Fun & Games

To keep my hand in the more technical side of computing, I’ve been working on a project whose goal is to develop a compiler suite. The first part of that project is a parser generator based on Bryan Ford’s work on Parsing Expression Grammars.

You will find the initial implementation at SourceForge. Right now it compiles on Windows (I’m using Visual C++ Express), but I’m working on getting it working on Linux.

Weasels for Logic and Objective Reality, Not To Mention Common Sense

I recently corresponded with a fairly prominent science fiction author on whose discussion group I occasionally lurk. It’s usually a fascinating discussion. But in one post they made a passing remark doubting something the Bush administration said, because he lied about the Iraqi WMD’s.

I emailed the author using the subject line “tedious political rant”, and asked why people who oppose Bush are so vehement in their opposition, when there are many reasonable people who do not make the a priori assumption that he is a nefarious villain. I pointed out that many prominent Democrat politicians waxed eloquent about Saddam’s WMD’s during the Clinton administration; that according to the UN, there were many weapons stockpiles unaccounted for after the 1991 war; and that the overwhelming consensus before the invasion was that Saddam posessed and was actively developing WMD’s.

How is it a lie, I asked, to state what one believes, even if that belief later turns out to be mistaken?

My correspondent responded by saying that Bush’s claim that these weapons were an imminent threat was the lie, and that anyone who claimed otherwise was “weaseling”.

But in the world of objective reality, Bush, in fact, claimed the opposite! In his 2003 State of the Union address, he said the following:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

When I pointed this out, the author requested that I discontinue the correspondence, which I of course have, since I was the one who emailed first. But it makes me sad that otherwise reasonable people would presuppose someone’s guilt, and then back it up with evidence that is demonstrably untrue.

There seems to be such a huge world-view gap between those who believe Bush’s motives are always nefarious, and even those who believe that he just tries to muddle along like everyone else (not to mention the Bush-is-the-incarnation-of-Jesus-Christ-on-Earth folks :-).

After all, who would you rather believe, a stuttering former Texas governor, or a dictator with a record of aggression, WMD production and use, and (according to Human Rights Watch), a death toll of at least 30,000 people for every year of his reign?

A Semi-Libertarian Constitution

Inspired by such creative works as Kim Stanley Robinson’s Constitution of Mars and the Constitution of Oceania, as well as such worthy real-world constitutions as those of the United States and Switzerland, I’ve long played around with possible constitutions. Herewith my latest effort, with commentary.

La Konstitucio de Agordio

The Constitution of Accordia.

This latest effort is written in Esperanto in an effort to see if it would be more precise. I don’t know if that worked out, but the effort of translation made a huge difference in simplicity and clarity. In addition, I use the Esperanto neologism “ri” as the gender-indefinite pronoun.

The constitution is meant to be a broad statement of principles, purposely leaving many details vague.

The word Agordio means something like “Harmonia”. I picked it because it contains the syllable “Gord”. In English I use “Accordia”.

1: Antaŭklarigo

1.1: Ni, la fondantoj de Agordio, por antaŭgardi la bonstaton de la popolo kaj la respubliko de la nacio, fondas ĝian registaron per ĉi tiu konstitucio.

1: Preamble

1.1: We the founders of Accordia, in order to preserve the well-being of the people and the commonwealth of the nation, establish its government by means of this constitution.

I think we should recognize the tension between individual freedom and preservation of the commons.

1.2: Ĉar la libereco estas la plej grava valoro de Agordio, la celo de la registaro ne estu devigi la bonon, sed sole evitigi la malbonon.

1.2: Whereas liberty is the highest value of Accordia, the aim of the government shall not be to compel good, but only to prevent evil.

Compulsory virtue is no virtue at all.

1.3: Ĉar la tiraneco malfeliĉe oftas je homaj aferoj, la leĝo estu la plej grava aŭtoritato de Agordio.

1.3: Whereas tyranny is unfortunately common in human affairs, the law shall be the highest authority in Accordia.

1.4: Ĉar ĉia povo procedas de la popolo, la registaro estu de la popolo kaj agu por la popolo kaj la komuna riĉeco de la nacio. La registaro havu neniun povon, kiun ne priskribas ĉi tiu konstitucio.

1.4: Whereas all power proceeds from the people, the government shall be of the people and act on behalf of the people and the common wealth of the nation. The government shall posess no power not described in this constitution.

This is the grand experiment of the United States: power trickles up from the people to the government, rather than down from the crown to the people. It may not seem to work that way, but the US is the longest-lasting state in existence today, so they must have done something right.

2: Rajtoj de la Popolo

2.1: Egaleco je la leĝo: la registraro ne distingu laŭ sekso, raso, religo aŭ aliu tia kvalito. Tamen iu ajn, kiu ne agas pro la registraro, povu distingi iamaniere ajn, krom .

2: Rights of the People

2.1: Equality under the law: the government shall not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion or other such quality. However, anyone not acting on behalf of the government may discriminate in any manner.

2.2: Libereco de penso kaj esprimo: la registraro ne krimigu pensi aŭ esprimi ion ajn, krom esprimoj, kiuj incitas krimfaradon.

2.2: Freedom of thought and expression: the government shall not make it a crime to think or express anything, except expressions that incite the commission of a crime.

2.3: Libereco de asocio: la registraro ne krimigu asocii, krom se tia asocio celas krimfaradon. La membroj de ĉia asocio, inkluzive de korporacioj, respondu pri la agojn de tiuj asocioj.

2.3: Freedom of association: the government shall not make it a crime to associate, except if such association is intended for the commission of a crime. The members of all associations, including corporations, shall be responsible for the actions of those associations.

2.4: Privateco:

2.4.1: La registraro ne povu ial ajn preni posedaĵon de persono aŭ estaĵo.

2.4: Privacy

2.4.1: The government shall not for any reason take posession of the property of a person or entity.

2.4.2: La registraro ne povu observi aŭ eniri proprecon de persono sen pravigo de juĝistaro.

2.4.2: The government may not observe or enter the property of a person without a warrant from the court.

2.4.3: La registraro povu nek devigi sin identigo nek aresti personon sen rezona suspekto de krimo.

2.4.3: The government may not compel anyone to identify oneself, nor arrest a person without reasonable suspicion of a crime.

2.4.4: La registraro ne povu devigi sinkulpigon.

2.4.4: The government may not compel anyone to incriminate oneself.

2.4.5: La registraro ne povu malpermesi posedadon de fajrarmiloj aŭ cifrecaj programaroj.

2.4.5: The government may not forbid the posession of firearms or encryption software.

If political power is to remain with the people, the people must retain access to firearms and secure communication.

2.4.6: La registraro ne povu devigi militan aŭ civilan servon.

2.4.6: The government may not compel military or civil service.

2.4.7: La registraro ne povu kolekti propran informaĵon en unu datenaro; ĉiu oficejo kolektu diversajn datenarojn, ilin kunrilate nur kiel necese.

2.4.7: The government may not collect personal data in one database; each department shall administer various databases, only correlating them as necessary.

This is to make it harder for one person to play Big Brother: it should take a certain amount of process to correlate data on a person.

2.5: Justeco:

2.5.1: La registraro sciigu justatempe ĉiun kulpigatulon de la akuzoj kontraŭ ri, kaj ri povu renkontri rian kulpiginton, kaj alrespondi la kulpigon antaŭ ĵurantaro, kiu decidos rian kulpon.

2.5: Justice

2.5.1: The government shall in good time inform an accused person of the charges against them, and they may face their accuser and respond to the charges before the court which decides their guilt.

2.5.2: La ĵurantaro supozu senkulpecon sen klara kontraŭa provo.

2.5.2: The court shall presume innocence without clear evidence to the contrary.

2.6: Neniu persono povu dungiĝi per la registaro pli ol tuto de dek jaroj dum ria tuta vivo.

2.6: No person may be employed by the government more than a total of ten years during their entire life.

Let’s make sure the government remains dynamic. Constant turnover in government can hardly function worse than an entrenched bureaucracy.

3: La Leĝejo

3.1: La popolo balotu dujare du ĉambroj por fari leĝojn, titolata la Urba Domo kaj la Senato. Ĉiu kvincentono de la popolo balotu unu reprezentanton por la Urba Domo. La tuta popolo balotu cent unu senatanojn por la Senato.

3: The Legislature

3.1: The people shall elect every two years two chambers for the purpose of legislation, named the Civil House and the Senate. Every five-hundredth of the population shall elect one representative to the Civil House. The entire population shall elect one-hundred one senators to the Senate.

It is better to have multiple houses with cross-cutting constituencies to keep things shaken up.

3.2: Leĝo ne havu pli ol unu subjektojn. Ĉiu leĝo ne daŭru pli ol kvin jaroj sen renovaĵo, kaj havu mezureblan provaĵon por ĝin renovigi.

3.2: A law may not have more than one subject. Each law may not be in force for more than five years without re-evaluation, and shall contain a quantifiable metric for renewal.

The first clause, interestingly, was a feature of the constitution of the Confederate States of America.

3.3: La leĝejo povu juste kaj minimume taksi komercon por financi la laboron de la registaro, sed neniam enspezon aŭ heredaĵon.

3.3: The legislature may appropriately and minimally tax commerce in order to finance the work of the government, but never income or inheritance.

4: La Regantaro

4.1: La regantaro enhavu la jenan oficejojn, kaj neniu plu. La registraro neniam povu administri medicinon, edukadon, religion, edzecon aŭ iajn aliajn aferojn.

4: The Executive

4.1: The executive shall contain the following departments, and no more. The government may never administer medicine, education, religion, marriage, nor any other affair.

4.2: La Oficejo de la Komunoj reguligu laŭleĝe la komunajn naturajn rimedojn de Agordio. Ĝi ankaŭ reguligas datenaron de nasko, nacianigo kaj morto.

4.2: The Office of the Commons shall regulate according to the law the common natural resources of Accordia. It shall also administer a database of birth, nationalization and death.

“Natural resources” is intended to mean bodies of water, forests, the EM spectrum, the soundscape, air quality, etc.

4.3: La Oficejo por Interrilato reguligu laŭleĝe vojojn kaj havenojn kaj policaron, kaj administru ambasadojn esktere de Agordio por servi la Agordianojn kaj faciligi rilatojn kun aliaj nacioj.

4.3: The Office of Intercourse shall regulate according to the law roads, harbours and the police, and administer embassies outside of Accordia to serve Accordians and facilitate relations with other nations.

The Esperanto is prosaic, but I couldn’t resist the most succinct English translation. Heh.

4.4: La leĝejo elektu dujare la estrojn de tiuj oficejoj, titolata Konsuloj. Ili servu kiel naciestroj.

4.4: The legislature shall elect every two years the heads of these offices, known as Consuls. They shall serve as heads of state.

4.5: La Oficejo por Milito reguligu memvolan starantan militistaron por defendi la nacion. Okaze de militado, la leĝejo povu nomi militestron por batali kontraŭ malamikoj de Agordio dum ne pli ol unu jaro. La militestro ne povu neniigi iu ajn parton de ĉi tiun konstitucion, eĉ provizore.

4.5: The Office of War shall regulate a voluntary standing army in order to defend the nation. In times of war, the legislature shall name a Commander-in-Chief to make war on the enemies of Accordia for a period of not more than one year. The Commander-in-Chief may not suspend any part of this constitution, even temporarily.

I suspect a lot of the vagueness of documents like the U.S. constitution is intended to promote debate. In this case, what if the war lasts more than one year?

5: La Juĝistaro

5.1: La konsuloj, kun konsento de la leĝejo, nomu tri grupojn de tri juĝistoj por klarigi la leĝojn, titolata “Ĉefaj Juĝistaroj”. Ĉiu ĉefa juĝistaro elektu tri subjuĝistarojn, kaj tiel plu, ĝis estas tri juĝistarojn en ĉiu urbo.

5: The Court

5.1: The Consuls, with the consent of the legislature, shall name three groups of three judges in order to interpret the law, named “Chief Courts”. Each chief court shall choose three subordinate courts, and so on, until there are three courts for every Polis.

5.2: Iu ajn kondamnitulo povu apelaci verdikton je sekva alta juĝistaro, aŭ je la tuta Ĉefa Juĝistaro.

5.2: Any convicted criminal may appeal their verdict to the next higher court, or to the entire group of Chief Courts.

6: Diversoj

6.1: Ne povu ekzisti subnacia registara estaĵo pli granda ol la “Urbo”, kiu enhavu nur tridek du mil personojn.

6: Miscellaneous

6.1: There may not exist any subnational governmental entity larger than the “Polis”, which may be comprised of no more than thirty-two thousand people.

6.2 La leĝejo povas aldoni al ĉi tiun konstitucion per tri kvarona voĉdono en ambaŭ ĉambroj.

6.2: The legislature may add to this constitution by means of a three-quarters vote in both chambers.

Lighter Notes

It is an interesting but little-known fact that although there are only about 5,000 tigers remaining in the wild, there are over 15,000 in captivity in North America, many of them in private homes.

Well, there’s one less in New York recently:

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein dismissed a lawsuit brought by Antoine Yates, whom authorities discovered in 2003 was hiding a 10-foot-long tiger named “Ming” and a 6-foot alligator called “Al” inside his fifth floor apartment.

Yates, who was mauled and hospitalized by the tiger he had raised since it was a cub, claimed his constitutional rights had been violated by police searches.