The Social Thaw: Change in Facebook Policy

My response to Snowdengate, the new Graph Search, its inevitable integration with Google Glass? I will be minimizing my privacy settings and for all intents and purposes making my Facebook public.

So good ahead, look up my profile. Friend me. Whatever. I don’t mind.

Sounds counter-intuitive, huh? There’s a logic behind the madness. It’s now a safe assumption that in between the numerous bugs and the surveillance what you post on Facebook might as well be public. So I will treat it as public.

Which means no more denying friend requests on the basis that I don’t know you. No more purges of weirdos who happened to friend me. No more separation into “Friends,” “Acquaintances,” and other groups. No more photos of an excessively… personal nature, or confidential communications. That I believe is for email, Dropbox, and even older systems, like face to face meetings.

Some commentators are recommending people delete their Facebooks. But I find its social features to be quite useful, plus I am a publicist – so why on earth would I do that? That would just be stupid.

PS. There is also know a dedicated Facebook Page for this blog that’s automatically updated with every new post.

Corruption, The American Way

So apparently an Ambassadorship costs $1.8 million per post in the US.

In virtually any other country, even where the situation with corruption is quite dismal, such arrangements would be seen as unquestionably corrupt. And yet the US scores an entirely respectable 73/100 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), leagues above say Italy which gets 42/100.

The reason I mention Italy is that I was once discussing the question of corruption in different countries with an Italian. He said that what in the US is known as “political lobbying” would be treated as a criminal activity in Italy, and indeed in most of the rest of Europe. Hence why in the Med countries you get far more cases of corruption in the form of cash in envelopes. In the US that’s against the law, but that’s not such a big deal, because the law – or rather the absence of it – allows for the same thing, just in indirect formats (expensive dinners, contributions, astronomic speaking fees, stock performances superior to those of corporate insiders, etc). But that kind of corruption is “deniable” and hence respectable, whereas the direct kind is crude and distasteful, a defining feature of disorganized Third World countries.

In Italy, regulations against corruption and weaselly dealings in general are stringent. Now because Italians tend to corruption in general, either by nature or nurture, this means that the high incidence of such endlessly knocks against their corruption ratings. In the US, however, the factual “legalization” of much of what passes for corruption in Europe allows it to remain relatively unscathed in such international assessments.

There are many other such examples. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is insanely corrupt if you think rulers siphoning off billions of dollars off the oil budget is fundamentally illegitimate (as is alleged but never evidenced for Russia’s “mafia state” and Putin’s Swiss bank accounts). But it’s all quite legal there, which is why – hard as it is to believe – Saudi Arabia scores higher than not only Russia, but even Italy in the CPI.

So the solution is simple. Just legalize your corruption, and move up to the top in both the World Bank’s Doing Business ratings and soon enough in the Corruption Perceptions Index. Don’t forget to be slavishly pro-American in your foreign policy. Investors will love you for it. Well, maybe not, at least once said investors get to know you a bit better, but at least you’ll get glowing reviews from the Wall Street Journal and Transparency International. That’s how you become a made country in Davos World.

GCB2013 Released

Here it is. Or just skip the graphics and download the data in Excel here.

I can’t say I care much about most of it. Of course most people everything think corruption is “increasing,” because they are a grumpy lot.

What does matter is the number of people who report paying a bribe in the past 12 months. It is as close to objective measurement as you can get in a sphere of life as indefinite and necessarily opaque as “corruption.”

Below is a quick table summarizing the results from the most notable countries (no comment where it’s pretty much “as expected”).

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Lessons From The Snowden Affair

(1) Just as with Manning, it is beyond dispute that Snowden broke US law. As such, the US government is perfectly entitled to try to apprehend him (on its own soil), request his extradition, and prosecute him. This is quite perpendicular to whether Snowden’s leaks were morally “justified” or not. In some sense, they were. In my opinion, privacy as a “right” will go the way of the dodo whatever happens due to the very nature of modern technological progress. The best thing civil society can do in response is to make the lack of privacy symmetrical by likewise exposing the inner workings of powerful governments, the increasing numbers of private individuals connected to the government who enjoy its privileges but are not even nominally accountable like democratic governments, and corporations. In this sense, I agree with Assange’s philosophy. That said, it’s perfectly understandable that the government as an institution begs to differ and that it has the legal power – not to mention the approval of 54% of Americans – to prosecute Snowden. But!

(2) It preferably has to do so in a way that’s classy and follows the strictures of international law. As I pointed out in my blog post on DR and article for Voice of Russia, treason is not a crime like murder, rape, terrorism, or theft which are pretty much universally reviled (though even these categories have exceptions: Luis Posada Carriles – terrorism; Pavel Borodin – large-scale financial fraud). One country’s traitor is another country’s hero; one man’s turncoat is another man’s whistle-blower. So throwing hysterics about Russia’s refusal to extradite Snowden isn’t so even so much blithely arrogant as it is stupid and cringe-worthy. Would a Russian Snowden, let’s call him Eddie Snegirev, be extradited back to Moscow should he turn up at JFK Airport? To even ask the question is answer it with a mocking, bemused grin on one’s face.

(3) It is true that the US, as a superpower, can afford to flout international law more than any other country. There is no point in non-Americans whining about it – that’s just the way of the jungle world that is international relations. Nonetheless, it can be argued that making explicit just to what extent the European countries are its stooges and vassals – as unambiguously revealed in the coordination between France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy that created a wall of closed off airspace preventing the return of Bolivian President Evo Morales to his homeland on the mere suspicion that Edward Snowden is on board – is perhaps not the best best thing you can do to draw goodwill to yourself. While European governments are by all indications quite happy to be vassals and puppets, many of their peasants don’t quite feel that way – and having the fact presented so blatantly to their faces is just going to create resentment. Why such a drastic step is necessary is beyond me. Why pursuing Snowden so vigorously, who has already leaked everything he has to leak, is in any way desirable beyond the fleeting thrill of flaunting imperial power must remain a mystery.

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Of Rats and Men

This is a (very preliminary) prologue to a sci-fi novel I’ve been thinking of writing for some time. It’s called 100 YEARS TO VICTORY, but obviously liable to change. My sole question is: Would you continue reading the rest of this book?

It’s been nearly a decade since I built my first cage.

It was an exceedingly small cage. Physically, and literally, it was about the size of a large computer, though its inhabitants were none the wiser to the fact. To them, it would have appeared as a world entire, a world of rolling plains and giant trees and gentle hummocks in which they could make their burrows. That world wasn’t particularly big either. It didn’t have to be. Not when it hosted consciousnesses that were conditioned by evolution to a home range of less than 50 meters in radius. As far as a rat was concerned, the neighboring hill might as well be a foreign country, and its denizens – instinctual enemies, to be exterminated so that its own clan could survive and propagate.

And so the years passed, passing into decades, and centuries. There evolved subtle differences between rats in different locales: The rats in the ice-bound north, for instance, developed white fur and epicanthic folds to protect against snowblind, while males in the torrid south acquired rich manes to attract females. Many thousands of rat generations appeared and disappeared in the blink of a human eye. Arbitrary eons of blood and breeding, and the profound indifference of a Mother Nature that canceled them out over any long enough period of time.

Then I said, “Let there be grain.” Stalks of wheat sprouted out at the bed of one valley. A moment-millennium later, rice appeared in a second valley, and was followed by flowerings of millet, maize, and sourghum in yet other places.

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Mapping The Dark Enlightenment

I’m a sucker for classification graphs, so I was delighted to see that “Another Reactionary Blog” had compiled a “map” of the neo-reactionary / “Dark Enlightenment” thinkers. It’s reproduced below:

dark-enlightenment-map-1.5

I’m not disappointed not to see myself there, as I blog about a lot of different things making classification quite hard.

If I had to try to place myself there, I’d probably be somewhere east of the Derb, west of Steve Hsu, and north of Taki. If I had to pick just one school, I probably best fit into the HBD community, but I’m interested in Techno-Futurism (incidentally, I met up with Mike Anissimov last week) and “Masculine Reaction” – or at least its “game” component, I don’t much care for the MRM – as well.

EDIT: The original map has been replaced with an updated one, with me included! My position there is about right.

See also A History of Reactionary Taxonomy at the Radish Mag for the most comprehensive “meta” analysis of reaction.

Birth Defects, FBD Marriages

While researching a different topic I stumbled upon the following 2006 report on the Internet. It contains comprehensive estimates for the prevalence of birth defects all around the world. The relevant graph is reprinted below (you can click on it to get a bigger picture).

birth-defects-by-country

What leaps out at first sight is the sheer extent to which the worst affected countries are Muslim ones. Of the 29 countries with a birth defects prevalence of over 70/1,000 births, only 5 are not majority Muslim. 9 of the worst 10 are Muslim. Furthermore, whereas those five are all very poor African nations, the Muslim ones include very rich Arab states like the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

What explains this? Is it something in the water?

Almost certainly this is due to high rates of consanguineous marriages. As hbd* chick has frequently pointed out, the institution of father’s brother’s daughter is prevalent and commonly accepted pretty much only within the historic borders of the 8th century Caliphate. This is arguably a very regressive custom: While it promotes familial loyalty, the side cost is high rates of clannishness, nepotism, depressed national IQ’s… and, as graphically illustrated above, birth defects.

The country with the least amount of birth defects per newborn is estimated to be France.

The Tsarnaev Brothers

Make of this what you will.

(1) The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, never adjusted to life in the US. “I don’t have a single American friend,” he said. His younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had an understanding of US teen hood / SWPL culture. He was a 9/11 “truther.” That’s from the Twitter account. That said, he wasn’t too down with America either.

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Delving Into Bitcoins And The Deep Web

ragged-flagon-skyrim

Several days ago, the USD/BTC exchange rate soared to dizzying heights, reaching almost $250 for one unit of the virtual, decentralized currency. Then it crashed to $55. But since then, it has gone back up to $100.

I’d heard of them before, but I had assumed it was some sort of pyramid, and that the train had already passed. Pyramids are only good for those at the top. It’s the creators of currencies who get rich, not their users. In short, I was skeptical.

Still, as someone on a perpetual lookout for lazy and socially unproductive ways of making money, I knew I had to check it out.

And I discovered some rather interesting things.

First, Bitcoins can’t be just created out of thin air. Just like gold or other minerals, they have to be “mined” by solving complex cryptographic puzzles. In practice, some users pool their computing power for this task. There is a theoretical limit to the total amount of Bitcoins that can enter circulation: 21 million. So you can’t inflate it like you can with any fiat currency.

Second, they offer real advantages over conventional currencies. There are no banking or transfer charges, because you are your own bank. Your Bitcoins are held in an encrypted file on your hard drive, and can easily be transferred between your own accounts, or “wallets,” and other accounts. These transactions can be completely anonymous, because your wallet isn’t linked to your “true name” (paging Vernor Vinge).

This anonymity means that you can, in relative ease and safety, avail yourself of online black markets selling all kinds of cool shit of dubious legality.

For instance, on April 15th 2011 – since known as “Black Friday” in certain circles – the DoJ flunky Preet Bharara shut down the three biggest online poker companies operating in the US. In the ensuing panic, dozens of others left of their own accord, voluntarily restricting access to US players to avoid any legal ramifications. But a few continue to operate here. Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Seals with Clubs, a site where you gamble with Bitcoins. This is an example of an innovative and dynamic enterprise that has bypassed real life problems to create a product that people enjoy and that is likely to continue to grow, especially if governments start taking a harder line against online poker. (Incidentally, the games at Seals seem to be very soft, even at high stakes – or at least that is the impression I got from observing them for 15 minutes or so. Definitely something to look into if you get some portion of your income from poker).

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Investigating Bitcoins led me, of course, to the “deep web,” the Silk Road, and even weirder places. I will retrace the journey, should you wish to undertake it yourself.

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Book Review: Xin Liu – The Otherness Of Self

The Otherness of Self” by Xin Liu, published in 2002. Rating: 1/5.

I don’t want to sound overly demanding, but really, unless a writer is the next Kant or Heidegger, he owes it to his readers to make his prose at least minimally engaging. With this book on too many occasions I was under the impression that I was reading something from the Postmodern Essay Generator. Here is a totally random quote I just pulled from THE OTHERNESS OF SELF: “As Carr argues, a solution to the problem of experience is provided by the Husserlian idea of retention-protention as a horizon from which the experience of being experienced at the present moment stands out.

Come again, amigo? About 80% of this book is PoMo-babble, as verbose as it is apparently meaningless – one is under the distinct impression that Xin Liu is padding out a thesis paper with references to thinkers who are not really at all relevant to the putative object of his studies, the Beihai Star Group and South Chinese business culture. It is with this in mind that we come to the actual content, unearthing which expends no small time of energy and sanity.

In this book, the anthropologist Xin Liu argues that “the human experience itself is narrative in character… time is the life of narrative.” By extension, social life is centered around the perception of time as it relates to the past, present, and future, as well as to the sense of “before” and “after”. He analyzes China’s changing society through the prism of its changing conceptions of temporarily as described in three contemporaneous books representative of the time periods in which they were written, as well as his own observations of business life in Beihai.

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