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Thursday, October 30, 2014

David Brooks, "Our Machine Masters": Getting His Underpants in a Knot Over A.I.

There are so many scary things to worry about in this world, e.g., Ebola, ISIS and the abnegation of leadership in Washington. So what worries David Brooks? Artificial intelligence, of course. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Our Machine Masters," Brooks suggests two competing future A.I. scenarios:

"In the humanistic one, machines liberate us from mental drudgery so we can focus on higher and happier things. In this future, differences in innate I.Q. are less important. Everybody has Google on their phones so having a great memory or the ability to calculate with big numbers doesn’t help as much."


"In the cold, utilitarian future, on the other hand, people become less idiosyncratic. If the choice architecture behind many decisions is based on big data from vast crowds, everybody follows the prompts and chooses to be like each other. The machine prompts us to consume what is popular, the things that are easy and mentally undemanding."

The reality, as noted by Brooks, is that A.I. has already been with us for quite some time: computerized chess software, the selection of music compatible to individual taste, and automatic pilot devices intended to guide airplanes through the sky.

Can A.I. ultimately guide human beings through their lives? I suppose that would depend upon whether someone is capable of turning off her/his own automatic pilot system and switching to manual control during times of crisis or otherwise.

Like it or not, we have all been programmed by a set of childhood experiences, many of them destructive.

Another example of A.I. currently affecting our lives? High-frequency trading. Imagine, however, competing trading systems, all "motivated" by greed, which can set in motion panic, upon which they can feed. When economies fail as a consequence, will another machine be asked to clean up the mess, or will human beings be forced to intervene and create new rules governing the use of such systems?

I still see a place for human leadership, or guidance, if you will. Unless the president decides that he is too busy playing golf and traveling to California to be told by Gwyneth Paltrow that "You’re so handsome that I can’t speak properly."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "ISIS and Vietnam": When Did Vietnam Ever Call for Lone Wolf Attacks in the US?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "ISIS and Vietnam," Thomas Friedman asks:

"Is jihadism to Sunni nationalism what communism was to Vietnamese nationalism: a fearsome ideological movement that triggers emotional reactions in the West — deliberately reinforced with videotaped beheadings — but that masks a deeper underlying nationalist movement that is to some degree legitimate and popular in its context?"

Compare the Sunni nationalism that motivates ISIS with Vietnamese nationalism? I don't think so.

As reported earlier this month by NBC News in an article entitled "Feds Warn of ISIS-Inspired Threat Against Police, Reporters in US":

"According to a Joint Intelligence bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent to U.S. law enforcement officials, an ISIS spokesman recorded an audio message that urged lone offenders in Western countries to attack 'soldiers, patrons, and troops … their police, security and intelligence members.' Attackers did not need to 'ask for anyone’s advice' prior to striking, said the message, because such actions are legitimate."

Question for Tom: Did North Vietnam ever call for such attacks within the United States?

Friedman goes on to observe:

"The challenge the U.S. faces in Iraq is trying to defeat ISIS in tacit alliance with Syria and Iran, whose local Shiite allies are doing a lot of the fighting in Iraq and Syria."

Indeed, the behavior of Assad, Khamenei and Nasrallah is no less abominable than that of ISIS. These men are also not friends of the US, notwithstanding the fact that US Secretary of State John Kerry once referred to Assad as "my dear friend." Moreover, Obama's persistent efforts to reach out to Khamenei are frightening. However, this has no bearing on the serious threat posed by ISIS to the US, unless of course you choose to ignore the message of the ISIS spokesman in the audio message.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Paul Krugman, "Ideology and Investment": Building an Unsustainable Debt for the Future?

"The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents - #43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back -- $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That's irresponsible. It's unpatriotic."

- Barack Obama, July 3, 2008

Do you remember Obama telling us that taking the national debt up to $9 trillion was "irresponsible" and "unpatriotic"? Well, today it is $17.9 trillion and rising by the second.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Ideology and Investment," Paul Krugman rehashes all of his arguments for renewed federal spending. Krugman writes:

"America used to be a country that built for the future.

. . . .

Our inability to invest doesn’t reflect something wrong with 'Washington'; it reflects the destructive ideology that has taken over the Republican Party.

. . . .

We need public investment; at a time of very low interest rates, we could easily afford it. But build we won’t."

Darned Republicans! (That noise you just heard? Sorry, that was me, yawning.)

Krugman takes pains not to tell us what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had to say about federal debt in July 2014:

"The gap between federal spending and revenues would widen after 2015 under the assumptions of the extended baseline, CBO projects. By 2039, the deficit would equal 6½ percent of GDP, larger than in any year between 1947 and 2008, and federal debt held by the public would reach 106 percent of GDP, more than in any year except 1946—even without factoring in the economic effects of growing debt.

. . . .

Beyond the next 25 years, the pressures caused by rising budget deficits and debt would become even greater unless laws governing taxes and spending were changed. With deficits as big as the ones that CBO projects, federal debt would be growing faster than GDP, a path that would ultimately be unsustainable."

Or in short, America is indeed building for the the future: An unsustainable debt, which, in another 25 years, will sink the ship. Currently, "the federal government can borrow incredibly cheaply"? Absolutely. But you're not supposed to borrow what you can never pay back.

Fortunately for Krugman, in another 25 years he will probably be too old to remember writing this rubbish.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "The Last Train": More of the Same Rubbish

More of the same rubbish from would-be Middle East expert Thomas Friedman. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Last Train," Friedman writes:

"Also, the longer this status quo goes on, the more the juggernaut of Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank goes on, fostering more Israeli delegitimization on the world stage. Right after the Gaza war, in which the United States basically defended Israel, Israel announced the seizure of nearly 1,000 more acres of West Bank land for settlements near Bethlehem. 'No worries,' Israeli officials said, explaining that this is land that Israel would keep in any two-state deal."

Apparently unbeknownst to Friedman, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has acknowledged that Israeli settlements have been built on only some 1.1% of the West Bank. That's a "juggernaut"?

"[N]early 1,000 more acres of West Bank land" will be used by Israel for housing, which, pursuant to any two-state deal, will remain with Israel? This would probably sound a lot less impressive if Friedman were to admit that 1,000 acres amount to 1.5 square miles.

At least Friedman has the decency to acknowledge in his op-ed:

"Diplomatically, President Obama on March 17 personally, face-to-face, offered compromise ideas on key sticking points in the Kerry framework to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and asked him point blank if he would accept them. Obama is still waiting for an answer."

Obama will almost certainly be waiting until the end of his second term in office.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

David Brooks, "The Working Nation": Nothing Simpler Than Solving Unemployment?

I bet you never knew how easy it is to solve unemployment.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Working Nation," David Brooks tells us how bad unemployment in the United States has become:

"The labor force participation rate is at its lowest in decades. Millions are in part-time or low-wage jobs that don’t come close to fulfilling their capacities. Millions more are in dysfunctional or unhealthy workplaces, but they don’t feel they can leave because they don’t think there are other jobs out there that pay the same amount."

Brooks also trots out the "same old, same old" solutions. He tells us that the government should:

  • "borrow money at current interest rates to build infrastructure;"
  • "reduce its generosity to people who are not working but increase its support for people who are;"
  • increase "wage subsidies,"
  • issue "relocation subsidies;"
  • undertake "tax reform;"
  • bring "the world’s most gifted and driven people to move to our shores;"
  • "double-down" on education.

And all that's needed:

"It just takes a relentless focus on job creation, bold political leadership and a country willing to be shaken out of its fear."

The flies in the ointment? First, a president who was never capable of "bold political leadership" and can't wait for Hillary to replace him.

And then there's also that small matter of a $17.9 trillion national debt, which just doesn't stop growing. You see, it's hard to "double-down" on anything when you've out of chips.

Canadian Gunman: Shh! Don't Let Anyone Know He Was a Muslim!

The current lead story on the homepage of The New York Times:

Gunman Panics Ottawa, Killing Soldier in Spree at Capital


Shots fired inside the Parliament building, before the assailant was killed, stoked fears across Canada, a nation already on alert for terrorism

What faith did the killer profess? You know as well as I do, but let's ignore the fact. After all, Islam is a religion of love and peace. Yeah, right.

Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post in an editorial entitled "Military success has bred popular support for the Islamic State," we are being told:

"The Obama administration has recognized the danger of the Islamic State’s appeal and has pushed for political steps to combat it, such as public statements by clerical authorities. Ultimately, however, the group’s pull will likely be governed by the maxim once formulated by Osama bin Laden: 'When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.' Islamic extremism won’t be defeated by military might alone. But to many in the Islamic world, the Islamic State now looks strong. The only way to reverse its influence is through its military defeat, sooner rather than later."

The WaPo editorial, however, ignores how the Assad regime is stepping up assaults on areas in Syria controlled by so-called "moderate" rebels, while the US and its allies are launching air strikes on ISIS. Of course, Assad is allied with Iran.

The WaPo editorial also ignores the deal Obama is attempting to strike with Khamenei regarding Iran's nuclear weapons development program without Congressional approval.

Question: If the Sunni Islamic State is "degraded" (Obama's choice of words), what about a radical Iran, whose strength is growing by leaps and bounds across the Arabian Peninsula?

ISIS is not the only threat facing the West.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Obama Seeks to Lift Sanctions on Iran Without Congressional Approval: You Didn't See This Coming?

As reported by David Sanger in a New York Times article entitled "Obama Sees an Iran Deal That Could Avoid Congress";

"No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it."

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Did anyone not see this coming?

Yet, notwithstanding the "red line" he fixed regarding use of chemical weapons against civilians by Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad, Obama chose to avoid having to take action against Assad by turning to Congress for approval.

Yes, I think I am going to be ill.