An icon for Unruled

Blogger now allows uploading of images. I am trying to use it to add a favicon to this blog. A favicon is one of the cute little pictures you see in your browser next to a webpage's name or address.

Here's mine:

Update: it worked. Unfortunately it appears the file I uploaded (a png) got automatically jpegged, and the parameters used were not favorable. Hence the non-smooth background. Have to fix that.

An Environmentalist Exchange

There's an interesting exchange between environmentalists Bjorn Lomborg (author of The Skeptical Environmentalist), and Carl Pope (executive director of the Sierra Club), on environmentalism. Lomborg argues for realism and prioritization. Pope resists both, but can't help but acknowledge some of Lomborg's points, responding quite lamely to perhaps the most important one:
[Lomborg:] You return to the 1,300 scientists and their report on the world’s ecosystems. What their results show is that when people are starving, lacking clean drinking water, getting poisoned from indoor air pollution, and dying from easily curable communicable diseases, they let the environment get ravaged, too. Your solution is to deal with the environment first. But shouldn’t we, morally and practically, help them gain wealth first, so they can take care of the environment too?

[Sand:]Bad human decisions, not inescapable reality, make the environment appear to be a “trade–off” with prosperity.
It's a bad human decision to be born in a poor country!


Good times for the scifi fan. Galactica is backtica, and it is good. Not too much to say about it; obviously trying times for Colonel Tigh but beyond that, things are rather slow. One thing that does bug me is they've cut back on the intro/theme, that was formerly so evocative. Pity.

The big scifi news for me: Firefly. I'd heard good things about this show, and I like Joss Whedon, so, I've had a "firefly" item set to record on the Replay for over a year now. It's playing now, and to judge by a single hour (half of a two hour episode) seen, it is tremendous. I've just seen "Serenity" (half of).

Galactica is good, but it is still TV aimed at the average viewer, or at least, average scifi fan. Which is to say, that it's easily graspable with a single viewing. I've rarely rewatched any BSG episode, and never more than twice. Firefly is... well, let me put it this way. I watched this episode five times, skipping some 30 second chunks in later viewings, but still mostly five times. I "got" it on the first time, in terms of what happened. One time was deeply satisfying. But there was so much there.

I've posted exemplars of how particular other scifi series hooked me: a smart scene, good dialog will do that. For Farscape, the scene about enslaving horses. For BSG, the cancer diagnosis scene. Well, "Serenity" had that scene for me two minutes in. Malcolm (Our Hero) has been abandoned, and ordered to surrender. He watches as the enemy Alliance forces land in the valley he's been fighting to hold for weeks. It was all for nothing. He stares in shock and disbelief at the huge Alliance ships landing. The noise of the battle fades as all he knows is the end: of his army, of his cause, of his faith. The man watching next to him is shot dead. (Classic Joss.) Fade scene, and we see him again, "six years later", in a spacesuit, upside down. Symbolism! Yes, the world has been turned upside down for poor Mal.

But that's just the first scene that grabbed me. I could go on; five, maybe ten. Wow. Here's a review from one C. A. Bridges that meets my approval.
a veteran of the losing side of a galactic civil war must find a way to survive on his own terms under the government's radar. With a small, quirky crew and a small, quirky ship, Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes on whatever job, legal or otherwise, that he can get.


You won't feel stupider afterward.

Regular television consumption will leave you with the inescapable conclusion that everyone in the world is a moron. People say stupid things, make stupid assumptions, and consistently fail to see obvious solutions because then the show would end 52 minutes too soon. You can actually feel your brain freezing up from vapor lock

The folks in "Firefly," good and bad alike, tend to do the same things you usually scream at television people to do, before you think to scream them, except when they're doing something even better. As it turns out that doesn't always help, but at least then you've got no one to blame but yourself.


You may notice I've said little about the characters. I haven't mentioned Mal's frightening pragmatism, Zoe's loyalty, Wash's sense of humor, Kaylee's sunny nature, Jayne's cheerful violence, Book's wisdom, Inara's sensuality, Simon's sacrifice, or River's peculiarities, and that's because trying to label any of them with a single description is useless. You really should meet them yourself.

So, now's your chance. See the shows as they were meant to be seen -- in order (!), with the three unaired episodes -- and enjoy a truly great science-fiction show.
I'll be watching. Bonus: libertarian applicability!

Coerced Testimony

I post a lot at Unqualified Offerings. A reader over there asked the following question, which I think I'll address:
[me:]In anarchy, some agencies will, and some won’t, have laws allowing compelled testimony. This strikes me as the best possible solution.
How is that supposed to work? If you don’t want to testify, I can shop around for an “agency” that will lock you up until you do? Hey, maybe if I pay them enough they’ll even torture you.
Rules of evidence have to constrain third parties. You can’t create an Autonomy Zone around yourself and demand that nobody make you a witness to anything without your consent. And without testimony (not necessarily compelled testimony), nobody knows who’s committing “aggression or initiation of coercion” and who’s not.

First things first: the standard disclaimer about anarchy. Anarchy is a system that is defined by what there isn't -- a state -- not by some specification of the society that will result. Thus, any notion I propound, although it's probably a good guess, is just that: a guess. Anarchy is what anarchy does, and I may be wrong.

OK, so how does it work? Well, first let's posit that coerced testimony is useful from the POV of achieving high-quality justice. (If it isn't, then there won't be much coerced testimony in anarchy, because the market won't produce many worthless services.) Given that it is helpful, then I think most people would agree to allow themselves to be coerced in order to be member of an agency that coerces. Of course, this is not coercion in its bad sense, since it is agreed to. It's just a contract, where the party agrees to testify freely and truthfully, with coercive sanctions if he fails to do so.

So most people will end up being governed by an agency which has coercive testimony, at least for internal disputes (between two customers). It is very likely that the agencies will extend that to disputes between customers of different agencies (which both allow coercion), since the same utility applies.

What of the minority that doesn't want to be forced to testify? If there are enough of them, and/or they have enough wealth, they can set up their own agency. Perhaps the rules will allow coercion within, but not without. Or perhaps no coercion at all. In either case, there is a mismatch with outside agencies.

Now, it might happen that in any given dispute, a person who can't be forced may agree to testify anyway. But of course, that doesn't solve all disputes.

In others, a person (let's call him Joe) will refuse to testify (and his agency will back him), and a foreign agency will want him to testify.

The first thing to point out here is that if the second agency is libertarian, it will not coerce Joe because to do so would violate his rights. But remember that this is not a libertarian minarchy, it is anarchy. The agency is not limited by libertarian ideas, and may threaten to coerce in spite of it being aggression. So what next? It threatens to coerce, and the second agency will defend its client. This turns into the standard agency conflict scenario. I've discussed it long ago (here), so read that.

The upshot of agency conflict is, typically, that they can foresee it, and if it is likely at all, they'll have negotiated it out long ago. War is incredibly costly, and bad for business; a last resort. In a case like this one, where a minority wants something that is reasonable, the likely outcome is the minority agency pays the other agencies, and they agree to apply the minority rule in conflicts. Thus, Joe ends up paying more to his agency (so it can pay others), but his right to not testify is upheld.

Or, it may be that the right not to testify is sufficiently unpopular that the equilibrium ends up with the minority being bent to the will of the majority. Joe will have to testify. But note that in this case, it's likely that his right is "bought out" by the agencies that want it. Also note that Joe still doesn't have to testify against other customers of agencies which don't coerce. This may seem a small thing, but it would allow a minority to effectively achieve their goals, at the cost of cutting themselves off from the majority (so that conflicts don't happen).

So, getting back the my interlocutor's questions. Yes, you might be able to shop for a venue to force Joe to testify, or you might not. Depends. Either way, I don't see a huge problem.

There is nothing in anarchy that defines there as being no official torture. However, I predict there won't be any, because it is not very productive and it is anathema to all decent people. The tiny minority who would want it is like the minority that want to murder freely. If they did start and agency that allowed it, all the other agencies would band together and annihilate them.

As for an "autonomy zone", well, that's exactly what you can do. Judith Miller is doing it. Anyone can. Because you control your tongue. I see no reason whatsoever that any agreement between third parties constrains me. If they want my agreement, let them negotiate with me (or my proxy).