Shah, and a democratic government elected. With American backing, the Shah returned. Why, do you suppose, did that decent government fall so quickly? Well, of course, it was because Americans are infidels, and Iranians were insufficiently rigid and intolerant to oppse them. :-\

War is a horrible thing, and not just because lots of people die. It's because it destroys the hopes and aspirations of humankind, often leading an entire people into a culture of despair. I found myself wondering: What form would it have taken in the future history of my game? What happened to the people of eastern Cuba?

Nevertheless, virtual war against digital enemies is still fun, so I will return to the Spanish Main. This time, I will not stop at one city. All America will live under the... how about the Dutch flag? ;)

Three Unproductive Drains of Value: Part 5

What to do about currency debasement, inflation.

I've shown that counterfeiting and currency inflation are basically the same thing, undertaken by private parties and the government, respectively. This one is probably the easiest to fix out of all of them. All that is required is monetary freedom; the government doesn't really have to do anything, other than get out of the way.

It is entirely possible for private companies to issue money; this is already happening. However, the legality of such things is in question. It really shouldn't be. The simple fact is that the current monetary system is an upward wealth transfer system, and any alternative should be tolerated, if not welcomed. One thing that could not be done instantly is to abolish the Federal Reserve without there being something else in circulation to replace it. This, of course, is precisely why certain powerful interests will oppose any attempt to establish a privately issued medium of exchange superior to that issued by the government.

As I have written before, privately issued currency would not necessarily have to be based upon gold and/or silver. They could be based upon any other commodity, or even shares in business of one sort or another. Gold and silver have the advantage of rarity and durability, but I can see a place in our monetary system for many other sorts of things, as well. The key feature is that no kind of money should have a government monopoly.

The role of government in this would simply be to enforce contracts and claims of purity. If a company issues a silver piece that claims to contain a ounce of .999 pure silver, but it turns out that they do not, the courts would be there to settle the dispute. I would also like to see a law that says that any credit backed by a commodity would have to be 100% backed--a company would not be allowed to issue more credits backed by a commodity than they have the commodity in their possession or currently owed to them.

I say "currently owed to them" because one of the functions of banking is making loans on behalf of their depositors. I would require them to specify--in writing--what percentage of a given depositor's account is under loan at any given time, and require that the depositor agree that they are only allowed to withdraw the remainder over a given period of time. In other words, if I deposit twenty ounces of silver into my bank, specifying that they can loan out up to 50% of it, I could only go back and withdraw 10 ounces; I would have to give them a contractually specified amount of time to come up with the rest.

This would ensure two things. First, it would prevent a bank from inflating the supply of a given commodity. If there exists x amount of silver, people will trade it based upon that knowledge. If there exists 2x amount of silver backed credits (be they paper or digital), people will then begin to trade it at a lower rate. This is dishonest, and should not be allowed. Secondly, it would ensure that banks in compliance would never collapse, provided they engaged in sound lending practices. Nobody would wake up one day to find that the 100 ounces of silver they thought they had saved up was, in fact, only 20 ounces of silver, because the bank over-issued silver credits.

I could see a role for government in the establishment of a standard of weight and purity for a commodity. For example, early in our history, the US Government defined the "dollar" as being "equal to 412.5 grains (26.73 g) of 90% silver" (ref). While the Treasury was the only entity allowed to issue coins, banks issued their own bank notes, backed by silver dollars. The government could create a similar standard once again, though it'd have to come up with a new name, having so thoroughly corrupted the word "dollar". However, I don't even think this is necessary. Terms like "ounce" and "gram" are sufficient, and the while individuals would determine what degree of weight and purity they prefer to trade in, the network value of money would strongly encourage a consensus standard.

The key feature of all of this is that nobody would have the authority to issue unbacked credits at will and force anyone to accept it in payment (as the Federal Reserve has today). The wealthy and the powerful would no longer be able to steal the earnings of the poor and middle class by way of currency inflation.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Loyalty Day!

Oh dear God...

The very name of this new "holiday" hass Orwellian overtones. Here we have the head of the administration that presided over the biggest centralization of government since FDR, the most overt establisher of a foreign-backed government outside his jurisdiction, bleating about our beloved tradition of "freedom and self-government." Who, exactly, do these people think they are kidding? And it wasn't just Bush. " The Congress, by Public Law 85-529, as amended, has designated May 1 of each year as "Loyalty Day."

Huh. I was searching for this at, and I discovered that congress is busily creating "days" for all kinds of stuff:

9 . Designating March 2, 2007, as `Read Across America Day'. (Agreed to by Senate)[S.RES.91.ATS]
10 . Designating April 20, 2007, as `National and Global Youth Service Day'. (Agreed to by Senate)[S.RES.158.ATS]
11 . Designating March 25, 2007, as `Greek Independence Day: A National Day of Celebration of Greek and American Democracy'. (Reported in Senate)[S.RES.95.RS]
6 . Designating March 25, 2007, as `Greek Independence Day: A National Day of Celebration of Greek and American Democracy'. (Introduced in Senate)[S.RES.95.IS]
17 . Designating May 18, 2007, as `Endangered Species Day', and encouraging the people of the United States to become educated about, and aware of, threats to species, success stories in... (Reported in Senate)[S.RES.125.RS]
18 . Designating April 6, 2007, as `National Missing Persons Day'. (Introduced in Senate)[S.RES.112.IS]
19 . Designating March 25, 2007, as `Greek Independence Day: A National Day of Celebration of Greek and American Democracy'. (Agreed to by Senate)[S.RES.95.ATS]
20 . Designating April 6, 2007, as `National Missing Persons Day'. (Agreed to by Senate)[S.RES.112.ATS]
Can't you just feel the love?

I found the text in the US Code, but I can't seem to find the actual record of it being passed. This doesn't make me suspicious of the President's proclaimation, so much as it does my searching skills, but I am very curious as to how Nunes, Boxer, and Feinstein voted on this. I expect they all voted in favor, since they're all such good patriots.