Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Boys Will Be Boys"?

No. Not all boys will attack girls when inebriated/high at parties they should not be attending.

Too many will, which is one very good reason neither boys nor girls should be attending parties where the purpose is to get drunk and have a time that somebody says is going to be "good" because it's forbidden.

Children will make mistakes. Teenagers will be teenagers. College kids will be college kids.

Elite schools, especially elite private schools do more to foster these kinds of parties and these kinds of mistakes than they should, both historically and presently.

Elite schools are evil, and elite private schools more so.

And politicians will be politicians, which is why political parties are evil. Every one of them.

I'm not in favor of banning private schools. I am in favor of using boycott-style pressure to push all the schools that attempt to be elite to give up on elitism, but I don't expect a lot of people to jump on that bandwagon. There are a lot of ironies in that campaign. And the result could easily be something worse than what we have now, where pretending to be anti-elitist becomes the new black, well, the new elitism.

I am halfway in favor of banning political parties, but I know what such laws would result in -- new organizations that call themselves not-political-parties, but fill the same purpose. They would be good for a year, maybe ten, before they would start going the same road political parties have gone. Fifty years max before they start having all the problems current political parties have.

Drastic solutions tend to have unintended consequences.

(I wish we could require everyone to study enough engineering in school to see why this is so, but the modern standard curriculum is already way overburdened.)

A couple of questions:

Are women less likely to mix power and sex?

Sure. Statistically, yes. At least, there are fewer women than men who resort to force when their advances are refused.

Are women more likely to find it difficult to defend themselves when attacked, or when someone is overly aggressive against them?

Yes. Especially with the social context we have had and now have.

That is, there are many things about our society back in the middle of last century that taught women to drop their defenses at the wrong times. Those elements of the social context had been inherited from way back. And the worst of those elements of our social context have not changed.

Unfortunately, a number of the defenses women used to have are being worn down now, by people who are more interested in their own power than in defending anyone else. But that is not the subject of my present rant.

Brett Kavanaugh. (Did I spell his name right?)

Christine Blasey Ford says he and another guy, whom she names as Mark Judge, cornered her and he tried to force his physical attentions on her. He was on top of her at one point, messing with her clothes.

Uhm, yes, the question, "Why was she there?" is an important question. Not in his defense, but in defending our young women in this present time.

Christine Blasey should not have been there. Neither should Brett Kavanaugh. Nor Mark Judge.

We cannot tell our children that raves are safe places to go -- not at any age. Not even if they are students at elite schools.

It wasn't a rave, but we really can't afford to tell them that dorm parties are particularly safe, either. Although, if they are properly chaperoned, they should be safer than raves.

Relatively safer. If properly chaperoned. Not safe.

We have to teach our children how to defend themselves from the pressure to get high.

We also have to teach our children how to defend themselves from the pressure to engage in sexual play.

(There's a connection, here.)

And we have to teach our children to find an adult who will believe them when they have been attacked, not so much to get revenge, but to help them avoid further danger.

But children go. Get drunk. Do stupid things.

I'm going to suggest that, if it turns out that Mrs. Ford's memories and her account are truthful and accurate, if it turns out that Brett Kavanaugh attacked her when he was drunk, and Mark Judge jumped on them, that Judge might have been trying to get Kavanaugh to back off because he could tell, even drunk, that she was not enjoying the attention -- that she was not participating voluntarily.

And that means I'm suggesting Miss Blasey could not tell at the time what Mr. Judge's intentions were because she was (quite rightly) too scared to stop to ask.

She says she got away, and that's what someone who has found themselves the object of sexual aggression should do.

I'm not saying that I know that Judge was defending her, I'm saying that she would not have been in a position to understand it if he were. And I'm not saying she would be at fault if she misunderstood.

Walk with me a bit longer on this.

Not enjoying the attention? Why should any woman enjoy such attention?

Does anyone you know read romance novels? There are many of those that are effective long sexual assaults against the reader. Some people, of both genders, seem to enjoy them.

How about pop music videos? Does anyone you know watch those?

There is that about our society which teaches both children and adults to expect such attentions to be enjoyed. Or to hope they will be.

There is something about our society that tries to teach us to at least make the attempt, even if the attempt is clumsy, even if we wouldn't do it when sober.

Our society still teaches young men to make passes at young women. Our society still teaches men of every age to be aggressive.

I'm not sure that teaching women to make passes at men they are interested in is a solution, even if balance would be desirable.

No, maybe we should quit trying to teach our children to be aggressive.

But we do generally teach our children who have an interest in politics, business, or management to be aggressive.

We still teach them aggression, that they should assert themselves before questioning whether they themselves are in the right.

Surely we can all understand that is what we are doing.

The next point is one a lot of people still sweep under the rug.

Aggression easily turns sexual.

Not every time, but the human animal does not naturally differentiate all forms of stress. And most people have at least a little sexual response to stress. (So much so, that I have often considered whether the response paraphrased as "Fight or Flight" shouldn't actually be paraphrased, "Fight, Flight, or Sex".)

The aggressor often sees that there is some response other than wanting to flee or resist, and may, all too easily, in the heat of pursuit, misinterpret that as interest.

This leads to social mistakes, and it leads to rape. We are effectively teaching some of our children to rape.

Making social mistakes is a necessary part of learning how to not make social mistakes. At bare minimum, you don't really understand what a social mistake is until you've made a few of your own and watched friends make a few, and seen the consequences of the mistakes.

Being drunk is one such social mistake, and so is trying too hard to be romantic. Trying too hard to be romantic when you're drunk is a really serious social mistake. All too often it ends up being indistinguishable from rape.

(Can I suggest something here? Mutual rape is still not a good thing. Much better to both be in condition to give proper mutual consent before getting physical. Hormonal duress is perhaps less reprehensible a reason than mood-altering and mind-altering substances, but if you don't like the idea when you are sober and rational, you probably shouldn't do it when you are irrational and/or not sober. If you are offended at what I'm suggesting here, sit down and think really carefully about your relationships.)

This is not to excuse attacks. But we are asking way too much of our politicians and government officials if we ask them to never have such incidents in their history.

If there were enough such men and women who were technically qualified, showed the ability to make sound judgements in the course of duty, and had no such history, yes, such would be preferred.

Looking at our present crop, it's going to be hard to find such people, no matter which party they belong to, no matter where they stand on the current hot-button issues, no matter whether you think sound judgement means being aggressively liberal on gender issues or not.

Yes. I am saying that most of the currently sitting judges, especially at the national level, and most of the members of Congress, and most of the top-level bureacrats, show the kind of quirks that I would expect of people who had gone, underage, to parties where alcohol and other mood-altering substances were beng served. Anyone who has done that is going to have a hard time claiming not to have become drunk. And anyone who has become drunk at such a party is going to have a hard time claiming never to have been inappropriately aggressive.

Near as I can tell, it's going to be a very rare politician or bureaucrat who has never been involved as an aggressor in a situation that becomes harassing, and potentially sexually harassing, especially when they were young.

I am not so concerned about what they did when they were young and trying to figure out the rules. I am concerned about what they are doing now.

I am far more concerned about the parties they currently have, where they negotiate laws, regulations, treaties and such under the influence. And too many of them currently engage in inappropriate conduct, both during and after, including forcing their attentions on people who do not want them.

There are no party lines which can isolate the problems of abuse of power.

At this point, Kavanaugh has been tried on this question without witnesses in the court of public opinion and found guilty by certain groups, innocent by others.

This is not a good thing, whether he actually did what Ford says he did or not. We can't really formally press charges and try him on this because the statute of limitations has passed, but we should be waiting to see whether further investigation brings up more recent incidents of this kind of behavior. (I've seen some things that do not look good, but I couldn't find unbiased information on it.)

There is a newer accusation, but it's still more than thirty years ago. If the accusation has any merit, if there is no exaggeration, well, that's not a good indication. But we do know about the pile-on effect. This is another place where we simply shouldn't just take the word of few individuals without witnesses.

But that is really beside the point.

What has he been doing recently? What is his record in court? He is a sitting judge, we can look at his decisions from the last year or so, or even the last ten years. Why aren't they talking about those?

(I'd like to see someone from any party provide a decent summary of his last ten years of decisions.)

The accusation that is being made the most noise over is not about what happened thirty-some-odd years ago. It's not even about the past ten years. It's about the future.

There are certain who say that, because he is being accused he must be guilty because -- since he has been accused, and he was appointed by, of all the evil people, Trump -- they can't trust him not to try to establish some balance between their brand of aggressive liberalism and the more cautious attitudes that the majority seems to currently want.

They are tangling his possible guilt in one thing up in assertions that their agenda is the only correct agenda.

That's bad logic and bad politics -- bad behavior. It's disregard for facts. And it's aggression.

I'm not sure whether the well has not been so poisoned as to undermine trust in Kavanaugh's tenure, even if he were approved.

Questions of fairness aside, where are we going to find candidates that can pass their tests?

They've shown their cavalier disregard for facts already. They have shown that they are quite willing to use any means to taint any person they perceive as an opponent. We assume that they wouldn't try to taint their own candidates, but does that mean we should trust their candidates?

(I really don't like politics that divide the polity into us and them. The vocal victims are not the only victims.)

In the meantime, with all this focus on bad behavior, let's take the opportunity to teach our children not to do things that way. Teach them not to attack each other.

Teach them to get away when attacked if they can, and to tell someone they can trust about it -- not for revenge, for protection.

And teach them that they must prepare to do what they can to clean the government up, because there will always be powermongers trying to use the law for their own agendas.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Who Says Prohibiton Was a Failure?

After a friend told me about the concept that ending prohibition wasn't just a case of the country going belly-up to the bar, I talked it over with my mother.

She told me prohibition was less a failed experiment than a sabotaged experiment. It failed because we, as a country, didn't let it succeed.

Over the course of several years, she helped me identify several groups that actively worked against it.

For a little background, we need to be aware that prohibition did not begin with the 18th amendment. War-time law during the war we call the first world war had the country diverting resources to the war effort that would otherwise have been going to the production and use of drinking alcohol.

The temperance movement used that as an opportunity to discuss a public ban on intoxicating beverages, and the general mood of the country was that of wanting release from the social ills of drinking, and the amendment passed, continuing the bans. And it worked for a couple of years before things came off the rails. The health problems and other moral problems associated with consuming alcohol were, in fact, reduced.

And then, according to the common wisdom, the country fell off the wagon. It was just too hard!

At least that's what people say.

Of course, that's not what really happened. Initially, the laws were not all that strict. The emphasis being on resources, not on moral issues, individual manufacture for private use was mostly ignored.

Did things get stricter with the passage of the 18th amendment? Not really. The amendment did not mandate punishment or define the degree of the crime in any particular case, just gave the state and national legislatures explicitly Constitutional basis for establishing criminality and punishment in a political environment that was not forgiving of such laws.

Essentially, the amendment provided the excuse for letting the war-time laws carry over after the war.

We have to understand that the experiment was not just the question of intoxication and intoxicants, but included the question of government regulation of such things.

Most of the members of the temperance movement weren't thinking about regulation, they were thinking about countering the influence of social pressure to get intoxicated. But politicians were thinking about regulation, because politicians generally find it extremely difficult to do anything about something without regulating it.

Up until the 18th amendment, beverage alcohol was considered a staple -- an essential material for ordinary life. And in many prominent social circles it was considered downright antisocial to refuse an offer of a drink. It would be kind of like refusing to shake hands in our time.

The members of the temperance movement were looking for something really strong to counter the social pressure to drink for people who didn't really care to get high, but didn't feel that refusing was an option in their world.

Initial laws were not strict about private production for personal use for several reasons, not the least of which was simply that candy making and preserving fruits involve similar processes and sometimes ended up with beverage grade alcohol as an intermediate product or by-product. Preventing or punishing individual-level production was considered effectively impossible, and rightly so.

Even after the amendment passed, punishment was focused on volume production and distribution.

Now circular logic is bad argument, but cyclic causality is a feedback loop. So my choice of which group to start with is arbitrary. But I think it will be easier to start with the moonshiners, the people who made bad liquor to fill some apparent need they saw, and the people who disributed it.

Why would they make and distribute bad liquor?

Why not? is the argument they would use.

People who wanted liquor, but didn't want to go to the trouble of making their own in secret, would get themselves in such a desparate state they would take anything, even bad liquor.

And bad liquor was cheaper to make, and easier to make in secret, than good liquor. Higher profits, in the short-sighted point of view.

Now, bad liquor doesn't just taste bad. It can make people sick, often permanently sick. It destroys internal organs much more quickly than alcoholic beverages properly made. It can make people lose their eyesight, and it can kill.

So when people started dying and going blind, bad liquor gave power mongers the excuse they thought they needed to tell everyone it was time to start cracking down -- that it would be impossible to get the desired effects of prohibition without causing people to die from bad liquor, unless they made the laws fair and strict against all production and use. ("Fair" in some sense of the word, we guess.)

Huge leaps of logic, there. Quite incorrect, as well.

Drastic social change never comes free. Part of the cost is lost jobs, lost health, and even lost lives, as the changes cause what people do every day to change. So you have to balance those costs against the cost of continuing in the status quo, and against the cost/possibility of more gradual change.

Every option has people getting sick, and becoming unable to work, and dying. Maybe you could ask which is less costly, but the real question is something more than these costs: which course is going to encourage people to take responsibility for their own actions when there is large-scale social pressure not to?

Do you know what a power monger is? These are the kind of people who not only quite satisfied to decide that they know more about what you should be doing than you do, but are quite happy to try to force you to do what they think you should do. Not just persuade, to force. Make laws. Call in the cops. Start rumors so you lose your friends, your customers, your wages, and entire means of making a living.

And when these people are politicians, they claim that in doing so they have done things. And they use the fact that they have done these things as an excuse to claim that they have done their job. And that they should be re-elected, re-appointed, and stay in their positions of power.

Now many officers have mixed feelings about laws becoming more strict. And they should. Stricter laws may give them more tools to go after the bad guys, but it also gives them more work to do -- deskwork that isn't going after the bad guys. They often get so busy dealing with how the stricter laws impact ordinary people that they don't have time to actually use those tools to try to enforce good behavior from real bad guys.

Maybe good people shouldn't be impacted by the stricter laws. But the police end up with more things to check when the laws get stricter. So they are impacted. And when the police are impacted, everyone else is impacted.

What? Regulations have a cost?

Yes. They do.

Some police, faced with enforcing more regulations than they have resources to enforce, cut corners. They leave their friends alone and focus on their political and social rivals when they go out to enforce regulations. Excessive regulation becomes their excuse to become corrupted.

Members of organized crime see this happen and take the opportunities to apply their usual pressures -- bribes and blackmail and maybe even inducements of other sorts -- for the privilege of being ignored. And the privilege of being involved with production and distribution. For privilege, they sell protection. But you already knew about that, so we don't need to go over that again.

Did the members of the temperance movement want the moonshine to happen? Did they want organized crime to get involved?

There may have been exceptions, power mongers among them, but for the most part, no.

Could the 18th amendment have been worded differently, in a way that would not have left the door open for abuses of power and involvement of organized crime?

Let's have a try at it.

Alternate history version of 18th Amendment.

Section 1

The social ills which are derived from the production, transportation, sale, and consumption of intoxicating liquors having become known, and the delays in considering such questions for the common welfare of the citizens of the United States, it is resolved to recognize that the questions of large-scale production, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors for beverage use are within the purvue of the Constitutional authority of Congress and of the legislatures of the several states.

And that's it. Improtation and exportation between states becomes covered, because the States already have the authority to make laws for the common welfare.

How does this differ from what the 18th Amendment provides?

The meaning we, in our modern frame, get from this alternate history version is, as I understand it, what the members of the temperance movement were seeking, and what many thought they thought they were getting.

Many others used the 18th Amendment for other purposes.

How, you ask, does this leave us with a different result from the wording of the 21st Amendment?

Both amendments are on line. Read them carefully. Then read the alternate history version above. I think you'll see that I'm talking about.

(There's an engineering principle: It's always best to try to avoid fixing things that ain't broke, even when they ain't ideal.

And another engineering principle: It's best to keep the centralized control functionality away from individual functions at the local level, as much as possible. If it's at all possible to adequately handle things at the most local level, that's where they should be handled. There are exceptions, but as soon as the exceptional cases have been handled reasonably well, the central control functions should return control to the local functions.

Getting the central control functions involved greatly increases the possibility and the negative impact of bugs and other errors.)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Cleaning Up the US Code Line-by-Line

I want an amendment that allows the president to veto with prejudice -- declare a bill from Congress so badly constructed that they'll have to get the Supreme Court to declare his opinion of the legal problems incorrect, and then try to get the two-thirds margin vote to pass it.

That, of course, won't really work. Therefore, we need to explicitly give the president the line-item veto. Yes, it would hamstring Congress. That's the point. Make the whole Congress, and the president, carefully review every law that gets passed on the national level.

(This is a pet peeve of mine, I guess.)

Too much of our law doesn't say what it is supposed to say.

And too many bills are a patchwork of laws that may (or may not) actually be necessary and laws that benefit no one but special interest groups, at the detriment of the rest of US. The spaghetti law that results makes it impossible for an ordinary citizen to do anything, bad or good, without tripping over the law.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Knee Jerk Gun Control?

I guess I'm getting cantankerous in my old age. I want to solve the real problems, not just the symptoms.

And the spate of "Oh! NO! WE MUST HAVE GUN CONTROL!" posts, articles, letters to the editor, and on and on gets to me.

What has changed?

What will change if we enact gun control legislation? Seriously.

Some kids somewhere whose parents want them to get an early start in flash-mob politics say, "Let's walk out of school! Yeah! That'll fix the problem!"

Actually, it might. Schools are a part of the system that heats the pot that boils over in violence.

(I've got nothing against Armalite shutting down production of the AR-16, by the way, and I have nothing against lots of people asking them to do so. But the guns are not the real source of the problem, they just exarcerbate the problems.)

I was gratified that there were students responding with, "Let's make a real change. Instead of walking out of school, let's remember 17 children who were victims of violence by reaching out to 17 children who need a friend."

That's a better approach.

Remember the 17 children sacrificed to the violent society by reaching out to 17 children who need a friend. Or even just one, if you and all your friends will pick different children to reach out to.

Make new friends. Don't ask them to be the same as you. Don't ask them to play the same games, go to the same parties, were the same clothes, listen to the same songs, put the same posters on their bedroom walls.

Talk to them anyway. Maybe listen to a song they like. Maybe tell them their clothes are just fine. Maybe play their games sometimes.

Remember the victims of violence by reaching out to 17 teenagers who aren't figuring out how to make good enough grades to get into college. Offer to help even one student who's having a problem with a subject you know.

But don't be too proud to make sure your help doesn't just confuse them. It's okay to discover that different schools and different generations sometimes teach to different standards.

Remember the victims of violence by reaching out to 17 adults who are having trouble finding work they can do to support themselves, and any children who depend on them. Talk to the homeless, the unemployed, the hungry, and listen.

Even just one.

If you run a business and make over $100,000 a year, you can forego that new yacht you want to buy, to hire one more employee. Or you might have a friend who knows a friend that could use an employee.

Maybe you have a friend who is good at paiting pictures but not so good at sacking groceries. You could buy one of her pictures and she could put food on the table for a week or a month. And you could get your friends to help, too. The more she sells, the more people know of her work, and the more people can reach out to help her.

Or if you can't find anyone nearby who needs help, go to the crowd-sourcing sites and help fund a project that isn't making it yet.

You don't want people to convert to a radical religion or other philosophy that teaches them to react to hidden oppression with open violence? Those philosophies and religions aren't new. Been around for a long time. What's the problem?

This current society has more people who face problems they can't solve on their own.

So. Reach out.

Find the people who need help. Don't make them be just like you before you help them.

Help them find solutions before the purveyors of crime and violence find them.

That's how to put a real end to the violence.

Burying your own weapons of war is okay.

Forcing others to bury theirs and at the same time refusing to help them feed their families is not.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Lessons of Natural Disasters

The Houston area was hit hard by nature recently, but the people of Houston and people with large hearts around the country have responded. The damage is severe, but there is bright hope in the spirit of cooperation evidenced, if we will just keep it in our hearts.

Puerto Rico is not as fortunate by any means. Even if we were all as aware of Puerto Rico as we are of Houston, we can't just pool resources with friends, churches, and whoever and pack up big trucks and buses and get down there to help. Even if we could, the infrastructure to move people and materials once they get there was not in good shape to begin with, and has now been severely damaged -- almost destroyed -- by two storms. The help can't get where it is needed, and people are suffering and dying while they wait for help.

We can blame the people of Puerto Rico, but that doesn't end their suffering. And I hope that is not where we stop thinking.

There is talk of it taking more than 30 billion dollars to just rebuild.

We have 10 US citizens whose personal worth is well over that. If the 400 richest people in America each gave 1.1% of their personal wealth, Puerto Rico could, theoretically, have it covered.

But Puerto Rico was in trouble before the storms. (I ranted a little bit about that here, on the debt, and here, on fixing their debt.)

Fixing their infrastructure and getting them food and supplies is not going to solve the underlying problems.

Puerto Rico is a microcosm of the essential problems first-world countries face around the world and at home. How can we expect the less well-off to be happy (and peaceful) wearing out their lives in sweatshops that manufacture the goods that we buy (with borrowed money) and so blithely throw away?

They need investment from people and institutions who won't be waiting to exact their pound of blood exactly one year or ten from now.

Why would investors be willing to take a loss in Puerto Rico or any particular rust belt town in the US, or any failing community anywhere around the world?

Imagine what would have happened had the country and the world just abandoned New York after 9/11.

Imagine what would happen were we to all just let the people of Houston fend for themselves.

What happens without all the the small towns that are struggling not to disappear? The big cities and small territories and countries? Where does the market go when it disappears?

Isn't this obvious?

This is what refraining from loss investment means:

No market. No sales.

That cash flow from which the rich milk their excessive profits dries up and blows away like the smoke it is.

(Have you ever wondered why those whose ledgers show vast personal worth never seem to have enough money? There's a big clue here. There are a few small items missing on most of those ledger sheets -- abstract items, maybe, but no less essential.)

So, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, what does your warm-fuzzies pledge mean for the people of Puerto Rico? Will you turn away, just because you can't figure out how to recapture the value you would have to give away?

Jeff Bezos, can your rockets move needed fuel, food, infrastructure, raw materials, etc. to Puerto Rico?

Mark Zuckerberg, can a woman in Juncos use her Facebook page to tell her friends or relatives on the mainland she's alive but still without electricity or clean water?

Larry Ellison, your databases might help track the supplies being sent to Puerto, but who takes them the last mile?

[edit 201710021016: I felt an imbalance in the force. Someone complained that I had left Trump out of this list.

Skipping, but not ignoring, a lot of people in the list, Donald Trump, what substantial help can you give?


What good is all that paper worth if you can't use it to help hold this world together for a meaningful context for next year's bottom line?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Can We All Calm Down before We All Fall Down?

Trump is a loose cannon. He could have been more polite, and he could have waited until we had calmed down a bit, but we won't let him.

We want the magic words of healing, and we want them now.

There are no magic words of healing.

Trump is doing his best to tell us so.

His best seems to be woefully short.

But he is limited by the chacter count of the tweet.

Are you still trying to use the tweet to communicate? The tweet should be only used as an invitation to talk.

If you fail to listen after you tweet, you are not communicating.

If you fail to think about what the other guy is saying, especially, to think about the words you don't like and don't want to hear, you are not communicating.

Lack of communication leads to war.

(And that's a nice tweet isn't it? :-/)

Let's think about it.

Lack of communication comes in two forms -- silence and argument.

Silence is cold war. Argument is hot war.

How did we break the Berlin Wall down?

Communication. Listening. Both sides compromising a little at a time.

War broke out in Charlottesville.


There are people who get offended to discover that the US of A has a history of slavery. Perhaps they think that erasing the reminders of that history will somehow magically erase the evils of modern slavery.

It won't.

Lee had flaws, but he was a good man.

Malcolm X was another man who had flaws, but was a good man.

I wonder. Would it help to put up a statue of Malcom X next to the statue of Lee?

Maybe not a good idea today, anyway. Let's think about it again tomorow, when we aren't quite so excited and offended.

We need to talk about these kinds of things.

Not tweet.


Otherwise, what we are doing is no better than what Trump is doing.

Monday, July 17, 2017

FinCEn/FBAR -- Systems Always Get Fouled up Beyond All Recognition

How can we even attempt to untangle the bureaucratic mess that gives us FinKEn FinCEn and FuBAR FBAR?

(That's Fin-ancial C-rimes En-forcement and Foreign Bank Account Reports. You can't make this kind of thing up. The government wants to enforce financial crimes, I guess -- make everyone a financial criminal. Maybe someone involved in setting these agencies up understood the legal and factual ironies and was trying to tell us something.)

(Now I'll take a deep breath so I can try to say something reasonable here.)

I understand that the US government, if it is to pursue the course of fighting against terrorism, must be able to track every bank account in the world, so it has to start by tracking foreign bank accounts of US nationals. I am not going to argue (much) against the war against war terrorism here. I've already done that elsewhere and will probably do it again elsewhere.

I'm just going to tell you about this FBAR thing.

The way the reports are set up, it has already inspired four rants on three different occasions.
  1. The first time I read the law and realized that it was virtually impossible for a US to live outside the United States for any extended time without becoming obligated to report every foreign bank account held.
  2. Later, in June of that year, hurrying in a panic to try to submit the required report before the deadline so I wouldn't potentially make myself subject to a fine more than five times my total financial worth at the time, fighting against impossible reporting procedures
  3. Later, that September, when I took one last stab at trying to get my tax reports straightened out for that year so I could be "legal" again.
I've tried to straighten things out several times since then. This year, I got a response to my e-mail request for help, but not a very good one. Quite literally, all they had to say was
Try Internet Explorer!
I don't do MSWindows. Not in my house.

At work, where the company takes responsibility for the potential damage, sure. Not at home.

I don't even own any machines capable of running any version of MSWindows safely. (And I'm really, really poor right now. Trying to get a start at writing novels for a living took concentration, and now I've literally run out of money.)

Bureaucracy is a necessary evil, even in a free country. I'll grant that.

When I was in college working on my BS in Computer Science at BYU, I took a class called Computers and Ethics (or some such). We discussed a variety of possibilities, including the concept that computers would be used for universal surveillance. I don't think we properly picked up the topic of an effective universal internetworking network, but very few people recognized the meaning of the nascent internet (lowecase "i") back thing.

The one thing I was worried about, I don't believe I was able to properly express during that course.

Computers make it easy to build systems.

System Science, even then, had one prominent axiom:
There is no such thing as a correct system.
Some said two axioms, but the second is actually a restatement of the first:
There is no such thing as a secure system.
This axiom has not been entirely proven, but it shows no signs of being disproven. There is a field of computer sciences that deals with problems that may be too hard for mortals to ever solve, and the problem of building a correct system is among those that would be in the too-hard-to-solve group.

You can, with effort, build a system that is reasonably correct for some contexts, but not for all. And not perfectly correct.

And the longer the system is in use, the more likely it is that someone will attempt to apply it outside the contexts in which it is even reasonably correct.

Looking at the question from another point of view, it is really, really difficult to describe the contexts in which a particular system should operate, much less define what correct operation means.

But computers make it really, really easy to create systems. Not to build correct systems, neither to prove an existing system either correct or not. But easy to create systems.

A long time ago, when electronic calculators were beginning to become popular, the idea that our tendency to trust machines would betray us relative to computers was tested by psychologists using mis-programmed calculators. Sure enough, most people would trust a calculator rather than their own calculations, even after several re-checks.

(I relate that to the ancient proscription against idolatry, but that can be easily misunderstood, and it historically has been misunderstood. We weren't proscribed from building models, we were proscribed from worshiping them -- from depending too much on them or believing them too much.)

What does this have to do with financial law?

Laws have something inherently in common with computer programs:

A body of laws defines a group of systems.

Fifty years ago, we were familiar with this fact, and we knew that this fact was the reason we should not make too many laws. We understood, intuitively, perhaps, that this principle was one of the foundation principles of reference in designing and operating a government that attempted to recognize the freedom (and sovereignty) of the individual, and to work with that freedom instead of fighting it.

We have forgotten.

We have forgotten that systems are inherently fallible.

We have forgotten the connection between laws and system science.

We have forgotten that laws are therefore fallible.

From 1984 to Animal House, from The Metropolis to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to The Hunger Games, we've been warned. We have this huge body of prophecy we call literature.

But we have managed to convince ourselves, beyond the evidence that is all around us, that computers can somehow make up the difference, and make bad law good.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

So said the preacher, and it's true. We are vain. We are willing to insist on our being right and demand that others use computers to fill in the gaps we create.

anyway, No. The federal government cannot be trusted with the information that is the ownership of every bank account we have, foreign or not. It's just too big, and the siren call that is The System is too seductive.

And that is why, not just the FBAR is all FUBAR, but the entire body of tax law is, too.

Taxes on individuals should have been kept at state or lower level.