Monthly Archives: March 2019

Making changes

NZ changed its gun laws within a few days of the catastrophic shooting in Christchurch. On NPR, PBS, all over the internet, there’s a response that marvels in how “huge” this is. It’s not huge. It’s a regulatory adjustment, requiring a small sacrifice in giving up access to some kinds of weapon from a small group of people who seem pretty willing to go along with it, and a fairly high one-time monetary cost to the general public to compensate those people, that we’ve decided is more than worth it. For a country that doesn’t revel in a gun culture like the US, this is not a major change, it’s a correction to a situation that most NZ’ers didn’t really realize was a problem.

For a country where guns are so embedded in the political and cultural environment and that have engendered literally decades of argument, I can see that it might be considered astounding that another country could just say, “Oh! There’s a problem. Let’s fix it quickly.” and just do that.

I’ve seen the argument that gun ownership is a right in the US, as guaranteed in the Constitution. Sure. But the Constitution is a law, designed to be clarified and, when needed, changed. May I own a bazooka under the Second Amendment? How about a tank? How about an anti-tank missile? Isn’t there a more fundamental right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that implies that I can go to church and expect not to be shot? So, exactly what’s the argument again? And how is it serving us? Are we all going to take up arms against the US government?

For years, when people have questioned me about the difference between NZ and US, I’ve mentioned (among other things) that making progress in the US is so difficult; everything has to be argued about and fought over, including things that perhaps 80% of the population think are fine ideas. It’s getting harder and harder for me to put up with.


The NYT podcast reckons that the Sackler family will never be forced to pay enough to significantly impact their family fortune. But CNN estimates the cost to the economy since 2001 as more than $1 Trillion. If the Federal government sues for triple-damages, I think we have it covered. And then, we bring charges in criminal court for corruption and jail the principals for life.

What are the financiers worth, really?

From “Utopia for Realists”, Rutger Bregman, Hachette Book Group 2018, in a discussion about the over-compensated financial sector in the economy:

“The genius of the great speculative investors is to see what others do not, or to see it earlier. This is a skill. But so is the ability to stand on tiptoe, balancing on one leg, while holding a pot of tea above your head, without spillage.”

Refugees and the US government

Reading an interview with Ilhan Omar, new Congresswoman, and this part of the conversation jumped it at me.

IO: I mean, I think, you know, we have had policies that have created refugees around the world, but because we are so focused on those refugees we’ve never asked about those policies. And for the first time, we’re going to have a refugee on that committee who asks about the policies that led to people becoming refugees.


Pro-Social and the design principles behind the evolution of cooperation

Two ideas that collided: the evolutionary basis of cooperation, and common principles of action that characterize successful self-regulating cooperative groups.

The Tragedy of the Commons: How Elinor Ostrom Solved One of Life’s Greatest Dilemmas

This from a discussion of “The Tragedy of the Commons”, the original paper’s origins, how it became part of orthodox social science and responses to it.

Regarding the latter: Tim Harford points out that the idea wasn’t original when Hardin published it, but he gave the phenomenon a catchy name and a simple storyline. I think these are key to having an idea become so universal that it’s somehow beyond considerations of truth or falsehood, it’s just taken as self-evident. This ties into Lakoff’s ideas about persuasion and language.

Cory Doctorow: Terra Nullius – Locus Online

Good point by Doctorow on intellectual property as regards music:

The parts of musical composition that Europeans reify – melody – are eligible for copyright, but the characteristically Afro-Caribbean elements – complex polyrhythm – are not. Hence, the Beatles could appropriate R&B progressions and rhythms to make new music out of, but woe betide the hiphop artist who samples the Beatles to make a new composition today. The Beatles worked with unimproved nature (R&B), while samplers are stealing the property of the Beatles’ record label.

Musical “styles” are in their rhythms and their harmonic progressions; it seems odd that anyone can play “in a style” and make original music, but can’t play an existing melody in another style and call it original.

Part of a bigger article about property rights, “Terra nullius” and John Locke.

Source: Cory Doctorow: Terra Nullius – Locus Online