Sunday, December 30, 2018

Interesting Things 12/30/2018

1. The Agony of Fortnite Addiction

I like Dreher a lot, but in my opinion, he is seriously off-base here. This article seems like it could have been written in the 1980's when home video games were some kind of new thing, but it is simply absurd to promote this kind of fearmongering in this day and age. Among other absurdities, he laments that children are lonely and won't have anyone to play with in their neighborhoods since everyone playing video games. Seriously, what decade does he think it is? People can play video games too much, just like they can read too much, play sports too much, or anything else. Dreher can raise his children whatever way he sees fit, but I am pretty confident that his ban on Fortnite is going to be viewed by his son the same way many of my peers now view their parent's ban on Harry Potter back in the day; as stupid and foolish.

To his credit, he posts a readers response that pushes back a little on some of his points.

2.  What to Tell Our Kids About the State of the World

An article with great promise that quickly goes downhill. I am all for people teaching their children to be data literate, but due to epistemological differences with the author and the annoying Pinker crowd that means completely different things between us. Trump and other populist surges? The dying gasp of backward people who haven't opened their eyes to Science(TM). Therefore, we must teach our children "to think critically". Which, in absurd Pinker land, means "the ability to bypass one’s intuitions, emotions, biases and faith, and the ability to rigorously appraise evidence. It involves applying a good deal of scientific skepticism, i.e. applying the scientific method." Which is all fine and dandy if it wasn't a bunch of hogwash.

In the end, there are only two kinds of knowledge; historical and praxeological. Praxeological knowledge is that which is derived from the logical necessity by virtue of man being an acting being. It is apodictic, or beyond dispute by the very structure of reality. All other knowledge is historical knowledge, or in other words experiential knowledge. The scientific method is merely one imperfect method of trying to analyze experience in a rigorous manner that does not work for every circumstance. An experiment is merely one singular experience in history which is set up in such a way as to be useful for predicting and setting a future course of action based on this past experience. It is not apodictic, hence why the consensus of scientific knowledge is always changing.

We cannot leave out that this mindset, which claims to be based on empiricism, is only empirical in a selective manner in that it completely rejects self-experience, as if a religious experience, something recorded as occurring throughout human history until the present day, is a less valid observation than a an atom smashed in a collider. It is the interpretation of the experience that is the tricky part, whether in a lab or when meditating. If you have not had such experiences, it may be that you are not open to them, no doubt influenced by the Pinker's of the world and their sterile doctrine of Science(TM).

In the Christmas spirit, Francis Church eloquently expressed what the Pinkers of the world miss, in the most reprinted editorial in the English language "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus":

"VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

3. Former McKinsey Exec Imprisoned by Saudis

A rather disgusting tale of greed and cowardice. McKinsey acquired a Saudi man's company and employed him to run it as a subsidiary. Well, he made the thugs who run the country mad and he hasn't been seen or heard from in over a year. In a classic move, McKinsey dropped Hani Khoja from the payroll and has kept up doing its merry business with the Saudi government. Don't count on them for help when the going gets tough. Truly revolting.

4. American Universities’ China Problem

Touching on something similar to what I brought up last week, the author discusses how the influx of Chinese students into American universities along with their billions of dollars of tuition, not to mention working directly with the Chinese government on projects all for the sake of that glorious cold hard cash, is creating incentives for self-censorship. This is not the least bit surprising and is the kind of challenge that the US is going to deal with as other state's gain more and more economic power. I think in the end it is going to come down to culture. Either we tolerate such cravenness, or we don't and make it clear that we don't by socially sanctioning the people and institutions that do. This will also likely become and issue with international corporations, especially tech ones.

 5. Syria is a Distraction from Great Power Competition

Duh. It's China, stupid. "A war for the Scheldt? A war for a chamber pot!"

6. Las Gigantes Tecnológicas Tienen Grandes Problemas
My article on tech regulation was translated into Spanish and republished by the Hispanic Mises Institute.

Song/Video of the Week: New Year's Day by Taylor Swift

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Interesting Things 12/22/18

1. Report: Kenya Risks Losing Port of Mombasa to China

There is worry that Kenya will have to hand over the port of Mombasa to Chinese authorities due to an inability to pay off large Chinese loans that included clauses in which Kenya waived sovereign immunity on the port to use it as collateral. Nothing has happened yet, but China already took over a port in Sri Lanka under similar circumstances. Just another example of China using its newfound economic might in order to expand its geopolitical power. Makes you wonder what kind of yahoos are running these places that they are willing to effectively auction off their sovereignty over a railroad.

2. Japan Approves Defense Plan Including 2 Aircraft Carriers

Japan will be modifying its two helicopter carriers to be able to launch certain types of fighters. These aren't going to be anything like a regular carrier in terms of power projection capability, but still is probably a step in the right direction. There is, of course, some mumbling about this not fitting under the unfamous article 9 of the Japanese constitution (foisted on them by the US) that forbids armed forces, but that is seriously such a joke by this point that it verges on Orwellian doublespeak to say otherwise. Still, quite an issue in Japan. Anyway, I view this as a good thing in terms of long-term checking of China.

3. Desmond & The Killer

Rod Dreher, among others, has been covering an especially disturbing story recently. There is apparently an 11-year-old little boy named Desmond who is a drag-queen star, because what else do you expect these days. Well, someone realized that this kids mother has been taking him to gay clubs where he has been dancing on stage and having people throw money at him. In Dreher's words "sexualizing an 11-year-old, and having him prance around stage performing a sexually suggestive dance in a bar, for grown men to throw money at him, as if he were a stripper — well, look, if that’s not pedophilic grooming, what the hell is?" Well, as if that isn't bad enough, Dreher found that this little kid has been on a YouTube channel run by some freak who served 17 years in prison for killing someone and chopping him up. The guy has a banner on his wall with the name of a date-rape drug. This whole situation is highly disturbing and aside from the usual crowd, no one seems to give a damn, no doubt because we live in an age of individual hedonism where one of the worst things you can do is criticize someone just "living their best life" or whatever abject nonsense. Hopefully, Desmond's parent's come to their senses, or more likely, he is rescued. A very upsetting, but also telling story of the times.

4. The Will to Fight and the Fate of Nations

A very interesting essay on the will to fight and its role in military conflict. The article is specifically looking at how the concept isn't adequately treated in US military doctrine, which is worth considering. However, it is just an interesting concept in general. ISIS was able to route whole divisions of Iraqi troops outfitted with modern US equipment because the Iraqi's just didn't have the will to fight. There is a similar situation in Afghanistan, where there are huge problems with desertion. If a population has a will to fight, then its going to be a long drawn out mess. Hence, we have been fighting the Taliban for 17 years with defeat looking more and more likely by the day. Or think of our experience in Vietnam. This is especially important when thinking of something like a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. A recent survey found that 68 percent of the population is willing to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion that didn't stem from a Taiwanese declaration of independence. Obviously then, China has a large incentive to try and break the Taiwanese will to fight before they hit the beaches, or better yet to so fully destroy their will to fight that an invasion is rendered unnecessary.

5. The Unlikely New Generation of Unibomber Acolytes

This is a very long and interesting piece that people should read. There are apparently a bunch of anti-social (meaning they are opposed to the social order itself) whackos running around who are very intelligent and as a result have turned into nihilists who want to destroy society, usually with some kind of nutzo environmental bent. It is a very long piece but has a lot of useful insights into these people who are quite frankly the enemies of humanity. Notice how a lot of them seem to be exceptionally intellegent.

6. Donald Trump is a Man of Peace--His Enemies are a War Machine

Dan McCarthy lays into all the usual nutjobs who have been running US foreign policy for decades and have continued to just royally screw everything up and waste lives and money. In McCarthy's words: "This elite views other people’s lives in terms of problems, for which the elite’s calling is to provide knowledgeable solutions. But knowledge only comes from the top, and it can never be absorbed by those further down or on the outside: in theory, the technocratic ideology may be egalitarian, but the failure of egalitarianism is what serves to keep the technocrats in existence as a class. They are needed. They will save you from eating the wrong food or smoking the wrong plants (tobacco bad, marijuana good, or vice versa), or having the wrong attitudes toward people of different colors or habits from yourself. Just as society must become ever more regulated at home – if not always regulated by government, then regulated by enlightened authority in the private sphere, even the enlightened Twitter mob – so the world must benefit from our enlightened regulation as well."

7. PewDiePie’s Battle for the Soul of the Internet

I must say, I don't really like PewDiePie, but I subscribed to him anyway in this battle. For me the PDP vs T Series subscriber battle is reflective of a much larger change. A shift in the cultural center of gravity away from the West to the East. Much like how the economic center of gravity is moving and is projected to continue to move east

This is worrisome for several reasons. On the economic front, I can't help but fear a global banking regime run by China the way it is dominanted by the US now. I don't like the US trying to run the world, but China doing it is a lot worse of a nightmare for everyone involved.

That has not happened yet, and may never happen, and if it starts to happen I suspect there will be a great deal of resistance. However, it is already happening with our culture. There are a lot more people in China, and therefore a much larger market for movies, which means Hollywood is incentivized to import Chinese movie standards in hopes that their movies being let into the country. The result is bland and sterile movies that meet Chinese censorship requirements. A nightmare.

Will giant internet companies be able to resist the same pull? What deals will Google cut to have more access to the Chinese market? The chinese government has already succeeded in getting an American employee fired over a Twitter mistake involving Tibet. 

If you think the problems in this article are bad, just wait until China gets more leverage. A terrifying thought, which is why, frankly, Western-centric (construed broadly to include a lot of places like India and Japan etc.) alternatives are needed that make it very clear that they won't even think about dancing with China.

Song/Video of the Week: Good King Wencelas by The Irish Rovers

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Interesting Things 12/15/2018

1. Taiwan Can Win a War With China

No doubt a very provocatively titled piece, the author goes into many of the fascinating details about the specifics that PRC invasion of Taiwan would entail. For instance, did you know that weather conditions in the strait limit the invasion window to only two months a year? I didn't. Just like I didn't know there are only thirteen suitable landing zones and that due to intelligence penetration and also just the enormous logistical undertaking preparing the invasion would be that everyone would know what was coming 30 to 45 days beforehand, giving Taiwan plenty of time to batten down the hatches and call up their two million reserves. All in all, this is fascinating and a much deeper dive into the "small" details that often get overlooked in things like this.

2. How Asia Fell Out of Love With China's Belt and Road Initiative

An interesting look at problems China is having with its large infrastructure initiative, one of the largest being that everyone else is catching on that it entails becoming a debt slave to China via huge loans. Some interesting details and the authors try to give the impression that electoral results in several places are the result of rising anti-China sentiment. I'm not familiar enough with the details to know how true that is, but it certainly seems to be plausible that it is a factor to some degree. Just another potential roadblock China will have to deal with as it attempts to "rise".

3. China and Russia: A Strategic Alliance in the Making

Graham Allison makes the case that China and Russia are becoming fast friends, as Putin and Xi bro it up over how the mean old US wants to undermine both of their regimes. Very interesting read that raises a bunch of good points. This take is controversial, as China and Russia are usually considered to be natural enemies, just based on a bunch of geopolitical factors, but I think it is a good demonstration of how far the US has bungled things in Europe. My take is to hand Europe off to the Europeans and say Ukraine, Georgia and everything else is your problem and then try and butter Putin up and break up the blooming bro-mance with Xi. Its absurd to consider Russia a threat in any meaningful way. As John Mearsheimer is fond of pointing out, Russia's economy is a giant gas station. Their population is shrinking. If there is a potential external threat to the US way of life it comes from China, specifically their growing economic power and the influence that comes with it. What exactly should be done about that is another question, but driving Russia into the arms of China is definitely exactly what should not be done.

4. US Internet Speeds Rose 40 Percent This Year

Contrary to the doomsday freak out about the end of net-neutrality, US broadband speeds are up 40 percent this year. 

5. Lund Professor Freed Student From Islamic State Warzone

This happened a few years ago, but is apparently just making the news now. A PhD student in Sweden went back to his family in Iraq when ISIS was invading and ended up telling his advisor that he might not be finishing his thesis, what with the beheading crazies bearing down on him and all. In what surely must be a case of record higher education efficiency, the school quickly arranged a team of mercenaries to swoop into town and whisk him and his wife and two children to safety. The moral of the story is that you should probably be writing right now and even being attacked by psycho-terrorists is not an excuse for not having your paper in on time.

6. Medieval Digital Resources

The Medieval Academy of America runs an online list of free to access medieval resources. So if you were looking for a place to access ancient Welsh law texts or a place to help you learn Old English be sure to check them out.

7. Big Government Isn't The Way to Beat Big Tech

I was recently in TAC arguing that even if concerns about the amount of power Big Tech is accumulating are valid, regulations will just help them stay more entrenched. We know from regulatory capture etc. that big firms have lots of influence over regs and they write them to entrench themselves and squash competition. In the end, Big Tech is big because people use their products and services. Consumers made them powerful and can take away that power if they choose. If the industry get mired in a bureacratic regulatory swamp Big Tech will be less concerned with pleasing us consumers and more concerned with lobbying in DC. (Gee, I wonder why Amazon is locating HQ1.5 in DC? Such a mystery.)

Song/Video of the Week: The Lament of Eustace Scrubb

A catchy tune with meaningful lyrics referencing Eustace Scrubb from CS Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

John McCain's Legacy

With the passing of Senator John McCain on August 25th, social media has been abuzz with controversy, as usual, between those lavishing immense amounts of praise and adulation (see Jack Schafer’s round up on the mainstream media’s grief-stricken canonization efforts) on the late senator, and those who, with varying degrees of tact (“When John McCain was Right”) and callousness, had more negative reflections to his legacy.

While the desire to steer away from crassness is understandable, what is not as clear  is why commentators feel the need to laud a man whose main legacy is greatly––and perhaps even fatally––weakening the very country he spent his entire life serving. One need not impute ill motives to McCain to point out the extreme cost his good intentions incurred.  

As the famed Chinese strategist Sun Tzu wrote, “warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life and death, the Way (Tao) to survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed.” It was to this greatest affair of state that McCain dedicated most of his career — first in the navy as a pilot, and later as a leader when it came to foreign policy in the senate. In this preeminent role, more often than not, McCain ended his analysis by concluding that the United States armed forces should be dispatched in arms to intervene around the world. From Serbia to Iraq, from Iran to North Korea, McCain was always leading to charge to push for further US military involvement. Fortunately, in many instances, calmer heads prevailed and the US did not invade North Korea or start a war with Russia over Georgia. Unfortunately, US hawkishness has already done immense amounts of damage.

While at the moment, McCain is being remembered fondly in most of the mainstream press, if one looks to the distant future, it seems likely that he will not be remembered for being a jovial colleague or for having positive interactions with reporters. Rather, his true legacy will be the long-term consequences of the interventionist policies that he championed, consequences that will continue to bear poisonous fruit for decades.

While some consequences are easier to see than others, one that is clear  is the massive price tag that have accompanied McCain’s wars. Although it seems to be conveniently ignored by both Republicans and Democrats at the moment, the US is currently over $21 trillion in debt, not even counting tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities. According to research from Brown University, the war on terror has cost over $5.6 trillion dollars. Even worse, it’s estimated that, by 2056, the US will have accrued another $7.9 trillion in interest on the debt used to fund these wars.  

In 2010, then-Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen told CNN  that debt is “the most significant threat to our national security.” It seems that Mullen’s warning has failed to dissuade further unfunded spending, since the national debt has since continued its trajectory through the roof

It is also worth mentioning that China, the only other state on the map that could potentially be an unfriendly great power rival to the US, has been one of the largest lenders to the US, holding just under $1.2 trillion in US bonds. Should relations between the US and China deteriorate, China could have a mass sell-off of US bonds, bonds issued in part to fund the wars McCain supported. This would hand China the terrifying capacity to wreak havoc on the US economy, devalue the dollar and make it more expensive for the US to borrow money in the future.

Beyond the ever-increasing monetary cost of these wars wars,the U.S. has racked up an incalculable human cost as well. According to the Watson Institute’s Cost of War Project, over 6,800 US service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of this an additional 7,000 US contractors have died as well. Nearly 1 million VA disability claims have been filed from veterans of the Iraq and Afghan war. Equally chilling, the rate of veteran suicide has shot through the roof.:in 2014 alone 7,400 veterans killed themselves. And, of course, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or displaced across the Middle East as a result of these wars.

John McCain’s legacy is leaving the US massive debt, economically vulnerable to a likely future geopolitical rival, an epidemic of veteran suicides, and thousands of dead soldiers. Unfortunately, his legacy does not end there. Much like interest on the national debt, America will be paying for McCain’s wars in other unforeseen ways for decades to come.

But conservatives have long known of the devastating consequences war has on the health of societies. As author William Lind pointed out in The American Conservative, true conservatives should hate war; its negative consequences for social order are without end. It racks up an immense monetary cost, leaves young men dead or disabled, has the potential for  negative and unpredictable cultural change, and can destabilize society itself. In Lind’s words “if history is a guide, and it usually is, the price for the nationalist right’s love of militaries and war is likely to be higher than we can [sic] to imagine.” Similarly, conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet has documented the far reaching negative consequences increased militarism has had on American society, especially when it comes the atomization of individuals and the enlargement of state power. As I have written about in The American Conservative, this increase in state power that results from militarism itself lends to even further social breakdown.

John McCain has indeed left an immense legacy — a legacy that will live on far after he has passed from living memory. The American militarism he promoted, however, is nothing new. Its continued effects, compounded by the numerous conflicts in which McCain helped the US involve itself, have only made the ailing body politic of the US more frail. As we look ahead, from amidst the chaotic and decaying present of the Trump era, we are left to wonder if the US will ever manage to recover from McCain’s long-lasting legacy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Deregulate TV White Spaces to Solve Pennsylvania's Rural Broadband Access Problems

For most people, the internet has become a ubiquitous and integral part of our daily routines that going without it would seem like going without indoor plumbing or electricity. Yet, that’s the reality that millions of rural Americans––and hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians––face every day. This deficiency is, in large part, due to the fact that it’s difficult to connect isolated households and communities to high-speed internet.

In Pennsylvania, the state and federal governments have tried to remedy this lack of access to the rest of the world with taxpayer-funded subsidies to internet providers, yet the problem persists. Rather than pouring millions more taxpayer dollars down the drain, Pennsylvania should urge the FCC to deregulate unused white spaces on the same bandwidth used to transmit TV signals that can be used to connect rural households to the internet.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set the benchmark for advanced communications capability, often called broadband, as having a download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for fixed services. According to the FCC’s most recent report, around 800,000 Pennsylvanians––six percent of the total population––lack access to broadband at this level. This issue disproportionately affects the rural poor: a full 20 percent of rural residents lack decent internet access.

Under Pennsylvania state law, residents have the right to purchase access to broadband internet, defined as having a download speed of 1.54 Mbps. This speed is many times slower than the FCC definition, and the inability to reliably access the internet has negative consequences for students, teachers, and businesses around the commonwealth. Businesses in areas with poor internet connection across the state have expressed fears they will be forced to close up shop or relocate due to the lack of internet. In one report from The Daily Item, focused on the Susquehanna River Valley in central Pennsylvania, a custom snowboard company confessed that it’s forced to send employees to another town in order to download needed files onto a flashdrive and then drive back. A tax business along the Susquehanna River also relayed similar concerns with their frequent internet outages, saying that, in the digital age, when everything is kept online, it is simply impossible to keep up without it.

Many places in Pennsylvania aren’t even receiving the state minimum 1.54 Gbps. In November 2016, Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 investigated the slow internet speeds in rural areas and found that some places had even less than 1 Gbps download speeds. Despite poor results from the $434 million in taxpayer subsidies from the federal government between 2006 and 2016, Action News 4 reports that telecom companies in Pennsylvania are slated to receive another $509 million between 2017 and 2027.

With Verizon estimating that “it would cost ‘millions if not billions’ to provide copper or fiber lines for broadband internet across rural Pennsylvania” it may seem that the only option is for rural Pennsylvanians to be stuck in the internet dark ages, or for the government to continue to pour millions of dollars into subsidizing access. However, recent technological innovation in the ability to utilize the unused white spaces to transmit the internet across vast distances appears to offer a cheaper and more effective solution.

White space technology has been pioneered by Microsoft and has been successfully implemented in other countries around the world, such as Namibia and the Philippines. Microsoft estimates that the use of TV white space technology could provide access to about 80 percent of the US rural population currently without broadband. Additionally, they project that utilizing TV white space technology in conjunction with other connection methods, such as satellite, fixed wireless, and 4G, is the cheapest most efficient way to eliminate the rural broadband gap in the US.

To that end, Microsoft has launched an initiative to eliminate the rural broadband gap by July 4 2022, through partnering with telecoms providers and providing royalty-free access to patents and licensing of the TV white spaces technology and code that Microsoft has already developed. Just this week, Microsoft President Brad Smith joined with the governors of Arkansas and Colorado to discuss the digital divide in rural areas.

However, the current regulatory environment surrounding white spaces and their use has created uncertainty that is preventing developments and investments from taking place. This is likely the largest obstacle in the way of TV white space technology being used to increase rural broadband access. Space on the spectrum is limited and the majority of it has been auctioned off by the FCC to various broadcasters and businesses.

Fortunately, the deregulation of the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi spectrum demonstrates the ideal solution. By simply allocating three channels on the TV spectrum as being for public unlicensed use, the FCC can make clear that there is a space for TV white space technology to operate in, opening the door to the necessary investments in the technology.

In an age of rapid technological change and globalized competition, Pennsylvania can’t leave hundreds of thousands of its residents behind in the internet dark ages. FCC deregulation of the white spaces that make this technology possible is the first step to ensuring that no Pennsylvanian gets left behind.

Zachary Yost is a Young Voices Advocate who lives in the Pittsburgh area. Follow him on Twitter @ZacharyYost.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Appearance on Young Voices Podcast

Last week I was on the Young Voices Podcast to talk about the Alt-Right and some of my recent writing. Let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

I Go Live on the Young Voices Facebook Page Discussing My Recent Article in the American Conservative

Last week I went live on the Young Voices Facebook page to talk about my recent article in the American Conservative entitled "The Triumph of Reason Over Emotion". Let me know your thoughts.

(Excuse my off-centered head)