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2014 December 20 Saturday
Pedagogical Value Of Communist Countries

Cuba and North Korea serve as useful reminders of just how incredibly badly communism works in practice. Living museums of really bad and disastrous ideology in a much purer form than what gets peddled in support of the modern welfare state.Since Cuba isn't building ICBMS or nuclear weapons I think we get a lot of pedagogical value with little downside cost for Americans and residents of other countries. Cuba provides this value in a dysfunctional system very close to American shores. But we only get a benefit from the horror which is communism if we pay attention to the state of decay in Cuba and the plight of its people. With that thought in mind read Michael J. Totten's full article: The Last Communist City: A visit to the dystopian Havana that tourists never see. Cuba is down and still decaying.

Cuba was one of the world’s richest countries before Castro destroyed it—and the wealth wasn’t just in the hands of a tiny elite. “Contrary to the myth spread by the revolution,” wrote Alfred Cuzan, a professor of political science at the University of West Florida, “Cuba’s wealth before 1959 was not the purview of a privileged few. . . . Cuban society was as much of a middle-class society as Argentina and Chile.” In 1958, Cuba had a higher per-capita income than much of Europe. “More Americans lived in Cuba prior to Castro than Cubans lived in the United States,” Cuban exile Humberto Fontova, author of a series of books about Castro and Guevara, tells me. “This was at a time when Cubans were perfectly free to leave the country with all their property. In the 1940s and 1950s, my parents could get a visa for the United States just by asking. They visited the United States and voluntarily returned to Cuba. More Cubans vacationed in the U.S. in 1955 than Americans vacationed in Cuba. Americans considered Cuba a tourist playground, but even more Cubans considered the U.S. a tourist playground.” Havana was home to a lot of that prosperity, as is evident in the extraordinary classical European architecture that still fills the city. Poor nations do not—cannot—build such grand or elegant cities.

But rather than raise the poor up, Castro and Guevara shoved the rich and the middle class down. The result was collapse. “Between 1960 and 1976,” Cuzan says, “Cuba’s per capita GNP in constant dollars declined at an average annual rate of almost half a percent. The country thus has the tragic distinction of being the only one in Latin America to have experienced a drop in living standards over the period.”

For foreign tourists who want cheap prostitutes Havana is a great deal. So it is understandable that some Canadians are upset that America is (probably) going to normalize relations with Cuba.

Havana sounds like the abandoned sections of Detroit except Havana hasn't been abandoned.

Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins.

Hey, readers from Mexico who are fans of Cuba and Venezuela: What have you to say about Cuba's decay?

Update: Cuba desperately needs better relations with Washington DC because the collapse of oil prices is going to prevent Venezuela from giving billions of dollars of aid per year to Cuba. That money props up the failed communist regime. This is ironic in light of the fact that price controls and nationalizations in Venezuela are creating huge scarcities and collapsing living standards. Venezuela's socialists are propping up the Cubans who need help because they are further along the economic road that Venezuela's government is traveling.

By Randall Parker 2014 December 20 10:30 AM 
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2014 December 09 Tuesday
The American Left Decided To Stop Making Sense

No need to write parody stories about the decay in the American intelligentsia and courts. They are eager to do their own parodies in real life. Not enough whites live near Hartford Connecticut to enable schools to assure some non-whites sufficient exposure to whites. Really, this is the sort of thing that the ACLU fights for today.

The issue of changing demographics has come up before. In 2013, the parties redefined the standard for diversity, allowing Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders to count toward the 25 percent "white enrollment" threshold. Further changes could be among the proposals in this round of negotiations.

So APAC folks get to count as whites in Hartford. Not really buying them anything except perhaps a precedent to use where it matters. They should fight for the same consideration when they apply to the Ivy League.

I have to say: this is all crazy. Nuts. Bonkers. What gets treated as credible positions to take in court cases about racial composition of schools is just absurd. Perhaps the liberal left took to heart an artistic message and decided to stop making sense.

By Randall Parker 2014 December 09 10:08 PM 
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2014 December 08 Monday
British Secular Schools Going Islamic

Muslims are taking over public schools in Britain and turning them from secular to Islamic, forcing out anyone who opposes them.

But in January, Mr. Bains stepped down as the principal of the Saltley School and Specialist Science College, saying he could no longer do the job in the face of relentless criticism from the Muslim-dominated school board. It had pressed him, unsuccessfully, to replace some courses with Islamic and Arabic studies, segregate girls and boys and drop a citizenship class on tolerance and democracy in Britain.

This could be stopped and reversed if our leaders weren't such fools.

This brings to mind the increased polarization in American politics. Supposedly each party is moving away from the middle and taking more severe positions. Unfortunately, the leading figures on the Right take incredibly wimpy positions even when they oppose some of the foolish policies of the Left. Britain is the same way. Look at the British taxpayer-funded schools that are teaching messages that make the Muslims of Britain view non-Muslims as inferiors who should be ruled and dominated. What went so wrong in Western thought over the last century that makes this sort of thing be tolerated for even one second?

By Randall Parker 2014 December 08 09:00 PM 
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2014 December 07 Sunday
Moderate Opposition Collapsing In Syria

Obama wants to prop up the moderate (at least by Middle Eastern measures) opposition in Syria to create an alternative to Assad and the Jihadists. But the moderate opposition continues to lose territory and the moderate opposition in Syria is collapsing. The Al Nusra Front is taking their territory.

The Middle East is one of the regions of the world that challenge the conventional wisdom that the whole world is going to embrace Liberal Manifest Destiny. Some parts of the world seem highly resistant to liberalization. Will this continue to the be case?

By Randall Parker 2014 December 07 11:52 PM 
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Gigamansions: Billionaires Squeezing Out Millionaires

A lot of it is flight capital.

“Twenty-thousand-square-foot homes have become teardowns for people who want to build 70-, 80-, and 90,000-square-foot homes,” Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz said. So long, megamansion. Say hello to the gigamansion./p>

The neighbors with 30k square foot houses are fighting 60k-90k square foot houses.. In some cases the neighbors do not want Gulf oil Arabs moving in. But in other cases they do not want people also do not want the trucks, construction noise, and taller buildings that can spy down into neighboring yards.

Laura Tyson says rising inequality is bad. When her article here showed up on Twitter I responded asking her if this means immigration is bad. No response so far. After all, immigration is bringing in the rich and poor and not so much the people in between.

Such a high level of inequality is not only incompatible with widely held norms of social justice and equality of opportunity; it poses a serious threat to America’s economy and democracy.

The middle class is shrinking. The bottom and top are growing. The nation is also splitting more deeply between the Republican and Democratic Parties with deepening regional and racial splits. People are moving away from those who differ in values, allegiances, and interests. Apply a strong stressor to this system (say an economic depression) and then what happens?

By Randall Parker 2014 December 07 10:53 PM 
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2014 December 04 Thursday
How To Make Jihad Work For Western Countries

It is time to work on real solutions. I'm still a child of the Enlightenment who believes we can solve problems with reason.

Western countries should pass laws that state that anyone who goes to the Middle East to fight for IS/ISIL/ISIS/Daesh or al Nusra front or al Qaeda loses the right to return to the Western country they left. Then Western countries should offer free airplane tickets to anyone who wants to go fight for those same groups. Claiming the free airplane tickets makes it easy to identify some of those who go off to fight.

Any group in a Western country that recruits Jihadists could even get rewarded by their host country for doing this. Register a Jihadist for departure, assure they make it to the airport, get a few thousand quid. What say you?

I would go further: If Kabul falls then offer money to buy out Western country citizenship to anyone who wants to move to Afghanistan. Make it a destination for Jihadists living in the West who want to live under strict fundamentalist Islamic rule.

I think people who share common values should live together in a society that fully embodies their preferences.

By Randall Parker 2014 December 04 11:45 AM 
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2014 December 01 Monday
Vietnamization Not Working In Afghanistan

Will Kabul fall like Saigon?

Afghan security forces say that if they kept getting as much air power they'd be able to keep down the Taliban. That's after about 13 years of trying to win and build a nation-state that can defend itself against the Taliban. Still hasn't worked.

US policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya is a failure. It isn't going to start becoming a success.

By Randall Parker 2014 December 01 10:08 PM 
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Federal National Security Workers Think Elected Officials Clueless

What do workers in the US national security state think of our democratically elected leaders? Defense One lets you know: They think their elected masters lack the skills necessary to supervise them.

The Obama administration has no strategy for ISIS, the Pentagon is not leaving enough troops to protect Afghanistan and Congress isn’t qualified to keep watch over the military and intelligence services, according to survey of federal workers and troops at the Pentagon, and other national security agencies.

How fun is that? Great fun.

Our elected leaders point to elections as the source of their legitimacy. But suppose the Deep State is right about who gets elected. Then what? Well, it follows that the voters then are not up to the task of choosing who to put on the levers of power. Okay, I agree with that. But where to go with it? The voters and the elected officials aren't competent to govern such a powerful country.

Seems to me this problem is only going to grow as our unelected elites keep pushing to elect a new people with massive immigration. The new people do not show signs of being able make better decisions in the electoral process. Will the Deep State eventually rebel or will it just ramp up propaganda to get the masses to go along with the Deep State's wishes?

By Randall Parker 2014 December 01 08:37 PM 
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2014 November 28 Friday
Stephen Walt: The General Propensity For Threat Inflation

On Blogging Heads TV Noah Millman talks with Stephen Walt about excesses in US foreign policy. In one of Walt's sentences he refers to "the general propensity for threat inflation" in US national security and foreign policy circles. So true.

As Millman points out America's power combined with instant reporting of events all over the world makes it far more likely that voices will call for interventions anytime something somewhere seems to be going wrong. The "going wrong" might be from the perspective of American interests but it seems more often to be from the perspective of values. I certainly feel that way about ISIS/Daesh turning women into slaves for example.

They discuss Libya as an example where US intervention didn't create a happy outcome. Ditto Afghanistan and Iraq. As things stand now it looks like the US invasion of Iraq created conditions that might allow a new fundamentalist Sunni Muslim state to arise out of pieces of Iraq and Syria with a lot of other groups quite shafted in the process.

While Obama is ramping up the US intervention in Iraq and Syria my suspicion is that he just wants to hold back ISIS/Daesh long enough to pass that war on to the next US President. As Walt and Millman point out though, US support for the Iraqi military helped enable corruption (especially after the US withdrew) and conditions that led to the current fracturing of Iraq and Syria. It seems unlikely that the US government will find a way to make the Iraqi government sufficiently less corrupt enough to enable an effective army to be built up in Iraq.

If you click thru note the 1.4x button that will speed up the video playback. The software cuts out dead space and lets you watch discussions a lot faster. I wish other video sites (notably YouTube and the assorted online news channels) had this feature.

By Randall Parker 2014 November 28 04:30 PM 
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2014 November 27 Thursday
Euro Zone Bad For Less Developed Economies

Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary did better out of the EU than Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Portugal did inside it. The EU has failed to live up to expectations. For some countries (e.g. Greece, Portugal, Spain) EU membership has been a disaster.

We do not (at least to my knowledge) have access to a parallel universe where different countries joined the EU. But it isn't hard find reasons why membership in the EU is bad for internet start-ups and other small firms that trade online. EU regulations are seen as a burden on businesses and some attempts are being made to reduce those burdens. But the new VAT regulations for small scale online traders are a big step in the opposite direction. Leviathan must be fed and it must be fed now.

By Randall Parker 2014 November 27 11:11 AM 
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2014 November 23 Sunday
America's Hopelessly Corrupt Allies In Baghdad

Desperate times call for more corruption and incompetence. Iraq is a corrupt tribal society which US aid and US advisers can not fix.

BAGHDAD — One Iraqi general is known as “chicken guy” because of his reputation for selling his soldiers’ poultry provisions. Another is “arak guy,” for his habit of enjoying that anis-flavored liquor on the job. A third is named after Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bills, “General Deftar,” and is infamous for selling officer commissions.

New American military aid, like old American military aid, is getting stolen and ending up in the hands of Daesh/ISIS. Since US soldiers left in 2009 the amount of corruption has skyrocketed. There is no way the US is going to crush Daesh if it tries to use a corrupt Iraqi Army as its primary instrument.

Why not give weapons to the Kurds, Yezidis, and Christians? Why not give aid directly to Sunnis who are opposed to Daesh? I bet if we handed the weapons to people who fear for their lives the weapons would be much less likely to end up in the hands of Daesh jihadists. The Kobani Kurds will kill many times more Daesh fighters per dollar spent than Iraqi Army units will. Our aid ought to be distributed accordingly.

Update: Andrew Bacevich points out that Iraq no longer exists. It is true. What fighting force is going to put it back together again? No such fighting force exists. Bacevich lists 5 myths which DC policy makers assume about the Middle East. I would add another: modern nation-states can be built out of tribal societies.

Given that all the king's horses and all the king's men aren't going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again what should US policy be toward the territories which are still recognized as Iraq and Syria? Given that indifference is off the table I think we ought to fund factions that will be friendly toward us, relatively more capable in battle (setting the bar much lower than "great fighters"), and hostile toward factions that hate us.

Our biggest Middle East policy ought to be an immigration policy: keep them over there and let their conflicts play out over there, not here.

By Randall Parker 2014 November 23 08:12 PM 
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A Bad Road In Russia While Its Military Buzzes Its Neighbors

Russia is corrupt and its government can't do some really basic things (e.g. build decent roads). But Putin is throwing his weight around trying to do a new version of the Cold War. The Finns are worried and watching the big bear closely. Putin is not a good Tsar. Back in October 2013 NY Times writer Ellen Barry took the highway from St. Petersburg to Moscow and stopped at villages and sites along the way. The result is an essay that gives a glimpse of the decay and corruption that is Russia. The Russia Left Behind: A journey through a heartland on the slow road to ruin.

Mr. Chertkov has begun to crave order, something he imagines existed under Stalin. He feels envious when he drives through Belarus, where the police are too afraid to ask for bribes. The Russia he sees from the cab of his truck doesn’t suffer from a lack of freedom; it suffers from a lack of control.

The highway between St. Petersburg and Moscow is in appallingly bad state. The Russian government's policy makes no sense. It could enact fuel taxes to fund a huge highway construction program. Why not? It is not like democratic opposition to the fuel taxes would find any voice. Putin controls the TV stations and the newspapers are mostly cowed at this point.

Meanwhile Russian troops are carving out another piece of Ukraine and the Russian military is conducting attack runs against Western targets. The most interesting move: expansion of the Russian government-supported press to spread propaganda. How effective will this be? The assorted Western news organizations produce a huge amount of news. Can Russian publications have much impact in this age of the internet?

Vladimir Putin is confused in thinking the West is his biggest problem. His own government is his biggest problem. Russia is not well governed. It ought to be.

By Randall Parker 2014 November 23 08:09 PM 
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2014 November 22 Saturday
Will Mormon Polygamy Return? In Latin America?

First Ross Douthat in an opinion piece and then Rod Dreher says the Mormons abandoned polygamous marriage and embraced monogamous marriage as part of a political deal to join the United States. But

It’s a provocative thought: if traditional marriage is no longer exclusive in law and culture in the United States, and if the American people have come to believe (as we have) that marriage is something we have the right to redefine as we wish, then why shouldn’t the polygamous instinct buried deep within the LDS faith not reassert itself? If I were a Mormon inclined to return to the fundamentals of my faith, I would wonder why, exactly, honoring the old bargain still mattered.

Douthat is Catholic and Dreher is Eastern Orthodox. They think about doctrinal debates and splits in churches. They have the backgrounds needed to think that doctrinal changes matter.

Will the Mormons remain Mormon? In Latin America Pentecostalism is making big inroads. But I do not see an obvious alternative church that can appeal to Mormons. A splinter church might be more likely.

The problem with any of these scenarios: The Mormons are going to want to stay law abiding. Legalize polygamy and Douthat's thought experiment suddenly becomes a like more plausible. But a movement to legalize polygamy faces a much tougher road. The American Left found putting homosexual and heterosexual unions on equal legal ground extremely appealing. But where will the supporters come from to legalize polygamous marriage? You might argue that it is inconsistent to favor some forms of marriage over others. But the same people who made that argument in favor of gay marriage will be about as consistent about that as university administrators are about free speech. They'll see polygamous marriage as innately patriarchal and oppressive.

Oh wait, there is one other source of support for polygamous marriage: Islam. Will some European (culturally formerly European) countries legalize polygamy for their Muslim residents?

One thing I'm watching for: rise of a religion that aims to develop great influence to create legally favorable conditions in a small Latin American country. Recall that some Mormons lived in colonies in Mexico in order to practice polygamy. Well, Mexico is too big for the Mormons to get control of it. But suppose they focused on a much smaller country? Could they or another religion carve out a legal sphere in which they could follow whatever practices they desired?

By Randall Parker 2014 November 22 08:30 PM 
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2014 November 20 Thursday
US Power Grid Vulnerable To Cyber Attack

Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the US National Security Agency, told Congress that China and possibly a couple of other countries have the ability to take down the US electric power grid in a cyber attack. Lights out disaster novels premised on the collapse of the US power grid usually use an electromagnetic pulse to make it happen. But internet packets might be enough to do it - albeit for a shorter period of time.

Do you ever get the sense that the US government defends us against non-threats and small threats while inviting in or ignoring much bigger threats? Seems that way to me. We have the USAF building the most expensive fighter plane at the slowest rate of development that guarantees old technology by the time the thing finally flies. Hundreds of millions spent while the head of the NSA says our electric power grid could be taken down by a cyber attack. We fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East while Western societies let radical Muslims immigrate.

It isn't just the government that is lame and focused on the wrong stuff. Lots of companies have lame internet security with lots of devices on the net that can be easily penetrated.

Another story came out a few weeks ago about how Russian hackers have put some malware called "Black Energy" into key infrastructure computers and the malware has been in place for a few years. Is this true?

I'm quite prepared to think that utility companies, fuel pipeline companies, and the like are even more lame than Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, and a long list of other companies who at least discovered hacks. The core competencies required to do internet security seem quite different than the other core competencies needed to run most companies. I do not expect the CEO of a power utility to get computer security..

US companies and other Western companies are bleeding their designs, customer lists, formulas, and processes to Russian, Chinese, and other players who are eager to steal information for profit. Plus, states and even non-state actors are eagerly preparing for cyber warfare by penetrating systems that control key pieces of infrastructure. I;m guessing the non-state actors of a hostile sort (as compared to being of a money-seeking criminal sort) are most likely to carry out real attacks against infrastructure computers. Have they failed to do so due to lack of intellectual resources?

By Randall Parker 2014 November 20 08:03 PM 
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2014 November 17 Monday
Gruberism: Politics Is More About Manipulation Than Conversation

David Brooks coins a term in honor of Jonathan Gruber.

Gruberism: the belief that everybody else is slightly dumber and less well-motivated than oneself and, therefore, politics is more about manipulation than conversation.

People on the political Left who offer an opinion on the subject want universal suffrage, for all to have the vote. Yet they treat the lower classes as tools to manipulate to achieve elite goals. Maybe they like that the lower classes are easier to deceive?

If you haven't heard about Obamacare advocate Jonathan Gruber's take on the need to lie to the masses to implement the Left's goals then have a look at that video. It also includes Eric Hoffer on intellectuals:

:[The intellectual] doesn't just want obeying. He wants you to get down on your knees and praise the one who makes you love what you hate and hate what you love. In other words, wherever the intellectuals are in power, there is soul raping going on."

Have a look at Steven Pinker on the need for totalitarians to silence critics so that no mass uprising against them is possible. His speech is before a group (Fire) that fights against speech codes in academy. What does it say about academia that it is the arena in America where free speech is most systematically attacked and suppressed? That the academics want to rule us?

By Randall Parker 2014 November 17 09:54 PM 
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2014 November 15 Saturday
Only The Biggest Private Jets Are Selling

The classes are diverging from each other in lifestyles, work ethic, and economic relevance. Is the top 0.001% leaving behind the top 0.01%? Only the very biggest private jets are selling. Tough times for the small jet buyers.

My biggest concern with the concentration of so much wealth into so few hands: Will it cause financial instability and panic? People who spend most all that they make won't cause much of a financial stampede. If they have mortgage, utilities, food, insurance, and other bills they won't vary their spending much unless they lose their jobs. But rich folks can slash their consumption 90% and still have good lifestyles. So the very upper classes seem like a much more variable source of demand.

This jet story is a symptom of a larger phenomenon. Tax revenue numbers by earning level say a lot about how little most people pay in to financing America's system of government. The top 20% pay over 2/3rds of US federal taxes.

The top 1 percent, for instance, earned almost 15 percent of income and paid 24 percent of federal taxes. The top 20 percent earned 51.9 percent of income and paid 69 percent of taxes.

But it isn't the top earners, but rather the top wealth holders who are buying the upper end airplanes. A recent study on wealth distribution in America show the top 0.01% have an average net worth of $371 million. I do not think $371 million net worth is enough for a $100 million jet. So the top 0.001% are probably the ones buying the big jets.

On the other side of the spectrum, the fortunes of the wealthy have grown, especially at the very top. The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record.

What's also interesting from that article: the bottom 50% have so little net worth that they do not figure in net worth calculations. What I'd like to see: a graph showing the income percentile at which a resident of the United States becomes a net taxpayer (paying in more than they get in benefits). My guess is that percentile has risen with time and will continue to do so.

A substantial fraction of the population pays little in taxes. Some of them also do not want to look for work, A new Pew Research study finds that a growing fraction of the American population do not work and do not want to work.

more than 92 million Americans — 37% of the civilian population aged 16 and over — are neither employed nor unemployed, but fall in the category of “not in the labor force.”

You might put this down to an aging populate. But no. A rising fraction of the young are not seeing work as relevant to their lives.

But let’s look in particular at the youngest part of the eligible workforce. The share of 16- to 24-year-olds saying they didn’t want a job rose from an average 29.5% in 2000 to an average 39.4% over the first 10 months of this year. There was a much smaller increase among prime working-age adults (ages 25 to 54) over that period. And among people aged 55 and up, the share saying they didn’t want a job actually fell, to an average 58.2% this year.

How are they getting the money to live? Parents? Girlfriends and boyfriiends? Spouses? Scams on the government? Workers compensation fraud is pretty prevalent.

These people are ready for a life of leisure served by robots. I wonder if they'll get it. Why they might not: full automation cuts the need to put factories in large population countries. The capitalists might move their robotic factories to Iceland and similar islands.

By Randall Parker 2014 November 15 10:05 PM 
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