Weekend reflections

After a long break,it’s time (well, a day early) for another weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Side discussions to sandpits, please.

32 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. As I said in relation to the Lindt siege at the time, the original account of almost any event of this general kind is wrong and nearly always in a way that shows the authorities in a better light than later versions. You don’t need a conspiracy to explain the observation: simply assume that everyone involved is pursuing a CYA strategy and the outcome is predictable. But I don’t know that you can infer much more from this than from the observation that people usually look better on Facebook than In Real Life.

    As Ikonoklast says, the WMD case is one where there was a concerted attempt to maintain an important falsehood over a long period. That’s about as close to a conspiracy as you are likely to get. Even in that case, there was no meeting where the parties got together to plan a strategy. Rather the system worked to ensure that Bush and Blair were presented with the (purported) evidence they had made it clear they needed

  2. @Ikonoclast
    That was pretty much my recollection, too. Furthermore, Iraq had invested heavily in a bruising war against Iran, further straining their finances for WMD (especially nuclear and biological). By the time we got to 2001, Iraq was not in a position to have nuclear capability, nor biological WMD (excepting the odd experimental vat somewhere).

    I just can’t help wondering how different the world might be, if instead of holding back forces for an invasion of Iraq, the US had simply focussed all effort on catching bin Laden and his high ranking leaders and left it at that. An ISIL surge out of Syria and into Iraq would have been met with fierce resistance from Hussein’s Iraqi army, and they would have had air power and heavy conventional weaponry with which to repel ISIL. Iraq would also have been a counter-balancing force against Iran. Instead, by invading Iraq, we have left it impoverished and weakened, ready for big parts of it to be subjugated by a small army, as has occurred. The coalition of the swilling really opened the gates of Hell, creating the very thing they claimed to be defeating.

    Even worse, the Iraq Invasion 2003 was so obviously an idiocy of the first order that it shouldn’t have been done. Bush, Blair, and Howard own that but escape censure for it. However, this time it isn’t as simple a decision to be made: who knows what dangers lie in simply allowing ISIL to run its course? Will they create a whole state from which to harass other countries? Will they settle down and get bogged down in the details of running the state they’ve tried to establish? Will they be eventually defeated by neighbouring countries? Or will citizens of western democracies begin insurgent activities within their own countries, as a gesture of solidarity with ISIL?

    Some of this rests on whether we consider holding the borders of Iraq as they are, or not. Given the colonial history behind the modern states in the middle east, that’s a question of significance. Finally, are we prepared to watch rapacious killers raze great tracts of once peaceful civilisations, or do we think we should do something about it? In Africa, our answer (to the victims of Bappears to be SFW. In the middle east, I suspect our leaders will soon decide SFW as well.

  3. This is another area in which the right to privacy is being tramelled to dust: full blown drug searches of employees—all employees—flying in to their workplaces, under mining FIFO contracts. The searches of airport luggage and passengers on their way to mining sites is over the top. There was no good intelligence that anyone was in possession of illicit substances, as far as I can see, and yet they conducted a blanket search.

    The story suggests that there were 20 dog indications of drugs, but searches of those 20 passengers didn’t reveal any drugs. These 20 dog indications are not evidence of anything beyond the fact that for regular FIFO passengers, their luggage may come in contact with contaminants on the carousel, something that can and does happen. And, the dogs can detect other odours which yield false positives. It is difficult to know just how often false positives occur, because drugs might have been present at one time, or not.

    This sort of search procedure presumes existence of a guilty party prior to the search being conducted. Every time we allow a blanket search of this nature, we perpetuate and strengthen the culture of presume guilt, establish innocence; every new procedure allowed is further erosion of our rights, and of what should be a right to be left alone if not actively transgressing the rights of others.

    If companies are concerned about employees not being in a fit state to work, then they should bear the cost and the effort within their workplace of ensuring this doesn’t happen; if it does happen, there are remedies such as firing the offending employee. Getting the cops to do your own dirty work is, as amply demonstrated in the article I cite at the beginning, a complete waste of taxpayer’s money, and a serious intrusion into leaving us alone when on our private time.

  4. @Donald Oats

    I agree with what you say. Damaging Iraq so heavily has just strengthened, at least relatively, Iran and various insurgencies in the Middle East. Turkey is strengthed too but then also perhaps the Kurds and Peshmerga so that is a mixed bag for the Turks.

    My solution would be to completely walk away and leave the mess we have made. Of course that is morally wrong but since any further “help” from us will only worsen the mess it is the “least worst” thing we could do. If there was any way or ways to provide humanitarian help to the region without affecting the balance of power and various struggles then we could do that. However, I suspect even humanitarian help would be (and is now) funneled, diverted and corrupted in many, many ways.

    The Realpolitik of it is that oil and Israel will never be abandoned by the West (and other countries) while oil and Israel exist and are of use. Once we stop using oil (via exhaustion or AGW concerns) will the M.E. retain any geopolitical importance? I would suggest only if they can export solar energy in some way. And if the M.E. loses its strategic importance what practical raison d’etre remains for defending and supporting Israel? Would the “moral imperative” to support Israel, as seen by say the pro-Jewish USA, be strong enough on its own?

  5. @Ikonoclast

    I don’t have a book in my private library which would suit your specifications. Perhaps the following suffices.

    Pareto efficiency [PE] (also known as Pareto optimality) refers to a criterion for assessing the state of a system. In the most general terms, a state of a system is said to be PE if no improvement is possible. The relevant system in question is an economy, a social system of ‘resource allocation’. A so-called ‘market economy’ is a social system because, even the simplest example of a ‘market economy’ requires at least two humans who interact with each other through production and exchange or only exchange of ‘things’.

    I am going to use concepts from a theoretical model that correspond to those from the theoretical model for which the generic PE inefficiency result was obtained. Specifically, these models are identical in their description of ‘the economy’, relevant for the definition of PE, except that one assumes ‘markets are complete’, while the other one assumes ‘markets are incomplete’. These theoretical models belong to the class where there is no government or any other non-market institution (ie only ‘price system’). Furthermore, all ‘agents’ (decision makers) are ‘competitive’ in the sense that they behave as ‘price takers’.

    With reference to your football game argument on another thread, you may appreciate it is a little difficult to find the boundary for what I need to introduce to provide more than a string of words which fail to convey the concept of PE.

    I now state the ‘definition’ of PE and then say a few words about terminology which I consider essential to make sense of it.

    PE: The feasible allocation A is PE for ‘the economy E’ if there does not exist a feasible allocation B such that at least one individual is ‘better off’ with the allocation B without anyone else being made ‘worse off’.

    Economy ‘E’: There is a finite number of people (at least 2. The larger the number the more plausible is the assumption of price taking behaviour). The purely economic aspects of persons is characterised by each individual having ‘preferences’ (ranking of alternatives) and each individual having an ‘endowment’ (‘things’ which they own) such that ‘the minimum wealth constraint’ is met. ‘Things’ include ‘commodities’ and ownership shares of firms (called producers, characterised by a production technology). Preferences are defined on commodities (think of consumption). A ‘commodity’ is defined by its physical properties, time of availability and location of availability. The minimum wealth constraint means each individual’s wealth (sum of the list of price weighted things owned) is such that the individual can buy at least a little bit of all commodities in the economy. The number of commodities is finite even for an economy that lasts for a long time.

    ‘An allocation’ is a list of (consumption) bundles of commodities, one bundle for each individual (a matrix, with as many rows as the number of individuals and as many columns as the number of commodities).

    A feasible allocation is an allocation which is technologically possible, budget feasible for each individual (affordable, given the prices and the individual’s wealth) and the aggregate is total ‘resource feasible’ (for each commodity, the sum of the individuals’ consumptions is less than or equal to the total amount available).

    ‘Better off’ and ‘worse off’ relates to each individual’s subjective valuation (preferences), constrained by their respective wealth and total resources in the economy.

  6. @Ernestine Gross

    Thank you, I do understand that explanation. Of course, my level of understanding of PE is now just very basic but as good as anyone could teach me in a blog, so thanks again.

    One thought that occurs to me is as follows. First, bear in mind that I come from a conceptual angle where I understand how game matrix problems (like chess) are solved but the most maths I ever did was Grade 12 Maths I and Maths II in the old days (1971 to be precise) and most of that has now gone rusty being unutilised ever since.

    If I were to attempt to solve a mathematical matrix problem of the type that you illustrate for P.E. I would do this. My method would be to regard it as a tree-search problem so the key would be a tree-search algorithm of the type used in computerising mathematical matrix games like chess. The computations would be extensive so they would have to be computer programmed. I wonder if this is how mathematical economists solve these problems?

    You say: “An allocation’ is a list of (consumption) bundles of commodities, one bundle for each individual (a matrix, with as many rows as the number of individuals and as many columns as the number of commodities).”

    I assume that this is (at this level anyway) a two dimensional array problem. Array combinations need to be examined such that every “legal” set of combinations is analysed, i.e is “tree-searched” and evaluated by a “position evalutation function”.

    Chess programs for example consist of four basic modules. First there must be an input-ouput or I/O module. This is of trivial interest for our purposes here. The guts of a chess program consist of;

    (A) A legal move generator (LMG);
    (B) A tree-search algorithm (TSA) (ideally the alphabeta tree search algorithm);
    (C) A position evaluation function (PEV).

    I refer to your statement:

    “A feasible allocation is an allocation which is technologically possible, budget feasible for each individual (affordable, given the prices and the individual’s wealth) and the aggregate is total ‘resource feasible’ (for each commodity, the sum of the individuals’ consumptions is less than or equal to the total amount available).”

    This amounts to parameters or specifications for a Legal Move Generator. Feasible allocations = Legal Moves.

    A looping alphabeta tree-search algorithm would commence, “intending” to loop through every possible combination. The Legal Move Generator problem for PE is somewhat different from the LMG issue for chess. In chess all the legal moves are known in advance before the tree-search commences. In this PE problem some or many or all legal moves may not be known until some looping computations have already been done (I am guessing here). Thus, the alphabeta tree search algorithm could be used to truncate searches which have led to an illegal position. The alphabeta tree search algorithm can also be used to truncate searches that lead into legal positions worse than an already found solution. Truncating bad searches saves computation time.

    (Note: There will be a lot of “devil in the detail” here with regard to my claims in the last three sentences above. It might or might not be possible to use the alphabeta algorithm in this manner i.e. to truncate searches to save computation time in this PE model case where the legality or illegality of the “moves” (as matrix combinations) only becomes apparent at various depths in the search).

    Your other key statement:

    “The feasible allocation A is PE for ‘the economy E’ if there does not exist a feasible allocation B such that at least one individual is ‘better off’ with the allocation B without anyone else being made ‘worse off’.”

    This amounts to the specification for the PEV (Position Evaluation Function). At the end of each interation of the full tree-search each position must be evaluated on this basis. What this would again entail in detail I cannot quite envisage as the problem is a mathematical matrix problem like chess is but its legal rule set and its goals are rather different and possibly evolve and manifest at different points in the iterated search.

    To cut a long post short, are matrix calculations of some form used along with computerised tree-searches and final position evaluations to solve these problems, at least sometimes?

  7. Footnote for Geraldine: The above was badly written and rushed.

    For example the statement “In chess all the legal moves are known in advance before the tree-search commences.” is very misleading.

    It should actually say “In chess all the legal moves for a given legal position can be derived from the legal move generator (LMG). Also, as the tree-search algorithm advances through the move-tree, each new position generated shows the same characteristic, namely that all the legal moves for that given legal position can be derived from the legal move generator (LMG)”.

    However, the PE “move-tree” or rather possibility-tree might show somewhat different characteristics. Namely that, “legal moves” (feasible allocations) might not be determinable until the algorithm has run through each hypothetical allocation until feasible allocation has been exceeded for that attempt or until the matrix has been completed generating a feasible allocation. This means the strategies for search truncations (to save computer calculations) of (a) unfeasible or (b) “worse than the already discovered” allocations (moving away from P.E.) might not be the same as for the chess (or draughts or Noughts & Crosses) alphabeta algorithm.

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