31 May 2009


Doesn't seem like it me

Back to the whole Carlin reference, "these people aren't pro-life, they're killing doctors." And I still might agree the most ardent pro-life people are more like anti-woman people, though in this instance they only targeted the male doctor who performed their abortions and not bombed the clinic where he did so. "They" did however vandalize it repeatedly causing thousands of dollars of damages. Going back to my little diatribe on abortion debates, it looks perfectly well like we aren't prepared to have any sort of actual debate still.

So long as people are so virulently opposed to one another that some are prepared to kill their debate opponents we can continue shouting at each other and nothing will happen that advances the policies on this issue of this country in any direction whatsoever.

29 May 2009

the ability to waste hours of time is insignificant next to...

the power of the internet

So yeah, I discovered that reading other people's blogs and newsworthy event coverage (at least, of the sort I'm accustomed to, not the sort that passes for news for most people) is not nearly taking up enough time in the day. Taking a series of tests on various types of bodies of water on the globe, African cities and capitals, and baseball records managed to soak up plenty of time.

I determined that I absolutely crush almost all people on basic quizzes of the pointless factual data involving Africa (large cities, capitals, rivers, GDP). And baseball records of course.

yup, this is our country


Yes, razor companies are apparently desperate to sell more razors. I understand the economics of stuff like this completely. They've always been good at selling the disposables as a continuous investment that people overspend on. Looking at the actual ad campaigns (Gillette has one too) they advise the use of a "fresh blade". Never mind that a "fresh blade" isn't actually the best to use for shaving any region of the body, simply because it must be "broken in" to remove the sort of coating that razor companies put over the blade. And never mind that it's made of metal and body hair would have to be lined with sand to make a significant dent in its cutting power to change a "fresh blade" into a blade one throws away as useless. It's the water and soap that kill the things, not the art of shaving. Anywhere.

But I don't buy the wackiness that surrounds it. If you're going to trim off hair to make a penis look larger how small was it to begin with (or conversely that seems like it would take a awful lot of hair to cause size disparities)? There's probably more convincing reasons to do this.

26 May 2009

and yes, we're still stuck on stupid with drugs

They probably started off with milk and then went to beer

I love the beat down issued to the gateway theory on drugs and the zero fatality reference on pot. At least some sanity is being issued regarding the stupid and indefensible theories thrown up by parental advocacy and the present wasteful drug war policies that espouses.

Tennessee (Cohen's home state) has a rather odd conglomeration of drug policies regarding pot itself. For example, they charge a fine on top of any possession penalty for failing to register use or distribution of pot with the state licensing bureau even though it is illegal to distribute or use.

more madness

Having survived the Memorial Day marathon of old war movies ; TCM had better ones than AMC, other than Patton and Longest Day the usual AMC rotation of war movies is pretty bleh, River Kwai on the other hand as the excellent ending with "Madness!". Upon which I provide the amusing and ever accelerating departure of "conservatives" from political theater with this line:

"As for appealing to people, if I say I have a very large following in broadcast and print media, the likely response would be, “well, what does that have to do with the substance of my criticism.”"

Uh. Yes, what does that have to do with the substance? Who cares how many people listen dutifully to what you are saying, the question is still "does what you say mean anything outside the echo chamber in which you exist?" or "is what you are saying based on anything other than the fact that you have a microphone in your face and people are listening to you?". You know like reason and facts?


SCOTUS appointee announced

First a couple of ground game arguments. Every time there's an appointment to be made at the highest levels, there often comes up these arguments that "we should appoint a (insert historically oppressed minority/female)". These arguments are dismissible in the point of finding "the most qualified candidate". And that's fine. The problem has been that there has rarely been a determined search to find "the most qualified candidates" and that this results in people picking familiar faces. The second problem is that to all political appointments, there is a political dynamic. And therefore the question of whether to appoint a woman or a Hispanic (and in this case, both, and one who grew up from a poor section of the Bronx as a child of immigrants to boot) to any post is potentially politically useful. That has to be accepted just as the argument that any candidate should be "the most qualified" available. Whatever that means. And picking someone from two more divided political voting blocs (poor immigrants and women) while letting the GOP try to figure out ways to attack her record without looking like a collection of racist misogynists is a political move of some worthy consideration.

Second major problem: the average person's political involvement in the Supreme Court only surfaces at the time of some appointments. Even this is tenuous at best. Most people are dramatically unfamiliar with court rulings and the value of them as a Constitutional force, for good or ill. The Court itself seems to have cultivated a sense of removal and cloak of mystery around it (though this is hardly true to people who follow it with some scrutiny). The people who are picked to serve on the highest bench are often unknown quantities to most Americans, their decisions only rarely significantly known and studied, and their ideologies always measured in a left-right dynamic that leaves much to be desired (particularly with regard to use of state authority and civil rights). Students of law or followers of the legal realm even are often only vaguely associated with each prospective candidate. The general public's exposure to judicial philosophy and the scrutiny of a few selected speeches or written decisions through Congressional hearings is either cherry-picked at best or a woefully inadequate understanding of the underlying theories at worst. With so much disinterest and misinformation, it is understandable that only a few core issues would emerge as worth pointing toward for each prospective judge for the general public. In this matter, we will find very little to interest opponents of say, legalized abortion, simply because it would be unreasonable to suggest that a "liberal" be replaced with an opposing ideological balance by a "liberal" administration. So a protracted grilling over some sort of "litmus test" on abortion is unlikely to resonate or be an effective strategy.

Of particular note to most casual observers is the decision on the New Haven firefighter case (essentially involving Affirmative Action). But so far as I can tell, she didn't actually add much to discuss over that particular case, merely agreeing with a previously adjudicated position from a lower court. It was sort of like punting on third down. The case itself came up in the Supreme Court case load this past session, mostly as a result of there being a rather basic going over in these lower courts. As a result, it would be useful to see what her basic judicial philosophy would be on things like civil rights and affirmative action, simply because the most recent and famous case she handled on those issues she really didn't say anything.

We can imagine that she has a particular viewpoint on labour rights, from the baseball strike (it is unfortunate however that baseball keeps dragging itself in government focus). And that this viewpoint is somewhat at odds with many conservative commentators (and economists). But this seems like the only significant point of contention that we might enter into this process with a level of certainty over. There's the insignificant but politically hazardous: "Court of Appeals makes the law" quote to get exercised over, but this is sort of like atheists tweaking the noses of religious fundamentalists. Court figures do in a way determine the law by deciding whether a law is functional, applicable, and operates fairly and within the boundaries that our legal system requires. That isn't "judicial activism", certainly not of the sort that the phrase "judicial empathy" espouses to most conservatives. So I don't see what the problem here would be.

538 already looked her over for the previous Congressional confirmations for her Appeals seats and found that a couple prominent GOP members already voted for her in the past (Hatch in particular since he sits on the Senate Judiciary committee). It will be interesting to see if they do so now, or why they might change their minds. But it doesn't seem like they'll be able to throw up enough roadblocks to stop a successful nomination campaign anyway. They may be better off politically not running with their accepted party line of "no" and trying to figure out a way to support this woman, or at least, not be seen as directly opposing her.

Instead of flailing about with my own marginally improved data set of conclusions, I'll simply refer any interested party to a couple people who seem more interested in following legal decisions with vigorous tenacity and who seem to be roughly in my ballpark on ideological perspectives.


20 May 2009

another interesting idea that'll never happen

Hong Kong is everywhere now

So it might be neat to see say Nairobi work as an invested city-state with relative independence. The trick as I see it isn't getting the developing nations on board (some of them already see the potential here), it's getting the developed nations on board to do it or developing a means of apportioning who gets what city-state governance. The developing world gets the advantage of a less corrupt city-state around which to model it's economic development and toward which investment would flow more easily (rather than "aid"), and the developed world gets to profit for a little while, say 100 years, and then gets a respectable trading partner that grew out of it. And that means the trick is determining who gets to call the shots where and then the question becomes how the Canadian or Finnish economic zones would grow.

sooooo..what does this mean?

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? …

REID: I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

I don't follow how they'd have to be "released" in order to put them into prison. I presume they could mean by following due process of law and having a trial, but it would be a simple matter of denying bail owing to the charges involved.

Democrats, upon reflection, are really lucky to have Obama around. Because Reid and Pelosi are looking increasingly dumb (and Biden's not much help either).

Let me know when someone is actually proposing releasing these terrorists on American soil. That would be a fun argument. This is mere stupidity of the highest order.

Mississippi is like Bosnia

And Arkansas is like Russia

And Cuba is better off than both of them. Human development index is a more expansive measure than pure economic activity (like GDP). You're also looking at education and literacy, basic health. Iceland and other Scandinavian countries typically top the list. But when you break states off independently, we can see there's a core, mostly of the NE but also some other big states spread throughout the country, that fare just about as well as any nation in the world. The problem is that there's this core of Southern states that fare just about as badly as developing nations that drags the total national average down. Basically if you live in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia, or Mississippi, you're living in a third world country. Presumably we could isolate further down and look at individual counties within these states and find that some of the cities might be doing fairly well within them, but others not so much.

What would be the cause of this disparity? Well educational systems in New England and portions of the Midwest are far superior when one breaks out individual state scores on international educational rankings. And the vast majority of the least healthy states are in that list as well. Now within the comments people are quibbling because there's Wal-Marts all over the place to make goods and services cheap and affordable. Likewise, the vast expense of buying arable or inhabitable land in California or NYC may inflate the GDP figures there. There may be a reason to adjust for cost of living within a nominal GDP calculation. But it would seem obvious that general lack of economic activity given within a cheap retail environment and a basically rural area with an undereducated and unhealthy population isn't a recipe for future growth either.

One other interesting part is the political disparity that this creates: the lower states also tended to go vote for "conservatives". In reference to the general anti-intellectual basis that "conservatives" have come to represent, this isn't terribly surprising that the least educated or developed states would somehow come to demand less progressive policies.

More interesting still is this map. Take a look at the Eastern economic development zones versus the rest of the country... You can clearly see Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou/Hong Kong. And then there's Tibet.

19 May 2009

credit companies get tightened

credit crunching the numbers

I only see one provision that will have some long-term unintended consequences: restricting issuing credit cards to people under 21. That's a good trick to quickly build up your credit if you're under 21, but this is balanced by the tendency of such people to 1) have no income and 2) rack up debts. It will have the effect of slowing the ability of people getting access to credit, and thus make mortgage rates potentially higher in the long run for many (or boost the re-fi markets).

The rest of these provisions seem reasonable and account for a number of bad faith practices.
1) Statements to be mailed out faster. This was a trick being used for people who still used snail mail for their payments (most people). The statement arrives with only a few days left to pay on it. Similarly if a payment was processed slowly, say by intentionally putting the due date on a weekend when it wouldn't have gone through anyway, there shouldn't be a fee assessed. Credit companies have used both of these tricks against their customers for a while.

2) 45 days instead of 15 to change rates. This gives people an extra month to make extra payments at a lower interest rate. Fine with that. There's also an added grace period of an extra month to account for the possibility of someone goofing up once or twice and making a single payment late (or not at all) rather than providing a record of being chronically late and/or missing payments entirely. Gotcha rates, the promotional introductory rate that gets advertised on the envelope rather than the actual long term interest rate that comes sort of prominently in the mice type legalese, would have to last longer and rates generally would be frozen for the first year. I do foresee this may impact the ability of people with poorer credit getting access to credit, but since this sort of method has been used to jack up interest rates on people and cycle them into debt spirals rather than help them build up credit (predatory lending of a sort), I'm not all that worried about it. If poor people cannot get access to credit cards, they have one less source of poverty on one point but one less way out if they're smart about them. This is rare.

3) Rates reduce back to a previously agreed level after a payment on-time period is demonstrated. I have not quite understood why credit companies haven't done this in the past. Or why they've arbitrarily raised rates without a late payment (though there are some goofy reasons, such as a reduced credit score for this).

Now if they can get some rules to apply to bank debit cards with a credit logo on them we're doing good.

Of course, the Senate version has a nice rider attached that has something to do with gun restrictions in national parks. I can see what that has to do with credit cards...

18 May 2009

Hats on the ringer. Or something needs to be said without a finger

So since the President can wander into the hornet's nest of a incoherent debate and make it sound presentable, so shall I attempt to make sense.

I've ranted previously on the problems with the framing of the debate surrounding abortion, particularly this false dichotomy of "pro-life/pro-abortion". That's not something I've changed my reasoning for. But I am willing to examine the relevant issues behind the curtain, so to speak.

What it comes down to ultimately is the ability of each individual person to exercise their conscience and make decisions. We recognize that these decisions carry unique and powerful consequences at times, and where these consequences are tragic, painful, and harmful to others, we often have the means and justification to step in and apply a measure of justice or judgment. The central argument of the "pro-life/anti-choice" side is that these harms apply to fertilized embryos and developing fetuses just as they would to any fully formed and helpless infant. Yet we have not established the criteria, either scientifically or metaphysically, for demonstrating what life (in the human sense) is and where on the time line that begins. Each person then is left to that decision themselves.

The supposition becomes that somehow permitting such decisions to be made without overriding legal scrutiny in their aftermath somehow abolishes the difficulty of making them. Or that abolishing the legality of these decisions also abolishes the practice. Neither is true, or ever has been. Procedures for abortions can still be performed in the absence of legality. Often less safely, often without trained medical care, and often at greater expense. But like any other demand we label as illicit, the demand still exists outside the boundaries of law. Likewise, it cannot be said that most women would choose such a path with greater and greater ease. Or in fact that they would often feel that have much of a choice at all in the absence of sensible alternatives (such as would be commonly available to say, the upper middle class with access to proper medical care and precautionary methods reducing the likelihood of making such a problematic situation arise in the first place versus the impoverished, undereducated classes of our society that have neither opportunity afforded them in a sufficiency worth contemplating).

Much as I find I despise the ordinary person, it seems best to afford them the maximum ability to determine their own courses, and to make every effort that that course should be less burdened. I do not say that people who hold a strong and discordant view must be silenced and led out of arenas when they express their dissatisfaction. But I do demand that they be respectful that not all hold their views and that there are reasonable positions that should be listened to, if not perhaps agreed with. Where there are sensible positions that are expressed I will listen. It seems to me the central goal of anti-abortion advocates is to lessen the frequency of such events. I see no reason that a policy cannot be devised to achieve this end, still falling short of legally penalizing the women who seek out abortions or doctors perform them. If that sort of goal is achieved (and in case "they" haven't been paying attention, the rate of abortions per pregnancy has been falling for at least the last 25 years), then I fail to see what the demands are about nor the consistency with which they are made in light of the expressed demands for "government to get out of our lives" in other avenues of life's strange and tumultuous exhibitions.

So to try to understand what these demands have been about, I engaged with those who hold them to try to get at their points of view:

1) Abortion is infanticide.
First off, infanticide is nothing new in both the historical and social spectrum. The ancient Romans and Greeks so often revered in American society were among its practitioners. It was often practiced as a means of population control in smaller societies with scarce public resources available and for which the survival of any extra person could mean starvation for the whole (and thus the questionable survival of a young and helpless infant to begin with). There are sound structural arguments to be made that the health of a society is threatened mightily by the introduction of large numbers of ill-cared for or undesired/unplanned children as the result of pregnancies that were not terminated (and for which a rational prospective mother might still retain a desire for children at a more appropriate time). Crime for example is strained by such an increase in what would psychologically be termed "at risk children". Educational systems, often from lower income areas already pushed beyond their ability to service their students, would likewise require social accommodations. If we are not willing to permit the exercise of choice to have children at a desirable time and ability for prospective parents, then are we not bound to consider the costs that such a cumulative and forcible imposition of our own societal choice has wrought for us at a later date? If we are not, then why would we wish to impose a cost on ourselves for which someone else could ably supply at some other time?

Secondly, and more pressing, it is still not possible to establish unquestionably that human life begins at conception. It doesn't even do this naturally. Every time a measure comes along attempting to punish the few unwilling parents who commit some atrocity to a newborn infant, sometimes after a failed abortion attempt, the laws as drafted are so draconian as to make little differentiation between the natural and tragic personal event of a miscarriage and that of a child killed, or a pregnancy terminated, by deliberate circumstances. Where the circumstances are obvious I should think there are laws and judgments to be made, and we can already make them (just as there used to be a convincing argument to be had regarding existing laws on terrorism, now swept aside in favor of torture, often by the same people who oppose abortion...consistency....consistency people). Where they are questionable surroundings, we may be able to question, but not to intrude with guns blazing.

We have not been able to craft definitive laws on these matters because our legal system has not definitively used a process to declare when a human being is endowed with these natural and unalienable rights prior to its natural live birth. It fundamentally cannot because that determination would make the presumption, however well intentioned and well-founded that may be, that all such developments will take their course and provide a living breathing infant and all the trials or tribulations, as well as joys and wonders, that accompany such things. They do not, even in the natural order. Were we to suggest that habits which increase the likelihood of a "natural" miscarriage, such as say smoking or drinking, be criminalized for a pregnant and prospective mother there would be, or at least one would expect, a public outcry equally divisive and suggesting of a troubling introduction of governmental meddling with the private affairs of its citizens. Simply being over 40 for example is a troubling condition for the development of a fetus into a healthy infant. How would we best attack this problem with the full force of legal powers to protect the developing child with society's blessing? Again we cannot. If we cannot protect and guarantee human life with every contraceptive event through legal authorities then I dare say we haven't yet found it's source in a scientific and metaphysical form. It would be a simple matter at that point. Since it is not a simple matter, it remains instead to allow individuals to exercise as best they may their conscience when the question is put forth in their own minds on how to proceed. For individuals who feel it is a simple matter, it becomes one. They don't have to have abortions. There is no formal or informal state policy of infanticide being adopted like that of the ancient Romans or even the more modern Chinese "one child" policy that is often pointed to with disdain. For everyone else, this decision remains challenging. And we are amazingly still free to make it more difficult still by disagreeing with a particular course of action. Even in public, but ideally without resorting to violence or judgmental acts of disrespect.

2) If we do not endow a fetus with human rights, what is stop someone from deciding freely through the exercise of their conscience that say, Mexicans, are not human and how would we be consistent to punish their actions. Here we have drawn clear legal distinctions. Once a person is alive through birth, we create legal structures as a means of guarding against things like unilateral intolerance and genocidal activity. Again, since there isn't a clear argument that a human being becomes such at the inception of a fertilized egg, there has to be a clear argument agreed upon socially that there is a point where a human being gains their human rights. There are vague legal opinions offered that this occurs at some time before birth and we legally prevent most abortions from occurring past that point, excepting in extreme cases for the health of a pregnant woman for example. At birth, we are permitted the activity of our mind in the pursuit of prejudicial opinions and biases. We are not permitted the depravity to slaughter or abuse others on the sole basis that we feel they are less human or not human. This is a silly point to have to make in a debate, but it comes up frequently made by ardent anti-abortion advocates. As though there is a distributed playbook to run down a series of ridiculous arguments with the idea being that only someone who holds these ridiculous opinions would oppose their viewpoint. It's not the only one

3) No distinction or quarter is to be made between people who allow abortions to go forward by not enacting laws to penalize anyone involved and the actual people who choose freely to have the procedure or to perform it. All are then painted with the broad stroke of "pro-abortion". Most accurately, the label is "pro-choice", with the understanding that a large percentage of such peoples would personally oppose many conditions for having abortions of their own. Even the women who would have them are often in a considerable state of doubt and uncertainty. "Roe" for example became opposed to abortion at a later point in her life. Judging from that sort of turnaround, it seems natural to allow consciences to be exercised free from legal scrutiny and consequence, but it would still be possible to do so with the opposition of society or with the support of its essential members (our friends or family). Such consequences are often more unbearable than anything we could assemble as a legal penalty to exact for a perceived injustice. As such, it remains to assemble a means to make these consequences more infrequent, by providing better and intelligent access to alternatives, and to use social infrastructures without the calcified and inflexible force of legal authoritarians to impose them more freely. They work. Legal authority simply guarantees a series of intractable consequences to the greater society that no one is prepared to deal with and does precious little to restrict the demands of people who would seek out abortions in whatever dire circumstances they feel necessary to have one. Rather it structurally limits who has access to them to precisely the same group that already has sufficient safeguards to limit the need in the first place: generally upper-middle classes of people.

4) Sex should not be "guilt-free" or without consequence.
It remains to understand that an advocacy structured on abstinence will generally fail to achieve its goals, because it often fails to educate responsibly its target audience, and that there is nothing inherently damaging about sex itself that we should be labeling it as a "guilt-free" activity where people must move to remove any perceived damages it creates upon its participants. This assumption that human sexuality outside of some sanctified marriage is somehow automatically bad is itself creating a good deal of social difficulty as it then creates legal and social distinctions on marriage itself (see: gay rights being limited). Sexuality carries already a good number of consequences in the form of transmittable disease risks. Pregnancy is, by comparison, the lesser concern, and also happens to be the concern that is by nature more private. Disease has social implications and costs to be managed by appropriate public response. One such response is to educate. Another is to demand accountable or responsible behavior. This response is based, strangely for what is largely a religious movement, on the ideal human behavior. One assumes that if human beings are largely unaccountable and prone to "sin", that there should be measures employed not merely to "prevent sin" but to account for any damages upon others. We do this in criminal acts and such people are often the first to demand stringent penalties, and yet there is no accountability for a baser human impulse toward sex? Would it not be sensible to assume, even though this is itself a flawed assumption on its face, that all people would seek to engage in sexual practices at some point almost certainly before we have some established social procedure that permits them to do so, at least without malicious intentions, and then design a policy that acts on this assumption? Why the dichotomy between some actions which can harm but one or a few (or even just the self in the form of our drug laws or attempts at "anti-homosexual"/sodomy laws for consensual adults, some of whom would be heterosexual married couples...) and actions which could harm many through ignorance or maliciousness equally?

When this sort of anti-intellectual, "god wills it" culture is subsided and replaced with a greater sense of personal accountability rather than "I will make you feel accountable because MY god says so", I think we'd have a more reasonable approach toward difficult subjects like abortion and I suspect we'd have a lot fewer abortions performed. The hypocritical double standards therein are, based on my previous post, precisely what is so offending people who leave their organized religious institutions behind and precisely why so many people in this country have stratified opinions on this subject that make it virtually impossible to have a coherent debate. Fortunately for all of us so long as there isn't a coherent debate, there won't be much in the form of legal activity. Maybe the discordant shouting is what we all wanted in the first place and so long as there won't be any policies getting made one way or the other, then it's a tossup whether anything will be getting done or not. So we can continue shouting.

17 May 2009

shocking parsed news

"across all religious upbringings, roughly three-quarters of those who have become unaffiliated say religious people tend to be hypocritical and judgmental rather than sincere and forgiving"

The interesting part is looking over the reasons people leave religious affiliations. It does not look like, in the suspicious attitudes of hardline religious people in all corners of America, there's some sort of atheistic revolution underway. It looks more like there's a revolt against organized religion and overtly religious peoples. When you get down to something like "modern science proves religion is just superstition" and see a very small percentage relative to something like the hypocrisy of other religious people or the influence of money and power on organized religion, or especially with the fast growing disagreements with various institutional rules and dogma, then you're not seeing the sort of Richard Dawkins brand of atheism take any shape.

The more relevant conclusions were the displeasure with religious doctrines relating to homosexuality and abortion. I've seen the preposterous claim that somehow younger people are "pro-life" and that this is how social conservatives would get them back involved in their causes. Based on something like this (along with general polls on abortion itself), I'd say that's quite funny if that's the plan. Good luck with that. When that beats out birth control as a complaint of former Catholics (and in case you missed it, the Catholic Church is big on being anti-birth control), something is wrong with the assumption that these are wedge issues that will involve people in an overriding ideological stance.

The more unusual statistics are in the following of "unaffiliated" peoples. The apparent concern that people will hold to these sort of absent practices, given that they're not reaching these conclusions from the perspective that any religious institution is flawed or based on superstitious nonsense, is probably unfounded. In fact, if the goal and perspective of the "unaffiliated" was a larger movement toward atheist tendencies generally, then it would appear to be failing wildly (for the record, I have no such ambitions to "convert" others, I just find the conversations amusing). It looks more like the same religious institutions that would be in competition for this population are failing faster at attracting them back into some institutional faith as the actual issue. The issue would then be that there's less of a parsing of data to determine whether "unaffiliated" actually means much of anything. I usually see polling data with something like "spiritual, not religious" and "agnostic/atheist" rather than "unaffiliated". The latter term is pretty broad, and provides a good deal of hope for the religious institutions that people have fled to recover some of these lost goods. If they have the ability to be more "flexible" in their moral teachings and have less hypocritical/judgmental worshipers at least. I suppose in some sense I can live with the population awakening to these flaws at least. They do tend to be the most glaring problem with human spiritual practices.

15 May 2009

happiness is a pair of socks away

happiness takes time to look at

I noticed a couple threads in there that I liked, sort of. As much as I am impressed by anything.

One: the notion that many people are defensive about how they are liked, complimented, or generate any affections. That sort of intimacy is rare, cultivated, and difficult. And supposedly rewarding. We shelter these feelings carefully because they are difficult to act upon in part, but mostly because it's easier for (many of) us to make decisions for much of our life in the belief that they're absent. This isn't a surprising revelation of course.

Culturally speaking it's far more common to see detailed descriptions events and effects of offensive nature, however common or rare they may be in our daily itinerary, than to depict a event where we were ourselves unselfish, altruistic, helpful. And yet these latter events surely happen, even among the most selfish and narcissistic people. Among others, it's likely we see them so rarely in part in the attempt to avoid the narcissism. We share the painful memories because it's like passing them off, a therapeutic effect of sorts. We create private shelters for these moments of joy and then never relive them through a story because we content to know we touched someone in some trivial way even if it was much more important than that. I noticed in reading about and watching "Band of Brothers" that one got the distinct impression there were a lot of heroic acts from what otherwise were ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. But no one saw themselves as THE hero. Especially Winters, who seems to have come down that way in the eyes of the men he led. And none of them seemed content to let that be their story. They seemed more interested in telling stories of someone else's heroism, but willing instead to convey the moments of privation, suffering, and death, however saddened they were by these often intense memories. Maybe combat is a bad example, but it really doesn't seem much different from the rest of life. It's simply more intense with the prospect of death much closer and yet more distant at the same time (because of its commonplace occurrence).

Two: I'm not sure what Valliant's take actually is on whether people change or not, which seemed to be the notional topic of the final page. But it seemed to me like crucial elements form up rather quickly in our lives and they frame the perspectives and motions for a lot of later life. These things in themselves may be replaced by others, and these may change in some measure our degree of involvement in our own life. But it seemed to me like the same tragic flaws, in the literary sense, run throughout. The ideal person adapts better around them (by changing the surrounding environment to conceal them usually), but that doesn't mean their essential character adapts. The sort of static impression that we're the same at 50 as we are at 25 is obviously going to be an over simplified notion. We learn things of course, and we have different experiences. But we're having to process these things through the same mind, it's the same entity making judgments, decisions, actions, and intentions. I don't quite see how this essential person creates a new element, ie, changes. Maturity is a vague assessment of how people cope with different things at different times in their life spectrum. I'm not convinced that it alters the underlying meaning of the story however. It's basically like adding a more complex vocabulary to events rather than using something like a more accurate equation to how we balance ourselves.

In other news, I discovered this week that I have apparently never purchased socks. I discovered this flaw by realizing that they've been depleting themselves over the past year down to a pitifully small collection from their inherent weaknesses when I have use for them. Since one tends to dispose of socks when they discover they've born holes in their soles or some such injuries, and this occurs typically in ones rather than twos, and one tends to be supplied with such footwear in bundled quantities that all match each other anyway, this is a strangely predictable phenomenon. Even within independence, I have generally had contact with at least one other person who procured some socks. So I have managed to cook, and sort of clean, and to marginally care for animals at the expense of other human beings. But not buy socks. I submit this problem lies in the overuse of flip-flops. But then again, Einstein typically wore his socks around his neck, if at all. And I seem to wear them inside-out all the time, which I'm not sure how this works within their design either. Much like ties I'm not really sure they're a good "functional" piece of clothing. Couldn't we just have longer pants when it is cold out and better designed running shoes to prevent blisters or some such?

As a final note, I finally got around to deleting the old myspace page. Facebook has long since taken over for whatever semblance of contact I have with the outside world and the current tendency not to be bombarded with popular culture on every log-in tends to make this tenuous attempt at meaningful human contact at least tolerable.

14 May 2009

unconventional thinking

insurgency works

There's a disconnection however that isn't applied here. Winning a war of attrition and effort through asymmetrical tactics and guerrilla warfare does not automatically translate toward the goals that the war is supposedly fought for. Or at least, there are still different asymmetrical tactics that need to be followed to make the post-war phase successful. Lawrence of Arabia is justly famous for driving the Ottoman empire to distraction with a band of nomadic tribesmen to compose his forces. The post-war phase however does not conclude with an independence or equality among nations, it basically just resulted in the trade from Ottoman control to British and French controls. The same problem can be applied to the current Palestianian situation, with guerrilla tactics working more "effectively" than conventional warfare had against Israeli forces. But they haven't resulted in any clear legitimacy in the post war sense, mostly because there's this unwritten rule that engaging in asymmetric warfare is a cardinal sin in international politics. Politics has its own rules that can be different, but act to reinforce those of war itself. Gladwell brings up Washington's insistence on fighting actual battles when it was clearly more effective to tire the British out with untrained and ill-equipped troops using guerrilla warfare (Indian style fighting). But what worked in the post-war phase here was in part continuing to pursue a sort of asymmetry in politics. Americans essentially persisted in guerrilla tactics by abandoning centuries of divine right law and permanent aristocracy rigidly imposed by birth rights and obtuse legal codes and experimenting with something new. And they got away with it basically because they'd won the war by being somewhat unconventional to begin with. Everyone (in as far as the British and many in the French establishment were concerned) basically assumed that what was being tried was doomed to fail anyway so why not let them do it and demonstrate it would. The same situation in Arabia, Iraq, and Syria later presented itself and the British and French allowed the Arabs to crumble and fail, "requiring" the international restoration of order through the imperial status quo (just a different set of flags). Why did that fail, and in many respects continues to, when Washington and the first Americans succeeded (albeit with some false starts)?

I'd think that would be just as interesting a question as watching how Lawrence marched a bunch of nomads around the desert and prevailed in bleeding out the Turkish armies opposing him. Perhaps the question of timing helps here. Americans and their failings took months to hear of and months more to react to by the status quo Europeans. This was far too much trouble to be concerned with measures of control in the first place I suppose. But by the early 20th century, unrest and revolt in the Trans-Jordan area could be heard of and acted upon within days. There was a substantial global and imperial means to both gather information and respond before anything really trans-formative, or perhaps dangerous, happened. The same rules did not apply some 50 years later after the collapse of these imperial forces and exhaustion from a second war. The French no longer possessed the means to outlast and crush rebellion from their Asian colonies. And this showed when the Vietnamese for example managed to change tactics and bleed out the occupying force. It's possible the same "rules" will apply very soon to American forces, and it's a world we should be ready to respond to with something other than conventional tactics. Or we should expect some trans-formative, some perhaps dangerous, things to happen.

One should also wonder if we've already passed that invisible line in the sand. Not just because we watched planes crash into buildings, or even prior to that, watched a country we had been opposing for decades crumble into something new without any idea that it was about to happen. But because our leaders decided that the means of resistance to change was to abandon some of our most fundamental rights and treat terrorists with the same level of impudence that they acted with. Terrorists are justly considered by any legal system as scum, once convicted. What we adopted over the past years was an ancient (medieval would be the best term) means of attempting to impose the "truth" upon others through violence. I don't think that's what I would suggest as unconventional thinking, partly because such means have never worked. And partly because such means are a violation of our own rules. Our sense of decency which is so offended by acts of inconsiderate violence should likewise be offended when we ourselves cross those lines. There's a way to be unconventional and still be decent. There are always ways to "cheat" the system without being a cheater, as Gladwell demonstrated. I should think it's a lot easier to look at ourselves in the mirror that way at least than to have to tell our progeny that they only have what freedoms they have, such as they'd have left, because we beat and abused a few thousand people into telling us what we wanted to hear.

13 May 2009

excellent point

schools are just buildings

Logically, we don't need to build structures and many forms of infrastructure in these conquered territories. They already had that sort of figured out. The problem (although I don't think English was necessarily the right subject matter, Arabic or Pashtu maybe) is the lack of qualified educators to fill the schools with their actual purpose: learning. I'd guess this is a no-brainer for any country other than America which does a terrible job figuring out how to educate its underclass of citizens and only a moderately good job of figuring out how to educate its best and brightest.

11 May 2009

stale ideologue versus fresh ideologue

More steam rising

Sort of where we are right now is watching the total meltdown of an entire political viewpoint into a stew-like mess without any coherent plan, without any reference points internally to keep it on something like a track. So the suggestion that somehow what was needed is new faces regurgitating the same swill as the old folks who've fallen out of public favor is tragically silly. We already saw this plan in action with Sarah Palin over the last election cycle. There was some energy within their party, but lots of energy mobilizing against these new party ideologues. Similarly we saw Bobby Jindal make a ridiculous rambling attempt at speech after Obama's not-state of the union speech and fail to harmonize any general public support against what may be publicly perceived (even real) concerns that exist in our minority views.

The "fresh face" doesn't do them any good if it raises and makes no points with anyone outside their own conservative echo chambers. There are a few spare marbles in the conservative playbook that may have some play in them (budgetary control and tax reform for example), but they're not the ones that the party base seems interested in rallying around. At least, they're not capable of being taken seriously on these issues because they refused to acknowledge them as problems which occurred or even started during their own reign of power.

It's fun for people who have long had a third party affiliation (at least a superficial one). But it's not fun if the opposing party now gets to enact their own ideological morass upon the rest of us on the basis that being in power allows people to "believe that the objective of government is to satisfy their own personal preferences, and bugger everyone else."

09 May 2009

America's chickens!

This is what I mean by protectionist rhetoric

So yeah. That explains a lot. There's also the 1920 Jones Act that limits traffic on US waterways to US manufactured shipping. And thus explaining why we do not build boats the rest of the world would want anymore. At least of the non-defense variety. And we wonder why our industrial capacity has slipped so.

brick walls

So my attempt to measure popular support for abolishing the VP has run straight into the brick wall of idiocy.

Here are some of the common attempts at defence

"The Constitution should not be open to reinterpretation"

Never mind the fact that it has been reinterpreted 27 times (including the Bill of Rights, which was not included in the original document) and has a legally defined process for doing it. :slams head into wall:

"a Vice President is necessary"
This is partly due to the fact that it's hard to outline a means of replacing the VP in a short question that says we should get rid of it. I haven't yet seen a reason that the VP is "necessary". They usually see that we have one now and that's simpler for them to understand than using any alternative means of selecting a replacement in the event we need one. This has come up with a statement like "he's plan B". Maybe so, but it looks to me like a shitty plan B.

This is also met tangentially with something like this problem

"If Biden goes away, then NANCY PELOSI is next in line for the executive office." - Somewhat unsurprisingly the primary opponent for such a radical reform is "conservatives". Because they seem to think that the present line of succession is what we would use and that naturally causes a good deal of pause. I'm not sure my current alternative would be met with any less caution right now, considering it would put Hillary Clinton in charge, at least temporarily, if Obama dies in office or had some major ailment preventing his full faculty to the nation. But in historical perspective, I think the alternative I proposed is far superior to leaving the line of succession running into the legislature and at least in terms of candidates marginally better than the alternative we're using right now.

Nobody has yet addressed the problem that we no actually longer vote for the Vice President either. Lazy intellectual work on my part for not being able to posit this problem in the question I guess. This is indirectly addressed with something like "Biden's an idiot but...". I'm not sure most people can get there with me that we don't actually need to even be worried that Biden's an idiot or not.

"Who would break ties in the Senate?".
-- Easy. The President. How often does this really happen? Cheney had 8 ties, mostly in the first 2 years when the Senate was most closely divided on party lines. The top 5 VP occasions to break ties were all back in the early 19th century. And in most every case, the VP cast the vote in the way the President would have anyway as any loyal party functionary might.

Most promising is largely the stance taken by other "moderates", who seemed to be at least marginally accepting of such a reform. Unfortunately, "moderates" actually make up very little of a self-defined liberal-conservative polling sector.

08 May 2009

this sounds about right.

I need to get a job here

I figure this is probably the best outline of my sort of wacky trust in economics and markets out there and the need for our system generally to depend less on dispassionate corporate entities and more on economic accounting for moral factors (as demonstrated through smaller businesses). It also presents the core problem as I understand it with many developing countries and their economic hardships toward growth and development. And they outlined the problem I raised about a week ago in my manifesto about the distinction between regulatory structures for the sake of regulation and the utility and necessity of regulation where appropriate.

banning free speech

difficult choices of a free society

So in the words of many, this is probably a justified policy. It effectively bans a lunatic from entering the UK on the basis that they're a lunatic that we, in polite society, do not agree with. Unfortunately, much as many of Savage's views are crazy, biased, or unsubstantiated, they do not constitute hate speech of a sort calculated to trigger a societal reaction (and a violent one at that). There are Islamic extremists who do exhort their listeners or followers to attack infidels. That's the sort of thing that doesn't make it into a polite liberal society as protected speech. Crazy opinions of a right-wing lunatic with a microphone have the misfortune of being something we have every right to protect.

Really as I have observed the sort of media revolution that has occurred in my brief time alive, it seems more like the problem is that people like Savage are increasingly shouting into a vacuum (just as I have been here). And that has the effect of increasing the shrill and inane commentaries that such people make. In a world where we are free to choose the media forums we access for information and entertainment, we will gravitate toward the ones that we are most comfortable with and away from those which shock our conscience or our thoughts with disquieting opinions. That creates a lot of problems where those thoughts we push ourselves into are incomplete, unrepresentative, or incoherent. It is not, however, much of our business to ban or to restrict access to such thoughts in a free society (like that of the UK). It is instead incumbent on us to make reasonable overtures of our own, to appeal both to the base constituents who understand our own opinions and to appeal broadly to those who do not yet hold rigidly formed and opposing opinions of their own. As a result, however distasteful the practices of others tend to be, I find it necessary to protect their exercise of freedom as best as possible. And this would include the rampaging thoughts of Mr Savage. Even though I do not care to hear his thoughts myself. I would exercise the same principle should someone seek to silence various Faux news commentators. The issue in my mind would be the banning of their opinions. If Fox fires such people because there is less of an audience for their ideas and opinions, then that's fine with me (and probably the ideal circumstance since it would mean there are more informed and less opinionated people in the country). If they're being banned by government action, that's a totally different game.

07 May 2009

did I miss something?

check out the videos..both of them

I must have missed the part where we'd be moving a dangerous terrorist into a maximum security prison on our soil. To locations where if they escaped they would receive very minimal aid from random citizens if any and where they would receive very minimal assistance from other inmates to escape anyway. Much as there are plenty of deranged people in the prison system, they often carry a suspiciously high level of "patriotic" fervor for which people who have attacked our country or our armed forces would not be viewed in high esteem.

But apparently the GOP thinks we're stupid and forgot that the reason they're being stored largely in Gitmo is not a safety concern, but rather an attempt at extra-legal maneuvering on the supposed logic that our laws and rights do not extend to foreign soil military bases. An attempt which has been struck down in various forms and levels by court rulings over the past several years and which has had undesirable impacts on our ability to deny future recruits to terrorist cells. It's a moral, legal, and political eyesore. But apparently it somehow kept us safer at night? I doubt it.

Also, I seem to need to replace my DVD-drive. It's gotten realllllly loud in the intervening time frame for which I didn't need to use it (I crack all my games to prevent the need for non hard drive use).

04 May 2009

bye bye to useless innovations

Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded

This however is more amusing.

I certainly don't have much use for the "what does google know and say about me". Because if nobody else seems to be looking for me on google, I'm not that worried about what it says about me. I'm also not that worried that google will send me better ads. I've never clicked on any to start with.

03 May 2009

skip repeat

I noticed I seem to need to skip March every year and that this has now a statistical measurement involved.

I noticed I've been getting a lot more traffic somehow, but not a lot more commentary. Either this thing is counting reloads as people try to figure out what the hell I said, or, as I suspect, not many people give a damn.

weaknesses are not strengths

In the interest of relating what I can say of the events of yesterday, I have a few of my typical morbid reactions to come along to.

4:40PM Phone calls are placed to my father, a doctor, in the interest of notifying him of a major heart attack on the part of my grandmother.
5:15pm. I finally get a call from the out-of-town parents (some sort of conference in Colorado) telling me to get to the hospital and that there's a major problem.
I reach from this two possible conclusions.
1) That she's okay, but probably still in surgery and my immediate presence won't do very much other than to provide the ER staff with someone who wants answers when they probably don't have any yet.
2) That she's not okay, and that my immediate presence could rush this news forward, but that I will not have anyone to convey it toward owing to everyone in the family already being in transit, or perhaps already being there.

In either case, owing to circumstances, it didn't seem like an immediate presence was called for (I could not get away immediately and it would take a considerable time to get anywhere on a rainy Friday night anyway), and that I would get there when I could, as soon as I could. That took about two hours.

Upon entering the hospital, I confirmed that the second of the two choices was correct from a cursory glance at the faces of the two sets of in-state aunts and uncles (despite what could otherwise be termed as a good humor in the room). I was not surprised at this event. An 80 year old person who smoked for 60 years and was on blood pressure medicine having a sudden and fatal heart attack doesn't seem like a statistically improbable event.

I think it becomes important to understand any distinctions between a lack of shock or surprise and any desire to see something happen. I've long since stopped living with any desire to see things happen around me, and this is only more true when there's nothing I can do to influence the outcome of a situation. I don't regard this as some sort of fatalistic mentality so much as an understanding that things happen. And many of them won't be things I want, and many of the things I do want probably won't occur no matter what I do either (simply because my goals read much like the Judean People's Front world domination quest from Life of Brian and require something like the total dismantlement of the Roman Empire within 3 years). So it requires an ability to prepare and deal with unpleasant things. Even to embrace that they will probably happen and begin analyzing what needs to be done about it, if anything. Which I suppose I have this ability. So what distinguishes this reaction wasn't the lack of shock per se, but more that I had almost zero information relative to anyone else and already arrived at and came to terms with the inevitable conclusion that little information pointed most toward.

This created a more uncomfortable feeling later when I had to explain to my father, who had been on the phone with the cardiologist from the beginning and from talking later that night and this morning already knew what was happening, that his mother had in fact died some hours before. I think he was mentally aware this was going to happen, in much the same way I was, but with a far great professional understanding to back up that sort of instinctual reaction and more than bits and pieces of information on which to exercise that understanding. But when you touch down at an airport several hours later after being out of the loop for all that time and ask over the phone what floor of the hospital someone is on already being told that your called upon representative isn't at the hospital anymore, I think it speaks to a powerful sensation of hope that I'm just not capable of.

It occurs to me that this is perhaps not a good failing for me to have.

01 May 2009

so yeah now this happens

Much as I am a curious case in emotional states and analytical ability, and much as this gives me a good deal more comfort in situations that most people find horrible or distressing (see my reactions to 9-11 of that day), I'd have to say that confirming for one's parents that one of their parents, ie grandparent for me, has died (while they were out of town and trying to get back) was not high on the list of fun things to do.

random compendium as usual

religion + torture = glorious fun

At least, that's what this sort of poll result looks like. Because it looks like people who were less likely to go to church, or went less often, were less likely to approve of torture under any circumstances, or even under "some". And this is even with the concept involved in the question of the "ticking time bomb". Great people. I think they're skipping over the important parts of their holy book.

Other events.
another instant classic

I'm getting tired of watching every Celts-Bulls game go into overtime. Awesome series. KG really shouldn't have gotten hurt. Ruined my fantasy team and it now appears to be creating an exciting series out of what would have been a sweep on the way to losing to the Cavs in the conference finals.

There's a contest of sorts running on Sully's blog where they're trying to create a movie analogy for Dick Cheney. Thus far the really good ones have been Jack Nicholson's Colonel Jessup speech (You can't handle the truth!), the Sith Emperor Palpatine (is that legal?... I will MAKE it legal). Stewart always used the Penguin voice from the campy 60s TV show (Burgess Meredith, whkkk). So I guess it's sort of appropriate to try to get our arms around this sort of vile character by using pop culture. Cheney's not quite in the best company when his OWN statements or his OWN behavior are properly examined.

the forgotten remembered war


We sort of forgot about this whole front for a long while, busy as we were with that mustache guy and trying to arrange his hanging (we like mustaches on our villainous dictators I guess). But I sort of looked at the situation back in 2002 and said there are two places that if we had to invade, I would have been okay with, in the sense that it would depose some ruthless, corrupt, and dangerous regimes to our national security (supposing that an invasion was the best possible course to achieve that goal in the first place, and that this was indeed a plausible goal to achieve. These are poor justifications on their face for war, but at least having appropriate targets makes them marginally useful). Saudi Arabia. And Pakistan.

And when you get a list like this of the sort of mess that has become of the Pakistani military-intelligence community and operations after a few years of US "aid", it looks like maybe there's a point to that. I don't think it would be easy to claim that their military is incompetent. They do have long-standing security concerns from India and from various insurgent campaigns along the Afghani border, both of which imply that there's no shortage of hot zones in which to get training. For another thing, very few countries' militaries are going to look competent waging any prolonged counter-insurgent campaign. At least not without also having considerable political and propagandized control in the region already, something it's not clear that Pakistan has, since it's been effectively ceding territory for a while to various "moderate" extremist groups.

Pakistan has basically been conducting operations against insurgents that operated in that area for decades, raiding into Afghanistan against other Afghanis and the Soviet military. We should be able to conclude that these presented options are potentially valid concerns. But one crucial reason to consider would be that we're basically asking the Pakistani local commanders to turn against people that they've been helping in some form for decades. Without a demonstrative reason that such people will be harmful to local Pakistani security on their own account (and instead be harmful to the "distant" government to the South in Islamabad). I find it hard to believe that it would be easier for local commanders to be fighting against mujaheddin warriors that they may have helped, trained, or supplied, at the behest of an even more distant and strange American led coalition, all while having legitimate security concerns raised by being seen to cooperate with either side.

We at least have the advantage of having a government in place in Pakistan which is more democratically valid than that of the past several years (one could argue the same is true of our own government, given the sorts of things I've been reading that our own government did). They did just reinstate a couple of the judges that lawyers, lawyers of all people, were marching over last year. I'm not sure why this government is necessarily seen as less helpful, other than it isn't now led by a military clown who appeared intent on maintaining his own authority. And therefore would accept money in exchange for occasionally dropping some high explosives on people he doesn't have any real interest in fighting. At least this way, if the Pakistani people are actually interested and convinced that fighting the Taliban is crucial to their nation, they might actually get behind the process and demand some accountability from their armed forces. It seems more likely that they will be content to mix in some negotiation. Which is fine by me. I'm not sure it would be best to create an atmosphere of desperation in a country with nuclear warheads.