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Dec. 19th, 2014

eyes black and white

My Neighbor Totoro

Of course, "My Neighbor Totoro" is Véra's favorite movie: What other beautiful movie has a three year old as one of the two main protagonists, what more the one who drives the action (if not the main one unfolding it)? Obviously, she loves Totoro (though she gets upset everytime we draw her attention to the plush Totoro we bought her); but in the end, the "chat-bus" is her favorite monster. Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! The movie will satisfy all children from 2 to 222 — even at the thousandth viewing (and there will be a lot of them). Note: 10

That's the first time I give a 10, and I do so without hesitation. Even Ratatouille only got a 9.5. No collection of clichés to both follow and disrupt and to artificially tie in a knot in the end (or fail to miserably all along), no too-clever-by-half ambiguity about whether the magic is real or not (it both unambiguously is and isn't — ¿por qué no los dos?), taking time to not rush things yet without dwelling on unnecessary events (the pictures accompanying the end music tell everything we might want to know about the rest of the story), no condescending propaganda for the author's favorite cause (but sincere nostalgia for a time lost, yet without hiding its hardships). Just a heartfelt story, delicately told, with beautiful animation and memorable original music fit to all the circumstances of the story. The opposite of what America does. Hats off to Hayao Miyazaki and Joe Hisaishi.

Dec. 5th, 2014

eyes black and white

Haters gonna hate

At a meeting organized by old objectivists, I got thinking about all those "liberals" (US word for socialists) who so hate Ayn Rand they can't even hear her name without becoming angry, much less articulate a truthful account of her ideas that they could rebuke. They can't even try to put themselves in her shoes, feel like her, rejoice at the things she celebrated, and despise the things she scorned, they can't embrace her biases, what her passion brought that was positive, they can't relate to the wounds that explain her failures. The brain damage is not even at the level of reason, that they may or may not have otherwise reached. It goes deeper. Above all, what these collectivists are missing is EMPATHY.

Funny how collectivists precisely claim to be the great empaths, who feel for the weak, the poor, etc., when in actuality, they totally lack empathy, and use some kind of empty pseudo-empathy for collective abstractions as a prop to fill the utter void in their ability to relate to other humans. And that's how Benjamin Constant was already remarking that their modus operandi was to sacrifice to the people as a collective the holocaust of the people as individuals. (Funny that back in the days, the "liberals" denoted individualists like Benjamin Constant who opposed the growth of the State, when nowadays in the US, it denotes collectivist partisans of the totalitarian State.)

Sure, Ayn Rand herself lacked empathy. Part of it probably comes from innate inclinations. Another part probably involves experiencing the midst of a totalitarian revolution where people denounce each other for profit — to the point that members of the formerly aristocratic families must become themselves the most rabid communists and send their relatives to die in dark prison cells or concentration camps least they themselves get sent to cold death. She probably witnessed enough of the darker part of the human heart everywhere to not want to empathize too much. Yet, though she might have had sociopathic tendencies, she was capable of great personal charity — like giving shelter and a job to people formerly sent to concentration camp by collectivist hero Roosevelt based on their ethnicity. And unlike the "altruistic" collectivist kind of sociopaths, she never argued for mass murder.

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Dec. 4th, 2014

eyes black and white

Name the country...

Acquaintances spread suggestive pictures with the question: "Name the country built on the genocide of one race and the enslavement of another". Why? But each and every single fucking one of them! Name one that isn't, I double dare you. (Granted, maybe Iceland and Färoë never saw genocide, only enslavement — how many other such countries can you count?) Don't you think your despicable country is special for that, you disgusting nationalistic bigot. Now stop blaming people you're jealous of for the sins of the ancestors of other people who happen to have the same skin color as they do, you racist prick. So, "your" ancestors, based on your racist skin color equation, have been slaves for hundreds of years? My, how lucky of them! Mine, like those of most of humanity, have been slaves for thousands of years. And yes, through forced or forcefully incentivized unions, I have my share of the masters' blood. And so have you. So step off your high heels, forsake your disgraceful philosophy of hate and envy, and instead of playing this game of collectivist blaming of innocent people for other people's sins, start embracing love, reason, and individual responsibility. To paraphrase Ennio Flaiano (substituting the R- word for the F- word), "Racists divide in two categories: the racists and the anti-racists".

Nov. 23rd, 2014

eyes black and white

The Passport Game / Le jeu du passeport

Last night, I dreamed of a small social game, the passport game. (I'll fill in the implicit blanks from the dream.) A small number of people may play (say, from 2 to 6, maybe more if all players follow proper discipline). At the start, the players may sit around a table (or not), with a pen and paper, and agree on an order for players (clockwise, with the first player chosen at random). The players agree by proclamation on the general background for a trip, for instance the Orient-Express in 1914, a cruise on the Titanic, a Grand Hotel during the Cold War, a medical conference, etc., or if they can't agree, the first player chooses. Then, every player invents for himself the identity of a traveler, and writes it on his sheet of paper; when everyone is done, they each in turn show and read what they wrote, and everyone can offer amendments that the player can accept or reject. When everyone has declared his identity, everyone must invent a story whereby these identities were but cover identities: "Actually, I am ..., and you are ..., and you are ...", and writes a summary on his sheet of paper. Following the same principle, each in turn shows and reads his sheet of paper and tells his story, upon which the other playeurs can embroider and propose amendments that the teller can accept or reject. After each story, the players give in secret a note to the story as told and accepted by the teller, and may recalibrate notes for previous stories. When everyone has told his story (or passed his turn), the notes are revealed, that may be arbitrary numbers from 1 to 10, or an increasing order of preference from 1 to n with a bonus of n/2 for the most liked story. The story with the greatest total wins. With two players, it's simpler: either the two players agree on a winner, or it's a draw. The game can be played several times, with a rotation for who speaks first. Optionally, there is also a rotation after each phase of the game. The game can be played without pen and paper, by note worrying about identifying a winning story.


Cette nuit, j'ai rêvé d'un petit jeu social, le jeu du passeport. (Je remplirai les détails laissés implicites dans le rêve.) Un petit nombre de personnes peuvent participer (disons, de 2 à 6, voire plus si tous les joueurs sont disciplinés). Au départ, les participants s'assoient autour d'une table (ou non) avec crayon et papier, conviennent d'un ordre des joueurs (par exemple, le sens des aiguilles d'une montre, le premier étant tiré au sort). Les joueurs conviennent par proclamation du cadre général d'un voyage, orient-express en 1914, croisière sur le Titanic, Grand Hôtel durant la guerre froide, conférence médicale, etc., ou s'ils ne sont pas d'accord, le premier joueur choisit. Puis chaque participant s'invente l'identité d'un voyageur, écrite sur une feuille de papier; quand tous ont fini, ils montrent et lisent chacun leur tour leur feuille de papier, puis chacun peut offrir des amendements qu'il peut accepter ou pas. Quand tous ont déclaré cette identité, chacun doit inventer une histoire où c'étaient des couvertures pour une identité secrète: "en fait, je suis ..., et tu es ..., et toi tu es ...", et en écrit les grandes lignes sur sa feuille. Selon le même principe, chacun son tour montre et lit sa feuille et raconte son histoire, sur laquelle les participants peuvent broder et proposer des amendements que le conteur peut accepter ou refuser. Après chaque histoire, les joueurs donnent en secret une note à l'histoire telle que choisie par le conteur, et peuvent recalibrer les notes des histoires précédentes. Quand tous ont raconté leur histoire (ou passé leur tour), on révèle les notes, qui sont au choix arbitraires de 1 à 10, ou un ordre croissant de préférence de 1 à n avec bonus de n/2 pour l'histoire préférée. L'histoire qui a le plus grand total gagne. À deux, c'est plus simple: ou bien les deux joueurs se mettent d'accord sur un gagnant, ou c'est un match nul. On peut jouer plusieurs fois de suite, avec rotation de l'ordre de parole des joueurs. On peut aussi faire une rotation de l'ordre à chaque phase du jeu. On peut aussi jouer sans papier et crayon, et ne pas se soucier d'identifier une histoire gagnante.

Nov. 22nd, 2014

eyes black and white

Personality Types for Mathematicians

When I was a kid, I used to believe that mathematics was all about knowing the rules and following them perfectly (which at least, unlike in other endeavours, was possible), and about carefully planning your strategy to attack and vanquish given problems, and that a good mathematician would be one who would primarily think like that. In terms of MBTI (which I didn't know at the time), that would be an INTJ personality, the Mastermind as Keirsey calls it. Since my dad was a math professor, I thought he had to be like that. But as I grew up, I realized to my surprise that wasn't the case. Indeed, while these activities are indeed essential in Mathematics, and any mathematician must be capable of thinking that way, and while some mathematicians have this personality indeed (including some friends of my father), my father himself was actually an INFP, a Healer in Keirsey speech. What made him love mathematics was the abstract aesthetics of it — how to discover and appreciate beautiful proofs, that only involved intrinsic aspects of the mathematical objects (points, lines, planes, curves, functions, etc.) rather than representation-dependent aspects (such as spatial coordinates in some arbitrary basis, or equations, etc.), and what interesting and beautiful properties those proofs told us about the underlying mathematical structure — the best ones being those that show deep connections between different structures. I find that I love computing the very same way. In terms of individual traits, I suppose that "Introversion" is necessary to focus on abstract mathematical objects (whereas "Extroversion" is more useful in collaborative programming settings), and so is "iNtuition" (which I understand as about approaching the world in abstract rather than concrete terms). "Thinking" is important to follow the rules, but "Feeling" is important to appreciate the aesthetics, which may be the greatest heuristic guide you can have in Mathematics. And "Judgment" might be useful for planning problem-solving strategies, but "Perception" is useful for getting a good sense of an unfamiliar world. [Interestingly, while I identify myself as ENTP, which Keirsey calls an Inventor, my wife is an INFP and most of my past girlfriends were, or were not far from it — it's the personality type I somehow most relate to, even though I obviously didn't relate enough to my father as a kid, since I didn't understand him at all then.]

Nov. 12th, 2014

eyes black and white

In The Future, Cars Drive You!

Yesterday, I spoke at an event organized by the America's Future Foundation on the topic of self-driving cars. Here is a summary of what I said. (Disclaimer: I do work at Google, but I have never worked on self-driving cars, and do not possess any information that isn't already public.)

The most important point is that a self-driving car, as being developed right now by Google and many competitors, is not a general artificial intelligence, capable of replacing a human driver in all situations, but a specialized artificial intelligence, that does one limited task, and does it well. The driving robots are thus very good at things humans are bad at — they are never being tired, they never fall asleep at the wheel, they never get drunk, they never get angry, they never take a wrong turn, they never assess speed or distance incorrectly, they never forget the finer points of driving code, they never forget to refuel at the best-priced station, they always make efficient use of fuel, they always go through timely maintenance, etc. They are very bad at dealing with exceptional situations. Is this ball in the street just some irrelevant rubber ball you can drive upon, or is it a bronze ball that would cause a deadly accident if you run on it? What about those fallen branches on the road? Is this road still useful despite the flooding, landslide, etc.? Is this deer, child, etc., going to jump in front of the car? How should the car handle some temporary work on the road? How to deal with a flock of geese on the road? Now, the hope is that even though exceptional situations may require some human to take control of the vehicle, override the itinerary, clear the road, or otherwise take action — or call for help and wait — the overall lives saved are well worth the inconvenients in the cases the software fails.

And the lives saved are not just the accidents that won't happen. It's also all the hours of life-time reclaimed. Someone who drives to a job an hour away and back home spends two hours everyday driving. That's over 10% of his waking hours. Over forty years of work, the time reclaimed is the equivalent of four years of extra life while in good health. During their commute, people can sleep, eat, drink, relax, meditate, dress, put on their makeup, read, talk, do their homework, have sex, or whatever they prefer doing. (Insert Mr Bean driving in the morning.) Disabled people will not be dependent upon someone else to spend their time driving them around. For a self-driving car does not replace a car: it replaces a car plus a chauffeur. It is more like a taxi than a personal car, and a zipcar-like pool of self-driving cars can be time-shared between many people, instead of each car having to be parked most of the day while its owner works, plays, shops or sleeps. If and when most cars become self-driving, the need for street parking space will be much diminished, and streets will suddenly become wider, further facilitating traffic. Thus, even though a self-driving car may cost two or three times as much as a car, even if they only cover limited areas where temporary and permanent road changes are guaranteed to be properly signaled for the sake of self-driving cars, they are still a huge economic saving, in better use of both human and material capital. As costs fall, people will be able to afford longer commutes from cheaper places, to enjoy life without being prisoner of public transportation schedules or of high prices of a car or a taxi. Over hundreds of millions of users, tens of millions of extra productive life-times become available. A boon for mankind.

Now, another consequence of self-driving cars being specialized tools rather than general artificial intelligences is that, since they are not sentient, they cannot take responsibility for the accidents that will happen. The buck has to stop with someone, and that cannot be some dumb computer. Only humans can be held accountable and humans will have to pay to cover damages to both passengers and third parties. In the beginning, that means that only big companies with deep pockets can own such cars: a large corporation like Google, willing to put its neck on the line; insurance companies that expect to save a lot of money in damages avoided; mutual funds where many small investors pool their savings together. The same will be true for all upcoming autonomous robots: small planes or quadricopters, carrying robots, etc. they will need to be owned by people or corporations who can afford to pay for any damages, or insured by companies that'll take the responsibility. [The following points to end of paragraph were not made during my speech.] Note that owning autonomous vehicles is significantly riskier than insuring human-controlled vehicles: On the one hand, whereas the insurance for a human-controlled vehicle typically only covers the first few million dollars of damages, and any further liability is disclaimed by the insurer and pushed back to the human driver, the owner of the autonomous vehicle is the ultimately responsible party and can't limit liability in case of damages to third parties. On the other hand, there is a systemic risk that is hard to evaluate, in case, e.g., after a flood, landslide, earthquake or catastrophic bug, stubborn car behavior causes not one accident but hundreds of accidents; it can be hard to provision for such black swan events, though hopefully the average casualty rate after such events still remains lower than currently is for human drivers.

The rise of self-driving cars will require change in government. First the self-driving cars may require support from those government bureaucracies that (at least currently) manage roads, so that self-driving cars are made aware of temporary and permanent changes. Second some regulatory amendments may be necessary for anyone to dare endorse the liability for owning a self-driving car. Meanwhile, there are huge privacy issues, as self-driving car companies get even more information on the location and habits of passengers, and government bureaucracies such as the NSA may eventually put their hands on data that Google (or other operators) accumulate, with or without active help from the companies. Therefore, government rules lag behind technology, but it is not a clear win when they catch up. The last few centuries have seen an exponential growth in human achievement through technology; they have also witnessed an exponential growth of government, taxes, statutes, bureaucracies, privileges and war capabilities. Over the next few decades or centuries, neither exponential growth is sustainable. Whichever curve tops first, the other wins — and soon afterwards the first curve likely drops to zero. If government somehow stops growing first, mankind will know a golden age of peace and prosperity. If technology somehow stops making big strides first, then as Orwell predicted, "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever."

Now even though humans overall may prove forever incapable of understanding and implementing liberty [and indeed may only get dumber and more subservient due to government-induced dysgenics], that might not matter for our far future. For eventually, whether a few decades or a few centuries in the future, General Artificial Intelligence may indeed be created. Then not only will artificial sentient beings be able to endorse the responsibility for self-driving cars, they will soon enough be at the top of the food chain, and endorse ownership and responsibility for everything — and not just on Earth, but across the Solar System, the Galaxy, and beyond. When that happens, we better hope that these AIs if not humans understand the importance of Property Rights; if they do, humans can live a life of plenty based on the capital they have accumulated; otherwise, our end will be very painful. And so, let's hope the first AI isn't a military robot hell-bent on killing humans, without any respect for property rights.

Nov. 4th, 2014

eyes black and white

Governance by Democracy

This essay was written by my friend Perry Metzger.

Lets say your company has a business decision to make. Say there is a committee (already a bad idea but lets ignore that for now) assigned to the problem. Will you make the decision better or worse by adding a large number of people to the committee who aren't very interested in the topic, know nothing about the question they're deciding, and possibly aren't even very smart? Of course not.

If someone told you "the problem with this decision is that we don't have enough ignoramuses on this committee", people would say you were crazy, and they would be right. If a group decision making process is going to do well at all, it requires the smartest, best informed possible decision makers, and adding lots of ignorant and even stupid people to the group will not improve its decisions but only make them worse.

However, when we switch to an almost exactly identical problem — selecting rulers for the State — suddenly people make the opposite claim. "We need to increase participation at the polls! We need to get more people to turn out, to make it easier to vote so people who don't bother now will do it!"

The idea that the problem with elections is that we aren't getting enough people to vote — that people who can't be bothered to go to the polls even though it is already as easy as one could want — and that by getting more people to vote, especially people who have no idea what the issues are, what the candidates records are like, etc., is just as irrational and insane as the idea that you can make a better business decision by adding more uninterested or even foolish to the group making a decision in that context.

However, even though this idea is utterly irrational — even though you can't get a better decision by adding more ignorant and not very smart people to the group making the decision — it is a very widely held view when one leaves the field of making business or even personal decisions and enters the arena of politics, that is, the process of figuring out who should make life and death decisions for millions of people.

Why is this?

I argue it is because democracy is not, for most people, a rational idea. The original notion was that by allowing lots of people a voice, one could avoid having a tyrant or a small, self interested aristocracy produce only bad laws of interest to them. However, the goal of all governance processes is supposed to be good laws and good administration of those laws — the goal is not the process itself.

However, since the advent of democracy, the notion that the goal is good laws and good administration of those laws has been forgotten. Democracy has become a religion — and I mean that in the most literal possible sense. The notion voting is a means to an end has been entirely lost, replaced with the notion that democracy is itself the goal, and that the world will be made utopian by some sort of perfect expression of the general will.

Let me repeat that baldly. Democracy has become religion. Speaking out against it has become the worst possible sort of heresy. Let me, then, be a heretic.

The same people who would never argue that we need more morons helping make decisions in their offices — an area where they apply logic rather than religious style reasoning — are deeply religious about democracy. They are offended by the idea that we might want to use basic reasoning about elections. Saying that perhaps if someone has no opinion about the candidates their vote might not improve the outcome of the selection process produces anger. It is presumed, without evidence, that getting more people to vote must be a good idea, in itself.

The U.S. founding fathers remembered that the goal was not expression of the popular will but having a good place to live, and that in order to have a good place to live, they needed good laws that were well administered. However, they were deeply suspicious of democracy and the possibility of mob rule. They thus regarded voting as an alternative to aristocracy or monarchy — it was a tool to produce a good outcome rather than the end in itself.

Our society has a serious problem of cognitive dissonance, however, in so far the nation largely believes in democracy as a religion, but the founders are also regarded as revered saints even though they did not really believe in democracy as such. How, then, to reconcile this contradiction?

The solution has been to forget that the framers of the constitution deliberately set up a system which was as anti-democratic as one that involved voting could be made. This is not an assumption on my part — one may simply read The Federalist Papers and learn what the goals of their design (which is yet another reason most students never read The Federalist Papers).

The system (which I think failed, but never mind that for now) was designed to preserve liberty and to limit the damage voters could cause. The means was by instituting limits on the power of government, producing a layered government system in which different branches would check each others' powers, and by allowing only a small, educated property owning class of the population to have a voice through voting.

This latter piece is scarcely if ever mentioned, because to recall that documents like The Federalist Papers expressed direct fear of mob rule would be to admit that perhaps not everyone has always shared the religious belief that expression of the general will is the goal of society. Your history classes probably glossed over or perhaps never even mentioned the fact that universal manhood suffrage and later universal suffrage wasn't considered a good idea until the late 19th century, or what the arguments against it might have been.

(My own classes on this topic treated every expansion of the franchise as a triumph of the forces goodness, just as they treated every expansion of state power as a triumph of the forces of goodness, as a part of the inevitable march of progress through history. The arguments against such expansions were never discussed — to even consider them worthy of discussion would have been risible to my instructors.)

So deep is the attraction for democracy as a value in itself, rather than as a means, that to even mention the idea that perhaps universal suffrage was not a good idea and still is not a good idea makes you about as popular as a dung heap at the center of the buffet at a wedding banquet.

None the less, I encourage you to consider this question seriously. If a test of basic knowledge about an election, or even an IQ test, were administered by a race, sex and age blind computer, and a minimum score were required before the subject was considered qualified to vote in the race, would this produce a better or a worse result?

If you presume that the answer is "the result would be worse", and yet you would prefer that your doctor be more informed and intelligent rather than less informed and less intelligent, and you would prefer that decisions at your company be made by smarter and better informed people rather than stupider and less well informed people, perhaps you should ask yourself if your beliefs about democracy are founded in a rational consideration about alternative means to achieve optimal decision making, or are instead founded in a civic religion that you have been inculcated in from before the age when you could think on your own.

If you cannot conceive of questioning the ideas behind democracy qua democracy, if there is no evidence you can imagine that would make you change your mind, perhaps this is a religion to you, not a rationally considered position, and rather than getting angry at me for questioning your beliefs, you might want to try questioning them yourself.

Oct. 25th, 2014

eyes black and white

White Man's Sin

The White Man has sinned, greatly; Whitey will pay for it, dearly — has already started paying; the solution to his suffering can only come through a moral reformation. This almost everyone agrees upon — though many will explicitly deride such unholy words and instead use a completely different vocabulary to say the exact same thing. The more interesting disagreement though is not about what words to use to say it, but about what is the nature of this Sin, and what reformation will bring moral regeneration rather than further degeneration. Indeed, this disagreement is not innocent at all, but the crux of the issue: the White Man's Sin is the opposite of what the all-too-influential Evil Preachers say it is (the worst amongst them being White Men), and is actually exactly what they propose more of as a solution. Indeed, that's how this Sin works: having embraced an ideology of Evil, Whitey ever commits more sins as alleged solutions to his problems, only to accumulate more of this spiritual debt that is already crushing him, and will do far worse to his descendants. But how do you tell good from evil?

Socialists will typically claim that White Man's Great Sins were Imperialism, Colonization, Slavery, Racism and are still Individualism, Capitalism, Consumership. His Sins were only partly redeemed by granting Independence to his former colonies and welcoming in his midst large masses of their former inhabitants. He must atone by apologizing for his past criminal hubris, forever paying blutgeld to these people, by dissolving his race into theirs through miscegenation, but also embracing the world collective, abandoning the race for profits, and scaling down any consumption. Unhappily, will mourn socialists, "we" are domineered by a reigning ideology, the ideology of the free-market, whichever its current name; all social ailments can be traced to these economic freedoms that still exist, and the evil people who defend these freedoms. Deep down, socialists have a deep fear and hate of Man and his corruption, and somehow want to create a New Man, by hook or crook. They always call for "More Democracy", which is a code word for more power to them supermen who claim to embody "Democracy".

As a libertarian, I will praise Individualism, Capitalism and Consumership as virtues, not vices; I will denounce the mass-murder and ruin unleashed by Collectivism and Socialism; I will point out that Consumership is nothing but individuals empowered to choose how to spend their own money, and that the alternatives are the evil and stupidity of protectionism and central planning. But that's not what I will discuss today. I'll instead speak as a reactionary. And as a reactionary, I will not only make excuses for Imperialism, Colonization, Slavery and "Racism", but I will instead put the blame on Democracy, De-colonization, Socialism and "Anti-racism".

White Man may have been racist, and that's a vice indeed; but he has always been and still is much less of a racist than any other Man; meanwhile, under the name "Anti-racism" hides but the worst of all racisms, racism directed against the White Man precisely for his virtues. White Man may have practiced slavery, which is evil, but he never started it, and on the contrary he is the one who forcefully abolished it all around the world, when previously it was almost universally practiced. White Man's colonization may have been brutal, as is the nature of any government; yet it was much less tyrannical and less corrupt than both what preceded it and what followed it; it also introduced most of the world to modern medicine, industry, agriculture, not to speak of literacy, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of press, and an explosion of music, literature and others arts... a period of unprecedented material prosperity and intellectual blossoming and moral progress, with an according multiplication of the population. Certainly, the conquest itself was violent, and included many war crimes, and even a few genocides, but not more so than preceding or subsequent conquests by "colored" conquerors — these sins are in no way specific to Whitey. As for Imperialism, the problem was more a lack of it than too much of it: denying the conquered formal citizenship of the Empire albeit second-class, failing to coopt the local elites into first-class citizenship like Rome once did, and worst of all, maintaining and spreading the deadly disease of an ideology that is obviously antithetic to Empire: Democracy.

As an ideology, "Democracy" is the belief that the world should be divided in "nations" each to be ruled in an egalitarian way, while excluding non-nationals from power — in other words, National Socialism. "Democracy" is the belief in the all-importance that peoples of the world should rather be ruled by a mass-murderous corrupt tyrant born a few hundred miles away, than by an honest officer born a few thousand miles away — Nationalism. "Democracy" is the belief that Political Power, the power to unaccountably kill and destroy, should be granted based on a popularity contest — Demagoguery. "Democracy" is the belief that through the Mystery of Democratic Election, ballots are transubstantiated into the almighty Will Of The People — Political Mysticism. "Democracy" is the belief that as long as they do follow the democratic rites and act through "legislation", the State and its bureaucracy embody "us", and are therefore axiomatically good and entitled to arbitrary power on all and everything that concerns "us" — Totalitarianism. "Democracy" is the belief that sovereignty is collectively being able to sway power every so many years between two wings of a massive monopoly Establishment that will spend half of what they make, whereas being each able to individually choose how to spend all of what one makes at all times is dependency to "private" therefore "evil" interests — Collectivism. "Democracy" is the belief that merely being born grants you rights upon everyone else, so that the careless r-strategists who reproduce faster and create nothing shall feed upon the careful K-strategists who prefer to create everything and are careful not to over-reproduce — Ochlocracy. "Democracy" is the belief that a majority can impose its culture and rulers upon the minority, with the consequence that ethnic war and ethnic cleansing are the only way to avoid being imposed some other group's way of life and corrupt leaders — Ethnocracy. "Democracy" is the belief that private individuals may only do meaningless discriminations, and only government officials may make meaningful discriminations, and set an artificial standard and calling following it "no discrimination" — Bureaucracy. "Democracy" is all these beliefs and many more dysfunctional beliefs. But at heart, Democracy is not a rational idea or a clear theory that can be argued, though some have tried, and the result is the many variants of Socialism. At heart, Democracy is a visceral emotion: the identification of the slave to the master, provided that the master is mediocre enough not to appear better than the masses.

This ideology of Democracy inspired a World War to make the world "safe" for it, resulting in tens of millions of dead people. After it won this war, this ideology of "Democracy" justified democides by the national socialists of Russia and Germany, who precipitated another World War, as well as by those of China, Cambodia, etc. It has fueled and keeps fueling to this day many religious conflicts and ethnic cleansings. It has led Whitey to leave his former colonies in the hands of mass-murderers that he has then repeatedly funded and bailed out as their tyranny drove their countries back into poverty. It has justified a reverse colonization, that instead of bringing Civilization to formerly barbaric parts of the world, brings barbarianism to formerly civilized parts of the world. It is the foundation for massive plunder of producers by governments all around the world, which results in financing eternal wars, the systematic grooming of a large underclass of idle parasites and criminals, a huge brake to progress and unprecedented destruction of wealth. It is the system that forever ensures that power will be in the hands of sociopathic narcissists competitively selected for being the very best liars, and of a class of completely unmovable bureaucrats who worship arbitrary power with no risk for themselves and compete for the greatest impact while protecting each other in the context of utter unaccountability.

In summary, the White Man's Sin is having shrugged off the White Man's Burden, having dropped the torch of Civilization, having forsaken his wards into the claws of brutal monsters, while having greeted another kind of psychopaths as his own rulers. What more, the White Man's Great Sin is the root cause to all this evil: to have abandoned the very belief in Civilization, and embraced the belief in Democracy, this ideology of De-Civilization, often formalized into variants of Socialism. In other words, White Man's First Sin was to violate the First Commandment, without which all other commandments fall short: Thy Shall Not Worship a False God.

Unlike conservatives, who are but the mindless authoritarian defenders of socialists long past, reactionaries do not believe that there was any point in time at which White Man used to perfectly worship the One True God. They certainly do not defer to corrupt religious "authorities" to tell them what God Commanded and how to interpret it (and once again, they do not care for the words used to say that as much as for the quintessential concepts denoted). But reactionaries believe that together with the evils of the militaristic Ancien Régime, some essential wisdom about the nature of Society has been slowly but surely destroyed along Man's descent into Democracy. This descent led to a Great Fall, the most spectacular symptom of which was WWI and its orgy of mass-murder, that also lead to the Russian Revolution and paved the way to German National Socialism. But before that, Whitey had made pretty good attempts at championing Civilization, taking it so much further than it had ever been; he was never perfect, but at least he was trying, and kept improving. Not only that, he was proud of succeeding better than others, and of sharing his success (indeed sometimes using unjustified overeager force, though force was often justified, too). He was not ashamed to exist at all, as he is now. He recognized that not all religions, ideologies or economic systems are equal, and was proud to argue at length which is best and how to make it even better. He hadn't yet fallen into relativism and cowered to political correctness, and passively accepted an ideology that claims it isn't one yet is uniformly spread by a diffuse Establishment. He was mistakenly hoping to use Democracy as a means to ward off the evils of past Tyranny and achieve Liberty; but at least he hadn't yet raised it into an Idol at whose feet everyone on Earth must kowtow. His bureaucracies hadn't metastatized yet, and were still somewhat capable of defending a rule of law that wasn't all self-serving tribalism and corruption — though Protectionism and other forms of systemic graft were all too present.

Reactionaries understand that Civilization is not a point that you reach, but a process that you keep pushing forward as best you can — or fail to — starting from as advanced a point as you can find. Thus, if you're civilized, your predecessors will look barbaric in comparison; and those you consider your predecessors aren't necessarily your direct ancestors, but whoever was carrying the torch of Civilization, anywhere throughout the world. Now since by definition you started from where the most civilized people left off, these predecessors were themselves ahead of other people around them at their time. Conversely your own successors will look back at you with slight disgust, for you'll look barbaric in comparison to them. If all the above paragraph is not the case, you are not actually partaking in Civilization — you're a barbarian, or worse, an agent of De-Civilization. In particular, if you only consider as predecessors in Civilization your ancestors, or an arbitrary group of people that includes them, you're doing it wrong. (Similarly, if the only people susceptible to imitate your peculiarities are your descendants, you're definitely not civilized.) Conversely if you fail to include any of them, either you're doing it wrong, or they were all barbarians indeed. And there's no shame to be had in this latter alternative, any more than pride to be found in the luck of being born within a more advanced civilization — pride is to be found only in the stars to which we fly, not in the mud from which we take off, and we all take off from mud. What have you done to advance Civilization?

Civilization is thus relative in space and in time, and depends on what you know or can learn from other people around you. Of course, Civilization is not monodimensional; thus its progress is seldom uniform: industry, science, and literacy could bring about the end of the ancien regime, great material well-being, moral progress as man was elevated above crass survival, and ended many old superstitions and bigoted prejudices; yet in other ways, there has been ideological and political regress that inspired orgies of mega-murders, whereby nations formerly at the outposts of Civilization reverted to barbarianism. Mesopotamia conquered by the Arabs or the Mongols, the USA descending into "Civil War", Europe destroying itself during its Great War and its ripple conflicts, so many countries falling into communism, Yugoslavia exploding, Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe, etc., are spectacular symptoms of De-Civilization. Civilization is often but a thin veneer, and though the average layer of it can be quite thick and getting thicker, that mightn't matter much if there's a weak spot where it's getting thinner, and that's where it cracks and all the rest shatters or peels off. The virtues of Civilization have to be cultivated in the proper priority order: Survival comes before Victory, that comes before Truth, that comes before Generosity; trying it in a different order just doesn't work. Reactionaries understand that Civilization is not a Golden Age in the past as fantasized by conservatives; it is not a cinematic of progress mystically brought about through forceful purposeful struggle as propagandized by progressives; it is a fragile dynamic process of social construction, of capital accumulation, of undesigned evolution, that requires conscious cultivation and protection from the hordes of barbarians, conservatives and progressives who bring about De-Civilization.

Certainly, the White Man at his apex was right to be suspicious of civilizations that had proven their moral weakness or their intellectual retardation, and to overall look down on his conquered. But he was wrong to wholly reject anything they could bring: he was wrong to fail to recognize as equals those of the conquered who had embraced civilization and could prove they were indeed capable of furthering it; he was wrong to fail to use their insight to criticize and improve his own ideologies; he was thus wrong to fail to embrace the elites of his colonies — to the point that these elites eventually preferred to band against him. This race protectionism was indeed an instrumental part of the downfall of his Empires; his eventual attempts at fixing it came too late, after he had succumbed to Democracy in two self-destructing World Wars and thus proven his own weakness. But this failure was nothing compared to what he did to his wards' minds: in a war between his own old religions, and a new, worse one, into which he was falling, he failed to propose any articulate ideal to the conquered, so they may dispel their wrong beliefs and embrace something positive. Instead he planted into their minds the seed of a Great Evil — the belief in Democracy, and its acute form, Socialism. The Bloody Order of Empire thus gave way to the Even Bloodier Chaos of Democracy.

Democracy will only get worse, until its evil is fully unraveled everywhere into Socialism, that after it has fully ravaged a country leaves place to barbarianism and religious superstition. If you want to see where Socialism is taking Europe, look at Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe. Until they have completely ruined the respective countries they are farming, various Democratic Establishments will remain solidly in place, thanks to their propaganda machines, which these days are decentralized and efficient; they are not trying to sell anything, since people have already bought Democracy — an easy sell. The point of propaganda now is to prevent any change of mind, to make it impossible for the cattle to even think that there is any alternative, to make any opposition as unthinkable by casting dissidents as madmen, the proper political word for which currently is "extremists". Therefore, there is no ideology and it's not called "Democracy" and certainly not "Socialism"; all the beliefs formerly associated to a thus-named ideology are just being "normal"; they are acknowledging the "obvious". But perhaps worse than the material ruin and the intellectual oppression, is the effect that this Democratic Socialism has on the soul of its victims: it denies any individual accomplishment outside of the State, which only distinguishes but few politically-designated heroes; instead it maintains its victims in dependence, and deprives them from any meaning to their lives — ultimately, it only offers meaning to the tormentors who live as professional parasites and relish in they success at preying upon others; as to the masses of its victims, it offers but blind obedience, self-sacrifice, crass materialism, and petty insignificant selfish choices.

The escape will not happen through Politics. There is no way out but up. The race is on between Technological Progress and Political Power and its Democratic Juggernaut. Technology is the only hope for Humanity to escape the death trap of Democracy, whether by vastly lowering time-preference by greatly extending longevity, by creating a new Imperial race of AIs, by dramatically displacing military equilibrium to make for much smaller countries, by artificially raising the intelligence of humans so they can understand the Evil of Democracy, by enabling individuals to escape national surveillance, by somehow spreading a message of actual moral reformation, or by some other great change. Of course, the Democratic overlords are wary of this jeopardy to their Power, and do their darned best to stay on top of Technology and to control its uses.

This Grand Struggle is happening before your eyes. You get to pick what you think is Good and what you think is Evil, and to act accordingly. But be careful what you pick — depending on your choice, you may spend your life working toward redemption, or toward damnation. Ideas have consequences.

PS: Let it be clear that collective responsibility doesn't exist, and that Civilization consists precisely in better recognizing individual liberty and individual responsibility — which when properly matched together constitute private property. Talking about White Man the way I did way is an aggregate that has no moral value — but I do it precisely to show the racial collectivists that their anti-white racism, "anti-racism" as they may dub it, is unfounded on their own racial collectivist grounds. Racism, Slavery, Colonization, Imperialism are evil — but they are not the worst evil, and do not justify a double-standard; and they can still be better than the opposite stance; a yet better one requires to reject this dichotomy and look at the essence of what matters: individual actions. People are not to be blamed because the ancestors of some people with a similar color of skin did something wrong — a random black US slave descendant has infinitely more of the DNA of a slave-owner than any white descendant of a XXth european immigrants to the US. Miscegenation is neither good nor evil (hey, I'm a métis myself, as such rejected by racists on both sides) — most importantly, it's none of your damn business, only that of the individual parents who may decide to have or not have (and raise) such kids. Also importantly, State-supported "eugenics", whether towards alleged race purity, or desired race dilution, is actually dysgenic as well as criminal. Similarly, I'm a migrant and a proponent of freedom of movement for all honest people. But government-enforced migration policies, whether for or against migration (im- or e-), is also evil and counterproductive, and ultimately dysgenic. It's sad that the contents of this post-scriptum isn't obvious and that I have to write it at all — and one more symptom of De-Civilization. As for the name "reactionary"? Well, my mother often says that when she's confronted with imbecility, she can but react ("Quand je suis face à la bêtise, je ne peux que réagir"). But it took me a long time to see things with her eyes, and I have to thank Mencius Moldbug for a lot of it.

Oct. 21st, 2014

eyes black and white

Opposition d'opinion

Deuxième Loi du Désaccord selon Faré: J'ai raison, d'où il s'ensuit que ceux qui ne sont pas d'accord avec moi sont ou bien (1) malhonnêtes, (2) stupides, ou (3) fous (ces choix ne sont pas exclusifs). Cette loi universelle vaut pour toute valeur de "moi", y compris "vous".

J'ai beaucoup appris de François Guillaumat; nombreuses sont les confusions économiques qu'il a élucidées, les notions bancales qu'il a redressées, et les mystères qu'il a percés, grâce à sa précision conceptuelle aussi rare que remarquable. Et c'est parce que je respecte ses travaux et en recommande souvent la lecture que je tiens à éclaircir certains points sur lesquels je crois qu'il se trompe. Il se trouve que ces points semblent tous avoir pour origine la religion: François Guillaumat est catholique, je suis athée. Je prendrai comme point de départ cet entretien qu'il a accordé à l'excellent Grégoire Canlorbe (parties I, II, III).

François Guillaumat emploie fort à propos l'argument ontologique pour montrer l'existence d'une entité éternelle incrée; mais il a tort de critiquer Ayn Rand comme étant incapable d'appliquer proprement cet argument: il correspond exactement à ce que Rand exprime par l'expression "l'existence existe". Notons toutefois que l'argument est moins simple qu'il n'y paraît, vu qu'une notion d'existence non contrainte mène à de nombreux paradoxes comme le paradoxe de Russell, qui sont généralement résolus en introduisant des types, ou des hiérarchies infinies d'univers avec autant de notions distinctes d'existence — d'où la validité a priori de l'argument de régression infinie. Il existe sans doute d'autres façons d'éviter de tels paradoxes, mais charge est à celui qui avance un tel argument de montrer que sa méthodologie ne mène pas à une contradiction prévisible. Mais faisons pour l'instant abstraction de la façon dont de tels paradoxes sont évités, et supposons que l'argument mène effectivement à un concept valide.

Il n'est pas nécessairement incorrect de prendre cet argument comme définition du mot "dieu" (notons toutefois que l'argument ontologique n'établit pas d'unicité du concept dénoté). L'erreur, que Spinoza a fait bien avant François Guillaumat, est de définir plusieurs concepts, de les appeler chacun "dieu" dans le contexte de sa définition, puis de les identifier abusivement dans un autre contexte de par l'usage du même mot, alors même qu'il s'agit de concepts bien distincts faisant partie de catégories disjointes. Ainsi, identifier ce "dieu" qui existerait par définition au Yahveh des Juifs, au Kronos des Grecs, au Mummu des Mésopotamiens, au Aton égyptien ou à Amon dans une cosmogonie égyptienne rivale, au Yggrasil scandinave, au Ometeotl aztec, au Brahma hindou, etc., ou avec une autre entité hypothétique qui aurait des caractéristiques spécifiques comme une personnalité, le moindre souci pour la destinée humaine, le choix de certains prophètes, etc., est un abus qui n'est aucunement justifié.

L'argument de Guillaumat sur le changement ignore la notion d'entropie, qui peut augmenter localement dans un sous-système ouvert quand bien même elle décroît dans un univers fermé, par exemple, en profitant du soleil, source fossile et tarissable d'énergie et de néguentropie. Son argument ignore aussi la notion d'émergence dans un tel système local pompant énergie et néguentropie d'une source proche — lire les classiques de Daniel C. Dennett (Consciousness Explained) ou Douglas Hofstadter (I am a Strange Loop) pour une présentation du concept d'émergence. Ou voir des vidéos comme celle-ci pour la voir à l'oeuvre. Donc, oui le changement existe, oui l'information humaine est créée et est effectivement un phénomène primordial — mais cela n'implique pas l'existence d'un dieu personnel, etc. Le seul "dieu" nécessaire pour expliquer l'énergie et la néguentropie qui alimentent la vie terrestre, c'est le soleil (que de nombreux peuples ont effectivement adoré comme un dieu).

Je n'ai certes pas la prétension de convaincre François Guillaumat: "Il est inutile de chercher à détromper par la raison un homme d'une idée qu'il n'a pas acquise par la raison." ("It is useless to endeavour to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into", citation attribuée à Jonathan Swift, mais Google Books ne la trouve pas dans l'oeuvre de Swift, et la plus ancienne publication de la formule est dans "The Economist" du 12 avril 1856, Volume XIV p. 392, qui mentionne un "Dean Swift" qui est sans doute Jonathan Swift, mais qui semble être au mieux une paraphrase ou un résumé, et pas une citation). Comme la plupart d'entre nous, François Guillaumat a adopté la religion de sa famille, (moi la non-religion de la mienne), et comme chacun d'entre nous, il croit avoir la chance d'avoir été élevé dans la bonne, contrairement à la grande plupart des autres humains, et peut ratiociner pourquoi en effet il a raison (et moi de même). Qui a raison dans ces croyances reçues et leurs ratiocinations ultérieures? Qui reste prisonnier d'idées-virus? Comme tout le monde, il croit avoir raison. Comme tout le monde, je crois avoir raison. Comme dans chaque opposition d'opinion, au moins l'un de nous deux a tort.

Mais quant au libéralisme, ni l'un ni l'autre ne l'avons reçu de nos familles; comme un grand nombre d'intellectuels libéraux européens, nous avons dû le re-découvrir, le re-construire, par des efforts intellectuels indépendants, avant même d'avoir lu le moindre auteur libéral. Ceci écarte au moins cette suspicion de partialité atavique vis à vis de nos convictions libérales communes; et l'indépendance de ces reconstructions indique même qu'il y a sans doute une réalité commune sous-jacente à ces idées: nous affirmons que cette réalité est une description fidèle des principes de l'action humaine; d'autres, socialistes, pourront prétendre qu'il s'agit d'un dérangement mental commun — et là encore, entre libéraux et socialistes, au moins l'un deux groupes a tort et est victime ou d'idées-virus ou de problèmes structurels dans leur intellect voire des deux (l'un par l'autre).

Une des forces de François Guillaumat est sa volonté d'élucider non seulement les erreurs économiques et philosophiques qui contribuent à la destruction de la civilisation (ideas have consequences nous disait Ayn Rand), mais aussi les causes de ces erreurs, les mécanismes de leur transmission. Comme le disait Claude Bernard: «Il ne suffit pas de dire: "je me suis trompé"; il faut dire comment on s'est trompé.» Cela, François Guillaumat l'a bien compris — or cela représente pour la Philosophie la même révolution que la théorie de la preuve a apporté en Logique: ne compte pas tant une seule Vérité totale inatteignable que les moyens épistémologiques d'atteindre correctement des vérités partielles et les sophismes à éviter qui nous en détournent. Malheureusement, nul n'a encore découvert comment transformer la connaissance de ce mal en remède, sauf peut-être comme vaccin pour les lecteurs qui liraient ces explications avec un esprit sain avant d'avoir été victimes des idées-virus parasites. Mais je suppose que c'est déjà quelque chose.

Oct. 20th, 2014

eyes black and white

Justice without a monopoly / La justice sans monopole

"La justice sans monopole" by Roman Perdeanu was my favorite article in the «Libres!!» opus 2, where it was published as text #69, pp.165—166. Here's my translation of it.


Ce texte, signé Roman Perdeanu, est mon article préféré de «Libres!!» opus 2, où il est paru comme texte No. 69, pp.165—166.

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Oct. 19th, 2014

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Whence Creationist Programming?

Where did I get the idea for "Creationist Programming", the belief that Software is created by a Programmer? I was trying to describe the TUNES approach as Evolutionary, and found it easiest to explain what that meant by contrasting with a Creationist approach... and elucidating what that meant led me to write this essay and later give this presentation.

Indeed, I had been asked to make a short presentation on the essential insight behind TUNES; reflecting (ha!) about that, my closest explanation was that the insight was applying to computing systems what in a previous political essay I had called "dynamic thinking", except applied to computing systems rather than to political systems. Now, this term "dynamic thinking" is one I made up, and the meaning of which people won't understand; and I didn't want to refer people to a controversial political essay when I was trying to explain something completely different and already controversial on its own — I aim to reach the union of people interested in either controversy, not the intersection of people interested in both. And so I looked in my essay for which part of my explanation would be most familiar to my scientific-minded audience, and would make a good starting point. And that was the evolutionary aspect.

Oct. 7th, 2014

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The Far Future of Programming: Ems

I had the privilege of reading a draft of Robin Hanson's upcoming book on ems: emulated brains, that with specialized hardware could possibly run thousands or millions of times faster than the actual brain they were once templated from. This got me thinking about what kind of programming languages these ems would use — though most arguments would also apply to any AI whether it is based or not based on such ems. And yes, there will be programming languages in such a future: predictable algorithmic tasks aren't going to write and deploy themselves — the buck has to stop with someone, and that someone will be a sentient being who can be held accountable.

When you're going at 10000 times the speed of a human, computers run relatively 10000 slower in subjective time. Of course, an em could put itself in sleep mode and be swapped out of the compute cluster during any long computation, so that most computer interactions happen subjectively instantaneously even if they are actually very slow. An alarm on timeout would allow the em to avoid being indefinitely swapped out, at which point it could decide to resume, cancel or background the computation. Still, even if subjectively instantaneous, overly slow computations would disrupt the em's social, professional and personal life. Ultimately, latency kills you, possibly literally so: the latency may eat on the finite allowance of time during which your skills are marketable enough to finance your survival. Overly fast ems won't be able to afford being programmers; and there is thus a limit to how fast brain emulation can speed up the evolution of software, or any creative endeavours, really. In other words, Amdahl's Law applies to ems. So does Gustafson's Law, and programming em's will thus use their skills to develop greater artifacts than is currently possible.

Now, if you can afford to simulate a brain, memory and parallelism will be many orders of magnitude cheaper than they are now, in roughly inverse proportion to latency — so for fast ems, the price ratio between parallelism and latency will be multiplied by this factor squared. To take advantage of parallelism while minimizing latency, fast ems will thus use programming languages that are very terse and abstract, minimizing any boilerplate that increases latency, yet extremely efficient in a massively parallel setting, designed for parallelism. Much more like APL than like Java. Since running the code is expensive, bugs that waste programmer latency will be much more expensive than they are now. In some ways programmers will be experiencing echos of the bad old days of batch processing with punch cards and may lose the fancy interactive graphical interfaces of today — yet in other ways, their development environments will be more modern and powerful than what we use now. Any static or dynamic check that can be done in parallel with respectively developing or running the code will be done — the Lisp machine will be back, except it will also sport fancy static type systems. Low-level data corruption will be unthinkable; and even what we currently think of as high-level might be low-level to fast em programmers: declarative meta-programming will be the norm, with the computer searching through large spaces of programs for solutions to meta-level constraints — machine time is much cheaper than brain time, as long as it can be parallelized. Programmers will be very parsimonious in the syntax and semantics of their programs and programming languages; they will favor both high-falluting abstraction and ruthless efficiency over any kind of fanciness. If you don't grok both category theory and code bumming, you won't be the template for the em programmer of the future. Instead imagine millions of copies of Xavier Leroy or Edward Kmett or the most impressive hacker you've ever met programming in parallel — there will be no place for second rate programmers when you can instead hire a copy of the very best to use your scarce em cycles — only the best in their own field or combination of fields will have marketable skills.

At high-speed, though, latency becomes a huge bottleneck of social programming, even for these geniuses — and interplanetary travel will only make that worse. Bug fixes and new features will take forever to be published then accepted by everyone, and every team will have to develop in parallel its own redundant changes to common libraries: what to us are simple library changes to fast ems might be as expensive as agreeing on standard document is to us. Since manual merges of code are expensive, elaborate merge algorithms will be developed, programming languages will be modified if needed to make code merge easier. To reduce the number of conflicts, it will be important to canonicalize changes. Not only will each project have an automatically enforced Programming Style; copies of the very same maintenance ems will be present in every geographical zone to canonicalize bug fixes and feature enhancements of a given library. Software may therefore come with copies of the virtual wetware that is supposed to maintain the software — in a ready-to-code mood (or read-to-explain mood), in a fully deterministic internal state and environment, for complete reproducibility and debuggability. Canonicalization also allows for better caching of results when looking for otherwise expensive solutions to often-used problems.

Because programming itself can be parallelized by temporarily multiplying the number of ems, programming languages will be extremely composable. Modularity, separate compilation, advanced type systems and contract systems to specify interfaces, isolation through compile-time proofs, link-time enforcement or run-time virtualization, the ability to view the code as pure functional (with side-effects encapsulated in monads), etc., will be even more important than they are now. Expressiveness will also be very important to maximize what each worker can do; macros, dependent types, the ability to view the code in direct style (using side-effects and delimited continuations), etc., will be extremely important too. Development tools will manage the transformation back and forth between these two dual styles of viewing software. Thus armed with suitable composability, Conway's Law need not constrain software more than the fact that it's ultimately represented as an expression tree. What more, if the workers on each subexpression are forks of the worker on the top expression, there can be some coherence of design in the overall system over a very large system that currently would have required many programmers with different personalities. In this context, comments may be literally "leaving a note to yourself" — a parallel duplicate self instead of a sequential future self.

As programming is recursively divided into tasks, the programmer becomes his own recursive Mechanical Turk. There is an interesting issue, though, when additional requirements appear while trying to solve a subproblem that requires modifying a higher-level problem: if you let the worker who found and grokked the new requirement survive and edit the problem, this may create a bad incentive for workers to find problems so they may survive, and a problem of prioritizing or merging the insights of many parallel copies of the programmer who each found issues. It might be cheaper to have the subproblem workers issue an explanation for use by the superproblem worker, who will either send updates to other workers, or restart them with an updated subproblem specification. Ultimately, large teams of "the same" programmer mean that coordination costs will be drastically lower than they are currently. Software will thus scale in breadth vastly beyond what currently exists, though in depth it will still be limited to how much a single programmer can handle.

Because a same programmer is duplicated a lot of times, personalizations of the development environment that increase productivity have a vastly multiplied effect. Extreme customization, to the point of reimplementing tools in a style that suits the particular programmer, are to be expected. Because new copies of the same programmer when young can replace old copies that retire or graduate, there is no fear that a completely different person will have to be retrained on those quite personal tools. The newcomer will be happily surprised that everything is just where he wished for (except when some subtle and important constraint prevented it, that might be worth understanding), and that all source code he has to deal with fits his own personal programming style. Still, deliverables might have to be in a more neutral style if they are to be shared by multiple programmers with different personalities so that each domain is handled by the most proficient expert — or if they have to be assessed, security-checked, proven correct, etc., by a third party as part of accepting the software before it's deployed in a sensitive environment or duplicated zillions of time.

I am sure there is a lot more that can be foreseen about the far future of programming. As for the near future, it won't be quite so different from what we have now, yet I think that a few of the above points may apply as the cost of bugs increases, including the cost of a competent programmer relative to the size of the codebase.

PS: Robin Hanson is interested in reading more ideas on this topic and ems in general. If you share them soon enough, they may make it to the final version of his book.

Oct. 4th, 2014

eyes black and white

Hoppe's fantasies about Monarchy

Hoppe argues that legitimate monarchs, who are secure in their political power, will treat their country and subjects as long-term capital to preserve and extend, whereas mere illegitimate dictators, who rule by force, may be toppled the moment their look weak, and have little chance of spawning a durable dynasty, will treat their country and subjects as short-term loot, out of which to extract the maximum value while their short reign lasts. But where is that legitimacy supposed to come from, to begin with? Is the average monarch more like Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein, or more like Chlodwig I, king of the Franks?

Historically, most monarchies started through conquest; the only trace of legitimacy in the title of "king" was through the occasional election of a local chieftain as military leader of an entire army, which after invasion of a larger country is now installed as the Master Race (they also say "nobility" or "aristocracy", e.g. romans, anglosaxons, normans) of the country and domineering the serfs of the inferior race of the conquered (celts, romans, anglosaxons). The kings' valued capital is their somewhat faithful gang of mass murderers, that they have to treat well. The conquered are just subjugated enemies, to keep trampling upon least they revolt: not so much farm animals to tend to as wild beasts to enjoy as game.

Now, even the gang of mass-murderers isn't the king's legitimately fully-owned property, and many a king was toppled by a subordinate military leader. Kings were always trying to find a way to subjugate the master race as well as the inferior races; sometimes they failed and had to grant a Magna Carta; sometimes they succeeded and crushed a Fronde; but then without the nobility their successors were naked against the people rising as a political force and instituting democracy.

Whatever "legitimate monarchy" Hoppe is dreaming of as an alternative to the democracy he rightly loathes is thus not to be found as the historical norm of monarchies, but as an exception. And it isn't something that can be instituted ab nihilo: whenever the democracies collapse, the peoples are unlikely to voluntarily elect monarchs who would then have some legitimacy; and if they had this power and could be taught an ideology that replaces the religion of Democracy, the hero-worship of a savior monarch isn't the ideology that would be either the best or the easiest to instill.

My conclusion is that while Hoppe's argument is an interesting thought-experiment, indeed one that is essential in understanding the nature of political regimes, it doesn't describe past historical monarchies, and is of little use as a project for future political regimes. The one notion that matters is that of property rights that are secure because they are legitimate — and they don't apply well to political power, that consists precisely in the ability to violate the property rights of the subjects.

PS: My friend Jan reminds me how he already made the same argument against Hoppe regarding immigration: in both Hoppe indulges in thought experiments where one could magically alter one aspect of a Government's rules and policies, while remaining powerless to alter any other aspect. These thought experiments may be crucial indeed in understanding the aspect selected for consideration, but they have no value whatsoever as guides for actual political action — and Hoppe and his followers are deluded if they believe it has any.

Sep. 30th, 2014

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The myth of "public" and "private" / Le mythe du "public" et du "privé"

This is my contribution to «Libres!!» opus 2, an anthology of Libertarian articles, in French, where it was published as article #42, pp. 107—108.


Ce texte est ma contribution à «Libres!!» opus 2, où il est paru comme texte No. 42, pp. 107—108.

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Sep. 27th, 2014

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Conspiracy Theory / Théorie du complot

There's this big conspiracy in Washington DC, called the US Government: These people convene with each other in private meetings and agree upon policies in their own interests that they implement using trillions of dollars of stolen money, while not stopping at either mass murder or mass imprisonment to further their interests. They use an omnipresent distributed propaganda machine to brainwash hundreds of millions of idiot victims into believing that they somehow mysteriously "represent" the idiots' interests. Unlike the overly centralized conspiracies formerly or presently at the head of Russia, theirs is a massively decentralized conspiracy, where there isn't a small group of men that holds complete power, but instead many groups of men keep each other in check as they compete for the greatest impact in furthering the common loose agenda of ever increased power.

Conspiracies exist. They are just not the absurd super-competent super-coordinated super-secret (yet somehow known by random people) conspiracies that are cultivated to occupy the minds of dimwits while encouraging less stupid people to dismiss all conspiracy theories without thinking.


Il y a un grand complot à Paris, appelé la République Française: ces gens là se rencontrent en privé et se mettent d'accord sur des politiques qu'ils réalisent en utilisant des centaines de milliards d'euros, en ne s'arrêtant ni à l'assassinat de masse ni à l'emprisonnement de masse pour faire avancer leurs intérêts. Ils emploient une machine de propagande répartie pour laver le cerveau de dizaines de millions de victimes imbéciles auxquelles ils font croire qu'ils "représentent" en une façon mystérieuse l'intérêt de ces imbéciles. Contrairement aux conjurations trop centralisées qui ont précédemment ou actuellement dirigé la Russie, leur conjuration est largement décentralisée, où il n'y a pas un petit groupe d'hommes qui possède le pouvoir complet, mais plutôt de nombreux groupes d'hommes qui se surveillent les uns les autres cependant qu'ils sont en concurrence pour qui aura le plus grand impact dans l'avancement de leur agenda approximatif commun d'un pouvoir toujours plus étendu.

Les complots existent. C'est juste que ce ne sont pas les complots absurdes, super-compétents, super-coordonnés et super-secrets (et cependant connus par des péquins moyens) dont les théories sont cultivées pour occuper les esprits faibles tout en encourageant les gens moins stupides à rejeter toute théorie du complot sans réfléchir.

Sep. 10th, 2014

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10 Books that had a Great Influence on me

Ingrid Spielman challenges me to this "meme" of naming 10 books that helped shape my mental landscape. I'll be verbose, and though I'll cheat and cite more than 10 books, I will distinguish 10 of them indeed. As to propagating the meme and finding people I want to understand better, or people sufficiently similar yet sufficiently different that I may learn something substantial from their answers, yet who know me enough to possibly be influenced by my naming them, I will tag Rebecca Kellogg Rideau, Perry Metzger, David Lubkin, Gavin Peters, Attila Lendvai, Daniel Nagy, Agnes Koltay, Brandyn Webb, Brian T. Rice, MK Lords. But just because I haven't tagged you doesn't mean you can't play.

1- Some unidentified comic book about Space Conquest. I had that book when I was 2 or 3. The first page had been ripped (probably by me) before I was old enough to fixate memories. I suspect it was a French translation of Disney's "Man in Space": the drawing style was very much that of the 1950s and it was discussing a man on the moon as the next step, when that was already a past step in the 1970s; but the ultimate destination was far beyond. Retro-futurism with wild ambitions was already a theme in my life. There were other comics; already, Barbapapa was brainwashing me into the ecologist superstitions; Russ Manning's Tarzan (L'île hors du temps) was also one of my first comic books, a quick graphic walkthrough from prehistory to future history. But that unidentified comic book somehow marked me deeper by the questions it left unanswered. I've always liked 1950s to 1960s style SF ever since. And good comic books.

2- "The hobbit", by J. R. R. Tolkien. My mom used to read us a book before we went to sleep. The ones that I remember most are "The hobbit" and its sequel "The Lord of the Rings" (that my geeky dad had long urged my mom to read), that I would read later as a young adult, in French then in English. It might be categorized as Fantasy, but it exuded a deep sense of Civilization much more serious, real and earnest than found in most books to purport to say something about it (rather than demonstrate it). These days, these books have been made into movies. Poor young people of today, who may miss discovering the books because of that! (BTW, did you know that Tolkien was an Anarchist? I didn't, at the time.) I find that it is also a great complement to all the Mythology books I read when I was young, that also gave me a sense of history and of people's superstition, but were disjointed, whereas Tolkien shows how to weave (in this case fictional) elements of myth into a compelling story and a coherent spirit.

3- "1984", by George Orwell. I read 1984 in 1984, when I was 10. It made urgent in me a quest for Freedom, for the meaning of "Freedom", for the institutions that could preserve such a thing. It set a theme of Language as a tool for oppression or liberation. It vaccinated me against the propaganda of Socialism, though it didn't have anything positive to offer in return, only a yearning for something that Orwell hadn't identified. Much later, I read (in French) "The Gulag Archipelago" by Alexander Solzhenytsin, Varlam Shalamov's "Kolyma Tales", Cseslaw Milosz's "The Captive Mind", Bruno Bettelheim's "The Informed Heart", Primo Levi's "If This Is a Man", Victor Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning", or "Le voile arraché" par 'Abd al-Rahmâne al-Djawbarî (as translated to French by René Khawam), that would tell me more about the horrors of totalitarianism, Mind Control, and how to survive them. But Orwell's is the book that marked me, deeply.

4- "The Origin of Species", by Charles Darwin, filled me with awe as to what Science could be. A long accumulation of evidence, presented in an earnest way, with both facts and a way to look at them, in a tone of calm and relentless objectivity. That for me set the standard for what Science should be, which made me particularly skeptical of things that only look like Science, and convinced me that I would never be up to these standards as a Scientist (or bored to death trying to do a fraction of what is required to obtain meaningful results). In a similar vein, Bertrand Russell also set high standards for what philosophy could be. Cavalli-Sforza's "Chi Siamo", Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" and "The Extended Phenotype", or Robert Wright's "The Moral Animal" also helped form my understanding of Evolution, but the basic ideas were all in Darwin (I admit to not having read Alfred Wallace or Samuel Butler — I suspect I might have liked them).

5- "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter. I read this book in my early 20s, and discovered that all my childhood had bathed in poor remakes of parts of that book: such were the articles I liked in the monthly math-and-game magazine "Jeu et Stratégie" to which my father was subscribed. This was even more startling than reading Dickens' Christmas Carol after having seen countless bad remakes of it as features of random US TV series. I had already enjoyed Raymond Smullyan's puzzle books ("What is the Name of this Book?"), or Borges' "Ficciones", but Hofstadter was tying all the themes together, even music. Regarding computation and philosophy, Winograd and Flores' "Understanding Computers and Cognition" may have brought a "Third Wave of Cybernetics" point of view of Heideggerian influence missing in Hofstadter. And amongst Hofstadter's books, many of which I read, and of course, these days, my favorite is his "Le ton beau de Marot". But GEB is the book that marked me — before I even read it.

6- "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov. My father had a collection of SF books (in French, mostly), and Asimov was my favorite author there. Though it's not the first I read, I chose "I, Robot" as the representative book here, because somehow I remember enjoying how he illustrated the principle of equilibrium and displacement of equilibrium with a robot circling around a place to go to or not go to according to contradictory orders (reinforcing one leading to a circle of a different radius). Fun literary pieces to illustrate actual scientific concepts. Of course, if my dad's library had carried Heinlein, THAT would probably have been my favorite, what with "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" or "Stranger in a Strange Land" — much more stimulating books. But it's Asimov who initially got me hooked into SF (though I've recently discovered that one SF book that marked me in Junior High was actually Heinlein's "Star Beast"; meanwhile another book that marked me as the only remotely realistic description of the alien invasion of Earth was "The Genocides" by Thomas M. Disch).

7- "The Road to Serfdom" by F. A. Hayek. I went to school expecting my Philosophy professor to at least have some recommendation as to which Philosopher might have something relevant to say about Freedom. But she was all marxism and bullshit, and I left high school believing that no Philosopher had ever written anything good on the topic. The closest thing to a liberty-minded author who was nameable in French philosophical circles was John Stuard Mill, and though there obviously was a wind of Liberty behind him, there weren't clearly formed concepts. What a happy surprise, thus, when my mom acquired a copy of "The Road to Serfdom", and it had exactly the kind of cybernetic argument I had been looking for all along. Though Hayek's book contained no attempt at a general theory, it convinced me that, if not philosophers, maybe some classical "economists" had something good to say (previously, TV had convinced me, like my dad, that "economics" was a combination boring statistics and meaningless words of propaganda).

8- "Complete Works" by Frédéric Bastiat. Hayek was ultimately unsatisfactory, but led me to Turgot, and eventually Bastiat (once again, through my mother, who had read in "Le Monde" (of all places!) Philippe Simonnot's review of Rothbard's History of Economic Thought and its telling of Bastiat's Broken Window Fallacy, the argument of which I had reinvented and been explaining to a former school comrade just a few weeks before). Bastiat was exactly what I was looking for: on the surface, humor used to identify and dissolve fallacies; but deep down, a profound sense of the harmony of the universe. I put as many of his works as I could online on Bastiat.org, long before WikiSource.org. Through Bastiat, I met Jacques de Guenin, who became my mentor in things Libertarian, introduced me to many authors (including Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand) and people (including Christian Michel, who turned me an Anarchist). Sure enough, I loved "Atlas Shrugged" that made me feel like it ought to have been written if not yet — but I preferred Rand's non fiction, and as a Libertarian philosophical novel, I prefer Paul Rosenberg's "A Lodging of Wayfaring Men". But Bastiat is what gave a new turn to my life.

9- "A Guide to Rational Living" by Albert Ellis. I'm not sure which book by Ellis (probably in a French translation) I had randomly picked in a second hand bookstore, so I'm writing down this one. Of course, at about the same time, I found many hints by other authors or online acquaintances converging towards the cognitive behavioral emotional therapy of Ellis toward improving on one's irrational fears. When you are ready to see, you see what there is to see; and what there was was his ABCDE method. Later, "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World" by Harry Browne also brought me a much needed understanding of what and how to improve. I could probably cite some books on Procrastination, on (Seduction) Game, or some Dale Carnegie's classic, but unhappily that's unfinished business. And so I'll leave a book by Ellis as the one that first influenced me out of my childhood-grown mental jails.

10- "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. Back in school, I always wanted to draw, but was always amongst the worst in my class, year after year. Because I was always engaging the "Left Side" of my Brain, the symbolic, cause-and-effect planning modules (whether physically on the left or not). This book taught me how to engage the "Right Side" and how to draw at all. From stick figures and ugly contours to shades of grey triangulated into position, in just a few hours. Now I know I too can draw — though to do it well would I would have to take a lot of time exercising. And it's not just about drawing. Being able to stop interpreting is important. So is realizing that you can still learn new skills. And so I'll give a well-deserved place to this book.

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Sep. 1st, 2014

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The Immigration You Deserve / L'immigration que vous méritez

Here's a story about French immigration. I once met a friend of a friend, who immigrated from Benin to France. He had worked 7 years the worst minimum pay night watchman jobs — proof that he's willing to work, even tough jobs. But once given French papers and entitled to the dole, he found that his total revenues were only slightly lower by not working than by working, and that with all the free time he now had he could live a much better life (and make up for any lost revenue on the black market or through communal production of goods and services). He proved he wasn't lazy. And he also proved he wasn't stupid. Incentives work, even more so at the margin — and immigrants are all at the margin.

Every country gets the immigration it deserves. A socialist country will get an immigration of parasites. Or worse, it will turn hard-working immigrants into parasites. The damage it does to people's souls is an incommensurable sin of socialism, far worse than all the already damnable ruin it brings upon the economy of every country where it has any influence.


Voici une histoire à propos de l'immigration en France. Je rencontrai un jour l'ami d'une amie, qui avait immigré du Bénin en France. Il avait travaillé pendant sept ans dans les pires emplois de gardien de nuit — preuve qu'il était prêt à travailler, même des emplois difficiles. Mais une fois obtenus ses papiers Français lui donnant "droit" à des aides, il se rendit compte que ses revenus totaux étaient seulement légèrement moindres s'il ne travaillait pas que s'il travaillait, et qu'avec tout son temps libre, il pouvait maintenant vivre une meilleure vie (et rattrapper toute perte de revenu sur le marché noir ou à travers la production en commun de biens et services). Il avait prouvé qu'il n'était pas paresseux. Et aussi qu'il n'était pas stupide. Les incitations fonctionnent, et à la marge plus encore — et les immigrants sont tous à la marge.

Chaque pays obtient l'immigration qu'il mérite. Un pays socialiste accueillera une immigration de parasites. Ou pire, elle transformera des immigrants travailleurs en parasites. La corruption des âmes de ses victimes est un péché incommensurable du socialisme, bien pire que la ruine déjà abominable qu'il apporte à tous les pays où il a quelqu'influence.

Aug. 14th, 2014

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Free hens don't live in henhouses! / Les poules libres ne vivent pas dans des poulaillers!

These pagragraphs have long been on my very first page (in French) "About (Classical) Liberalism", in the mid to late 1990's, but the topic comes back often enough that they deserve their own page. And their translation. So here it is.

Slogan: "Libertarianism is the free fox in the free henhouse." i.e. to abolish the State would be to let criminals act against law-abiding citizens thereby left helpless.

Reality: This metaphor does not at all describe the alternative offered by libertarians, but is quite telling about the way that statists see individuals.

(This quip can be traced back to the German revolutionary Ferdinand Kürnberger in 1874, and was notably translated to English and cited by Henry Wickham Steed in one of the anti-libertarian and anti-semitic rants in his book "The Habsburg Monarchy", 1913, p. 155.)

First, let's examine the meaning of this metaphor, regarding the role of this State that is suddenly being abolished. According to this metaphor, law-abiding individuals are like the hens in a henhouse. Who usually protects these hens from external aggressions? A farmer, the State, plays this role; It is supposed to be a being superior to the mere hens. But why stop the metaphor there? Inasmuch as it applies, it consists in considering individuals as cattle being raised, subject to the whims of a farmer, the State. Now, this farmer can and will at his leisure control their reproduction, steal their eggs, fatten them, and butcher them. The henhouse is the exploitation of hens by the farmer. Between a fox and a farmer, hens are given a choice but between two predators. The State isn't any more of a friend to the citizens than a farmer is a friend to the hens; just like a farmer exploits his hens, the State exploits its law-abiding citizens. The criminal, like the fox, resorts to some sudden, extraordinary violence, whereas the State resorts to an ordinary, permanent, violence; this farmer locks his citizen-hens in a henhouse, a prison made out of regulations and guarded by police-dogs. He offers them a ready-made future, wherein they will be stuffed with various subsidies but constantly stripped of the eggs of the wealth they create; they will be slaves all their lives long, until the State slaughters them and feeds off their carcasses, confiscating their legacy.

Free hens do not live in henhouses. They live in the great outdoors. They nest in tall grass. They are not as plump as farmed hens, but whatever fat and muscles they may accumulate is for their own enjoyment, not that of whoever dines upon them. They run fast, they jump far and high above obstacles to escape the fox, and sometimes even fly out of his reach; when it comes to it, they will dish out fierce pecks with their beaks, to defend their kin and protect their flight. They do not lay eggs daily for the pleasure of human predators, but only as befits their reproductive cycle. They are not locked within a fence, or worse in a scrimpy henhouse without any emergency exit in case of fox; they live free to follow their aspirations, and to cross roads without having to answer anyone's questions.

No, really, the abolition of the State as a monopoly of force cannot be compared to letting a fox in a henhouse; for in a free society, individuals are not farmed hens subjected to a superior being (beside, may these beings who aspire to rule us show us their titles of superiority!), but independent creatures, who can better defend themselves either alone or in voluntarily gathered groups, all the better since they haven't been reduced to the state of passive slaves. Libertarians are not pacifists who aim to abolish defensive force. Tolstoyans were such pacifists; they disappeared in the frozen, blood-red, night of the bolshevik revolution. Libertarians claim that individuals shall be able to arm themselves and organize their own defense. The animal metaphor for potential aggressors in a libertarian society will then rather be that of the free crocodile in the river of the free hippopotamuses — kept in awe by the tough skin and the powerful jaws of the hippos, who live peacefully as long as they are not attacked.


Ces paragraphes ont longtemps été sur ma toute première page "Sur le Libéralisme", mais le sujet revient assez souvent pour qu'ils méritent leur propre page. Ci-donc fait. [Article depuis repris sur Contrepoints.]

Slogan: "Le libéralisme, c'est le renard libre dans le poulailler libre." i.e. supprimer l'État, ce serait laisser les criminels agir au détriment des honnêtes citoyens alors sans défense.

Réalité: Cette métaphore ne décrit pas du tout le choix proposé par les libéraux, mais en dit long sur la façon dont les étatistes considèrent les individus.

(Cette métaphore, faussement attribuée à Jaurès ou Lacordaire, nous vient en fait du révolutionnaire allemand Ferdinand Kürnberger, en 1874, dont l'expression fut citée et traduite en anglais par Henry Wickham Steed dans une des tirades anti-libérales et anti-sémites de son "The Habsburg Monarchy", 1913, p. 155 et retraduite en français par Victor Bérard, Revue des Deux Mondes, 1er Novembre 1914, p. 177.)

Tout d'abord, voyons ce que signifie cette métaphore, quant au rôle de cet État qui se trouve soudain supprimé. Au vu de cette métaphore, alors les individus honnêtes sont des poules dans un poulailler. Qui protège habituellement les poules contre les agressions extérieures? Un fermier, l'État, remplit ce rôle; C'est censé être un être supérieur aux poules. Mais il ne faut pas s'arrêter en si bon chemin. Si cette métaphore s'applique, alors il faut accepter de voir dans les individus des bêtes d'élevages, soumises au bon vouloir d'un État fermier. Or ce fermier peut et va à loisir contrôler leur reproduction, voler leurs œufs, les engraisser et les égorger. Le poulailler, c'est l'exploitation des poules par le fermier. Entre le renard et le fermier, il n'est pour les poules que le choix entre deux prédateurs. L'État n'est pas plus l'ami des citoyens que le fermier n'est l'ami des poules; comme le fermier exploite ses poules, l'État exploite les citoyens honnêtes. Le criminel, tel le renard, use d'une violence subite, extraordinaire, tandis que l'État use d'une violence ordinaire, permanente; il enferme ses poules de citoyens dans un poulailler, une prison faite de lois et gardée par des chiens-policiers. Il leur offre un avenir tout fait, où ils seront gavés par diverses subventions mais constamment dépouillés des œufs de la richesse qu'ils créent; ils sont des esclaves durant toute leur vie, jusqu'à ce que l'État les abatte et se nourrisse de leurs dépouilles, confisquant leur héritage.

Les poules libres ne vivent pas dans un poulailler. Elles vivent au grand air. Elles nidifient dans des hautes herbes. Elles sont loin d'être aussi dodues que les poules d'élevage, mais c'est à elles et non pas à un dîneur que profitera la graisse et les muscles qu'elles accumuleront. Elles courent vite, sautent loin par dessus les obstacles pour échapper au renard, et même s'envolent pour se percher hors d'atteinte au besoin, elles donnent des coups de bec féroces pour se défendre ou protéger la fuite des leurs. Elles ne pondent pas quotidiennement et en vain pour le plaisir des prédateurs humains, mais à fin de reproduction seulement. Elles ne sont pas enfermées dans une clôture, voire pire dans un poulailler étriqué sans issue de secours en cas de renard; elles vivent libres de suivre leurs aspirations, et de traverser les routes sans avoir à en répondre à quiconque.

Non vraiment, l'abolition de l'État comme monopole de la force ne peut pas se comparer à laisser entrer le renard dans le poulailler; car dans une société de liberté, les individus ne sont pas des poules d'élevages soumises à un être supérieur (d'ailleurs, que ces êtres aspirant à nous diriger présentent leurs titres de supériorité!), mais des êtres indépendants, pouvant se défendre seuls ou en groupes volontairement formés, d'autant mieux qu'ils n'auront pas été réduit à l'état d'esclaves passifs. Les libéraux ne sont pas des pacifistes visant à abolir la force défensive. Les tolstoïens étaient de tels pacifistes; ils ont tous disparus dans la nuit glacée et rouge sang de la révolution bolchévique. Les libéraux revendiquent que les individus puissent s'armer et organiser leur propre défense. La métaphore animalière pour les agresseurs potentiels dans une société libérale sera alors plutôt celle du crocodile libre dans le fleuve des libres hippopotames - tenu en respect par la peau dure et les machoires puissantes des hippopotames, qui vivent paisiblement tant qu'ils ne sont pas attaqués.

Aug. 1st, 2014

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Une autre mini-interview pour Libres !!

À propos de mon article préféré dans Libres !!

1) Pourriez-vous vous présenter brièvement ?

Je suis Roman Perdeanu. Je travaille dans le "chemin de fer clandestin": j'aide les esclaves en fuite à échapper à leurs soi-disant maîtres; je leur permet de rejoindre des terres où, s'ils ne sont pas complètement libres, du moins leur vie n'est plus en danger, et ils peuvent s'épanouir. Parfois, il suffit de faire parvenir une aide pécuniaire pour permettre aux passeurs existants d'agir; souvent, il faut soi-même accompagner des fugitifs dès avant qu'ils brisent leurs chaînes, et jusqu'après qu'ils se soient installés dans une nouvelle contrée; mais d'abord et toujours, il faut leur montrer la liberté, leur faire prendre conscience de leurs principales chaînes, qui sont mentales, et qu'eux seuls peuvent choisir d'abandonner.

2) Quel thème avez-vous traité et pour quelles raisons ?

J'ai traité du thème de la justice sans monopole — une grosse barrière mentale qui retient beaucoup d'esclaves dans les filets de l'étatisme. Utiliser leur propre soif de justice, comme appât pour capturer les âmes de ses victimes, avec le crochet d'une insécurité cultivée, voilà une fourberie remarquable en vérité.

3) Avez-vous lu et si oui, avez-vous aimé Libres !! Opus 2 ? Seriez-vous partant pour un troisième opus, et si oui pourquoi ?

Je n'ai lu qu'une fraction du livre. Les textes sont parfois excellents, parfois moins bons, mais toujours soufflent en eux un vent de liberté et une vitalité qui je l'espère inspireront les lecteurs et lectrices. Je serai sans doute trop occupé à mes activités clandestines pour participer au prochain opus, mais qui sait?

4) Si vous deviez formuler un seul et unique argument en faveur de la liberté, lequel serait-il ?

La vie est faite de décisions transformées en actions. Celui qui n'est pas libre de décider et d'agir ne vit pas — il n'est qu'un robot au service d'autrui, voire au service de parasites mentaux qui ne servent personne qu'eux mèmes. En fin de compte, choisir la liberté, c'est choisir la vie plutôt que la mort. La vie est parfois bien lourde à supporter, mais la lente mort d'une âme dans un corps qui bouge encore est une chose bien triste à voir — regardez les zombies autour de vous; ne soyez pas l'un d'entre eux.

5) Etes-vous plutôt optimiste ou pessimiste quant à l'avenir de la liberté en France et dans le monde ?

La liberté doit faire face à bien des défis de nos jours, entre États gloutons menant les pays industriels à la faillite, victoire idéologique souterraine du communisme dans ce qui restait de démocraties occidentales, renouveau de l'islam le plus violent, et nouvelles technologies de surveillance. Les institutions anciennes de la liberté sont condamnées, et elles s'écrouleront en France comme ailleurs. Mais j'ai confiance en de nouveaux vecteurs de liberté: l'échange international direct via l'Internet, l'impression 3D pour tous, les révolutions biochimiques à venir, etc. La liberté survivra parce qu'elle est la vie, et que les parasites ne peuvent parasiter que les vivants — alors que les vivants se passent bien de parasites. À nous de faire survivre — et pourquoi pas triompher ­— la liberté.

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Mini-interview pour Libres !!

Voici ma mini-interview pour La Main Invisible en tant que co-auteur de Libres !!

1) Pourriez-vous vous présenter brièvement ?

François-René Đặng-Vũ Bân Rideau, je suis cybernéticien: j'étudie la dynamique de systèmes où de nombreux agents interagissent, humains ou machines; je m'intéresse particulièrement à la façon dont la structure des choix, des responsabilités, des incitations, affecte la dynamique de ces interactions.

2) Quel thème avez-vous traité et pour quelles raisons ?

J'ai traité la question du Mythe du "public" et du "privé". M'avait originellement été proposée de parler de la privatisation de tel prétendu "service public", et il m'a paru plus important de dénoncer l'imposture même de ces faux concepts de "public" et "privé" par laquelle les étatistes trompent leurs victimes.

3) Avez-vous lu et si oui, avez-vous aimé Libres !! Opus 2 ? Seriez-vous partant pour un troisième opus, et si oui pourquoi ?

Je n'ai pas encore lu tout "Libres !!", mais y ai déjà trouvé quelques articles savoureux. J'aime l'évolution depuis le premier opus, de la critique à l'action. Je serai honoré de participer à un troisième volume, qui sera j'imagine un manuel d'auto-libération pour débutants, plutôt qu'un argumentaire théorique ou une liste de suggestions pratiques pour un hypothétique libéral au pouvoir, bel oxymore en vérité: contradiction dynamique sinon statique.

4) Si vous deviez formuler un seul et unique argument en faveur de la liberté, lequel serait-il ?

Il n'y a pas à argumenter pour la liberté. La liberté est. La charge de la preuve revient plutôt aux ennemis de la liberté: qu'ils montrent donc, sans faire deux poids deux mesures ni pétition de principe, pourquoi et comment la violence politique contribue positivement à la société; de la cuisse de quel dieu nos soi-disant "dirigeants" sont-ils sortis, pour n'être pas sujets de tous les vices dont ils prétendent sauver la société, sans parler des vices inhérents au pouvoir et à sa recherche?

5) Etes-vous plutôt optimiste ou pessimiste quant à l'avenir de la liberté en France et dans le monde ?

Suivre l'actualité ne porte guère à l'optimisme, mais n'oublions pas que la violence et ceux qui en vivent sont toujours les plus spectaculaires, et émerveillons-nous de tout le chemin (certes tortueux) parcouru depuis la préhistoire, voire même depuis que nous sommes nés.

Je veux donc bien être comme le définit John McCarthy, un "optimiste radical": un qui croit que l'humanité survivra probablement, même si elle ne suit pas mes conseils.

Quant à la France, je crains qu'elle ait quelques déserts à traverser, qu'elle s'empresse d'ailleurs d'importer d'Afrique et d'Arabie; mais ma foi, si après s'être proclamés citoyens Romains, et après avoir adopté le nom de la Race des Maîtres germanique nos Français prennent le nom et la religion de nouveaux conquérants, rappelons que le génie français tient précisément à toujours avoir su corrompre le pouvoir par ses bons mots, son bon vivre, ses bons vins, ses belles femmes — ses libertés exercées en privé si non reconnues en public.

Jul. 25th, 2014

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Plausible deniability for filesystem encryption

TrueCrypt is no more. Even when it was, relying on VFAT of itself was suspicious. Moreover, not being able to use the decoy partition is also suspicious. So your obviously used laptop has a partition with data that's 2 years old?

Here is a proposed method for plausibly deniable filesystem encryption, that doesn't require meddling too much with filesystem drivers:

  1. The encrypted partition driver randomly stores its master data in one of N blocks; other blocks are random data. Your key may or may not unlock each of the blocks. (This may or may not require modifying dm-crypt).
  2. The decoy password unlocks an encrypted partition with a decoy filesystem that covers the entire available space.
  3. The real system is created as a large "image" file in this decoy filesystem — but it will be completely purged when the decoy filesystem is "parked" (see below). Efficiently creating the large file without actually writing tons of useless data to disk may require some filesystem driver enhancements, but it's probably doable to convince regular kernel maintainers to add and maintain such a (privileged) system call. Otherwise, you may have to waste a few hours to write plenty of zeros for all the space you won't be using then more zeros for the space you will be using, to it's beyond the space normally used (otherwise the existence of a hidden file is apparent).
  4. A section of the inner file is a small secure bootstrap partition. It is either made of contiguous blocks, or at least has enough blocks to constitute the header of a VFAT filesystem that skips over the blocks it doesn't own.
  5. To initialize the system, mark the image file as immutable, and build a map of the blocks it occupies. Find enough contiguous blocks for the secure bootstrap (or for its FAT table), store the map of blocks in the secure bootstrap partition, add the bootstrap partition as a new entry to the set of N encrypted partition blocks, with a real key.
  6. To mount the encrypted system (as when securely booting), make a loopback block device based on the map (minus blocks used for the secure boot partition), and mount that as an encrypted device, using the same key as for the secure bootstrap partition.
  7. After unmounting the decoy, "park" it: remount in a mode that intercepts and records changes, thoroughly purge any trace of the partition file (which might require filesystem knowledge for certain effect), store the changes in the secure partition, unmount.
  8. Before mounting the decoy, "unpark" it: undo the changes recorded while parking.
  9. During regular use, mount the unparked decoy, and use it in a virtual machine or operating system container to do all your non-sensitive activities inside (family-oriented web browsing, etc.)
  10. When travelling, turn off the computer and park it. Keep off-disk backups in case the bad guys force you to turn on the system and that messes up the secure file.
  11. Problem: you only have plausible deniability while the decoy is parked, but if you actively use it, then you only get plausible deniability when you shut down the computer properly, and cannot just "pull the plug" on it. Solution: if you want more plausible deniability, keep your "live" decoy data on the encrypted partition, and once in a while, unpark the the decoy filesystem, rsync the decoy data onto it, and park it again, with a small, controlled window of vulnerability every so many days. Keep some porn in your decoy data to justify why you wanted to shut down your computer in a hurry.
  12. For extra bonus, the loopback block device records a tree of digests for the device, so you can detect that tampering happened from booting in unsecure mode, and reach for your backups.

Point 1. is the most important one. If you can selectively hide or show different partitions depending on the key, then you can just leave unallocated space and claim you intend to install another OS later, and have a live decoy without the need for parking.

Jun. 14th, 2014

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How not to BBQ Pigs

Cross-posted to Vulgar Libertarians

In recent news, one guy lures random canadian cops to kill them, before eventually surrendering to superior forces. Some couple randomly attacks US cops, then kill a bystander who tried to stop them, before committing suicide. Apparently, in both cases, libertarian anarchist rhetoric was invoked as justification for the actions. What does that make the perpetrators? Heroes? No, only deranged murderers with a death wish. And this, even if we assume that they were correctly viewing cops as the occupation force they are: a violent gang of costumed thugs, serving as the largely unaccountable enforcers for an oppressive regime, whose main role is to disarm the population against petty robbers with or without a bureaucratic title, when they are not directly victimizing innocent people. Indeed, even against such an enemy, random killing is counter-productive, and far from minimizing conflict and destruction only adds to it — not to mention that causing an innocent bystander to die is at least manslaughter even assuming the killing itself was self-defense in the heat of action.

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May. 13th, 2014

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The Great ASDF Bug Hunt

With the release of ASDF 3.1.2 this May 2013, I am now officially retiring not just from ASDF maintenance (Robert Goldman has been maintainer since ASDF 3.0.2 in July 2013), but also from active ASDF development. (NB: ASDF is the de facto standard Common Lisp build system, that I took over in November 2009.) I'm still willing to give information on where the code is coming from and advice where it might go. I'm also still willing to fix any glaring bug that I may have introduced, especially so in UIOP (indeed I just committed a few simple fixes (for Genera of all platforms!)). But I won't be writing new features anymore. (However, you will hopefully soon see a bunch of commits with my name on them, of code I have already written that addresses the issue of syntax modularity; the code was completed and is committed in a branch, but is not yet merged into the master branch, pending tests and approval by the new maintainer).

Before I left, though, I wanted to leave the code base in order, so I made sure there are no open bugs beside wishlist items, I dumped all my ideas about what more could be done in the TODO file, and I did a video walkthrough of the more subtle parts of the code. I also wrote a 26-page retrospective article on my involvement with ASDF, a reduced version of which I submitted to ELS 2014. There, I gave a talk on Why Lisp is Now an Acceptable Scripting Language.

The talk I would have liked to give instead (and probably should have, since I felt like preaching to the converted) was about the great ASDF bug hunt, which corresponds to the last appendix of my paper (not in the reduced version), a traverse across the build. It would have been a classic monster hunt story:

  • The setting is a seemingly peaceful and orderly little village on the (programming) frontier. It is a familiar old place, not a big one, but a good, comfortable one. Though it is not perfect, and monsters roam at night, it looks fundamentally healthy. (That would be ASDF, in daily use by tens or even hundreds of Common Lisp programmers, despite bugs that catch the unwary.)
  • The protagonist is the (bug) hunter. (I should tell the story in the first person, but for now, third person will do.) In the beginning he is young and naïve — but capable (of improvement). When he comes into town, our protagonist kicks out a few baddies that were victimizing the population; soon enough he replaces the ailing sheriff. (That would be me becoming ASDF maintainer in 2009 when Gary King steps down, after fixing some pathname related bugs.)
  • Under the new sheriff, monsters big and small are hunted down. The inhabitants are not afraid anymore, though some of them remain grumpy. (That's me fixing bugs with the help of many other programmers, while the unwary remain blissfully ignorant of having been saved.) The protagonist builds fortifications, and finds he has to extend the city limits to make it easier to defend, adding new buildings along the way. (That would be improving the ASDF design to be more robust, and adding features.) Often he has to hunt monsters that he himself let in, sometimes after they hurt citizens. (That's when I introduce bugs myself, and sometimes fail to fix them before release.) The protagonist feels guilty about it and learns to be a better sheriff. (That's when I get to deeply respect the regression test suite.) But by and large, his endeavor is a success. At long last, he thinks the place is now safe, and that he knows everything about the town and its now former monsters. — My, how wrong he is! (That's me at the time of ASDF 2.26)
  • Now, a monster has been terrorizing innocent citizens for years. No one has seen the monster, but the way he picks his victims and what he does to them is characteristic. (That's the old bug whereby changes in dependencies are not propagated correctly across modules.) The protagonist's best buddy has found a good way to protect homes against the monster, but it still roams in the streets at night. (That's when Robert Goldman fixes the bug and gets dependency changes to trigger rebuild across modules within a system, but dependency changes still fail to trigger rebuild across systems.) Our sheriff, having finally vanquished all other monsters, and having no other foe left in town, sets off to catch this one last monster. And so, he has to enter hitherto unexplored caverns deep below the village, a place abandoned long ago, where the creature lurks. (That would be the ASDF traverse algorithm.) And of course that's when the story turns ugly.
  • Our protagonist thinks the monster will be an easy catch, what with his all experience and technology. But it's actually a long, hard fight to the death. It's the toughest enemy ever. (And that's the story of writing ASDF 2.27, that eventually becomes ASDF 3, after months of struggle.)
  • Along the way, many times, the protagonist thinks he has almost won, but not at all; many times, he thinks he is lost, but he keeps at it. (More code was written in the year or so since ASDF 2.26 was released than in the entire decade before.) Quickly though, he realizes that the monster he was chasing is but a henchman of a bigger monster that has been ruling over the village all along. The apparent orderliness of the village was but a lie, all that he thought he knew was fake! (That's the fundamental algorithm behind ASDF having deep conceptual bugs.) Happily, a mysterious wise man left him cryptic instructions on how to defeat the monster before he even became a sheriff, though he only understands them when comes the confrontation. (That would be Andreas Fuchs and his POIU, the maintenance of which I had also inherited, and that brought all the essential insights just at the right moment.)
  • In the end, the sheriff vanquishes his foes and defeats the great monster for good, but not until he has learned to respect his enemy. And his real prize is in the lessons he learned and the final illumination he reaches. (And I hope you too can enjoy this illumination.)

The final illumination is that inasmuch as software is "invented", it isn't created ex nihilo so much as discovered: Daniel Barlow, who wrote the initial version ASDF, obviously didn't grok what he was doing, and can't be said to have created the ASDF algorithm as it now stands, since what he wrote had such deep conceptual flaws; instead, he was experimenting wildly, and his many successes overshadow and more than redeem his many failures. I, who wrote the correct algorithm, which required a complete deconstruction of what was done and reconstruction of what should have been done instead, cannot be said to have created it either, since in a strong sense I "only" debugged Daniel's implicit specification. And so, the code evolved, and as a result, an interesting algorithm was discovered. But no one created it.

An opposite take on the same insight, if you know Non-Standard Analysis, is that Daniel did invent the algorithm indeed, but specified it with a non-standard formula: his formula is simple (a few hundreds of lines of code), and captures the desired behaviour in simple enough cases with standard parameters (using SBCL on Unix, without non-trivial dependency propagation during an incremental build) but fails in non-standard cases (using other implementations, or dealing with timestamp propagation). My formula specifies the desired behaviour in all cases with all the details correct, and is much more elaborate (a few thousands of lines of code), but is ultimately only a Standardization of Daniel's formula — a formal elaboration without any of Daniel's non-standard shortcuts, but one that doesn't contain information not already present in Daniel's version, only making it explicit rather than implicit.

The two interpretations together suggest the following strategy for future software development: There is a lot of untapped potential in doing more, more daring, experimentations, like Daniel Barlow did, to more quickly and more cheaply discover new interesting designs; and conceivably, a less constrained non-standard representations could allow for more creativity. But this potential will remain unrealized unless Standardization is automated, i.e. the automatic specification of a "standard" formal program from a "non-standard" informal one; a more formal standard representation is necessary for robustly running the program. This process could be viewed as automated debugging: as the replacement of informal variables by sets of properly quantified formal variables; as an orthogonal projection onto the hyperplane of typed programs; as search of a solution to a higher-order constraint problem; as program induction or machine learning; etc. In other word, as good old-fashioned or newfangled AI. This process itself is probably hard to formalize; but maybe it can be bootstrapped by starting from a non-standard informal specification and formalizing that.

Mar. 29th, 2014

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Style and Interpretation

Yesterday I attended Fabiola Kim's graduation recital at the Juilliard School. Fabiola through a combination of innate talent and sheer hard work has achieved complete mastery of violin, and plays everything with a rare, diminutive, smooth-flowing grace. Her rendering of the final piece of the programme, Beethoven's Sonata #3 for Violin and Piano, was memorable, especially the last movement. She totally owns that piece. However, and interestingly, the very same diminutive grace was out of place in the other pieces of the program, which inspires me to write about musical interpretation.

The first piece on the programme was Béla Bartók's Sonata #2 for Violin and Piano, Sz. 76, BB85, written in 1922, at a time when Bolsheviks and proto-Fascists were violently clashing to dominate the fuming ruins of post World War I Eastern Europe. This Sonata speaks of war, disquiet, violence and fear, with a few fleeting moments of rest, of happy distraction, even of hope. It calls for strident attacks — and in those fleeting moments, desperate pangs of life. Those pizzicatti toward the end: it's someone hiding from a gang of monochrome-shirted goons, followed by an elusive flight and a desperate run for his life. It's hard to say exactly what story Bartók had in mind if any while writing that Sonata, but odds are it was closer to The Miraculous Mandarin than to tea time in a fashionable salon. An even-mooded elegance while playing the score is thus a total misunderstanding of it by a pampered first-world citizen — or, if deliberate, quite an odd and insensitive way of covering the original. Fabiola Kim gave us a Taichi performance where Kung Fu would have been more appropriate, or better, the ugliest of dirty street fighting techniques, whereby a bunch of uniformed fatheads gang up on some helpless, undernourished, designated political victim, and beat him dead. Really, if you want to understand XXth century Hungarian music, your best bet is to visit Andrássy út 60 — it certainly was a revelation to me. The accents were so off in this performance of Bartók, that even the programme tellingly had the accents at the wrong place: on the "Bar" rather than on the "tók", and missing on the "Bé"!

I suspect a good deal of the blame for this travesty rests not on Fabiola personally, but the educational institution, and beyond it, on the current culture of the classical music industry as an art largely disconnected from the general public. I briefly talked with her teacher Ronald Copes, no doubt the talented master of many masters, and was quite dismayed by his answer, which was along the lines of "everyone takes away his own message from the music" or something like that. As if all messages were the same, as if there was no intent in the writing. It might have been a legitimate cop-out to avoid arguing with a stranger; but if sincere, it was worse than disappointing. I hope he has better things to say when discussing interpretation issues with his students — assuming he does indeed discuss the many ways to interpret or not interpret a piece, which I suspect does not happen often enough (I never once saw it happen during my short stint at a local conservatory in Paris). I am no great musician, but I played enough flute to understand what musical performance is about and to deeply appreciate master performers. And I am no great composer, but I wrote enough music to have utter respect for master authors, and also to know that yes, there is definite intent in how a piece is supposed to be played, though it may still leave a great deal of freedom to the performer. Denying that there is intent in the composition is disrespectful to the author. Certainly, there are many ways to play a piece; but they are not equal; otherwise, there would be no difference between master's performance and neophyte's bumblings — and a trivial computer rendering should be good enough for anyone. Of course, the author needs not have the last say on how his composition is to be played; and it is indeed a great artist who can discover a new way to perform an old piece. But I find it unsettling how the topic of interpretation, of emotional content and intent, seems to be vastly under-discussed in the classical music industry, where technique seems to be everything while emotion is taboo. Philosophical relativism makes for despicable aesthetics.

Yes, a same piece can be played in many different yet beautiful ways. I am reminded of that story in which a promising young violinist rehearses Vocalise with his professor, when insistant knocks on the door interrupt the lesson; an uninvited man joins in and starts accompanying the student on the piano. After they play the piece once together, he does the accompaniment again, only in a different style. And so they play again. And again. Eleven times, differently. Then he cries and leave, saying "it is my favorite piece". You can guess exactly who the man was. I also remember fondly an evening at the Dinard Music Festival, where the tenth anniversary was celebrated by a string orchestra playing an original composition, which we found was actually the birthday song — but played in ten different ways; it might not have been worthy of a world-class recording, but it was particularly thoughtful (See other artists also doing a similar exercise).

Now, just because there are many beautiful ways of playing a piece does not mean that every technically proficient way of playing is beautiful. Fabiola Kim's elegance was also out of touch with her second piece, Bach's Sonata #1 for Solo Violin, BWV 1001, which called for both majesty and a light foot. It's a dance, dammit! And as dances go, see how the score says "Bach", not "Boulez"! For a complete contrast, consider how Hillary Hahn plays Bach: she can extract feelings from that Chaconne I hadn't suspected were there. At the same time, Hillary Hahn's perfect precision sounds tin when she plays romantic concertos from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky or Sibelius, the feelings of which I hadn't suspected could be missed so thoroughly by such a great performer. Thus, every artist has their own style, that fits some compositions and not others. If you want a canonical version of Beethoven's Symphonies, try Karajan's; but please pardon his martial, german interpretation of Tchaikovsky's, and compare it with the expansive performance by some slavic orchestra and conductor, dripping with overflowing feelings. National stereotypes may be coarse generalizations, they do describe a cultural reality.

It's quite alright to only be great at a narrow subset of things: talent is judged at its peak, and to be great at one single thing is already greatness. If Fabiola can someday record the definitive performance of Beethoven's Sonata #3, who cares that her Bartók was bland? But know your limits; it is a sad spectacle to see the Great of this world making a show of their weakness. I remember a concert given at the Boston Symphony Hall by Itzhak Perlman, who I deem to be one of the greatest violinists of all times. He insisted on playing some pieces by Mozart in the first part of the concert, seemingly as part of an endeavor to play all of Mozart's violin works. Sure, he did a decent job of it, but frankly, there were good reasons why these were neither Mozart's most played pieces, nor Perlman's greatest successes. Speak of a waste of talent, and of the public's time. Then, in the last third of the concert, Perlman played his favorite concert pieces, that he announced from the stage. My, those minutes of musical genius made those expensive seats well worth buying. If only he could have made the entire show out of pieces like that! Those who left with dissatisfaction during the intermission missed quite something.

My conclusion is threefold. First, know thyself, and sell yourself for what you are great at, not for that at which you're incompetent or merely proficient — don't be the fool who doesn't know the difference. Second, if you want to improve yourself, try and discover different styles; take a theme you like in your line of work: in how many different styles can you do it? Rachmaninoff (he again) wrote (and played) 24 variations on that theme by Paganini. Lastly, if you get to choose where to invest your time and energy, shun an industry that is somehow "protected" from the market, from the salutary feedback of a public of willful consumers; instead, embrace the discipline of the market, that only brings true responsibility and true liberty, through a harsh but just requirement of accountability.

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La Bohème

Last Wednesday, I saw Puccini's La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera. As usual, the Franco Zeffirelli production is lavish, with magnificent sets, and a hundred extras in the parisian streets scene, including horse and donkey on the stage. Whoa. That's what makes the Met a unique place for Opera — not to mention the world class orchestra and singers. (And that makes me yearn for the Zeffirelli Tosca, unhappily replaced by an inferior creation.)

La Bohème is sure not Puccini's best opera (that would be Tosca): The action, true to Henri Murger's original book that inspired it, is but a series of loosely connected tragic and farcical scenes, and the opera only sports two good songs. But these two songs are so good they are in the all-time opera hit-parade: Mi chiamano Mimì, that Anita Hartig sang touchingly, fully incarnating Mimi; and Musetta's Waltz, that was competently performed by Jennifer Rowley, though she failed to be the vamp. It's telling though that despite the story being mostly around the four main male protagonists, the two songs that stand out are the female arias. And so, Vittorio Grigolo may have been a great Rodolfo, and the other singers may have been good, somehow their songs didn't touch me much, and the blame is upon Puccini: frankly, contrasted to those two fantastic arias, the rest of the Opera is just filler.

These four guys are living together la vie de Bohème, which consists mainly of artistic failures and accompanying poverty, with fleeting moments of being in the money from some moderate success — which itself, it seems, consists mainly in separating some rich mark from his dollar, in a Carnie spirit that was better described by Robert Heinlein or Fredric Brown. There is pride indeed in being a successful artist, even when it involves being something of a con artist: competence in anything is worthy of respect. Importantly, the enmity between predator and prey does not as such imply disrespect for the prey — far from it. The landlord, nobleman or politician, had his own talent for acquiring (honestly or dis-) the capital off of which the artists live, and that makes him worth defrauding. The protagonists of La Bohème may celebrate success, they certainly don't claim the moral high ground in their scams over their victims (though they would be entitled to it, in the cases of the politician and the nobleman, if not necessarily in that of the landlord). In that, they are much more honest than their disgusting, loathsome 1994 copycats of Rent who have the incredible gall to blame society for their self-inflicted wounds.

No, these artists may live in poverty, but they know it's the hard price for their freedom: the freedom to be themselves, and to create what they love, whether the public likes it or not. And that's something respectable, even though it leads to the death of Mimi by lack of funds to pay a doctor. For whatever their spectacular but overly late readiness to pawn their last belongings to bring relief to a dying Mimi, we must not forget that these men, starting with the in-and-out lover Rodolfo, purposefully failed to do what could actually have afforded Mimi sufficient healthcare to survive: getting a stable job. If Rodolfo actually valued Mimi's life as much as he claimed, he would have put his literary career aside and taken a job that pays well, despite the drudgery and the humiliation, as a secretary, clerk, accountant, journalist, ghostwriter, teacher, public writer, anything that would have earned enough to pay for her medical treatment, until recovery. Instead of complaining about the deadly cold wind blowing in the apartment through holes in the walls, he might also have filled them, be it with papers and rags. Or moved with her to the South of France. But he chose not to do any of that. And who am I to dispute his moral preferences? Maybe she wouldn't have loved him anymore if he had denied his way of life and stooped to earning a salary; and then she might have indeed left him for a richer lover, as he was both jealously dreading yet desiring for the sake of her health. I will not cast a stone — but I will point out this moral choice that was made, this preference that was revealed. And I admit to seeing nobibility in that choice: not because it was a matter of man against society (it was not), but because it was a matter of man choosing to be true to his own values — above health and wealth, above honor, and above love itself.

La Bohème: an opera that celebrates freedom over love. And not by the word — but by the deed. Yay.

PostScriptum: Note that the informal freedom that these artists achieve is different from the formal freedom claimed by libertarians, though it is related. In both cases, this freedom consists in not being harmed, threatened or defrauded because you're living your life and using your property in ways that other people disapprove, especially powerful people or large mobs. But libertarians seek to have this freedom formally acknowledged as a mutual agreement that drives the institutional use of force — or, mostly, the lack thereof. Instead, these artists neither seek nor grant this mutual acknowledgement. While they reject the constraints of society's prevailing social mores, they are content to live their a-social life under the radar; and while their ultimate ambition is to succeed at touching a large public with their art, they are not above denying the victims of their petty scams the right not to be defrauded. One could argue that their political victims, by their criminal professions, have forfeited this right; and that the landlord voluntarily accepts the deferral of rent payment and decides not to evict them, and may thus be frustrated but not defrauded. Thus, one might argue that their life style does not violate libertarian principles; still, the two concepts of freedom are in distinct categories. One is a practical freedom in the category of facts; the other one is a theoretical freedom in the category of laws, that consists in mutually acknowledging for everyone the legal right to this practical freedom over all of one's life and property.

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