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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Don't mention the war

The last Jew in Vinnitsa [1941]
One of the worst consequences of living in a post-war era is that all the talking heads will then be trying to fix whatever they believe was the set pre-conditions leading up to the war they have just been through. Sometimes they get it right and implement worthy policies such having an independent central bank, a policy first implemented by the Bundesbank in order to avoid a similar situation to the Weimar Republic's hyperinflation in the 1920s, which is usually seen as one of the determining factors of Hitler's rise to power.

Sometimes, however, they get it all wrong. One of the most common arguments put forward by proponents of military conscription in Germany has been that it is necessary to keep very strong ties between the military and society so that nothing like the Schutzstaffel will ever again be conceivable. While it is true they were a paramilitary organisation, just like many others which came to life throughout the Weimar Republic, this obviously ignores the fact Hitler was democratically elected and used the full force of the existing military apparatus for his own purposes. And what could possibly be better for the state than having a very submissive population - by the very nature of the mandatory conscription - who has been trained to kill people and obey their military superiors without question? Well, having a submissive population who has also been ideologically indoctrinated.

Homeschooling is currently illegal in Germany. Not very surprisingly, the ban dates back to the third Reich:
One of Hitler and his buddies' first acts on taking office was to establish the Reich Ministry of Education and give it control of all schools, including private schools. Nobody was to have the right to teach children from a different point of view than the State (with a capital "S"). There would be no right to teach from a distinctively religious point of view, especially. As Hitler said on May 1, 1937, "The Youth of today is ever the people of tomorrow. For this reason we have set before ourselves the task of innoculating our youth with the spirit of this community of the people at a very early age, at an age when human beings are still unperverted and therefore unspoiled. This Reich stands, and it is building itself up for the future, upon its youth. And this new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing."
This also seems to be the actual position of the German state in the present day:
German homeschoolers have told us on numerous occasions that your calls are working despite the response many of you have received from the [German] Embassy [in the United States]. In part, the Embassy stated that homeschooling should not be legal because "The public has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views and in integrating minorities into the population as a whole."
Yes, I'm afraid you've read that right. The best way to get a healthy society is to make sure everyone gets their education approved by the government, all the while erasing every sign of individuality and killing any seeds of political dissident before they are even allowed to coalesce by making everyone conform to the same standard. I wonder what could possibly go wrong. If you thought Milgram and Asch's experiments had taught us anything, you are now probably wondering how long we'll have to wait for the 'burning of books and burying of scholars'.

Alas, we reach the point of this diatribe of mine - a couple of days ago something curious happened in Darmstadt. I recommend reading the whole article:
At 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 29, 2013, in what has been called a “brutal and vicious act,” a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, forcibly removing all four of the family’s children (ages 7-14). The sole grounds for removal were that the parents, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were taken to unknown locations. Officials ominously promised the parents that they would not be seeing their children “anytime soon.” (...) Moreover, Germany has not even alleged educational neglect for failing to provide an adequate education. The law ignores the educational progress of the child; attendance—and not learning—is the object of the German law.

Judge Koenig, a Darmstadt family court judge, signed the order on August 28 authorizing the immediate seizure of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich’s children. Citing the parents’ failure to cooperate “with the authorities to send the children to school,” the judge also authorized the use of force “against the children” if necessary, reasoning that such force might be required because the children had “adopted the parents’ opinions” regarding homeschooling and that “no cooperation could be expected” from either the parents or the children. 
So, how do you prevent a society from turning into a totalitarian state? It appears the answer is to act pre-emptively and make it turn into a totalitarian state as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What is the definition of irony?

From the administration that has been spying on everything from here to Pluto and subsequently charged Edward Snowden with espionage, we now get this one:
(...) on Friday, White House officials today publicly pressured Hong Kong authorities to give him up. “If Hong Kong doesn’t act soon, it will complicate our bilateral relations and raise questions about Hong Kong’s commitment to the rule of law,” a senior Obama administration official told Reuters Saturday afternoon.
I swear that sometimes I can't tell whether government officials are serious or simply laughing in everyone's face.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Poor choice



Remember to wear a Che Guevara shirt next time, kiddo. Those never seem to get anyone in trouble.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

O verdugo


Neste momento, se eu fosse líder de um dos partidos do arco da governabilidade em Portugal estaria com suores frios durante a noite. Apesar de ter uma noção relativamente clara das medidas necessárias a uma redução do défice orçamental a curto e a longo prazo, tal como acordado no âmbito do resgate financeiro, mas sem um respaldo inquestionável da população ou uma visão política pessoal (por exemplo, um preferência pela redução drástica das actuais funções estatais) que me compelisse a encetar as devidas e sucessivamente adiadas reformas profundas à estrutura do estado, não teria a mais mínima ideia de como implementá-las de forma a que estas não fossem bloqueadas pelos elementos do regime vigente que fazem da manutenção do status quo o seu cavalo de batalha.

É por esta razão que as declarações de Seguro são particularmente curiosas. "Eu estou disponível para substituir o Governo.", diz-nos vincadamente, como se alguém neste mundo julgasse que um político de carreira que se coloca na posição de líder do principal partido da oposição o faz não porque tem necessariamente interesse em vir a ser chefe de governo, mas porque gosta do cheiro do novo escritório. Sendo que a elite do PS, como gente pérfida e imoral que é, sabe perfeitamente o que causou esta crise e está mais do que ciente das dificuldades constitucionais em aprovar qualquer reforma significativa - mais não seja porque eles mesmos têm sido parte irrefutável deste problema -  o que me começa a parecer a mim é que toda esta ansiedade em tomar o lugar de Passos Coelho mostra que na cabeça de Seguro já nem sequer importa construir uma série de frases feitas sobre como vai milagrosamente sacar Portugal da crise, sem reduzir a despesa social do estado ou aumentar impostos, porque o que realmente o preocupa é apanhar as últimas migalhas enquanto o bolo ainda existe. Se isto sugere que o princípio do fim está próximo e que isso, de alguma forma, é em si um bom sinal no grande esquema das coisas, é algo que ainda estamos para ver.

Leitura recomendada: Uma sentença cristalina, um destino trágico

Sunday, March 17, 2013

That's a relief

Cypriot bank deposits tapped as part of €10bn eurozone bailout
While Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the group of eurozone finance ministers that hashed out the deal in all-night talks, declined to categorically rule out hitting depositors in future bank bailouts, he insisted that it was not being currently considered for any other country.
I'm sure they would let us know in advance if that were the case:
The levy on bank deposits will come into force on Tuesday, after a bank holiday on Monday. Cyprus will take immediate steps to prevent electronic money transfers over the weekend.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How prejudice affects our concerns

White slime. Yes, it's that yummy.
It has been somewhat interesting to observe how British society reacted to the revelation that a significant percentage of meat products currently in sale at retail stores contain a fair amount of horse meat. Unlike in Continental Europe, where horse meat is occasionally consumed - and is actually popular in some regions - the notion of eating horse meat is something of a taboo in the British Isles, so while someone in Italy would probably feel deceived if they purchased a horse-based product that had been advertised as pork, they wouldn't necessarily feel outraged because it contained horse meat.

Thus far, we've seen officials promising 'tougher testing' on meat products, begging citizens not to stop eating meat and dispelling concerns that the dreaded horse meat might have been served in schools. Is there any reason for all this hysteria? Aside from the fact that there is false advertising involved, not really - in theory, given that horses are not raised in factory farms, horse meat would probably be healthier than regular meat were it not for the possibility that it might be contaminated with a carcinogenic drug called phenylbutazone. However, that has nothing to do with the quality of the meat itself safety-wise and this particular fact hasn't even been featured prominently in any of the discussions related to the scandal, which leaves us with the explanation that all this drama was purely caused by the cultural norm that frowns upon the consumption of horse meat - or as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland adequately put in in the report (entitled "FSAI Survey Finds Horse DNA in Some Beef Burger Products", even though traces of pig DNA were also found) that opened Pandora's box:
In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.
The irony of all this is that no one seems to be overly concerned about other contaminations that are quite common or are becoming so in the meat industry, such as faecal bacteria and MRSA [1, 2, 3]. And of course, no one cares whether their sausages, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, burgers and salami are made with pink slime or mechanically-separated meat. But maybe one day they will - if any of those things are found along with horse meat.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

But hey, at least they have a government to protect them now!

A Mogadishu court on Tuesday handed down one-year prison sentences to a woman who said she was raped by security forces and a reporter who interviewed her. The judges decided the woman falsely claimed she was raped and had insulted the government…

Rights groups have decried the case as politically motivated because the woman had accused security forces of the assault. Rape is reported to be rampant in Mogadishu, where tens of thousands of people who fled last year’s famine live in poorly protected camps. Government troops are often blamed.

(via Reason)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death

Death in America is largely a foodborne illness. Focusing on studies published just over the last year in peer-reviewed scientific medical journals, Dr. Greger offers practical advice on how best to feed ourselves and our families to prevent, treat, and even reverse many of the top 15 killers in the United States.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A new low for The Economist

Blogging at Democracy in America, Matt Steinglass writes about the Newtown masacre in an article entitled "Fake Tears":

Those of us who view the events remotely, however, unless we start to evince a newfound appetite for gun-control measures to prevent future mass slayings, are doing little more than displaying and enjoying our own exalted strickenness. This is an activity at which we, as a culture, excel. Americans' postmodern eagerness for self-aggrandising displays of grief over events that did not actually happen to us was captured over two decades ago in the still-remarkable "Heathers"; as that movie understood, mass slayings at schools provide the perfect backdrop of "senseless" tragedy against which the public can profile its own angst and bogus sorrow.

Thomas de Zengotita, in his book "Mediated", has a nice analysis of the way the Western public's treatment of media-transmitted tragedies evolved from Pearl Harbor through the assassination of JFK to the death of Princess Diana, as the public gradually came to see these moments chiefly as occasions to stage its own overwrought little emotional performances, like teenagers boasting unconvincingly of how upset they are by another kid's parents' divorce. "Princess Diana's mourners," wrote de Zengotita, «so many of them, so obviously exhibiting their grief, not even pretending that they weren't exhibiting it, understanding that this was their role, in both the sociological and theatrical sense, understanding that they were there for this purpose in service of the Global Show that their very presence was inciting, producing and promoting in real time...»

The killings in Newtown, of course, appear just as "senseless", if one insists on ruling out the idea that such episodes might be forestalled by limiting people's access to firearms. Indeed, it's most convenient for media purposes when such tragedies are truly "senseless"; it lends them a nicely wistful aura, and makes it easier for the grief-performing public to spin them in whatever creative fashion they like. (See Ross Douthat's weepy response, which tacks clear to Dostoevsky and Ivan Karamazov. Alack, the death of innocents; is God even possible in such a world, and so forth.) And as of last Thursday, we certainly appeared to have given up any pretense of trying to prevent future school massacres. (...)

More horrible still — to me at least — is the inevitable lament, “How could we have let this happen?” It is a horrible question because the answer is so simple. Make it easy for people to get guns and things like this will happen. (...)

So unless the American people are willing to actually do something to stop the next massacre of toddlers from happening, we should shut up and quit blubbering. It's our fault, and until we evince some remorse for our actions or intention to reform ourselves, the idea that we consider ourselves entitled to "mourn" the victims of our own barbaric policies is frankly disgusting.
Which is basically a fancy and long way of saying that those who feel sad about the massacre but do not believe stricter firearm laws in Connecticut would have made any difference are simply evil hypocrites. Such a civilised way to raise the bar on what is a complex academic debate in which the evidence actually refutes Steinglass' position.

Ironically, in a post which is all about fake emotions, there is no question raised about the authenticity of Obama's emotional reaction to the shooting (personally I found this one far more genuine). But I guess there can be no doubt about it because he's on the gun-control side.

Further reading:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Not so long ago

Prof. Philip Booth: We need a revolution in financial regulation
It may surprise many that, until recently, banks did not have their capital regulated. Of course, before 1979, neither banks nor their customers had any expectation of being bailed out – market discipline prevailed. The history of banks’ capital positions is interesting. During the post-war period, banks were pressurising the Bank of England to allow them to hold more capital – they were prevented from doing so because the government and the Bank of England believed that, if the banks raised more capital, there would be less capital available for the non-financial industries. Banks exposed to market discipline were conservative institutions. I wonder if the post-1988 regulatory binge has really achieved anything positive.

Regulation has run riot and so did the banks. Last year alone there were 14,200 new banking regulations worldwide and the US Dodd Frank Act will contain around 30,000 pages of regulations. Furthermore, there is a real danger, when regulation becomes as complex as it is today, that it is only understood by a clique both in government and in the industry. That is a recipe for regulatory capture – in other words, the controlling of the regulatory system by the companies that are being regulated. The approach of the UK government which is trying to create a legal framework so that banks can be wound up safely is to be applauded, but this should replace and not be added to existing regulation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Um bom resumo da situação

Constitucionalmente falidos (Carlos Guimarães Pinto)
Nos 7 anos imediatamente seguintes à aprovação da Constituição de 1976 foram necessárias duas intervenções do FMI para evitar o descalabro financeiro. Deveria ter servido de aviso. A entrada na CEE e posteriormente no Euro permitiu o adiamento da terceira vinda, mas não eliminou o problema fundamental: a Constituição, e as interpretações que se foram fazendo dela, é um entrave à estabilidade e prosperidade económica. A Constituição salvaguarda o direito à educação, à saúde, à segurança, à habitação, ao emprego e à cultura, mas não gera a riqueza necessária para garantir esses direitos, nem ajuda a criar as condições necessárias para a gerar. Para prosperar economicamente é necessário trabalhar, investir e arriscar. Em vez de salvaguardar exaustivamente objectivos finais, deveria ser papel da constituição definir um enquadramento que crie as condições e os incentivos necessários a estas actividades. A garantia inequívoca da estabilidade das contas públicas e o estabelecimento de limites à carga fiscal seriam passos nesse sentido. Nas últimas semanas, tem-se clamado pela Constituição a cada medida de consolidação orçamental. A interpretação da Constituição passou de um exercício jurídico a um instrumento de intervenção política. Este uso e abuso da Constituição para o exercício de pressão política ajuda à sua descredibilização e sublinha ainda mais a necessidade de a alterar. Caso contrário, ao mantermo-nos constitucionalmente cumpridores, acabaremos constitucionalmente falidos.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Right on the funny bone

Give social networks fake details, advises Whitehall web security official
A senior government official has sparked anger by advising internet users to give fake details to websites to protect their security. Andy Smith, an internet security chief at the Cabinet Office, said people should only give accurate details to trusted sites such as government ones. He said names and addresses posted on social networking sites "can be used against you" by criminals.
Trusted sites such as government ones? Sure, governments would never harvest data from social networks for their own purposes, use it against citizens as criminals would or think of it as just another tool to help quell dissent. And one of the best incentives to provide the government with real data? They will never lose your personal information or make the contents available to third parties.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

As if there were any doubts

Let X be a politician who has fallen out of favour with the members of his own party. He had previously been a minister of a relatively minor department, but he was eventually removed from his office after a cabinet re-shuffle. X is an aging politician, however, and he is suddenly appointed as the third most important figure in the nation's regime. The country is in political turmoil and everyone believes the current government won't remain in office for much longer.

What will this fine specimen of the ruling elite, bred for the single purpose of improving the lives of his fellow men, do with what is perhaps his last change to make a real, everlasting difference? The results are unexpectedly surprising:
Vyron Polydoras, who held the position of speaker for just a single-day during the hung parliament of May 2012, rushed to hire his daughter - Margarita - as an employee of his office. Not only did he hire her on his one and only day in office, despite defending himself by stating he was entitled to hire up to six staff, but he also managed (all in this one day remember) to approve a two million euro 'election bonus' for his staff and police.
And then, maybe not.