28 June 2008

response to christian based constitutionalism

Fair trial w/ witnesses goes back in codified form to Hammurabi.
Private property rights existed before the 10 Commandments, and were officially codified ~ 2300 BCE in the kingdom of Lagash.

Judeo-Christian philosophy is heavily influenced by the land surrounding its infant stages: the various Babylonian and Persian societies. It is likely the concept of a "devil" for example comes from Persia; it wasn't in the Old Testament. These societies all held some of the same rights and privileges of social organization that we do now but it was not the exclusive province of Christians or Jews to define what those rights and privileges were.

Being practical people, it's easier to attract converts to your tribe if you have similar practices, or if you adopt practices which seem to work for other tribes pretty well. The idea that theft, rape or murder are bad doesn't require any God to tell us that. Simple logic suffices, and none of these things are expressly mentioned in the Constitution for this reason. Treason, libel and slander are in fact the only crimes mentioned. Libel and slander go back to Hammurabi in theory, probably again further back than that.

While the facts are that the Constitution was written by mostly Christians, that does not make it a divinely inspired document or a Christian document/endorsement. It's a secular document with careful attention to the power of the state to enforce upon unwilling minorities' rights. Laws are therefore to be made by humans, enforced by them, etc, not to be handed down from on high.

27 June 2008

nuclear diplomacy


So yeah, that's about 15 years after they should have figured out how to do this, but at least it's something. We seem to have forgotten how things like the original Korean War were handled: international coalitions. In this case, the advantage is that the burgeoning Chinese economy has little interest in seeing a nuclear war right on its doorstep, certainly not one they're not involved in.

Prior cases, dealing with the PDRK in say the Clinton administration, basically relied on this misguided belief that the US was a powerful enough agent to act unilaterally in order to get what it wants from other nations. We've used that thinking against Cuba for decades.. .it hasn't worked, same with Iran. We didn't use that thinking against the USSR directly, but certainly with its satellites. Going around and trying dictatorial impacts on other nations affairs, even when those impacts are supposedly democratic reforms, hasn't worked either. I think maybe establishing a bit of international opinion might be a more favorable environment. Similar to the post-9/11 days that we squandered by going with "If you're not with us, you're against us", and other bunker mentalities from the Cold War thinking. The post-Cold War world has a large assembly of nation-states that aren't quite aligned with any one power any longer. It's a much more fluid and flexible environment and probably a lot less unstable as a result, if only the major powers have the wit to use it that way.

26 June 2008

response to public funding of ID

The fact that they were themselves religious men has nothing to do with the establishment clause of the Constitution (which they themselves put in the Bill of Rights). The funding toward a religious exercise from public monies is in direct violation of church and state separations. As a result it is necessary for creationist backers to come up with an actual theory if they want it officially taught in science classes of public schools. There is lengthy legal precedent effectively destroying the scientific legitimacy of creationism or for creating bans on teaching evolution in science at all.

ID is not a scientific theory, it is a hypothesis based on creationism and a few broadly misunderstood complaints about the theory of evolution (none of which are legitimately scientific concerns, they're all very human, emotional or faith-based concerns). If it ever becomes a legitimate theory, I would welcome it into a science class room but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for evidence in support of it. I expect quite confidently it will never become theory because it is a perversion of the scientific method.

There is nothing preventing religious people from teaching their own children whatever they want or sending their children to special religious schools to learn there. That's the second part of separation of church and state: free exercise.

25 June 2008

death penalty


I'm finding myself generally in agreement with Obama when things like human rights come up. At least with the things he says he's in favor of.
Going through some ethical debates, generally the only crime that people come away with unable to possibly defend is rape. Murder can occasionally be willed away by circumstances (self-defence, war, etc).. Rape doesn't have extenuating circumstances that make it a defensible act. In other words, rape is the highest form of criminal act (though I suppose rape-murder is ahead of it). Basically the sense is this, murder can be rather cruel, unusual, heinous or whatever term is added to it. But the victim generally shares one characteristic: they're all dead. Rape (without murder) shares other characteristics. But generally the act itself destroys another person's life. Levels of trust, intimacy, sexual interest, emotional states, all of these can be severely diminished. The recovery process can be painful and time-consuming, if at all possible. In the case of a younger person, we may be dealing with many years worth of recovery, extensive therapy, and a number of damaged relationships or self-damaging relations as a cost imposed on the victim of the crime.

Granted, people who are dead don't get that opportunity, death occurs for all people regardless of whether they're killed or maimed by assailants. We perceive and punish the act of unjustly killing others because it is naturally 'wrong', in the sense that a society with rampant killing doesn't function. But we also have to come to grips with death naturally. We are not required or bound to a similar fate regarding rape. No one is so required by their existence to be raped as we are required by our existence to be mortal.

So here's the problem: the court decision doesn't sound like it offered an explanation as to what specifically about the 'cruel and unusual' punishment amendment applied to the child rape death penalty cases. I'm not sure that it does because we have death penalty cases involving other crimes (crimes less heinous than rape ethically speaking, say gang killings over drug money). I'm also in agreement here with Obama, it's never a deterrent.. but it is a disposal system of sorts.

I'd like to know what exactly was wrong with the idea that rape (w/o murder) is worthy of a death penalty statute. What does a crime committed have to do to apply to the constitutional standard? Because I can think of very few circumstances that I would deem as higher qualifiers, things more damaging to the social fabric, than these cases as described. (incidentally, I might put some of the priests up on death row as well for the child molestation cases rather than paying fines, when the evidence supports it).

24 June 2008

incompatibility of religion and science?

"People that believe evolution to be a fact come to the conclusion that there is no god."

One does not imply the other. There are plenty of theological explanations. Principally because sensible faiths understand there is room for both the mythology based morality tales of religion and the scientific outlook. Go look at the 'religion' tab for 'fact or theory on evolution' and one finds that 'Catholics' or 'Hindus' are at least accepting of evolutionary theory despite having a religious faith.

Most people who have come to the conclusion that there is no god or no need for one have come to the conclusion that THIS life is worth living and worry more about making it better than worrying about a life they cannot control (after this one?). Meaning in life is injected, you find it through faith, I find it through my own motives and exertions.

23 June 2008

so yes that sucks

George Carlin died over the weekend. The man was funny and irreverent. And 71. For almost fifty years he'd been poking fun at our strange culture.

We need more like him. Life is just not that complicated: "You get up, go to work, take one good shit, and go back to bed, what's the big mystery?"

11 June 2008

driving in la la land


I've always concluded that people in SUVs and trucks drive like assholes because they feel the large size of their vehicle makes them impervious to a general accident.
But the generally unregarded fatalism that the only thing that really matters to predicting traffic accidents is the number of cars on a road is wise beyond any measure. Paradoxically it is the sheer volume of cars that demands our attentions and makes us individually drive more 'safely' that contributes to the amount of accidents.

My own personal driving habits may be regarded as reckless or eccentric, but I've generally ignored or bypassed traffic signals and signs, instead relying on more of an instinctive reaction to traffic conditions to tell me how fast to drive or when to come to a complete stop at an intersection. Obviously I still feel compelled to stop at red lights, but I often find ways to bypass them..especially when I'm not carrying passengers. Stop signs in most residential neighbourhoods seem completely arbitrary and often pointless. Because there's so rarely the traffic in place to justify it in hours other than rush hour commutes, why should we then have to stop when there is no one there? It wastes time and fuel. So I don't.

Of the more obvious complaints of drivers are the preponderance of speed limits and (as the article shows) the arbitrary changes we make to them. Speed limits as I understand them used to be determined by estimating the average speed at which a driver would use on a given road. People naturally drive slower in residential areas with houses and driveways right on the road because there are other variables besides cars (children, pets, and the elderly) to consider. By contrast a highway or large-wide thoroughfare has a few controlled entrances and exits and allows for more controlled and maintained speed over long distances.. speed which most people take advantage of (excepting fuel considerations). But these are the roads which arbitrarily change speeds so frequently as to make it impossible to determine at times what is the appropriate speed legally speaking as opposed to the actual flow of traffic speed as determined by the comfort and adaptation of the driver to actual traffic and road conditions. Granting driving really doesn't take that much attention, the average person is not as attentive as they believe themselves to be (perhaps including myself from time to time). They're constantly missing turns or exits, forgetting to signal, stopping or braking abruptly when following other cars, and so on. Taking further attention away from such fragile consciousness is virtually guaranteed to cause mayhem and disorder on the freeway.

More amusing still is this point: "traffic signs in the U.K. are often on the road itself, where the driver should be looking." Rarely are stop signs still indicated in the manner of a stop bar painted on the road itself because people are trained to look for the sign. The move toward putting information on HUDs in luxury vehicles (eventually the rest) makes it possible to feed drivers useful information on which to make driving decisions...but why are the roads themselves not used in the same manner? Why must we look off to the side to decide how to drive?

One element the article does not expound on is that Americans drive a LOT more than other countries. And in general traffic congestion is more uniformly bad (while it is more dense and confused in say Europe, it's busy virtually everywhere there's a road in America). I'm not sure that either of these two factors are necessarily contributing to the relative safety as much as our obsession with legal disclaimers on how to drive in general rather than merely making presumptions about how to do so ourselves based on the objective conditions we're presented with at the time, but they do need to be accounted for before anything would change.

09 June 2008

where the fork in the road goes

"Imagine a Democratic candidate who, say, supported private accounts for Social
Security (as President Bill Clinton considered doing in 1998), promised to cut wasteful programs, and actually defended civil liberties. He or she would surely build on Kerry's 38 percent support from libertarians." -- From Cato's study in 06 of the supposed red-blue state thesis.

Basically it reminds me that I'm part of a rather powerful group of people. In 04, there was a good deal of focus on Ohio, but that study pointed out that the libertarian base in states like Colorado, Nevada and N Mexico could just as easily have turned the elections had they turned out in slightly smaller numbers for Bush. Based on this criteria, it may be possible to explain Obama's rapid surge and high polling numbers as having captured a significant portion of the swinging libertarian vote. (It doesn't swing that way necessarily, but it is a bit more tolerant of the people who do).

McCain's biggest detraction, at least in my estimation, is his McCain-Feingold act limiting political free speech and placing restrictions on campaign funding (which he is ironically forced to step carefully around during his campaign). Obama has made some nebulous promises regarding campaign finance reforms, but without a substance like M-F to cling to, there's an obvious delineation between the two to be made. On other instances, libertarians tend not to support the Iraq War, Obama voted against it. Bush's administration has drastically re-defined all sorts of civil liberties in the process of 'national security'; Obama has opposed, either directly or rhetorically, most of these. This sort of thing continues. While economics remains a visible blemish on Obama's record, the voting public is not educated enough to understand that he really has no concept of what economic policy he should have (libertarians probably do know what he's suggesting, and speaking for myself, we don't like what we hear on that front).

I'm not endorsing the man, but it does appear that he has managed on important secondary fronts to inspire people to a different cause. Something more tangible than I'm not Bush, which was the crux of Kerry's and the 06 Congressional campaigns. Barring some horrible discoveries (or war with Iran) between now and November, this is probably who will be seeing in January give a SoTU address.

And I don't much like my alternatives. "It's a two-party system - you have to vote for one of us... Go ahead! Throw your vote away?"

(though to be fair, I'll probably still vote -L). Or: "My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball. But tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!"

response to banking silliness

"Should the federal gov't bail out failing subprime mortgage lenders?"

Though technically some of the loans are the govt's fault for being issued, I'd have to say making fishy loans and trying to spin them off as profit is not how a bank should run. They deserve to fail.

kathy who?

"Should Obama have selected Kathy Sebelius (KS) for VP?"

Less qualified than Obama is. She hasn't done much other than push KS into debt and make a boring speech.

al gore as vp, again?

"Should Obama have selected Al Gore for VP?"

I think we can get someone better in there to "protect the space-time continum" ... His best work is probably Futurama, where we don't have to take him seriously.

06 June 2008

xenophobia or bust


I occasionally come across something either worthwhile or worth posting about on foxnews. It's a strange place.

This one deals with immigration (unsurprisingly I haven't yet seen much coverage of the issue elsewhere, leave it to fox to sound like a xenophobic haven).

But what confused me was that the judge indicates 'the law unfairly shifts the burden of immigration enforcement on the backs of businesses'. There are two realities that need to be acknowledged. First, employers who wish to comply with federal laws have a fairly easy and already implemented means of doing so. It may also be possible to make a routine check of a valid social security number. I would think there could be a private agency designated to doing nothing but verifying legal documents of identification (and obviously reporting instances of ID theft, which is not a funny thing to do to someone). Second, employers who don't wish to hire illegal workers don't have to. What they will miss on, if it does impose some sort of cost on themselves, is the decrease in cost from hiring such workers. The idea of the fines is to make the cost roughly higher to make the decision to hire someone who is in the country illegally.

It seems to me the entire point, the most effective means of immigration control, is to make it difficult to find work in the country unless one has gone through legal channels. Building fences and running around with night vision goggles on the border is amusing and pointless in comparison to doing something which rigs the market to prevent people from circumventing the legal system. Then the logical response is to craft a legal system (I'd recommend a full fledged labor-trade agreement with Mexico in particular) which recognizes both the desire of people to work in this country and the desire of employers to hire them. There is in fact already a system in place for such things in the form of temp agencies. Giving them some form of work visa (a document already in place) with verifiable data on the true identity and origin of the worker without which they cannot work is simple enough and shouldn't require a tamper-proof national ID card (as is proposed in DC).

My problem with the entire enterprise has been that, so long as government workers are too lazy to assist in verifying people's ID information, both ID theft and the employment of illegal immigrants will continue at unfettered rates. It might make the most sense to transfer the ID verification process elsewhere, or privatize the agency (which in the case of SSNs might make sense for other reasons). Regardless of what this judge thinks, it shouldn't be the government's job to impose demands made by society itself. If it is xenophobia we want, then xenophobia we shall have.

Apparently if businesses don't want xenophobia, there is a reason for it. Could it be that hiring unskilled cheap labor is important enough to circumvent the legal system? Or in essence the market is telling us that it requires these workers.. and the government has acted too slowly to allow their legal entrance, so it's just going ahead and doing it. I do not see where verification is such a strenuous process, but I might agree that the rate at which legal immigration is occurring is probably insufficient (which is why we may need a labor-trade deal with Mexico).

05 June 2008

congestion gasoline

I had an idea when considering oil prices, driving, and general problems therein with things like congestion and so forth.

There are a number of toll roads around the world that have moved to congestion pricing. In other words, if you want to use the road at rush hour it will cost more. The idea actually works to reduce congestion and spread out commutes more naturally (the road is used more or less evenly throughout the day).

Couldn't the same thing be applied to gas prices? Gas is a fixed commodity true, but why couldn't it cost more around rush hour to encourage people to commute at different times on public roads. Quasi-privatizing all public roads is never going to work in America because there are so many roads and so many small neighborhoods from which we commute. Perhaps major highways and beltways will be eventually all 'smart' toll roads and that may have some impact on general congestion (though cheap people just take major side streets instead and crowd them up instead).

Why not take the next step and charge gas prices differently based on demand pricing. When most people get gas, make it cost more (it already sort of does this by increasing every summer, but that's only a seasonal adjustment, not a congestion adjustment). Make it cost more in the mornings and around quittin' time, less in the wee hours and mid afternoons/late evenings and I think we'd see people spreading out their commutes and evening entertainments where gas is needed. I suspect this is just as impractical (eventually people would think it is the same as price gouging). But I have to think that some gas stations do this anyway already, to the extent they can legally. It is true that gasoline costs them the same, but they could (and probably would) offer the gas at a true loss in competitive markets when there is little to no demand (and don't think people won't line up in those before bed trips to save several dollars a tank). Most gas prices at the pump are actually at a break-even point or a very thin profit margin at best. If this is slowly distributed and allowed to adjust in a some test markets I think we would see some progress on spreading out driving habits somewhat or people would stop driving as much in general. I'm not advocating as extreme a price margin as these toll roads operate on. Even 20-30 cent adjustments in price over the course of one day gets people's attention, so it wouldn't need to be something major. Perhaps an upper limit of 50 cents surcharges during rush hours?

04 June 2008

mccain's undoing

"Who would be a more formidable opponent for McCain? (Obama v Clinton)"

McCain himself. In political terms, he'll have to somehow get people out to vote in support of him, not just against his opponents.

response on experience matters

"Obama is too green for the job and should "wait his turn.""

We have no set qualifications on what defines a President. Lincoln held few elected offices outside of Illinois also. Doesn't mean he'll be a good President either, but we shouldn't consider 'experience' as highly as we do.

03 June 2008

conserve or innovate?

"Do you believe more in conservation or innovation as a way to reduce carbon emissions?"

We need both. I think the overall preference for 'innovation' is saying "I don't want to do anything myself
"Should the government be involved in redistributing wealth in order to promote greater social equality?"

Social equality of opportunity is the goal. Equality of outcomes is impossible unless human beings are equally skilled, equally motivated, and equally equipped.

estate tax question

"Are you in favor of increasing or eliminating the inheritance tax?"

It doesn't touch the really wealthy anyway. Estate planners are trained to move assets around to prevent the tax from kicking in, or to find ways to cover it as a cost and transfer wealth anyway. The only way to tax wealth is to tax consumption of it.