Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Libertarian Buffet

meatloaf by karen H. nickname.{ pooh} is licensed CC BY 2.0
Let's start at the beginning: I love a good metaphor. Or analogy. Or simile. Call it whatever you want, I don't really care. A couple weeks ago, I ran across a really good one, courtesy of Don Boudreaux - suppose you were a restaurant owner who was tasked with selling a single dish to over 100 million people. Which dish would you choose? Mexican? Cajun? Too spicy. Sushi? Too exotic. Lamb? Too gamy.
You go down a long list.  Eventually, you settle upon something that is unquestionably bland and common and uninspiring – something like a plain hamburger, or perhaps a dish of mild meatloaf with mashed potatoes topped only with butter.  Anything more exotic than such offerings will, while being much preferred by a few million of the people whose patronage you’re trying to win, will be rejected by a majority of the people.  Your rival, of course, faces the same incentives..
This same dynamic, he goes on to explain, is why presidential candidates are so utterly boring and insipid. The goal isn't to become beloved, since that's virtually impossible - it's to be less intrinsically offensive than the other candidate.

Though this is certainly accurate, it's also profoundly depressing.

Now, it's no big secret that I'm a rather serious fan of a bit more variety in our political diet. Speaking as a card-carrying Libertarian (seriously, the national LP will send you a card if you become a member - it's quite handy for scraping ice off a windshield if you break your ice scraper), I view Libertarians as a group of people that see a menu with two entrees - a plain hamburger and a mild meatloaf with mashed potatoes topped with butter - as a moral affront upon our political culinary senses. So, we set about to create a new restaurant, one that won't even try to sell dishes to 100 million people, but will instead focus on bringing new and novel tastes to the political public. We'd get the dishes out by creating a political potluck, where each person would be free to bring whatever dish they want, just so long as they respect the right of those around them to also bring separate dishes to the potluck. Want to try support for gay marriage in the '70s? Yeah, we can do that. Legalized prostitution? No problem. Bitcoins as campaign contributions? Done and done.

The trouble with the potluck model of political restauranteuring, however, is that some people just aren't very good cooks. Some people, in fact, are the political equivalent of Typhoid Mary and are in every bit as deep of denial about their poisonous nature as she ever was. The mainstream parties do a decent job of keeping those cooks out of the kitchen; sure, a bad apple sneaks in every now and then, but they usually get plucked out once they start acting like a political sous-chef. At the Libertarian Party Buffet, however, all dishes are theoretically welcome. So, some people bring plates full of live worms and insist they're actually hamburger. Some people bring a plate of raw ground beef - it's "purer" than a cooked meatloaf or hamburger, you see. Some people show up with edible underpants and a bowl full of flavored condoms. Some people scrape some fuzzy mold off of some beans and hard tack they left in the root cellar "back in the day", warm it back up, and bring it to the buffet. Still others show up with a tin full of "special brownies". Occasionally, someone shows up with a plain hamburger made with grass-fed beef instead of the usual cheap corn-fed beef (see, it's different!), which rather misses the point of the buffet. Still others show up with a plate of ghost peppers and a bowl of Insanity Sauce to dip them in. Then there are the ones that show up with a bunch of fried chicken, watermelon, and purple-colored water because they think it'll appeal to "those people". Or the people that try to serve a bunch of "chemical-free non-GMO organic halal kosher pink Himalayan salt". Or - and these are my personal favorite - the people who bring a bunch of pretentiously plated food for people to "look at" - God help you if you actually attempt to "defile" the "art" with your hunger.*

What's the problem with that? Well, some people are showing up to the buffet with some really neat and incredible dishes. There's some excellent fusion food getting cooked up here lately, along with some excellent traditional dishes. Trouble is, can you run a restaurant where nine out of ten dishes on the menu are fantastic - better than anything else offered anywhere else, in fact - but that tenth dish makes everyone who tries it violently ill? How long will it take until some unfortunate person tries "Chef's Special #10", or just happens to be downwind of the kitchen while it's cooking?

So, what's the solution? Do we kick the bad chefs out of the kitchen? To be fair, we could. It would fly in the face of the Libertarian Party Restaurant ethos, and who knows, maybe one of the dishes being "vetted" out of the restaurant might be really, really good, but we could. How would we do that? Who would be in charge of the "vetting" process?

Alternatively, we can rely on public shaming, which seems to be the default solution for now. Shout out from the rooftops that, hey, "Chef's Special #10" is horrible, no good, and probably dangerous. Tell everyone and their mother that Specials 1-9 are way better. Scream at the chef that keeps bringing in that toxic waste in that ancient avocado-colored crock pot to stop coming here, damn it. Make it clear that we don't want to be known as "that restaurant that serves worms and 'organic' Himalayan sea salt and moldy beans" - we want to be known as the restaurant with lots of really tasty dishes, so many that everybody can find something they enjoy.

Will it work? I don't know, but I'm excited to find out.

* This list of dishes wasn't pulled completely out of my waste orifice - enjoy TLR's Here Are The Top 10 Worst Kinds Of Libertarians.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why the Soviet Union fell

Lenin, Soviet Union by rlzobreaker is licensed CC BY 2.0.
I've read a fair number of books about the Soviet Union recently. Each book has done a good job of explaining the problems with the Soviet experiment - the brutality that was used to install the system during the October Revolution; Stalin's symptomatic and seemingly random cruelty; the way politics and ideology bled into every single corner of Soviet life, even the sciences, stalling technological progress; the inherent inefficiencies of the command economy, especially as implemented under "Socialism in One Country"; and so on. None of them, however, explained why the Soviet Union collapsed. Sure, the system wasn't as efficient as capitalism, but North Korea and Cuba have both proven that's not enough to prevent a totalitarian "socialist" government from maintaining power. North Korea's mass starvation in the 1990's proved that a major disaster isn't enough to topple a totalitarian government (as if the Holodomor wasn't sufficient to prove this already), so why is Chernobyl considered one of the keys to the collapse of the Soviet Union? Why was Gorbachev so unsuccessful in his attempts to reform the Soviet system? What made the Soviet Union different? What happened?

Halfway through the first chapter of The Russians, I immediately understood.

Pretend you work in a widget factory for a multinational conglomerate. It's a big, sprawling mess of a company, with as many employees as you can imagine and locations all over the world. To keep the company moving in nominally the same direction, several policies and procedures have been crafted and they are strictly enforced. To ensure the company's procedures are followed and losses are minimized, the company utilizes a sophisticated system of intelligence gathering - surveillance cameras wherever possible, paid bonuses to employees that tattle on their coworkers, transfers to unpleasant departments for people that are found guilty of minor transgressions, and termination of employees caught doing anything halfway major.

One of the rules that all divisions of the company must follow is they are not allowed to buy anything from external vendors if it's being made internally - since the company is quite large and makes all sorts of things, this means the company sources most of its supplies internally. From pens to automobiles to produce to machine parts, the company makes near everything for itself, which ensures that its competition never profits from the company; if the company can't make something, it usually tries to find as close to a substitute as it can make internally, if possible, while it tries to find a way to ultimately supply that thing internally in the long run. This even extends to news and entertainment - since the company owns some newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations, only company-owned newspapers, radio programs, and TV shows are allowed on company grounds. Another rule that employees of the company must follow - and failure to abide by this rule will lead to swift termination - is they are expressly forbidden from talking to employees of competing companies, lest they leak "trade secrets". Since the company makes and sells just about anything and everything, that effectively means that employees of the company can only safely socialize and talk among themselves. To further restrict potential leaks, the company strongly discourages employees from even talking among each other, especially to employees from other divisions.

From your perspective, your particular division doesn't seem to be run particularly well. In fact, near as you can tell, it's run unconscionably poorly. There are frequent supply issues - sometimes you end up with the wrong parts, sometimes the quality of the parts is extremely poor, sometimes you just don't end up with the supplies you need at all. Consequently, your division has serious difficulties satisfying the needs of other divisions that rely on your widgets, to say nothing of your company's customers. Though you and your coworkers generally do your best, you each catch yourselves sometimes letting things slip, letting a substandard widget or two through - better they receive a bad widget than no widget at all, right? Besides, the company has strict quotas about what each division is supposed to produce, and the penalties for failing to produce enough widgets - of any quality - are best left unsaid. On top of the supply and production issues, your division also suffers from a steadily ratcheting culture of micromanagement. For example, management determined one day that it took you 38 seconds to walk from the time clock to the widget press; consequently, if you ever take 39 seconds, you are supposed to lose an hour of pay due to "laziness". One of your coworkers was informed that "shock workers" - the best workers from other widget factories - only required a 74-degree deflection from the top of the press lever to the bottom, which was more efficient than pushing the press down as far as possible due to the reduced range of motion and reduced wear and tear on the press; however, when your coworker attempted to apply this advice, he found that his press wouldn't always cut the widget all the way through the metal. Even so, failure to adhere to management's policies and procedures was strictly frowned on; the last thing your coworker needed was for you or one of your coworkers to turn him in for using a 75-degree deflection and collect that informer's bonus while he and his family were transferred to North Dakota.

Despite it all, though, your division muddles through and keeps producing widgets. Believe it or not, you and your coworkers take pride in your work. Sure, your division may be one of the most poorly run divisions in the company, but you each get it done when it matters and still find a way to deliver. In your own, imperfect way, you and your division are helping to make the company you work for successful. Fellow coworkers around the world - around the world! - count on you and your widgets, a fact that's brought up during every employee meeting, in every internal newsletter, and sometimes even in the company news broadcasts. Not everyone can say their work is relied upon across the world.

To make sure nobody in the world is let down by your poorly run division, you and your coworkers bend the rules a bit. In exchange for you re-pressing some of your coworker's widgets, he'll sometimes clock you in while you're already walking to your press - this way you don't get in trouble for walking too slowly between the time clock and the press and he doesn't get in trouble for improperly pressing his widgets. You have similar arrangements with other coworkers to work around some of the other rules put into place by management, and vice-versa; though this means you could inform on half of the plant if you so desired, they could also inform on you in a heartbeat. None of you really want to do that, though - if the rules weren't bent, the widgets wouldn't get made and none of you would get paid. Sometimes, you even bend the rules a bit and talk to people outside the company - none of them make widgets, so it's probably not competing, right? - or even sneak in some tools and supplies from outside of the company when nobody's looking. Sure, maybe one of the conglomerate's other divisions is losing business because of this, but some of the tools and supplies you're bringing in are really good - way better than anything you can find internally, assuming you can even find it in the first place - and, after all, your job is to produce widgets, right? As long as your division meets its widget quote, it's surely all good.

Again, the alternative is best left unsaid.

One day you wake up and one of your friends from outside the company is calling you. You answer and they immediately ask if you're okay, if you're all right, if your coworkers are all right. "Of course we are," you reply, "why wouldn't we be?" "There was a terrible accident at one of your factories - it's in all the news!", they exclaim. "I'll look into it," you declare, then get ready for work. Once you get to the factory, everything appears normal. Your coworkers are still making widgets, parts and supplies (such as they are) are still coming in like normal. There are no announcements over the intercom and the internal company newsletter mentions nothing out of the ordinary. Surely there was no disaster, you decide, and tell your friend as much once you get home.

A week later, you spot a terse notice in the company newsletter - "Sprockets from the Tennessee Valley factory will be unavailable until further notice." That's it - no explanation, no further details. Even so, that sole sentence is rather strange. You can't think of a single time that the company shut down an entire supplier without some sort of planning, some sort of announcement beforehand. This is very peculiar.

A week after that, a letter from the new CEO thanks the Tennessee Valley factory workers for their "sacrifice" and also thanks the company's internal disaster response team for their "service to the factory workers". "Remaining factory workers", the CEO further explains, "will be transferred to other factories."

Two weeks later, a couple of new factory workers arrive. They look like they haven't slept in ages. They claim they're from "Kentucky", but neither of them say much else. They barely talk to each other and never talk to anyone else. At first, you and your coworkers decide they must be informants - these two aren't willing to "scratch your backs", nor do they seem particularly interested in letting anyone else "scratch theirs". After about a month or so, though, none of you notice any odd firings or transfers, so each of you decide these two just must be the quiet type and leave them alone.

A year passes.

You and your coworkers are really starting to like the new CEO. He's much younger than any previous CEO you can remember, and the company news all show him visiting and conversing with other division workers - really conversing with them, not just lecturing at them or letting them parrot company-sourced motivational phrases. Your father, who also worked for the company when he was your age, mentioned there being a CEO like this one when he was your age, but "that CEO didn't last long". You hope this new CEO lasts a while.

Recently, the new CEO announced two new changes to the rules. First, he announced, the company was going to pursue a policy of "Openness" - though employees were still forbidden from talking to employees of competing firms, they were now expressly encouraged to talk to each other, even if they were in separate divisions. Next, he announced the company was going to pursue a policy of "Restructuring" - it was no longer forbidden for company divisions to purchase goods from competing companies.

Finally!, you and your coworkers thought to yourselves. Now you can get supplies and parts from anywhere - no more waiting on unreliable internal suppliers of dubious quality. Surely you'll be producing your quota of widgets in no time. However, you and your coworkers quickly discover that you actually can't - there's no money. It was one thing sneaking in the occasional used tool or scrap when times were tight - none of your competitors minded that - but it turns out it's something else entirely when you want a regular supply of something at a consistent quality. In fact, now that your division is a potential customer, your competitors are even keeping a closer eye on their leftovers.

Meanwhile, as you and your coworkers grow increasingly confident in talking to each other - really talking to each other - about work, about life, and even talking to people in other divisions about these things, you begin to realize that your division isn't particularly poorly run - all of the company's divisions are poorly run. Every single coworker you talk to from every other division shares with you the same stories you know so well - of failed supply lines, lousy quality, and endemic micromanagement. Near as any of you can tell, none of you have made anything bought by anyone other than another company division; the company swears it has billions upon billions in sales, but none of your coworkers are making enough widgets or anything else to meet internal demand, much less enough to sell to the public. This, you suspect, explains why your division has no money to buy anything.

At the same time, you also discover that several other divisions also had some silent transfers, just like the two guys that showed up at your factory a year ago. Some of them, it turns out, are actually willing to talk about what happened now, and the stories they tell leave you awestruck. They describe, independent of one another and with near-total fidelity between each of them, a horrific cataclysm, one that killed several of their coworkers and led to entire cities being evacuated. The pollution from the cataclysm destroyed nearby forests and rendered much of the surrounding countryside uninhabitable. The kicker? The factory is still open. Despite the disaster, despite the devastation, the company still insists that factory workers show up at the remains of the factory each day and keep the lines that weren't destroyed operational. You can't believe it - surely, after a disaster like that, they would shut down such an unsafe factory, or spend some time rebuilding it so such a disaster would never occur again, or... or something.

If they won't shut that factory down, if they won't make that one safe after something like that, how do you and your coworkers know that your factory is safe?

You and your coworkers decide it's time for action. You collectively decide to do something unprecedented and talk to your manager. Understand, this sort of thing is never done - everybody fears management, the threat of transfer, the threat of termination far too much to ordinarily consider something like this - but you and your coworkers feel your lives are on the line. Much to your shock and amazement, when you share your concerns with your manager, the manager actually agrees with you and your coworkers. In fact, the manager says something downright amazing:

"I'm not showing up here again until they get this place fixed up, and I don't think any of you should, either."

Then, even more amazingly, the manager left.

At first, you and your coworkers are at a loss. Do you keep working? Do you go home? Something like this has never happened before - a manager has never, ever walked off the floor like that. On the other hand, the manager did tell all of you to go home... right? You and your coworkers talk among yourselves for a bit, trying to sort out what to do next. Finally, after a while, one of your coworkers announces that, "screw it", they're going home. Then, a little while later, another one makes the same announcement and leaves. Then another. Then another. Before long, it's clear to the rest of you that there won't be enough workers around to run the factory, so all of you might as well just head home.

What you don't realize is that, while this is going on in your widget factory, the same conversations are happening in every other division in the company, and many of them are making the same decision yours did. Before long, none of the divisions are able to work - since your factory isn't making widgets anymore, any division that relied on your widgets has to shut down, which causes other factories and offices down the line to shut down as they lose their supplies of whatever divisions the widgets were supplying, and so on. Just like that, the entire company collapses, one division at a time like a row of dominoes, first slowly, then really, really quickly as each small failure in the company cascades into progressively larger and larger ones. It doesn't take any time at all before, one day, you wake up and read in the newspaper that the company you work for - the company you worked for - is now bankrupt and liquidating its assets.


That, more or less, is what happened to the Soviet Union. It might - might - have been able to survive Chernobyl if a hard-line Stalinist was at the helm and carefully controlled information about the disaster, or at least left everyone so fearful about the consequences of speaking up that they'd continue to work anyway. It might - might - have survived (or even thrived!) after Glasnost and Perestroika if Chernobyl didn't prove that the people in charge of the USSR had been all too willing for far too long to sacrifice everything - people, the countryside, everything - for the sake of the system as it was written on paper. It might - might - have survived losing in Afghanistan, might have survived the oil glut of the 1980's, might have survived the effort required to keep the increasingly dysfunctional satellite states in the Warsaw Pact economically viable, might have endured the Soviet Union's increasingly expensive adventurism in Africa. But the Soviet Union couldn't survive all of these things - not with a polity that, by the 1970's, the time period The Russians describes, was already doing everything within its power to work around the system to meet their needs. Once it became clear, crystal clear, that the system didn't mean well, that the system simply didn't work, it didn't take long before everyone just stopped pretending to live under its rules anymore.

And that was that. That was the end.

In short, by the 1970's, the communist experiment, at least in the Soviet Union, was already done. Everybody had been working around it for generations by that point. They tolerated working around the system because they thought that, well, maybe it's kind of working - who knows? There was a time, especially in the 1950's and 1960's, when it really did look like it was working, when it really did look like it might catch up to the capitalist countries in the West. There were Soviets flying to space, advanced Soviet military hardware going toe-to-toe against the West in Vietnam and Africa, even the standard of living was slowly but steadily improving. But, once the Soviets started comparing notes with each other, once the Soviets started comparing notes with what was really going on outside the Soviet Union, and once the Soviets came to grips with their past - not all of it, not even close to all of it, but enough of it - they realized that enough was enough.

Will that happen here some day? Why didn't it happen in Cuba or North Korea? What happened in China? These are good questions, but they will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Remotely Rearming Microsoft Office 2010/2013

Tesla Robot Dance by Steve Jurvetson is licenses CC BY 2.0.
When it comes to work, I live and die by the following motto:
If it's worth doing twice, it's worth doing automatically.
With that motto in mind, I ran into an issue. When setting up our computer lab image, I forgot to rearm the source image's Microsoft Office installations - this caused all of our lab PCs to share the same Office activation ID, which in turn led our KMS server to attempt to activate them as if they were all the same computer. Consequently, within a week, I faced some rather confused coworkers who were wondering why Microsoft Office was telling them that it wasn't properly licensed. Meanwhile, whenever I fired up VAMT to perform a volume activation via KMS, each of the client PCs reported the following error message:
0xC004F038 The software Licensing Service reported that the computer could not be activated. The count reported by your Key Management System (KMS) is insufficient. Please contact your system administrator.
When I checked the activation count on our KMS server for Microsoft Office (cscript slmgr.vbs /dlv all), I noticed that the current count was 1 - since we definitely have more than one computer in our computer lab, something clearly wasn't right. This led to a bit of Google sleuthing, which revealed articles that addressed this very issue for Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Office 2013. Trouble was, I was in no position to re-image all of our computer labs, nor was I in a mood to walk up to an innumerable number of PCs and manually run a script, nor was I in a mood to reboot every single computer in the building.

Luckily, I didn't have to. Thanks to psexec, a rather handy part of the Sysinternals Suite, I was able to modify the script for remote execution:

SETLOCAL EnableDelayedExpansion

SET _OSPPreArmPath="C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\OfficeSoftwareProtectionPlatform\OSPPREARM.EXE"
SET _OSPP10Path="C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office14\ospp.vbs"
SET _OSPP13Path="C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office15\ospp.vbs"

FOR /F "tokens=2 delims=,= usebackq" %%G IN (`dsquery computer ou^=Your PC OU^,dc^=YourInternalDomain^,dc^=YourInternalDomainSuffix -limit 0`) DO (
        SET _Target=^\^\%%G
        ECHO:Rearming Office...
        PSEXEC !_Target! %_OSPPreArmPath%
        PSEXEC !_Target! cscript.exe /nologo %_OSPP10Path% /act
        PSEXEC !_Target! cscript.exe /nologo %_OSPP13Path% /act
        PSEXEC !_Target! reg add "HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Office\14.0\Common\OSPPREARM" /f
        PSEXEC !_Target! reg add "HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Common\OSPPREARM" /f

Some caveats:
  • This assumes that you're using a 32-bit installation of Microsoft Office on your PCs, which, unless you're dealing with really big Excel files or something, you probably should be.
  • It assumes that all of your PCs are in the same OU, or at least are all nested inside the same OU. Note that you can run this on a parent OU and it'll work on all PCs in any child OUs.
  • Make sure to fill in YourInternalDomain and YourInternalDomainSuffix with information appropriate for your environment.
  • You'll need to run this script in an administrative command prompt from a directory that contains psexec - or, alternatively, you'll need to copy psexec to some place previously listed in your PATH, or add the location of psexec to your PATH.
  • All of the affected computers will need to be on.
  • I personally found that, even after running this script, it wasn't a bad idea to double-check licensing information in VAMT and reactivate any PCs that were Out of Grace. I will note, though, that the KMS server actually did hand out licenses successfully to those PCs after running this script.
If you need to run the script on a particular computer:

SETLOCAL EnableDelayedExpansion

SET _OSPPreArmPath="C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\OfficeSoftwareProtectionPlatform\OSPPREARM.EXE"
SET _OSPP10Path="C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office14\ospp.vbs"
SET _OSPP13Path="C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office15\ospp.vbs"

SET _Target=^\^\%1
ECHO:Rearming Office...
PSEXEC %_Target% %_OSPPreArmPath%
PSEXEC %_Target% cscript.exe /nologo %_OSPP10Path% /act
PSEXEC %_Target% cscript.exe /nologo %_OSPP13Path% /act
PSEXEC %_Target% reg add "HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Office\14.0\Common\OSPPREARM" /f
PSEXEC %_Target% reg add "HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Common\OSPPREARM" /f

Then just save the script and call it with scriptname.cmd computername (e.g. reactivateoffice.cmd LABPC-1). The same caveats as above more or less apply.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

In defense of small-l libertarianism

Two porcupines by Denali National Park and Reserve is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
My name is David Colborne, and I'm a small-l libertarian.

Having been active in libertarian circles for a number of years, I've had several people ask me why I'm not a full-throated anarchist. Don't I think the initiation of force is evil? Don't I think government is inherently coercive? Why settle for smaller government, for minimal government, when I should clearly be advocating for no government as a matter of philosophical principle? My short answer has usually been, "Perhaps, but I'm not really sure that would work". My longer answer has been to throw such people at Scott Siskind's Non-Libertarian FAQ and then try to go through it point-by-point, but even that felt like it was dancing around the core issue that really prevents me from embracing Full Metal Anarcho-Capitalism.

Then, while reading Meaningness' Systems of meaning all in flames, I came across this passage:
Any serious system has a network of justifications that answer all “why” questions—not perfectly, but well enough for most people most of the time. So it ought to work.
That's when it hit me - "Big L" Libertarianism, the kind of Libertarianism you see presented from the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the kind you sometimes see from the Center for a Stateless Society, the kind you hear argued about at Libertarian conventions where people throw Murray Rothbard quotes at one another, is a system. Oh, sure, it's a heavily decentralized one (in theory), but it's still definitely a system.

Don't believe me? Ask it questions.

Okay, will there be law in an Anarcho-Capitalist society? Sure - there will be competing forms of law that individuals can choose from. Will there still be a police system? Absolutely - there will be several, in fact. But what about the roads? And so on. How are these questions answered? The same way any system answers questions - it makes certain base assumptions:
  1. The initiation of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or property, is evil.
  2. Since government requires physical force to enforce its edicts, it is therefore, by nature, evil.
  3. Even if government didn't require physical force to enforce its edicts, it suffers from the knowledge problem - its information is incomplete - so it must, by its very nature, also be incompetent. 
  4. Therefore, all optimal solutions to all political problems must therefore be small, decentralized, self-governing voluntary organizations, i.e. a stateless society, with all services provided via a free market of exchange.
Then, using these assumptions, it solves for X. Worried about militaries? If they exist, they should purely be defensive in nature (see point 1), they should be voluntarily staffed (1, 4), and they should be voluntarily paid for (1, 4). How will this pay for nuclear weapons? It won't - nuclear weapons are inherently immoral due to the collateral damage incurred by detonating one (1). Okay, what about a social safety net? Easy - use private charity (4). Anything else, such as income redistribution, would violate all four tenets above, and probably be more harmful to boot since it's impossible for the anyone implementing a forced income redistribution scheme to know how much income needs to be transferred to poor people to meet their particular needs.

See? It's a system. It has rules. You can ask those rules questions and they'll answer them. It ought to work.

And that's my problem.

Simply put, I don't believe in systems, even ones based on ideological assumptions I happen to share. Even a system like Anarcho-Capitalism, one that is ostensibly decentralized, still requires everyone to play by the rules. Everyone has to believe that, even if 99 out of 100 people in a neighborhood think it's a really good idea to put up sandbags next to their river right before it floods, they are not allowed to use physical force to secure "consent" from the lone straggler. Those 99 people further must believe that "trespassing" under those circumstances is "physical force". Philosophically, if it's really a problem, they can just install sandbags around the property line of the lone straggler and let what may come - it may not be quite as expedient, but it's morally right, and that's what matters, isn't it?

Perhaps, but good luck convincing enough people for the system to work.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's a wonderful idea. I'm sure there are plenty of arguments about why this system will work, why this system is morally right and good, why this system will lead to more happiness, health, and so forth. I'm sure they're all fascinating, and logical, too. None of that matters. There will be failures - perhaps warlords, perhaps violent feuds between competing companies, perhaps something totally unanticipated. Either way, it won't matter - eventually, people will tire of the problems of this system and replace it with something else, one that fixes these problems (and inevitably introduces new ones). This is, in my opinion, the lifecycle of all systems.

So what's the alternative?

There isn't one. Well, more accurately, there are several of them - you could probably paint me comfortably in a corner somewhere between political existentialism and nihilism and probably get "close enough for government work". My personal belief is that the philosophies behind Anarcho-Capitalism are arguably the most morally sound, that they make an excellent framework to consider differing political choices against, but that, as the old saw goes, "no plan survives contact with the enemy". When in doubt, we should try policies and prescriptions that move us in a Libertarian, potentially Anarcho-Capitalist direction, but we should also be willing to stop if we're not getting the desired results and try policies and prescriptions from other frameworks if they get us closer to the desired results than we were getting using the Libertarian framework.

Take defense, for example.

Any defense plan that calls on me to accept that, while defending my apartment, I may lose the lives of at least one member of my family is not what I would call an ideal defense plan. Similarly, any defense plan that requires me and my neighbors to suffer through about a decade or so of brutal occupation before we finally wear down our oppressors is also not what I, or any of my fellow voting neighbors, would call an ideal defense plan. Instead, we're probably going to collectively decide, with near total unanimity, that we should do everything possible to ensure that no fighting happens in our backyards, even if that potentially means periodically invading or destroying the backyards of those sketchy people across the street. Because of this, neither I nor my neighbors will ever voluntarily choose a strictly Non-Aggression Principle compliant defense structure if an alternative is available - we're not going to wait for others to invade our neighborhoods, in other words, before defending them. Not if we have the option to make those others defend their neighborhoods first.

Perhaps if we're feeling really principled, we might justify this on the grounds that, well, the Non-Aggression Principle also prohibits threats of violence, and, well, those people over there look awfully threatening...

Ah, but wait! - you're thinking to yourself - what if the other neighborhood makes the same decision? Well, congratulations - you just demonstrated that, even in a presumably stateless society, war will still happen. In fact, since individual neighborhoods will have far less effective methods of deterrence than your average nuclear arsenal or aggressively funded military-industrial complex, there's a pretty good chance that wars will be more common in a stateless society than they are now, even if they might in aggregate be considerably less destructive and shorter than the "total wars" of the 20th century - what's stopping either neighborhood from misjudging their opposing neighborhood's strengths or intentions? Consequently, if we really want a more peaceful, liberty-friendly environment, one in which people are free to do what they will without worrying incessantly about whether their paranoid neighbors from across the street might feel threatened and react accordingly, we shouldn't necessarily rule out a society in which one particular organization has a monopoly on violence - preferably an organization that all of us, including the paranoid neighbors, have some limited control individually but near-total control in the aggregate. Granted, history has shown issues with this approach as well, but it still seems to beat seasonal raids whenever someone's low on salt or bacon. Besides, whenever there are organizations competing for the right to commit violence for citizens in an area, the first thing everyone in the area wants is for the competition to stop, preferably before the competing organizations kill and maim everyone. Then again, small, local civil wars usually don't last for long periods of time or involve genocide like larger state-run conflicts, except when they do, so there's that.

Perhaps I'm wrong about defense, though. Maybe Scott's wrong about fish, despite further evidence to the contrary. Maybe the 19th century was wrong about private police forces and private scrip. Maybe if we re-privatize everything and get government out of the way once more this time will be different. It's possible - it's not the 19th century anymore, after all, and a lot of our beliefs, customs and technology have evolved dramatically since then. That counts for quite a bit, actually - it's a little harder to keep a "company store" going when Amazon's always around the corner, and it's a little harder to try to drum up business for your private security agency when everyone can record everybody. Maybe this time will be different. But, if it's not, if our attempts at increasing liberty result in, paradoxically enough, less liberty for most people, we need to retain the philosophical flexibility required to change tack and not confuse the path with the destination.

That's why I'm a small-l libertarian. Maybe you are too?

Friday, April 3, 2015

10 Best Places in Reno to Play PAC-MAN in Google Maps

This year's April Fool's Day "prank" from Google - a long and storied tradition - was adding PAC-MAN to Google Maps, which, of course, inevitably led to several articles like Wired's The Top 15 Spots To Play PAC-MAN In Google Maps. Of course, all of these lists focus on trendy, hip locations, like New York, San Francisco, Boston, or other trendy, hip locations that house online journalists or that online journalists aspire to live in, which is a shame - there are plenty of great places to play PAC-MAN that don't involve places with $40 parking.

With that in mind, here are the ten best places I could find in Reno (okay, "Reno/Sparks and other nearby areas"), in alphabetical order:


I honestly expected more from Arrowcreek, along with other developments of its type. I figured the winding paths would make for some interesting PAC-MAN mazes; however, it turns out that Google's implementation of the game strongly prefers dense, packed neighborhoods compared to sprawling, spread out ones. Even so, Arrowcreek made for a few fun rounds - East Desert Canyon Drive makes for an excellent escape from the ghosts based on High Vista and Indian Ridge.

It gets better from here, though.

California Ave.

Now we're talking. The triangle where Liberty, Arlington and California meet was an absolute hellscape of frantic maneuvering and button mashing. Meanwhile, the old Southwest streets led to some rather interesting escapes.

Caughlin Parkway

Though most of the newer subdivisions didn't lend themselves to effective PAC-MANing due to their relative lack of density, the shopping area around Caughlin Parkway lent itself nicely, especially when McCarran Boulevard was included. Thankfully, ghosts can't change lanes - less thankfully, neither can you if you have ghosts coming at you from both sides of McCarran.

The Legends at Sparks

This was actually the first place I played PAC-MAN on, in no small part because of the roundabouts and because I drive by the place every time I go to work. Between Sparks Boulevard's three lanes on the right, the various roundabouts and exits, and the random little blind corners by the big box retail stores (good luck cleanly navigating near Target), you're in for quite the ride.

Mountain View Cemetery

The fact that Google made it possible for me to run away from ghosts as Pac-Man in a cemetery tickled me to no end. That Mountain View Cemetery actually makes a surprisingly decent PAC-MAN maze was icing on the cake. Be careful, though - all northbound lanes lead to the entrance to the cemetery on the right.

Pyramid & Victorian, Sparks

PAC-MAN really prefers older, denser neighborhoods, so I thought to myself, why not try a game on the oldest, densest neighborhood in Sparks? The results, like Sparks itself, were quite straightforward.

Stead & Silver Lake

The Sierra Shadows Mobile Home Park - the squarish area that the ghosts spawn in on the left - drew my eye, and I'm glad it did. It serves as a nice and dangerous counterpoint to the otherwise sprawling, meandering streets of the newer housing developments in Stead on the right.

University of Nevada, Reno

I don't think it would be an exaggeration to declare it a criminal offense to do something like this without including UNR somehow. I was rather surprised with how detailed Google Maps decided to make the maze out of UNR's footpaths - you can not only clearly see Lawlor (the round circle at the top), but you can also see the better part of UNR's parking and street system.


Ah, Verdi... small, simple, straightforward, green. Much like the actual town itself, come to think of it.

Wingfield Park

Most of downtown Reno honestly doesn't map up very well due to the larger casinos, but, the older, tighter area by the river turned out nicely. Have fun navigating around the Truckee.

So, there you have it - the ten best places I could find to play PAC-MAN in or near Reno. If you, like me, are watching the progress bar move listlessly and need to kill some time, you could certainly do worse things than trying to find ten better ones.