30 April 2009

update to grr

Apparently the irrational arguments aren't totally limited to the religious. I read this on an apparently "secular" conservative blog.

"If you have a cognitively-challenged underclass, as every large nation has, you need some anchoring institutions for them to aspire to; and those institutions should have some continuity and stability. Heterosexual marriage is a key such institution. In a society in which nobody had an IQ below 120, homosexual marriage might be plausible. In the actual societies we have, other considerations kick in."

- What. The. Fuck? Does intelligence have anything to do with marriage? One could argue some of the smartest men were terrible husbands, in many cases unfaithful even when married, I certainly don't have the best track record in terms of attentiveness as a prospective mate myself. Where does any gender requirement fit into this aspiration that we're supposedly feeding the stupid people to have? It would seem to me to make more than enough sense to simply hold out "marriage" as an aspiration for the society of the stupid, and not worry too much about who an adult citizen chooses as a life partner from amongst other adult citizens.

Fortunately, I was not alone in castigating this idiocy. And I see charges like this being leveled which may be heartening. "As conservatives, we should be at the forefront of demanding individual rights and responsibilities - not circulating fear about change." I'm not quite sure how that's actually the premise of "conservative", since it is actually the classical definition of "liberalism". I assume they're following along with the premise of equality under law and limited government. But these were originally liberal concepts. I'm generally confused as to what any "social conservative" hopes to achieve. But when I see people define conservatism this way, it becomes more thoroughly muddy water.

grr. excommunicate them?

I pointed this out a couple days ago in a debate over gay marriage and its appeal to religion (since I've yet to see a successful attempt to appeal to reason on this matter). The problem at its core is that once one appeals to belief, then their position becomes immobile, and all who claim to share in those beliefs then are become bound to either uphold this belief or be banished in their acceptability within that community of believers, making disagreement and discourse practically impossible. But since this guy is a noted "conservative" leader in history, I felt an appeal to such figures might be more noteworthy the effort than purging my own frustration with this subject. Particularly since there's at least a hint of suggestion that there are religious arguments in favor of tolerance and freedom.

"There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism"

- Barry Goldwater. 1981.

I end up in this boat a lot as a libertarian. I have to explain economics to people who claim this ideological "free market" mantle as "conservatives". And that gets annoying, walking people through the distinctions between regulations ("laws") and socialism or taxes and slavery, banking and deficits, etc. But then I am reminded of a much larger problem and cease my annoyance. I have to battle usually these very same people on the mantle of "limited government" and somehow them not making the connection that this means you don't get to impose, even by democratic fiat, the views of some religious sect upon the populace and still call this "limited government". You would call that theocracy.

It means instead that you, the prospective "conservative" base, are an asshole for usurping and altering the meaning of a phrase so blatantly and without any pretense for actually practicing the nature of your professed beliefs. That "limited government" concept requires that you tolerate dissent, something that most conservatives do not demonstrate a healthy ability to do. That you tolerate difference, a more obvious flaw given the general uniformity of "conservative" as a label for evangelical European-descendants (whites) and not inclusive of virtually any other groups of Americans (there was even an editorial in a DC paper the other day which essentially said that Obama's support base among blacks basically shouldn't count, only white support should). Indeed that you must embrace both of these as healthy, nature, and necessary for your OWN defence. The very idea that one can impose by fiat a religious decree as a law implies that others could impose their own interpretations (including those of other religions). Meaning ideas that will very likely go against these "populist" mandates of the present. It is a prescription for continuous religious war, conducted through the full force of rule of law. It is necessary to protect the ability of a person to be a religious zealot or fundamentalist, or a merely observant religious person or not at all, that we not permit the imposition of any pure religious law as binding force in our legal system. Muslims have a word for it: Sharia. But it's only different in the name and form from the version that many Christian fundamentalists here want.

I hope one day enough people wake up and realize that. Maybe we can start usurping religious terms in the meantime and start "excommunicating" people from America who don't grasp this idea of freedom as essential to living here. But to be fair, they're already forming their own shriveling political party and becoming further marginalized in society. If they could manage to express some ideas once in a while, then I'll listen. But as of today, I'm putting any religious right voter on notice that you should probably shut it. You're not adding anything to the debate. Reflect. Think before you speak. Count to ten, pray, whatever it is you have to do to start making some sense to the rest of the society. Because sooner or later you're going to find out that this society doesn't need you anymore if this is all you can produce for its value: angry irrational dissent with no legal merit under our system.

29 April 2009

almost forgot...


In the form of listening to an extended interview with perilously slippery arguments on the nature and utility of torture.

I could have told you this for free

more studies on the obvious

So Colbert is pretending to be a conservative if you're a "liberal" and is merely being funny if you're a conservative. Yes. Conservatives don't get the joke, what a shock. It's like the process for the Prestige, where the magician/performer must constantly live inside their act for it to work. The problem of course is did we really need a study to verify this? We've already seen how people with strong ideological opinions reinforce their beliefs in the face of criticism. And Colbert is critiquing the crazy lines of many conservative notions by taking them to extremes. Should we even expect conservatives to react with skepticism relating to their ideas and behaviors?

I missed this one


I am not surprised. We tend to need "role models" for women who effectively sell their bodies. Or at least, I'm not surprised that Hannity would think this to be the case (and not understand the irony of calling a pseudo-porn star a role model for young girls). I'm never surprised when a right-wing social conservative expresses an opinion that basically relegates women to some sub-standard social position. But it is at least entertaining when they're so blatantly idiotic and out of touch with the behavior of these supposed role models. I'd guess this will take up the slack for the lack of teabagging in the news.

28 April 2009

hooray for good news that isn't bad news

our long national nightmare is over...or is it

So to echo the tone, we're not out of the woods yet. But it seems like there is an end to this dark and uncertain wood from which we previously could not see where the straight path lay. That's partly how a people get out of a mess like this, that they believe they can and will. But of course, we still have the descent through hell to account for as unemployment lags behind and carries along its blight of suffering. The spotted leopard to block our path as it were.

environmental notions


I like the point raised at the end. This sort of thing happens a lot (it happens all the time in debates about income inequality or taxes). Shifting the conversation in mid-stream to make a point that doesn't actually exist. In that case the real and undisclosed point being that the amount of power needed to electrify British homes was relatively minute in terms of the carbon footprint of the UK. 4%? We obviously know that home energy usage is important to individuals, because we pay the bills. But it seems disingenious to claim that one method of cleaner energy is less effective without actually acknowledging that they're both less effective.

The actual issue involved in nuclear power isn't safety (the USN has been using nuclear reactors for decades without incident) and it certainly isn't cleaner air (since it is far less polluting than coal or gasoline fuels). It's getting rid of the spent uranium fuel rods. The next vital comparison would include an analysis of how much it would cost to build these 10 nuclear plants versus an equal sized ocean-based wind power array, and how much maintenance, and disposal of spent fuels, would cost over the next 50 years or so. I would guess that the wind power would cost more for installation, but much less for yearly costs, but I haven't seen any numbers yet. I should probably look into these more carefully considering its very likely we will be building various alternative energy plants over the next 10 years or so. How much will that cost relative to the environmental cost of coal spewing into the air or nuclear waste? I'm not sure anyone knows the second part yet (the cost of environmental damages). But I'd guess we should at least have a price tag on energy infrastructural change.

27 April 2009

espresso please hold the nipple

funny idea?

So...did we need a topless coffee shop? I'm not an expert on coffee, but this doesn't seem like it would be a necessary innovation to business practice. Perhaps it is amusing. But they could offer wi-fi and people could still look at boobs to perk up their mornings that way.

26 April 2009

conversations that never happened

I was, as I often do, having a conversation that never actually happened. During this, I posed an interesting question while mentally acting as my false interrogator. Well, more like a statement that begs a question.

"You've changed".

First off, I'm pretty sure this is a false statement. But I had to at least offer up an explanation to myself as why this might be. The best analogy I could come up with, because it's always an analogy that's needed to give answers to myself, was this:

"Remember when you were a kid and how things looked then. What happens when you go back to that same place as a adult?"

Have things actually gotten smaller? Not usually, and certainly not substantially so. Our sense of space and time has changed. Usually the whole getting taller or bigger tends to skew the perspective a different way. The same sort of experience happens when a person goes from walking or biking everywhere to driving. Distances suddenly become as though they are much, much shorter, because our experience of time is dramatically lessened.

So what does that have to do with a person? I suspect the problem is that most people don't actually change all that much, if at all (at least, not without heavy medication or a drinking problem). The difference is largely the perspective that we see them in. In my case, this is probably more pronounced than most. I tend to graft things onto my behavior because I have a distinct lack of personality. But I'm basically the same around the same people as I was 10-15 years ago. I'm just better at burying the edges than most people. And I have some years of absence from many people in which to hide them. This unfortunately didn't do much for resolving the conundrum over which I was vociferously arguing conversationally with myself. But it seemed rather important at the time.

Better news. I read over more torture op-eds and I came to a certain realization. Cheney et al are actually right in one sense. The methods they used "worked". The problem is now that they're lying about what they "worked" for. We're being told in one breath that they worked and then told that they saved American lives in a ticking time bomb situation. Except what it looks like the torture methods were employed for was to manufacture evidence to justify a particular course of action by providing this crucial non-existent evidence. Being told what you want to hear is a hallmark of torture's "utility". This is often completely different than what you need to know. It makes no sense to say that we were torturing as a last resort in a ticking time bomb situation and then say we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times within a couple weeks of catching the guy and this mostly to develop intelligence linking his organization to Iraq rather than to collect actionable intelligence on future terror ops that he may have had knowledge of. That he "decided" after that to tell us what we wanted to hear is only natural. The "ticking time bomb" wasn't to the higher ups another 9-11 event but rather the political ability to mobilize the country into a war for some reason while it was still in a state of fear and hostility. Good times.

Thanks though. At least we know torture still "works".

here you can attack the source of information

global warming

This comes up frequently in other matters, but I noticed the parsing of poll data was mostly being argued over the issue of educational levels in countries. One thing that should be considered for the variance between say Buddhist and Islamist countries on global warming and human activity would be the dependence on oil as an export in many Islamic countries. Since we would naturally assume oil is involved in some way if one accepts the notion of anthropogenic global warming, then it may stand to reason that countries which depend on oil exports would make a considerable effort to minimize its importance. We see this argument constantly made against global warming skeptics who often receive funding from energy companies. Why could it not apply toward the general economy of an entire nation which essentially is a giant energy company?

we're all gonna die!!

pig flu

I love these stories. Of course, since I barely see other human beings in any status where I'd likely pick up a disease anyway, I predict I may be soon be the last living person as this new unstoppable virus sweeps like a scythe across the globe. I will now return to editing my historical baseball league. Do let me know when the world is about to end. I would like to at least turn off the lights first.

24 April 2009


I have no words

But someone else did. And we're apparently not going to hear from there since her private thoughts at the repellent things we allowed our country to do in the descent into the heart of darkness were redacted and perhaps forever hidden away from public view. And whatever else was left behind from that we can never get to now. We must never forget that sometimes there are often horrible things done in war. But this was no ordinary war, with no ordinary battlefields and conducted on unusual terms. Especially for what is otherwise intended to be a country that upholds a rule of law and a role as a model for such things in the world.

Great work Dick. Now do us all a favor and shut the fuck up like your boss has. You're not justifying anything by saying "but it worked and protected Americans". Everyone knows this sort of crap has NEVER, ever worked. Even the Nazis had interrogation methods that didn't involve torture that were far more effective than beating out false information, all the beatings do is get people to tell you what you want them to tell you, not what they really know. If you want to take us as idiots because "we" voted for this mess twice, maybe that's fair. Not all of us did vote for this mess though. And some of those people had to carry out the policies you created. I sleep pretty well at night knowing I wouldn't and I couldn't, no matter how terrible my darkest thoughts can be (and I have a very dark imagination that goes to work as I sleep). But even I know where the line is.

If ever there's a reason we shouldn't have a Vice President anymore, I'm looking at one very good one every time Cheney opens his mouth to talk to the media right now.

23 April 2009

fox news v fcc

a reason to watch faux news

This is fun. I'm not sure how this argument is supposed to fly that we're allowed to torture if we believe it works (or if it became necessary), but it is fun to see someone get tired of it in no uncertain terms.

21 April 2009


I think this is a beer commercial, but the line "he lives vicariously through himself" probably doesn't actually register with most people. Especially a beer drinker.

20 April 2009

more on torture and law

Margaret More: Father, that man's bad.
Sir Thomas More: There's no law against that.
William Roper: There is: God's law.
Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

This came up on Sully's blog (it's from A Man for All Seasons in case anyone noted it was familiar). I put it up if only because it should command some adulation from the religious as well (Thomas More is as I understand it, the patron saint of politicians), and to understand that law is a device of man, and that it again protects man from himself as well. Of course, the context of reason might command that a law against divorce is probably baseless or senseless, surely not in and of itself worthy of such defense. But the basic problem was that the law against divorce was at the time only being changed for the personal benefit of the king. And if a king might change a law for no reason other than his own amusement, why not change other laws for the same token? We appoint a process and means to amend our laws and our agreements with one another. And it becomes clear that this was avoided, deliberately, for what appears to be no public purpose and no reason other than it suited the "amusement" of those in power. I do not pretend that Cheney or Bush are amused by the screams and howls of those who were tortured. But there is little evidence that we were all of us protected by such things either, hence it is of less "necessity" and more "amusement" that such things are based. The amusement being a fulfillment of retribution or vengeance carried out against those who may have done us harms.

In short: "I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live."

19 April 2009

A manifesto for political agnostics in contemporary times as compiled by a misanthrope with a corresponding overabundance of contemplative time

Since a friend (or whatever it is one refers to a person as with whom you communicate on a semi-regular basis through online mediums but have no social connection toward) was attending some sort of Obama grassroots meeting in a couple weeks, I was set in my mind to contemplate what sort of purpose this meeting would serve, and in some respectable manner, to define what sort of things I had demands to see still from our new President.

I decided first that the agenda should be to see that we can chart a course in America which allows it to succeed in its endeavours and allows its populace to recover with a minimal level of personal suffering and grievance made upon them from our current predicaments. And therefore, the respectful mission with any dissenting opinions should not be to parade about as though our fearless leaders are ideologues incapable of hearing voices of different views, nor to demand Obama's absolution of the Presidential throne on the basis of specious claims, nor to demand the failure in the presentation or implementation of policies and reforms to our system of government. It should be to present as coherently as possible the problems and potential solutions and to mobilize popular support for such action as is necessary.

And as this regards Obama himself, he will never manage to wage a PR campaign that will sway these fanatical strangers that have cropped up over the past months of campaigns and time in office. This is not nor should it be his purpose. His fundamental mission in office might be to help achieve any particular agenda that is put before him that bodes a fair chance of improving the state of the nation, and that is all (this does not always require that he does something with or within the framework of government as the President, for better or ill has a considerable social effect beyond mere governance). Since I myself see him as essentially pragmatic thus far, I suspect a reasonable person will find that Obama is himself being reasonable, so far as one can, with the level of dissent that his election has somehow generated. The essential mission must then become to distance himself from the sentiments of populist rage expressed incoherently and without a centralizing vision raised by his political foes by having cogent and sensible plans laid out for all to examine. When compared with a foe with no cogent and sensible plan, the choice would be obvious. (Consider the GOP alternative "budget proposal" for this year, that had no numbers in it...).

Since I did not vote for the man (yes, I throw my vote away on third parties), I have since found myself repeatedly in political forums with the strange position of having to try to explain to irrational people very rational things, like the premises involved in socialism. The existence of a progressive or graduated income tax is listed very highly in the writings of Karl Marx. That is true. The trouble is that we've already had a progressive income tax for decades, including under the Reagan-Bush arc of Presidencies. In fact its mere existence was initially labeled as a very minor tax on the most wealthy 1% or so, essentially a totally progressive income tax at that point since nobody else paid it at all. There are other such examples. For instance, Marx outlines a system of support for agriculture, and the need for a "national public school system". Again, we've long had these. If one has followed Obama's rhetoric he has even spoken of scaling back our federal agricultural subsidies, particularly as it regards the tax code. I can hardly demonstrate rationally that the rhetoric or policies put forth are radically socialistic. Even if they are, they are no more or less socialistic than what we have been living in already. As a result of these discussions, I can recommend to Obama that his mission must be in the form of reasonable arguments for public relations of a sort. He must outline and explain the need for a particular reform or program as it is announced or even prior to its subsequent consideration by Congress.

I can document three particular situations which his administration has failed to do so properly, and in these cases there has been some form of political backlash, though not yet mobilizing greatly against himself and providing nothing for Republicans to gain political traction with. One such case is the case for TARP funding or bank bailouts (essentially a problem left over from Bush43/Paulson). The public is generally lacking in any knowledge of economics and even such basic elements as an understanding of the reserve ratio are likely to present a considerable difficulty in explanation. Obama must borrow from successful politicians throughout history and find a way to explain these complex things more simply (but still accurately enough to be seen as a sensible figure). He has not managed yet to do this on this issue (and it is, admittedly, a thoroughly complex issue on which to try).

A second problem is the stimulus package that was passed through the Congress some months back. The administration made announcements that it wanted one done quickly. And this was fine. It did not however continue its PR campaign in a sufficiency enough to define the purpose and premise of economic stimulus (there are many boring economic treatises one can read on whether or not there is such a thing to begin with, but few are politically relevant because they usually fail to account for psychology). And when the bill itself was under review, Democrats then allowed contentious Republicans to attempt to define the bill as a compendium of wasteful government spending (which there were some such things in there that were, admittedly, terrible uses of public monies). The painting of a massive package of nearly a trillion dollars as pork spending commenced and some valuable time in the exercise of psychological economics was wasted. The actual amount of pork, though certainly large, was minute in comparison to the total bill (as it usually is). Such waste is certainly bad. But it wasn't the purpose nor the core feature of the stimulus concept, nor even the bill as passed. I was thus somewhat surprised to see that over 50% of the public supported it as of last week. This was encouraging. I'm not sure what factors created this support, and perhaps it was the more credible sounding movements of the Obama team over the last month. One can hope so. There are later issues that this bill itself raises, but among sensible people there are at least issues too academically thorny to argue over in political grounds (ie, most people won't care or understand them enough to know what's even being talked about). The last problem was the announcement of the public-private investment partnership scheme put forward by his economic team and Secretary Geithner. Obama basically promised a detailed plan much too soon. The current plan is probably too favourable for private investors, and perhaps less necessary in the wake of mortgage stablisation plans, but it came about much too late to be of greater assistance to the financial world.

This was, while not a grievous error, suggesting of systemic problems that Obama must move quickly to remedy. The complexity of the financial situation and its untangling requires active and vigorous support by good financial minds both in private enterprise and government policy positions. Secretary Geithner needs more help, and quickly. And this, in a sense, has been seen as an extension of making poor choices to fill various political postings. Obama, in his quest for transparency, also needs to have government move swiftly enough to enable him to act, but not so quickly that his choices can be vilified as easily as an overworked Treasury Secretary with a history of tax problems has been (taxes being another issue which I'll get to). I'm not sure how easy this balance will be to maintain.

As far as Obama's political support structure and what it should be doing. I would think the best option would be to lay out what it wants to see accomplished, by any force within society (including of course, Obama), and more importantly how and why these are necessary ends for society, and by some extension the state, to pursue. There are many issues on which there is a consensus to DO SOMETHING. There is not from these a clear idea, even from Obama, on how to achieve it, or in some cases, why to do that way as opposed to some equally supported conception of reform. I have in mind several positions which Obama himself could move to clarify, and from which public support should seek to clarify itself what it demands, either of him or of the nation as a whole.

1) Obama should move to harness the general dissatisfaction with taxation. While the teabagging debacle/protest was good for many laughs at the expense of the out-of-touch conservative, it does have one fundamental point that comes up when the incoherent mess is examined for some basis in reality: the US tax code is overly complex and needs simplification and thus a general reform in addition to whatever changes in rates occur over the next few years (and against which we are even free to make these silly claims of "socialism" for). Obama suggested that this reform was on the table, even in the works. That's fine, and it was smart move on his part to potentially harness sensible people across the political spectrum who wish to see this done in some way. The question then is: what should we see out of a reformed tax code? Fewer deductions, fewer deductions and a lower rate, things like this. We as individuals have usually only our own taxes and the odious forms involved to consider, but there are other forms. There are payroll taxes, corporate income, capital gains, excise taxes, and general sales taxes. My own interest might be to abolish the capital gains and treat this as normal income (potentially encouraging capital reinvestment by competitive gains rather than shareholder distributions, ie, growth instead of wealth retention by both corporations and wealthy investors). I've also found a moderate level of support for a more radical sort of reform to the tax code by implementing the negative income tax and perhaps replacing, or certainly augmenting, our general social welfare system with this at the same time. This idea will probably not happen of course. It makes too much sense and there's no way to manipulate the system by more powerful interests. Nevertheless, it is sensible to move forward with an clearer idea of what a "simplified tax code" should look like, both from the proposals of the administration and from the public itself. This would be a better use of our time than teabagging with strangers to demonstrate populist rage and would be a better use than the perpetual "we must have lower taxes" mantra of the past several years. Which made little mention of, nor had any use for, the simplification of taxes at the same time.

2) As we move forward in the financial crisis, and the perception becomes not "how do we get out of this mess", but "how do we not get back here again later", Obama must move quickly to define "more regulation" as "smart regulation", and also who shall do the regulating. Much of my understanding of the current crisis is that our banks, through a variety of de-regulatory notions, were effectively permitted to select from the alphabet soup of who shall regulate me, the mighty bank. This is a wonderful environment to conduct business in. Not so much to be a consumer of whatever product is being distributed. For example, complex derivatives of mortgage securities. It might have been enough to deter much of the damage simply to use pre-existing regulatory schematics and have people available to enforce them by operating under the appropriate offices (such as the SEC instead of the OTC). Since I have often heard this rhetoric of "we need less regulation" or "we need more regulation", it must be defined what is meant. There are obstacles to business practices that are onerous or wasteful, and this is often from poorly designed regulatory structure. This is not the purpose of regulation; to provide some drag on economic growth and prosperity. The premise of regulation is to ensure that businesses practice a conduct of ethical behavior of sorts, not to mismanage and abuse their position as conveyours and experts of a specific product, but to abide by agreed upon contractual obligations to their consumers. Effective regulation successfully accomplishes this end. For example, anti-trust regulation prevents the single-minded control of vital industries by any one entity, both ensuring competitive advantages will find their way into the marketplace and preventing the abuse of the public by monopolistic dangers. Concurrently, there are many regulations that operate as effective barriers to entry in particular markets. It may end up, if we were to piecemeal study our regulatory framework, that we might even need LESS regulation to accomplish the ends of appropriately restraining inappropriate business conducts, ranging anywhere from cooking their accounting books to dumping pollution into the streams or rivers. Therefore it is not sensible to claim we must have MORE regulation generally, but rather to define what sorts of regulations we must have that we currently do not possess. Should we as the public be looking for a return of the Glass-Steagall act of the 1930s for example, to fracture financial agents more clearly back to the distinctions between traditional banking, insurance companies, and investment firms? Obviously there are environmental regulations that will be strongly debated, and many other fronts. All of these fall into this general thought; they must be defined as regulations we lack and must possess, and if they are not appropriately designed regulatory frameworks that accomplish our stated ends, they may be unnecessary. Or they may be a re-hashing of pre-existing systems that we have abandoned or failed to enforce properly. That sort of loophole can be fixed with a modicum of effort and does not require "more regulation" or "less regulation". It requires instead more vigorous regulators or less evasive business entities.

There are several such reforms I might put forward as examples that in fact create a more or less self-regulatory system without outside assistance in some areas. For example, food safety has come up. Why not require the owner of a particular food processing site to have to consume a portion of their produce, with some sort of industry watchdog to issue an appropriate label on their product for consumers to see? I should think they would make a greater effect on food safety were they to consume their own products from time to time, and the consumer would perhaps feel more at ease to purchase a product in a time of some uncertainty over a particular food.

3) For a departure from "populist" missions (and hence into my own, more private wishes), Obama, like many other foreign leaders, must move more stridently to position the country on a less xenophobic, less protective status on trade. The most recent decision to nix a pilot program with Mexican truckers (perhaps unpopular with both conspiracy nutcases and unions, an interesting political spectrum to be sure) has resulted in a set of tariffs passed by the Mexican government. Not only is our physical transportation of goods with Mexico an insanely inefficient means of trade in practice (thus imposing costs on consumption of goods by Americans, basically lowering real wages already), allowing it to impose further barriers and protections as a result was not a smart economic play. And internationally, it wasn't great. Especially with pledges from the G-20 leaders to keep such barriers low or non-existent. America may have a serious trade imbalance that it seeks to correct in some fashion, but while we must seek to re-establish ourselves in some moral high ground on terrorism and its complexities, we must also have some standard on trade and economics. This must be a clearer position than merely verbally opposing "buy American clauses". Either America stands for trade and competes within it with other nations or it stands for protectionism and does not. The latter course, while reassuring in the short term for various special interests, does little for our future prospects, including those special interest themselves. A transparent position would take into account the difficult perception of appearing to kowtow toward such interests. Obama, like other leaders, represents, or is supposed to a variety of constituents, not merely a few. As far as the consuming public? Our mission might be simply to consume at this point. I have heard it said this might have been a better time for a President to come out and declare our patriotic duty to go forth and shop. What "we" might demand is considerably different from the sort of trading world I myself envision, and in practice, such a world is unlikely in many commodities. However there are some issues on which the public might want to seek out a position. For example, the possible trading of carbon emissions and industrial waste. Or the possibility of water rights being included in the cost of goods. This last point for example provides a measure of "protectionism" because of the efficiency of American farmers in growing many crops (sugar not being among them) relative to foreign farmers. Mexico already buys much of its corn and wheat from us for this reason. We buy oil from Mexico and Canada for similar reasons (it's cheaper for them to pump it out of the ground in many cases). There may be reasons to find trade imbalance unfair and this can be addressed with other nations as it comes up, such as government subsidies or a lack of appropriate environmental regulation built into the cost of production. There are not good reasons why we as American consumers must pay 3-4 times as much for sugar to protect our puny sugar farming industry, or cannot purchase sugar-based ethanol fuels produced by other countries to protect our corn farmers.

4) On foreign affairs and the conduct of our policies, Obama has moved relatively swiftly to release new codes of conduct, generally revoking the policy of torture and rendition often embarrassing our nation abroad adopted by the former administration. However there are new questions that must be addressed. We must decide, for example, whether it is best to treat some of our enemies as criminals (even, sometimes stretching the definition, as war criminals) rather than detainees from a war zone. Only some of the people we have detained for years are actually combatants picked up from an active combat zone, engaging in combat with our military or threatening violent actions against our citizens (or those of allied nations). What do we do with the rest? We may close Gitmo in some months ahead, and that's perhaps great. But what happens if we just stick a bunch of people in prisons in Afghanistan or Iraq, thousands of miles away from American media scrutiny instead of merely across a brief stretch of ocean currents? We appear to be moving in this direction already in the form of Bagram. Should we persist in detaining people without rights and without any form of trial to oppose their detention? How is this moral situation improved by detaining such people, regardless of our disposition toward them or their often reprehensible conduct for which they could stand accused? I would hold myself that it is not. I would move to require a clearer disposition from our leadership, both in the need for transparency, and for the clarity of world moral opinions. While there are many that do not hold to the same basic rights we do, if we do not practice them in our affairs with others, even within our enemies, there is much to be asked of us as a government abroad. This generally holds true in polls of, for example, Muslims. Americans are or have been reasonably popular as a people (despite the dangers posed by extremists and even though it became less stressful to call oneself a Canadian in some countries). It is generally our government or leadership and its conduct toward particular Muslims, and the world in general that has become questionable. This can and should be remedied.

5) Obama has offered through his campaign and his recent statements on the budget to address the problem of government waste. This will be difficult from a political capital standpoint to achieve. Again, it will be necessary to outline first a general idea of points in the budget of obvious waste. And then to attack the budget itself throughout with an eye toward removing costly and inefficient programs. This cannot come to be defined as a partisan effort. But we are already seeing from the amendments of the defense funding for this year and the cutting of some procurement programs over others, that it may very well be (particularly if the enormous fat involved in defense contracting is the biggest slab on the chopping block). Among his critics, the central budget problems perceived are long-term programs of our social safety network (medicare and social security), and the general deficit and its continuing contribution to our tremendous national debts. Cutting programs generally to reduce and possibly even eliminate the deficit will neutralize the second of these claims and despite the enormous political capital necessary to achieve, will be necessary. On this point there will be on occasion sacrifices from those supporters to be made. Programs that benefit a particular state or jurisdiction may get cut. This sort of bloodletting will have to be ignored, endured, or even praised, if it can be continued. There is no "fair" way to eliminate wasteful spending in politics. It may however be possible in some manner, by harnessing the general political capital of a large grassroots organization that can broadly introduce demand for a sudden and specific gutting of federal programs. It would be useful to understand what sort of cuts Americans themselves are prepared best to endure, or in what way is the government being most wasteful. Obama himself will need to continue to publicly put forth examples of these sorts of wasteful expenditure. This week I have observed that his first real cabinet meeting was punctuated by a demand to cut $100 million dollars in spending by his cabinet. If such a pledge were to occur every time, we might be going somewhere, since such a sum is largely symbolic if it only comes up once given the size of our government spending.

6) A further critical issue (not raised directly by Obama himself) is the notion of a "Christian nation". This idea, while not totally incompatible with the idea of a democratic beacon of liberty, is horribly flawed. It would best to declare this a country heavily peopled by Christians. What we find is that this sort of declaration, and this sort of political debate infused so thoroughly with religion, sends a particular type of message as to the workings of democracy itself abroad. One that is not quite in agreement with the basic rights as enumerated in our foundational laws. The basic message that can be received by foreign nations contemplating our system is either 1) Democracy is somehow a solely Christian institution and does not pose any advantages for other nations which do not have significant Christian majorities living there (ie, China or Saudi Arabia). There are perhaps peculiar customs that will not be easily overridden by a sense of basic human rights that is inherent to democratic ideals (and essential to its function). But these are not generally peculiar to the general faith of America or any other nation. The 2nd option is far more egregious. We are essentially communicating that the exercise of democracy is more about the imposition of populist will than the exercise of protecting rights and freedoms. Thus a country or entity, such as happened in Afghanistan or Palestine, is free to impose by democratic fiat the will of a populist majority despite any violations of rights that will creates for minority populations living under their rule. We as a nation should seek to more clearly illuminate the process and prospective value of democratic traditions as a means of protecting individuals against tyranny through their enfranchisement and equal participation in the ballot and the exercise of their individual rights through free speech. Democracy is not best defined as the expression of public will because the public will may often include methods to actively oppress the members of the general public.

When we look at America it is not the religion of Christianity that we should be making shrines toward. It is the expression of liberty. It is a Statue of Liberty that greeted immigrants for decades as they entered the country escaping some oppressive circumstance elsewhere. It was the ability to practice religion freely that attracted various Christian sects as they escaped religious persecution at home. It was not some beacon of religious pilgrimage that drew the poor and huddled mass.

Accordingly, there are several issues which must be addressed by our public as it regards human rights. One is of course the issue of how to treat our terrorist enemies already raised. Another is the clarification, if possible, of how to separate church and state. Leaving free each of us to exercise our conscience as best we may, often through the assistance, such as it may be, of our faith. The line between the administration of law and the supposed source of moral foundation may always be blurry in society. It need not however be so openly crossed as to impose its the value of state upon church or vice versa.

This opens up at least two major and divisive issues. While it may be amenable for Obama himself to stay roughly away from these issues, they should be more openly and honestly debated among ourselves. Firstly, how long can we maintain a divided stance on the nature of consenting adults private sexual habits? These are all individuals, accorded with certain basic rights. We deny these rights by not permitting all people to, in effect, pursue happiness, and then rather foolishly attempt to compel only a strict interpretation of how this can be done. I have heard it often expressed that a homosexual has the same right as anyone else: they can marry someone of the opposite sex. They do indeed have that right, but it is not a right that they gain would much in their pursuit of life. It is not the sole province of a union between two people where happiness is divided and shared that it should be between only members of the opposite sex. However personally distasteful we may find this in practice, it is not our affair to judge through faith or any other remonstrances the private domains and practices of other people. Objections may be raised, biases harboured, and this will persist, as it does on many other subjects. We cannot however countenance a nation that refuses its essential identity by denying to people who have committed no harmful aggressions or transgressions on others their basic liberty, that they may pursue their basic happiness. We may list this privately as sin. So be it. I can find no basis for this separate and unequal treatment that is not rooted in discrimination.

There are advanced routinely arguments that a movement will next try to allow the marriage of adults to children, or to animals, or with some other inanimate property. The state cannot and should not recognize such actions with any legitimacy. A child or animal does not qualify in most American statutes for a consent to what is effectively a contractual arrangement (ie, marriage). To say nothing of inanimate objects. They would be open to abuses and harms as a result, and thus satisfy a level of protection then provided by refusing to acknowledge any legal claims that these sorts of arrangements are justified. Such spurious logic should be swept aside as it was in historical time in dealing with laws preventing unions between people of different races. Consenting adults should be permitted as much liberty as they are able to wield, and denied it principally when they are in consequence denying it to others through their activities, such as by harming them physically or by violating some private arrangement, causing damage and harm to property, and so on. We should have little interest in creating a state which does not worship this freedom to choose.

Even those who are in their fashion deeply religious should be satisfied by such a state. Only under these auspices they can receive complete protection and autonomy. No one will force their institutions to acknowledge the equality of a union of two people that is not a wish to acknowledge, nor force any sacred ceremony to be sullied by performing it in such a manner. If there is a state that compels by its legal system a particular strain of religious demonstration or violates some fundamental equality in its people on the basis of canonical claims rather than actual harms, then that system can just as easily be aimed against the religious institution that is often behind such a manner of conduct. It is a safeguard and a protection that permits "society" to be governed by methods that are not, in the strictest sense, legal such that they are not binding and punishable upon each other for what amount to theological differences of belief or opinion. Simply put, if no one is punished and harmed by the ability of others to pursue happiness, we should have no public interest in the private nature of others as they carry out their dream. I sympathize that this is not a popular vision, but in order to be consistent with our ideals, it is no less necessary.

Similar arguments can be advanced on abortion, with increasing levels of disquietude. Surprisingly enough, the population as whole seems more capable of accepting a choice where it is in fact a choice, as through the exercise of a woman's right to choose as opposed to the arena which is more of a natural exigency of who we are in our most intimate manner, the nature of our basic sexual attractions. As this regards Obama, he has the good fortune not to have to carry out any great debate over abortion. The make up by ideological grounds on the Supreme Court is unlikely to change during at least these next four years. I should think it unlikely that conservative pundits will be greatly mollified if Obama is to replace a liberal judge with another liberal judge. Yet should the issue even arise that a judge retires or has need of replacement, it is unlikely however to spark any great controversy and debate over the most central judicial ruling in the minds of many Americans. No conservative pundit will gain much moderating support to suppose that this ostensibly socially liberal Presidency MUST appoint a socially constricting judge to high office.

Surely there are many moderate positions that can be taken in debate anyway. It is sensible to ask, since it is clear from history that a legal ban on abortions does not subside the practice, what would? Are there policies that can be pursued that would alleviate the demand for this practice? Would not this be the centrally shared goal of most people; that fewer and fewer people should be faced with a morally divisive choice to be made in the face of an entrenched and vigorous protest and executed generally with great personal discomfiture. It would seem to me that this should be the quest of public efforts, not to deny choices, but to make them easier through the means of making them less likely to occur in the first place. We have already observed that the rate of abortions has been in decline over the past many years since they have become more broadly legal. Certainly there are social or religious objections that can be attributed here. But they would seem to be wholly insufficient to explain all that has happened. We must seek to harness, as best we are able through official policies, a means of increasing individual liberty by reducing its encumbrance from our most burdensome choices.

In all such cases listed, no one is compelled to do something they do not feel is within their conscience to do and no diminishing value is attached to those choices they themselves would exercise instead. In the reverse, we are compelled to restrict the ability of some people to live within their conscience and diminish the value of their choices by not extending full legal recognition and the protection of the state from discrimination or tyranny.

7) This list was composed in a stream of consciousness. So it should not be supposed that the accident of education coming in where it has is an indication of its importance and long-term value toward the vitality of our economy and our future. Indeed, among many economists, there is no issue valued more highly. Not even health care reforms. There are many schools and school districts which have by accident, good fortune, or good planning and administration, developed a means of providing an excellent level of education. Perhaps even comparable to that of some of the most regarded educational systems in the world (usually Finland is among the top, if not the best for example). We have also to acknowledge that there are many school districts for which we have utterly failed to provide a competitive education to the attendees. We must ask what sort of reforms might help this disparity, if not to correct an imbalance between rich and poor schools, at least to bring our poorest schools up to a worldly competitive level. The notion that all students should be able to go to college may be laudable (I have my own doubts), but at the moment, it might be best to wonder if there are enough students among us who are prepared to take up that task in the first place. I surmise that this is assuredly not the case.

Where have we failed? What can we do better? Obama has suggested an institution of merit based pay for teachers. There are many advocates who would support such an idea. I see no reason any top level school teacher could not command a 6 figure income, such as any other educated professional (lawyer or doctor for example) can command. But we still have a great difficulty to discern what is merit in education. Are we talking about some sort of measurable gains by students, if so, by what measure? Are we referring to some sort of general inculcation of learning?

We have suffered now through the introduction of a system of standardized testing to attempt to measure the varying school districts and allocate funds accordingly. But studying this system we can then find that the system of standards is fungible by the states themselves, and thus is administered only rarely by some independent body, rendering our attempts for standards often meaningless before we can even evaluate our claims. Throughout this effort it often results for a diminished level of achievement in actual skills, particularly in general areas that are not tested by state proficiency exams. We are in effect "teaching" students to pass exams, not to how to learn. This is a bad precedent, if only for the obvious reason that there are few experiences in later life in which a person is called upon to take an exam. Perhaps for basic or advanced certification in some industry and that is all.

It may be appropriate to have basic standards, and for the public, if not the educational bodies themselves, to determine collectively what these shall be and hold accountable educational institutions to executing them. Surely there are subjects that are fundamental to basic living in our present society, and still others that may become increasingly important in our future. This is not to say that only these should be expounded upon and leave other intellectual pursuits as prey to their merciless expansion. There are also basic subjects which are not at all covered, or covered unequally and inadequately, which could be introduced alongside our current curriculum. A simple course on finance and/or responsible use of credit might be of excellent social utility for example.

There are also structural problems. Decades ago, education was a field that many minorities or young women could enter without facing malicious and crushing prejudice and gain a margin of respectability in society (and make a respectable, if not the most successful, wage to boot). While this was an unfair structural society with built-in prejudices, it used to supply to us a fair quantity of highly skilled and educated people into a field of crucial societal importance. If one now studies the quality of many educators relative to this field, we are clearly diminished. The potentially highly skilled and most qualified educators now have options and other fields in which to compete and receive better and more competitive compensation, and thus have often fled. The cost of achieving a position as an educator is not often enough superseded by its potential gains in financial terms either. It is not for want by society at large that we are so inadequately staffed in education. Many school districts in the most dire circumstances have offered a variety of incentives to people with strong backgrounds in critically underemployed fields such as mathematics or sciences and attempted to entice participation in education by offering to cover the cost of training or state certifications while they begin teaching. I would argue that the levels of certification being demanded are perhaps of uncertain value in many cases anyway. Surely there are necessary methods of education that one should become versed in as an educator. But it hardly seems necessary to complete any college degrees in these skills as opposed to more properly boosting one's knowledge in the appropriate field of interest, say history or chemistry. We should broaden the base of people who can become included in education as to expand the prospective candidacies who could become excellent teachers or professors and then use this larger caste to expel from the system those who are woefully inadequate to our purposes. We should also, as Mr Obama has suggested, seek to reward those who are models of educational prowess in accordance with the level of professionalism that the position demands.

There are indeed other methods and reforms that can and will be proposed. We will see a large and boisterous debate over school choice, or the appropriate level of national participation in local school curricula (though the standards movement generally). There may be merits to some of these proposals. Stronger and more directed funding into educational resources (and teacher pay) and involvement by parents may be essential to our educational reform movement. This may be more possible in an environment where a school's dollars are coming not from the location around the school as a default, effectively locking our poorest communities into schools that are often woefully inadequate, but because of the students attending the school. Any discussion of school choice must also acknowledge that many of the proposals being put forward are undeniably selfish. A discussion of school vouchers inevitably centers around the desire of a few parents to send their children to a school of their choice (or to home school absent any better option in their minds) and receive public monies to support this desire, but not to support other parents sending their own children to that very same school by receiving public monies adequate to cover the cost of doing so. This is horribly flawed policy. All parents should be able to find schools that are appropriate and affordable for the demands they wish their children to achieve through education. To suggest otherwise effectively sentences the poor and undereducated to continue to be poor and undereducated. This must be the central feature in any attempt at educational reforms as it is clear on a moment's reflection that we should not really need the greater society to help fix an affluent school district's and its students' problems. It is essential to fix the problems that our educational inequality poses for our future lest we have perpetual inequality (with all the attendant problems that creates) and deprive ourselves of natural abilities and talents that could have been developed for the benefit and creative amusement of us all.

8) Burdened by the debts that it often creates, we may look to health care cost as the most pressing business imaginable in the long term. It is certainly among the most costly as its price and social burden spirals upward in an unsustainable and dizzying fashion. I will suspect that we will very soon see health care reforms placed on the Congressional agenda, laid there by yet another of Mr Obama's impassioned speeches. In speaking openly of entitlement reforms, perhaps our most pressing long-term budgetary crisis, we must ask sensibly what sort of reform is necessary, and how best to implement it in a sustainable fashion (one that doesn't merely punt the question another generation or so). But before we imagine whether this debate naturally centers on the inevitable "universal" question, we must also determine clearly what sort of reform is needed to the system. What do we really want health care to do that it isn't right now? How do we build more transparency, currently non-existent on prices for example, or accountability into the system? How do we get more emphasis on general health improvement instead of specialized medicine (or is this even desirable)? Should we expect portable coverage, and if so, why do we persist in the notion that we should receive our coverage through our employers?

I would declare that among any reform plan, there must be a concerted effort to remove the burden of employer's payment of health care for our benefit, while maintaining the community ratings that large corporations can achieve for us. As I understand most forms of insurance, there are means of rating generally the likelihood of making payouts. A teenager thus receives a higher rating for car insurance than an adult. A retiree higher than a new college graduate for life insurance. And these are calculated across the population. For some reason there are no clear attempts to do this with many types of health insurance. We are rather installed in a plan with our co-workers instead of our age-based and economic peers. It should make intuitive sense that as we age the cost of our health care will increase because our need for it will. Chief among the reasons to remove the employer based system is the dependence that it creates on employers by employees. Employees should maintain some freedom to work for themselves, to work for small employers, or to work for a large industrial titan, at their whim. And not to be restricted by burdensome health costs that would sudden skyrocket by shifting coverages or the dreaded "pre-existing" condition.

9) During a recent press conference, the Obama team asked the country to submit questions via the internet. This had some predictable results. For instance, a popular question submitted by a user "green machine" asking about the legalization of marijuana as a possible tool to grow our economy. I'm not familiar with any major economists whose advice on narcotics legalization centers around economic growth. So this was probably not the best way to ask the question or at least, not the correct problem for which legalization is the possible antidote. As I understand it, the Mexican ambassador recently supported a decriminalization, if not outright legalization, policy to be pursued by the United States to assist his country in fighting expanding narco-terrorist gangs. That sort of problem is the situation for which a legalization campaign is a prescription. Nevertheless, while the opinions of a few stoners trying to apply for legalization may be dismissed as the anarchy of internet frivolity, the opinions of a wide range of economic thinkers on the cost and benefit of our nation's drug policies should not be so easily lumped into a flippant or dismissive attitude toward their conclusions.

What we must do is to lay out what a national drug policy would seek to accomplish. Are we intending to punish or prevent drug use and abuse? Treat addiction? Or are we seeking the ability to attack and defeat criminal enterprises that center on the trade of illicit substances, many of which have some tangental national security ramifications seeing as these enterprises, like many other business efforts, have gone global. We receive the brunt of the blow from Mexican gangs, but the supply of drugs has not dried up from Columbia or Afghanistan either. Both of these countries also have serious counter-insurgency problems that might be considerably "improved" by amending our policies. If we choose to amend our policies in a more "liberal" fashion, how best to do this? What sort of revenues, fees, or taxes could/should be levied? And so on. Even what appears a silly conversation on its face when raised by a legion of marijuana supporters (and in some cases, users) could be seen as demonstrative of a general effect within public discourse and thus commands that policy should be examined on the issue.

The internet is hardly a broad cross-section of the populace in its savvy users, but one thing that should not be taken for granted is the ability to use it as an organizing force for particular movements to express their dissatisfaction with particular courses of action. Ideas can germinate through discussion and argument for some time before surfacing into the general public and spreading rapidly. Not all such ideas will be as notably controversial as a discussion of narcotics legalization. It would be well not to always present a flippant attitude toward their proposition through an open and invited public means. It becomes apparent now that there may have been a carefully phrased answer, if not a more sensible attitude for this particular issue. Future references should strive to be more clear and less abrasive.

18 April 2009

You have to plan your route

It's not always a straight line is it?

This first one just reminded me of Carlin's routine on the safety lecture. "Locate your nearest emergency exit. I do this immediately. And then I plan my route... let's see I'll step on the widow's head, push those children out of the way, knock down the paralyzed midget and get out of the plane where I can help others!"

"The safety lecture continues, in the unlikely event of a water landing your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. Well imagine that, my seat cushion! Just what I need. To float around the North Atlantic for several days, clinging to a pillow full of beer farts."

The rest of the list was pretty intuitive stuff.

Also, "internet piracy" should be renamed to "downlifting". I second that motion. For one thing, it's not as glamorous to be a "downlifter" as a "pirate."

This also was pretty amusing.
Seriously? Do these right-wing advocates think the only sexual act that exists is sexual intercourse for the purpose of reproduction, and everything else is some sort of homosexual perversion? Are they really that out of it? Somehow a jocular reference to their being out of it and choosing silly names for protests is now an attempt to declare their manhood negated? I was pretty much done with this joke a week ago, but it keeps on giving these secondary wave laughs from people finally figuring it out.

17 April 2009

torture away

torture listings

Following along, it's funny to see how the right-wingers are only pissed about themselves being inconvenienced. And not the sort of behavior being used to conveniently side-step international laws or basic human rights. Ok, so these were terrorists. What exactly did we get out of them with immediacy of actionable intel that we could only get using torture methods? When I can see that this was indeed "effective" methods of coercing information, then we can discuss keeping these as options. Until then, the Faux news cheer leading section of "real Americans" can get ready to fear for themselves for a while. They seemed so willing to permit the rest of us to live that way, apparently never thinking the tables to turn.

This one in particular was pretty 1984 sounding : "One technique approved but never used involved putting a detainee who had shown a fear of insects into a box filled with caterpillars." Remember the rats about to chew his face off? We're so creative at being creepy apparently.

Oh and keep coming up with sexual acts to refer to your protests as and which are fundamentally no different or no more coherent than the last 8 years of protests from the other side. At least the names are funnier this way. Watching various MSNBC hosts get in a glib variety of scrotal humor and innuendo was at least, good for a couple laughs. I'm sure it will get old. Hopefully by then we'll have found some other position to protest in.

15 April 2009

morning this afternoon

interesting, but pointless

I guess I can say I'm not surprised this came up, but I don't really see the point. Just don't have your kids baptized, at least let them make that call. Simple really.

Also, I had a dream in my fitful hours of sleep about being in a mafia. Either that or a drug company (the pharmaceutical type, not the narcotic type).

It was hard to tell the difference.

14 April 2009

what goes around

comes around...

Good times all around. It never fails to amaze me that people don't understand putting additional power into an institution, failing to properly oversee it by placing limitations on its mission and authority to carry out a task, and allowing it to persist long after its intended purpose has been served, doesn't work out the way that we all were told it would.

As I usually intone, whatever party actually limits the power and scope of government's ability to invade our individual rights is the one I'll support. I won't support parties that pay lip service to such things, ala the GOP, only so long as they're not in power (and while they busy themselves oppressing various social freedoms for no apparent reason in addition to this higher crime of oppressing general individual liberty, this merely pushes things over the edge into total hypocrisy).

Obviously one should fail to surprised that this vast expansion of power hasn't immediately dissipated with the expulsion of the Bush administration. I had some hopes merely because Obama was something like a Constitutional scholar that we'd have some provisions that again protect the privacy and primacy of individual rights. But considering much of his legal advisers are being held up by the Senate confirmation hearing process, I guess that rebelling against these silly notions will take time.

During which, of course, I could be labeled as a dangerous and subversive radical (not that I mind). More to the point, all those people who went around with the calling card of "if you've got nothing to hide...", will suddenly discover they do have something to hide. Funny for me. I get to get in a few "I told you so"s. Giving such power of censorship or a sort of broad data mining of subversion in the futile attempt to control a few thousand potentially violent anarchists is pointless in the face of a few random nutcases who could show up at any point at a church or school armed to the teeth. Such witch hunts tend to only demonstrate the ability of power to corrupt as it will sooner or later turn its ugly gaze into places that it has no business being in.

11 April 2009

this seems to be the problem

If there were no God, there would be no Atheists. - Chesterton

This seems to be the essential argument of theists, that atheism is more about the disbelief, or the negative act of belief, than about either a) skepticism, or b) the lack of interest. I'm pretty sure that atheists generally attest less to "negative belief" and more to lack of belief (and interest in disbelief). Most of "us" do not care to reference deities in discourse on subjects other than religion or mythology (and to lesser extents, history or anthropology).

I think the core problem is that theists tend to assume that we might believe otherwise if we were to be convinced by some argument constructed of faith, or that our secular notions of life are in and of themselves a construction of faith. They are not, nor are they wholly incompatible with people who live within their own personal constructions of faith. This is the fallacious sentiment proposed with the idea that Darwinian evolution necessitates atheism, with the idea being that secularism is its own distinct philosophy fundamentally requiring the absence of god to function. Generally secularists do not care whether god exists or not, the issue for them is still centrally how human beings should conduct themselves regardless of faith or lack thereof and/or learn about their surroundings in order to live in accordance with it. The sort of extremist proposition being waged as a cultural war is annoying and diverting from attention areas on which human beings can amass real and fundamental understandings of things, as opposed to these purely metaphysical constructs of faith.

speaking of fundamentalists.. the news and weather from the perspective of sanity

British understatement

Hilarity ensues when observing the commentaries of American (and British) newscasts and the descent of madness. In most cases, the mere presentation of events is sufficiently humorous, at least until one realizes that there are human beings in this country that persist in this mindset and one eventually has to attempt to reason with them. As a warning, there is about 10 seconds of a ridiculous country music song.

10 April 2009

wow they're morons...

Good times. Hitchens can be an abrasive bastard, but he's right. And Blackwell isn't able to get in a sentence that makes any coherent sense. It might have been a fair fight if they had put in someone who could actually debate, instead of any random conservative of the present variety. I think Hitchens wins anyway, but this was embarrassing.

The whole point about theocratic institutions made at the end was probably the centerpiece of debate (one Blackwell was keen to avoid), and may well be the institutional problem that religion has had for centuries that has been struggled against with varying levels of success and many positive levels of failure (namely that organized religion is perhaps the most prone to abuse organizational system available, with only nationalist sentiments being in the same ballpark).

In a related story, Sullivan is perhaps the most prolific blog in terms of content I've seen. Even if each individual post is merely a sentence or two on a topic, the amount of data that must cross that desk is insane.. Even I take the time to reflect on some things long enough to contextual post an opinion rather than mere distribution, but to be able to do so in a sentence take is probably more efficient.

09 April 2009

equal rights sounds nice, but not inevitable.

politics as usual
rational analysis

As usual, I take a somewhat unpopular position as it regards individual liberties, or rather, the present tendencies to repress individual liberties where they create disconcerted opinions in the minds or feelings of a disconnected and aging, but vigorous, minority of Americans.

The most interesting post there though was this one

I am curious about the disconnect between normal discriminatory notions and the sudden revulsion against a homosexual teacher. As with soldiering, I'm not impressed by the conception that a homosexual cannot properly fulfill their duties. We are free, if Silver postulates, to be offended, even in discriminatory manner, by the private habits of others (even where these are natural or biological in form, such as sexuality, or in other forms caused by actual mental disorder). And in an environment such as I suggest for "public" education, we might even be free to remove or to require the sexuality be an issue for the instructor of our children. This does not however inquire properly into the ability of any such people to perform the duty of providing an educational opportunity for others.

I suggest it implies a serious disconnect to the idea of how homosexuality occurs, in other words, that a gay teacher could spread their homosexuality to their precocious flock of children, similar to the marginal opposition of adoption by homosexual couples. Or the still common misconception that homosexuals are inherently child molesters could be a factor.

Other curious points, it is generally government that is permitted by the absorption of cost inefficiencies to be discriminatory. Silver sort of obliquely touched on that by the curious double standard that we might prevent private enterprise from discrimination against gays but allow the hiring practices of teachers to include such restrictions. I'm not sure there are actual costs that are imposed in a free market sense in this case however. If a teacher is capable, their private sexual orientation should not be a factor of their hiring or performance. In a market environment such a person would be difficult to dismiss. But in a government sense, we still can use the power of government to repress the ability of people to live openly in accordance of their behavior without fear of dismissal from gainful employment for factors that do not impact their job functions. This is probably a good reason to avoid using government for things of a social imposition unless it is to be used to protect the rights of a minority of some sort. And not the other way around.

I also am amused by the notion advanced by right wingers that this is an inevitable social result, the acceptance of homosexual rights and marriage. This may well be true in the form of demographics. Young people are accepting of all sorts of things (a theory advanced by their unprecedented and broader support of a black American for President). But this is not yet a generation in charge of the agenda. And what it often makes up for in the forms of tolerance lacking in previous generations, it generally lacks of political dynamism to make up the ground of repression.

07 April 2009

postponed on account of rain

stevens no!

I guess we don't need to convict corrupt public officials, or at least, the ones who did something corrupt. Instead we need to have a system of government corruption lawyers who aren't corrupt capable of trying the case without violating ethical standards and practices and at least give us the possibility of convicting other corrupt public officials.

What a great country... We can get off most of the opening day baseball games on a day in April where it snows in parts of the country. But we cannot convict a blatantly corrupt public official and have to let him off on what amounts to a technicality because we apparently don't have a justice system that is fair and impartial anymore. I like our sense of priorities (even though I love baseball too).

05 April 2009

final four and off to bed

In my quest to recurrent insomnia, I sat up again immersed in various historical texts. So I return now to relate the banality of my more normal interests, and that yet again, they have reaped no immediate financial rewards. But perhaps they will allow me to retire for a few hours of restful sleep devoid of the brain feeding on imagery.

I do have two sheets on ESPN's 5 million brackets competition that are in the top .5%, mostly because they both nailed the championship game and final four. This isn't an unusual place for me to end up; I was even higher when Georgia Tech played Connecticut. And last year, despite all the chalk, I was in the top 5% simply because I took Kansas over Memphis and Chalmers hit a three when Rose et al couldn't make free throws.

Thanks again to President Obama for perhaps convincing the better part of half the nation to take a final four that had 3 wrong, not that some of my sheets looked any less boring than that. I at least stayed away from Louisville usually, and Pitt was clearly overrated as well...Memphis is another story, I will be glad when Calipari starts at Kentucky so I don't have to worry about those guys anymore being hard to pick....

I will presume Carolina wins out Monday night since they won by 35 points in an embarrassing effort in the same building earlier in the year, but if they get upset, I guess some people will pass me. Not a whole helluva lot, most people didn't pick MSU nearly this far. I did notice one new trend to stash away for next year. Well, its not new, but it's one I had underestimated heavily this year. Pac-10/Pacific coast teams traveling east got hammered. Jet lag is a bitch apparently.

03 April 2009

random compendium mas o menos

More strange dreams. I think I was swimming with dolphins trying to negotiate a peace treaty with some aliens or something in the last one. Less history reading on international relations would be helpful. Fortunately even that dream was apparently like the Simpsons' episode with the dream quest that was spiced up with Homer's search for Lincoln's gold. There appeared to be a side event with some guy trying to scam a corporation to steal the alien ship or some such. And he got left in the middle of the ocean for his trouble. Strong work.

Anyway, since I got a new monitor, I decided the best way to test it out was to play a non-graphic intensive strategy game. So I fired up Civilization. I promptly found the widescreen high resolution very useful...but not much better than what I had before (not nearly as much of an improvement as I saw with spreadsheets, DVDs, and L4D). What I did find by playing this round was a confusing set of ethical boundaries that didn't quite apply in the game and I don't think they do in real life much either (at least, not anymore, but they could have for many years). Late in the game, I was bordered by the Dutch to my south and Romans to my East. The Romans had been basically aligned with the Dutch since they ended up at war with virtually the entire world and I took several cities from them.

The game gave a side event to build a large navy and the reward was a pile of nukes or some unit bonuses (uh...duh, get the nukes..). But this was on a map with one giant continent, so a navy was pretty useless. I built one anyway, but lost out on the reward by a couple turns to the Dutch I think. The result was now I had this huge army massed on my borders, more than enough to hold off their combined army and strike back into their territories, but a now nuclear threat that could vaporize it when it moved out. So I did the most logical thing I could think of with this army, I invaded the Zulu/Ottoman alliance to the south-east, behind the Roman/Dutch frontier, with my entire offensive force and my huge navy in support along the coast, well behind the initial front lines. The result was actually pretty interesting.

I managed, of course, to crush the Zulu empire down to scattered bits (which I was still in the tedious process of mopping up). But they screamed for help and got the Roman/Dutch alliance to declare war on little old me. The game provides a missile shield project to build, which I had, and the Romans had, which shoots down about 75% of incoming missiles. But the Dutch hadn't built theirs. And I had, since I didn't need more troops, stockpiled ICBMs. The Dutch-Roman army had "tactical" nukes, which do just about as much damage in game but have limited range (basically one state to the next). The result was they nuked a couple border towns, managed not to take over any of them in the chaos that creates (seeing them vaporizing several dozen units at once is not a pleasant experience) and I replied with a full nuclear strike on their core cities. Not on their border towns with troops in them, which I could counter by moving around armies to places they couldn't reach with their own pitiful, but numerous nukes. The 3 biggest Dutch cities each got a nuke. The Romans did try to lob a couple ICBMs at two of my bigger cities (with token garrisons, no troops basically), but they got shot down. I'm not sure how this was ethically sensible, but it did have the necessary side effect of cutting down the Dutch's ability to win the game in the cheap "culture victory", by amassing culture in 3 major cities. Killing several million people and coating the surrounding terrain in fallout will do that. This isn't very common to occur in the game because usually the computer creates a non-nuclear proliferation treaty through the game's UN and nobody builds nuclear bombs. So it was different in that I was bored enough to share.

Anyway, after this whole scenario was painted out (and I had won the game, something not really possible with a nuclear war involved in real life), I got to thinking about our own nuclear strategy starting back in the 50s, that basically crafted an all-nothing war system for conventional forces (which we attempted briefly to suggest nuclear bombs were simple conventional weapons, or at least that some of them, non-H-bombs maybe, were). That game scenario was basically what that would have resulted in, in the appropriate crisis. We kept using the "we have NUCLEAR WEAPONS, obey or die" threat in serious foreign relations and occasionally it worked. Eventually somebody might have been crazy enough to say, you know what, we're going to go ahead and invade anyway in this country here and you're not going to stop us (that somebody would have been me in this case, invading and crushing the hapless Zulu/Ottoman frontier with a huge conventional army, in real life it might have been Russia or China invading some territory we didn't want them in, one such threat was issued over Vietnam in the mid-50s to China). If that someone had nuclear weapons of their own, they very well might feel that those weapons give them some measured impunity from useful international scrutiny. And the result was a full nuclear exchange devastating huge cities and regions of the world, vaporizing millions of people.

Thus far, American policy has basically been to use conventional forces (we have uesd "unconventional forces" more often than this) only to pick on countries without the nukes, or at least, countries without the range to attack us directly (we have picked on Pakistan since they joined the nuclear club). But what this basically reads like to our potential enemies is "Get nukes". That's why we have this eternal situation with Iran and enriched uranium, the threat for many years of Saddam doing so (even though he wasn't able to, and the public was greatly overblown in its fear), the DPRK doing missile tests and occasionally blackmailing others by building a nuclear reactor to produce weapons grade material, Syria and Iraq having a reactor bombed by Israel, that sort of thing. It seems like the cheapest option is still to pay off people not to build the weapons, but it might also be cheaper to cut down what we have. This seems like the policy we've pursued since the mid 80s when there were 3 times as many warheads out there (and fewer countries with them). Seems like, for once, it makes sense.

01 April 2009

comings and goings

1920x1080 resolution is very clear. Now I just need to get a longer cable to link my DVD player to my computer instead of the TV. Maybe a TV tuner, I dunno.

I have been submitting the idea on VP abolition, I'll see what sort of public support it can garner, and against which it must defend (thus far the sort of resistance common to traditional inertia). But considering the extensive staff, the prestige/publicity, and the lack of real features to the position, all of which come at great cost to the public resources, I'm guessing this idea can use reason and get a more serious movement for a Constitutional amendment made at some point.