Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cause of depressions in a nutshell

From an e-mail exchange with my cousin-in-law:
What if Bernanke would write, from time to time, checks of fiat money to Honda dealers to buy some Honda cars and keep them in some FED garage? That would drive Honda prices up. But would the increased price of Hondas represent the increased demand of American public for Hondas? Surely not.

But to investors it would look this way (and not because they are stupid, but because that's how things normally happen — investors look for signs of companies doing better on the market, and usually, when the government does not intervene, they are correct), and they would invest extra money in Honda. So, Honda would expand its operations, hire more workers, buy more machinery, produce more cars, and then... American public would not buy all those extra cars. Not because they are evil or don't have money to spend, but because their interest in Hondas does not match the increased price and supply of Honda cars.

So, Honda would have to go bankrupt, or at least sell off its assets. The painful, but inevitable bust phase of the cycle would start.

Except in the case of artificially manipulating the price of money (the interest rate), it's the economy on the whole that's being misrepresented. And, following the above example, what Bernanke is doing now, is buying some more Honda cars, because Honda is supposedly "too big to fail" and that by buying them, he will somehow help the crisis.
The above argument was taken from various talks and articles by Mises Institute's Robert P. Murphy.

Monday, January 30, 2012

How can the government be criminal?

Some people seem to ask this question, meaning to say: "Criminal means illegal. The government determines what is legal and what is not. Therefore, how can the government be criminal?"

Imagine the following scenario: A large ship goes on the shoals near a deserted island. The passengers safely escape and set up a small community on the island. Because most passengers are middle-aged Americans from Texas with strong sense of property rights, they don't really need a "government". Each passenger homesteads a piece of land on the island, builds a house, and harvests whatever local produce happens to be on his piece of land. Those close to the ocean catch fish. Those close to the mountains mine salt. Those close to the forest collect coconuts. Then these people trade with each other.

Now, imagine that among these people there is one person from California. He believes that because he made a mistake of homesteading a piece of land on the swamp, he is unlucky, and he deserves better. After a bit of thinking, he comes up with a scheme of how to become richer. He comes to the coconut guy, the fish guy, and the salt guy and tells them: "Each of you will pay me some of your produce, and I will protect you from your neighbors." Well, the peaceful Texans tell this guy to go jump in his swamp. They don't need protection.

Then, the next night, a coconut tree belonging to one of the islanders is set on fire. The next morning, the swamp dude comes back and says: "See, you do need protection after all, don't you?" From his demeanor and some other evidence (let's say, some shoe tracks under the burnt-down coconut tree), it is clear that it was this guy who set the tree on fire.

Now, would you say that his behavior is criminal or not? Do you need a government on the island to figure out whether this guy is acting immorally and violating other people's rights, or can you figure it out by yourself?

I think most people would conclude from answering these two questions that indeed you do not need a government to figure out which behavior is criminal and which is not.

Next scenario: imagine that the people were not from Texas, but from New York or Boston. Therefore, they were convinced by the Californian that he needs to be their guard. But after a while, the Californian decided that he can interfere in their private lives (for instance, he tried to tell them how to raise their children). Or he raised the price of his "service". Or he tried to regulate the trade that they do with each other. Then, even the New Yorkers and the Bostonians told this guy that they don't like what he is doing and they are not going to comply with his "laws".

And the story repeated itself. The guy came to the coconut harvester and burnt down some of his trees.

Would you now say that the Californian's behavior was immoral? Has anything changed between the first scenario (when the guy was not hired as a guard) and the second one (when he was)? Did the fact that he was hired as a guard give him permission to use force in any way except to protect his clients from attack by their neighbors? If he used the weapons that he was provided with in order to do his job as a way to increase his personal benefits and power, is he not a criminal despite being the "government" of the island?

In our everyday lives, today, our government is the Californian from my example. It is a criminal organization that violates people's rights,  uses force in an immoral way, and is no better than a mafia bully. There is no sacred reason why people should obey the laws that the government creates. And I honestly believe that even covers the Dina D'Malchusa Dina (more about that later).

* * *

By the way, you can also say that the government's actions are illegal. For example, there is no law that says that citizens have to pay income tax, i.e., file the 1040 form. The filing is a case of "voluntary cooperation". The Supreme Court has determined that the government has no right to enforce income tax payment.

Even though lower courts said the opposite, they did so in opposition to the Supreme Court. Thus, their actions are not only immoral, but also illegal and unconstitutional. The reason they feel they can do it is most citizens don't have money, knowledge, or connections to bring their cases to the Supreme Court. In those instances when the citizens did bring their cases all the way up, the Supreme Court ruled every time that enforcement of income tax is unconstitutional.

Furthermore, in the IRS code, income is defined not as "wages" but as corporate profit.

So, the government has no legal basis for arresting people and seizing their property for non-payment of income tax. Yet, the government (and IRS) officials, the police, and the lower courts do that. How would you classify their actions if not "criminal"?

Critique of "benign democracy"

Mon nombril me démange.
— Napoléon Bonaparte

[a re-post]

Question of the day: Most people in the West nowadays would object to the concept of a "benign tyrant"; so, why don't they object to the "benign tyranny" of a democratic government?

To explain:

Oftentimes, I hear from different people that they believe in the necessity of the government stronger than a minimal one — i.e., one that does more than just protect safety of our lives and property, locally and nationally — because they believe in something that needs to be done (charity, public education or medicine, liberating people from tyrants, checking for safety of food and drugs, prayer in school, etc.). As my mother-in-law put it another day, "I am a moral person, and I believe that some things are right, and some things are wrong, and I believe in supporting those things that are right."

Interestingly, these people can be either conservatives or liberals. Obviously, their views of what's "right" and must be done by the government are different, but they believe that they must have a strong government, because they believe in X and they want the government to do X.

Here is why I believe that these people are wrong.

[Before I explain what I mean, let me state that I take it self-evident that the government that governs least governs best and that any application of law is violence and therefore must be done minimally, only when there is no alternative to the government using the force. I.e., I am not going to justify in this post the basic tenets of libertarianism. I am only going to explain why the people who wish for a strong democracy that would enforce these people's pet peeves are logically wrong.]

Most people in the Western society today would rather live in a democratic state, in which the government doesn't do all one wants it to do rather than live under a tyranny. For instance, imagine one is in favor of gay marriage. Or, one is against abortion. And the democratically elected government in one's state (or country) bans gay marriage and supports abortion. Well, I assume most people would rather live under democracy that does these things despite their will than live under a tyranny that would acquiesce to their wishes in these two areas.

So, for the same reason, I would rather live in a free society (with limited, or, better yet, decentralized government) even though not everyone would do in it what I would want them to do ideally (for instance, some rich people would not give charity).

Furthermore, the above argument — I believe in a strong government, because I believe in X, and I want the government to uphold X — can be extended to a tyranny too: a tyrant who would uphold X would be more effective. But you don't want to live under a tyranny, right? You'd rather take X-less democracy, because you believe it to be the lesser of two evils. Well, I'd rather take X-less free society, free of a strong (even democratic) government.

Otherwise, what you're getting with a democracy is a slightly more benign tyranny — and slightly more benign because for the most part, in terms of legislative process, it is less efficient — that sometimes takes your point of view.

Last point. If one lives in a democracy that bans gay marriage, but one is a supporter of the gay marriage, as I mentioned before, one does not say: "Let us institute a tyrant that will support gay marriage." One says: "I will continue living under a democracy, but I will lobby for gay marriage to be allowed." In other words, he will try to convince as many people as possible to agree with his point of view.

Well, what prevents one doing so in a free society? Let's say, one believes that rich people are not giving enough charity. Well, why, instead of making a tyrant out of the government and getting it to take money from the rich people by force, he won't try to "lobby" the rich people? Try to convince them personally to give more charity. Try to convince their customers to "lobby" them or not buy their products if the rich people won't give more charity. Etc.

Remember: the connection between the vox populi and the response of the entrepreneurs is always much tighter than the connection between the will of the people and the response of the bureaucrats and politicians.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stepping stones

One of the things that immediately attracted me to go was its visual beauty. Some pictures from Flickr:

"Driving is not a right; it's a privilege"

That's the statist propaganda they always tell you. That's what the "law says". So, a law can take away someone's right to use his private property in public space. Hello, Mr. Jefferson.

(Not that people should not be able to restrict someone else's rights in self-defense. That's a different story. Pay attention, as one local Israeli chossid says.)

Another thing: apparently, in Massachusetts, a driver no longer has a right of way. The other driver has responsibility to yield. We don't really have rights. We have responsibilities to society. (Sounds like Santorum, I know.)

It's incredible how America is slowly becoming a fascist state, and both liberals and conservatives are not only clueless, but are actually cheering on.

Final item in our collection. If a police officer demands a Breathalyzer test, and you refuse, you will be taken to prison. Then, if you're given a test there, and you pass, you still get your license suspended for 180 days. If you ask a statist "why", he or she answers: "Because why would you refuse the test if you weren't over the limit?" How about because I don't want an invasion of my property (my body) without a due cause (without clear evidence that I am invading other people's property)?

Imagine the following logic: A police officer stops you and demands a cavity search. You refuse. He takes you to police station, where you get searched. They find nothing. You get your license suspended for 180 days. Why? Well, why would you refuse a cavity search?

When a liberal person tells me that she hates being frisked by TSA in airports, I have no sympathy. You voted for a government that takes some of our liberties away, and the Republicans voted for a government that takes some others. You guys can bicker which liberties should be taken away in the name of "society", while I will continue to say that we need to go to the basics: upholding human rights to their property, to themselves, and to their lives and freedom.

The government can "step in" and use violence (in a form of law) only when someone clearly violates someone else's property rights. Otherwise, it's a tyrannical government that attempts to enslave the populace.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Seki is a situation in go when two groups have locked each other in a stalemate. I.e., normally, by the end of the game, a group is either alive (because it has two eyes) or dead (because it does not have two eyes and is surrounded by another group). In seki, if the Black moves in a given part of the board, he loses his group. And the same goes for the White. So, neither of the players can move locally. Liberties surrounded by stones in seki are not counted (according to the Japanese rules).

This is an example of a double-seki (on the left top corner and on the left-middle):

As you can see, if the White moves within the seki (e.g., at D17), its group gets captured (by Black E15). The same goes for the Black (D17 leads to White B17). And the same is true for the other two groups (playing at C11 by either Black or White leads to an immediate capture).

In fact, it’s also true for the White’s "inside" group and the Black’s group around it (White can threaten to capture the Black’s "middle" group by playing at E15, but then it gets captured at D17). So, this can be called triple-seki!

It's a typical situation in these typical times

Meanwhile, a screen-shot from MA online defensive driving course:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Go Seigen vs. Kitani Minoru

Go Seigen and Kitani Minoru are two of the greatest go players of the 20th century. Both were great innovators in the game. Go Seigen (born in China) is considered one of the biggest geniuses in Go since the game's importation to Japan from China. Kitani Minoru, in addition to being a famous Go player himself, is also well known for his dojo, in which many great masters of go were taught as his students.

As Wikipedia states:
In 1933, along with his great friend Kitani Minoru, Go Seigen developed and popularized the shin fuseki ["new opening" theory] that broke away from the traditional opening patterns. It is for this very important contribution that Go Seigen and Kitani Minoru are recognized as the fathers of modern Go.
This happened during a series of matches between the two great players. The games of the match are described in detail in a very good book by John Fairbarn, Kamakura (named after the temple in which the match series happened). The author describes both the games themselves, with deep but accessible analysis, and the historical background surrounding each game. You can read the few excerpts from the book here.

An episode from the movie about Go Seigen, The Master of Go, that shows the first of the matches:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sad stone

A very interesting thread on the Life in 19x19 forum. It's a game which two people play publicly, at the same time commenting on their thought process and receiving comments (but not suggestions, I assume) from others. (I am guessing the opponents cannot read each other's comments, or choose not to, since the comments are "hidden".)

I found this comment funny:
If you listen carefully, you can hear :b17: sobbing.

In addition to not helping the corner much and begging to be sealed in, it damages the two-space extension on the outside.
Go Diagram

Anyway, I recommend looking at these these so-called Malkovitch games (after the movie Being John Malkovitch, in which the main character gets to enter the actor John Malkovitch's mind.) Not only are they entertaining, but also quite instructive.

As a bonus, an interesting part from Hikaru no Go (unfortunately, the embedding still doesn't work properly):

Friday, January 20, 2012

Trying new things

A good sense that go players acquire is in how to balance trying out new things and relying on already known concepts and techniques.

For instance, if you're not sure how to invade that corner, maybe choose the safer option of settling on the side. And in general, don't create over-complicated situations that require reading beyond your skills (I noticed recently that I tend to do that); instead, play solidly.

On the other hand, if you don't try new things, you will get stuck on your current level.

The way I tend to resolve this dilemma is by learning a new concept in a book, trying to see how it is applied by pro players in their games, doing some related go problems, and then, when I feel confident I understand (at least in theory) the concept, I try to apply it in my games. Usually failing the first few times...

Anyway, what lead me to thinking about all of the above? This cartoon:

Good shape

Speaking of corner invasions, interesting post.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gold prices and CPI

Parking habits

Last night, at the go club, one of the stronger players explained to my wife another reason why one of the names for go is "hand-talk". When he was in Japan a few times, he had a few opportunities to play with some Japanese players at go clubs. Without speaking a word of Japanese, he was able to guess their personalities from the style of their play. Some were timid, some were aggressive, some were balanced, some were conservative, some were experimental, etc.

An excerpt from a book on go:

Rebel without a cause

Being a rebel (I sometimes park my car at the wrong side of the street) I would like to start off with black 1. It's not much of a move but from one thing you can be assured, your opponent will be surprised and suspect that you are either
1.      Totally insane and do not know anything about go
2.      A very crafty fellow with a profound knowledge of hamete

Good for Black

This is one of the few variations which is nice for black, unfortunately there are lots of sequences excellent for white. In this case white 7 is not the proper move.

Better for White

White should play white 7 at 1 in this diagram.
This may look as a nice result for black but pros think white is thick and doing better here.

[ad kan]

I have to say, though, that while I like parking on the wrong side of the street (as my parking-ticket history shows), I prefer more conservative game style. On the other hand, my wife says I like to get in fights (on the board). Maybe that happens only when I am playing with her?.. 

Go is a family game

Enjoying a go game on my new go board with my new go stones with my (same) wife. We were playing at Sharon Go Club, at Walpole Mall's Barnes and Noble. My wife took nine stones.

(sorry for picture quality; taken with my old phone's camera)

Close to the end of the game:

My wife won by 4.5 points. Go wife!

Speaking of the new stones, I am getting used to the feel of single-convex stones. Although they do not produce the same "click" as the double-convex stones do (at least in my hands and on cheaper shin-kaya boards), their sound is deeper and somehow richer (one must learn not to slam them on the board as one does with the double-convex stones, but release them off one's finger nail in a double movement). When one puts them down, one gets a satisfying feeling of "completeness" as they snap onto the board without wobbling. Placing these stones on the board is less aggressive, but more precise and elegant. People have said that to them these stones look too flat and lifeless, but to me, they look somehow more secure and hugging the board.

All this discussion about the feel and look of the stones may seem superficial (and it is), but Go is called the game of "hand-talk" not without a reason. This is one of the many examples when a good medium facilitates the flow and expression of thought.

During the game analysis we did make use of the stones' single-convex feature by placing them on the opposite sides to mark the variation moves.

Anyway, to each his own, of course. I am considering ordering yunzi double-convex stones from Yellow Mountain Imports in the future.

Speaking of Yunzi stones, one has to make sure to wash and oil them in order to enjoy their texture and look fully. More than complete instructions here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ladders, ladders

My new go stones and board. Picture taken with my old phone (sorry for the quality). This was not a serious game. More like a midnight snack.

How many ladders can you find in this picture?

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Hand of the Imbecile

In Japanese manga Hikaru no Go, a Japanese pre-teenage boy Hikaru Shindo is "haunted" by Sai, a spirit of an ancient Go player who first plays Go through him, then teaches him Go, and eventually encourages him to start his own journey as a professional Go player. In the manga, Sai reveals that he had also haunted a real-life Go player, Honinbo Shusaku, a 19th-century Go master, who is considered to be one of the best Go players in the history of the game (it is said that in 200 years, if only three Go players are remembered, they will be Honibo Shusaku, Honinbo Dosaku, and Go Seigen).

Basically, it's a Go equivalent of being haunted by the same spirit that haunted, say, Shakespeare or Einstein, and led them to their discoveries and inventions.

Sai claims that he had haunted Shusaku and is now haunting Hikaru because he wants to find Kami no Itte ("the Divine move"), a perfect move in a Go game.

I am sure that more than one Go player would love to have such a private Go tutor. In real life, however, things sometimes are different...

(Source. In general, I recommend ChiyoDad's blog. He hasn't updated in a while, but if you click on the archives on the right, you can read some fun posts about Go)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Away with dangling modifiers!

(make sure to increase video quality)

At 1:15: "By putting pressure on the White stone, White is required to respond...".

Surely the speaker did not mean that the White put pressure on its own stone. The correct sentence must be: "Because of Black's move putting pressure on the White stone...", or "By putting pressure on the White stone, Black forces White to respond", or simply "Because of the pressure on the White stone, White is required to respond". (Note that saying "...it is required to respond" is an example of a similar problem: pronoun–antecedent ambiguity. Grammatically, it is not clear what it refers to: the pressure, the stone, or, perhaps, the White.)

In my experience, this is one of the most common and annoying problems in modern colloquial English. It is worse than saying "please e-mail my wife and I" or misusing the apostrophe-s. In the latter cases, the meaning is clear. Dangling modifier (or pronoun–antecedent ambiguity) damages the clarity of meaning very badly.

Otherwise, despite having slightly annoying English, I liked the video. (Nice stones too.)

The "play right — first, play left" skill that the speaker mentions is a Go technique, in which, when a player wants to play "right" (for example), he first sets up reinforcements on the "left" usually by playing a series of forcing moves (for instance, invasion or capture threats) to which the opponent has to respond locally. Thus, the player does not really care about the "left". He is playing there because having stones there will provide support for his operation on the "right". (Of course, the nature of the forcing moves is such that if the opponent did not respond to them, they would be continued into an even more damaging sequence.)

In the video above, before playing a pincer from the top on the white stone (on left side of the board), the Black first prepares a wall of his stone below the white stone (at about 2:24). Now re-watch the video and try to see what I am talking about.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tesuji Flash I

Does anyone have any ideas as to what's happening on the left side of the picture? (Click on the image to enlarge.) My guess is that a doctor is removing an arrow fragment from a samurai's arm, and the samurai is using Go as a distraction from pain.

It's also interesting that the samurai is playing White (one might imagine that his opponent was the court master of Go, whose job would be to entertain and teach the samurai; so, the master would take White, being a more skilled player; then again, maybe the opponent is simply another samurai), that they are sitting on chairs, not on the floor, and that they are playing on a table board, not on a traditional floor goban (I guess that ties in well with the chairs).

[Update: see below.]

Also note the samurai's beard. Actually, the guy in the middle also has a beard and looks a little like Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson.

In any event, on to the main part of this post:

Tesuji (local move combinations) are my favorite aspect of Go games right now. Therefore, I present you with with the following Tesuji Flash from Go World magazine, No. 1, May–June 1977.

Update: Regarding the picture — it turns out, the main character of the picture is Chinese general Guan Yu. From Wikipedia's description of the picture:
A 19th-century Japanese woodcut of Guan Yu by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. In this scene he is being attended to by the physician Hua Tuo while playing Weiqi [Chinese name for Go].
 I guess that explains the table board and the chairs.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sai vs. Toya Koyo Meijin

Quoting some classics never gets old. This time, it’s again Hikaru no Go.

Match between Sai and Toya Koyo. I am skipping to the best part (in my opinion), but feel free to watch the whole episode.

As a bonus, a rather funny video poking gentle fun at Hikaru no Go:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Single-convex go stones

Everyone knows the traditional Japanese bi-convex stones for Go:

Fewer people know that another, Chinese, variety of go stones exists — the single-convex stones (compare the one on the right with the rest):


A bit of information from one of the places one can buy these stones nowadays, Yellow Mountain Imports:
These stones are "single convex." One side is flat with a slight rounding on the edge, the other is fully rounded. Whether to play with single convex or double convex is a matter of personal taste. In general, Chinese Go players prefer these single convex stones for their feel and louder solid "snap" when played on the board.
One can hear this "snap" when viewing this game commentary made by a Chinese professional go player.

In addition to the aesthetic quality, the single-convex shape has three more uses: a) when analyzing game variations, one can put the discussed stones with their flat side up — this way it is easy to see the "side-variation" of the board position vs. the "main version" of the game; b) single-convex stones are less easily dislodged from their position if the board is bumped (or if one accidentally drops a stone from the above or touches stones with his sleeve); c) according to Chinese rules, one must count the stones placed on the board as a part of one's score — turning stones over marks them as already counted.

On the other hand, they are a considered to be a little more difficult to pick up from the board at the end of the game or when removing captured stones — but I have not found it difficult at all; you just need to apply a little leverage with your thumb (although it's true that you can't pick up two or three at a time as with the bi-convex stones). If you watch the video linked above, you'll see that the player picks up the stones quite easily.

Also, here, a boy picks up a large group of captured single-convex stones (at the same time demonstrating the "snap-back" tesuji):

The most famous material for making these stones is yunzi (although nowadays, bi-convex yunzi stones are also available):

(note the greenish glow around the black stone)

When buying single-convex stones, one must make sure he has the appropriate board for them. Only size 3 stones will fit the standard Japanese boards (where the spacing is slightly smaller than on the Chinese boards). Sizes 4 and 5 are for Chinese go boards only. Of course, one can get Chinese go board (or a full set), but some people prefer Japanese shin-kaya or kaya wooden boards to Chinese bamboo ones because of the Japanese boards' beautiful acoustic qualities.

Some more pictures of single-convex stones (source):


Stones from Russia:

(As you can see, Russian single-convex stones are more convex than the modern Chinese оr Japanese ones. I am not sure how easy they are to handle.)

Then again, if you're a fan of bi-convex stones, you can go nuts and get these:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Roads and privatization

(Russian roads are a form of national defense — footage from WWII)

Oftentimes, I hear people use roads as an example of something the government benevolently creates for us.

But, of course, without the government there would also be roads — privately owned and maintained roads. (And, for instance, most railroads in this country were built by private transportation companies.)

I immediately hear the protest: "We would have to pay for them!"

Well, my friends, we are paying for our roads NOW. And we are paying more than our share. We are paying much of the 1%'s share.

Think about it: who uses roads the most — common people or owners of large businesses? Of course, the latter (for the most part, for transportation of goods across the country through highways, which are the most expensive to maintain). And whose taxes pay for the roads? Does the proportion of your taxes that goes towards the road maintenance equal your proportional usage of the I-90? Or the bridge in San Francisco? I doubt it. I think a rich business owner gets much more profit from the interstate highways than you.

Under privatized road system, rich owners of large companies would pay for the majority of expenses of using the roads (through toll system), and most of the expense for maintenance of the roads would fall on their shoulders.

Furthermore, pricing of tolls would reduce traffic, since more desired roadways would cost more to use. People would be able to make a decision — whether to use a more expensive but less congested roadway, or less expensive but a more congested one. This would spread out the traffic over more roadways and indicate to the people where there is more or less traffic.

People say that under "anarchy" there would be chaos. Well, it's difficult to imagine how much more chaos than can be than the one produced by the government. For instance, I cannot see how things can be much worse than this (pictures of traffic in Moscow).

Plus, if the roads were privately owned, they would be better (and more efficiently) maintained. Because private road owners would be interested in not having a lot of roadblocks (since they would the traffic to flow smoothly), they would choose most sensible times to fix the roads (when there is little traffic). And, obviously, there would be economic pressure on the private road owners, just as on any business owners, to provide good service. While on the civil servants, there is only bureaucratic and political pressure.

For more reading on privatization of the roads, I refer you to Walter Block of Loyola University (and Mises University):
Interview: "The Road to Freedom"
Full version (the book): Privatization of Roads and Highways
Also see this video: