30 November 2009

updating Swiss laws

The Swiss

Looks like one argument being accused of the "for" banning minarets is feminist organisations in Switzerland. I'm not sure how vehement they were in France behind the burqa ban there, but indeed many anti-Islamic factions do adhere to some sort of feminist philosophy (similarly there are many such factions with significant opposition to Christianity, for much the same reasons of course. Some of which are quite legitimate concerns regarding patriarchal demands upon women without consensual, either implied or affirmed, arrangements). I don't think that this argument, that the legal use of minarets is a creeping version of shariah law that will terminate in burqas being imposed on Swiss women, is so convincing that it could and did sway millions of voters. Something did, and it might indeed have swayed some women in Switzerland by the appearance of polling data (or this could have merely been a pre-arranged bias by Swiss women as a whole against Islamic traditions). This wasn't a smoking gun explanation for me.

I don't follow the ability of a ban on architectural design or even a noise ordinance constraint (which they did not need or attempt) would matter and cast the Swiss people down some slippery slope to Arabian fundamentalist laws that most Muslim communities do not seek to subscribe to anyway (see: most of SE Asian Muslims, Thailand separatists being a critical exception, and most American or Canadian Muslims even living classically within ethnic and religious enclaves like in Hamtramck). This still seems mostly like intolerance and fear mongering, which are not justifications for restrictions on liberties. Even the liberties I disagree with or find otherwise flawed and wacky, like the freedoms of religious worship, I find myself compelled to defend against such defamation and stupefying intolerance from majority rules which do not comprehend them. Where those religious practices infringe upon other individual liberties, such as by repressing women or freedom of speech or commanding the political will of other religious and secular associations, I find sufficient reasons to oppose them. Constructing a mosque is no more offensive to me than the construction of a church or a synagogue or even the erection of Christmas trees by city officials. Big fucking deal.

In other words, I still don't understand what the basis for the law was. It was further argued that there was a grievance over the Swiss government's dealings with international state and non-state actors involved in terrorism, which is fine as far as that goes as a grievance. But I still don't see how that should lead the Swiss populace to conclude that they should penalize Muslims living within Switzerland. Seems like their elected officials would be the problem. Quite frankly, even if that argument is plausible as a justifiable reason, the case and manner in which it was made there, not so much (that is: by complaining about Iranian political figures and imams being slimy amoralists with links to terrorism and somehow linking this as an action some years old to modern Swiss thinking that was hidden by polling data prior to the referendum and suggesting that the Swiss are responding and reacting to some sort of internal fears over Islamic radicals within their borders rather than from without doesn't seem like a productive chain of reason to make the case.)

We did the same sort of thing through the 60s, 70s, and 80s with a variety of terrorist organs in the Middle East, including the state actors of Saddam Hussein and the precursors of the Afghani troubles (including Bin Laden). It's not exactly a new form of dissatisfaction with secret government acts that protect their internal state and external corporate business at the expense of others. Really, this practice of extortion and terrorism goes back to Attila or the Barbary Pirates. So while we might certainly find it abhorrent for nation-states to do shady backroom deals with unpleasant characters, it's not exactly a 'hold the presses' news story.

And it's certainly not worth the public attempting to take out that frustration on a disinterested and politically disenfranchised third party (in this case, immigrant Muslims in Switzerland). It looks like it'll probably be overturned by appeals to Swiss or European courts and previous laws and restrictions on religious freedom anyway as there is no danger to public safety or health that the architectural design of a mosque poses (just as there isn't for a cathedral or church bell tower), nor is it somehow a dangerous symbol of "religious superiority", another argument of "creeping shariah". Nor is a church design somehow a religiously significant structure either under the argument that a minaret is somehow a pernicious use of Islamic creed (note that churches do not all thus subscribe to the same design and nor do all mosques or other Islamic community symbols), and as such, cathedrals and churches could be argued against as the same sort of political message of supremacy when they are removed from otherwise historical value or a bland office building design (there I go again, demanding that people seek religious equality if only to protect their own religious institutions against creeping governmental agency). It is plausible that a burqa might be such a symbol, if it were imposed as a requirement against the consent and willingness of women who must wear them, and that a campaign against clothing regulation on the part of religious authorities might be appropriate. Though not, in my opinion, by instituting a comparable government ban in the opposite direction and sentiment. Far be it for me to disagree with a French idea....

Differences between elitists and consumers

2009 top grossing films
USA gross rank/Global rank. Film. Imdb overall/Imdb top 1000 ratings, presumably a cast of characters who have some film buff status.
1/3)Transformers 2 (6.1/5.3)
2/1)Harry Potter and the whatever it is now (7.4/7.0)
3/4)Up (8.5/7.7)
4/8)The Hangover (8.0/6.8)
5/10)Star Trek (8.2/7.6)
6, climbing/7)Twilight 2 (4.5/4.3)
7/12)Monsters vs Aliens (6.8/6.8)
8/2)Ice Age 3 (7.1/6.6)
9/11) Wolverine (6.7/6.3)
10/9) Night at the Museum 2 (6.0/5.6)

19/16) Inglourious Basterds (8.5/7.6)
21/22) District 9 (8.4/7.7)
22/U) Watchmen (7.8/7.5)

I have a couple notes.
1) Twilight- wow. Ouch. When the goofy wizard stands up better for ratings, you know you've done some crappy writing.. And a low 7 score is like a C+ average on imdb, so Harry has nothing to gawk at either. It looks like 3 and 5 of that saga were respectable, but none were far outside the C-C+ range. Congratulations on somehow creating a reliable money siphon for tweenage girls and their parents/significant others' wallets without having had to come up with a reliable product. In other news, I'm somewhat surprised the Transformers "movie" scored a 6 by comparison. Again, I must remind myself, people are dumber than I give them credit for on the average.

2) R-rated films like the last 3 are going to suffer on the money. They all had much higher percentages of people voting on them than the various films above them. Meaning: people who wanted to see these movies did and had strong and mostly positive opinions. Pretty much everything from 6-18 was notable only for their replaceable value with one another in ratings and money. They were utterly forgettable films that nobody cared to vote in support of after seeing, or against (with the possible exception of yet another animated kids movie). One safe conclusion: the Terminator film probably should have stayed an R-rated movie instead of clipping down to get under the PG-13 mantle (it has an R-rated DVD, which seems tremendously smart from a 'marketing of DVD' perspective given that it doesn't appear to have been a remarkable film otherwise). It wouldn't have hurt its gross (didn't cross the 200 million threshold). That's not why people go to Terminator movies: to be entertained by explosions they can see with wimpy GIJoe, 2012, or Transformers movies. Same deal with the Die Hard movie a couple years ago. Leave the good shit in and fuck the teenage market (leave that to Twilight/Harry Potter).

3) Don't think Watchmen has the same international appeal as the usual superhero films. Considering the focus on the doomsday clock that the rest of the world (outside of maybe Russia) was only too quick to get rid of and put behind them.

4) Hurt Locker (8.0/7.6) ? Not in the top 25? Oh right, independent film.

Conclusion I can draw from this is there are still good quality films and other forms of media (books, music, etc) being produced. They're being swamped by meaningless drivel. There are maybe 2 decent films in the top 10 grossing ones this year (I haven't seen Up or Star Trek, so I cannot offer my own opinion on whether these are in fact decent films). And 7 other worthless pieces of cheap consumer swill with some sort of number attached to them (and Star Trek was only a reboot of a series of franchised movies prior). There's also one adult comedy piece which may or may not have been worthwhile. Comedies are routinely hard to rate. Either you found them funny or not with a notable few exceptions where if you didn't find them funny we should simply liquefy your brain and feed you to the zombies first: Monty Python, Dr Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, Airplane as examples. I'm not sure that "The Hangover" qualifies as a work of glorious fiction and humor, but then, I don't drink or intend to celebrate via a bachelor party either (either as a honoree or guest). Perhaps its humor would be lost upon me. Or perhaps it was merely dumb funny. Also: Not looking forward to the Sherlock Holmes movie. No thanks, wake me when you go back to the goofy looking half-autistic bachelor-by-choice investigating crimes by sniffing discarded cigars and examining the shoes of his clients or suspects with a distinguished aura of superiority. I fail to see how that formula needs to be sexed up to sell tickets. Invictus looks interesting. The Brothers looks interesting. Neither will be in the top 25. Holmes will. Disgraceful.

In any case, the consumer continues to get what they ask for or paid for: a lot of nothing. Last year wasn't much different (excepting the Dark Knight as the top gross and best rated movie last year). Gran Turino and even Slumdog and Benjamin Button were well out of the top 10 for gross income. All received large attendance bumps from their Oscar nominations, we can only hope that will improve the middle 20 for the present year which thus far includes such luminary works as 2012. Which I believe Emmerich first made back in 1996 so there isn't any need to see the new/same explosive version of the new/same formula. Iron Man was clever and amusing, and Wall-E was the "Up" of last year and that's about it among the popular films as quality regarded work (other than Batman v Joker with the blown-away rendition of the Joker stealing the show). I suppose it is too much to ask for consumers to become reasonable and to demand more from their escapist ventures. But you'd think that from year after year of this, they'd also get a bit smarter from the sheer rote mechanisms consisting of shilling out cash for the same sparse variety of Hollywood productions year after year. Profits are not a means to signal disapproval or disdain.

arguments and arrangements which occurred over the weekend

I could deal with tax hikes, but only if they come along with tax simplification for corporate and individual reasons. And I'd probably favor doing it in tax neutral ways as much as possible. That is, by enacting VATs or higher energy taxes (as well as "sin taxes" and taxation on legalized narcotics) as revenue producers to cover externality costs of public services in exchange for lower normative rates of income taxation, in particular on the lower end of the income spectrum (since such sales taxes are inherently regressive and consumption of "harmful" goods should be implicitly designed as a luxury good rather than as a basic necessity for those in poverty subsidized by those in opulence).

I'd also favor paying the military more when we're at war (we presently offer I believe a substantial tax benefit for combat duty, but no official financial bonus) as a notional way to both 1) discourage wars and 2) encourage enlistment without need of a compulsory draft. Rather than passing a "war tax".

of things I don't care about, this is pretty high on the list

And so is this

I care so little that I have no opinions or concerned notifications to make.

On the other hand the Swiss voting patterns do concern me. If only because they lead to blithe assumptions that are incorrect. For example: exposure to Muslims was demonstrated to be a factor against the ban on minarets by the very next post. Cosmopolitan attitudes prevail where one has the ability to be engaged with other peoples. Including even insular peoples who are eventually adapted and integrated into the whole for the purposes of legal and modest social conformity. That is to say, that when individual Muslims are provided the same level of civic freedoms that others enjoy and where the majority community around them is exposed to their unique cultural or ethnic traditions, there is a process of moderation and tolerance (as demonstrated by the popular vote in Geneva and its surrounding cantons). When individual Muslims are denied the same level of civic freedoms as their neighbours and where their neighbours do not get or seek access to their communities to begin with, then there are problems and a cyclical backlash between groups which naturally clash (ie, two roughly socially intolerant demographics of a distinctly religious basis). As in France and other parts of Europe and in those cantons of Switzerland with diminished ethnic and religious mixtures, ie its dominant Italian/Catholic province.

This sort of vote has a number of curious angles to it. For starters, it wasn't clear to me (yet) what the underlying reason for the ban referendum was. Aesthetics? Those change over time anyway (see: USA 1950-1970s building design and indoor paint choices or 1980s hair/clothing). Noise? They don't use the minarets for the call to prayer in Switzerland. Seemed pretty much like a vote on whether Muslims should be allowed into the country and afforded basic rights once there in the first place rather than as demonstrative of some public problem or nuisance worth voting over (naturally the Muslim population in Switzerland was largely excluded from voting in their own defence).

Second, I call attention to the notions we have of "democracy" as something like "the will of the majority" whenever we have spread elections to foreign countries with no tradition of liberal democratic practices and institutions. Like Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Switzerland, for better and worse, uses the historical practice of democracy far more liberally than any other country on the planet, accounting for over half of all direct democratic initiatives in any given year. And yet occasionally things like this will be the result. In spite of rich cosmopolitan venues, in spite of a fruitful globalizing culture all around it, and in spite of government opposition to the proposed reform (imagine a government passing up the opportunity to apportion itself more authority...), the matter passed. I think this suggests much about the ability of local majorities to make decisions in their long term interest, sometimes they cannot. It's also a problem that voters take with them into a ballot box any and all prejudices and biases they have developed regardless of whether those prejudices and biases are counterproductive or useful for rational voting. If the public or government can restrict the practices of one religious institution, why not another? Or my own?. Why then is appropriate or necessary to allow this one exception to the free exercise of conscience and the practice of one's beliefs as they regard the architecture of places of worship?

Suffices to say, it is characterized as unlikely that such a matter might pass in America through a national vote. Despite our relative hostility toward Islam and various religious subcultures with blatantly anti-Islamic views, in large measure because a protection of the boundaries between church and state are still viewed here as important public duties rather than as annoyances to be discarded to satisfy our hatreds. I'd still like to know what the supposed justification was for this to be even on a ballot, even though I know that separation of church and state is not nearly so sacred an institution in most European voting blocs as it is here. But it doesn't look like there is one other than a sort of backwater bias against the new intruders on the block. Xenophobia and insular politics are still possible even in a vastly tolerant and demographically heterogeneous society I suppose. Good times.

28 November 2009

Presently the eyes are open
And seated upon a throne
encased in the thickening webs
of spiders drooping upon the pillows
Beside them, calm Impassive

There at once to war
Watching the Hun march off, twice
And there at once to the future
A desolate place this is
Only footprints trampled in the sand
Around a strange countenance
Frozen by the wind

No time passes
All has come to pass
Is it Troy they see
or just the meandering paths
stole through without companions suddenly appeared
What is it that wisdom provides
That it pays so with its price

Confined in these orbs
Unforgotten, vigilant before
Now asleep and yawning open the gate
Content to fiddle as it burns
Now awake.
Not to the Inferno.
Not to Paradiso.
But eternal guides sought in ancient time
Or at least touched by within the month

What makes it so
That a ghost may pass
A web may weave
Imprison into time
And no difference may be felt
Insensible it seems
Between which night would we choose
If forgotten be our fears
And to charge right in and blundered

27 November 2009

We would worry a lot less about what other people thought about us if we knew how little they think about us at all

So I read that quote a couple days ago and it reflects rather flexibly and perfectly the social attitudes I've conveyed and experienced.

1) I am consistently surprised that I have made any impression upon other people such that they would seek me out for contact, consultation, or amusement. So to me, the idea that I am ever on the minds of others is surprising.

2) Other people are consistently surprised that they appear as characters in my narrative of life, or my dreams for what may be characterized as the mundane, or as desirable companions for more than a few moments in passing. Probably even for the random and absurd commentary I feed off of to provide for the usual amounts of social life I have, even though it is never clear that my variety of commentary is desirable.

3) I'm guessing the relative detachment and misanthropy makes it difficult to assess what level of sociability I am willing to have, much less what level I would wish to have and have conveyed (which I find I generally have communicated that level to others).

4) That this sort of quote is therefore most applicable to other people such that they need to get a grip. I am fully aware of just how self-important I am that when another person surfaces in my consciousness as a subject of consideration, or they may shudder to see, affections, it is a topic worth making conversation over (with them). Inversely, there are so many barriers in the way that it seems perfectly likely that if I do occur to other people, it is not merely in the surprising sense that I take it as for the rarity of experiencing it and for reasons that I am probably aware of if I were to spend any time considering why I might make favorable or at least unique impressions upon the lives of others. That is to say: that other people are probably less self-important than I take them to be.

5) Also, consuming a lot of food is still good. Just thought this needs to be confirmed at least a couple times per year.

25 November 2009

nuclear power was widely available

"In the United States, the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 limits the liability of the nuclear power industry in the case of accidents" - That is interesting fact #1 for the day that I did not know.

Though I'm not sure that nuclear power accidents are so endemic and common that the cost of such insurance would in fact be prohibitively expensive. The cost of a disaster the scale of Chernobyl is so catastrophic and high that it may still be. Some actuary would have to run these numbers. Along with the probability of such an event occurring from some other cause. Which would be rather hard to probabilistically calculate given that it's the only major nuclear disaster other than the two atomic bombs that were dropped. Three Mile Island is the only major drain on this insurance pool we've had and it amounts to about only $70 million (with most of that settlement payments and public health funding rather than actual substantiated health damages). We (or rather, "Western" constructed and run nuclear power plants) have had other nuclear incidents prior to Three Mile, as well as a few afterward which were bad for the people involved (usually military or scientists or plant workers), but nothing on a scale like Chernobyl.

For good reason. Try looking up how that happened. It's practically impossible to conceive of happening anywhere else in the world. More or less a "deliberate" accident from a happy string of coincidences involved in the Soviet era and terrible design flaws.

And then check how many people actually died. Considering there was also a big goddamn fire there to deal with, I'm surprised at the death toll as well. Much of it was the firefighters themselves (though there will undoubtedly be some cancer related deaths throughout the area for many years). The biggest consideration, economically speaking as an insurable event, was probably the destruction or abandonment of a nearby town and various equipment used to clean it up (and protect against the still radioactive pile) from radiation levels more so than the actual damages suffered physically.

An accident like that would be no joke. Though as I said, the probabilities of such an event are so astronomical that it is hardly a matter of greater public concern. The most recent examples of nuclear accidents tend to deal with the containment of consumed fuel rods (or their assembly) and waste material and less the with actual generation of power causing an accident in and of itself. The possibility of a radioactive leak or spent fuel rods doing something rather naughty shouldn't be discounted as irrelevant events, but I'm pretty sure the damages to the public are also far less than a probable meltdown of a functioning nuclear power facility and thereby much easier to insure against with private insurance markets. And also to design appropriate countermeasures for either disposal or storage to further lower those insurance costs over time.

Ideally we'd figure out a way to get rid of the waste rather than leave it in barrels for the next 10,000-20,000 years with the assumption that we'll be able to keep people away from it for that long. When one considers what modern archaeologists do with tombs less than half that old and the language or symbolic barriers involved in sustaining such a thing. One assumes, given the patterns of human history and general ignorance about scientific facts, that it could develop into a sort of mythology or curse rather than some sort of genuine understanding of the danger. Which isn't exactly the best way to insure that we don't foster some non-trivial accidents for centuries yet to come.

(I'm never quite sure why Civilization games have had nuclear power plants that are so volatile that they can basically destroy your cities. It seems like the thing they ought to do, based on how nuclear power plants and their industry operate in the real world, is cost a lot of money to maintain and piss people off and maybe kick off some "unhealth" or pollution from the storage of waste material. Rather than kill them off by the millions at even a relatively small rate, much less something approaching the actual meltdown incidence point at infinitesimally smaller rates than are used by the game itself).

the third wheel of government

is sort of important actually

Particular importance should be placed on the fourth example argument.

The quote being responded to is not entirely silly, but it does have one particular element that is extremely silly. "Where in the Constitution, sir, do you see it authorized that Congress can be involved with "health care," or fund "health care"? I am asking here about the Constitution, not any court rulings. Thank you." -

What exactly is the Supreme Court's rulings then? How are they "unconstitutional"? I realize that the precise functions of the Supreme Court are left somewhat vague and unexamined by the Constitution itself, but many of its founding documents in support (the Federalist papers) do place some importance on the ability of an independent branch of judiciary to check the expanse of powers by legislatures and executives, but it is also implied and noted that they would do just as well to define where those expanses are legal (Constitutional rather), proper, and appropriately designed law. If laws are upheld as Constitutional by court rulings, then they are, in fact, Constitutional. I see no inconsistency there. It is conceivable that they are still bad policies or bad laws which are constitutional (just as there may be good or otherwise well-intentioned laws which are not because of specific clauses within our government's charters). If we are to feel that they are not Constitutional policies, then the onus is to prove that they are not and not merely to look at the document and look for the words "health care". A better use of time as a skeptic of the health care reforms is to look for ways to improve the legislation, or ways to defeat it entirely as a bad or poorly crafted law and to introduce options which are sounder reforms.

I'm not sure that either of these two options are being taken seriously which is why the sort of "10ther" situation has emerged instead as a leading objection. I grant that there are a wide range of federalized policies which seem dysfunctional and inappropriate (the Vice Presidency, the FDA, much of the Dept of Education's tasks, the corporate and regular income tax code's unnecessary complexity, farm subsidies, many regulatory practices, etc). I am not sure that this means there mustn't be a national policy regarding the regulation of insurance, or the provision of basic access to medical care because of some Constitutional conflict. That case is not made by stating that health care is not listed as a Constitutional right or mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. I might be rather sympathetic to that argument if made ideally (that health care, and, most pressingly to our current debate, health insurance are not basic rights), but it doesn't mean I am indifferent to these being claimed as legal rights within the context of a developed nation with the luxury of more expensive and expanded externality considerations over nations struggling to provide basic education, infrastructure, and political stability and that therefore these legal rights could go unrecognized because we didn't found a country based upon them. If however private property rights were so uniquely applicable and absolute, why then do we not focus efforts upon repealing the income tax instead, or upon seeking stronger eminent domain protections than those granted by state or even federal laws since various SCOTUS rulings have empowered powerful interests at the expense of the public, or why then do we not focus upon government takings which do not provide us with any externality benefits at all and instead are mere costs (such as the imperial focus and use of military force abroad with its now minimal, at best, national security boon).

It seems quite clear that health care is a broad and public expense already (either at the state or local level where it is often perfectly constitutional to use public funding and popular policy to boot, or because the costs of inadequate care and public health are additional costs shared already in the costs of our own private care choices). It is one rising expense which has been inappropriately addressed through public debate and policy over many years. This is a critique that I agree with, though to me this critique simply argues that our current system is so horribly flawed from various years of inertia in public policy that we should cast it aside and build from scratch something functional rather than fix something so tangled and broken. I fully agree there are better ways to manage the costs and deliver better quality of care outcomes or expand the number of people who have access to that better quality of care. I don't buy that any attempt to reform this, even to provide health insurance or health care through the government, would be somehow unconstitutional. It might be by some design flaws ineffective policy, but it's very thin ice to claim that it would be illegal.

24 November 2009

speaking of random acts of violence

Disturbing part is the commenters more than the video

Had to look this up after I heard it discussed as the most disturbing part of a game the other day. Even GTA didn't ever bother people by having realistic wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians. The first couple games were so cartoon-ish by comparison to this that it's not even a close contest on the "disturbing" level of consideration. Most of the "disturbing" first person shooters I've played rely more on an immersion in the game atmosphere and story than your actions (Bioshock, Fallout 3). They don't therefore come off as "distasteful" to play, and if they do, it's usually by choice that you decide to murder people or children for no apparent reason. "Reasons" in a game to do so:
1) a requirement to kill someone or something for a quest or mission, which in Fallout often meant you could choose to kill the person offering the mission to kill someone else once in a while instead.
2) someone who was an annoying and unnecessary game character. Generally after acquiring some new weapon to see how well it could work against some more challenging and important target. There are usually penalties and advantages for these sorts of choices in games like these because the game allows and indeed requires you to make choices about whether you'll be some sort of hired gun avenger or just the angel of death sort killing everything and everyone (and it usually makes the latter much harder to sort out and succeed by doing, simply because gameplay wise, it's usually the easiest choice to kill people instead of resolve their problems).

So it's not like I'm one to shy away from violence in a video game. But this was something else entirely. Several thoughts:
1) I'm not sure how this was supposed to be a fun part of the game. Killing unarmed civilians with automatic weapons seems rather like playing a game with all the cheats on and enemies that run away instead of fight back. Not much of an exciting gameplay/plot twist. Could have been handled as a cut scene in my opinion. Haven't played the game of course to make that determination myself. But it's still a rather strange choice.
2) The shootout with the cops/military/FSB afterward was sort of like Heat but with grenades. That is one of my favorite sequences in a movie for the sudden and abrupt shock it delivers (going from nominally cheering for the bad guys to suddenly realizing how bad ass they are that even a shootout in a crowded street with the police using automatic rifles is not beneath them)
3) Guy playing reloads a ton. With a weapon that reloads slow, not so sure how smart that is. This has been your random unemotional critique of an indiscriminate choice to slaughter people for no apparent reason.
4) Not really explained why they have to shoot up an airport full of civilians for this mission. Other than that you're being setup. Doesn't really fly as an explanation for me that we would have some sort of war over some random American dumbasses shooting up a Russian airport. I don't think it likely that we'd have the same problem if there was a random Russian guy in America with the same M.O. I realize Russia is not America and there's more of an institution of paranoia in their leadership historically (although we have no shortage of that here lately). But it would seem more likely that we'd simply disavow any knowledge of the guy's actions (reasonable considering what he'd just done, even if it was supposed to be his mission so to speak) and tell the Russians to fry him if it would keep us out of a war.

Updated: Apparently you can skip this mission entirely. And obviously you can play it and not shoot the civilians yourself. Which is sort of like using an unethical medical procedure where the unethical part was done by somebody else, like say, a kidney transplant where the kidney was removed without consent. And you know that as the doctor. Both of those considerations really make it sort of odd to wonder WHY it is in the game.

on the varieties of experience

I felt it has become necessary to explain a few things about human existence. I'm not sure what renewed the kick into subjective experiences as a topic of contemplation, but there it is.

Suppose that I am seated next to a young lady who intimates that she feels cold (or warm, though the latter is much more likely to be less common an expression in my experience). Suppose also that I do not share this experience of feeling cold despite being seated in the very near vicinity. Let's try to examine why this might be. For starters, there might be some local phenomenon that differs even in this very small environment, such as a gust of cold air or a heating vent closer to my position. There might be distinctions in the amount of warm clothing presently on our bodies. There are in fact numerous possible factors which might impact the interpretation of the situation such that I don't feel cold and she does. But if these are all taken as equal, that is, we have roughly the same environment and roughly the same adaptations to it in the form of attire and temperature control, then the distinction is entirely a subjective variety of experience. That is, that I feel perfectly comfortable at a range of temperatures that others, such as this hypothetical lady, do not. Or at least that I am indifferent to a wider shift of temperature downward than some others. This does not change the fact that someone else feels cold at those given environmental factors and it thus requires some attempt to acknowledge or alleviate this discomfort (assuming that this is a desirable action on my or her part to do so).

One should note immediately that there are an incredible variety of things for which this sort of subjective interpretation applies. Matters of taste, foods, music, political expressions, sexual positions and partners, home locations, weather variations, and so on. Virtually all of these entail objectively identifiable factors, like temperature measurements, land value assessments, physical dimensions, taste buds, and so on which allow others with similar interests to cluster with very little investigation. This leads to several interesting phenomenon:
1) People with like minds tend to associate with others of like mind, or at worst, with complementary minds to allow them to enjoy their interests undisturbed and to share them with others to verify that those interests are valuable. This includes rare and obscure interests, which the internet has made only too available to those who have them.
2) People attempt to exclude things of undesirable functions. They don't deliberately consume products that they do not like, in my case country music, onions, or socially conservative media.
3) They will also, as a corollary, attempt to exclude people who intend them to consume things they don't like, or who make no mutual accommodation regarding their displeasure.

What that ultimately means is that we tend to discriminate against what is unfamiliar or unpleasant to our experiences. This to me is a somewhat unusual phenomenon. Perhaps because my likes are of a few disjointed things (sports, politics, economics, food, classical literature, and hip-hop music, as examples) that it gives me ample time to plumb into things that I don't understand or dislike and try to understand at least why I dislike or, at best, disagree with the subjective experiences of others in those ventures. The most common investigation is of course religion. A cursory survey of the world's population would determine that there are billions of people each holding distinct spiritual or non-spiritual views on the nature of existence, and as a result acclaiming various institutional schools of thought as to the nature of any deity which they accord as a cause or value to that existence (this is not an examination of science, which is not a belief system but the application of empirical logic to the quantifiable universe. One may assume that there is at least one assumption undercutting this: that we exist in a quantifiable universe at all. Once that philosophical objection is noted, I'm not impressed with religious critiques of science as though it were merely another formal school of subjective expressions in the way that religious institutions are and are therefore of interest to the topic of subjective experiences).

What is so fascinating about religion is that it holds exactly the same attributes as onions to me. Or maybe country music and of course, it very often results in the socially conservative media that I so disdain. To unpack this analogy, religion is a very personal device with very personal views, shaped largely by very subjective experiences. It is a layered device, built upon or stripped away by new experiences. It is also full of discordant noise and conflicting messages (much like country music) about "other" people. That is, the people who hold even slightly different views and experiences, and to some extent even people who are biologically distinct from the people who can share those experiences (such as homosexuals, women, or ethnic and cultural variation). I'm sure there's an anthropological explanation for why organisations of people treat rival organisations as hostile and engage in strategies and tactics to defame and defeat them, but the fact that we do this sort of thing, and that we can be so homogeneous in its application regardless of cultural effects, has often deadly consequences. Which is unique to the variety of subjective experiences. We don't tend to get into wars or even fist fights (lacking some alcoholic lubrication) over trivial matters like whether classical music is better than rap or whether a particular athlete was better than some other athlete, and so on. This is in spite of often very ardent defensive and offensive cases being made on the part of these arguments. I don't recall ever getting into a fight over whether someone else "felt cold" either. Typically the response is something like finding a blanket or determining if the temperature actually warrants a change (where possible, such as going indoors, building a fire, or turning up the indoor heat). Despite the fact that these experiences are often framed as very rigid objective knowledge, sometimes supported by copious amounts of data, they lack the rigidity of religious and spiritual expressions that can undermine cooperative efforts and even begin conflict. I'm curious to know why that would be. What provides religion and faith, largely subjective interpretations of events, with such hardened power as to resist adaptation and reasoned argument and instead move directly into exclusion and direct conflict. What makes it, along with sex, money , and politics, such a nuclear topic as to be avoided in polite discussion. So much so that most of the people I know of some quantity of faith seem to deliberately avoid noting this in public forums and most of the people I know without it seem to consciously avoid noting this as well. It would seem, from the proliferation of interpretation of dogma and scripture, that faith is very much like politics but also like picking which groceries to consume at this point, at least in liberal societies with a respect to freedom of worship and conscience. Why then are there still religious institutions with such hostile marketing campaigns as to exclude some others.

I suppose also there are political campaigns that operate in this respect as well. But the most prevalent of them at the moment (republicans/conservatives) is operating largely in the same manner as a religious institution in large part because much of its politics are determined and shaped by religious voters and its institutional supports. While Democrats are prone to a variety of dogmatic viewpoints, it is obvious from observing their machinations in power that these views are not deemed to be necessarily universally binding upon membership in their institution. Indeed, much of the effective resistance to achieving the so called liberal agendas has been fueled by internal revolt and dissension and discussions over the prioritization of a broad range of particular issues all still well within the tent of "Democrat" or "liberal". By contrast, deviation from the dogma of the right is rewarded with expulsion from the right. Again, what is so necessary about this hostility that we should seek policies and behaviors which exclude others? Is it necessary that our prejudices should be so powerful? I have nothing against people who like onions. I just don't like to eat them myself. I tend to avoid people who listen to country music or consume socially conservative media in large part because they so rarely have other interesting positive attributes (such as intelligence or curiosity and a propensity to engage in discourse and reasoned analysis), but I don't find either to be an exclusive requirement upon others if they are otherwise tolerable individuals. If for example I uncover these flaws only after many hours of otherwise pleasant company, I am unlikely to judge these as people of lesser character. I will simply express that I disagree or do not enjoy these choices on their part and allow them their private pleasures. How does it occur to others that they should instead demand conformity, in some cases even where it is impossible (such as with homosexuals) and in most cases where it is extremely difficult to attain (such as with a classically liberal perspective attained after many years of subjective experiences which are vastly different from those of other people). Are these a people who have lived in so cloistered and clustered environments that when they announced they felt cold, so did everyone else around them, regardless of any objective temperature factors and slight subjective variations?

Because I can't seem to figure out what the explanation would be otherwise.

To clarify. This would be the list of exclusions I'm aware of and concerned about.
1) If you are an atheist/agnostic/not a member of our specific organisation and adherent of a similar dogmatic interpretation, you cannot be considered as a good or decent person and your motives are questionable.
2) If you are member, your motives are somehow above reproach and much otherwise acknowledged "bad" behavior is tolerated. I realize that humans make errors, sometimes grievous ones harming others and that we are better for some level of tolerance. But not simply because someone prays and their religious institution absolves them of their indecencies.
3) That religious institutions have tended to cohere around philosophies which are strongly anti-woman. Even though some of their philosophic roots are gender neutral or show a specific cultural basis and bias if not. Consequently, this results in stridently opposing feminine autonomy at the expense of losing out of otherwise productive and engaging people within a public society simply because they have different sexual reproductive organs (and a distinct reproductive purpose, which they are then denied an ability to exercise at their own choice) rather than because of some other more pressing personal flaw.
4) Exclusion and definitive discriminatory practices against homosexuals and other minorities whose distinction from norms is not a matter of choice as well as other material concerns of gender and personal identity which are matters of choice (such as transgendered people, or even personal interests in types of music and cultural expression), reflective of a general attitude toward conformity and repression of individuality.
5) Hypocrisy of such attitudes relative to the inclusive behaviors of a religious organisation's supposed founder. I'd have a lot more respect for religion if it were practised as a consistent and coherent set of ideals, even though I clearly don't understand the need for such ideals to emerge out of a supernatural event or being. Rather than being easily perverted and used as a justification for every set of sectarian bigotry and hate that can be found within humanity.

As a consequence, those institutional rules, such as they are, strike me as more arbitrary and conditional upon cultural mores than as general rules of sensible human behavior aiming for a decent and livable society that stand up under scrutiny, examination, and implementation.

wide range of things

From health care to video games

You could easily skip the "DC sucks" section, but the story impacts of video games in the future (along with the continuing debunking of violence being caused by them) is a nice touch. Bioshock (their example) was a fascinating back story which helped create the game's occasionally creepy atmosphere (one may never look at a vending machine the same way for example). And of course I've been ranting about health care being paid for in the most illogical manner (through insurance) for a while. These sorts of folks are part of the reason why.

I don't of course have much to say about the new ghost author and her fanbase. But I do think the comparisons to an empty vessel (madlibs works in either direction for her) or a reality TV star I've seen for Palin are apt.

The website itself has been rather productive lately. Ezra's discussion on food was fairly useful as well. For example admitting there are problems with the sort of liberal paternalism arguments with food and junk food for adults will make that reform for public health and externality costs difficult. But I'm pretty sure that critique (that it's hard) doesn't apply to school lunches and vending machines in schools. Also, I'd like to see the study that he cited where men eat more vegetables or fruits if they're stored on the same shelf of the fridge (rather than if they're subsidized).

Naturally that's less helpful for someone like me, but by choice I'd rather have some fruit as a snack already.

23 November 2009

never give money to a crazy person seems like a better rule than this

money of god?

I've run into the "don't use credit cards" types before. They're sort of odd people. In that they're very messianic about this sort of discovery that debt is "bad". As though they've discovered some fundamentally world shattering idea that taking on more obligations than you can handle reasonably is not the best plan.

I myself use credit to gain access to subsidized cash or extended warranties but I don't "borrow" in the sense that I'm spending money I don't have very often (other than perhaps emergencies which I haven't budgeted for and must pay out larger sums). Even so, the idea that receiving money from others as a loan is somehow evil or bad is a common thread problem to religion. Islam still has rules against interest payments while Christianity had them for many, many years. In many respects this was a common stereotype over Jewish merchants and bankers who were permitted to charge interest in either society and used frequently by merchants as a consequence to grease the economic growth of their times.

I understand it as a matter of course through economics that risk in loans and money lost value over time should be accounted for. Apparently if you spent too much time in Sunday school instead of the Chicago school, this isn't the "reality" of money. Which seems to uncut many fundamental assumptions about reality actually.

The second story referenced is even more disturbing. Perhaps it is the deistic watchmaker leanings of any understanding of god that would ever make any sense that so offend me about the idea of this (and even that so little to me that I have no interest to explore such a question for its metaphysical merits). But the idea that faith rewards people with prosperity has typically been, to me, a more dangerous idea than the idea that you shouldn't take on more debts than you could handle (or in their case, none at all apparently). There's several major problems:
1) It gives the impression that "successful" people are in that state because of their unique faith rather than other attributes, such as education, intelligence, motivations, etc.
2) That then provides the conclusion that successful people are also never "evil" or that the accumulation of wealth or prosperity cannot be faulted because of its manner. The underlying assumption there being that "god wants me to be successful or prosperous", rather than something more fundamental to humanity like say "try really, really hard to be a decent person". Which seems more in line with the actual gospels and preachings of various religious figures (despite all the discussions over money in both the Qur'an and the New Testament, especially the latter).
3) That poor people are so fated because they are bad or unfaithful, in a sort of new twist on social Darwinism (something which to me seems like a typical perverse use of scientific theory, even already perverted scientific theories like this one, for the justification of other social ends, such as those of religious institutions to acquire more followers). And that assistance and charity toward the poor should be attached to religious instruction or indoctrination rather than other more fundamental needs (see: Catholic church decision regarding gay marriage and its threat to pull its social funding for other charitable works if policy on gay unions and individual rights is changed).
4) That bad situations are an incidence of some supernatural influence or an impact of less faith rather than an internal failing (other than a lack of faith). Leading to otherwise not properly attributing the causes and effects of a situation (both internal or external).
5) Leaving such difficult and complex decisions in the hands of a spooky supernatural figure might be more comfortable for people who don't understand those decisions and don't want to take the time to understand them. But it also leaves them open to being taken advantage of by the system. It seems totally irrational to make decisions regarding thousands, if not millions, of dollars of income or wealth and presume that you are not responsible for how well those decisions function.

I think it can be said that there are some interesting effects of religious belief upon money and wealth, as well as economic development generally. I think charity and concern for the poor is a valid social good to develop, and I think it fosters a general sense of freedom that money, or rather the goods that money provides us, are best earned and divided in an environment that divides these with some relative fairness and equality of opportunities. Business owners who reward their employees for example will tend to profit more because they will attract and retain better employees. The recent study that demonstrated that belief in hell (not belief in god and not religious worship or faith itself) was somehow correlating with economic growth is interesting as well. I think it suggests that people will tend to make "better" risk management decisions when they are afraid of how such actions will work out in the long run. This tendency is sort of bad, in my view for individuals to use. In the sense that it often leads them to pass up perfectly viable opportunities because of risk aversion (particularly true in public policy discourse, see: health care "reforms"). But it's also a useful tendency to occur on mass scales because it tones down its necessary counterpart, the "irrational exuberance" sort of thinking espoused by prosperity gospel champions and others like them (such as the spend your way to wealth crowd).

There's also a curious behavioral economics question about, for lack of a better term, faith in the economy. That is, when people think it will be good, then they will make decisions which, in the long-run, tend to make the economy "good". When they fear for the security of the economy, when they see their neighbours struggle or lose their jobs, then they tend to make decisions which spiral the economy downward. There's such a thing as irrational exuberance, where large numbers of people begin ignoring actual economic realities (such as: can I actually afford a new home when I have no job or means of income), which succeed in collapsing the system. But most economic activity is made over long periods of time with many small decisions. Buying this brand of toilet paper over another, buying movies instead of watching TV, and so on. These are not those sorts of tragic decisions that so weight our system down in the way a dumb home loan and the mortgage backed securitization loan on it are, and yet if nobody makes them with a degree of certainty that they will have money tomorrow still coming in, those decisions are made differently and often dangerously, both for on a micro scale for individual people and industries and the macro scale for GDP growth and inflation considerations. I'm not quite sure where the best line fit is to put the irrational exuberance of the prosperity gospel folks, but it does appear that a tiny bit of what they say is necessary for large scale economies to function. In a game theory sense, it might seem profitable for an individual actor to attempt to horde or otherwise scale up their situation and accessible resources. But in the long run they benefit a great deal more if other people also can have access to some of those resources. A competitive enterprise like a market economy relies a great deal on a lot of commonly made assumptions that center more on cooperative tendencies as a result.

19 November 2009

afghan discussed

getting somewhere, slowly and ponderously

I presume somebody viewing that will know which way I am going to lean. Several of the specific ideas laying out are things I've said for a while now. It is also probably one of the stronger, less platitudinous oppositions against the relative "passivity" my angle looks like it proposes. I do not agree with his idea of what basic security should look like (me taking my shoes off is not helping the plane be safer, sorry), but I do agree with what international security looks like. For basic security you enhance or create it by being better at preventing reasons for attack or dangers in the first place, then worry at the margins to prevent major and obvious incidents using actual security and intelligence information.

Frum's two principle objections to the international force are significant. It's sort of like the problem with financial regulation or Congressional legislation. That is that the crooks are to be the ones enforcing the law. I do not see how a force using Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as examples, to prevent terrorism internationally is extremely likely to succeed and possess a great deal of legitimacy. It's also difficult to effectively "insulate" America or the West against Islamic radicals. My contention in response there would be that promising perfect security to the American people in a world where one person can decide to act with hostility and successfully carry out acts independently to kill or maim thousands of innocent people anywhere they wish (including American citizens of a non-Islamic variety like McVeigh) is unreasonable and shouldn't be the basis or goal of our policies. Your best hope in policy is to try to create a very small population of McVeighs and Bin Ladens. (Bacevich's disdain for Frum's idiotic ideas on his Vietnam tangent is well-earned. He served there. As is the disdain for the "freedom doctrine" as Bush's attempt to come up with a cogent overarching strategy based on our abilities.)

It's also amusing to see Iran identified as the one shining beacon of hope in the Middle East. Something that I pointed out about two years ago and which the events over the last 6 months have only emboldened a sense of progress going on there well beyond our misguided attempts to enforce upon two of its neighbouring countries (three if you add in Georgia and four if you add in Pakistan). The most exciting Islamic nations in the world in terms of reform or the possibility of modernization of reforms seem to me to be Indonesia, Iran, and Turkey. None of them are all that fond of our international policies, for a variety of reasons. I don't think this is a coincidence.

18 November 2009

Can we get an update?

So, what's happening now

I decided that I was curious about this. But it's been two months now and the issue was banished back off the news cycle after nobody has been apprehended immediately.

Maybe it is too much for me to ask that once in a while people follow a case or a murder or even a mere arrest with the idea of uncovering what happened and why. This was a case where "we" collectively ascribed the why and what happened parts without necessary and legal evidentiary support. And seem now more than happy to move on and ignore it in the public conscience as a result as though the issue was resolved to the satisfaction of a greater social justice.


Free markets you say?

I had just made this comparison myself a few hours before I read this. It came up as I was discussing the way political zeitgeists sort of cycle and that one occasion where they didn't cycle normally was post-Hoover. FDR had a democratic hegemony that lasted an extra cycle, with some weakening beginning in the post-war years with Truman at the helm instead. Much of the reason it lasted as long as it did was Hoover managed to discredit things that he didn't actually do when he was in office by wandering around supporting free markets and opposing the New Deal in his post-Presidency. Meanwhile, he'd basically done "New Deal lite", and in several critical areas was further to the left than FDR was (protectionism and monetary policy). They both used the same policies on employment and the supposed manner of wage inflation to combat the Depression. Blithely ignoring that wage inflation resulted in terrible conditions if you had no job and thus couldn't get one because you were not productive to employ at the new wage scale. They both used progressive income taxes aggressively rather than broad scaled tax bases to generate revenues. Hoover's Republican predecessors had broadly reformed and flattened the income tax during the post WW1 recessionary period and allowed wages to fall or rise flexibly (such as they can, wages are always sticky) with the result of an almost immediate bounce back recovery. The case against Hoover's supposed dithering and inactivity relative to his actual methods is very strong. He was adopting policies and swiftly enacting them, with the problem being that they were precisely the wrong policies, not that he was insufficiently vigorous. The Bush years followed much of the same pattern. The difference being that Bush adopted some flowery rhetoric that he was a free-market defender while he was passing things that are anything but and did not wait, as Hoover had the good grace to do, until he was out of office to begin singing those praises as though they were of actual meaning to himself. This attaches a very wide net as to what constitutes a "pro-market" or a free market position in the minds of an often woefully undereducated populace (one which is often already hostile toward free market economics when expressed as real and specific policies).

Until I read Bush's latest remarks, I was content to believe that it was Cheney going out destroying the credibility of markets by announcing that they were the "pro-market" folks and that everything Obama was doing was wrong in the manner of Hoover. I think it is safe to say now that the Bush-Rove goal of a political hegemony is secure. It's just going to be their oppositional party for a long while now. Good work that. If instead they were going out and announcing that these things "nationalizing airport safety, carrying out illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens, raiding medical marijuana clinics, bailing out General Motors, AIG and other companies, and socializing prescription drugs for the elderly" were terrible intrusions of the government upon the market and society at large and mistakes of his administration, then pro-market advocacy has a future. At worst, Bush (and Cheney) should just shut the hell up and not be heard from again for a while if they actually believe the things they say to be true statements worth implementing as policy.

Since it is apparent from their actual policies that they do not believe this to be the case, and thus their advocacy is more interested in political power and not markets, I hold out no significant hopes for markets generally in America. This is in spite of Obama thus far being probably more pro-market than Bush ever was on many issues (other than trade). Curiously, the new bastion of such ideas is probably Europe and Asia, which have been moving progressively to the right on economics for a while now, further still now with the recessions impacts. In some cases, well to the right of even the supposed laissez-faire titan of the United States. Suppose, for the sake of argument that it might be of some benefit if we were to meet in the middle somewhere, even that is hardly likely to happen if we have a population that doesn't understand markets and doesn't trust them because some damn fool went around talking about how great it was when he was President and we had a "free market economy".

17 November 2009

randomly annoyed with authority

I think I figured out why I don't like rap as much. This was 10 years ago.

Stiffer stipulations attached to each sentence
Budget cutbacks but increased police presence
And even if you get out of prison still livin
join the other five million under state supervision
This is business, no faces just lines and statistics
from your phone, your zip code, to S-S-I digits
The system break man child and women into figures
Two columns for who is, and who ain't niggaz
Numbers is hardly real and they never have feelings
but you push too hard, even numbers got limits
Why did one straw break the camel's back? Here's the secret:
the million other straws underneath it - it's all mathematics (no there's no actual video, I was more interested in finding the song)

So there's a market for crap you can dance to that means nothing and glamorizes stupid shit. But not for this? I have to wonder sometimes whether my civil libertarian/anti-police bent comes out of rhymes like this or whether it comes out of annoyance. If it did, it did something useful I should think.

Of course, then I read stories like these....
police and their handiwork framing people

two pages of charges before a cop goes to jail?

because as we all know a GPS unit is a crime worth confiscating property over

....and I realize that being annoyed at authorities overstepping their boundaries isn't just a racial thing that a few rappers and comedians notice. It isn't just a libertarian thing that weirdo quasi-anarchists like me notice. It's something that just has to be called out where it is or we're not going to get to a system that works for everybody else. I go back to the battles I had with people over Gates' arrest. I could not believe that we live in a society where the police are on a higher plane of order such that we're required, under any circumstances, to do what they say. And what's more: that some people want it that way. More cops won't do a damn thing if some of them still act like they own the place. They are the law, yes. But the law doesn't just get to fall on people's heads out of spite and anger and whatever else the officer brings into work with them.


In between the continuous stream of college basketball, I was skimming over this.

I'm not surprised to see that the natural reaction to the anarchism and militarism of Islamic radicals is to present a united front of peace, and start working to alleviate the problems and claims. Note previous comparisons of fundamentalist religious claims and anarchists or socialists from the 19th century, with the same relative forms of attack and rebellion against large impersonal forces. Their ranks are swelling only when those impersonal forces are perceived to be callous and brutal, and wavering when those impersonal forces acknowledge the claims and messages of the more moderating radical.

It is most clear that what is desired by the Muslim community abroad is to be left alone and unmolested. Bombs and detentions (with trials at some point) are useful weapons against violent opposition and assault. They're not the only tools in the war shed and they're not weapons that will, in Sun Tzu/Clausewitz terms, break the will of the enemy to resist or fight. The bombs are in effect an acknowledgment that we have failed to keep a lid on the simmering anger and oppression (or rather, we have failed to allow the steam to bleed off by supporting repressive regimes in Pakistan and Egypt for example).

There are a tiny percentage of free radicals who will always find something detestable enough to bomb and attack society. They will, in the absence of obvious causes that others can relate toward, fail to draw others into their movements and will remain as violent outcasts. It is necessary therefore to deny those obvious causes to our enemies. Putting a couple people on trial, even if they are show trials, would be a nice start. Closing Gitmo is a useful symbol, but it's of little use if we're going to continue denying the rights of these detainees to seek redress of their rights if we have violated them (be this through torture or through merely denying their ability to challenge their detention status and be presented with some proof and justification for it, even if it must take place in a secret tribunal). Or if we're simply going to leave the prisons over in Afghanistan or Iraq or some other foreign land with less respect for rule of law than we are titularly capable of having.

Here's the tricky part. Islam is, by comparison to fundamentalist strains of western culture (ie, Christianity), young. It's widely circulated amongst peoples who are often barely literate, certainly poorly educated or of limited wealth (again, by Western standards). It is also a religion that is of great appeal to the vast swatches of displaced peoples who have departed these impoverished countries to come to America, to England, to Germany, and so on, as a way of retaining some ethnic or cultural bonds. The paradoxical feature of Islam has often been that it is these worldly refugees who attach the strongest most fundamentalist language of literalism to their world views, and not the pitiful masses that they supposedly fight for, raise money to support, and so on. It is a religion in some respects composed of intellectuals. By contrast, intellectuals within the western world cannot get away from at least literal if not even metaphorical translations of the Judeo-Christian realm fast enough. In the west, this fuels a great deal of powerful debate over the theology within more moderate religious strains, and at the very worst, is responsible for a great deal of internal strain between fundamentalist religious groups, or rather their politics, and the general public. In Islam, this division exists solely out of the repression of elites within Islamic countries. It's possible that the lack of strength within Islamic nations hasn't allowed for public debates over the fallibility or the metaphorical premises of a text written over 13 centuries ago, that this sort of debate is a luxury of a strong and stable internal society. It's also possible that that sort of debate becomes impossible in societies with so strong of internal repression and obvious perceptions of external powers working against it which create far stronger impressions than those a rational mind might come up with. Since there is not any serious discussion toward seeing a strong Islamic state or pan-state, and, more importantly, there is not any serious discussion toward opposing openly the dictatorial regimes of Egypt or Saudi Arabia and giving Islamic peoples some margins of political freedom to exercise for themselves (even though it is not clear what they would do with that freedom, and even though we supposedly went into two countries for the purposes of providing that freedom), there is little need in the minds of many Islamic communities and their leaders toward looking for other explanations beyond "the infidel and his puppet leaders" to satisfy the problems there. There is thus little need to seek a more metaphorical explanation for the cosmic worldview put forward by the literal Qur'an. Until there is a change in the worldviews and the actions and attitudes of western cultures and leaders, I don't think that, outside of a few sheltered western enclaves or a few perceived "radical" clerics in places like Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, or even Egypt, there will be a great debate to settle the views of Islam into a more moderate or secular world. We have done a few things which might be satisfying for these changes but have also adopted others which are ultimately self-defeating. For example, the human rights council's provisions on religious "freedom" and expression or defamation therein I think in the long run are contrary to the needs of Islam to bring itself into a secular worldview. Islam needs critics and those critics are the people who need protection, not the other way around.

In many respects, it reminds me a great deal of western educated intellectuals becoming terrorists and anarchists in the 19th and 20th century. If they went and visited the societies that they had idealized and formalized as the ideal, they might understand that there's a problem. Islamist states in the modern world seem so vastly out of sorts, in utter chaos, without bastions of stability, progress, peace, or any other form of prosperity. They're very much like those Eastern Europe republics founded formally on a notion of the people's republics. Sure there are some cognitive dissonance effects to be used as foils and blames, like "the great Satan", but in the end, it is the people there who have made those countries into what they are. Afghanistan never materialized into some sort of Muslim paradise for a good reason. Its people were busy fighting over power still. They were not Muslims at all, but human beings using Islam as a weapon or a tool for their own gratification. Once it becomes clear that this is the only means for the Islamist to exist, either to seize power for its own ends or to resist perceived incursions onto the autonomy of Muslim states, it is a self-defeating projection. The unfortunate role for America is that we have cast ourselves, partly by our own design and partly out of a convenience of history, as the villains in the Islamist's play. More pressing still, I do not feel that this play is in its 3rd act or climax yet. I think the forces working from within to stay the hands of violent resistance are still forming, still at a crucial stage that we must do our best to avoid tampering with lest it be destroyed by lazy arguments about the cruelty or vileness of our ways and our affairs abroad.

In the 1960s, Soviets and East Germans could show the cruelty and oppressions offered up by segregation and proclaim the righteousness of communist ideals of equality. Today it seems the arguments are made lazy through the policies of aggression and cruelties committed abroad, given flavor with the idea that democracy means establishing a decadent society where anything goes and that this is the world we wish to see created with our bombs, our petrol dollars, and so on. Nevermind that in neither case was a prospective vision of what their own world would look like being articulated, how it would avoid these pitfalls inherent to any society, how it answers questions and how it allows for progress and optimism over the mechanisms it uses to fuel rebellion. It took the Soviets almost 80 years to figure out that this problem didn't have a better answer simply because they told everyone it did. I'm guessing that even with Wahhabism having had a good run so far, it will take a while before Muslims figure out that they're being had as well. After all, these are populations with far greater aversions to the prospects of education, with all its attending "questions", than the Russians were during their Soviet era. The problem for us is to figure out what to do in the meantime until Islamists drop their firebrand methods and do so in large and significant groups (as in Indonesia or Turkey, parts of Iran, and most North American expatriated Muslims) while still dealing with the violence in a responsible way to defend civilians against aggression. I can't advise everything but a few modest suggestions would be among the following to start with
1) stop torturing people and hold the people accountable for having done so within our government. Also: indefinite detention is a bad idea as evidenced in part by the ability of some Islamists to renounce their ways over time. Being left to rot in prisons is not an effective means to get someone to challenge their world view and adopt a more moderating tone.
2) defend the ability of Muslims to practice their faith equally within predominately Christian societies (but try to do it without allowing them to set up sharia enclaves with distinct separation from the rest of society). Free exercise of conscience is one of our higher ideals in liberal societies but every time we run around proclaiming "this is God's country" and "this is a Christian nation", it sort of defeats the purpose. If a Christian wants to convince a Muslim of the supposed folly of their ways, go right ahead and begin a theological harangue and discussion of the benefits or demerits of your relative faiths. Don't do it by making it an impossible and repressive atmosphere for that Muslim to practice their faith.
3) Push for Israel to abide by a two-state solution, including the reduction of illegal settlements. Our "hypocrisy" can be limited to defending another nation state against Islamic aggression, but it cannot be extended to defending that nation-state's aggression.
4) Put people on trial when they are captured or detained for charges of violence and terrorism. Provide the same basic legal rights where possible. People captured on a battlefield are a different category of legal rights from civilian courts, but this is not by and large the population of supposed offenders.

In essence what this boils down to is this: "practice what you preach." If we're hypocrites about what a liberal society means and what it produces, then we will get called out for being hypocritical and rightly so.

16 November 2009

Football? yep

football economically

I watched my annual football game. Indianapolis vs New England. Pretty much I only enjoy watching excellent football like some sort of sports snob.

The interesting part post-game was that I've been a big fan of the "don't punt" theory (this may be because I never punted in console football games growing up as well and it seemed to work out more often than not there). So when Belichick sent back out the offense on 4th and short with 2 minutes left with the ball in his own territory, I was quite happy. This was good football and good coaching. It turned out as poor execution; the Pats failed to convert and naturally didn't stop the Colts from scoring to win the game. The reality was that a punt wasn't worth much there, netting about 40 yards with 2 minutes left wasn't really going to stop the Colts anymore than failing on 4th down did. Getting a first down basically wins the game and the odds of converting on 4th and short are extremely good. From watching them carve up the Colts on third down all game with quick out passes to Welker, it was probably better odds for the Pats to convert than a normal team, even against a good Colts defense.

I then was subjected to a rash of analysts saying "you have to punt there". They are being highly paid to be wrong. You don't "have to". I even saw Rodney Harrison saying that not punting says "I don't trust my defense..." ignoring that it also means: "I trust my offense to get me two measly yards". I found it amusing that ESPN put up the percentages for the Pats making a 4th and 2 conversion successfully. It was over 70%. On the play, the guy had the yards and just got hit backward to prevent the first down. And yet everybody still says that this was a bad call?

15 November 2009

great moments in business

A summary of the Kelo aftermath

Which seems to be the lesson as follows: Don't give businesses inducements to come while disposing of private property rights to do it. They won't stay and the cost will fall disproportionately on the rights of the poor or minorities. As with usual problems of being a "pro-business" rather than a "pro-market" stance in government, the public loses.

12 November 2009

Things that are so predictable

they shouldn't even be things you could gamble on

Like "Hammer falls on Bryon Scott". After it was obvious midway through last season that he was now an ineffective coach in New Orleans. Not that there are many meaningful positive coaches in basketball (Jackson, Popovich, Sloan, Daly and Riley when they were coaching, also Auerbach back in the day). At some point it just reaches a point where these normal and marginally effective coaches become ineffective and harmful. Scott's done this a couple times already. And I'm not sure how you could piss off Chris Paul. It doesn't help that their roster isn't well assembled, as a mix and match of some older veterans (Stojakovic and Posey) and some new key players (Okafor), but that team had obviously quit by the end of last season on the coach (when they got annihilated by Denver in the playoffs).

"Good government"

"State officials were unmoved by the couple’s wills, living wills, powers of attorney, and a marriage certificate" - Even without the marriage issue, powers of attorney and personal wills ought to be merely executed by the state and cannot/should not be overridden for almost any circumstance. Basically if there's some estate issue with the deceased's estate being incorrectly covered by the will (or some complicated legal issue, like property which was acquired illegally and is being held in forfeiture, which it doesn't sound like this was an issue), in this case the estate tax not being correctly figured as it would be if the estate remained with a spouse might be a factor, but not one which should hold up a cremation and funeral service. And I really don't see how it is any of the state's business who we transfer a power of attorney to or how we set out our arrangements for our death in a pre-arranged will (which, incidentally, usually can define who gets to carry it out).

Whenever we're told that this whole "ban gay marriage" issue is merely a protection of marriage itself (an explanation for which it has yet to be adequately explained how two gay people getting married erodes the dignity and effectiveness of two straight people doing so, but I digress...), I read something like this and realize that they're actually attempting to erode a basic human right, property rights and private contracts made therein, on the simple grounds that "they" don't like the people involved who have property and contracts to make. That is: we hate gay people so we are trying to make everything more difficult for no good reason and with no gains to ourselves in our own relations other than a feeling of smug satisfaction that a hated foe is suffering. It's bad enough not to grant the same basic rights for marriages as we do for heterosexual couples, but to also deny other more basic rights of settling our estates and the details of our demise as we wish and as we have detailed in our contractual arrangements? I recognize that there is a thing of majority rule, but majorities are supposed to be able to exercise some tolerance where they are not threatened and harmed by a minority. When they fail that, then the long-term risk is that those tolerances will not be applied in other ways, perhaps of greater interest to some parts of that majority.

If you can use elected and appointed government to erode the property rights in an unequal way to satisfy some special interest of bigotry, why not use it in other ways as well?

and lastly, a bit of news

Good riddance

Except he'll probably think he can be in politics with the sheriff of Maricopa County. On the plus side, I haven't watched CNN in a while anyway. This makes it less likely I'll even catch a glimpse of it at least (though fewer appearances on the Daily Show is probably a bad thing for a news network at this point). Given his show demographic of mostly retired or old people, I don't see how this has a downside for CNN either.

And of course, this was probably the most predictable headline in the world. So, if one is keeping score, we are not supposed to enlist loners, Muslims, women, gays, and famous people (Tillman) to wars. Check.

Really, I didn't need any more public headlines to help to convince other people I'm a brooding sociopath.

Things to think about

That Dilbert guy is occasionally clever

1. Does this situation follow a pattern I've seen in scams?
2. Is someone giving answers that seem intentionally vague?
3. Is information conspicuously missing?
4. Is someone trying to rush me?
5. Could someone unscrupulous easily take advantage of me?
6. Have I regretted this sort of decision before?
7. How do I imagine other people will react to this decision?
8. If the expert is so smart, why isn't he rich?

The last one in particular is really fun. I don't have as much to think of #7. But then there aren't that many people who would even be able to react.

I might add one more. "Why is this person shouting at me?" or inversely, "why is this person talking so fast and low?" - In reference to virtually every TV commercial. Except for this one maybe. Not a whole lot of talking.

if you're paying attention

you can find the words from people smarter than I

“And what struck me,” he said, “is actually the lack of competition you have.” - Dutch health minister on our health care system. I keep trying to explain this as well. One way to fix the health care system is to put the choices back in that we've been removing for decades.

In particular I like the gold price discussion. Sure I get tired of having to rehash the gold standard discussion with Austrians who think the Fed is going to go away (or should). Even so it is really funny how people still track the price of gold as though it's important on its own in our present system.

11 November 2009

foreign policy

So we are fighting for what again?

I feel it is most appropriate on Veteran's Day not just to spend time honoring sacrifices, but to wonder whether those sacrifices are appropriate and necessary requirements in the first place. A soldier who dies for his country, his squad mates, his family and friends, or whatever great and noble cause they assign themselves that provides the motivation to fight in strange lands and endure the unendurable ought to be afforded the right to know that these battles mean something. That they were not wasted.

And then we can examine the situation on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan today and the question becomes: for what? We were told about the potential for dangerous weapons and threats to our nation. But neither materialized from the governments or the people of those two countries prior to our invasions. We were told that we were going in to advance freedom and democracy. We've gotten a hodgepodge of feudal warlords and narcotics profiteering in Afghanistan, and one plainly rigged election this year (in addition to the previous one). And it appears quite clear that despite the relative peace in Iraq (compared to periods years prior), that the factions of power there haven't been resolved during that space in such a way as to create a functional democracy. In fact, it's basically reverting back to habits long remembered and resembles more and more the nation to their east than some bastion and bulwark of democratic freedom in the "land of Islamic fundamentalism". I didn't live through the Vietnam era, where public opposition included stronger issues like the mandatory draft of military service (for all but a select few). But I'm beginning to understand why that war went so badly and carried on for so long even when it was clearly pointless.

We can't support and advance freedom by installing dictatorships and painting over the buzzing of individual liberties by those governments. Distributing water and necessary supplies is all well and good. Maybe building some infrastructure to replace the stuff we blow up is okay. But neither of those advance the people on a path toward their individual rights. They're merely in a pattern of sustenance and reliance trapped between collaboration with an occupying army and its resistance. We can label people who fight against an occupation as terrorists all we want. I consider it asymmetric warfare. It's bloody. It's messy. It's inhumane. But it's pretty much the only option of resistance to a culture that has no traditions of passive and peaceable assembly to redress grievances and no great armies to resist the invasions and international intrusions of their power. We can try to tie the success of such groups of partisan resistance to international terrorists and religious radicals all we want. The fact of the matter is that they spring up out of the same national or local instincts to defend themselves and their fellow countrymen that called so many to serve the military here in the months following September 11. This was as true in Vietnam as it is now. The strategies being used are different, the tactics as well. But the underlying situation looks pretty much the same each day it goes forward. Just as true, we have to convince ourselves that there must be a purpose. There is a sunk cost effect that we have developed over the years of committing troops to battle that we must come away with a feeling that it meant something, there was a victory in all that. There were tactical victories. There may even have been some strategic advantages that we could have developed (and I think squandered years ago).

Nothing of that understanding will excuse the tactics, the deliberate killing of innocents by both sides (this is not to say it was a deliberate policy, but it has happened that individual American soldiers and mercenaries have murdered civilians deliberately and not out of some procedure of rules of engagement or collateral damage), the torture and execution of prisoners (again, both sides), or the local use of repression and reprisal tactics of fear and vengeance. But since it seems most appropriate to refer to some core Sun Tzu attributes

1) "So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself."

We do not know ourselves because we are not honest with our people for the reasons, for the purpose of our actions, so they cannot fully commit themselves to battle when they discover the deceptions that we've employed instead (in addition to repressing our own liberties and freedoms in a fateful quest to expand it somewhere else, which seems like the most successful attempt to create a zero sum game of total human freedoms of which I've ever heard). And we certainly do not know our enemies because I've yet to see a clear understanding on a policy level that asks: why do they fight and how do we stop them from wanting to continue doing so? This is in part a Clausewitz question as well. One prevails in a war by breaking the enemies ability to fight and desire to resist. Not by merely committing treasure and blood to a conflict with putatively superior equipment and training on your side.

2) "The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger".

If we accept this premise that our goal is to spread democracy by force, then we proceed from a false assumption (that you can spread democracy by force to areas without democratic functions and preconditions already in place). As a consequence, we are no longer in complete accord. It is much easier for our enemies to reach "complete accord" (if such a thing exists, or ever did) because they can also appeal to the sense of invasion and occupation that is felt and observed by the peoples who are ostensibly being freed.

3) "All war is based on deception" - This is true in many forms. A war of information is based upon the control of sources of information and the distribution of it. A government which suppresses a press may have a reason for doing so. But it's probably not a reason which is apt to suggest that it is acting favorably to that people it purports to be empowered by or on behalf of in defence. It is true that crucial military matters can and will be concealed in the moment. This is not in question. But in the aftermath of brutal failures, reasonable questions will be asked, and their answers sought. That also has to be acknowledged, and a government should not become embroiled in a war against its own people as a result (by suppressing free press criticisms or political dissidents).

4) "No ruler should put troops into the field to satisfy his own spleen"

Sunk costs are still costs. "no general should fight a battle simply out of pique" - just because the troops are there doesn't mean you need to use them to fight a war.

5) "Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content"

Needs no explanation. "But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life" - This is true of both sides. We can't bring back the thousands lost in NYC years ago. I don't see how that required a policy that amounts to revenge against an entire culture.

6) "The enemy's spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted spies and available for our service" "The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one's own strength"

Both cases argue for a battle over ideals. And failing that, to be more sincere and fair to our enemies when they are defeated than we have been in these conflicts.

7) "Therefore the skillful leaders subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field" - 1/3. We sort of captured Afghanistan without laying siege, which was surprisingly effective. But so did the Soviets. "In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns." - Let me know when there's a plan to WIN something and to secure some vital interest. I'll be happy to back that war.

I think we've got maybe two of those in our history. The revolution itself, which is arguable. And WW2. The Civil War was a bit of a different equation entirely since we decided to fight that out ourselves against...ourselves. It was arguably worth the cost to ensure some basic liberties to generations of people who were denied them for no good reasons, but it was after all a bitter price to pay. WW1 was a farce (and given that Veteran's Day here is Armistice day everywhere else, we should really be looking at the causes and decisions of WW1 critically at least once a year, and not merely the causes of American involvement). Spanish-American War and Mexico were naked imperialism (in the second case, we should have just bought the rights for California as we did pay for it anyway, and presumably Spain could have sold us bases in the Pacific by the time we got around to attacking them). Vietnam and Korea, Iraq 1&2/Afghanistan? The biggest joke was probably the War of 1812.

None of those were conflicts with vital interests at stake. There may have been some political advantages extracted for Koreans (especially if you lived south of the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula), for people moving west of the Allegheny mountains and into the Mississippi/Missouri river valleys in the early 19th century (but not for the slaves that were imported to that region or the natives who were deported into and then from that region by force), and for some now regional allies of sometimes questionable moral and trade importance to America or any sense of global justice and human decency at large, as in the cases of Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. I think there were ways to fight these new wars, if we needed to fight them. Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism work. They're just really hard to make work by use of military force in a foreign territory for prolonged stretches of time with little or no discernible local support either already in place or developed over time. There's a fantastic line in Full Metal Jacket about all this. Afghanis, Iraqis, Islamists, Vietnamese, Cubans, etc are not Americans. We clearly don't like the idea of some guys with ideas from the 14th century coming in and trying to dictate terms to us anymore than I imagine that they like it when we do the same.

We must eventually all learn this or we will continue to be in a world of shit.

More comedy imitating life

South Park has addressed the Rush/Beck assault on sanity now. I'll update and link it when they post it to their site. But it's pretty good.

Updated: Cartman becomes Glenn Beck

10 November 2009

cutting into the brain fat

I've fallen behind on my backlog of things to comment upon. So here's the going

Starting now

Studying the mainstream politics of America is a hobby of mine. When your ideological perspectives are outside the mainstream, it is sort of amusing after all to watch all the hubbub over a few measly scraps of power changing hands every couple years. What is of more interest and less amusement is who supports these scraps, because that often helps determine what the power centers will be in the future. Being of a small independent party that doesn't seem to have a broad appeal outside of a few economists and anti-drug war/civil liberties advocates, the demographic trends are of particular interest. For example, the core "woman libertarian" that gets referred to is Ayn Rand. An example which I would be just as happy to be rid of, if such things were up to me. The point is that there haven't been many women prominently pushing such advocacy for individual liberties. Of course, I'm also not aware of a libertarian plank which dramatically empowers women as an oppressed agent in society nor of any which seeks to dispossess their individual autonomy relative to men. It's pretty much a gender neutral theory that, for reasons I'm not totally familiar with, doesn't appeal to women broadly.

By contrast, conservatism has become rather more openly hostile. I'm fascinated with these supposed examples of Palin or Bachmann being held up by the right as icons, and who possess politics (at least those politics which can be adequately determined as their real views) which are so dramatically anti-liberty, anti-woman, xenophobic, internationally belligerent, and so on. If I recall correctly, during the 08 campaign, there was a good deal of coverage on a supposed liberal backlash against women, taking its form in Palin. My view on this was the liberal backlash was against Bush. And Palin was merely a female version of Bush with even less truthiness attached to her statements and speeches. Long on platitudes to mollify the base, short on reasonable policy proposals and understanding required to make them. The whole thing was not so much anti-woman as it was anti-anti-intellectualism, that sort.

So it comes as no surprise that we can find, despite these outliers, that there are fewer and fewer women representing and espousing the views of conservatism (one could presumably also find a similar story regarding minorities, in particular blacks, relative to the prominent positioning of Michael Steele, Thomas Sowell, or even Alan Keyes within the conservative spectrum). Even with the ones who still do so proceeding at a shrill breakneck standard for their high marks on speed of assumption, volume of message, and shallowness of argument.

Keeping all that in mind, what is still more curious is that even with a ratio of 2:1 over the GOP, Democrats are trailing behind Pakistan in a demographic representation of women in elected legislative positions. I guess putting us in rough parity with Canada and Pakistan for gender equality in roles of power is a start, certainly better than the world the GOP now inhabits, which seems to be more male dominated than even Japanese culture. But it does demonstrate in a way why some of the politics on core issues play out as they do.

As example: abortion rights. Legally this was settled 30-40 years ago. I don't think even if Roe v Wade was to be overturned that we would then be going back to a status where abortions were illegal everywhere in America. Probably half the states would retain them and others wouldn't (leading to a lot of wacky intrastate competition in a few places where neighbouring states would try to make it difficult for pregnant women to seek an abortion out of state). That said, even with the permanent ban option removed from the table, there are all sorts of marginal ways to squeeze abortion out of a local or state environment, even using federal initiatives as well. These sorts of tactics aren't typically supported by supposed progressive representatives. But they are not actively opposed and resisted either. And it appears clear that one manner that they are not is that there aren't really that many women involved in the decisions to legislate or preside legally over this issue.

I've seen much commentary in the aftermath of the recent election which deigns to set each party on a path of "doubling-down" their resources toward their partisan goals and to demand such accountability toward that base. I submit that a better use of progressives time would be to find suitable women in government (or who would like to be in government), promote their achievements, and get them elected to Congress and state legislatures. Because the net effect of "doubling-down" is precisely what the GOP is going through right now. A lot of clamoring and shouting and not a lot of actual and useful resistance or any serious implementation of their party's goals and values. Loss of power is not a proven and effective way to get people to suddenly take your ideas more seriously. As a third-party voter, I can attest to this. It is true that a progressive supporting a Democrat isn't getting much of what they want. The reason is simple: what are their real alternatives? It's not like they're going to swing vote for a GOP that actively attempts to hamstring a progressive, or even a libertarian, agenda. They can not vote or participate in the political process generally, which I've seen studies which suggest this would be fine too, but it still doesn't generate support for what are often otherwise worthy goals (apart from abortion as a singular right demonstrative of a feminist or progressive policy platform, there are others which are less controversial as well as approaches to the abortion issue itself which are more rational in the knowledge that bans do not reduce abortion demand, only move the supply elsewhere outside of a monitored system of health care). I suspect, at least on this issue, that the appropriate answer is simply to get more people who could plausibly demand abortions and understand the difficulty or personal and individual nature of those decisions into office in order to legislate effectively on it. And not to worry about what score they received from NOW or Right to Life or what not simply because that's unlikely to matter as much in the long run as the actual physical capacity to understand a simple question from a perspective different than the ones presently being used.

What seems to verify this whole problem: Olympia Snowe is about to be run out of the Republican Party. Even with mostly right of center politics (she, along with most women in Congress generally, are often somewhat left of center on a few key social issues), especially for Maine, it doesn't seem like conservatives seem interested in anything other than the "double-down" strategy. I don't particularly care if they lose or win elections. But the fact that they're busy trying to make themselves irrelevant nationally isn't very helpful. I could probably stomach it if they were able to raise cogent questions about the topics of the day, even if I disagreed with their plausible responses to them. I would probably stomach it if their party simply moved more center/neutral on social matters and adopted a more pro-market stance (sort of closer to where I am), even though that's arguably less popular and less understood than their current asinine real positions. But I don't think it's been a historical case that a political hegemony has been useful on a national scale (and perhaps on local and state levels either). Guaranteeing a political margin of success to one's opponents is not a good way to get back into the good graces of the public either. In essence, that's like saying that they get to take turns either failing the public or watching and heckling the other as it fails the public.

Please wake me if this seems like a bad dream to anybody else as well, but I would prefer it if they (government) would be capable of addressing matters as they are once in a while, asking important and meaningful questions on the behalf of the public to our appointed agencies (rather than superficially meaningful questions that address the worn out vexations of bygone ages that exist only in a netherworld of nostalgia), and actually having to contest and debate issues on their most meritorious arguments in a public sphere. Quite simply, on rare occasions there appears to be a conservative or a republican-leaning character who seems to have a good grasp of economics or economic policy. Just as there are frequent examples of liberals who have some rather kooky ideas about the veracity and utility of unions in my opinion (to be clear, I think unions are fine for bargaining for general rights of labour and workers or even particular trades to govern internal behavior and assure quality labour production to the consumers of it, but have outlived their message and utility in a modern setting with most of their agenda enacted as law either directly or as unintended consequences of other laws). It is of some use to us as the ignorant peasants to have political representatives who will oppose stupid ideas and will present good ones, from time to time. And I suspect this is far more likely to occur outside of a hegemonic environment. If we continue to have one for a while, which I don't doubt we will, the only source of blame is the double-down toward message with even less attention to preparedness for governing. That's why I'm skeptical of progressives who took away from this past election a rallying cry to do so. They (along with conservatives) should have been paying attention to how the two governor's races were won by conservatives: by not doubling-down and by arguing over local concerns.