Bayesian Bargains

We are often caught in dilemmas, uncertain about choosing between two courses of action, and sometimes suspicious that “the game is rigged” so that whatever choice we make will benefit a behind-the-scenes controller. One interesting way of exploring this question is to formulate simple idealized situations, which can be taken as analogies to some of the real-world complexities in our lives, and analyze them with the Bayesian model of deliberation. Here is my article about “not missing out.”

Bayesian Bargains: Jail, Shopping, Debt, And Voting

Beggaring Student Life

Why do we have a public education system? Why have youth gain college educations? We have forgotten the basics because of an obsession with money, specifically “not paying” for “socialism.” I do some venting on this theme in this latest article.

Beggaring Student Life

Recalling William Somerset Maugham’s account of his flight from France in 1940 led me into a reflection of the corrosive barrenness of the Libertarian view, as championed today by Ron Paul, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Letter #2, “Being Attentive”

Where Did “the 99% vs. the 1%” Come From?

“What was the first appearance of ‘the 99% vs the 1%?’ Was it with the OWS or does it go back earlier to movements long forgotten?”

I don’t know, but here is an item from 25 October 2007:

All the fancy blather of all the talking heads is pure distraction from this simple fact: 99% of the American people (and of the world) are simply being robbed lock, stock and barrel. Their money, savings, pensions, livelihoods, homes, lands, jobs and career prospects, security, even their very food, water and air are being taken from them as quickly as the wheels of government, finance and industry can be turned to this task. We are taken to be crash-test dummies who can be hypnotized by televised images of Britney Spears underpants, and who won’t move our butts off the couch to keep our own homes and lives from being ripped off their financial foundations by the tornado-force suction of a rapaciously manipulated economy.

That excerpt is from: Homes Of The Crash Test Dummies

A few reminders of the times during which this was written:

June 2006 — U.S. housing prices peak.

February-August 2007 — subprime industry collapses (ongoing).

August 2007 — worldwide “credit crunch” as subprime mortgage backed securities are discovered in portfolios of banks.

September 2007 — Federal economists meet to address “housing recession that jeopardizes U.S. growth.”

October 2007
— U.S. backed bank consortium creates “superfund” to buy back, for detoxification and resale, the now junk subprime-backed securities (this effort is abandoned in December, there are no customers for 2nd hand junk);
— Federal Reserve Chairman Bernancke alarmed about bursting housing bubble;
— Treasury Secretary Paulson says: “the housing decline is still unfolding and I view it as the most significant risk to our economy. … The longer housing prices remain stagnant or fall, the greater the penalty to our future economic growth.”

The housing decline continued, the percentage of all households in some stage of foreclosure was more than:

1.03% in 2007 year-end
1.84% in 2008 year-end
2.21% in 2009 year-end
1.28% by mid-year 2010
2.23% in 2010 year-end
0.90% by mid-year 2011                                                                                                 1.45% in 2011 year end.

Percentages based on filings within the year (or half year). Data from

The global financial crisis (crash) occurred during September-October 2008.

Today, 1 in 5 U.S. mortgages is underwater (more owed than the market value of the home).

So, perhaps my 2007 CP article was one of numerous sources that eventually coalesced into the OWS “the 99% vs the 1%.” From the mail I got at the time, I know the paragraph quoted was the most popular one in the article.

[OWS = Occupy Wall Street]

An Iraq War Retrospective

American troops left Iraq at the end of December, and President Obama declared the war ended, at a ceremony for returning soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I thought I should review my guesses about how the war might turn out, from the time near its beginning. So, I turned to an article I haven’t seen in 7 years:

How Will The Iraq War Affect Americans?

and found this:
(Swans – February 2, 2004)   Imagine a future, eight years hence, based on a continuation of present-day trends. A political commentary of that time might be something like the following:

Working Americans had been robbed of their savings and of any economic future by a wholesale financial swindling and artificially accelerated concentration of wealth and corporate power, all resulting from government policies they had no influence over. Their dignity had been assaulted by political and judicial repression invoked in the name of greater security, their sense of decency had been shocked by the crass mentality behind a pandering mass culture aimed at manipulating them purely for corporate advantage, their civic ideals and sense of community spirit had been insulted by the intolerance foisted on their children through the contraction of the educational system put under the control of religious fundamentalists, and their national feelings as Americans had been revolted by the deceptive rush into an unnecessary and unending war, which left them seeing only one alternative to compensate for having experienced the ruination of their dreams and their ideals of an abundant and just American society — that alternative being the disappearance of the entire corporate system of “globalization” and “free trade,” what is quite simply the American Empire.

— Carlos Marcos, The Second American Civil War, 2011.

Can we even imagine a second civil war erupting? Could the American people be awakened to such extremes? Perhaps, given sufficiently bad personal economics, and a series of colonial wars that go badly. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Not bad for an old engineer, hah!

Well, to be perfectly honest, I cribbed it from Karl Marx, but I changed it a little. Here’s the original, which refers to the unsuccessful revolt known as the Paris Commune of 1871:

“The empire had ruined them economically by the havoc it made of public wealth, by the wholesale financial swindling it fostered, by the props it lent to the artificially accelerated centralization of capital, and the concomitant expropriation of their own ranks. It had suppressed them politically, it had shocked them morally by its orgies, it had insulted their Voltarianism by handing over the education of their children to the frères Ignorantins, it had revolted their national feeling as Frenchmen by precipitating them headlong into a war which left only one equivalent for the ruins it made — the disappearance of the empire.”

Objectively, my article did nothing. The war proceeded, the economy was wrecked, and most people are indifferent about these results, unless they feel a bit pinched by them.

Subjectively, the article helped me focus my discussion when someone in my family would ask about the Iraq War; and like many of my articles it annoyed the kind of people I am happy become annoyed by what I say and write.

Maybe Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is the first glimmer of “The Second American Revolution.”

“Every person determines on his own authority the price that he can pay, or refuse to pay, for his life, and in the same way everyone decides what sacrificium intellectus he can make for the preservation of the valuable concord with his friends.”  — Manès Sperber (1905-1984)

Understanding Christopher Hitchens, and Letting Go of the Future

Happy New Year.

Many have written about Christopher Hitchens, since his death on 15 December 2011. In the numerous articles I found, I only saw discussion about what Hitchens did/didn’t do, and should/shouldn’t have done, as well as what the commentators thought/felt about it/him.

Eventually, I realized that the mass of memorial-condemnation literature about Hitchens was itself a reflection of the character of the American intelligentsia and especially that of its left wing, which cared most passionately for and about Hitchens these last four decades. I was interested to learn what drove the man, why did the private human being Christopher Hitchens have the public persona “Christopher Hitchens?” The opinions I formed from this point are presented in an article just published by SWANS. I thought Christopher Hitchens himself, in his final column published by Vanity Fair, verified my hypothesis about him.

Christopher Hitchens, Coyote, or Saint Paul?
2 January 2012

Besides looking back on 2011 through the lens of Hitchens’ impact, I was drawn forward into 2012 by spelling out my view about the obsession many have with the future. My political philosophy (which is assuredly amateur, and not formalized) involves a rich blending of Jungian psychology, Buddhism and science, along with a few political and economic beliefs. Our political philosophies are helpful when they give us insights that contribute to social progress in the here-and-now; they become social impediments when we treat them as political objectives.

The Endless Reality of the Imperfect Now
2 January 2012

Best wishes for the New Year.