The BBC World Service aired a 20 minute documentary recently called “Selling cheese to the Chinese”. The title makes it sound a bit like a puff piece, and it even starts a bit like one, but it isn’t. Bits of it have been rattling around in my head for the past few days. If you really want see the power if cheese or, more importantly, predict the future of China and the West, you should give this piece a serious listen to the end.

These five things stand out to me:

  1. Around five minutes in, a woman says “Even though we are in an economic crisis, we see an increase every single of week of Europeans landing here with their suitcases and a dream, and they want to make it.” Has the American dream moved to China already?
  2. “One seemingly innocuous comment surprises me… ‘Only very old people know about Chinese culture’, says one girl.” China has one of the longest lasting cultures on Earth, but the Communists more or less obliterated it from living memory. So the young now have no grounding in in the old ways. This is good and bad for the West, it seems to me. On the one hand, it means that making cultural in-roads into China will meet much less resistance from the youth of China, particularly the rising middle class. On the other hand, it also may mean that China’s historical insularity, which sometimes worked to its detriment on the world stage (and the West’s benefit), may be over. I suspect that the end result will be a much more intellectually agile China, and that will almost certainly mean a much more dominant China over the next century than I have been expecting.
  3. Around 15 minutes in: “The rise of McDonald’s in post-reform China was predicated on the demise of nation wide food rationing, but the consumption of cheese and wine will be more than that.” Instead, it will be the emergence of consumer choice driving a market, largely outside of government influence. In short: capitalism. Which means either Communism doesn’t have much longer in China or it will have to get even nastier.
  4. “People at my age spend all of their salary every month. People from my mom’s generation save as much as they could.” Not sure what to make of that. What do you think?
  5. “‘We trust foreign companies more than we trust local companies, because we have suffered a lot.’ It was a penny drop moment. Curious Jessie may have experimented with pricey Belgian chocolate, but the only European product this family buy regularly is a breakfast cereal…which they trust to be free from chemical additives.” This is probably a short term advantage for the West, but to compete against it, Chinese products will have to get safer, which will make them more expensive. It will also probably increase the standard of living in China, which will probably increase the cost of labor there. That is probably good for everyone, but will dampen China’s ascent slightly.

Health volley

I’m putting together a much longer post to present a tortuous metaphor for the state of American health care, but I keep seeing the same theme in the current “debate” on health that is driving me nuts enough to say something about it here.

Here is an example, this one from Mark Steyn:

I think Sarah Palin’s “death panel” coinage clarified the stakes and resonated in a way that “rationing” and other lingo never quite did.…What matters is the concept of a government “panel.” Right now, if I want a hip replacement, it’s between me and my doctor; the government does not have a seat at the table.

Whatever you may think about Palin or the death panel or whatever, the statement above contains a huge glaring problem. Under the system we have now, while it may be true that the government does not have a seat at the table, if you want a hip replacement, it is most certainly not between you and your doctor. It may be between you and your insurance company, and it may be between that insurance company and your doctor, but if you and your doctor, by yourselves, want to decide on your hip replacement, you are totally fucked under the current state of health care in America.

If you don’t like the current health bills being debated right now, fine, but don’t compare them to an idealized system as if it actually exists when it really doesn’t.

Robert Tracinski makes the same mistake in this piece, when he says (with his own emphasis):

Do the Democrats even understand what insurance is? … Insurance is a form of financing. It is a contract under which a health-insurance company agrees to pay for medical bills that could run into the tens of thousands of dollars, if you are hit by a bus or are diagnosed with cancer, so that you don’t have to pay for those bills out of your savings. For younger people, this means being able to pay for catastrophic care even if you haven’t had time to build up tens of thousands of dollars in savings. For older people, this means not having your retirement savings or the equity in your home get wiped out by an unexpected illness.

It is? Really? Great!

The problem is that while this is what insurance should be, present-day American health insurance doesn’t actually work like this. At all.

You try telling a mother of two “sorry, your kids’ check ups are not covered by your insurance. Insurance is only for unexpected emergencies.” I dare you.

And, likewise, when an actual emergency causes “medical bills that could run into the tens of thousands of dollars”, see how likely the “insurance” is to pay it all.

There is a reason HR departments call it “health coverage” and not “health insurance”: because it is no longer insurance. The “coverage” is now used for pretty much any type of health related expense. The expectation involved is similar to imagining a world where everyone just assumed that their auto insurance would pay for their fuel, oil changes and routine maintenance, instead of just a serious car accident.

While the current state of health care in America isn’t exactly socialized medicine, it is functionally pretty close. Does it really matter that, instead of the bureaucracy of the state that meddles in your health decisions, it is the bureaucracy of a set of corporations that meddles in your health decisions? You (and your doctor) have roughly the same level of control over both of them: almost none.

Posts you will never see

Looking at my blog’s “drafts” section reveals a number of posts that have been languishing, half-formed, some of them since before I made this blog public. Many of these occupied my mind at the time, but since have lost their timeliness. Some needed a bit more polishing. Some didn’t have enough legs to turn into a real post. Others I just haven’t fully formed in my head. Rather than keep them in the “maybe someday” box, they will be pasted in raw form into this post for posterity, and the originals will be deleted, just to get them out of my head.

In these descriptions, text in italics represents text added today for the purpose of explaining the post’s idea. Any original text from the draft will remain un-italicized. The are presented youngest first. In some drafts, text is fairly close to final. Some are only scattered notes. Most are a mix of lucid sentences with random phrases to remind me what I was thinking.

If these scattered thoughts trigger any musings in your own brain, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

Fighting illiteracy

Initially created April 2009

A post about how what’s really going on in the Middle East is a conflict of knowledge vs. ignorance. The main point here was to suggest a strategy in Iraq of taking over their educational system, under the assumption that educated masses are less likely to buy into fundamentalist attempts to manipulate them. Also, the point was to change the rhetoric of the United States to be more about enlightenment and opportunity, rather than the stupid “war on abstract concepts” language they use now. I never really got this working in my head.

In the modern world, intimidation and intolerance is the only is the only real path the illiterate have to power.

US pitches the war stupidly: “they hate us for our freedom” “evil-doers”, “war on terror”.

Symbol: the destruction of the Buddhist statues looked like nothing more than “boys with toys”.

Counterargument: reading doesn’t help US fundies from being idiots.

The vegetarian case for cannibalism

Initially created August 2008

In the later chapters of his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan spends a great deal of effort thinking about the morality of eating animals. In particular, he wrestles with a moral argument laid out by Peter Singer in his book Animal Liberation, claiming that it “demands you either defend the way you live, or change it.”

Aristotle. I don’t remember the point I was going for with Aristotle. Possibly something about the risk that using reasoning based on assumptions depends significantly on the bias of your assumptions. (I also have a pet theory that at least some of the dark ages was created by the seemingly complete inability of people to doubt what Aristotle said, even when it was obviously wrong, and that the Renaissance happened when people got over this. Uh, and stopped being set on fire for heresy. Anyway…)

Essentially their logic leads to “point A”, at which time they ask “given that most people object to exploiting the retarded, why is it mortal to exploit animal”.

But using the same logic, you can ask “given that most people have no problem with exploiting animals, why is it immoral to exploit the retarded”.

To be convincing, a line of reasoning needs to lead inexorably to a single conclusion. Singer’s argument doesn’t: it leads to many. Worse, most of these contradict each other. So, while there may be some logic to it, it is not a tool for reasonable conclusion of anything.

Singer says “we have a strong interest in convincing ourselves that our concern for other animals does not require us to stop eating them”. It seems to me this should be turned around. Our strong interest in continuing to eat other animals requires that our concern for them is not convincing.

All this rambling was intended to illustrate how, using the same techniques that zealot vegetarians use to “prove” that all should stop eating meat, you can just as easily “prove” that all should start eating human flesh. I pretty much just lost interest in this one, though, so it doesn’t really form any coherent point.

Wheat and chaff

Initially created July 2008. I have no idea what the point was supposed to be.

Things which let you see bias:

The “whiners” comment, exposes party parrots.

Apple’s MobileMe launch.

Atheists for Jesus

Initially created May 2008

Basic idea is that it is possible to embrace many of Jesus’ teachings even with the spiritual side of them removed. Much of the rationale for Christians following them is that “the only way to heaven is trough me”, but that is a “why should I do this”, not a “what should I do”.

There is some meat there, but seems like others have probably tread over this ground before.

The Dread Pirate Roberts

Initially created September 2007. Back when bin Laden videos would surface every once in a while, but there was question if it was really him, etc. I realized that it probably wouldn’t really matter if it was actually him or not. Just like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride, maybe he could be turned into more of an office than a person:

Well, Roberts had grown so rich, he wanted to retire. So he took me to his cabin and told me his secret. “I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts,” he said. “My name is Ryan. I inherited this ship from the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from was not the real Dread Pirate Roberts, either. His name was Cummerbund. The real Roberts has been retired fifteen years and living like a king in Patagonia.” Then he explained the name was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear. You see, no one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley. So we sailed ashore, took on an entirely new crew and he stayed aboard for awhile as first mate, all the time calling me Roberts. Once the crew believed, he left the ship and I have been Roberts ever since. Except, now that we’re together, I shall retire and hand the name over to someone else.

I’d hoped to get excerpts from these videos and show the different people that were carrying the “office” of Osama bin Laden, but it was sort of hard to find decent clips, and by the time I gathered some, the videos appeared with decreasing frequency. Still, I gathered a bunch of links.

Juries are stupid

Initially created May 2006. Post intended to vent about the reality reported by two articles; however, I’ve yet to find even a half-baked solution to this problem, so I never turned it into a real article (as per the rules).

Take heed the court stenographer

The second link used to point somewhere interesting, but now is just a place to buy drugs, which pisses me off all over again.

Making sausage

Initially created May 2006

A memo to my employees, the members if the United States Government:

I approach politics the way most Americans do, with lots of opinionated complaining a no real action. Sure, I’ll talk by the water cooler about which intern blew you when and where, or how much coke you did while attending an Ivy League school you weren’t really qualified to attend, or how they finally fished your girlfriend out of the river, or how old your former slave employee was when she bore your bastard child, or what contributor got which favor, or which particular lie you got busted for this time, but I don’t really care.

Most of my fellow Americans and I seem perfectly content to sit back and mostly ignore you, content in the knowledge that you are out there extending American hegemony.

The problem is: you suck at it now.

Sure, you’ve stumbled before….

Don’t make me get off the couch and overthrow your ass.

In darkest Mordor

Initially entered April 2006. This was meant to be the expansion of an offhand comment I made in an IM conversation about the “cartoon controversy”. The post has a central idea, but I could never make anything intelligent out of it.

How the Cartoon Protests Harm Muslims

If the Muslim world really desires the severing of all ties, maybe we should just surrender and put a wall up. Within 500 years, either they would have a renaissance of their own (see “Breeding the white out”) or they’d basically become orcs.

What do they import?

When the Sizzle is better than the Sausage

No relation to reality, indeed

Breeding the white out

Initially entered February 2006. I never turned this into anything more than an observation about the inevitable elimination of the palefaces.

A solution for Iraq

Initially entered February 2006

Get the “shadow government” to convince big wigs in Iraq that they should not fear democracy, because they’ll be able to manipulate it.

Another solution: leak a memo stating how glad we are that the sects are killing each other.

Things noticed from Fahrenheit 9/11:

  1. There is a scene showing a group of soldiers knocking on the door of a house and eventually detaining a guy living within, in view of his crying family. I think Moore intended for this scene to show how the “brutal fist of the evil U.S. Army” was smacking down the poor innocent civilians of Iraq. I took away something different from it. What struck me was, to my eyes, the complete overreaction of the crying civilians. Basically the soldiers knocked on the door and said “we’d like to talk to you” and the immediate civilian reaction was seemingly genuine terror, as if they were positive they were all going to get hacked into pieces and eaten within seconds. (What that means is that we are getting completely crushed in the propaganda war.)

    The Bush administration clearly thought (if they thought at all, which seems increasingly unlikely) that the reaction of most thinking Iraqi civilians would be something like “look at what the Americans did in Germany and Japan after World War II, maybe they’ll do the same here”. Instead, what reasonable Iraqis seemed to think was “here comes another bunch of white people to ‘colonize’ and oppress us.” Given Iraq’s history, this is a completely rational assumption.

  2. Compare the scene where a distraught Iraqi woman is crying hysterically and saying “please, God, kill them” with the crying of the American who lost her son.

Suggestions for virtual gesture standards

Initially entered January 2006

Eventually, and probably within the next few decades, a growing body of computer users will have reason to interact with 3D environments in a way that feels like manipulating actual objects in space, rather than clicking on a 2D screen. While the virtual reality concept of Neuromancer, Snow Crash and The Matrix seems to occupy the attention of pop culture, it’s probable that ‘immersive reality’, where computer generated objects are displayed overlaying real life, will become popular first. The most accessible demonstration of this idea takes place in the early portions of the film Minority Report, where the lead character uses ‘light gloves’ to interact objects he perceived to be floating in front of him (thanks to holographic screens). While holograms are a ways off, systems based on this idea (originally suggested by John Underkoffler) are already being built. I’m not sure what gesture interface these systems use, and I’ve remaining deliberately ignorant of it while writing this post.

I’ve been thinking about how you might use such as system (perhaps with glasses to give the illusion of objects floating in space) to sculpt three-dimensional objects. It seems to me that the gestures detailed below are the most natural for such a task. Most modelling systems can create basic shapes (cubes, spheres, etc.) but build a lot of complex interface to handle three basic properties of these primitives once created:

  • position: exact placement of the object in 3D-space
  • orientation: how the object is rotated relative to the xyz axes.
  • distortion: how the object deviates from its initial shape relative to other shapes (for example, being scaled larger) or within itself (for example, if part of the object is stretched from its initial position)

One of the less obvious problems in 3D modeling is that when altering one property, it is often difficult to control, or even identify, how your action might change the other properties. For example, if you click on a point on an object, then drag in some direction, will the object shift its position, keeping its orientation? Will it rotate around a central point? Will the part that you clicked pull away from the rest of the object?

The answer to this is usually that it depends on what tool is selected. I think a gesture system could make this much easier, by having the gesture being used imply the operation you want. As someone who “draws pictures in the air” during conversations, I think the following gestures are fairly intuitive (bear in mind these are specifically for manipulating 3D models, not a generic 3D interface):

Never got around to sussing these out. I now lack the desire. For some reason this link was at the end of this draft.

Poser data for RPS-25

Initially entered January 2006. It would have been world-shattering. For free, the world would have Poser data for all the hand positions of RPS-25, to render the epic battles in high definition, 3D goodness. Unfortunately, even I apparently don’t have that much time to waste. I’m too busy playing RPS-101.


Initially entered September 2005

I am a dangerous man. In my Home Depot bag, I hold a substance so devastating it is kept under lock and key, only sold to those the government has deemed worthy of it.

This article was supposed to be an attempt to paint me as an Orginal Gangster for the “edgy, high-crime” lifestyle of buying goddamn spraypaint, which was kept in locked cages in my county, requiring a manager to open, due to a dumb local law. It was actually supposed to be a sort of investigative journalism type piece, doing interviews with both the managers of the stores affected as well as the idiots who signed it into law. I never did figure out what the reason was, though graffiti and huffing seemed like popular bugbears. In any case, it looks like this law got either overturned or exempted to the point that Home Depot no longer has the cages. So my wrath as been quelled, for the moment.

Billions shift from side to side

Initially entered July 2005. As you will be able to tell, I never really figured out what I was saying here.

Sometimes I get images in my head that make perfect sense to me, but have difficulty explaining them.

People are sheep.

If you modeled advances of the human population as a flow of particles that gathered around specific memes, the result would look fluid, but unlike a fluid, all the advances come from those who do not follow the herd, pulling the collective in a different direction. Could this idea be used to predict things? In other words, model as a fluid that has these attractors on the fringes.

[Liberal graph that Rob mentioned, Economic and some other axis as example]. Now imagine there were more than two axes. Things like “degree of religious observance” and “feelings about self-image”.

I hate the word meme, because it seems like you only ever hear it from the same people that say stuff like “if hierarchy presupposes sameness…”.

When whoever it is decides that “pink is the new black”, the masses shift toward a point in the space representing this idea. I’m not sure what the flow would look like, but instinctively it seems to me that it would have some characteristics of a fluid. Thinking about it now, the picture in my head sort of looks like Galactica.

There would be an unfluid characteristic though: innovators.

O’Reilly’s alpha geek strategy. Fashion industry tracking “cool people”. But that’s social. What about using math?

Visual debugging

Initially entered July 2005. This is another picture in my head that I cannot quite articulate.

Existing debuggers seem to think that what people need is more and more features. Wrong. What they need is vision, the ability to see what is going on in a malfunctioning process.

Shows a time line of a value weaving through the code. Blocks of data that expand when you look at them. Lines indicating a path through the code (would remember even if you didn’t step). Threads as threads of code on the screen, controlling them visually.

No little panes.

Order vs. Chaos

Initially entered May 2005

Reading Swarm Intelligence recently, I was struck by a comment that nature tends to organize. While this seems true to me, it flies in the face of the second law of thermodynamics, which holds that everything moves toward disorder. These two concepts can easily be combined into a flaky pop philosophy, which I will spell out now.

Part of this philosophy was to involve the weird kind of numerology that nature seems to use, where it tends to spontaneously organize things in particular ways, with certain units clustering in certain numbers. Those numbers are “two” (e.g. quarks in a meson, parents in sexual reproduction), “three” (e.g. quarks in a proton, licks to the center of a Tootsie-pop), “a few” (e.g. atoms in a molecule, wolves in a pack) and “a hundred billion or so” (e.g. atoms in a DNA molecule, stars in a galaxy, cells in an organ). That is, when natural parts gather in certain numbers, they become something greater. The pop-philosophy would fixate on what sort of ascension happens when 100 billion human brains come together.

Other parts of the idea were to focus on the natural tension between emergent order and entropy, but I couldn’t make it sound like anything other than the metaplot of season four of Babylon 5.

Computers in role-playing

Initially entered May 2005. I think laptops at a gaming table have still not really reached their potential. Seeing this projection system made me want to gather a bunch of ideas about using computers in tabletop role-playing together, but it never happened. Maybe someday.

Things I will never see

Initially entered August 2004.

  • A reenactment of the Nazis marching into Paris, but using the music and choreography of Michael Jackson’s Thriller instead of goose-stepping.

A fine mess

The large fine levied on Intel by the EU for supposedly antitrust actions, coupled with the announcement that Obama administration foolishly intends to dust off the United State’s antitrust guns, begs a number of questions. For the moment, though, I’m only interested in two: where is this fine money supposed to be going? how much of it actually ends up there?

Naturally, like all fines from regulators or courts, actual payment will be mired by years of legislative wrangling and will probably end up being settled for some smaller number. But, according to Silicon Valley Mercury News, the EUR 1.06 billion fine “will have to be put into a bank account by Intel within the next three months and left there pending the outcome of its appeals.” A legal news site indicates, however, that “it was not reported who would control the bank account—Intel, or the European Commission. Nor was there any word as to who would own the interest earned from such a large sum of money sitting in an interest-bearing account.” It also doesn’t seem to be specified if there are any limits on which banks can be used. Can this be a US bank, for example, or does it need to be in the EU? Europe being Europe, I’m assuming that they will demand that the money be kept in a European bank.

In what looks like a FAQ on the decision, a site claiming to be “Europe’s leading independent online business information service about the European Union” says the following:

Does Intel have to pay the fine immediately?

The fine must be paid within three months of the date of notification of the Decision.

Where does the money go?

Once final judgment has been delivered in any appeals before the Court of First Instance (CFI) and the Court of Justice, the money goes into the EU’s central budget, thus reducing the contributions that Member States pay to the EU.

Does Intel have to pay the fine if it appeals to the European Court of First Instance (CFI)?

Yes. In case of appeals to the CFI, it is normal practice that the fine is paid into a blocked bank account pending the final outcome of the appeals process. Any fine that is provisionally paid will produce interest based on the interest rate applied by the European Central Bank to its main refinancing operations. In exceptional circumstances, companies may be allowed to cover the amount of the fine by a bank guarantee at a higher interest rate.

What percentage of Intel’s turnover does the fine represent?

The fine represents 4.15 % of Intel’s turnover in 2008. This is less than half the allowable maximum, which is 10% of a company’s annual turnover.

This last bit means that the European Commission could have made this fine as high as EUR 2.55 billion, but somehow concluded that 1.06 billion was the proper amount for this offense.

So, what you have in this case is over a billion euro from an American company deposited into (probably) a European bank, but locked there until the appeals process is over. (Hey, what a coincidence! Just when European banks badly need large deposits that are unlikely to be withdrawn.) The interest seems to just accumulate there for the interim. Once the appeal is sorted out, it’s likely that at least some of the money in this account will be inserted into the European Union’s central budget, possibly with interest. Since this is a central fund, and not earmarked for anything specific, the EU can then use this money pretty much any way it likes. Here’s how they spent it last year:

EU central budget 2008

I can’t find a good source of information about what percentage of fines like these eventually get paid in reality, or how much grift there might be in the system. I’d love to hear about both.

No Congressman left behind

During his campaign, President Obama promised to reform No Child Left Behind, calling it “one of the emptiest slogans in the history of American politics”. No doubt he’ll get around to doing so before too long. Chances are, however, that any improvement will still involve some sort of standardized test, in one capacity or another.

Though I’ve never really liked standardized testing, I have some suggestions for whatever bill gets written to “improve” No Child Left Behind:

  1. Whatever standardized test is settled upon, it must be administered annually to all members of the U.S. Congress, with results made public, by name. (The rest of this post will call this test by its current name, the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP.)
  2. Six months after Congress takes this test, they must take another standardized test created specifically to assess their abilities in key areas necessary to make informed choices about the laws they create. Again, the results would be made public. (Since all tests need a TLA to be taken seriously, call this the Legislative Aptitude Test or LAT.)

In addition to testing basic reasoning and skill, a strong motivation of the LAT will be questions aimed and determining how well our lawmakers detect bogus statistics, improper inferences, logical fallacies and flat out bullshit from lobbyists and people who testify before congress. The test will involve the following sections:


The NAEP should take care of the basics of arithmetic, algebra and so on, so the math portion of the LAT should emphasize unraveling the weaselly corporate statistic speak used by lobbyists to lie. Some sample questions:

A popular light beer claims to have “one-third less calories than regular beer”. If a regular beer has 120 calories, how many calories does a light beer meeting this description have:

  1. 0
  2. 40
  3. 80
  4. 120
  5. 160

Answer: C. [120 – (120÷3) = 120 – 40 = 80]

You are invested in a stock with a steady price of $100 per share. One day, the price drops to $75 per share, a 25% drop. Approximately how much will the price now need to rise to get back to the original $100 price?

  1. 10%
  2. 25%
  3. 33%
  4. 50%
  5. 100%

Answer: C. [75x = 100; x = 100/75; x ≈ 133%, an increase of 33%.]


The NAEP has questions that cover Geography, though I’m not sure if it has an official Geography section. The LAT, however, should. Further, this section should combine current events and historical context as well. Sample questions:

The second largest denomination of Islam believes that Muhammad’s family and descendants have special spiritual and political rule over the community. Further they believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these Imams and was the rightful successor to Muhammad and thus reject the legitimacy of the first three Rashidun caliphs. What is this denomination called, and in which country does it dominate?

  1. Sunni, Iraq
  2. Shia, Iran
  3. Sunni, Saudi Arabia
  4. Shia, Saudi Arabia

Answer: B

During 2008, what country had a nation occupied by the U.S. military on its main western border and another country occupied by the U.S. military on its main eastern border, but was not itself occupied by the U.S. military?

  1. Iraq
  2. Iran
  3. Somalia
  4. Syria

Answer: B

If you walked from the geographic center of the most populous Muslim nation directly towards Australia, which direction would you be walking?

  1. South
  2. Southeast
  3. East
  4. North

Answer: A [Australia lies directly south of Indonesia.]

In 1981, Israel bombed a French-built 70-megawatt uranium-powered nuclear reactor near what capital city?

  1. Beirut
  2. Baghdad
  3. Damascus
  4. Tehran

Answer: B


The accounting questions in the NAEP are OK, but most aren’t really policy type questions. In this section, I’d honestly settle for something that forces someone studing for the LATs to question his sanity. Such as:

If a private business enters an contract where it agrees to pay out some amount of money (to, say, it’s employees) several years from now, it is obligated by law to account for this future liability. Is the U.S. government required to do the same?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: B (It would be highly entertaining to read the answers to a follow-up essay question: is this a good idea?)

You are given take $1 million of taxpayer to help correct the financial crisis. Which of the following actions has no chance of making any money back on your investment?

  1. Provide loans at reasonable rates to large companies that employ many people.
  2. Buy assets backed by American homes from banks that don’t know how to price them because they don’t trust each other, and become a source of trusted information in a market for them, eventually selling them.
  3. Make housing payments for citizens with poor reading comprehension and math skills.

Answer: C

Given single-handed control over government funds, how would you address the $60+ trillion shortfall that the U.S. will face in the coming decades? (Essay question)

Answer: I’m sure it will be good. If it doesn’t at least include the menu of pain or a way of offing the Boomers, it’s wrong.


Imagine an isolated island, populated by a variety of animal species, but no human beings. After several centuries of stability, the island suffers a fairly sudden environmental change (drought, a major fire, etc.). The theory of evolution predicts that:

  1. Some individual organisms will develop new traits that adapt to the change. Those that don’t will die off.
  2. If any of the slight differences between individuals present within a species provide an advantage in the changed environment, those differences are more likely to be passed on to future generations.
  3. By chance, some individuals in a species will be physically larger and stronger than the others. These individuals will live through the change while the others die off.
  4. The Creator will choose which organisms live and die through the change.

Answer: B [A is wrong because individual organisms don’t evolve; species do. C is wrong because an advantage that turns out to help a species survive a given shock isn’t necessarily related to physical size and strength.]

You are breeding an organism of some kind in a bottle. At 11am, you put the first two organisms into the bottle. The population in the bottle doubles every minute. At noon, the bottle is full. At what time does the bottle become half full?

  1. 11:00 am
  2. 11:30 am
  3. 11:59 am
  4. noon

Answer: C (Follow-up essay question 1: what time do you think it would be when the population in the bottle notices that “its getting crowded in here”? Follow-up essay question 2: what time do you think it would be when the entire population in the bottle chokes on its own waste and dies?)


According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in 1999, as the number people using Napster to illegally share music files rose, what happened to the shipments of CD albums?

  1. Decreased 50%
  2. Decreased 20%
  3. Decreased 10%
  4. Stayed the same
  5. Increased 10%

Answer: E (see this hysterical article, which hides inconvenient truth behind a lot of dire numbers about “CD singles”, a format no one cares about, and one that many consumers have never even seen.)

A hypothetical cellular carrier handles 100,000,000 calls per day. Running the network for one day costs $100,000. Trough subscription rates, customers on this network pay an average of $1 per call. The carrier testifies before Congress that, in addition to its normal traffic, each day they also have 10,000 calls made fraudulently. How much does each fraudulent call cost the carrier?

  1. $100
  2. $1
  3. Between $1 and and $0.01
  4. Less than $0.01

Answer: D.

Moral Reasoning

A lobbyist wants you to vote for something to which you are 100% opposed. How much does the lobbyist need to pay to get your vote? (Essay question.)

Well, OK, maybe I’m not the person to design the questions for this test, but the basic idea is sound. If some panel can figure out a standardized test that millions of students have to take, surely we can come up with a decent test for the legislative branch.

Morality quiz

Which of the following is the most destructive for a society:

  1. Distributing child pornography.
  2. Producing child pornography.
  3. Terrorism.
  4. Allowing minors to play violent video games.
  5. Distribution of drugs.
  6. Use of drugs.
  7. Using any of the above as an excuse to compromise the civil liberties of citizens not engaged in any of them.

If you are Canadian, your courts think the answer is “a”.

If you are British, most of your government thinks the answer is “c”.

If you are American, in the last eight years, your government has been (largely illegally) transformed to say the answer is at least c, e and f. Various citizens claim the answer is d, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary.

What’s your answer?

A silver lining. Sort of.

Since hearing a lecture by Laurence Kotlikoff, author of The Coming Generational Storm, it’s been pretty clear to me that:

  1. The political future of the United States is going to be colored significantly by generational conflict, with the needs of the various generations pulling the country in very different directions.
  2. My generation, Generation X, is basically totally screwed in such a conflict because, among other things, we are flanked by generations that are much larger than us.

One battle in this generational war is almost certain to involve social security and other entitlements. In the coming years, the Baby Boomers will do what they have proven over and over again that they do best: look out for themselves. Amid anti-aging treatments and doses of viagra, a good number of them will scream like hell at any attempt to reform the current entitlement system to their detriment and support any change that helps them, regardless of the long term cost. In spite of the fact that any such reform would have needed to start years ago to really be effective, their massive voting clout will ensure that it doesn’t happen at all, even when entitlements start unraveling.

And unravel they will, all over Generation X. By the time the Boomers die off, Gen X will be ready to reap the rewards of the giant Ponzi scheme that is social security, right when it starts to collapse. They will try the same tricks that the Boomers did to get what they were told was coming, but it won’t matter: not only will the money be gone, but Generation Y will massively outvote Gen X, and see to it that whatever comes out of the wreckage will benefit themselves, at the expense of Gen X. (To add insult to injury, a lot of the “moral justification” for this will probably involve a sort of “guilt by association” with the selfishness of the Baby Boomers.)

So, what chance does Gen X really have? Well, its best bet is to engineer (or at least hope for) some situation that radically reduces the voting power of the Baby Boomers. One sure thing that would do this is a massive reduction in their population. Since the Boomers have repeatedly shown a willingness to do nearly anything to avoid unpleasantness, or even inconvenience, it might be possible to manipulate them into extinction. With the right ad campaign and marketing, we could probably make offing yourself for the benefit of the following generations “dying with dignity” cool enough that many would volunteer. An opening strike would be a campaign to eliminate laws against assisted suicide. If done right, we might even get some kind of trial Logan’s Run mandatory death law, that expires shortly after most of the Boomers.

None of this will happen, of course. So, if the Boomers themselves cannot be eliminated, the next best thing would be to severely reduce their spending power. They would still have the bodies to vote, but without a lot of cash, it may be possible to outspend them for political influence, even if their candidates get elected.

To do this, we’d need to generate some kind of economic situation where the Boomers are convinced to invest and save their earnings in certain ways and then, right when they retire, pull the rug out from under the markets to erode their investments. This is something of a “scorched earth” policy, as it would hurt everyone else as well, but Gen X would still have time to replenish their funds, while the Boomers’ sources of income would have dried up.

Engineering this would be a massive undertaking, but fortunately, it’s happening already. The silver lining of this whole economic downturn is that the massive market losses are eroding the wealth of the Boomers as we speak, right as they are starting to retire. This is especially true since many Boomers couldn’t afford to retire, even before the current downturn.

Gen X couldn’t have planned this better. And, to think; they called us slackers.