Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

October 30, 2010

Dispatches from the Robot Apocalypse – Part VIII

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 8:53 pm

This is a mixture of horrifying and hilarious:

Seriously – watch the whole thing. There’s a subtle undertone of doom right around the point when the camera guy zooms in on the robot’s breast area. 

Some bonus freakiness:

Forget everything I said about defence cuts last week – the new existential threat is coming. 

via Sully

Cross-posted at Something Quotable


October 29, 2010

I can’t think of witty play on “24/7 Sobriety”

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 9:51 am

Earlier this week I noted with interest that Boris Johnson is proposing that “24/7 Sobreity” programme for London. No matter what you think of Johnson, and count me in the camp that doesn’t believe he’s History’s Greatest Monster, this is an excellent idea. The deets:

Johnson is keen to introduce a “24/7 sobriety” programme which would involve people being forced to pay to be tested for alcohol twice a day after being convicted of drink-related crime.

Those who tested positive would appear in court and face the prospect of custody.

The scheme has already been implemented in the US state of South Dakota, which has reported a two-thirds drop in drink driving, a 99.6% compliance rate among the 16,000 people who have taken part and a 14% reduction in the prison population.

At first blush, this does sound like quite a draconian measure, but I’m going to agree with Mark Kleiman, inveterate liberal and drug policy wonk, that “there are two central principles of smart punishment“:

1.)  For actual human beings as opposed to economically rational expected-utility maximizers, certainty and swiftness of punishment matter a lot more than severity, in part because of behavioral economics and in part because a system that is certain and swift can also be fair, which randomized draconianism isn’t, and people are more willing to adjust their behavior if they think the system that’s pressing on them is reasonably fair. Moreover, severity is the enemy of certainty and swiftness, because severe punishments chew up scarce capacity and require a lot of time-consuming due process. That’s textbook criminology going back to Beccaria, but putting it into practice is tricky.

2.) The more effective a deterrent threat is, the less often is has to be acted on. Because the risk of punishment faced by an offender depends not only on the capacity of the authorities to punish but also on the rate of offending, there is a natural positive feedback in offending rates.  More offending means less risk for each offender; that’s the logical structure of a riot.  By the same token, as violation rates fall the risk of being punished for those who do offend rises.   That creates the possibility of “tipping” effects, situations which have both high-violation and low-violation equilibria.  In such a “tipping” situation, even a temporary increase in enforcement can lead to a lasting decrease in violation rates, and – this is the key point—that decrease can be sustained even after the additional enforcement resources are withdrawn.

Principle #2 leads to a strategic proposal:  when there’s not enough capacity to deter every possible violator of every rule—as there generally isn’t—then it makes sense to concentrate threats on some subset of offenses or offenders or areas, “tip” that subset to the low-offending equilibrium, and then move on. Because enforcement is costly and enforcement capacity is scarce, enforcers and potential violators actually share a common interest in having actual punishment not happen; therefore, authorities ought in general to “telegraph their punches,” issuing specific warnings to specific people in order to reduce the cost of the transition from high to low offending. And Principle #1 means that, if you can deliver on the threat of punishment quickly and reliably, you don’t need to threaten years in prison to change behavior—days in jail can be perfectly adequate.

Read the whole thing. The essence of the 24/7 prosposal is its certainty, with the added benefit of being cost-neutral. Similarly, unlike most policy aimed at a reduction in alcohol related crime (the blunt instruments of licensing restrictions, higher alcohol pricing etc) it is directed only at those individuals who are currently infracting. And just go back to the statistics from South Dakota, it’s almost freakishly effective.

And the bigger point here is that it will almost certainly reduce long term custodial sentences as well as offending rates, something that will aid in the laudable and smart government effort to reduce the prison population. Now, if the government can give serious consideration to emulating Hawaii’s HOPE Programme.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

October 28, 2010

Remember, Jack Bauer isn’t a real person, and 24 wasn’t a documentary

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 4:06 pm

Allow me to endorse this from Sir John Sawer, head of MI6, wholeheartedly:

“Torture is illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it. If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we’re required by UK and international law to avoid that action, and we do, even though that allows that terrorist activity to go ahead. Some may question this. But we are clear that it’s the right thing to do. It makes us strive even harder to find different ways, consistent with human rights, to get the outcome we want.”

Telegraph contributor Con Coughlin is concerned about public opinion on the matter:

But how would the public feel if, out of respect for the terrorist’s human rights, another atrocity was inflicted on the innocent and hard-working people of London? Would the citizens of this great city believe our intelligence officers had made the right call in allowing the terrorists to carry on plotting so they could be spared some rough treatment in a Pakistani jail cell? I’m not so sure.

Coughlin’s question really seems to be based on the ticking time-bomb scenario, which is so fantastical a premise it boggles the mind. It’s actually a distraction of the point that torture isn’t particularly effective. In the second world war, when countless people were dying on a saily basis during the blitz, we eschewed torture as a matter of course on the basis that if you engage in physical coercion, you’re more likely than not to get false intelligence. And you can still win by not resorting to it. Indeed, the fact that less pernicious responses to the terrorism “threat” have proven to be utterly ineffective, and little more than a security theatre, strengthens the case that Sawer is making, albeit from a different direction.

In any event, I’d hope the public, hard-working or otherwise, would recognise that if we willingly mortgage some of our most deeply held principles for the expediency of temporary public safety, then the grand experiment of democracy may as well die. I can see why they might not – such a notion is cold comfort to the friends and families of those killed in terror attacks, and abstract philosophical and moral debates won’t bring any victims of any terror attack back. But this group must not determine public policy on terrorism, anymore than the continued use of cars and alcohol ought to be determined by people who have lost family members to those things. It’s a decision making process that must necessarily be cold and unemotional and balancing human rights with public opinion, with the latter a secondary concern. The coward’s way out this would be denouncing torture in one breath, but declaiming the desirability of its absolute prohibition by appealing to the demands of the public.

Our democratic institutions exist to preserve rights and principles that we deem inalienable over the objections of what would otherwise be a ruling mob. The unspoken, but ever present attitude that only a certain type of person is likely to be a victim of this is all the more odious, for it outsources minority rights to majority discretion, which is anathema to liberal democracy. But if the attitudes of the torture hawks do become so prevalent as to move public policy, then, in the words of Lincoln, “I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty… where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy”.

Fair play to our right wing commentariat on this – I wasn’t expecting as measured and reasonable response to this, and even Will Heaven is on the side of the angels for once.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

October 27, 2010

“Defense” spending in a post-imperial United Kingdom

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 4:39 pm

I find it hard to better Daniel Larison in relation to his analysis of British defense spending cuts:

Hawks often make the claim that any and all military spending is essential for defending freedom or guarding liberty, and that significantly reducing any military spending must mean a reduced ability to protect “liberty.” This takes the basic claim that a military deterrent can protect a reasonably free society from external threats and exaggerates it beyond all recognition. Reducing Britain’s ability to launch overseas expeditions has no real relationship with political liberty, except possibly to increase it in Britain by making British participation in unnecessary foreign wars less likely.

Britain’s ability to defend itself is not being endangered. The coalition government is proving that it is interested in a strong defense. What it is not willing or able to pay for any longer is the ability to intervene on the other side of the planet in wars that don’t actually have anything to do with British security. In [the Hawks’] world, where 9/11 was the result of “insufficient assertiveness,” the unwillingness of U.S. allies to waste their resources on neo-imperial missions abroad is scandalous. Obviously, the coalition government is going to continue honoring the commitments of previous governments to the war in Afghanistan, but it has given notice that there probably won’t be significant British involvement in other wars in the near future.

Exactly. From where do we suppose an existential threat shall come? Are the armies of China and Russia planning to make their way over the Asian steppes and through mainland Europe to crush us at a blow? Does Tehran have some design on our soil and our treasure? Is anyone reasonably suggesting that in a conventional war on British soil, any force with which we have been engaged since the second world war would have made anything other than an utterly laughable attempt at invasion?

No. The truth is that our military power is almost redundant in the face of modern threats, such as they are. I’d have more time for the arguments of the hawks, if they were just honest and said that they wished to maintain this country’s ability to wage war wherever the government of the day might decree. My basic position these days is that any war worth fighting would have enough enlistments for a volunteer force that would win it, or die valiantly trying. There is no such aggressor, and in order for one to rise, the geopolitical shift from where we are today would have to be so cataclysmic, that we would have ample time to prepare.

And spare me the line that our armed forces have anything to do with the “war on terror”. On 7 July 2005, was the airforce scrambled? Did the British army march through London? Could a robust naval presence in the Thames have prevented the suicide bombings? Again – no. For all the “war” rhetoric, the terrorist threat came from within the country itself and virtually every aspect in its immediacy was dealt with by the emergency services. It was a mixture of crime and disaster, and although incredibly brutal, humbling and horrifying, was not an action that a body of troops that could have met or prevented. If it was an act of war, then the opposing belligerents were five young pissed off British men and are themselves now no longer a threat.In any event what has this threat yielded in terms of loss? A civilian death rate of just over 10 a year versus that of, say, 2,200 for road traffic accidents.

That such a gross distortion of the threat we face, both in terms of actual military logic and in scale, can still receive a hearing in supposedly reasonable circles is astounding. And we should face facts, Britain doesn’t really have anything resembling a credible expeditionary force, cannot afford one, and following our actions from the Suez crisis onwards, probably shouldn’t have one anyway. The only country that does is one of our NATO allies and that is not likely to change. Any upgrading in the threat of a terrorist attack is not an argument for raising military spending, it is one for focusing our law enforcement and intelligence services at its prevention. Nothing more, nothing less. The argument that we wouldn’t be able to launch another Afghanistan or Iraq is an argument for the cuts, not against them.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

October 23, 2010

“Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster”

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 12:16 am

If I was utterly scathing about the Wikileaks revelations re: Afghanistan, then I’m afraid the exact opposite applies to Iraq. I’ll give it over Sullivan, who has it about right as far as my feelings go:

History will harshly judge this war, and those of us who supported it, its long-term strategic effect, and so forth. In particular, it appears, that one of the main actors was Iran, and Iran has emerged as the core winner. But the hell unleashed by the incompetent occupation led to over 100,000 often gruesome civilian deaths in what was a nation-wide bloodbath of almost frenzied proportions.

I think it can be said, now more forcefully than ever, that whatever moral legitimacy this war once had is now gone forever.

I’ve been toying with a longer piece on the recently announced defence cuts. But in much simpler terms, one of the major criticisms of them is that Britain will no longer have the capability maintain an expeditionary force capable launching large scale operations in a conflict beyond our borders. The end result is that the US will no longer be able to rely on us to support their operations or provide multi-lateral international cover for the next such conflict as we may encounter. That we may never again launch another Iraq, or even Afghanistan.

I have no problem with that.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

October 13, 2010

Because she’s utterly insane, that’s why

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 10:33 pm

Paul Harris asks a rather stupid question to which I feel compelled to offer up a response re Sarah Palin:

Why bother with the dreary business of getting elected, when the real power lies with being the Republicans’ top political celebrity?

There is so much wrong with this column, though the point at which he puts Palin’s name and the word “genius” in the same sentence probably gives you and indicator at what level of awareness he is operating at here. Or this:

But Palin is no fool. She knows that any 2012 presidential candidate running in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire has to endure month after gruelling month of press scrutiny. There is no way around it. She would have to expose herself – and her increasingly showbizzy family – to the world once more. She would not be able to dodge sitting down with the editorial boards of newspapers in Des Moines and Manchester. Or the endless town hall meetings, each packed with hungry local reporters and citizens eagerly clutching cell phones and out to record the tiniest gaffe.

Wow. Let me Fisk, shall I?

But Palin is no fool.

Yes she is. She was a joke of VP pick that proved that John McCain and the Republican establishment at large was utterly unserious about governance. Did you see here fucking resignation speech? Have you read her tweets or Facebook posts? Have you comprehended the fact that those are her two outlets for policy statements? It’s got to the point where I can’t actually watch footage of her on TV because the joke wasn’t even funny to me. And her hearing her speak makes me feel ill.

She knows that any 2012 presidential candidate running in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire has to endure month after gruelling month of press scrutiny.

Well aside from the fact that Harris fails to mention that these are early Primary states for Republican voters in two traditionally conservative states with “real ‘muricans”, the point about press scrutiny really doesn’t obtain. Please see the examples of Sharon Angle in Nevada, Jan Brewer in Arizona, two politicians who basically flee any concerted collection of reporters whenever it suits them. The latter is almost certainly going to win the governorship, and the former is insane and is giving Harry Reid, the current Majority Leader a run for his money. So long as you get a duped press corps waxing enthusiastic about how they appeal to the worries of middle America, your “press scrutiny” is about as useful a safeguard as a seatbelt on an aeroplane. 

She would have to expose herself – and her increasingly showbizzy family – to the world once more.

By the time I got to this sentence, I guess I’d made the false assumption that Paul Harris had actually been paying attention to American politics in the last two years, but clearly he hasn’t. I’ll put this in bold type for good measure: They are already as exposed as possible, and will continue to be so. This is a woman who used, a child with Downs syndrome as a political prop.

She would not be able to dodge sitting down with the editorial boards of newspapers in Des Moines and Manchester.

I think he underestimates her ability to evade, but even if she did, the narrative would be against media elites and it would work for the purposes of a Republican primary dominated by Tea Party money.

Or the endless town hall meetings, each packed with hungry local reporters and citizens eagerly clutching cell phones and out to record the tiniest gaffe.

Let me give you a little journalism 101 here – this is a story: Normally Polished Obama makes gaffe. Here is a non-story: Sarah Palin says something stupid. 

The rest of the piece continues in much the same vein. I could pick on every clause of every sentence if either of us, dear reader, had the patience. I suspect we do not. 

Point is, there is a fundamental misunderstanding in this country about Sarah Palin. Hell, there’s a fundamental misunderstaning in the US, about her. 

It is assumed that she is something other than an artifice, a marionette puppet if you will, for christianist neo-conservative sociopathy, as popularised by the Bush administration (cf the war in Iraq) and enabled by shameless Republican ideologues. Which couldn’t be further from the well-documented truth. 

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

October 10, 2010

I wouldn’t want to play poker against this guy

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 2:50 pm

Seriously, the restraint of this presenter is remarkable. He doesn’t even bat an eyelid. I would have at least gone for a snarky comment.

Now that’s professionalism. 

Via TNC, who has the following interesting observation:

This leads me to separate point–I’m very interested in, precisely, what it means among white people to be considered a racist. I don’t mean under the sanction of black people. I mean in places where there are no black people. It almost feels like, among whites, to be accused of being a racist is a class slur. Like racist is short for “inbred uncultured hick.” It’s fascinating. 


Cross-posted at Something Quotable

October 9, 2010

“They may take our child benefits, but they’ll never take… our sense of entitlement!”

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 10:38 am

So this week the announcement came that child benefits for those in the upper tax bracket will be scrapped. Not taxed, as previously thought, but completely scrapped. I’ll go on record as thinking that’s a good idea. I’ll go a little further and confess a slight ignorance on the topic to the extent that I was surprised to learn that people in the upper tax bracket were even receiving child benefit to begin with. I say this as someone who plans on both being in the upper tax bracket and spawning progeny.

In fact, had I arrived at both those junctures with these benefits still intact, I imagine myself turning to the unfortunate lady who in a momentary lapse of judgment agreed to bear my offspring my wife and raising a glass to misdirected largesse of the state. She’ll have probably have just gone through the extraordinary feat of extracting another human being from inside of her performed the miracle of childbirth, so I’ll understand if she doesn’t join me. 

Maybe this makes me ignorant, or maybe I just had reasonable assumptions about what the welfare state was actually for. At the very least I had no idea of the shit-storm this would bring up. 

The Guardian have been saying for weeks now that the the rich ought to take their share the Cuts. As I read the announcement, I thought “well, this seems to roughly fit into that definition, so I presume they’ll support this now”. Well, I didn’t think that really, because the Guardian is essentially an outfit dedicated to lockstep opposition of all things Coalition these days, thus the headlines declared that the George Obsourne was scrapping “universal entitlements”. But let’s be honest here – if Ed Miliband suggested this as a measure for cutting costs, it would be declared as “brave” by Polly Toynbee and a sign that high earners finally have to give as good as they get in society. Or some bollocks.

I’m probably being unfair here, as it’s likely that on a basic level the Guardian writers truly believe that universal benefits are a good thing (whether or not such benefits are an economic necessity or an ideological choice is apparently neither here nor there). 

It also reveals pretty much all of the right-wing press to be glaring hypocrites, who harp on about the perils of the welfare state, and then proceed to have a hissy fit when a portion of it from which they benefit is removed. It’s clear to me now that the basic attitude of the majority of the Telegraph and the Mail columnists is “fuck you, I’ve got mine” in terms that they’re willing to decry socialism when it benefits the poor, but are quite all right with it when it lands on their comfy doorstep.

All of this inevitably descends into a tedious argument over what constitutes “wealthy”. This isn’t a response to this cut, it’s simple obfuscation. The fact is that you cannot credibly attempt to cut public spending without targeting well-off people who are being subsidised by the public purse. These people may not feel wealthy and have struggles of their own, but then we all do. It’s kind of grotesque for everyone concerned to suggest that cuts must necessarily always fall on someone else. 

As ever, Alex Massie, one of the few sensible conservative journalists on either side of the Atlantic gets it spot on:

Again, if you were designing a welfare state now would you really think it sensible to be handing out state benefits to people on twice the average national wage? I suspect not. And when people earning nearly £50,000 a year are demanding state benefits and receiving a more than sympathetic hearing hasn’t something gone rather wrong somewhere along the line?

Yep. All this measure really says about our country is that its media are a bunch of blowhard hypocrites.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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