31 August 2009

A memory

I've decided the largest bulk of the explanation for why so many people active in right wing politics today make no sense is that they seem incapable of remembering anything at all. Even, perhaps especially, things that they themselves did and participated in. It seems like their entire concept of reality is made up and not grounded in the events that preceded it on the time scale that the rest of us inhabit (which is odd since they seem quite willing to pretend that events that didn't in fact precede this one are worth preserving as traditions).

A dream.

Ends with me drinking an endless glass of orange juice while listening to a statement by a now deceased person complaining about the supposedly thoughtful suggestions being raised by relatives which only serve to remind them of their impending demise whilst they (the elderly person) busy themselves with the many fun things of living instead. After having just argued with a group of undereducated teenagers in an outdoor gathering whether "venerable" or anything with "ultra" in the name was "cooler" because of the importance in differences between greatness and goodness or just plain scale references functioning as a superlative rather than an indicator of some basic character and quality, even if it is only determined by the factors of time spent dutifully applied at some task. I'm not sure I won that argument.

But I'm pretty sure it could have been a real "argument" based on the things I've had to argue with of late. People who attempt to defend torture as acceptable by bringing up cable TV as a prisoner "right" or that we should simply treat prisoners entirely well in that same way have no business being in the same room with me on an intellectual plane of existence. I have tired of it finally. War is to be declared against such stupidity.

30 August 2009

The nature of the trivial quest

I'd have to disagree on the economics and moral philosopher angle expressed here. Adam Smith's first treatise is on morals, he considered it his greatest achievement (the world became somewhat more familiar with a later work). David Hume was well involved in the study of both, as was JS Mill. I think you could easily argue Marx was concerned about both. In fact most economists come to the study as way to look for the "best", ie most effective or efficient, ways to resolve complex issues. (one, if they were inclined could count me among such luminaries in the manner I came to studying economics, as a result of my intense interest in human ethics and behavior, though I certainly don't consider anything I produce to be anything more than trivial derivations of their far more expansive works). Most of our complex issues happen to be bound up on in difficult moral imperatives, as if they were not, they could be easily resolved with empirical claims and data.

Behavioral economics is almost totally about looking for ways to influence behavior in a desirable way (putatively anyway, they, like many sciences, can be abused by less well-intentioned adherents). Hence the desire to design policies that reduce demand for abortions, reduce drug violence and crime, decrease wasteful spending in health care (or political programs generally), increase voter participation and information, decrease corruption and fraud, and so on. I would hardly argue that these are in the main policies which are pursued without regard to moral assumptions. Rather because they make slightly different moral assumptions than normal people they are often perceived as amoral. An assumption that some people will continue to consume narcotic substances is regarded as vile, even though every evidence indicates this is bound up in the nature of human beings. The more pressing question is then how best to have such consumption continue, as it will regardless of what policies are pursued, without it creating more damage upon others through crime, corruption, and violence. If in fact this means designing a policy which reduces the number of addicted drug consumers rather than interdicting drug shipments and which then reduces the overall quantity of damage done to society and most drug seeking individuals, why is this considered an immoral presumption? Because some people will be free to use an illicit substance by their choice?

In the case argued specifically, similarly, the claim is advanced that human being's remains and organs are an autonomous issue with considerable moral value (one that a price should not be applied to at all). I don't think anyone's argument within economics makes the claim that people would be compelled to sell their organs to others and that people would thus be compelled to voluntarily surrender their moral claim to their body and organs. If they don't want to sell at any price, they don't have to. I'm pretty sure this claim is made instead by people who don't understand economics, ie, poor people will sell their kidneys off without real any benefits to themselves and that rich people would be able to buy them all up...which is more or less what can happen now except poor people don't get anything for their kidneys but some social standing and maybe a promise to receive a kidney first if something happens to their remaining functional organ. But to presume that it is the economists who are refusing to deal with this argument is pretty silly. It's already been accounted for when you work out the argument who will be buyers and sellers and what price the market will determine. The marketplace would determine if people generally placed an extremely high premium on their organs because of these abstract but important moral quibbles that they would receive a higher price for selling one. If high enough, fewer buyers will enter the market and may await the normal flow of donations or pay for expensive treatments instead. If people by contrast did not place such a price premium, then they would sell them more cheaply, and as a result, poor people would have more organs available to purchase in the event they are suffering from severe kidney ailments. In either event, the moral problem of how people value their bodily autonomy in this moral sense is considered by the individual players in the market who choose to participate in it (by selling or buying kidneys).

It is, as described, a lousy argument to suppose that people will not trade off some moral principles for others that they value more highly when the ability to satisfy all of our moral demands is limited (as it tends to be). The proposition being advanced by people against having a legal market for such things is more generally defined that nobody else should be allowed to participate in such a market because they themselves would not. This is, in effect, the same argument as those against legalisation of narcotics. The presumption being that a bodily autonomy does not include, in some cases, the ability to "defile" the human temple by use of chemical substances or the removal of some partially vital organs in exchange for money (which can then be used to satisfy other moral imperatives such as providing for one's family or paying for education and health care).

There are some moral lines that can only be crossed in the most general abstractions. Such as a calculation involving deliberate murder by individuals, outside of established practices of law and order or warfare, and its costs or benefits. Some people probably do benefit society or others individually were they to die, but making that judgment and carrying it out is probably best left out of individual people's hands as all of us can be measured in such a way by someone else whose moral compass is not as attuned to our own. The supposition instead that a person cannot do with themselves as they please, even where we disapprove of this or where it might cause them some cost of pain or suffering while simultaneously presuming that it is precisely because of our individuality and dignity as a valuable human being that we should not do so seems a little silly as an argument. What if for example it reduces other people's suffering and individuals can then take joy in that reduction that they helped cause? It can be argued that yes we have to make that case and you do have to explain the rational means around that conflict. But this is not because it's a convincing and sound argument raised against an economically sound policy position or that economists are refusing to ask it. It's just a commonly held one that economists find trivial next to much broader moral scopes and which can be best worked out by the individual participants with their own moral weights and decision making rather than by fiat. There isn't some major harm committed to the public or even the people involved to involve money in these organ transactions. There is only a (large, possibly a majoritarian)group of people who will be offended if they are no longer allowed to increase the amount of suffering of others by reducing their options to resolve it in mutual accord with others.

29 August 2009

It could have been a Conjurer
Before and after haunting footsteps
So easily it wisped to being

It could have been a Demon's
Breath of smoke and fire and ash
So acute the moment's flare

It could have been the Enchantress'
Impish grin laughing in memory
So the beauty once captivating as she

It could have been the dark Lake
Deep and reflecting nothing
So empty and cold the feel

It could have been the Blade's
Edge, shining against the light
So eviscerated and bled was he

Twas the smallest smile upon the Mirror's
Face that brought him low
So intertwined were they

28 August 2009

muy bien

I don't quite agree with all of these proposed solutions in total (in part because I think he just pulled some numbers out of a hat at that point after having done research personally and presumably at his own expense in other facets), but he's definitely diagnosing the blame and responsibility of the problem accurately in my opinion. The idea for things like monthly fees for primary service or low cost clinics is certainly worth examination within a market spectrum. I am not sure that an HSA, even an HSA system with an extremely high deductible of 50k a year is necessary to address and control costs by shifting the costs to consumers and removing the disguise of cost and value assessments for doctors. There are still some asymmetric information issues that doctors or pharmaceutical companies would need to have addressed in some way (perhaps by changing our advertising regimen for drugs and medical procedures for example). But if the costs incentives are shifted from a fee for service model to a salaried position with fixed costs, as it would roughly have to outside of very specific, usually voluntary, medical procedures in an open market, we may not see this as a huge factor in the run-up of cost. I know I pay in this way for veterinarian services (for now). I'd probably would just budget the cost once my cats eventually perish and I get new animal companions. But it's certainly more efficient and still must be a profitable business model with some broad consumer appeal. It's not much of a fee for service system at that point since most primary things like vaccines and exams are covered. Why such a model couldn't work efficiently to help manage people's basic health care costs while ensuring that they still receive basic, preventive, medical care is somewhat questionable.

As far as why we won't get anything like this now, or why nobody is talking about it with this level of seriousness (despite health care policy wonks who have studied the issue in this way from all political and economic sides advising various schemes similar in nature), I think the problem is that many reformers have simply assumed that the costs are caused by profits and inefficiency of health insurance within a market economy, and that's why we're getting a bill that mostly targets health insurance costs and reforms or proposes to compete with that using a government system (something we already have in the form of medicare and it only works very slightly to curb costs). Also the conception that regulation has too often failed to serve its intended purpose and instead reinforces those complained about corporate boundaries and profits cannot be admitted. It's far easier to vilify those boundaries and profits without attempting to examine why they exist in the first place. In all what we have so far is an attempt to regulate the insurance market model using employers to subsidize cost and some vague assessments that will reduce some costs, but which have to be born by the public rather than the actual industry that's putatively being reformed. That's totally inadequate. A "comprehensive reform" would examine that many of the costs are endemic to how we pay for health care and how we (over)value it as a commodity and seek to break that model. Smash it into dust and start over.

Maybe that's too radical for people to accept as it would upset the established order too much, but in my mind, continuing to paper over difficult problems is not why we, as a public, elected someone on a mantra of change. Truly transformative politics aren't likely to happen without someone making some bold and assertive decisions somewhere and getting behind them with the full force and fury of their ability to argue for them emotionally and intellectually.

27 August 2009

consistency is hard apparently


This is the really funny part that's been kicked up in this entire genital kerfuffle. For some reason these are the same people getting worked up who don't tolerate abortion rights in this country. To be at all logically consistent, if the point is the forced aspect of control, one would have to be pro-choice and anti-forced-circumcision. Once you understand that both are to be, as they should be, largely voluntary procedures, it's sort of a rhetorical nonsense problem anyway. But it's still inconsistent to be, in essence, against both abortion rights and mandated circumcisions.

Naturally of course, that's not the real "why this became an issue". Controlling women is okay for social conservatives and their political figures. But certainly not controlling penises by removing a tiny bit of skin and possibly sexual sensitivity. Heavens no! What a terrible idea!

26 August 2009

take this argument and shove it

I would have something more poignant to say regarding Teddy's long running battle with cancer that time finally won out on. But I don't. I didn't grow up with the Kennedys in their prime as it were. I grew up with Teddy as a figure working in Congress, working quite effectively and well at that, but not always in the front. Some of that was his own failings in his personal effects and life. We all have them. Clinton went through much of this as well. So did his more famous brother (although much less publicly). I suspect though the difference is that I don't recall the Kennedys ever brandishing a supposed moral club over their political foes regarding their personal life. They probably knew they were scoundrels. That's in part why so much of their work should be regarded as astonishing. Sometimes they made mistakes in politics (Teddy started out for the Vietnam War for instance).

But this was a partial list of major legislative and executive achievements
1) immigration reform (ended quotas)
2) civil rights (pushed to end poll tax, eventual amendment)
3) national teacher corps (attempt to address social-economic imbalance cycle of lack of opportunity in poor and rural areas)
4) pushed to resolve the Irish troubles
5) Cancer and AIDS funding initiatives, along with a long-standing record for single-payer health care, including programs like COBRA and SCHIP.
6) public finance laws for campaigns (post-watergate)
7) Title IX
8) pushed for nuclear freeze, opposed interventionism throughout Central America
9) Americans with Disabilities Act
10) headed committee that eventually de-regulated air travel

When added onto familial legacy achievements like the Peace Corps, Special Olympics, et al, it's a busy, busy list. There are individual quibbles here and there on the effectiveness of some things. NCLB was pretty dumb for example. But even there he reversed himself when Bush wasn't actually funding the bill (same with Medicare part D).

There are two ways to look at a life like that. One is the line at the end of Inside Man "....And then he tried to wash away his guilt. Drown it in a lifetime of good deeds and a sea of respectability." That's certainly one way to look at it. Some of our deeds are just not worth the respectability that we try to earn by serving others. But the other way is to say "guess what, those are some damn good deeds". Sometimes they're outweighed by our burdens or our "sins".

I'm not sure irresponsible or stupid mistakes rather than deliberate mistakes in ethics should be judged that way. It's like trying to hold accountable an adult for things they did as a 15 year old kid. It's one thing if they killed someone on purpose as a 15 year old or tortured animals for example. It's another if they smoked some weed and had oral sex with their boyfriend/girlfriend. Or even cheated on that boyfriend/girlfriend with someone else. Or got drunk and crashed their parents car. Or whatever. A lot of the things that people do as human beings in their daily lives, even as adults, are impulsive and stupid or irrational at best. We know that after the fact and try to make up for it and learn if we can, especially when they have terrible consequences. We therefore make allowances for stupidity and foolishness when we move to punish people legally, ethically and socially for those consequences. And some people will move to make those allowances themselves and drown away that guilt in a sea of good deeds. In most respects, on balance, that's probably a good thing for us to be reminded that we're not perfect and to try to act accordingly. It would be best if we could learn that lesson less painfully or tragically than some have to, as Teddy Kennedy had to, but that's just not how life works.

There's an ancient practice that the Romans allegedly used to use for their triumphs. A slave would ride with the celebrated general/emperor while saying to him the phrase "Memento Mori" (remember you are mortal for those lacking in a Latin education), repeatedly. Whether that's true or not, it's basically the same lesson here. Human beings are flawed creatures. We have limited minds and senses that perceive only so much and only have time enough to experience so much of that even. That inevitably means we're going to fuck up. Some of us a lot or in major ways. We, collectively, have to deal with that when it carries dangers and consequences of danger and risk for the rest of us. But most of the time it just means a lot of pain and suffering for individuals pushing up against each other and making mistakes, taking risks, and trying ever so hard to attain a level of serenity and happiness. The least we can do is try to recognize that an entire life is not always defined by its mistakes.

The most momentous mistakes, that cost us dearly, will be always remembered that way. There's no getting around that. But when I look at figures like Jefferson and Washington and the modern revisionist history that paints them mostly as vilified slave owners (and to that extent, rightly so) and then look at the deeds and works they produced in their time against the works of their contemporaries, I have to wonder. A human being is defined by an awful lot of things. Focusing only on those negatives, painting everyone as a monster (or as Hitler) is convenient if you want to achieve something politically. But it's not intellectually honest. And trying to use that tactic on someone like me it means I will probably take the rest of your argument and tell you to shove it. Because you're probably either trying to sweep the dirt under the rug for your own side or you're just throwing out the cake with the candles. It's just not a complete image of the situation that you're painting or aware of to where I have any interest in anything else you'll have to say on a subject.

I'd much rather have to eat the cake with the candles than have to throw it out entirely. You can learn something that way. (now if it's a huge candle and its sitting on a cupcake, maybe not...but then that's where Hitler actually comes in)

nobody expects the spanish inquisition, joker edition

"takes refuge in the fact that anything Mr. Cheney did wasn't as bad as incinerating millions of innocent people in a nuclear holocaust" - I see this argument in its various forms all the time regarding torture and our foreign policies on terrorism and terrorism suspects. "Well al Qaeda kidnaps people and cuts their fucking heads off." Or they actually use the drills on people instead of just threatening to do so, something like that. I haven't yet figured out how this is supposed to be a convincing argument, but it's used ALL the time. It's like they're trying to prove our moral supremacy by stating hey "well at least we're not as bad as those guys".

Maybe I'll grant that there's a margin of relativism there that matters somewhere. But it's still ignoring something: It's like the difference between someone who brutally kills and maims people for sport and someone who does so for money. The margin is pretty small. It really only matters when you sentence people for doing something illegal and dangerous to the health of society at large. When the argument we're making for our moral high ground in this fight is that "we're not as bad as they are" and not "this is how good we are" or "how great our ideals and ideas are", we're not going to be winning the moral high ground anytime soon.

More to the point, there was never any reason to abandon the moral high ground. It was like all other options were surrendered without any consideration or condition, maybe in a moment of panic, maybe just because we wanted to feel better. We went straight to being savages for...what? Supposedly so we're safer and haven't been attacked, so it must have "worked". Except now we have savages internally and war criminals who aren't being prosecuted and treated as such. I'm not technically opposed to the use of the military to combat terrorism or the use of the CIA to capture and interrogate high value targets. But brutal torture and treatment of prisoners is not America and shouldn't be. And emerging from a regime that permitted this devaluation of any basic integrity, such as a nation can have any, only reminds me just how small the line between Big Brother and an accountable democracy really is.

It occurred to me in looking over the various analogies being used to defend or justify such policies that people seem to be overlooking the actual purposes and utility of barbarity and torture. It is really about revenge, punishment and control. It has nothing at all to do with interrogation, though it does extract "confessions", some of which might even be true. One such argument being circulated is the listing of various popular culture movies and shows wherein the hero acts quickly and decisively, but viciously, upon an obvious bad guy to extract vital information and save the day. This obfuscates the problem quite well. It supposes
1) that this sort of scenario with obvious good guy-bad guy knowledge exists anywhere in the world (particularly the notion of a bad guy and their level of knowledge of operations)
2) doing such things will save lives (always)
3) The hero is unaffected by this action (sometimes the movie version touches on this...Munich for example)
4) The hero is to be lauded for it (because the ends justified the means)

Now I can possibly find some justification that the ends sometimes justify the means in some cases, so that argument isn't totally useless by itself. It's possible that in the very strict sense someone who knows with certainty that a person can save lives, like the code to a bomb or something might be justifiably assaulted if no other way can be made to quickly appeal to their self-interest. What is not clear is if that would actually do anything, ie that it would ever save the day. We have a presumption of another Hollywood fantasy that the bad guy will quickly give up when you start breaking his fingers, punching him in the face, or shooting him in the kneecaps. They may indeed in some cases. But to use one such Hollywood fantasy as a counter, in the Dark Knight there's an interrogation scene where Joker knows where the DA is and that he will be killed unless action is taken quickly to save him. He's playing a game, so after the scene is over you know full well that he's more than willing to tell Batman where he is. He spends the entire time trying to see just how far he can push Batman outside the boundaries of rules, and he gets pretty damn far. Accepting also that a vigilante crime fighter is already outside the boundaries of rules to begin with. In that one scene we can start to see that the purpose of the beatings and torture isn't to get a confession, because that was already ordained by the bizarre sense of camaraderie that the two iconic and diametrically opposed characters share by existing not quite in the boundaries of normal society. It's to satisfy our sense of rage. It offends us in some deep level that some people are monstrous to their fellow man. And in response, if we lose control of the situation and our place in it, we can risk becoming monsters ourselves.

It's a very thin line we walk when we use violence to aggressively solve problems, ie, slay dragons, as practical and perhaps even sometimes necessary as that may be. But in the case of human beings, it's not always clear to us that what we have in front of us is always a dragon worth slaying. Once we convince ourselves it is a monster and not a human being (perhaps one gone very awry), anything is possible. The reason we have laws and processes and procedures for dealing with criminals is to protect ourselves, not really from them, but from ourselves. It introduces doubt into that certainty and allows us to step back and see, if temporarily, this is still a human being. "They may have done something monstrous. But what I must do is prove to others that this is a monster and let us all take action then." Not become one myself and take matters into my own hands. As fantastic as it seems, human beings are never so transparently vile as Hollywood portrays (obviously since we are often compelled to root for villains too it's not quite that simple even in Hollywood). However people are sometimes so consumed in a sense of their own decency that nothing they do gives them pause or doubt, no matter how twisted that action may be, it can be justified because "I am a good/holy/decent/family man/et al". Maybe that's a difference in our transgressions of evil behavior, aka torture. It's still a very small comfort to me if it is.

25 August 2009

KNP continues as Quis custodiet ipsos custodes

Expanding on a somewhat specific point I realized as I wrapped up the previous post that it was insufficiently clear, in my mind anyway, what exactly it is that conservatives have done in response to recessions (I think I explained to the extent other people would be interested and/or understand what is that I think anybody should do and what it was that libertarian/conservative intellectuals recommended be done)

Basically what I would explain is that the common perspective of the Great Depression as realized by the average person now is that it started because Hoover didn't do anything. Rome burned while Nero fiddled is the explanation. In comparison to the vigorous tinkering of FDR, this might be true. But in any reasonable historical and economic analysis of the facts, Hoover was in fact VERY busy, and thought he was being very busy to solve a difficult problem for which he was in fact inadequately trained. The true problem, from analysis of history and the perspective of people at the time (both academics like Irving Fisher and his political opponents like FDR, for different reasons), was that he was doing the WRONG things. I think in time we might find a similar analysis applied to Bush. It was even a prevailing opinion already that he wasn't doing things at the end of his term (or rather his administration wasn't). It was in fact very busy that last year. But probably not busy in any productive or helpful way.

The problem has different roots for Hoover and Bush. Bush was ideologue or motivated by ideological hegemony. That means he doesn't listen to critical opinions outside his sphere. Hoover was a technocratic genius (Hoover Dam ring any bells). That means he didn't listen to anybody else's opinions period. I think we are fortunate as a result thus far that concerns and opinions seem to be genuinely considered, even if often they should more properly be completely dismissed, by this current administration. Avoiding such a committee of one attitude is essential to good democratic governance.

By contrast Obama has, like FDR, been very busy, even if not everything he's tried to do has passed yet, unlike FDR. And that will probably sway public and historical opinion. To my mind the problem isn't a conservative perspective to do nothing and never use government policy to resolve an issue, though that can be a core problem of its own, it's instead the perspective not to actually understand policies and be critical of them as they actually happen and develop in response to emergencies. This critique applies naturally enough to foreign policy. Slapping "freedom" or "patriot" on a law or an invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation outside our sphere of influence seems to dissuade critical opinion from forming. After all, how could you call yourself an American citizen and be against "freedom". Like the mantra for "lower taxes" however, it often escapes people what is actually meant by the term and its actual utility.

So I then move on to explain how I arrive at a sort of radical politics outside the normative understanding of right and left, liberal/conservative. Most generally, I see the purpose and existence of government, particularly democratic forms, as a guarantor of liberties. Socrates put it as licentia per lex, "liberty through law". The understood premise there is not that a majority may form opinions and impose its will through government but that government exists to protect the views of a minority. Where we must be in fear of persecution or even safety, that's a sensible role for government (for now I think we could regard it as a given that human beings in general are not well versed in ethical treatment and behavior in order to do this without government in a large scale society).

These are some core distinctions from mainstream right wing thought. For instance, this obviously means that majority rule is not a sufficient explanation for passage of social customs as law, even on a local decentralized scale. The reason being that minority views, including those of an individual, are sacrosanct in almost all cases, not just when they agree with the prevailing opinion of the masses. I describe this more colloquially as an understanding that "I am 'weird', therefore other people must also appear to be at times weird and I must tolerate their weirdness if they are to tolerate mine". This must be so simply because all of us arrive at some opinions or issues which are not in the common understanding of a vast majority, or even amongst our peers, at some level or time. We will wish others to hear our views where they differ and so convince them of the rightness of them or we may simply wish to disagree with a prevailing opinion for our particular case. There are unfortunate consequences to this, namely putting up with people whose opinions are or could be viewed as insane or asinine or even dangerous. But the net result is that it is the individual and their rights are the ultimate minority view being defended by government.

Conservatives instead replace this rigorous individualism with a view that families are the sacrosanct body politic. This view occasionally possesses some merit. But a critical analysis really suggests that what they are saying in practice is not "families" but "fathers/authority figures". I view very skeptically the idea that we should accept and accede to authority without question or consent. Including as children. The perspective of conservatives is that institutions which exist have value accumulated from years of existence and that these values have social importance in some manner. This is, as I said, occasionally true. But it is not the a priori development that simply because that's the way it is that is the way it should be in all cases. An institution has value only so long as it exists to provide that value and not so long as it exists solely because it always has. Likewise the assumption that a position of authority is to be obeyed or followed without question has some obvious demerits. I'm not sure therefore that a father, a President, or a cop has any real power over us as individuals that we don't permit them to have. Occasionally a leader is needed and indeed organisation will often be preferred to chaos so we extract some value from the existence of an established hierarchy in the sense that it trains us to accept expertise and coordination when needed and available. But this is not to say that this organisation should not be subject to any rigorous development process to determine its nature and purpose or that this organisation must be fixed in the moment of present values and move unceasingly into future with unwavering support. Authority becomes useful, but must be capable of being subjected to something like criticism, even if only a brief fleeting moment in our own minds. Where there becomes no choice, authority will, in the long run, fail.

There are some specific caveats to this. For instance, science is based principally on this sort of rigorous analysis of evidence through experimentation and debate. What is flawed is that public discourse on science is not and includes all sorts of revealed evidence that cannot be tested or debated instead. In all public debates there are not fundamentally "two sides" which have equally valid viewpoints regarding public interest and debate. Or charitably, if there are the legitimacy of a minority view is often highly specious if not an outright distortion of the actual facts (sometimes this is true of the majority views as well, another reason to be suspicious of majority rule and pre-existing institutions). We are seeing this tactic politically being used in such important matters as health care and with non-essential matters like where the President was born. Existing institutions like media often pride themselves on a sort of "teaching the controversy" perspective. But within science there is no controversy of the sort we are speaking of outside of it. Likewise among intellectually serious people who examine evidence there are no death panels and the President was born in Hawaii. Presenting all minority views as inherently equal is not quite what is meant by making such speech sacrosanct. You can certainly say or believe pretty much whatever you want, no matter how ridiculous. Whether or not other people or their institutions will take you seriously and do anything about it is entirely up to them. Particularly when there is no actual evidence to support your claims.

That's the long winded variation on why it is that I'm more or less libertarian. Small decentralised power centers allow for choice to the degree that it is possible. I still think that some basic guarantor of rights is needed, such as a Constitution, established to defend basic liberties of the people from, of all ironies, the people. And it seems, with some occasional misfortune, necessary to do this by means of employing the public to watch the watchers, as it were, through the use of democratic institutions. I say this because of a decreasing amount of hope in the ability of the public to do so, certainly to its own benefit. The increasing trend among political bodies like American society is apparently to disagree for the purposes of disagreement. The party of no! for example, rather than to disagree out of any relevant principle and be held accountable to that by independent or rational observers.

Know nothing party continues


I don't recall that intellectually speaking, "conservatives" have ever done nothing in response to a recession. The problem is that they've sometimes done stupid things instead or suggested doing things that worked previous because conditions were different. Reagan's tax cuts worked because the tax code was overly complicated and too progressive when he came into office. (Of course he also had Volcker at war with inflation at the Fed, which helped in some long term ways but more over purposely created the early 80s recession he was dealing with in the first place). The same theory worked pretty well with the early 20s recession, again a recession with "conservatives" in charge. Harding and Coolidge cut taxes and simplified the tax structure. The post-war recession more or less corrected itself. Hoover by contrast decided that a major recession was caused by a financial shock and moved to restrict risk taking behaviors or high incomes by passing one of the largest tax increases in history (outside of wars). That's pretty dumb. And this was an economic conservative, supposedly.

The problem is that this useful lesson did not apply to most of the Bush years. Taxes were already very low by modern standards and at no point was a tax cut combined with a simplified tax code. If anything the tax code became more onerously complicated and the exploitation of it by the wealthy or higher income earners (and corporations) more pervasive. When cutting taxes is a political slogan or a mantra useful as a platitude rather than a policy choice with useful implications on the general economy, it's not very helpful. It suggests rather that the idea of an intellectual conservative is a dying element. In many matters I find this notion appealing. I share no particular bias toward past and long-standing institutions simply because they are there or that's the way people have always done things. But when something DID work and had useful effects, I see no particular reason to amend it or no particular evidence that a central planner (ie, experts) will always be able to do better. Sometimes they do, many times they fail because their focus is too small and uncomplicated for the task at hand or carries political calculations that burden the overall goal with complicated secondary issues (like maximizing employment). The market is pretty smart in that way when you let it ride on its own and very carefully tune it by providing some simple frameworks of rules and laws.

In most senses, the strain of libertarianism I find consistent (and appealing) recognizes not that small decentralized governments will better reflect local customs, which I often find odious or out of line with evidence to the contrary, but that small decentralized governments better restrain the ability of people to intercede on each others affairs unnecessarily and restrictively. That means on social issues I often get viewed as progressive and economically speaking I'm often a conservative. And therefore very annoyed at other conservatives who speak without knowing of what they say. Doing "nothing" is never a good idea, if only because of the behavioral implications (the paradox of thrift for example). Milton Friedman basically put forward a plan for something like a bailout, the sort of break open glass emergency case. Except it wasn't a fiscal stimulus being used. It was monetary policy. His essential argument is that capable and simple monetary tools would actually prevent the need for major fiscal injections of policy specifically for recessions, with all their accompanying utility and waste, in the first place. Politically speaking, fiscal stimulus is useful. Perhaps it has psychological impact for the behavior of consumers (if done correctly). But economically, it's almost always useless (capital or infrastructure investment done by governments is useful in the abstract, but this is not the same as a one-time stimulus bill and should be ongoing instead of a big chunk all at once).

This was quite true in the case of bank bailouts. They did not adequately address problems of moral hazard, we're still dealing with the concept of "too big to fail", and we're nowhere closer to having a banking neutral federal reserve policy. Ie, we don't particularly need to have a policy that favors Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan in particular (big banks) so much as have a policy that these banks will do well under while having to compete against other financial institutions. I see no particular problem with the theory of a monetary injection of capital or a quantitative easing to essentially create inflation at the outset of our economic woes. But that is a slightly different argument than one which simply hands off money to banks as a stop-gap loan as a matter of fiscal policy and doesn't provide any rationale for doing so (ie, banks must more or less loan it back out instead of prettying their balance sheets back up) while at the same time putting up a monetary policy which encourages banks to horde capital well above their reserve requirements. We have almost a trillion dollars sitting around as excess banking reserves right now, just sitting there while the fed pays interest points to it. One would think that having that money floating around in circulation over the past 6 months would have been a great help to the rest of us. Perhaps that might have meant a few larger banking institutions failed (Citi or AiG for instance) instead of a great number of small ones. To me this is no great loss. Most of that money would have been insured and ended up on the federal taxpayer's agenda as a temporary loss while it was redistributed to the market. But it also wouldn't have just been sitting there doing nothing for very long either.

So in short, there's an old and very effective piece of advice just sitting around being ignored that either 1) could have prevented a major financial shock in the first place or 2) would have ameliorated it without need for major government spending programs in the case of the financial sector. This plan has been studied by academics, appears to address the causes of major financial collapses (like the Depression) and even shown to work in practice (Australia is doing moderately well under it). But that plan was discarded because 1) the financial shock made it impossible to focus on the cause of the financial shock (it really wasn't the housing sector or even the complex derivative markets it spawned) and 2) fiscal stimulus is more fun and immediate for politicians and media than boring automatic market responses. The other reason appears to be that the actual conservative intellectuals had all died off and that made it impossible to actually propose something radically different that might actually work faster and smooth out future business cycles to boot. Instead the policy choices were reflective of what had been done before (and has never been actually shown to work). And this was a conservative implementing them and actually doing something (TARP was a Bush policy).

So while it might be fair to characterize the present mantra as doing nothing (and that's a mantra I disagree with in almost all cases and causes), it's not fair to say that's what actually happens. It looks more like because their mantra isn't based on any sensible policy choices or values, that they (conservatives) will in fact do something. And often utterly fail in either the short or long run because they picked the wrong something.

A story which immediately devolves into a complicated ramble on the nature of affiliations

In my recent attempts to be a civilized human being and interact with others, I noticed a few things, one of which conspired with my brain to compose a contrived ranting on the subject.

I don't like concerts. This is not to say that I disapprove of other people's enjoyment in them or hearing their tales of jubilation or disappointment. This is a separate issue from the concept of concerts themselves that I'll get around to eventually. It occurred to me that I've been to maybe two, and both at someone else's request. My own enjoyment of music is not improved by being surrounded by other people, some in various states of inebriation or undress, others having a jolly good time in a more general sense. My own emotional reactions to music are more private. They're not something that makes me want to get out and yell or dance, to observe others doing so, or much of anything else relating to public musical appreciation.

When this first occurred to me I hadn't gone through CYOE yet. But basically Cowen eventually explains that most of our social or cultural preferences, especially in a modern environment with lots of choices, are effectively public things that we share in and experience with others. I don't work that way, at least not very well. I have found that exposure to other people's preferences of something like music will have an influence in that I might find some of what they listen to worthwhile for my own tastes. I'd imagine virtually all of my post-2000 musical tastes emerged from other people's listening habits. I have also found that I filter my movie attendance based on the relative public merits, as expressed by imdb or metacritic, of a borderline movie to attend or see. But these were still private habits at the core. I didn't go around asking people what they were listening to or what concerts they were going to. In most cases I found I didn't care, which seems perfectly sensible to me. Very few people I have enough of a society with to be in the same place while they listen to their own musical tastes and to where that would be a real problem for me in the sense that I could not tolerate their varieties of experiences. I also found that people asking me what I listened to was something of an annoying question. I'm wasn't sure what it was supposed to demonstrate about me by learning these bits of information.

What finally occurred to me is that this probably a less than sensible way to approach the problem. Most of my preferences in culture were developed privately and individually. They are, in most cases, my own. Certainly more so than with others whose musical or movie interests developed alongside and in combination with friends and family. As a result if I were to actually examine any logic or rationale for why I liked one particular style over another, a particular artist over another, et al, there might be something someone could learn about how I think, what I like to think about, and so on.

This is not generally what people think they are asking me when they ask questions like that however. (Similar to "how's your day"?). It's sort of a less meaningful question, a selfish one at that. People are in fact trying to validate their opinions or interests by having associates who share them. I'm not sure there's anything wholly wrong with that. I certainly prefer being able to talk about basketball, philosophy, politics, or military history once in a while myself. And filtering out people who listen extensively to country music does seem to be a decent proxy for at least removing excessive and trite conversations on NASCAR or UFC instead of the NBA or the Final Four, or political opinions that include killing ragheads instead of actually examining the root issues of terrorism and stopping it at its core (another post for another day relating to the ability of Americans to slap "freedom" on something as though it's impossible to be a false argument or product behind it). Still I'm not sure that they're always curious about the other person's real response when they ask this sort of question. They're usually looking for an affirmation of their own responses. That has its uses of course for a discerning individual with fussy tastes. More shared interests means more opportunities for future discussions and activities. Someone who does not have an abiding love for 1920s jazz music probably will not want to hear much on that topic from someone who does. But they might still have other interests to collaborate. Unfortunately as it regards the average person, it does not appear that they're even interested in that much investigation. Most people, in my experience, like to hear themselves talk and hear their opinions or views repeated back to them. And they don't want people with divergent opinions talking to them.

I am myself in some ways guilty of this by trying to use persuasive and passive forms of arguments over matters political and economic. CYOE basically glazed over this as a problem as it relates to politics. With more and more resources available to access new information and experiences, most people do not choose different experiences. They instead choose to remain in comfortable spaces. As this relates to important matters such as news and journalism, people can now select with greater ability things which cater to their specific worldviews and do not challenge this zone with any dissonant facts or reporting. Since most of us have such cognitive biases on some level, it's not like we're all innocent and live in a world with a true free flow and exchange of ideas, and that ideal probably won't come to pass anytime soon. Still, I can't recall that we ever had quite so many people who listened only to their own prevailing conceptions and never stopped living in an echo chamber. Perhaps that's merely a glimmer of hopeful nostalgia. But I do think the technology is playing an active role in reshaping the nature and game of political discourse. It's moving a lot faster among "normal" people, first thanks to newspapers, then radio, then TV, and now Drudge and Huffington Post. To be frank, modern political issues are generally so complex that I could usually care less what "normal people" mobilize over and care about. Even where they might have raised a cogent issue they don't seem to have any reasons to have come to that perspective. There's no intellectual curiosity surrounding an issue and the time constraints over having many, many issues conflicting in our daily lives makes that near to impossible to begin with. I barely care what I think on some matters that seem of great importance to others (immigration or health care for instance). And I have lots of time to ruminate on such meaningless prattle.

Getting back to the story. I think about personal preferences a great deal and often wonder why people like the things they do. Generally I think it comes down to some sort of memory response that something triggers. It reminds them of X, and X was good or felt good. People like a song because they danced to at their wedding. They like a sport because they played as a child or their father/grandfather took them to a game and explained it to them. Things like this. Those are really social explanations that bring up the neurological responses somewhere along the way. I could certainly do more basic research in real psychology and figure this out in a scientific explanation from people who did any actual research and I probably should (when I get done studying homo economicus perhaps). The reason, as it seems to me, is that I prefer less social means of expression, argumentation, and experience. Those few actual joys I take in something are either intensely personal or intensely intellectual. The reward part of my brain is kicked into high gear by looking into something and learning about it or thinking about it and ordering it in my memory and understanding.

That sort of joy is pretty common, but not really to any sense of the extremes that I seem to have. I thought about this too. I don't think or know if I have some actual mental disorder or problem, though I certainly have some practical problems relating to mental states and social interactions (particularly anything deemed romantic or metaphorical). It should instead be pretty clear that I often think more intensely, at greater length, and with more details than most people. And it would then be a safe assumption that this has all sorts of effects on things like how I encounter others, how often, what I discuss with them (or listen intently to), how well I think my own interactions, or lack thereof, to have gone (to be fair I don't worry about offending or impressing people with much of what is deemed important or polite company either), and the simplistic attitude I have toward emotional or irrational responses to other people's problems. I recall in high school I was lauded by a fellow student for appearing disinterested and not being emotionally distressed by the process of earning grades. I generally mock people who took seriously the sort of rat race of academic achievement rather than those who did so more by the curious accident of being intelligent and having the same interests in academics as the school they attended. The "look at me" symbolism of such things has never appealed to me as much as real academic study, education qua education. A teacher likewise once praised my ability to concentrate on issues that I was actually interested in (while generally muddling through academic obstacles placed before that goal).

That these can be difficult questions at times that appeal to my mind's eye is sometimes troubling to me. For one, it limits the amount of feedback I get on the value of my productions. Most people will be either of a limited means or have limited information at hand to process and (hopefully at times) disagree meaningfully if needs be. I have only a vague sense that some people will find what I compose as a consequence of my thought experiments and investigations on issues meaningful, interesting, or even important as a consequence. For another it often limits other experiences of a more basic nature. I think I used to find more passive reception of joy or inner peace just walking through a wooded valley, listening to music, reading a book, or attending a ballgame. It has become difficult to focus on the moment and crowd out the constant yammering of my mind and its intent points of local interest while it makes often pointless connections between the scene in front of me and something else entirely. Sure I'm contemplating important issues that need a rational moderator between heavily polarized people not even possessing the same facts before arriving at distinct ideological or religious perspective and biases. But isn't a sunset (or a sunrise more commonly for me) still pretty sometimes? Or a pick and roll defense still hard to do?

I'm also somewhat perplexed that the extent of my pleasures is becoming defined by the existence of other people, though largely in the abstract sense rather than the physical. One of the apparently more difficult constructs of Plato's Republic is notion of forms. Forms were basically perfect ideas to which all things in nature were images of. So a chair is a concept and then a physical object which resembles it is thus a chair in our idealized minds. Now there are many philosophical objections to that notion, but it's an old and uncomplicated assertion about the nature of the universe and one that anyone familiar with the subject of philosophy will encounter. It occurs to me that many of our interactions can be based on a sort of forms relationship. That is, that we're happy in principle or the abstract about something, but the actual experience wasn't perfect in the same way and intense reflection revealing that there's a source for discontent. The idea of traveling to Europe appealing more than actually doing so. Sexual fantasy drowning out real life for some. Essentially that our idealized glory in experiencing something was where the joy comes from and not from the experience itself.

The source of that discontent isn't really the external stimuli however, at least not usually. And at least not in my case, though I've noticed it's pretty common for most people to externalize problems rather than try to look at them. Lower expectations for movies as entertainment tends to make some of them seem like better or thoughtful experiences. But does this mean the movie was actually good or we made a perception of expectations that made it seem good? This is a sort of a chicken or the egg problem endemic to philosophical pondering. So it's worth wondering from time to time, for me at least, whether if something was at fault if it was in fact my own damn fault. If I come away from an encounter with other human beings with the impression that I did not act properly or did not impress upon them myself in any sensible way, this would seem most likely to be my fault. But it does not generally occur in reality that other people perceive my actions toward them to be difficult or insensible (except in cases where I know myself to be deliberately difficult, such as with true imbeciles). Weird maybe. But that's about as far as their perceptions have extended. It's always possible that people are dishonest about this. Or that my form of perception for myself gives me some idealized notion of what I should be and how I should act that isn't quite real to begin with and isn't supposed to be. But neither option is true enough to provide real guidance on how to act in the first place in social settings. Particularly social settings where I have little shared experience to contribute with. Like concerts. I might want to find myself at a symphony hall (if they'll let me in with flip-flops and khakis), but I'm not one to actually find much enjoyment in the experience of modern concerts. This, generally, isn't limited in scope to the problems of musical tastes and affliations. My sporting interests are intensely analytical, save for some modest attachments to particular players (Kevin Garnett for example) and parts of the Illinois sports scene (Cubs and Illini), and this gives me little to debate passionately with others when such subjects come up.

Perhaps it's enough for me to vicariously observe the proceedings and digressions of others. It seems to be usually sufficient. But occasionally in the aftermath of such things it seems that I could have interjected more often or made some more useful contribution to a social event and that I might even have benefited by doing so. It still takes a very long time for that to happen. I have no problems with authority or barriers to discourse (sex, religion, politics, and money, the usual taboos, are all on the table). And so I will very easily discuss with strangers, even superiors in some sense, in written or spoken formats topics that they either cannot or do not often discuss themselves. But I often do not get around to actually mentioning my own idea for a long time, instead mulling the merits or demerits of their contentions and debating in a practice of sophistry without a clear delineation of my own stance.

I'm not sure if that's a filtering problem to determine if I can actually talk to another person and find the experience worthwhile. Or if I'm just not sure I want to take the time and effort to think them over. Or if I'm just aware that I have really deep thoughts by the standards of other people.

22 August 2009


Sleep is the cousin of death

Does not sleeping very much but not getting up early count?

I probably would want less sleep than even what I do get really. 3-4 hours should be enough. At worst, I'd like to get to where I can nap frequently to get that sleep instead of actually retiring for an evening or morning or whatever. It feels rather more useful, as with eating, to do so whenever one is responding to a stimulus to rest rather than at some appointed time. The inverse effect of this is probably the consumption of coffee and its effects on the brain (without even consuming it) to stay awake. I find it's better to just sleep or rest when you get tired than to try to stay awake with stimulants. Naturally, there are occasions where that isn't possible. Driving a car for example. A regular rhythm of sleeping/waking does establish some stimulus to rest, which is fine. It just seems like a waste of time to me.

What I'd be curious about is what caused the genetic change and what, if any, trade-offs there are for not getting more rest and sleep relative to others. It seems like such people are more productive or efficient through the day anyway. What's the downside, any health complications, do non-sleepers/early risers die sooner or something?

20 August 2009

look at me now

Slumdog now

Really, between the two, I'd much rather see Cidade de Deus than Slumdog if I'm going to watch a movie on slums. I don't think abject poverty (of the sort Americans don't understand and don't experience) has much of a "rags to riches" story of hope to tell most of the time. It's more likely to cause despair or resorting to desperation. Something like selling your now famous child for money. There are ways out of the cycle of being an under-caste member of society, but they always seem to end up being somewhere between luck and danger. Luck, like being picked to act in a major international film and getting assistance from a kindly director for you and your family. When you could have just been a faceless slum dog like millions of others.

19 August 2009

Water, water, everywhere

Water the sand please

In other news, Hamermesh is my least favourite blogger here. About half of what he posts seems like he doesn't understand things. Water rationing during a drought is a bad idea relative to higher water prices as dictated by a free market, yes. But so is WATERING YOUR FUCKING LAWN when you live in a DESERT. If the water was priced at its actual value, the average person living in Central Texas probably wouldn't bother with a lawn of any sort because they couldn't afford it relative to more important uses of water: bathing, washing, drinking, even gardening or agricultural production. When you're trying to grow something that isn't supposed to grow in an arid climate, you're wasting resources by using them inefficiently.

In summary, if the water prices went up to where they would have to, he wouldn't be complaining about his lawn watering in the first place. He probably wouldn't have one.

Politics are war

And war is hell

Glenn Beck. Meet Huey Long and George Wallace.

"The performance is intended, not to provide information or even to persuade, but rather to create a space in which rational discussion can be bypassed entirely. The demagogue, whether of old or new vintage, “does not confront his audience from the outside; he seems rather like someone arising from its midst to express its innermost thoughts. He works, so to speak, from inside the audience, stirring up what lies dormant there.... It is difficult to pin him down to anything and he gives the impression that he is deliberately playacting.... Moving in the twilight zone between the respectable and the forbidden, he is ready to use any device, from jokes to doubletalk to wild extravagances.” - Prophets of Deceit. 1949.

It always looks to be accurate to fall back on "the more things change..." whenever I get despondent over the chances for actual intellectual engagements with people over things. I should instead know that there are no chances.

18 August 2009


Went and saw District 9. Something bugged me during my experience at the theatre. Not the movie itself which was excellent. Anything which deals with the subtext of the concept of "other" and what it allows us to do ethically speaking (horrible things that nobody pauses to think about while they're doing it) while entertaining me with an occasional energy blast that vaporizes an arm or a torso (and does so with a splattering effect of the resulting goo) is worthy piece of art in my opinion.

As I exited, I saw two women gazing in a touristy fashion at the entrance to the movie theatre with a sort of stupendous wonder. Leaving me as I passed them by with the commentary of "This is a fancy schmancy place". Hmmm. Really? A place that people drop gigantic sodas on the floor and order overpriced popcorn drowning in butter is a "fancy" place? The fact that a movie theatre has a bar and grill or serves ice cream in its lobby does not make it a more complicated business venture. Perhaps when movie outings were a special and family occasion, you know, when "moving pictures" were a novelty before TV, they were palaces and regaled visitors and patrons with ornate architecture and trappings of high society. They are not fancy now. No matter how much it costs. There's just too much suspicious stickiness on the floor to clean it up. You can park some comfortable lounge chairs and some plasma TVs outside to disguise it, but it's still a movie theatre. It's still just a dark room with a giant screen once you go inside.

the easy way out

more problems with the health care regulations

I noticed a minor quibble (with the plan, not her criticism) immediately. For an individual mandate to work, they have to penalize people who don't comply, typically with a fine. If the fine isn't very high and I was forced to buy a particular kind of insurance (one with stuff in it I personally don't want, ie, it's not an HSA with a high deductible plan), I might just pay the fine and not bother getting health insurance. It's not like they will 1) take away my access to care or coverage or 2) take away other rights or life by doing so. When you don't get car insurance, they can take away your car or at least your driving privileges, but there's not much of a threat here because of medical ethics, externality problems (caused by neighbours letting their neighbours die instead of helping care for them even by just taking them to the hospital) and the fact that I am probably not a free rider case being a working class poor young person without a major health condition (yet).

But in the case of car insurance, they establish very low minimums for coverage and don't worry too much about what kind you get as long as you have something. They do worry about such things with health insurance. For example, states like New York don't even have HSAs because there are so many mandates on coverage crammed in.

catching up on a few things

Europe has their own brand of crazy juice

Anytime someone has an excuse to use this phrase: "....would require improbably heroic levels of fornication....", I am all for it. Reminds me of the Mensa episode on the Simpsons. "Breeding will be undertaken every 7 years. For some of you this will mean much less breeding. For some of us, much, much more." I've yet to follow how the same types of people who will easily dismiss Malthusian projections about economics and population growth then turn around and accept in their open wide mouth breathing way projections about birth rate demographic trends of immigrants, particularly "undesired" immigrants in the flavor of the month (Mexicans here, Arabs or Muslims there). Every such trend when closely examined is erased by matching declines in naturalised immigrants' birth rates or by public consternation stirring up public plots to increase domestic child production (Russia's big on this). "Did you know that disco record sales were up 400% for the year ending 1976? If these trends continue, hey!" That's pretty much what these people are saying by looking at present data to determine a trendline in the future. Despite every evidence that suggests that trend line is unsustainable, already reversing, and probably irrelevant relative to any problems that may be caused by an influx of Islamic migrants.

Voting is not democracy

I already have to explain this problem all the time when people make this point about elections in Iraq. They have elections in Lebanon and Palestine too. They're even internationally monitored and observed and they elect people from Hizballah or Hamas (Lebanon remarkably turned aside Hizballah politically rather recently at least). Voting, even in America, does not automatically defend democratic traditions of human rights. Democracy itself requires a good deal of groundwork, such as the development of institutional practices that monitor or defend various human rights. It's not exactly something you learn to practice as a nation by picking up a civics book and pushing some buttons at a polling station. Of course, this is America where we do neither of the two, trying to explain such things to other places where they perfectly well understand "elections", they just don't understand democracy.

16 August 2009

Everyone is insane

Respond is thus

Seriously. I want ideas. Even if they are half-cooked or incomplete assessments of the problems. A proper debate needs inclusion of different viewpoints, if only to see what's wrong with our own vantage points. If there was something wrong with what he said, which to my own half-cooked view there were a few glaring errors, particularly where he strays into proclamations of how to live a healthy life (essentially: Buy my food! Shop here!), here, correct it and move on. That's the basic nature of a civil debate. Establish an agreed upon set of data and argue over the value points moving forward.

The basic plot was summarized aptly here:
"Socialized health care helps poor people.
John Mackey owns Whole Foods, a company that offers high wages for unskilled work.
John Mackey doesn’t like socialized health care.
I’m not shopping at Whole Foods any longer."

Which is, to me, totally illogical. You can certainly complain about the insistence on employer tax benefits continuing to exist even alongside individual ones. Or complain that it's not a single-payer option funded with state taxes. Or that tort reform is a distracting side issue that explains a very minor portion of the rising costs. Or that HSAs aren't appropriate for all consumers, aren't available because of state mandates, or any number of other complaints. But to presume that this is now an evil company because it's CEO put forward a considered plan of his own based on the success of his own company and its employees and a few half-cocked facts about the nature of the insurance industry and rising costs generally? Even at best, it devolves the conversation down to the level the extreme right has tried to make it into (and largely succeeded, sadly) with bald associations with socialism and Godwin's Law as a daily invocation. I had hoped there might remain some bastions of sanity.

Mackey himself was guilty of this by framing the health care reforms on the table now as socialism (opening with a Thatcher quote) before proceeding to present otherwise sensible policy recommendations that one can freely disagree with or present counter-arguments for without rash name calling and evil ever present "socialism" dropping into the conversation. To be sure there are cost constraints that need to be accounted for somewhere (b/c we cannot afford to pay for all the health care people WANT, nobody can), but to call the ideas that are out there socialised medicine misses the boat. Again, somebody should be an adult in this country and learn how to argue or disagree agreeably. If it won't be the right or its moderate support within business and economics, it has to start somewhere.

Whole Foods as a company, sort of like Home Depot a few years ago, or Google, does a whole bunch of things for their work force that nobody "should" get all that upset over (it does do a few things that are worth taking them to task, but not all that different from other grocery chains, namely the practice of "local" or "organic" labeling). It's practically the model plane built for enlightened capitalism; the combination of values and economics (and of course, high prices set to cover those values). If you're feeling a growing urge to protest something from years of practice being annoyed at the corporatism of our society, I'm quite sure Glenn Beck will oblige by saying something utterly insane this week. He wouldn't be able to without a corporate machine funding his behavior. Go complain to them.

Update: He followed up here I think I wish I could be that abrasive in writing. But I'm usually not.

it's whats for dinner

A brief history of cannibalism

"....they failed to draw lots to decide on the victim. Instead of doing so, they killed the weakest of their number" - reason for a conviction of manslaughter for 3 ocean stranded men who killed and ate a fourth.

After reading Swift's Modest Proposal (and the modern take on it) or seeing Silence of the Lambs, it's not intellectually shocking to contemplate cannibalism in theory, particularly as a presence of mind to survive under horrific circumstances. But the actual practice is brutally savage. These are also reasons why killing, murdering, and even eating other people doesn't strike me as horrific or terrible an atrocity as forcing sexual relations upon someone else through rape. Certainly there are ways in which one can be particularly cruel in the nature of killing or consuming another person. But these are in the main, not particularly common.

Torture, despite what our previous administration did, is not a very functional way to kill other people and its interest diminishes quickly from a passionate air toward violent assault on another person. Even a murderous rage does not generally beget such action, but instead such a cruelty is calculated and inflicted with indifference. Only rape measures up in a form of vile cruelty likewise afflicted with a measure of unconcern and callousness for a decency of other human beings.

This line was also peculiarly amusing: Hume speaks of a Turkish prisoner under questioning, who had converted to Christianity: ‘How many gods are there?’ he was asked. To which he replied: ‘None at all . . . You have told me all along that there is but one God: and yesterday I ate him.’

13 August 2009

Your god also hates assholes

Seriously. There's a lot about human sexuality that isn't in the strictest sense "normal" that we, most of us, can now tolerate in a broad acceptance of differences in taste and preference, even if only in the privacy of our own homes. This is fast becoming another of these as it shares all the same characteristics of our other tolerated behaviors. It isn't logically or ethically comparable to child abuse and molestation or to bestiality in the same way that mixed racial relationships were not a few decades ago. So why are these still the only arguments against legal recognition of a remaining few basic civil rights? And why are they so common?

What exactly is so wrong with the people making these arguments that they need to rail against a small minority of the public that they'll probably never have a desire or opportunity to interact with sexually at all? Since these arguments virtually all come down to religious institutions and thinking, did these people skip the other 99% of their books of faith? Or is it asking too much to expect consistency from organised religion?

Darth Vader lost his force grip

You don't know Dick

I should think that, indeed, the idea that Bush had "ideas of his own" would be disconcerting for me to discover just as it apparently was for Mr Cheney. I'd be more interested to know what they could possibly be than to see Cheney's charmingly disturbing stories to explain his deranged politics. His policies sort of remind me of the story I referred to once on Stalin where he met with his mother after having his census department liquidated. How you doing son? "Remember the czar?" Yes. "Well I'm sort of like that."

But in any case, I should very much like to see the "I find your lack of faith disturbing" line used at least once in this book (that I won't be reading).

Market magic mysteries of medicine

"but markets don't do very well when consumers have bad information or are in a panic" - Exactly. While this is one doctor's office that is concerned and proactive regarding prices (and consumer's ability and interest to pay), I doubt very many of them have done so well. There is not as yet an ability to shop for a particular doctor (all that well) based on price AND quality, in other words the economic value of the doctor. That needs to change.

My understanding is one of the things pushed for presently is to attempt to do this in some respect by creating more standards of care through distributing value assessments of types of care. I think of this as a half-step. We as consumers of health care decisions may still not have this information. But at least if doctors know the potential value (not just cost) of using a particular procedure or test, they're more or less able to judge its effectiveness in a particular circumstance. Their own portion of the asymmetrical information problem diminishes.

12 August 2009

Things don't change much

"I remember Oklahoma when they put out the blaze
And put Islamic terrorist bombing, on the front page"

Americans have had a pretty long association with making up the news. Remember the Maine and so forth.

I figure this is rather self-explanatory really. The people who bombed the Murrah building are the same types of people who are most active in protesting Obama, either by spraying him with Nazi symbols (which is weird when you think of it in the abstract) or by demanding more and more information on his eligibility for service, despite there already having been plenty of evidence, on the assumption that he's un-American.

But we're far more comfortable assuming that this sort of virulent nonsense is meted out by the "non-Americans" until they hit us in the face. Those same extremist radicals who went around talking about the UN and FEMA and their secret death camps and black helicopters during the midst of the Clinton years never quite went away. They just lost their public spotlight once one of their number was executed for carrying out an act of terrorism (and Bush won so their most pressing rights, guns, weren't being tossed around so much). I'm beginning to wonder whether another spotlight will soon be forthcoming. Whenever I try to engage people on the fringe of this radical element with the supposition that we've already been seeing some low level radical acts of terror, in the vein of Eric Rudolph or McVeigh, they seem to assume that only Muslim radicals are worth fighting or are even at all busy doing anything. They're not the only threat to our liberties.

The people who suppose themselves to be busy defending them are among those threats.

random falling through the cracks thoughts

I'm really not sure what to make of these commercials. As usual, I have no idea what they're advertising. I really don't care. The last time I felt that sort of creeped out by "advertising", I was playing Bio-Shock and the clowns were laughing every time I went to buy stuff.

In other news, Hollywood distribution companies consider having the Blair Witch team killed so as to save their submission departments from seeing the gad awful work. Along with anyone else.

That was just plain fun. Enter wench. And the Fool.

06 August 2009

brilliant military strategy


I like it when our leaders use religious justifications for waging war. As opposed to you know, things like national interests, national security risks, threat of impending attacks, gathering intelligence (as opposed to generating it by use of torture), proper strategic planning and allocation of forces, and so forth. You can't use Sun Tzu to start a war you cannot win or to supposedly come up with a victory condition and pretext for ending it (after you get into the mess). But hey the book of revelations comes in handy instead as a text on military strategy. (And this is old news for the rest of the world of course).

I'm guessing there are plenty of people who consider themselves Christian who would disagree in one way or another. But those people didn't make up enough voters in 2000 and 2004 for me not to now get to call them out on it.

Especially when you read more and more about Blackwater. I'm probably not likely to be the first person to oppose privatized military or security forces, but deliberately using a force like that to wage something like a holy war sounds like something from several centuries in our past. At least, I thought it should.

04 August 2009

economic updates

Statistics on the cash for clunkers

Buy Japanese

Looks perfectly fine to me too. I don't think this is actually worked as well as its supporters claim (it looks like it condensed months of car buying into a couple frenetic weeks), but it also shouldn't bother anyone that it results in people trading out of American cars and into Japanese/Korean ones. The interesting thing about it isn't the money running out, as many of these impromptu teabagger part deuce demonstrators would have us believe. It's that it's basically an attempt to jump start global trade. Since that's not what it was passed to do, this is one of those rare occasions of a good unintended consequences, but it's one that
1) won't be recognized that way
2) will be abandoned once people figure out how it's working. Other than Ford, the other big two are still getting hammered by this deal. They won't need to manufacture replacement parts for example for thousands of cars.

More interesting of late has been discussions over China's stimulus. I'm still watching to see what it did. But it looks like they stripped out a bunch of the dumb stuff from the New Deal thinking and just gave people spending cards for domestic injections of cash. That covers and bridges over the shortfall of foreign demand and prevents plant closures (though it has the opposite globalizing effect of trade). We on the other hand put in place a bunch of emergency spending for governments and some tax breaks (for this year). Tax breaks are horrible at stimulus. Thanks GOP, and the rest is a short-term solution that doesn't address the plunge in domestic demand at all. Neither did the bank bailouts since they started paying extra on excess reserves, effectively curbing available funds for loans, and didn't make specific requirements on loans out of the dollars contributed, effectively meaning they'd not be used and multiplied as was the intention to keep afloat the economy.

Sometimes having a totalitarian system run by technocrats looks appealing by contrast to a bureaucratic system run by morons.