31 August 2010


on this one

Some differences need to be lain out. I often arrive at some similar policy outcomes, opposing things, supporting some wacky wonk issues, and so on, as a mainline libertarian (typically and traditionally associated with conservatives). But I end up in a very different place often, what might be more a liberty oriented, liberal perspective than what the popular perception is. And I think it's worth explaining why that would be.

I think it comes down to a notion popular among many Americans that the Constitution is like dogma, and imparting a peculiar birthright extended by a mythology surrounding "the Founding Fathers". But more than that, that it is somehow a divine document in of itself. Much like the source of religious dogma, it is somehow meant to be read literally (despite sometimes some conflicting views of interpretation or priorities). Much like religious dogma, in practice it is read selectively.

Rather than arriving the idea that the Constitution is a good and generally valid set of principles on which to operate a large, complex, and diverse society through examination of those principles and comparing them to some governing philosophy (utilitarianism or libertarianism in my case) and something like empirical results of that philosophy (very hard to find), it seems to be more like the Constitution is ours, and that's how we roll here. So fuck Europe or anybody else because nobody does it better. The idea being that we have a "tradition" of "freedom" rather than a practice of it and this removes the necessity of learning how freedoms actually work, how their implications of free will and choices will effect our desired policies, and, usually, what those desired policies actually are.

Seems pretty much like Jesus Camp to me. Repeat what you have heard, don't actually study it, learn from it, and apply the basic philosophy behind it.

what is this

"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer. while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women--the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.

He allows her in church, as well as state, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.

He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States."

Declaration of Sentiments. 1848 Seneca Falls

I'm confused how there should be much question over this. But there are several of these that appear still unresolved.

"He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life." - Should sounds vaguely familiar to many people.
"He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man." - Some of the laws are now the same, but the moral compunction has changed little, with distinctions drawn for women as opposed men.
"He allows her in church, as well as state, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church." - Still more or less the case that women in leadership roles, of any kind, are viewed somewhat differently or strangely.
"In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement." - Some people still seem to perceive the relationship, particularly at the marriage level, to do this and seek to dominate and command obedience rather than earn and receive trust and loyalty.

Much has changed to the good to be sure from that point, voting rights, economic and certainly educational progress, and so on. But that was only 160 years ago. Two or three lifetimes. I find claims and annoyances about the nature of places like Afghanistan in their treatment of women (at least by the Taliban if not by the general society) to sound sometimes a little too self-righteous as a result. We have some strife and struggles to fend off domestically such that a set of attitudes like those expressed above is not demagogued as some evil nefarious force to be whispered about as a horror story... "feminism", but we also had several generations to pass through to reach this point. Starting the conversation and the struggle in other lands and other cultures will take time. But to expect some form of moral progress in our own lifetimes, often imposed, seems genuinely ridiculous when viewed against our own history. It would certainly be nice and to my approval if more societies recognized the role that equal women might play in their economic and intellectual growth and development as a culture and as nations, but it's not exactly going to start happening next week, certainly not because we say it should.

Doesn't mean we can't say it should either.

the man whose name shall not be spoken

In a rather curious and confused way, some white people are starting almost to think like a minority, even like a persecuted one. What does it take to believe that Christianity is an endangered religion in America or that the name of Jesus is insufficiently spoken or appreciated? Who wakes up believing that there is no appreciation for our veterans and our armed forces and that without a noisy speech from Sarah Palin, their sacrifice would be scorned? It's not unfair to say that such grievances are purely and simply imaginary, which in turn leads one to ask what the real ones can be.

This does confuse me. There are many questions that should occur to us when you listen to the rhetoric of the aggrieved and agitated political right.

1) What is "Real America"? What exactly do you think "your country" consists of?
2) Who belongs there? Only the people who you approve of and no one else?
3) What use is "freedom of religion" when it does not apply to unpopular religions, or lack thereof?
4) How is the current economic stature of the country vastly different from that under President Bush, or for that matter President Bush the first? This would include questions like, who passed and demanded TARP or expanded and defended medicare rather than attempted to cut it? These are questions that do not provide easy answers for either political team (social security for example creates the same dilemma), but the fact that they do not means they must be asked of BOTH teams, not merely the one who you don't like and don't belong to.
5) How exactly would the President being a Muslim constitute a terrible atrocity in the first place worthy of our scorn and derision? It does not seem to have impacted our zeal for prosecuting wars against predominately Muslim countries, for example, in the slightest. What implication are you really concerned about herein?
6) How exactly does opposing wars indicate opposition and insufficient reverence for the professional American soldier?
7) How exactly does opposing expansive and bad laws (often unconstitutional laws, if not horribly morally flawed laws as in the case of those "justifying" torture or indefinite detention without charges) indicate support of terrorism, or an insufficient support for police powers?
8) How does one receive an education that would lead one to conclude that they should follow without criticism people on their "team", despite their occasional or repeated intellectual dishonesty or inconsistency, and scorn and disregard repeatedly and without reservation people perceived to be on the other "team", despite occasionally or even sometimes frequently doing things that are consistent with your team's beliefs?

30 August 2010

Also from the book

"While people sometimes describe sex as their most pleasurable act, time-management studies find that the average American adult devotes just four minutes per day to sex—almost exactly the same time spent filling out tax forms for the government."

It was a good book after all.

I'm pretty sure the difference between those two acts isn't captured by that statement. That is, that most American adults probably spend a good deal more than 4 minutes a day devoted in some fashion to sex, but this would include things like: crude sexual jokes or sexually inflected innuendos, sexual fantasies, pornography, possibly masturbation (not sure what definition they used as "sex"), reading about sex or sexual technique. Plus related acts like physical affection expressions, or purchasing or considering types of birth control or protection against sexual diseases, or the ethical quandaries of our sexual relationships in general. Given that about half of our time per day is spent daydreaming, one can safely assume that part of that time is devoted to sex in some manner. Just isn't counted as actual sex on the time-management scale.

By contrast, I'm almost certain nobody devotes a good deal of time imagining filling out forms for the government. Otherwise the people who design the forms and the regulations requiring them would probably have made better forms that took less time or obviated the need for filling them out by not passing silly rules governing everything.

I suppose this assumes that contemplating or daydreaming or fantastic acts of creativity are correlated with improving the quality of the actual acts or processes that we are contemplating. Its possible that people are reflecting, but reflecting on the wrong things when they do so, given that so much of our humor is based on the premise that most people are apparently bad at sex and that most people must stand in lines to fill out forms. I would suggest that perhaps more people need to reflect on the effect they have on others more often and that this would do one of two things
1) increase the amount of time with actual sex relative to imagining it (per day). This may or may not be a good utilitarian outcome. Though one could assume that actual pleasures are better than imagined ones and that actual pleasures could reduce the demand for imagined ones. Or could exist alongside each other rather than occupying more time per day with our sexual interests and pursuits.
2) streamline our bureaucratic processes and make it easier to devote a couple more minutes per day to far more productive works. Or recreation. For example, they could change the hours the DMV is open to times where most people could more freely access it rather than times where people must cram in their dealings with the government in between work and kids and school.

29 August 2010

Fly, fly away
The fires will catch you
The wasteland returns
Look on my works and despair

A whiff of tar
dries the mouth to dust
where it chokes to embrace
its own lips

Is a dream denied
A dream
Or has it become a nightmare
while it slumbers
burning in sulfur

No exits
No doorways
No tree to climb
No birds to sing
Only a resolute fortitude

Will carry it across to the riverbank.
A beastly countenance.
Stares with softer eyes
where a rose grows
in the concrete world.

27 August 2010

So you want to fight a war

then I guess you're making sure you've got one?

The one takeaway I have here: Obama should not have been a pushover on this issue. Bloomberg hasn't been, and that's given lots of ammunition to moderate Islamic press or commentary. But while Bloomberg's position has the most potential impact on the actual legal matters at stake here, those legal matters are generally only superficially understood by people abroad. It is the debate itself that matters there, where some correctly see some cynicism by major political figures, others correctly note that fear and hate are hard forces to govern when given power by a populist frenzy.

And it is therefore the prominent absence of people willing to stand up in defence of a classically liberal value system (the freedom of worship and private property rights to boot) against a rhetoric that places Islam as a cult rather than a belief structure protected by our legal system, that gives us less room to maneuver against our enemies in this fight (actual violent extremists of any kind, rather than "All Muslims are terrorists, and all terrorists are Muslims" tropes common to many people angry over this issue).

It is certainly fair for us to allow people to give voice to their bigotry or their fear. That too is a protected right we have and we should defend the ability of people to say difficult or even repugnant things.

But it does us no credit not to speak out against it in return, and in this case, it might even be the most damaging thing we can do for our "safety" or "security", as illusory as they can be, to remain silent against this march of ignorance and intolerance.


So currently I've been reading about the psychology and the development of pleasures, likes, and so on.

The best parts of the book so far
1) The story of the German man who responded to an ad to be killed and eaten by another man, which includes the charming and useless fact that a Star Trek book was read to him prior to his death.
2) The unfortunate story of Napoleon's penis, post death (removed by the priest who performed last rites, along with his entrails)
3) Keith Richards trying to snort his father's ashes (among other things, obviously)..
4) How an art forger got a fast one over on Hermann Goering...and the art critic world at the time.

But primarily what I find so interesting is that it looks like my brain really is pretty weird. There's a lot of stuff I've never quite understood, even if I know these things exist. Why advertisers use "famous" people to sell us stuff by associating them with their products, why people prefer material gifts to receiving money (even if they receive less monetary value), why people have so much trouble with math story problems, and why there is so much general outrage levied in support of various sin laws such as prohibitions on selling sex, kidneys, and various narcotics (and even, to a lesser extent, political influence through purchasing advertising), along with the flipside of the revulsion of putting a price on people's lives (recall the kerfuffle last year over "death panels", indeed the tainting of people who would even consider some of the hard ethical questions relating to life and death cost-benefit decisions that may have to sometimes go on in a hospital), no matter how steep that price may be (perhaps thousands or what of millions of dollars for weeks or months of additional life?).

I recall reading that part of why Adam Smith's insights about economics and moral philosophy are so powerful might be that he seemed to need to study them in order to understand them, in order to practice almost any of it himself he had to invent it from scratch in his mind. Most people don't have to do this. They simply have some innate powerful, often physical disgust and revolting reactions to a lot of behavior and that stays in their minds to the point of not even reflecting on the possibilities. I don't generally have this. Maybe with country music I have a powerful enough revulsion, but otherwise I can sit impassively and contemplate all sorts of revolting and terrible things. I don't do any of them (most of them at least). But I can imagine very easily why some people might consume cats or dogs or insects or even other people. Or why still other people might be disgusted at consuming pigs or cows (or fast food).

I suspect this sort of brain is deemed useful for studying economics and for studying ethics as it is primed for cutting through a lot of otherwise senseless bullshit. But it doesn't it make it very easy at understanding a lot of social customs (ie, the aforementioned senseless bullshit). Handshakes and ties and expensive engagement rings and high priced wines and bottled water instead of tap, pretty much anything relating to signaling effects rather than utility/practical effects, and failing that, expressed preferences for stuff over experiences tends to confuse me. These tended to be things that had to be studied very carefully and indeed practiced rather than intuitively obvious things like cultural ethical variations or market price functions which I might grasp a hold of the concepts much easier. That's not to say I don't understand why people shake hands or purchase diamonds or like drinking more expensive wines. It's just that it's a lot harder for me to find things that I myself do which I can immediately relate to why other people do those things, and it makes it a lot harder to get along with the random passerby as a result. I share no great affection for flashy cars or firm handshakes or signaling brand associations with my clothing, and so on. This apparently makes me very odd. Which is another thing I find I do not mind (non-conformity).

I do recognize one possible parallel, but even this is a weakened one, within music, I find a little improvement where two songs or musical pieces are similar but one is by someone more known to me. After a while, I can start to come up with reasons why the one piece is better. But it's probably familiarity that does it really.

It's basically a brain primed for utilitarian maximizing. Sometimes that means it doesn't care too much how or who gets pissed off at it. And sometimes it does care, but it doesn't seem to understand the whys. Lots of questions are framed in the form of words as a result.

I've noticed a few other random bits. For instance my appreciation of human romantic pair bonding is based on the idea that it is a rational act for two people to develop strong attachments to each other in that way toward another individual over others. But not so much so that it works like an equation, with various factors that must be balanced and sought after, to the extent that if some "better" person came along, we might deposit this unfortunate soul in favor of this upgraded position. Familiarity plays a powerful role, which is why I've never been deeply offended or troubled by the notion that when dating people might look at attractive non-partners, or might even feel compelled to flirt, befriend, fantasize about, or perhaps even engage physically and/or sexually with other people. These are things that take time to overpower the rationality of a long and deeper pair bonding through its familiarities and many facets of connections. For someone like me, who is generally unsocial and often somewhat unpracticed at the common types of social signaling, the likelihood of having developed a level of multiple connections and familiarities is rather much lower, and so the situation can very much resemble an equation, with minimal absolute values that are involved.

But it doesn't. For the most part, people like who they like, and they bond first based on that. They don't have to sit down and balance the equation or make a proof in order to know these things. The rationality enters through the idea that it becomes irrational not to do things which are beneficial for each other, which happens through bonds of friendship or sometimes kinship. I suppose the difference between someone like me and someone else might be that I recognize this as a more precious commodity than most or that most people seem, in my view and observation, to take for granted their friendships, indeed even to the point of making them into almost abusive situations where grievous harms can be inflicted.

25 August 2010

A complexity theory

A thing which occurs to me is that most of us operate from a set of first principles in our private actions, to avoid moral pitfalls or as a consequence of learning from such pitfalls. We see these as generally binding upon our own private affairs. Generally a person who does not want to have sex with someone else they find unattractive (or off limits for some other reason, such as commitments made to other parties that are not present) will not do so without resistance (or a highly altered mental state). Generally a person who does not want to ingest some chemical or even a particular food or drink into their body will not do so voluntarily, and so on. These principles may be seen as directly actionable as they apply only to one person.

Translating those subjective and basic rules into more complex political views however is very difficult. One of the better Hayekian insights is that communities and societies tend to function based on a set of shared moral assumptions but that teasing out what those are, removed from the circumstances and behaviors of individuals in them, is going to be very difficult at best. It might be a good starting point to say that people should pay their debts, but then we arrive at circumstances where debts cannot be paid and will not be able to be paid, and so on. All of these shared rules are considered binding, under most circumstances, but they are distributed and agreed upon and accepted by all players within that society (and punishment of rule-breakers is deemed fair and accepted when they are not accepted). However all of these rules operate individually very differently, they are often valued at different priorities by different parties, and as a consequence, you have a very muddled set of rules in practice even before trying to codify them as binding laws through a machine of political influences. Arriving at a set of hard and fast, easily actionable, rules that would apply to all people based on a set of individual interpretations of what the rules are is therefore almost impossible without also coordinating with others as to what those rules will be and making agreements to enforce those rules. That can be done both within the machine of a legal stricture or without it, through cultural and social disapproval.

In both cases it is incumbent on us to determine a method of enforcement that is not inconsistent with other binding principles (for a legal case, Constitutional restrictions on government power may suffice as a shorthand for this restriction, for the cultural, some limitation on individual action against others, such as violations of life and liberty through extralegal means or vigilantism might be about all there is). But again, these other binding principles are generally interpretations once they arrive at the actionable individual level and a game of prioritizing which are more valued must commence.

Primarily the problem of politics in a democratic society is twofold
1) That there are decisions made through majority rule that are inconsistent with these (shared) first principles (eg, a law is passed that is Unconstitutional or unenforceable) and these rules are imposed against an unwilling, or more commonly unpopular, minority against their will. Some of these are sensible universal moral imperatives. Laws against the commission of murders or theft or rape or torture for instance are generally acknowledged as universally valid in a large diverse society (people do not want their property or lives at risk unnecessarily) and in general such laws are easily or clearly enforceable as one party is clearly a complainant and another a violator of some social or moral norm. Laws which are passed however governing consensual behavior of others is a little trickier, as it implies harms which expand beyond the parties involved, perhaps threatening the broader society or more commonly simply being offensive. This leads to the second problem.
2) That there are assumptions made by individuals that their own private morally binding views are universal and therefore should be made universal. Generally most people arrive at their private moral views through private disgust for a particular action (an emotional reaction to it) or through some derived wisdom (eg, religious instruction or someone told them not to do X), or some combination of the two. These are fine for personal action. They are inherently messy when they are turned into political views as you immediately run into people who disagree on most controversial subjects (which is most non-universal moral imperatives). Such disagreements do not go away simply because both sides might claim truth or rightness to be on their side.

Whats more, it may be possible to agree to some set of moral imperative, but not agree at all on the method of achievement for that. So we might all agree that it is morally and socially better to have clean rather than dirty water in a lake or river or in a reservoir for drinking water, but not agree on who should determine how it gets cleaned when it is soiled by human industry or use, or how that cleaning should be paid for, and even what constitutes "clean". All of these are legitimate political views, policy views, which can proceed from a set of first principles. If instead, you operate from the conclusion that it is best to look for the empirically best result, then you do not have some dogmatic conclusion that only your private ideological views should be actionable. Your principles may still be guiding or actionable for yourself without fail, but you must argue in defence and support of them against opposing views in order to make them binding on other people.

Another problem with this is that making all of these arguments politically actionable means that influential and most interested parties may skew the result against diffuse parties who might otherwise be able to make a concerted opposition of their preferences without some political interference. So for instance, making the determination of what constitutes "clean water" can become a political question with one answer rather than an empirical one, which would tend to have one which is beneath some actively valid health or safety threshold (at least for human beings, if not for the general ecosystem as a whole, another question entirely). Now, in general, clean water is usually an uncontroversial subject matter in a developed economy like the United States. Most individual people can simply assume that a system of rules are being enforced and followed when they use their water and indeed, food and water safety is looked at somewhat seriously and rigorously by most major market participants over and above what government imposes (now days at least) because it imposes costs of cleanup or public image disasters that are highly controversial when such rules are broken. It is generally very clear, empirically, who violated the rule and how it was violated, and punishment is easily applied, both through strict legal processes and extralegal market (social pressures) decreases.

By contrast, an issue like drug legalisation has all sorts of uncertainties built into it. What drugs should be legal, how do we determine which are and which aren't, how should people access the legal ones, how should we punish illegal use or distribution, should there be a tax to cover externalities, and how do we catch violators? All of these properties must be derived from a person's moral set of values. Even if we were to agree, which we have not, on some moral universal imperative that "all drugs are bad and people should not use them without strict supervision or control, such as in a medical emergency" it does not follow that each of these policy positions are necessarily clear and unimpeachable. It becomes often necessary to make a concerted case to argue for each separate decision rather than to simply state "drugs are bad" and that "people who want to legalise them are bad too", or even would want to use them and so on. These cases are vastly improved in their strength if they can have some empirical grounding behind them. A drug which kills most of its users for instance would be generally bad on the theory that people should not distribute something which constitutes a mortal danger to most of its consumers (again, some sort of first principle), but we would at least be able to show that most people who do X, die. An outcome Y which people (consumers) find undesirable, much as the outcome X of having dirty water is undesired. It is less clear that in the case of water purity however that there is some universal desired good here. Some consumers risk some shortened life spans or addiction to alter their mental state through experimenting with chemicals of various sorts (some legal and some not). We may find this generally abhorrent from the outside or from our private perspectives of what chemicals we would safely ingest by choice, but they clearly do not. It relies on us to convince them that it is a general harm that they are committing to themselves, and certainly to recognize when that harm has become more external and inflicted on others then to act in some fashion. But it is highly dubious to assume that our private demands are actionable moral imperatives because they have different preferences as consumers (ie, enjoyment of life or social lubrication or a sense of control through "medication" over a temporary personal issue with work or life may be preferred circumstantially over a general prohibition of narcotic or alcohol use). It is difficult to decide politically that our preferences imposed from above through a system of coercive control should automatically override their more local preferences specific to their own situation because we cannot show an empirical net harm is being committed in many cases (perhaps in the case of clinical addiction or certainly with violent criminal actors). Ergo, it is better that our preferences should have to compete against theirs without the benefit of political force and will in a general case like this.

Deciding forthwith that disagreement with some code of private conduct constitutes a treasonable offense to some dogmatic corner solution position (drugs are bad and should be illegal) does little to sway the opposing underlying arguments being made (drugs may be bad, but making them illegal is worse for instance). In situations like this, some empirical proof leaning one way or the other seems an appropriate arbiter of policy rather than dogmatic principle. If in fact a policy of illegality imposes severe costs in the form of decreased liberties, increased police costs, and severe crime in drug trafficking neighbourhoods, then this should be empirically demonstrable (and it is, generally conclusively). The same would be true that if regulation of clean water imposes some arbitrary cost through enforcement mechanisms over and above what might be attained through private arbitration, it might be beneficial for political policies to step away from that issue. On that point, we have a less clear answer whether it is legal and governmental processes of regulation or the social approval of clean water enforced through extralegal market demands, or both, that effectively creates clean water. Where we have little clarity and a system which generally produces the public's desired outcome, it may be best to leave it as is, even if that in some minor way curtails liberties. These situations are few and far between that a political process has produced a truly and empirically desirable outcome. Largely because too many political processes end up as gaming for economic rents by powerful entities, but also we so diffuse the costs of incorrect/mistaken policy assumptions (or apply them to unpopular political factions, such as the poor or minorities) that few people see the consequence of their bad choices and preferences of policies when applied at large. Much less universally.

The general point being raised here is what constitutes fealty to some set of principles. A dogmatic view is that errant paths in any way or form are to be avoided, including sometimes views which might advocate toleration or acceptance of others behavior (or essential biological nature). Most of us will have some limited set of essential priorities which are important enough on which to seek avoidance rather than tolerance and that is entirely fair. But few of us will have a subset of such priorities, and an ordering of them in some rank fashion, that will match up with another person's in any actionable way that they will be bound to those ideals. That distinction implies that there is a vagueness over which of us possesses any essential truth as to what is the right set of priorities, either in general or even for ourselves as individuals. Arguments which conform to the idea that one side is automatically right or, worse, righteous, may be generally ineffectual without making empirical claims of knowledge as to the real world impact of those views or the desired methods of their implementation.

The general critique of libertarians vis a vis conservatives is often that they rely far too much on a dialectic of traditional value and appeals to (often mythical) heritage rather than a proven value and appeals to the actual effectiveness of that heritage. This makes their arguments and, in particular, their public policy positions very weak when presented against liberal/libertarian or progressive value systems over time even if the underlying values are indeed shared or otherwise desirable (such as for example, monogamous relationships between loving partners or the general avoidance of abusing substances or perhaps even a modest/healthy respect for meritocratic, ie earned, claims of authority)


The perils of advertising based on diametric characteristics.

I've seen the opposite end of this spectrum. As a single man, if you leave your status as "single" on facebook, you get deluged with the idea that you should be seeking out a prospective mate, or at least a mate for right now. All ads became dating websites and services. Now of course, I tend to ignore most of my advertisements as gratuitous spam. I myself have never procured any attractive dresses that way, for example. Though I'm sure some of the ads might be useful for me or for others, they are easy enough to ignore if you don't care for them. If you do however have even the occasional use for them then it might be troubling if they change their focus significantly based on otherwise trivial status updates.

And so the point still stands. Once you take the "relationship status" off the table, facebook's ad service doesn't bother you with the idea that you should be seeking a relationship. One assumes that a method around this problem for a young married woman is to simply invent mythical children, or to remove the relationship status of "married" and leave that as a private feature. Or some such. Though this is fraught with its own costs in the new social world dynamics. Ideally, like with the single young male's situation, it might be sufficient to simply not assume that everyone in that age bracket has a pressing interest in traditional relationship formats of dating-marriage-child rearing. Or that their disinterest or even lack of success at that format is automatically related instead to some sort of medical problem (depression, infertility, social anxiety, addiction, etc).

One would think that a network like Facebook would be actually fairly progressive about relationship norms given its popularity with mostly 20somethings. But perhaps 20somethings are not nearly as progressive as is popularly conceived either. It does seem to me however that "married" is far less of a significant status change in someone's life and life interests than "has child". Like as in, there isn't much of a change to get married, if any, while there's an enormous change when people have kids. Facebook should probably wait until the latter shows up in somebody's profile to start advertising stuff for infants and toddlers.

The list of complaints and grievances

What widely accepted practice, custom or societal norm do you regard as irrational, absurd, offensive, silly, nonsensical, counterproductive, or morally wrong?

Obviously, I look at organised religion as one of the first most significant contributors here. And nationalism.

But some of the responses given airtime so far were much smaller, and probably much easier to change despite their ingrained natures.

1) "God bless you". Yes. This must stop. It's a sneeze. We should not be thanking people for their contribution the air supply with more infectious germs and airborne particulates of mucus. People look at me funny when they sneeze and I ignore them already, as they expect some politeness. The politeness is that they cover their mouth with a cloth or the crook of their elbow or some such. I don't have to do anything polite there. Sorry. We don't have a publicly agreed upon notion to congratulate people on flatulence or profound belching abilities and so on. I don't see why we should be messing with people for sneezing. Perhaps we should have more jokes about sneezing and farting in combination and people would get the point.

2) Funerals. I think I understand conceptually that most people have a compelling need to say good bye to people when they are gone. I'm not fond of doing this when they are alive. I generally don't "have to", my brain is like a tape recorder when it wants to be, it's pretty easy to slip into a eidetic recall such that the absence is not so unbearable, and generally I don't see people very much anyway nor be aware that MY presence might be missed. So one can imagine how fond I am of needing goodbyes when other people become an inanimate piece of meat and bones sitting in a box dressed up...for whatever reason. Principally, it seems some sort of basic ceremony and a gathering of people who knew the person is fine. A party to celebrate the effect that person had makes sense. Personally seeing a person soon after the moment of their death was far more profound than seeing them later sitting in coffin pumped full of chemicals and dressed up. I expect seeing someone die would be even more so. Why we expend so much energy and money on boxes for our deceased compatriots is beyond my ability to comprehend. Just burn the remains like the Greeks or the Vikings did. The concept of creating things to just put them in the ground with a dead person also seems silly. I can respect an offering or a token of esteem, I think, with the idea that this was a person who impacted your life and you might want to surrender something of value to yourself to be sure that impact was respected by you. But spending money on a suit and a polished piece of wood with cushions inside... not so much a good idea. If we have to bury people, at least use a simple box of wood and don't screw with all the chemicals injected into the body and makeup and so on. They're dead. We should see them as dead and not as living, or ideally not at all (again, just burn the remains. Or feed it to wild animals in the Diogenes' instruction). It's far easier to find ways to remember them as they were when living and to "say goodbye" in some ceremony or through association with others if needs be than to expend a tremendous economic value on death.

3) Cursive hand writing. Why, in an age of computers, would anyone still need to learn script form handwriting? We're supposed to use it for signatures, I'm told, but I just use a scribble that looks like it has letters in it somewhere personally. "Is that your signature" is kind of a useless question for me to answer, they don't look alike. One could also ask what we're still signing with a pen, since we can pay bills with electronics. I might gather that studying calligraphy might be a useful mental framework, an appreciation for the art of words and writing perhaps. But here we could simply select more diverse fonts for our written compositions and allow those few people who want to specialize in this obscure love of writing in a visually artistic way to develop those fonts for us. Fortunately I was never graded on "handwriting". Mine is terrible.

4) Seven "deadly" words. Enough said. I do share some idea that these are lazy intellectual words at times. But fuck it. They do get the point across to people much easier. And I hardly see any need for shame at their use. Much of our (popular) humor is crude as it is with or without the inclusion of these sacred code words that dare not be uttered in polite company.

Update: Another good one shows up

And this would be another one...


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has its advantages or its costs. Not sure.


I think the Presidency would disagree on this one.

"Bombing a country is going to war with that country – not, as American discourse frequently has it, some kind of alternative to war. Nor is a Basset Hound an alternative to a dog."

The most significant conclusion of that Goldberg article wasn't very surprising.

"Hardly anybody important in the Israeli government really believes that Iran would use nuclear weapons if Iran in fact develop them" - This is the basic nuts and bolts of the case that we should preemptively bomb the place in the first place. And if not even the Israelis believe it, then why the hell do I have to explain nuclear deterrence and state powers to everybody in right-wing America? Didn't these people live through the Cold War?

As far as the bombing them is war argument, I agree. Legally and Constitutionally speaking if we want to bomb somebody that's an act of war and should be treated as such. I don't think that necessarily means we wouldn't or couldn't bomb some hostile state or non-state actor if we had some realistic intelligence or expectations of hostile actions. But I don't think the American people fully realize that nation-states don't tend to take kindly to being bombed by other nation-states military forces. We've sort of been bombing a lot of ineffectual gangster countries for too long for people to realize what might happen if we attack a country with something like a military around (Iran's not exactly Turkey or Israel or maybe even Saudi Arabia militarily, but they're also no de-fanged post-Gulf I Iraq) and lots of our troops spread out fighting "insurgents" in occupied hostile ground.

That might not escalate to full scale war, but it would not be fun for a while and committing to yet another military combat situation, while rallying Iranian nationalism against attack, not smart. We cannot always solve our problems by simply raiding or bombing some nation-state's facilities. Not everybody is Afghanistan or Sudan or Somalia or even Serbia.

More to the point, bombing those places doesn't seem to have done much either. Okay we killed a few bad guys, great. There are more where they came from. That is like arresting the corner boys in a street gang. Nobody cares. They're replaced in a day. Maybe even a couple hours. Simply killing people does not win all our wars. You have to figure out why they resist or why they fight and kill that. The idea. The struggle. Iran would want a nuclear weapon why? Perhaps because it has witnessed two neighbouring states get invaded to impose new governments by a country with an avowed (and somewhat legitimate) hostility toward its own regime? A few nuclear weapons would make a similar plan somewhat less feasible rather more effectively than it would serve to somehow kick off an imagined and grandiose suicide plan for Iranian leaders.

I'll bank on self-interest and megalomania every time over actual religious conviction if you tell me some (important) holy men want to do something.

24 August 2010

That is all

Yes, this is funny. Memes occasionally take on that character of humor....

So this is funnier. Especially the 'Say Anything' one with the inside/outside audio differential.

I think the Shawshank original is funnier, but then, I know who Figaro was. And the guards don't. It's a bit of a sly 'fuck you' to the warden more than the guards anyway though. And sort of like the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre "Dumbass" reference earlier in the movie. "We ought to file that under educational too oughten we?"

Update: not sure the 50 cent remix verse is all that funny really compared to the original either.

Ohio makes it to prime time

Gory videos guarantee that at least.

My own theory is something like suicide or a major chemical induced snap.

I suppose it's possible he decided to see if his car would clear the overpass and miscalculated the approach, but it doesn't look much like anything other than a death wish driver for a couple reasons.

1) Seems to be speeding up or at least not attempting to slow down. No brakes. Brake lights go on briefly when the car...what's left of it, is airborne. It's not simply a case that the lights don't work. They did. The brakes were never used.
2) Seems to be headed/aimed right at the guardrail/bridge.
3) Did it right in front of a cop. Maybe that's a panic move to swerve, but the reaction steps after that don't suggest panic. And even at 100+mph you'd notice a cop up ahead of you. Or just plain notice a car in the way.
4) Decides to "pass" off road style in a spot with the least amount of maneuvering room
5) Was ejected from the car, suggesting no seat belt. If you were going to try to kill yourself in a car wreck then using the safety features is kind of cheating. Being ejected probably helps if the alternative is being smashed against a concrete bridge abutment by a ton of twisted metal moving at a high rate of speed, if you want to live. But that's a pretty lucky outcome.

I've driven at 100+ mph before, and had to do plenty of weaving in contained highway spaces to do it (I think it was a 50 mph zone). That's not quite the dumb part to be driving fast, though that can be dumb, I admit.

It's more the other factors. I don't care how dumb or hormonal a 19 year old is, at 7 am, you don't do that with that kind of traffic that you'd end up trying to pass on the shoulder/berm, much less ending up off-road in the spot with the least amount of maneuvering room right before a bridge. That looks more like a deliberate act than road rage or teenage stupidity when all the factors are at work at once. Maybe it will turn out he lost control of a car at high speed at a very inconvenient time for the car and himself. Or something else was going on (drugs, etc).

Either way, I guess we should be glad he's still alive and importantly that nobody else was hurt.

Update: interesting context

23 August 2010


Always a curious mix of the beautiful, the simple, the complex and the hideous. The world.

What amuses me is just how wide spread the types of fears people have are. Just how easily they spread. And just how ridiculous they are in reality. How superstitious we get to be in order to practice living in a certain way as though it shields us against something dangerous, when it usually only shields us against... living.

The most dastardly harms that are inflicted on us are perpetrated by people we know, the people we trust the most and let live alongside us. Mostly strangers have the good sense to be ignoring us. In effect the problem with many parents is that they too often have an idea that their children are the most important thing in the world to them, so therefore everyone is out to get them.

Instead, the attitude works a lot more smoothly if you say "this child might be the most important thing I do for the world, so it's important that I let it grow up." The world can be a hideous place, with its own monsters both real and imagined. But sitting down and sitting still sheltered away from that does very little to protect us or to teach us how to combat them, how to deal with it, how to grow bigger and stronger than the things we fear. It's how we get people who grow up afraid, even terrified, of homosexuals or Muslims or black males or different languages or different music, and so on. They never know how to deal with something different, outside their experience, because they never were allowed to explore and to experience, to embrace a bit of fear and risk to satisfy a curiosity, to ask a question. Or just to take the subway.

So yeah. If I'm ever a parent, I'm going to be a "terrible dad". And I'm going to ignore people who actively meddle to prevent me from doing so. It's one thing to watch out, to be aware, as an adult. It's another to prevent a kid from having their own life. If I were the conductor of that train, I'd have done what most adults do when they see a child alone. Keep an eye out, sure, but not call the cops, that's idiotic. If a kid doesn't seem to care, and they're comfortable and unperturbed by their situation, why should we be more scared than a 10 year old while riding a train? To be sure there are situations and circumstances to avoid, to act assertively and intervene. But most of those are not things you're going to encounter "out there", as surprises and random events. They're usually ongoing things that happen "in here", in the house. Domestic abuse, alcoholism, etc. I'd be a lot more vigilant about other parents and warning signs of strangeness in their conduct than their children running freely personally.

In fact, from what I learned from scooby-doo (which I didn't so much), meddling kids are a good thing. It solves crimes and exposes frauds and hucksters. All while entertaining stoned adults.

22 August 2010

Bad apples

must go

This is more or less my intuitive sense. You get it from watching basketball teams assemble their rosters. More than one knucklehead at a time and your season is fucked. But mainly you get it from working around incompetent people or in incompetent organisations. It's obvious to people who could jump ship, so they jump. Or they sink with the rest. In general, an atmosphere of laziness or a peer pressure to do only minimal quality and quantities of work, for fixed pay, will prevail over the occasional star quality worker. They will do less because less is asked of them and because when more is delivered they feel excluded or punished.

Ideally you'd deal with this by paying an efficiency wage for efficiency based work (rather than creative work, which must be handled differently). Except that too has the same peer pressures and so you eventually end up where you started.

In most companies it comes down to a few people who are doing more than everybody else but aren't getting any more for doing it, either because they don't know they should be or because the rest of the workforce prevents them from seeing that they should. In the best companies it may still come down to a few people doing the work, but they would be getting the credit for doing so. And spreading it around themselves to those who deserve it (who had earned it by supportive effort rather than hindrance or impediment to successful work) from there. Rather than bad apples proliferating, you get the good ones in charge and directing the flow of traffic for management (management so far as I can tell merely nurtures this process, it has little ability to actually run the floor).

Songs of the day, the world is yours

20 August 2010

Education on the pareto principle

Indeed, one recent study (see here for another explanation) found that the optimal system--given our current knowledge and the importance of teacher effects--is to hire a lot of teachers on probation and then fire 80% after two years, yes 80%.

One way to look at that would be to say that about 20% of all teachers (would, if not already) produce about 80% of our total educational value. (if not more)

There are multiple appropriate responses to this. One is that we lack effective measurement tools. Test scores are more like a proxy for what we would seem to want to measure or achieve with education, and they are often a terrible version of shorthand at best. Another is that test scores assume a particular educational track, one which would generally terminate in 4 year colleges, and a track which is probably inappropriate or ineffective for some students, particular those already "ruined" by ineffective teaching systems and the infrastructures surrounding their educational development.

And by far one of the bigger problems is that it's not always clear why or how someone is an effective teacher (though it is generally clear that they are, at least relative to the bottom of the spectrum). We may not be able to duplicate it by having less effective teachers (those actually interested and concerned teachers, not the bad seeds that end up in a rubber room policy that so offends people on the behavior of teachers' unions) copy or learn from them best practices, so to speak. Or certainly to accommodate the demands of parents who want their kids in the better teachers class.

I would suggest two policy approaches that make sense (to me).
1) End dependency on (state) licensing. Expanding the pool of possible educators appears to be one of the best ways to assure we have enough quality educators doing the actual work. Licensing should produce, at best, a price premium for those who pursue it rather than become a requirement for entry.
2) Increase market flexibility both for curriculum and choice of schools (and by extension, teachers and professors). The expectation here is that the market would come up with appropriate measures for evaluation of both prospective teachers and the ones already doing it, and begin the hard work of sorting through the chaff that we do not and should not want maintained in classrooms. That is a cost we cannot bear any longer. It would also allow us more ability to do things like the following:
a) remove the political objections to things like science or history curriculum being mandated by local or state school boards. Nutcases would be more free to educate their children without imposing restrictions on how others must be, and vice versa. Depoliticizing education seems like a good and powerful outcome.
b) increase the ability of students, those who might otherwise fall behind or become disinterested in mostly useless college preparatory classes to study more practical or elective interests. Most any mathematics class beyond algebra I is almost useless in almost all jobs for example and is only useful for producing college degrees or for people who are electing to study fields where such things are useful or out of personal interest.

I'd also prefer abolishing grade levels and letting students proceed at their own pace in the things they excel or do not excel in. But if we cannot get school choice as a market solution into the equation or discussion as a response to flailing teachers (protected, as they should be by a political entity, it should not take 20 years to fire lazy and incompetent idiots who have no business in a classroom), then I'm really skeptical that we're getting the students themselves any leverage.

Jackson sucks

My campaign to get him off the money continues

I never got why this guy was so popular, or why we still have a tradition or a form of "democracy" which bears his name.. and which persists as an active force in politics. Without anybody referencing what it actually does. Namely, it seeks to fuck over non-whites or non-Americans through xenophobia and fear and anger and use that as a wedge issue to "distract" from the more pressing real life concerns of say, poor white farmers/labourers (who instead care more about Mexicans or Muslims or Cherokees anyway). It always has. And it always will.

Why we should celebrate this sort of politics is beyond me. It is among the worst form of pandering, to our fear and our anger, the most base emotions rather than to our idealism, to our hope. You can see this in Palin's trope of "how's that hopey changey thing working out for you". I for one was never particularly hopeful. Mostly because I know America is populated by people like this (some, but far too many), who do revere a man who kicked around the Indians and the blacks (and the English), and who do revere authoritarians who boss around arbitrarily and keep "those other people" in line, and who do think that this is a land and a promise that is entitled only to a "chosen people". White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (or at least the heterosexual ones), with a little exception carved out for Catholics or Jews, and in some parts of the country not even that.

This was not the dream imagined by many writers of our founding documents, nor many of our most revered leaders (both political and civil), and when it appears, it should be vilified and shamed for its detachment from reality. Yes people can hold these views of intolerance and fear and hatred. That is also among our rights that we are free to be stupid or bigoted or smaller than we have the ability to be as a people. People will, with great liberty and freedom, often do silly unobjectionable things and believe even more terrible views. But those views are in error. And they should be shown this error rather than be exploited for it. We have every right to support people's voice when we are in agreement with it. And to oppose it when we are not. We cannot silence it. But we can disagree, peaceably and perhaps in time, one of us will recognize the error of our thinking or our words, apologize, and move on a little wiser for it.

Context matters

Wacky beliefs

This sort of thing is why, when the Economist publishes a poll that has less than 2% of people wanting to do something, even if they are nasty Republicans/conservatives, I have to wonder if there was an error in transcription. People are generally and genuinely stupid sometimes and you'd expect some of that to show up in a polling question. Even the Economist I'm sure knows some idiotic people.

Nevertheless these are mostly things that people believe, rather than things that people can associate with facts, and could simply check against reality. Given that there's a much higher percentage that, for example, believes in things like angels or demons or even deities in addition to these more mundane supernatural subsets of belief, asking what people's beliefs are doesn't seem like a fair comparison when asking what their facts are. When our facts are dead wrong (things like Obama signed TARP, when in fact it was a Bush/Paulson thing with plenty of senior Congressional Republicans along for the ride), then that should trouble us more than that more people believe in ESP or telepathy than knew that as a fact.

Speaking of ridiculous beliefs.

And of course, the heuristics of some types of questions, like "do you think the government was behind 9-11?" or "was Obama born in the US?", do lead to an overabundance of stupid answers. Asking people what they believe does tend to produce ridiculously high responses. Still, generally these should cluster around an average rather than appear too randomly. When that average shifts upward or downward significantly, I suspect it still tells us something about the heuristics being used by people answering the question having shifted. If the percentage of people who think Obama is a secret Muslim has gone up, somewhat dramatically at that, then this tells us something. When you drill into who does, partly it tells us that lots of people don't like him, probably for other reasons and seek justification for that disdain (something of the great illogical mind like "I think being Muslim is un-American, and I think Obama is un-American, therefore he might be a Muslim"). Partly it tells us that some people appear to believe that "support" for Islam as a religious body with all its attending institutions is associated only with Muslims (although I'm somewhat skeptical that Obama's been very good at "support"), and since this has become a national issue (when it's entirely a local "problem"), people might associate it with Obama.

And mostly it tells us that there's a very significant percentage of people who are uninformed, and guessing the way they want to lean. This leaning tells us something, perhaps something oppositional. I think for instance they're underselling the "birthers" in that post by not drilling down to see if there's a correlated effect of oppositional politics. We see the same parallel in "Obama is a secret Muslim". Whether or not these beliefs can be dismissed by evidentiary support opposing them is somewhat questionable. When I have engaged people who believe things like this, they dig in rather than question their validity when presented with facts (reality checks). Or more precisely they dismiss the evidence as coming from the MSM or me as a "liberal/socialist" and so on, and continue existing in their own little world. No one who would believe such a thing could possibly be someone they know, or a source of information they would trust.

THAT mindset, which applies to political stripes of all kinds, is worth observing. Because it is dangerous when it entrenches itself in the halls of power. It happened in the 1950s with McCarthy. It happens regularly today regarding American perceptions of Islam in the same manner. When the conclusion matters more than the process used to reach it, we should be troubled.

And since the conclusion is often something like "I hate all Muslims" we should be deeply troubled.

19 August 2010

Speaking of musical chords


This got me thinking about the nature of knowledge.

I too run across these supposed criticisms commonly made by creationists, or otherwise fundamentalists attempting (I guess) to defend their faith. So far as I can tell these claims ultimately rest on one of two assumptions.

1) Monism (Idealism) - all of existence is not a shared and observable existence between multiple organisms and their interpretations of sense data accompanied by empirical and repeated observations, but rather a subjective perception that we have interpreted. Virtually all perception relies on subjective processes, but the general claim of most people is that these processes are operating independently on objectively available sources. Be they a tree blowing in the wind, an orange, a soundwave resembling musical chords, ancient texts or ancient fossilized remains. If we interpret all of existence as being our own private domain, then sure, it's pretty easy to reject the interpretations and experiences of others as being valid. I interpret existence more like a monism of materialism than a pure sense of mental projections, that is that reality (and ethics, and thought) is material within the universe rather than the universe being a thought or a conjecture. For whatever that's worth. I don't see dualism as necessarily useful in thinking about the nature of existence and knowledge itself, though it can be a useful way to short-hand various conflicts within that existence.
2) Some sort of alternate method of interpreting time such that cause and effect, and any inferences drawn upon that logic, are rendered meaningless. Which I should think would have rather drastic impact on our theories of ethical behavior, among others, if for example, we might consider each moment to be a separate particle of existence.

I'm not sure how else one can attack inferred reasoning which has observable results without supporting data, but I suppose people are welcome to try. The principle attempt that got me thinking on it was the inference that compared the authenticity of history (or geological time history in the case of evolution) to that of religious canonical texts. History is generally considered valid with multiple supporting documented accounts of the same events. Which doesn't tend to be the case with religious texts. There's very much a "trust us, this is what/how/why this happened" aspect to a lot of that, and not a means of testing the veracity of those claims (as there is with evolutionary biology). So that argument holds less water than is supposed. Partly this is because most religions operate on the "we are right and they wrong" logic favored by kindergarteners everywhere. But mostly because lots of the events are being strained through more subjective interpretations and explanations.

So of course there's the more absurd co-arguments of "how do you know what wind is or how magnets work?, etc" In which case, I'm afraid I'll have to say that yes, you are an idiot. I could agree to concede that we don't empirically know that knowledge of anything exists. But given that most of us have decided that we exist, and we have a basic understanding of the nature of that existence as a series of causal events that we can undertake to study and discern their own natures, it becomes a bit silly at a certain point to say that's all been a waste of time and nothing real is produced by it. We don't have any other method of personal and subjective experience on which to decide that, well, no, it isn't real, but this is instead, much less that nothing is. Therefore if you're going to look in wonder at a piece of iron as it attracts or repels other charged pieces of metal, you should probably start picking up texts on magnetism instead of pretending that some anthropomorphic force compelled it to behave in a certain fashion.

Much less when the wind blows in your face and you smell the rain coming.

No comment.

War is over!

Well. Yeah...but I sort of found this buried in there:

"That presence is far from over. Scatterings of troops still await departure, and some 50,000 will stay another year in what is designated as a noncombat role. They will carry weapons to defend themselves and accompany Iraqi troops on missions (but only if asked). Special forces will continue to help Iraqis hunt for terrorists.

So the U.S. death toll — at least 4,415 by Pentagon count as of Wednesday — may not yet be final.

The Stryker brigade's departure left about 52,600 U.S. troops in Iraq as of Thursday"

And that's just the actual troops. Nothing is said at all about private contractors of the militarized variety.

Naturally it's more important to argue about "mosques" than pay attention to petty details like tens of thousands of troops in a hostile territory.

It wouldn't do to point out the things that the so-called "professional left" was complaining about. You know, that war, that other war, and the various civil liberties questions that have been left unresolved (Gitmo being symbolic of these, but hardly the most important and pressing for most Americans), if not gotten worse (or at least see a government which campaigned on transparency seeking more obtuse powers for itself). The actual "professional left", of which I am occasionally aligned, has more varied complaints than that.

Collective guilt

As a white male Baptist, it is my duty today to denounce the violence perpetrated by Patrick Gray Sharp, 29, who yesterday attacked the police headquarters in McKinney, Texas, in a heavily armed but ineffectual assault involving a high-powered rifle, road flares, "gasoline and ammonium nitrate fertilizer."

I understand that this denunciation must be swift and unambiguous and that, in the absence of such denunciations made by and on behalf of every and all white male Baptists, others are entitled to assume that every white male Baptist is fully in agreement with the actions of Patrick Gray Sharp and to therefore deny white male Baptists the rights others enjoy.

So I denounce this attack and state unequivocally that we white male Baptists do not believe in this kind of violent extremism. I beg you all not to condemn all of us for the actions of this lone member of our community, although of course I will understand if you decide that you must do so and will humbly accept whatever restrictions on our full participation in society that you see fit to impose. That's only fair.

I further beg your forgiveness for my not denouncing this violent act sooner. Unlike the nearly identical failed attack in Times Square, this attack wasn't the lead story on our local news and the newspaper I work for somehow didn't mention it at all. Then today I was outside most of the afternoon cutting the grass and just didn't hear about the story until now. I plead with you to understand that as soon as I learned of this incident, I rushed to post this denunciation.

That's no excuse for the delay, of course, and in no way diminishes my obligation to constantly monitor the behavior of every white male Baptist, denouncing anything that might reflect badly on the WMB community. That is, after all, the foremost duty and purpose of every religious adherent, ethnic group and gender. My failure to promptly condemn Patrick Gray Sharp for specific actions I have previously condemned more generally cannot be excused just because the lawn needed mowing.

On behalf of myself and of all white male Baptists everywhere, I apologize for this lapse and denounce myself for the delay. (Note to other white male Baptists: You should also denounce me for this. If you fail to do so, I'll probably have to denounce you for that.)

I fully appreciate that as a justifiable consequence of yesterday's extremist violence, it will be decades before any Baptists ought to consider gathering for worship in McKinney, Texas or anywhere else in Collin County. I humbly request that local Baptists be permitted to worship in neighboring Grayson County, but if anyone anywhere feels that is still too close -- too much in the shadow of Collin County -- then of course I don't think it would be unreasonable for Baptists during the next few decades to travel across the state line into Oklahoma for Sunday worship. That would be the least we could do to demonstrate our vicarious contrition and our deep respect for the tender sensibilities of the television pundits and ambitious politicians to whom we must all defer as the authorities in these matters.

I hope that this denunciation and expression of substitutionary remorse meets with the approval of all non-white non-male non-Baptists. Should any of you feel that my denunciation is inadequate or insufficient, I would be happy to expand and embellish this initial statement.

Please excuse me now as, like all white male Baptists in the wake of this attack, I must go rend my garments and sprinkle ashes on my head in an extravagant show of remorse.

UPDATE: Boy is my face red. This is so embarrassing -- I totally skimmed past the fine print on the unwritten rules and completely missed the exemption for hegemonic classes. It turns out that we white people, males and Protestants never have to worry about extravagant displays of vicarious contrition. As a white male Protestant, apparently, I don't need to promptly denounce every evil act committed by any and every other white male Protestant.

This is awesome. Do you realize how much time this is going to save me? Plus just the relief of no longer having to watch the news on pins and needles, worrying every time there's a crime or a gun-nut on a spree that it'll be some white male Protestant guy and that everyone is going to assume we're all like that. What an enormous relief to be judged only as an individual and not prejudged according to the worst thing ever done by anyone ever claiming to belong to my faith community, or sharing my gender or my ethnicity. It's not just a relief it's a ... oh, what's the word? ... privilege. Yes, that's what it is -- a fantastic privilege.

Pretty sure that's what I was going for yesterday. In the comments there's even the same comparison using Baptists and Catholics.

Incidentally, I suppose I need to take this opportunity to beg forgiveness for the crimes of Lenin and Mao (and brother atheists everywhere in their struggle against oppression fought by serving as our greatest oppressors) and the writing of Atlas Shrugged's monologue.

For being boring enough that right-wing conservatives did not think to actually read Ayn Rand. Much less engaging more involved libertarian thought.

Things which confuse me

Why do we license barbers?

Or for that matter... why does Massachusetts fine unlicensed fortune tellers? Wouldn't that imply that somehow or another one obtains a license to do so? How would one go about doing so?

The broader and more important subject is more the manner which we deal with convicted, but released, criminals. Ex-cons should be something we would want to re-integrate into society. Instead, every obstacle is placed up to prevent it. I realize many employers would not want someone working for them with a criminal record. But there are at least two obvious problems here.

1) Youth/minor criminal records are often left sealed. This means that younger people who might pose problems cannot be background checked as easily and employers are thus assuming some considerable risks at times.
2) Their youthful indiscretions aside, it should not generally be a penalty for the rest of one's life what one did at 17 or 19 or 22 or even 32 (if a criminal makes it that far in that lifestyle). Since most criminal actors are younger people, it would stand to reason that making all of this information available, but also having a society which generally insures people "pay their debts" through prison or other criminal penalties would make some effort to assess people based on more than their prison records.

And in any case, I still don't see why we need to license people to cut hair. I have trouble enough licensing teachers, and some qualms about state medical licensing. But hair? When did we get that insane? How is cosmetology that powerful a lobby? I mean really, HAIR is a life and death matter requiring state supervision?

Some things

Don't surprise

1.7% of Republicans think it should be built. That would almost have to be a typo. The lack of no opinions either would almost have to be as well. You typically get a margin of about 5% who didn't understand the question or answer it "incorrectly" or are just plain stupid.

The most likely explanation: Republican self-identifying voters have become a far more extreme voting cohort. If this is true, they will be far less successful than they think at regaining power.

Another very likely explanation: Adherence to things like fiscal responsibility is a false flag while really the issue is cultural distinctions. It is true that there were some people annoyed at government recklessness and waste prior to 2008 and especially 2009. But the vast expansion of such people protesting after the election of a supposed false prophet (ie, a Democrat, a black one with a funny name no less) should be a clue that other issues are more pressing than a principled objection to government power and largess. When it suits them, they would use the power of government for their approved ends, or would support the same utterly useless policies (health care bill or the war on terror, more like the war on civil liberties for my part) were they proposed by and presided over with "approved" candidates (ie, conservative Republicans). People who may wish to punish government for usurping powers should withhold their support from Republicans just as they should from Democrats. They should find more principled candidacies wherever possible, sometimes from the major parties (for example, the two guys in Wisconsin I like would be a good start there, Ryan and Feingold) and sometimes from other sources. Look harder for "your team" if you really care about something rather than really care about something because someone on "your team" tells you should fall in line. (Oh and those Republicans claiming to know "some" about Islam, errr...yeah, not so much)

Incidentally, I am somewhat heartened to see "independents" were ahead of Democrats on recognizing the value of the 1st amendment and/or property rights of Park51.

I'm also VERY confused that we somehow arrived at a conclusion that a majority of people think mosques should be free to be built wherever, just as churches are...but also a majority of people think one should not be built near the former World Trade Center site. Or that having a right to build something somewhere somehow implies that our objections should matter and be registered, possibly as preventive actions.

18 August 2010

Caplan continues

Or actually Horwitz

"The next time you're engaged in a political discussion with someone who has very strong views different from your own, ask them if they can name two famous thinkers or politicians whose politics are opposed to theirs who they also think are very smart and genuinely concerned with making the world a better place. If they can't, it's not clear they are able to grant the good faith such discussions should have."

- Reagan would be one. I don't agree with most of his politics, but I'd probably park him in the top 10 US Presidencies anyway. FDR would be another (though I wouldn't park him in the top 10 Presidencies, somewhere in the middle of the pack)

- Bertrand Russell isn't opposed (he's very liberal in the same cut on most things as me). But he's a lot more socialistic than I am.

- Krugman is occasionally clever. When he's not being dismissive.

- Rothbard/Rand do pose some interesting questions. Even I find objectivists occasionally far too reactionary.

- I don't think drug warriors and others are actually unconcerned with that problem. They're just wrong about the solution. Actually this is pretty common, people using corner solutions to solve particular problems and disregarding effects and effectiveness. Abortion has the same. Education, immigration, etc.

- John Rawls. JK Galbraith. Keynes. Marginal to major disagreements here and there, but lots of interesting insights.

Now I'm starting to get a little mad

I have refrained from combating the most asinine arguments against the "mosque". But since they seem to be the most common, I will presently attempt to demolish them.

1) It's not a mosque. It's a fucking YMCA (or YMMA I suppose would be more accurate). You don't go to one of those to have a religious experience or to become indoctrinated to a particular lifestyle. You go there to play volleyball or swim. Get a grip.
2) Muslims are not uniform. Associating ALL MUSLIMS with the criminal and heinous acts of a chosen few would be like associating all Catholics with the criminal and heinous acts of the Spanish Inquisition, or the child molestation cases. Perhaps more accurately, it might be like associating all Baptists or Anglicans with the actions of those Catholics presently so offensive in their misdeeds. Or looking at the most extreme American sects of Christianity and applying them universally. The difference between Sufi and Wahabbi branches of Islam is pretty broad, just as the differences between Christian fundamentalists can be rather broad (even within the fundamentalism itself).
3) What the fuck is a "victory mosque"? What victory? If you ask extremist Muslims, those who were recruiting for and plotting terrorist acts, 9-11 was a defeat until we started doing silly things in response (invading Iraq, torturing and detaining many innocent people, etc). Had we kept our heads and simply gone after the terrorists who organised these attacks with intelligence and as much precision as we could muster, I don't think we'd be in this mess. Imam Rauf's critique on that point (the causes of 9-11) does not sound terribly different from, say, Ron Paul's. I hardly would characterize that opinion as shameful, offensive, or treasonable simply because it advises caution in the use of force to resolve our foreign disputes and interests, tolerance where force will resolve nothing to our satisfaction (and perhaps complicate matters more than simplify them). It should not become so offensive simply because it is given voice by a Muslim. The fact that Muslims in America might be annoyed at our policies toward Muslim nations or attacks conducted in Muslim nations by our forces hasn't crossed our mind? Really? They're not allowed to oppose or protest such policies, much less form critiques of how or why those policies might be a bad idea (blowback)? I realize conservatives (especially neoconservatives) hate and fear and despise anti-war protesters of any stripes, but there's a wide swath of people opposed to this thing, for partly this point, that I'd hardly call "conservative" who seem troubled that expressing any impression that America's foreign policy has been anything other than lily white and virginally pure is somehow un-American. To that I say: read history without the blinders on. Take the "USA" chant down for a moment, remove the names if you have to and look at just the acts and the motivations and ask yourself if everything we do is still awesome sauce. It's not. Grow up. Bad things happen out there. Sometimes we cause them. Sometimes we don't mean to.... and sometimes we do.
4) Newt couldn't apparently be troubled to actually read European (much less Islamic) history, so we had to remove the "offensive" Cordoba from the title I guess. It now sounds like some sort of strange dance club.
5) Constitutional rights, like the freedom of religion, are not up to popular opinion. In fact, that's very much the point of those rights, to protect unpopular minorities from legal repression and retaliation. Above all things, one should not be in the business of having or using the government to determine which opinions or which religious practices or which matters of opinion shall or shall not be tolerated.
6) READ the Qo'ran if you're going to start cherry-picking your animosities and applying them universally to all people of a particular faith. For that matter, read your Bible. One thing you will find very quickly is that there are lot of ridiculous things in there, often conflicting things. Islam is little different. This means... that there are lots of schools of thought and differences in practices. Not all Muslims stone people to death (which.. come to think of it..that's in the Bible too I think) or require women to cover their bodies from head to toe, or care all that much whether Americans or foreigners or even residents of a Muslim nation have different religious practices (see Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Indonesia, etc, see also the amount of Christians who think this should be solely a nation for Christians. Percentage wise it's about the same as the American-Muslim community. Hardly surprising). It is not required that the Muslims and others who might build or use this facility hold "approved" religious views, but the fact that they are for the most part inoffensive views being held is quite useful.
7) People like me who happen to like civil liberties...actually tend to like ALL of them. That includes the annoying ones like the right not to have police powers over consensual actions (narcotic drugs, prostitution or sexual commerce, homosexual sex acts, smoking in bars, etc), and the annoying to left-wing ones like the right to bear arms or the right to speak out on elections if one is part of a corporation or a union without onerous legal hoop work. This means that I will defend ALL of them, not simply the ones I happen to like best that morning. For example: I am personally rather annoyed with religious freedoms and how they are exercised by most religious peoples. That does not mean I get to use my annoyance to say "nope, sorry can't do that anymore". It's a right on there for a good reason. For me especially, as an unpopular minority whose rights might otherwise be restricted or imposed upon. Ultimately it comes down to this: "He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." If we violate our liberty to secure it against the perceived incursion of the liberties of our enemies (such as they are magically determined to in fact be our enemies), then we establish the means by which our enemies may in fact encroach and destroy our liberties.

17 August 2010

Song #2

It would help if United hadn't used this as a theme for its ads, at least for my benefit.

Or at least kept it jazzy if they had to use it.

Song for the day

Rach solves everything.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

"Bisard, who was slightly injured, was put on desk duty pending the results of the crash investigation."

So the moral of the story is that if you are a cop, you can run someone over and KILL them (and maim others) and not be arrested and jailed for it but rather you will be assigned to desk duty. This is prior to trial. Trial outcomes may or may not be the same. The problem is that the one is given and extended some sort of benefit of the doubt while the other is treated as guilty party immediately.

And people would have the audacity to wonder why I hate cops. How the hell did we let ourselves think that we should have one set of rules for the authorities and another set for everyone else, and that this would at all produce responsible authorities?

Or am I forgetting that there are people in this country who think the pigs were the heroes in the Orwellian world we live in.