The Not-So-Current Year: 2017 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2017 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

I began 2017 by addressing a recurring story throughout the 2016 election campaign; that of Russia hacking the DNC and phishing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email system. I argued that Russia would have been justified in doing not only this, but in actually altering the election to cause Donald Trump to win. I would later use this piece as an example in a guide on how to argue more sharply in order to throw opponents out of their comfort zones. The story lingered on, so I published a sequel detailing the benefits of a Trump-Russia conspiracy. The left’s activities after the election became ridiculous, so I decided to give them some free advice.

My first list of 25 statist propaganda phrases and some concise rebuttals was a major hit, so I started planning a sequel. I had no intention of taking almost two years to compile 25 more statist propaganda phrases to refute, but better late than never, I suppose.

Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, which of course meant that Gary Johnson did not. I explored in detail what was wrong with Johnson’s campaign that made him not only lose, but fail to earn 5 percent of the vote against two of the least popular major-party candidates ever to seek the Presidency. Once Trump was in office, the responses to his trade policies among mainstream analysts led me to explain why many of them are politically autistic.

Book reviews have long been a part of my intellectual output, but I decided to start doing more of them in late 2016. This trend continued throughout 2017, as I read and reviewed The Invention of Russia, The Age of Jihad, In Our Own Image, Come And Take It, Against Empathy, Level Up Your Life, Islamic Exceptionalism, The Science of Selling, Closing The Courthouse Door, Open To Debate, Calculating the Cosmos, The Art of Invisibility, Libertarian Reaction, and The Euro.

Antifa grew from a nuisance that rarely affected anyone other than neo-Nazis into a serious threat to anyone who is politically right of center and/or libertarian who wishes to speak in a public venue. A comprehensive strategy to defeat them was necessary, and I was happy to provide one. Kyle Chapman grew weary of Antifa’s antics and led the effort to take up arms against them, becoming known as Based Stickman. I praised him in song. After the events of February, April, and May Day, I revised the strategy.

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy. I explored the many ways in which Negan’s group resembles a state apparatus. The first part covers the sixth season of the show, and the second part covers the first half of the seventh season. At least three more parts will come next year.

‘No Particular Order-ism’, or the belief that libertarians should take whatever reduction in the size and scope of government they can get, has become common among the more radical members of the Libertarian Party. I explained why this approach is misguided.

White nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer was present in the bar of the Marriott hotel that hosted the International Students For Liberty conference. This did not go over well with Jeffrey Tucker, who loudly denounced Spencer, after which security removed everyone from the bar. I wrote about the incident and the philosophical underpinnings of it.

Sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such was the case for an article I wrote in 2014 about the nature of fake libertarianism, so I published a revision.

Theories concerning the creation, acquisition, trade, inheritance, and defense of private property form much of libertarian philosophy. The role of conquest in the determination of property rights had gone largely unexplored, so I decided to remedy the situation.

Terrorism struck in London on the anniversary of the Brussels attacks. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I argued against more amendments to the United States Constitution, namely the Second and the Eleventh.

A chemical weapon attack occurred in Syria, which led to US intervention via a cruise missile strike. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking frequently claim that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. I debunked that claim.

On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, I applied ethical theories to the event to gain a deeper perspective of what happened and the aftermath of the event.

The primary aim of politically active libertarians is to limit and reduce the size and scope of government, as well as to eliminate as much state power as possible. I made the case that in order to do this, it may be necessary to temporarily do the opposite.

On May 8, Fritz Pendleton published an article at Social Matter in which he argued that liberty is best preserved by authority rather than anarchy. He then proceeded to launch a misguided attack against libertarianism, all while misunderstanding authority, anarchy, liberty, and the nature of a libertarian social order. I rebutted Pendleton’s case on a point-by-point basis.

Fashion trends can be a useful barometer of the health of a society. I explained how the trend of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally indicates that a revolution may come soon.

Memorial Day provides an opportunity to promote statist propaganda concerning the nature of service and the provision of defense. I decided to do the opposite.

The immediate danger standard says that using force against someone who is not presenting a physical threat at the exact moment that force is used constitutes aggression, and it has become far too commonly advocated in libertarian circles. I explained why it is wrong and why it has gained prevalence.

On June 14, James Hodgkinson opened fire on several Republican members of Congress and their staffers while they were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

The Supreme Court ruled against the stays on Trump’s travel ban, but he missed a greater opportunity by letting them decide rather than ignoring the courts. I explained how and why.

Political rhetoric has grown increasingly heated, with violence erupting as a result. I showed how democracy is the root of this problem and how abolishing democracy is the solution.

The meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups in recent years. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. I wrote an overview of this context and explained why helicopter rides may not be the best option.

I welcomed Insula Qui, the first additional writer for Zeroth Position, in July. He provided two articles to keep the site going while I was preparing for, participating in, and recovering from the Corax conference in Malta. A piece describing the problems that led to the call for net neutrality and recommending against more state inteference in the Internet came first, followed by a critique of common libertarian strategies to date. Speaking of the Corax conference, a revised version of my talk may be found here, as they own the rights to the original. A topic that came up in the talk that needed further comment is that in the discussion of proper behavior beyond the basics of libertarian theory, right-libertarians in general and libertarian reactionaries in particular will use the term ‘degeneracy,’ but they do not always properly define the term. I attempted to do so.

In the August 2 episode of the Tom Woods Show, he asserted that libertarians and fascists are completely contradictory political perspectives and could never be combined, and that when one embraces fascism, one must have relinquished one’s libertarianism, as there is no other solution that would make sense. Qui countered these assertions and delved deeper into the relationship between libertarianism and fascism than I had previously, which is not as inimical as one might think.

An alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12 turned violent, with three deaths and about 20 injuries. I wrote a list of observations on the events. In response, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley, which have become increasingly hostile to right-wing and libertarian content creators over the past decade, ramped up their censorship efforts. I proposed a novel and radical plan to deal with this problem so as to avoid public utility regulation.

I welcomed Benjamin Welton, our second additional writer, in September. I had meant to write an article about using the historical concept of outlawry to deal with violent illegal aliens myself, but time constraints led me to outsource the project. He then explored several historical examples of private military defense, finding that something novel must be created in order to defeat the state and maintain a libertarian social order.

In the wake of two major hurricanes, the usual complaints about price gouging were made yet again. I explained why price gouging is actually beneficial.

Qui wrote a piece about the limits of the applicability of libertarian philosophy, explaining that humans can fall into the categories of personhood or savagery, and that it is important to deal with each accordingly.

Catalonia held a referendum to secede from Spain and become an independent nation on October 1. This was met with force, and much hostility ensued. I wrote a list of observations on the events.

Qui examined the role of the modern concept of citizenship in advancing a particularly insidious form of totalitarianism.

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argued that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. I thoroughly rebutted his arguments.

Welton explored the history of judicial corporal punishment, then made a case for restoring its use as a replacement for imprisoning lesser criminals.

The debt ceiling became a political issue again. As it incites financial panic for no good reason and hides important truths from common view, I advocated for its elimination on formalist grounds.

Capitalism and consumerism are distinct phenomena, with the latter caused by high time preference, which in turn is caused by the flaws inherent in modernity. Qui explained this at length.

I welcomed Nathan Dempsey, our third additional writer, in November. He runs a project called Liberty Minecraft, and wrote an introduction to the project.

The relationship between libertarianism and racial politics has become a controversial issue in recent years. Views on the issue run the gamut from complete opposition to imperative alliance, with nearly every conceivable position between being advocated by someone noteworthy. Many libertarians either provide the wrong answer or are afraid to address the question, so I decided to address libertarianism and support for ethnic nationalism.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is misplaced. I weighed in on holiday shopping again due to some misguided criticism of computer programs designed to scalp popular gifts. Finally, I detailed the problems with Santa Claus.

Qui offered a message of hope in dark times by demonstrating how the socialists and anti-capitalists of today are not usually as fanatical as those that the early libertarians opposed, then offered advice on how to argue against them. He quickly followed this with an explanation of his concept of autostatism, which closely echoed one of the other presentations from the Corax conference. He then dealt with traditional views on degenerate behavior, and how a compassionate, non-enabling approach is necessary.

Due to surging exchange rates, the opening of Bitcoin futures, and the likelihood of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds in the near future, there is renewed mainstream interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. There are benefits of cryptocurrencies which will be cheered by political outsiders to the chagrin of the establishment, and I listed eight of them.

Qui finished out the year by explaining why individualism and nationalism are not as incompatible as many people believe.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian and reactionary arguments. May 2018 bring more and better. Happy New Year!

Book Review: Calculating The Cosmos

Calculating The Cosmos is a book about the history and current practice of physics, astronomy, and cosmology by British mathematics professor Ian Stewart. The book gives the reader an overview of many topics, including gravitation, the solar system, spacetime, extraterrestrial life, and quantum mechanics. The book is divided into nineteen chapters, as well as a short prologue and epilogue.

The prologue begins with the mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, then gives a brief recounting of previous space missions. The role of mathematics in astronomy is discussed, followed by its role in cosmology. The first chapter takes us through the history of gravitational theories, from the ancient Greeks to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, and onward to general relativity and quantum mechanics. More detail in the path toward relativity would have improved the book here. With the second chapter, Stewart begins discussing the solar system, starting with its formation. The nebular hypothesis of a collapsing gas cloud that forms stars and planets is the main focus, along with previous theories and why they were rejected. These are used to illustrate the importance of physics concepts like momentum and angular momentum. The chapter ends with a discussion of possible futures for the solar system, some of which involve planetary collisions and ejections.

The third chapter is devoted to the theories for the formation of the Moon. These include the giant impact hypothesis, as well as several other ideas that fail to explain the Moon’s composition, tidal locking with Earth, and angular momentum. Much of the chapter concerns the nature of constructing simulations for events like an impact between Earth and a Mars-sized object, or the formation of a solar system. In the fourth chapter, Stewart examines the Titius-Bode law, then expands to power laws in general. Their use in discovering Uranus comes next, followed by the use of perturbation techniques to find Neptune. The chapter ends with the accidental correctness of perturbation techniques concerning Pluto and their failed prediction of Vulcan, a hypothetical planet closer to the Sun than Mercury. Oddly, no mention is made here of the hypothetical Planet Nine, and Stewart does not note that Neptune is out of place by the Titius-Bode law.

The fifth chapter is called Celestial Police, in reference to a group of astronomers at the turn of the 19th century, though most pages have the chapter name “Number of Asteroids.” Stewart gives the history of discovery of the asteroids, then explains how resonances with Jupiter’s orbit explains gaps in the asteroid belt. This leads into a discussion of the 2½-body problem and the five Lagrange points of such a system. The chapter concludes with natural examples of objects in Lagrange point orbits, such as Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and Saturn’s moons Tethys, Telesto, and Calypso. The next two chapters concern the moons and rings of Saturn and Jupiter, respectively. The discovery of Saturn’s rings and the path toward discovering their true nature comes first, then Stewart shows how resonances with Saturn’s moons explain both the gaps in its rings and how the F ring stays in place. Resonances appear once more in Chapter 7 to explain conjunctions between the moons of Jupiter and Pluto. The chapter ends with facts about some of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s major moons.

Comets are the focus of the eighth chapter. The comet 67P and the effort to land a space probe on it are examined in greater detail. Better known comets, such as Halley’s Comet, are discussed to illustrate the predictive power of mathematics. The origin of comets leads to sections on the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt, then the chapter concludes with the 1994 impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter. The ninth chapter gives a basic overview of chaos theory, and does a good job of clearing up common misconceptions in popular culture about the subject. After this, Stewart returns to the asteroid belt resonances to discuss a possible origin for the object that likely caused the Cretaceous extinction event.

The tenth chapter discusses various types of orbits and how they can be used to send spacecraft from one place to another with varying degrees of efficiency and travel time. In the eleventh chapter, Stewart brings optics into the discussion to write about stellar composition and classification, illustrated by the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. The nuclear fusion reactions that power stars, as well as the ultimate fates of stars of various masses comes next. The role of stars in producing all of the heavier elements is explained, from supernovas to newer stars. The observation of sunspots is the subject of the next section, as well as a possible explanation for their cycles. The last subject of the chapter is the means of measuring cosmic distances, from the distance from Earth to the Sun to the distances of various stars. The chapter ends with a few pages of color illustrations, the only ones in the book.

Chapter 12 is devoted to galaxies. Stewart begins with the Milky Way, observed since antiquity but only explained relatively recently. Hubble’s empirical classification of galaxies is cited, then attempts to explain the various shapes are discussed. The failure of galactic rotational speeds to match predictions is left as a puzzle for a later chapter. In the thirteenth chapter, the methods for discovering exoplanets are examined, along with possibilities for extraterrestrial life both elsewhere in the solar system and elsewhere in the universe. The chapter concludes with Stewart’s inventive imagination concerning a hypothetical alien world. The fourteenth chapter begins with the historical steps toward current theories about black holes. The difference between a static black hole and a rotating black hole are explained, as well as their possible role as a link to other universes and hypothetical white holes, which function as expellers of matter and energy that cannot be entered. Alternative explanations for black hole geometry, such as gravastars, are considered at the end of the chapter. The Penrose diagrams here could use more explanation, as they can be quite confusing to a lay reader.

The fifteenth chapter is about the distribution of matter in the universe, as well as the topology of the universe. Stewart does as well as he can without resorting to complex mathematical equations, but doing so would greatly aid the reader’s understanding of the subjects involved. In the sixteenth chapter, the discoveries and interpretations leading to the Big Bang theory are discussed, as well as the various proposals for how the far future of the universe may play out. The next two chapters deal with inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, which are correctives to make the Big Bang theory agree with experimental results. Stewart criticizes this standard cosmological model for its large number of unobserved conjectures, then discusses some alternative theories. The final chapter waxes philosophical about the unlikely combination of physical constants that seem fine-tuned to produce life, then Stewart critiques some of the more outlandish claims regarding this. The epilogue recounts many subjects from the book and points out the difference in procedure between science and mathematics.

Overall, Stewart does a good job of both exploring past and present scientific theories while stressing that science is always tentative, subject to new theories and empirical evidence, unlike his native mathematics. He helpfully notes the scientific jargon so that the lay reader can look up the relevant topic to learn more. However, there is relatively little mathematics in the book, and this can be disappointing for people who cannot see physics without the mathematics. Even so, Calculating The Cosmos is a good read for an intelligent layperson who wants an introduction to cosmology.

Rating: 4/5

Scientific thoughts about the New Year

At midnight, many people will celebrate the passage of a year in the Gregorian calendar. As always, there are many festivities planned in different locations all over the world, with celebrations in each inhabited time zone. The first places to celebrate New Year’s Day were Kiribati and the Line Islands, as their time zone of UTC+14:00 puts them ahead of everyone else in the world. The last places to celebrate the beginning of 2013 will be American Samoa, Niue, and Midway Atoll, with a time zone of UTC-11:00. (While the time zone UTC-12:00 exists, it is used only for two islands that are currently uninhabited, as well as the International Date Line.)

But for a scientist, this is a time to reflect upon the arbitrary nature of New Year’s Day in particular and our methods of keeping time in general. Let us consider the number of moments that we could choose to celebrate. We can choose any day of the year to be the end of one year and the beginning of another year. We can choose any moment within that day as well. While the number of moments that we could choose out of a year is unimaginably large, it is a finite value. This is because the speed of light is finite, and it is impossible for mass or energy to move faster than light in normal space. There is a quantization of length that is related to the Planck length, a quantity derived from the speed of light, Planck’s constant, and the universal gravitational constant. According to the generalized uncertainty principle, the Planck length is in principle, within a factor of order unity, the shortest measurable length. The smallest measurable time, called the Planck time, is the time it takes for light to travel one Planck length.

The NIST value of the Planck length is 1.616199 x 10^-35 ± 9.7 x 10^-40 meters, a value many orders of magnitude smaller than what can currently be measured directly. The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters per second, so a unit of Planck time is 5.39106 x 10^-44 ± 3.2 x 10^-48 seconds. If we invert this, we find that there are 1.85492 x 10^43 units of Planck time per second. If this quantization of time is correct, then we may think of the universe as being “animated,” with a “frame-rate” of 1.85492 x 10^43 frames per second. There are 31,556,926 seconds in a year, so we have a total of 5.85356 x 10^50 moments to choose from when deciding when to mark the boundary between years. To put this number into perspective, Drew Weisenberger of Jefferson Lab estimates that the number of individual atoms on Earth is about 1.33 x 10^50. So from the standpoint of quantum mechanics, New Year’s Day is not so special.