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Szabolcs Vrbos

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Central bankers and finance ministers meet in Chengdu, China this weekend. The agenda: coordinating fiscal and monetary policies.

In its G20 brief the IMF is promoting "growth-friendly fiscal policy". Apparently the 'shortage' of government bonds is rendering quantitative easing cumbersome: so governments, please overspend more!

In other news, Mario Draghi just announced that in exceptional circumstances he favoured taxpayer help for banks. Shares of troubled Italian banks recovered.

I do NOT approve. Where can I complain?
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Count me in.
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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PROPOSITION:

PRIVACY and INDIVIDUALISM are inseparable concepts, in many aspects synonyms to each other. You can not chip away from one without hurting the other. Since individualism is a major force behind cultural and scientific advancement, a step back in privacy is a step back for society. A society morally governed by GUILT is better than one governed by SHAME and GROUP-THINK.

THE STAGE:

There is much more to privacy, than your naked body. Yet arguments pro and con (even by the likes of David Cameron) usually degrade into shallow debates of the "I've got nothing to hide" versus "so why do you have curtains?", and "neither do I, but I don’t have anything I feel like showing you, either" type.

DEFINITION OF PRIVACY (attempt):

While privacy should certainly be viewed as a pluralistic concept, one view I found very appealing defines privacy as our right to keep a domain around us, which includes all those things that are part of us, such as our body, home, property, thoughts, feelings, secrets and identity. The right to privacy gives us the ability to choose which parts in this domain can be accessed by others, and to control the extent, manner and timing of the use of those parts we choose to disclose.

DEFINITION OF AN INDIVIDUAL:

The notion of an individual as an "indivisible" person, is not entirely universal either. Once a person is decomposed into a set of "building blocks", e.g. a person's thoughts, body parts, physical (hair style, tattoo), or behavioral (speech) expressions, different societies are unable to agree on which of these blocks to include in, or exclude from the set defining the Individual.

However, within a single society/culture, most of these blocks will certainly be the same as those within the domains defined by privacy.

EVOLUTION AND THE VALUE OF INDIVIDUALISM / PRIVACY:

Strengthening individualism is the result of thousands of years of cultural and religious development in western cultures. Many examples attest to this development, e.g. the reformation period at the turn of the 16C (thank you Erasmus, Luther) that resulted in "unsocial Protestants" having each what we might today call their own/individual "hotline" to God.

Individualism advocates moral guidance that stems internally from GUILT. This is in stark contrast to external moral guidance caused by SHAME, typical in eastern cultures, where people consider their actions acceptable when their peers consider them acceptable, resulting in GROUP-THINK.

In this sense, individualism/privacy is intimately tied to human potential: it allows the individual to stop and question his own actions/behavior, as well as actions/behavior of others, continuously re-evaluating society's current state of affairs, thus improving and advancing it in the process.

FOR US TO DECIDE:

Are we willing to give away thousands of years of western cultural development for a bit of (promised) security?
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Szabolcs Vrbos's profile photoKevin Wallis-Eade's profile photo
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+Szabolcs Vrbos absolutely - I wasn't suggesting you were proposing religion as a solution, my comment was in response to recent events in Brussels and the way that religion is used by evil people to lead the gullible to carry out acts of evil.
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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Following up on the Beethoven Doodle, listen to Andras Schiff's witty dive into both interpretation details and context behind the scenes! Magic.
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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Kudos to google for today's doodle -- I loved it! With a single caveat: piano sonata No. 14 has NOTHING to do with the freakin' moonlight. It is (as far as I am concerned a rather unfortunate and disgraceful) association fabricated by Ludwig Rellstab well after Beethoven's death.
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Pomozte Beethovenovi seřadit jeho díla v dnešním #GoogleDoodle
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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Asset forfeiture at its best.

Can the US (or your own beloved country's) government constitutionally prohibit a defendant facing federal fraud charges from spending assets NOT derived directly from the charged crime? A supreme court ruling in the case of Luis v. United States is about to decide.

I understand the argument that money/assets are fungible, giving moral grounds to evaluations of forfeitable versus nonforfeitable instead of tainted versus untainted money/assets.

However, allowing the government to initiate a prosecution, then disarm the defendant by depriving him of his counsel of choice just seems at odds with the presumption of innocence and the 6th amendment.

Who will decide how much of the untainted assets a defendant can use for his defense? What about the morality of freezing untainted money used e.g. to pay for relative's health care or tuition fee?

And in case you blindly trust the morality of decisions made by government and its representatives, consider the profit incentive of local agencies when it comes to asset forfeiture due to the federal government's "adoption" or "equitable sharing" program (*).

(*) a local police agency need only call up the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or similar federal agency. That agency then "federalizes" the investigation, making it subject to federal law. The feds take a cut and then return the rest (~80%) back to the local agency, allowing forfeiture proceeds to go to the same police agency that made the seizure.
Petitioner Sila Luis provided health care to homebound patients through her two businesses, LTC Professional Consultants, Inc.
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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...just substitute the US flag with that of your esteemed country the next time you vote in democratic elections!
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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@BREXIT: regardless of the result itself, notice democracy at its best: half the people forced to live by rules/values they do not approve of.
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No, I do NOT think Nexar's dashcam app is a good idea.

Using a smartphone’s camera, Nexar recognizes the license plates of the vehicles around it, and tracks their location, velocity, and trajectory. If a car speeds past or performs an illegal maneuver, that information is added to a profile in Nexar’s online database.

Their proposition:

1. "If you’re driving next to me and you’re a dangerous driver, I want to know about it so I can be prepared."

2. "We think that it’s a service to the community to know if you’re a crazy driver or not."

3. "...people generally have little or no expectation of privacy in the movements of their cars on public roads."

My answer:

1. I do not want you to decide for me who is or isn't a dangerous driver. I want to get better at assessing and evaluating this in real-time myself instead.

2. I despise jumping to conclusions on circumstantial evidence.

3. I do care about privacy -- a lot, actually!!

Increasing the amount of rules and policing in the world is NOT going to make us more responsible individuals; only mindless creatures following rules, fearing the justice of the incompetent.

Besides: my girlfriend and I (let's just say) differ a great deal in driving style/skill. Yet we both drive the same car. Profile that, you geniuses!

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Dávid Császár's profile photo
 
we(6) drive 4 cars owed by 2 persons.
I better log my on-line smart phone to government cloud that after a retina scan my movement would be continuously logged to my personal number..
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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An interesting cover story of The Economist (Feb. 20th, 2016) seems to acknowledge that Keynesian monetary policy (particularly the fixation on stimulating demand) is failing.

Make no mistake: the depicted bazooka (QE) of the ECB is still churning out 60,000,000,000 EUR every month (has been for the past year, with plans to continue at this rate until March 2017).

Add to this a negative deposit rate, and you would think there is not much else to be done, other than admit that conclusions reached based on inductive reasoning should only be presented as the probabilities they are, not as true (unquestionable) facts, as they have been in the past.

Wrong.

Instead, Keynesians now seem to have had a sudden revelation: supposedly these monetary policies have been failing, because of the lack of support from governments' fiscal policies.

So there is nothing to worry about; in light of said revelation, policymakers are now readying the deployment of new weapons to ensure our salvation. Here are some of the 'hot candidates' currently being discussed/lobbied for:

1. The "helicopter drop"

This has many variants. One could be the financing of public spending directly. Another is the introduction of a guaranteed minimum income regardless of working status (attention neo-liberals, rejoice!).

I suppose the idea is to worry about gross output and productivity of labor later (all hail the familiar mindset of 'in the long run we are all dead').

2. Tariffs, wage- and price-setting by governments

Remember planned economies of the post-WWII Eastern Europe?

3. Abolish cash (oh, and while you are at it, outlaw bitcoin, and gold, too)

Who needs it anyway -- only criminals, and prostitutes, right? This argument will be heard over-and-over again.

Never mind the loss of privacy, and most importantly: the ability to further lower the deposit rate in negative territory, since cash (that is, until it exists) places a limit on how far below zero you can go.

If you thought this was far-fetched, see US Executive Order 6102, and the Gold Reserve Act: private possession of gold was outlawed for ~30 years between 1933 and 1964 in "the land of the free"!

Could we just all agree on the basics, please? Namely that:

1. value can not be created from thin air -- there is no such thing as free lunch; whatever money you 'inject' to stimulate demand is shameless stealing via the dilution of stored value in IOUs,

2. rewarding stupidity, failure and debt is not going to get us far IN THE LONG RUN!

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Szabolcs Vrbos

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Nazi leader Hermann Göring, interviewed by Gustave Gilbert during
the Easter recess of the Nuremberg trials, 1946 April 18, as quoted in
Gilbert's book 'Nuremberg Diary.'

Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some
poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that
he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece.

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in
England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is
understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who
determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the
people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or
a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some
say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the
United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the
bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them
they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of
patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in
any country.
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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Thank you +Filip Hráček for popularizing the important distinction between Islam and Wahhabism, covering nicely the visible WHAT part of the IS/Syrian conflict.

As to the WHY part of our interest in the conflict, to put things in context on a broader scale, I recommend contemplating (and bringing more attention to) the importance/fate of the world's largest natural gas field -- the South Pars field [1], and related plans/stakes in building a pipeline from Qatar/Persian Gulf to Europe through Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, significantly weakening Russia's position as Europe's natural gas supplier.

A 2013 article in The Guardian [2] offers a beautiful treatise of the topic.

But let's not get bogged down in the past; there is plenty of context to unearth for recent events (e.g. the downed Su-24) as well. Recep Erdogan [3], the Kurds, the fate of ISIS oil on the black market, or the latest arrest and jailing of Can Dundar and Erdem Gul for footage published apparently showing the turkish intelligence agency sending weapons into Syria/IS all seem like relevant topics to explore.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pars_/_North_Dome_Gas-Condensate_field

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines

[3] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/turkey-under-erdogan-is-becoming-politically-riven-a-1054359.html
 
Yes, it is about religion. It's just not as simple as "Islam" — and it's actually religious nationalism, not religion in itself.

It's sad that almost nobody is talking about Wahhabism although it's — by many expert accounts — the strongest ideological driving force of what's happening right now in Syria (and Afghanistan and elsewhere).

We should educate ourselves and stop mixing up Islam and Wahhabism. (It's like mixing up Christianity and Nazism[1].) We should also stop pretending religion doesn't play any role in this.

More reading:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wahhabism

[1]: This is not as absurd as it may sound to you: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Nazi_Germany, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_aspects_of_Nazism#Nazism_and_Christianity, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Roman_Catholicism_in_Spain#Franco_regime, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Fascism and here someone is making exactly that point http://www.askwhy.co.uk/christianity/0835Hitler.php.
Wahhabi Islam has replaced national identity with a doctrine that encourages intolerance and terrorism.
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Szabolcs Vrbos

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Another nail in the coffin of borderless internet: thank you, EU!

A cornerstone principle of the EU's Data Protection Directive, which applies across the EU, limits the right to transfer personal data outside the European Economic Area.

Yesterday the EU's Court of Justice ruled EU-US data transfers made under the 'safe harbor' pact INVALID.

This invalidated pact has - until now - essentially lifted the technological and legal burden of complying with the EU DPD off of US companies, as well as companies form the EU itself, using e.g. US cloud computing services critical to their operation.

I am all about privacy, and have no trust in US government agencies; however, I have just as little trust in EU, or local agencies.

Cheers to yet another absolutely pointless bureaucratic EU directive that only places legal burden (and the associated costs) on law-abiding companies, while doing NOTHING against the real threat: criminal activities of hackers, government surveillance agencies, etc..

And the solution to the problem? Simple: encrypt the data you wish to protect -- at least until the EU and the likes of David Cameron won't rule that illegal too: http://goo.gl/Vv8ib1
European Court of Justice rules 2000’s data protection agreement with US invalid, but will that stop Facebook from transferring your EU data to America?
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