28 October 2010

Life Lesson #5360

I should really not debate conscription with people who are or have been in the military. It will only succeed in making me
a) angry
b) believe people in the military are being trained to be stupid and not think.

Really, this should be expanded to become mandatory military service for all rather than a non-existent draft? And this would accomplish what? Multiply the defence budget by 10 for no apparent reason?

The apparent claim was not the foreign policy wonk position about the public's perceived indifference to the suffering of troops in an all professional army and the emotional impact of military service on conscripts and their take away from the horrors of war as garnering both a level of respect for military service and a level of opposition to casual militarism and foreign policy adventuring (ie, a level of isolationism). No it was something about a lack of responsibility and accountability within the general public and that somehow this failing was only going to be resolved by making everyone line up and conduct drills in uniform. Never mind that people who "lack responsibility or accountability" tend not to be terribly well rewarded in most professions (with the possible exceptions of people who make our policy decisions, particularly in foreign policy or economic regulations, or the people who provide "objective" commentary on such people and their actions). And that people who lack them therefore have very clear signals to go attain some. Never mind that some who are aware they lack for it join the military voluntarily. And never mind that most people who lack these senses find ways to attain it without joining the military in their entire lives. Nope, we need everyone to involuntarily serve in the military. Because that's the only way people truly learn about teamwork and responsibility and other important values (and certainly not through schools, churches, sports teams, jobs, college, marriages, friendships, relationships, raising children, volunteering, teaching, learning, babysitting, having pets, credit cards, mortgages, bills, etc)

It reminds me of the twisted attempts for people to get me to believe that the only way one can be moral and good and decent is to become a member of whatever version of religion they have to sell me on. Nope, there is no way for human beings to become responsible adults without rigid authoritarian discipline and training imposed against their will and at someone else's expense. Clearly.

27 October 2010

This should tell us something

about the wisdom of "nation building"

The bottom 5: Uzbekistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia.

For reference: Russia was 154th. Iran and Haiti were tied at 146th. Pakistan was 143rd. Mexico and Egypt were 98th. China was 78th, Cuba at 69. Italy at 67. Lithuania (along with the city-state of Macau in China) was the first country at "average" of 5.0 at 46th (this should give a perspective that most of the world's governments are corrupt or at least very non-transparent).

The US checked in at 22nd, behind such free state luminaries as Chile and Qatar. The top ten was populated by the usual suspects of pinnacles of "great societies"

1) Denmark
New Zealand
4) Finland
6) Canada
7) Netherlands
8) Australia
10) Norway

With Hong Kong, Iceland and Germany just outside that group.

If we want someone to go administer a democratic and free society, that's the group we should have do it. We should probably figure out how to run our own first a little better. Because 2 of the bottom 5 are countries we're telling how to run. And that doesn't seem to be doing so quite so well.


Who are they? What do they want?

I have no idea what people mean by "Real America", but it seems a code phrase for "right-leaning, god-fearing 'regular' people", and somehow includes an umbrella clause for other right-leaning people who have billions of dollars or went to Yale but live somewhere in the midst of flyover country. In any case, it's hard for me to say that this group of people is "under attack" anymore than secularist left-leaning people might consider themselves "under attack" by people 'clinging to their god and guns'.

What would be easier to demonstrate is if there were some empirical basis for this claim that they were being defeated and repressed. Say for instance, their socio-economic status. Alas, the group of disenfranchised "real Americans" that constitutes the "Tea Party" is largely consisting of white, older, rural, small-town Republicans (WORSTs) who seem to be actually pretty well off, certainly relative to the rest of us. It's hard to see how this is a group of people who are oppressed, much as it amuses me when evangelical/fundamentalist Christians take this perspective that they are an oppressed culture within American society.

The most amusing part of this notion was this idea that the country is being run by a persistent cabal of Harvard/elite school trained people. Which is best described as follows: "Let me put this plainly here, because Mr Murray won't. Attention all tea-partiers: Charles Murray thinks Barack Obama is smart, and you're dumb.". Murray's already kind of in an intellectual dog house for me with his interpretations of poverty and race and academic achievement being horribly flawed. So this interpretation of the country as a war between elites and the rest of us turning out to be similarly sloppy logic isn't terribly surprising. I guess I can see where such people get off decrying "academics" and "ivory towers" and "intellectuals", because they (we) do have this nasty habit of pointing out inconsistencies in thinking and factual errors. That can get quite annoying when you've no idea what you're talking about I'm sure.

But by far the most damning implication is this idea that somehow if we could just find some regular folk to run things instead (and gee, don't we have some of those over here on the right-wing?), things would be better for regular folk (ie, real Americans). The real problem is more that there are things to run or conceived as being capable of being run from a central authority in the first place. It makes no difference whether you appoint Republicans or Democrats, patricians or plebeians, Harvard or Indiana, to take over the reins of government power and authority. The actual difference is to be counted what reins that government gives up and which it chooses to lash out harder with.

In which I discuss self-loathing

"People see themselves as more neurotic and open to experience compared to how they are seen by other people. External observers generally hold a higher opinion of an individual’s conscientiousness than he or she does about him- or herself. As a rule, people think that they have more positive emotions and excitement seeking but much less assertiveness than it seems from the vantage point of an external observer"

"A relatively strong negative correlation (r = −.53) between the average self-minus-observer profile and social desirability ratings suggests that people in most studied cultures view themselves less favorably than they are perceived by others"

That's not all that shocking really. I'm constantly amazed that I've made favorable impressions. Or that people think I have some sort of diligence. I could see how most people would have a vantage of high excitement seeking (we don't like to think we are "boring"), but my impression was that "openness" was also describing exposure and openness to new ideas in addition to new experiences. I'd guess most people are not "turned on" by a new idea quite as much as a new hobby, but still, I'd like to pick this apart more and see where this gap comes in.

26 October 2010

"If Republicans do manage to eke out a House majority, the electorate won’t have provided them with even the illusion of a mandate, and their leaders have already made clear they have no desire for fiscal responsibility. Riding an entirely negative electoral wave created by a weak economy, Republicans will see that they have not have been elected for any particular reason. They will devolve into their usual time-serving habits even faster than before."

Among the many reasons to be skeptical of this whole election business is that there's no clear idea what it is that Republicans would be doing that is somehow different, no reason to vote FOR as opposed to simply present this as AGAINST whatever it is the electorate is supposedly pissed about (basically jobs although people think deficits are related to jobs, they also have no idea what to cut). Sure there's a few wacky candidates out there, but they won't have any real power or influence if they're elected. What you'll get is a bunch of people who are already in Washington with more power and influence from a different party than presently maintains power. My guess is that there are plenty of tea party types who would be happy with that outcome, and a few libertarian types who have no problem with governmental gridlock or divided government, but I'm pretty sure that there won't be much of a good ride for Republicans or conservatives to note out of this.

In fact, I'd almost go so far as to say they're basically guaranteeing they lose the White House in 2012 by winning the House now. Because winning some portion of government does give them some obligation to disclose an actual agenda. As I recall how this played out in 94, Republicans won a wave election, then got bounced around and lost their attempt to retake the White House in '96 with a far less popular President (at the time). Essentially they overreached. On the plus side we got welfare reform and a couple other attempts to pare back government size and spending and even had a budget surplus for a couple years. Unfortunately I haven't actually seen the GOP power brokers proposing ideas that would do anything remotely like this this time around. One major problem is that they have a rhetoric that isn't being matched with the ideas. So good luck selling people that line of bull to keep these seats a few years hence.

Other words.

One other reason to convince people not to take this election very seriously seems to be that there are some people taking it WAY TOO SERIOUSLY.

This was at a Rand Paul rally in Kentucky. I'm not a big fan of Rand because he had a confused point about CRA, and has really walked back any notion of him having libertarian sensibilities on most issues (defence, terrorism, drug war, agriculture subsidies, etc). Still though. I'm curious. When has Rand Paul advised people to use violence or spoken in violent rhetorical flourishes (I don't deny that there are GOP/tea party figures who have, but Rand, not so much?) And to be fair, I'm even less of a fan of Conway, who seems to be a dick trying to paint Paul as a atheistic nihilist anarchist in his ads. Which is a fun caricature of libertarians, I guess, but it's not even close to the actual views of (most) libertarians, much less of Rand Paul.

My take has been that a) public officials do need to use some more temperance in their exhortations but that b) they are being driven by the mob, not the mob being driven by them. This shit does happen in a "void".

The problem is that there are an awful lot of pissed off idiots (some because of economic conditions, some just because their "side" isn't in power). Elected officials and media blowhards speaking lunacy are a symptom of this problem, not a cause. This is the same belief structure that seems to think that violent video games or Marilyn Manson caused Columbine. It's idiotic. The issue is deranged people and individuals. Bill O'Reilly is a blowhard and annoying as hell, but whether or not he speaks and whips up a frenzy over the issue of abortion there's going to be some jackasses out there who will want to blow up abortion clinics or murder the doctors who provide them. We can hold those people responsible for acting. We who disapprove of O'Reilly's speech may protest, may speak against him, or may boycott his activities or his sponsors and so on. But he isn't, ultimately, the problem. I blame the public first. Our leaders are chosen by us. We gravitate to the ones who tell us what we want to hear, validating our fears and ambitions and biases.

As an aside, MoveOn should probably present a similar award to Democrats. Given that "business interests controlling political speech" have been giving hundreds of millions of dollars to both sides for many years now. Obama himself received the largest campaign contributions in history from "Wall Street" and from the pharmaceutical lobbies, among others. This should hardly be news to people that the two major political parties are "controlled" by large political special interests like unions and large corporations. But it does amuse me a) that people think that only "evil corporations" are a special interest group that is somehow newly exercising its powers of free speech (when so far as we can tell, it's not, it's largely the same as before), but that unions or non-profit corporations are somehow ennobled and immune to these evil influences and must be representing the views of their membership AND the greater public interest (which is absurd) and b) that people still think that such corporate entities give money only to Republicans. They tend to give generously to whichever party seems likely to win their elections, and spread a little around the other way too. The belief that Obama in particular was "against the special interests" is apparently a convincing speech or rhetorical device, since there are plenty of his supporters willing to believe it. But it's not true and nobody should be surprised when it turns out that way.

In essence it should convince people not to get too worked up because both "teams" are dirty. But then again, people do this all the time with their favourite sports teams. All bad calls against, worst referees ever, all bad calls for, who cares!

Recent entertainments

Red Pretty standard action comedy. Stuff blows up. John Malkovich or Brian Cox say funny things afterward. "Wanna get some pancakes" is a pretty good line. I'd say this was slightly better than Iron Man 2, mostly because of Helen Mirren and Malkovich. Morgan Freeman seems to have been an afterthought in this movie (sort of like in Wanted). Also: I'm not entirely sure who the target audience was here. Old people looking for fountain of youth? Or younger people watching aging stars go explode things?

This was better. Not nearly as good as Inception. I think people wanted the movie to focus more on "Hereafter", a conception of the afterlife supposedly, and that the movie doesn't really answer that concept's inherent questions (why would it) is leaving people unsatisfied. I thought of it as a conception of connections. To people. Both living and dead. Really the movie's a love story, or a story about how people bond and what happens after they do, or what happens when those bonds are severed. You can see this with Damon's character as he tries to connect with someone, but it's a curse the way he does it and it smashes everything he tries to do, and especially you can see it with the French woman or the kid. The big key is watching what happens when your love for someone can't be returned any longer, Damon happens when he tries to meet a girl in a cooking class, French woman's boss has a new lover instead of her, and the kid's twin brother dies. Those are obviously very different problems, but to paraphrase Tolstoy, unhappy people are all unhappy in their own way.

Humor is pretty light, but it shows up every time there's a psychic. Watching people work through generalisation after generalisation and people who "believe" creating specificity (or not), just like astrologers do, was hilarious.

More generally, I guess I looked at the movie this way because it makes no sense to make a dramatic movie about "the afterlife" to me. That's a metaphysical construct, so a movie about such things is a comedy (like say, as Bruce Almighty was a movie "about" god), not a story. So it was easier to go in and throw back out the metaphysics that you would think the movie was about. Once you paid attention, it's about people. As Damon's character says, "A life that's all about death is no life at all". This to me is the biggest problem with having religious focuses, or even stories and promises about, toward an afterlife. It's a waste. You have a life right now. Do something with it. At best you have no idea if you have more or other life after it. At "worst", this is all you get (I personally think afterlife belief is a crutch absolving us of the responsibility to live).

So a movie about the "hereafter" would be a waste too. I took "Hereafter" to be a story about "here" and "after" something tragic or painful or significant happens to us in life and because there really wasn't a whole lot about any "hereafter" at all, this would seem to be the point.

One other amused point. Hereafter seems to take a great stock in the coincidental nature of life. That is, random things happen, sometimes very conveniently (for instance, all three characters being in the same place, or the London subway station bombing and "the hat" thread). This is really easy to do with a life when you have screenwriters for it of course. But in truth, a lot that seems to happen does seem to be coincidental or random. We meet people in "random" encounters, and we ascribe purpose and meaning to this randomness. I think most of the time we create these random encounters on purpose and assign the meaning to it later when we know the outcome, or at least we desire a particular outcome (a new love, a new job, etc). Most of life and its purpose or meaning seems to be about chasing these random moments and making something of them. When you stop chasing them, you'd better have a lot of good memories to live off of because you'll start eating yourself away.

25 October 2010

Most annoying

part of election season. ... Other than the ads.

Is this transcendent belief that somehow the elections matter by placing different colours on a map or different people in office from the opposite political party. This then absolves people who favor that party from finding dissatisfying political movements or policies coming from their now powerful elite, until they are then removed from power and replaced by people from the apparently evil and heinous "other" team.

I look at that graph and don't see what exactly shifted other than control by which party over the White House that should explain any changes. So I see a couple major problems will persist after this supposedly transformative election season too.
1) Whichever political party is not in power will have members who are pissed with the government.
2) This will have very little to do with them actually being pissed with government powers, but rather that they are not able to pull the levers of power for their own approved ends and amusements.
3) I'm very alarmed that the percentage of people annoyed at government influence and power is less than 50%.. and has been for a long time. This would explain problems like the endless drug war and the apportioning of ridiculous powers like civil forfeiture laws and no-knock police raids, or the lack of interest in torture as a criminal action.
4) Consequently, I would safely conclude that most people are rationally ignorant of political policies actually being conducted by either political party. In fact, it would seem clear that they're rationally ignorant of which party controls the Congress, with only the visible Presidency mattering at all.

When I get done with Smith


This would be the next thing on the list.

There's a lot of blood out there. And it becomes important to realize that while exterminating Jews was among the most terrible atrocities in human history, it was basically just one among many busy efforts to kill many, many people in Eastern Europe. Lots of them. Ukrainians, Poles, Slavs, and so on.

24 October 2010

Economics of ideas

21 October 2010

Speaking of speech

So again we have a journalistic figure fired this year for saying something controversial.

1) For saying something Anti-Zionist/Anti-Semitic, we pushed an aging and generally useless reporter out of her job. I suppose she was due anyway, so no big deal to use an excuse. Most people cheered because secretly, most people I think despise old people. Or something to this effect.
2) For saying something putatively supportive of a figure involved with Hezbollah, in a tweet, CNN fired a reporter. This was probably poor judgment to tweet the statement rather than do a piece on it and link it on twitter, or some such. But her actual view was quite a bit more complex than "she's supporting a terrorist!", the view espoused by the right. The left doesn't really leap to her defence because "she's supporting a terrorist" is still an effective code phrase that shuts down rational thought and discussion in this country.
3) For saying something anti-Semitic, CNN fired a talking head (airhead more like). This seemed deserved from the point of view that it was unprofessional, and his "apology" seemed to coat the problem as someone else's (as some sort of nefarious Jewish media conspiracy to which Jon Stewart et al are involved) rather than his own terrible performances. This dismissal is greeted humorously by the left (Stewart et al), and ignored on the right.
4) For saying something anti-Islamic, NPR fired a talking head (who was appearing regularly on Faux News). Finally here, we see a series of right-wing defences of free speech. Curious. In a related story, Faux did not fire a talking head for saying something more direct, but not quite as sloppy and bad. (Williams' statement effectively implies all Muslims are suspicious and potentially terrorists and that they should hide their identity in ways that we do not ask say, Christians or Jews to conceal their religious identities, Kilmeade's statement is simply the tired right-wing platitude that "all terrorists are Muslims". Except for McVeigh and Tamil Tigers and the IRA and the KKK and so on. The second can be dismissed as mere ignorance, though it emerges from a form of bigotry. The first is blatant bigotry and intolerance.)

Look. The appropriate response to this is to permit people to say things. Sometimes we will disagree with those things. Importantly, sometimes those things will be below some standard of conduct or thought required by a professional employer, like a news organisation. Those employers may fire people for expressing their views in a casual way rather than as demonstrating effective journalistic ethics and behavior. So long as that standard is transparent and obvious, fairly applied to sloppy and inappropriate remarks of any prejudice (and not simply opening those favored views of intolerance harbored by the right or the left), then I have no problem with any media agency firing or refusing to hire people on whatever grounds they want. Reason being that some media agency out there will tend to hire people who are quality reporters (or whatever it is that they think people are now valuable for, ie, Erickson at CNN?). Those who are not will be deservedly dismissed for incompetence. Those who are will survive the missteps of making an occasionally sloppy and unpleasant comment. Someone will give them the space to express their own biases and/or bigotries, in whatever form those take.

Most crucially, the state should do nothing. Williams won't be arrested anymore than Kilmeade or Sanchez or anyone else should be (Gingrich for example during the summer of Park51/Cordoba) for expressing these views. People losing a media platform to say abhorrent or offensive things is vastly different than people being thrown in jail for saying those things. It is this latter standard that we should take care not to seek to place in effect. Despite this, I'm skeptical that firing commentators for saying offensive things is an appropriate standard either. Firing them for saying sloppy and stupid or uninformed things, perhaps, because those can be a poor reflection of the standards of an organisation that a reporter/commentator is unprepared and thus unqualified to speak on a subject (though there are many who this would apply to who are still at work, a good reason not to watch the news other than to mock it). Firing people for expressing their views, however bigoted or insensitive they may be, doesn't seem like a good standard that would be easily and fairly applied to all offenders.

These are not elected officials responsible for fairly administering the law of the land and as such are not responsible to all of us to do so impartially, where losing a job over such remarks would seem appropriate. Pretending that objective biases exist in journalism is an interesting world, but it's not the one that consumers of journalism recognize. As they clearly gravitate toward subjective biases and filters instead.

Update: TNC's thoughts are pretty good too.

"Every one of us has, at one time or another, thought something truly abominable. But we've generally learned not to speak those thoughts, not simply out of politeness, but because we know that most of those thoughts are demonstrably wrong. We are, in other words, not just concerned with hurting people feelings, we're concerned with sounding like idiots. Among people who talk for a living, one would hope that the sense would be better developed--not less."

In other words, the problem is that people who don't have the filter for "X is probably wrong or stupid, so don't say, or write, X" are setting the bar pretty low. The extension of this is that most people engage others only through their weakest, and often completely error-ridden, arguments. There might out there be some argument that makes a point that somehow Islam itself is unique from other religious groups thus justifying Mr Williams irrational fear of all Muslim looking individuals. I think there's a mild case that its present history is distinct from other major religions at the moment (though there are plenty of Christian-ists that would seem willing to disprove this notion), but even its most violent and extreme ideology (that of Al Qaeda) is not unique to all of human history. Both in religious and political movements have we seen tactics and beliefs like these before from all across humanity's spectrum of political and religious beliefs. Instead, the common arguments are things like "All terrorists are Muslims" or "Muslims are strange or un-American by presuming a Muslim identity". When these points are very easily refuted and tossed away and it becomes a waste of time to the actual discussion to have to dispense with such pleasantries as introducing people to the country and government of Indonesia or that of Nigeria, or the experiences and habits of American Muslims, and so on after a while.

It is much easier to simply fire the people who continue to give voice to these arguments in what are presumed to be intelligent discussions. Because it's incompetent and annoying behavior. Not because it's offensive.

So as I was saying...

The law bumps online poker in Washington from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony. This is the same category as child molestation, arson, and kidnapping.

Since we all know that gambling online is just like burning houses down and accosting children.

This would be part of that "great big problem" for me to vote for a Republican/conservative, but in all fairness, their overzealous moralizing written into law is backed by sterner stuff. Namely...

Keep in mind, gambling is legal in Washington State. They have casinos and a lottery. The lottery serves the state's interests, as usual, for throwing schools (and teacher's unions) a little extra cash. And the casinos, well they have their own interests. And those interests are connected with a percentage take by the state... so well. If they say they'll lose business to all this unregulated internet traffic, so much for that.

In other news. Apples are like oranges. That analogy should now assume a very different character.

20 October 2010

So... how's that witchcraft thing going for you?

Because you're going to need a night job after this. Nobody should hire you for a day job if you're this dumb to think you can run for Senate and not even know what the laws are...

After scolding Coons for his lack of knowledge of constitutional law for stating that intelligent design should not be taught in public schools . . . O’Donnell challenged her rival on his assertion that the U.S. Constitution creates a distinct separation between church and state.

“Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked. Upon hearing her words, the audience in the room burst into laughter.

"I also think you just heard, in the answers from my opponent, and in her attempt at saying 'where is the separation of church and state in the constitution' reveals her fundamental misunderstanding of what our Constitution is, how it is amended and how it evolved. The First Amendment establishes the separation, the fact that the federal government shall not establish any religion, and decisional law by the Supreme Court over many, many decades --" O' Donnell then interrupted. "The First Amendment does?" she asked, skeptically.

Coons continued his explanation, and O'Donnell interrupted again. "So you're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?"

Coons went on to cite cases the Supreme Court had decided that backed up the position of a wall between church and state.

"Let me just clarify," O'Donnell pressed. "You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?"

"The government shall make no establishment of religion," Coons said, summarizing the gist of the specific words in the First Amendment's establishment clause.

"That's in the First Amendment?" O'Donnell asked again, eliciting further laughter from the room.

I guess this is funny, in a depressing sort of way. But really, if this is the sort of person that people (in the Tea Party) took seriously, I'm not surprised. Good luck winning that 50th Senate seat this way. Especially in Delaware.

I also look forward to seeing Palin try to debate anything if this is what her crack suicide squad came up with for O'Donnell. She should be done by New Hampshire, if not South Carolina, but still.

19 October 2010

Religious ignorance continues

to astound....

One of the more popular unknowns in the religious ignorance study was that public schools could study the bible in literature or historical contexts, as an example.

But the flipside of that question wasn't asked. Something like where in the Constitution does it say you can't teach creationism in a public school (or can/should you be able to)? And the answer is in the first amendment's establishment clause. A most inconvenient clause apparently to try to remember. That pesky first amendment with its respect for religious tolerance and freedom of speech, always messing up these candidates who we are told so greatly revere the constitution! What a shame. (Update: it gets worse. She blatantly asks a questioner to clarify what the 14th and 16th amendments are. Given that she's from the ultra conservative wing of the GOP, both of these ought to be second nature as they appear to be two of the lesser children on the amendment list for conservatives, particularly the 14th lately with its citizenship clauses. I might not agree with Kucinich on much of anything, but I expect he'd know which amendment says what at least before claiming some sort of fealty to what the Constitution says).

Perhaps a more interesting Constitutional question for both candidates might be why there is a federally funded department of education and hence why what schools are teaching on this is a matter of (federal) public policy in the first place. It should be a matter of empirical study of scientific theories for the most part and if people don't want their children to actually study scientific processes and theories, then I guess they don't have to do that. Just don't expect much from some kinds of employers or occupations that they may wish to pursue.

I personally get the impression that people who want their children to learn creationism instead of science will simply leave their children out of the public system through home schooling or find parochial schools and this happens all the time already. Since this is the educational outcome anyway, I'm not that concerned with the complaint that people usually voice over a broader school choice programme distributed through tax credits or educational vouchers (tax credits are better constitutionally, and vouchers are explicitly banned in some state constitutions anyway), namely that such a system would produce too many nutcases. I think we do quite an adequate job producing nutcases as it is, my actual concern is that we fail to provide an adequate job educating people or their children who aren't intending to be nutcases. If we do a better job overall, even if there are more nutcases, there might be more functional students emerging capable of pursuing a high tech degree or liberal arts education or whatever it is that we think is so important to promote at the higher levels of education. I'll take that as a win for one. And for another, those people trying to write Jefferson and Darwin out of our schools, they will get their wish, but only by writing them out of THEIR schools, where the rest of us may be left in peace to ignore these silly diversions making textbooks a matter of public policy in the first place. Shouldn't be a matter of public discourse. We've got better things to argue through politics than natural selection or punctuated equilibrium, or even the ideas and impact of the Enlightenment age.


On that last point.

I'd say that when I talk to people who are progressives, liberals, whatever the term is supposed to be, I find that the problem is that they're ignorant of economics. Explain some basic features on how rent controls actually work, or how farm subsidies do, maybe throw in a little public choice theory (particularly things like rent seeking), and while you might not change their mind on the policies they support, they're at least more skeptical of some things because their errors in assessing the reality around them are in a place that's at least sometimes empirically verifiable (economics, still a soft science without controlled experiments, but there's some obvious cause and effect relationships that have been shown and are agreed upon as actual costs and benefits of a particular policy position). I mean really, why do we need licensing for people to cut hair or regulations governing how many colours a sign can have? Things like that tend to get someone's attention.

When I talk to people who are more conservative, the problem seems to be that they're living in a completely different world with completely different corners to it that have to resolved. It happens in relation to Islamaphobic tendencies, or to attitudes on homosexuality, assessments of the drug war, or the authority vested, generally blindly, in police and military matters. These are matters of ideological contention often enough that they're not necessarily costs to them, even where they are obviously so to me extremely high costs. And that's to say nothing of even more reality based arguments like teaching evolution, the efficacy of vaccinations, or global warming (the appropriate argument there is what to do about it, maybe how much of the sky is falling at worst, not whether or not the sky is falling as most GOP political figures can get away with). I'm not sure how to get through to people who have their own private reality exclusively to themselves and can then safely pretend, politically, its the actual one that everyone else must be living in too.

Having different facts makes it a very big problem to proceed on how we might disagree. In the case of progressive liberals, the problem is usually that they do not possess some economic facts or a clear idea on how markets work. They do make very different assumptions in the light of their ignorance, and that is a problem. My free speech "debate" from a month or so ago demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of how people may speak freely in an open market far more easily than where the government constrains what may or may not be said, which to me is a serious problem with the "liberal" worldview (that it does not embrace its founding roots in classical liberalism and individual freedoms and that there are many means of suppressing unpleasant and hateful speech without endorsing institutional and government control over what may or may not be considered hateful). Conservatives however often fall prey to the very same lack of knowledge on how markets work and then proceed to make very different assumptions about the appropriate role and behavior of government anyway, in spite of this failing. I see all the time calls to drug test everyone on welfare as though it is a crime to be poor or that somehow being poor is not sufficiently unpleasant enough an incentive to do or seek more for one's self. This is both a failure to trust markets and a failure to understand and consistently apply then what the role of government is (even within conservative strains of thought).

This results, in both cases, that government should do what they want it to do and nothing of what the other team wants it to do rather than a coherent message of ideological contentions. In most cases, it's a safe bet that I find that governments should do nothing of what either team wants it to do, or at best, to have very limited missions drawn from both, and at worst experimenting at local or state levels of governance to see how those will work if they're expanded and to be competitively abandoned when they do not work at all.

For 40 years

libertarians have been an impotent drop of oil in the conservative gallon bucket. One is almost tempted to say that libertarians pinning their hopes on tea-party triumph deserve what they've got coming to them...

There are reasons why I've always been relatively hostile to conservatives, especially social conservatives. Morally I look vastly differently at the world around me. Much more of a mind to live and let live than to want to meddle in our private worlds and lives. Some of our economic lives have external effects and benefits, but even here, meddling too much or too obviously strikes me as fraught with dangerous uncertainties far too often to throw in my lot with progressives all the way. So I've been stuck in a political exile most of the time, arbitrarily tossing my weight behind those fights which seem better aligned with my own interests and discarding those that don't. The tea party movement, for all the media's hype and publication of this as a libertarian movement, isn't an interest that I can throw my weight behind. It is largely a movement born of ignorance and social conservativism perceiving itself as being out of power and influence. A last gasp as it were on some issues. These have not shown themselves because the economic weights are so heavy and burdensome on most Americans that they can confine their interests to a set of vague economic ideas about deficits and trade. But even here, I find myself far too often in disagreement over what must be done and when I try to ask questions specific to these topics, which one may assume these would be people who are agitated enough to trouble themselves to learn about, they are too often profoundly ignorant of what they are saying and express themselves in political platitudes about "government fraud and waste" and "taking their country back". Whatever that means, which, in practice I find far too often it means something about evil brown people getting money (with open biases toward immigrants and Muslims mostly, gays being somewhere in there, and some animus occasioned by the features of a black President with a funny name that has to be acknowledged even if it is not a driving feature as these others can be).

If this was a real grown up movement, I'd be impressed, perhaps even interested in marching to its beat sometimes. But it has not a wit of answers behind its rage. So I stay home. I am not a populist. And I'm not concerned that the country has taken some radical change in direction, and is continuing to do so if there are not drastic political steps taken to put "new blood" in office. It's been moving this way for a long time for one. And for another, electing a few nutcases at the extremes is not going to change Washington. The same moron Republicans who've been running their own show for a couple decades now would simply have more power and influence to screw things up their way (or try to) rather than the same moron Democrats doing their thing. This is not enough of a sea change for me to become motivated to political activism.

I'm sort of waiting for something like this to happen instead. Even if I know it won't: "For forty years, your fathers before you and your older brothers played this game and played it well. But today the game is different. We have the advantage."

More likely something like this is needed instead: "When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated." Burn those bridges people. We're not getting anywhere riding someone else's coattails as they do what they want and calling it "our" revolution.

18 October 2010

Random thought

In some marginally technical fields, it seems like there should be more of a market for technical advisors or professional shoppers. So if one is buying a car or a computer or some other gizmo, if one doesn't know much about the field, rather than going to some dealership or big box store and relying on biased advice of the salesman and probably not getting the best deal you can, why is there not some other independent person whom you could tell them what you want/need, talk over what that means you're (probably) getting, give them a budget range, and commission them to go find the products that you desired at a reasonable price?

I realize there are people who do do this (for example in technical gadgets or fashion), but it would seem like something that people could advertise their services for and, in time, would largely do away with the need to deploy salespeople (and finance people who in effect work against the salesperson and the consumer). Presumably the reason that stores and car dealers do this is that there are profit margins to be had in pushing products associated with technical products, but if there are small and pervasive armies of professional buyers who are aware that most of these products are worthless or, at best, worth less than they will be charged, these margins will be reduced or even eliminated. At that point, the sales people might have jobs as independent contractors who are genuinely working for consumers rather than employed by the company to push a product.

Blue drink

What the fuck is juice?

"I don't know if I'm ready to deal with a poor population base that's suddenly healthy and strong" - That's a funny way to look at paternalism. I like it...

17 October 2010

More intolerance from

the history channel.

Should put some things in perspective. One reason I was so annoyed with the Park51 business and immigration debates in connection with that concept is that we've been here before, over and over again. We have these Constitutional principles that don't seem that hard to grasp and yet people seem quite content to wink at them until they are personally inconvenienced and annoyed when other people use their basic protected liberties in ways that offend them, say by speaking in Spanish or praying to Allah or protesting military actions at military funerals. This country isn't ruled and governed by the winks and nods of an in-crowd clique however, despite that crowd's repeated best efforts to persist in that notion across history against any who were perceived as interlopers (at first). Jews and Germans, Catholics and Quakers, Chinese, Latinos, Italians, and Africans (except while we kept some such people as property), and now Muslims and Latinos again.

So it annoys me when the nativists and xenophobes pretend that its vitally important to preserve... whatever it is they think is being lost. Historically the amalgamation always has won out anyway and to our great advantage. Get over it. Quit being a sore loser and demanding everyone play by only your rules. Because your rules, quite simply, aren't good enough for everyone. Some of them are. Some of them are not. That's what happens when you run into different cultures and different people.

In praise of

Mental distractions and social lubricants.

"When you have constantly charging brain, you need to shut it off sometimes in order to breathe and live. It's no wonder so many brainiacs self-medicate in this way. The key thing, as always, is moderation."

16 October 2010

Chicken or the egg problem

In this case, the egg comes first but most people assume the chicken did (at least I think that's how that goes). Religion, when examined under the lens of anthropology turns out to be far more about codifying already existing practices, and then trying to hard code in legalistic language that preserves the ability of powerful elites to exert power in the manner they choose (religions in the organised sense that progress beyond mere superstitions tend to require elites to exist in a propertied society of agricultural production). On balance, there are many people who seem to be able to use a set of guiding principles and the mistaken perception that some invisible man/being/whatever is observing their behavior to coincide with those principles to lead otherwise healthy moral lives, and there are many people who overinterpret cultural values from thousands of years ago as relevant today or selectively interpret things to establish and encase their existing biases in a cocoon where they need not be challenged. I'm of the opinion that this negative effect is kind of unnecessary and hence religion, certainly of the organised institutional variety, tends to be a net bad, or at best, not nearly as good as is otherwise claimed by its adherents. Primarily because our basic human morality seems to be a thing that is a creature of necessity in social animals (like humans) so if we must have large diverse societies, it would be better to find social structures that allow us to coexist without as much "team building". By which I mean bullying "other" people. To some extent this includes atheists and other secularists who've had the good sense and fortune to discard punitive invisible beings as their impetus for moral behavior, in effect recognize that the only tyrannical beings in place here are ourselves over our own behavior. I suppose I can sympathize with the desire by many to have a system available that makes their emotional displeasure and disgust with the actions of others that do not effect themselves (or in most cases, others) seem justifiable.

But in practice, when there is no rational basis for our fear and displeasure, perhaps because we have assumed to possess mythical knowledge about others in acts of prejudice and bias (as happens not infrequently with homosexuality, as a modern example), it's hard to say that we've achieved a good moral system because it may act arbitrarily at that point and be turned against anyone it chooses. The preference should be that a moral system should be used very sparingly to condemn others because those condemnations represent penalties and costs to ourselves as well as those we condemn. We should therefore seek out places where it can only function as it does, for example in the cases of rape, torture, or murder, to avoid a societal collapse.

In other words, privately we can condemn (or give praise) whoever we want, but collectively it should be only the most extreme cases, the most damaging to the order and function of a society that we should exert our energies.

The more interesting debates about morality centered on issues like empathy: the beggar problem or the horror movie problem for example. I do see where religion offers some of these essential lessons (the story of the good samaritan), but again, I struggle to see how these goods cannot be forcibly removed from their surroundings and taken as independently valued and valuable commodities for a human society to practice and understand. To me we might accomplish quite a lot by re-writing the entire old testament as just the book of Job and throwing away the rest as obsolete and useless historical testimony from the victors (or at turns the insufferable whining of the oppressed) in a long series of wars. At least that book offers a complex moral conundrum for people to resolve if their beliefs are in some deity to whom faith is central over and above goodness, not to mention gives an important illustration that bad things do not happen only to bad people (in abortion debates this is known as the "abortion should be illegal for everyone except in cases of rape, incest, and me" corollary). Meanwhile the rest offers us these lessons on biology and geology that are so lacking in context as to be rendered useless. We don't listen to the tales of the ancient Greeks as they explained the shape and size of the globe to each other or the essential nature of birds and beasts, so why listen to a bunch of Israelites from even further back? This is absurd.

(to those that would then claim that this is the inerrant word of god, and not the rantings of a few priests and scribes from ancient times, you might want to realize that the Bible itself was edited several times by the church hierarchy, ultimately deciding arbitrarily which books were to be included and which not, as though they could determine which books were "divine" and which not. Not to mention the problems of translations and which words have altered in their meanings and uses over the centuries. None of these problems are not limited to Christianity or Judaism, and all of them relate to the central problem of people taking literally things which are best taken in their proper context, and then using that literal interpretation to justify actions which, at best, seem contrary to the essential teachings of most faiths and at worst, are unspeakably immoral acts in their own right).

Confusing standards

With reality.

In schools, the principle standards are standardized testing regimens. And from there, we take a measure of academic and career possibilities. What we neglect to relate to people is that these possibilities exist for most everyone else, not simply the top 5% on these tests, and that people should take care to preserve their options, such as by not having children in their teenage years, or not picking up a criminal record, and so on. In other words, we seem to be telling people if you do well on these tests, then there's the fabled American Dream open at your feet, and if not, you're fucked. To be sure, I've encountered hundreds of people in my own academic career who were not cut out to be "educated" in that way. That was not their skill and they had fewer tools sharpened and at the ready to draw on personally in order to advance themselves by the means of an education. But this failing was largely from years of neglect, through a primary system that told them they were not ready and reinforced it by not taking the effort to prepare them anyway. And the reason that many people aren't ready seems to be... that we prepare people to take standardized tests that often have little resemblance to the skills they will need educationally and professionally.

Meanwhile, in health care we seem to have a standard of comparison based on mortality rates. To be sure there are dread diseases that this is a fair comparison for. Presumably if we can cure or even aid with these in treatments, people living longer is a good outcome. But all this emphasis on living longer kind of misses the point. Yes people do not want to die from medical problems "prematurely", but they also want to have lives, not be hooked up to machines to prolong that life but in agony or disuse and despair. And a useful standard for evaluating this sort of thing, Quality adjusted life years, was all but explicitly removed from use during the latest round of health care "reforms". Why?

Because people perceived its use as akin to "death panels". I perceive its use as akin to actually providing health care. The best outcome of delivering care is that the patient lives a longer but happier life, not simply lives longer. It would have been useful if we had some idea whether this is what we were getting for our lost wages and taxes and insurance premiums, because to me, that's what you are ultimately buying.

13 October 2010

more information from the desk

of the uninformed.

These are pretty sad (bear in mind these are including a lot of students who have already had some economics courses....).

"that the median student believes that 35% of workers earn the minimum wage and a substantial fraction think that a majority of workers earn the minimum wage" - This, in fact, seems to be one of those weird conservative talking points that's actually true. Scarcely anyone actually earns only minimum wage salaries. It's somewhat higher than usual right now, but in practice, very few people earn min wage, and of those that do, many are teens just starting out on their working lives.

"profits as a percentage of sales the median student guessed 30%" - no wonder people hate businesses. There are businesses that can make 30% profits, for a while. But this usually happens with some kind of government sanction or a boom/bust cycle in a particular industry (financial sector for instance over the last decade). Competition tends to drag profit margins down to razor thin.

"When asked about the inflation rate over the last year (survey was in 2009) the median student guessed 11%." - This might explain why people are afraid of inflation. Considering we had a rate near zero or negative all last year, I was kind of curious myself how people believed there was an inflation problem.

"When asked by how much has income per person in the United States changed since 1950 (after adjusting for inflation) the median student said an increase of 25%." - Uh. Yeah. Really? Only 25%. Mmmmk. This one reminds me of the geometric scale problem where you fold a piece of paper and ask people if you could fold it X amount of times, how far would it go and they might indicate something across the table but nowhere near the "to the moon or across the country" sort of thinking required to actually answer the question correctly.

The actual survey has some other gold to mine from it.

Median student indicated that somewhere around 40% of prices were set by government. Not so much. Might have been true in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, to a degree. But there are very few regulated monopolies with set prices, even these are usually set profit margins rather than set prices.

40% of students indicated that farm subsidies were to encourage people to farm (presumably so we'd have sufficient and thus cheaper food). Uh. Not really....

Median response of students indicated that they believed the unemployment rate to be in excess of 12% (Back when it was around 7.5). There was a large group with absurdly high responses (>30%)

40% of students indicated that 9-11 caused the 2001 recession (which was already ongoing and technically ended very shortly after 9-11)

Only 5% of students correctly identified the US as the world's largest exporter of goods. Most of the time we were rated 3rd. Naturally we are not a net exporter the way Japan or Germany are, but our economy is so massive relative to these countries that we export far more goods, and a greater volume of high priced goods (relative to say, China).

Apparently the President still has a lever somewhere to control the economy, and/or set tax and budgetary policies. Which explains the "Congress/President should be doing more about jobs" idiocy in the public.

Only a quarter correctly identified the top 3 spending portions of the US budget (SS, medicare, and defence). It wasn't quite as bad about "foreign aid" as I've seen some studies, but there does need to be a massive effort to demonstrate to the public what exactly their money is going to.

Half of students believed that the rich, or rather the "high income", pay the same or less in taxes as a portion of that income. In reality, they pay more, what they do however manage to do is have more income that is less taxed. Still, when you add up the total federal tax liabilities, the highest income brackets pay around 35%. The top 1% pays slightly less of their income than the top 5%, owing to capital gains and the regressive nature of payroll taxes, but otherwise, it's a progressive income tax structure even with modest payroll and excise taxes that are far more likely to burden the poor.

There's still a percentage of students who think that US currency is "backed". It's little more than air really. I'm actually impressed this number was so low though.

There's a huge percentage of students who thought that immigrants were bad and that trade was bad, or at least not beneficial. Immigration was by far less popular than trade. This to me explains why there's a substantial nativist trend and some political calculus to appeal to protectionism on trade (as with the ideas that we should punish companies who outsource or just flat out punish the Chinese).

12 October 2010

So much for that

Bye, bye

For now. Courts still seem to be the avenue of approach to getting some stuff done, even in the face of overwhelming majority public support. Funny how that works with a President who was supposed to change things.

In practice however, and in fairness, this policy has been long suspended on the front lines anyway. It was mostly waiting for the final hatchet.

Oh right

That guy again, no wonder those Christian right-wingers on the school board want to write him out of history down in Texas....

Those same problems.

The reason to revere that time frame isn't unique to America or American values or some such, it's the complex grappling for the age with difficult questions, in the same way that scholars return to grappling with the ancient Greeks, the history of Rome, thousands of years later, and those of other Enlightenment era philosophers alongside those of America (Smith, Montesquieu, Kant, etc), and later thinkers influenced by this tradition up into the present day. That epoch is of vital importance to the humanistic tradition of mankind, to seeking its improvement and its values, and it could be, in its fulfillment as a practice, one of the few truly powerful gifts that Americans have granted to the world as a whole (along with jazz).

Sometimes these classical scholars erred and erred badly. Aristotle's "determination" that women had fewer teeth than men is one of the more amusing claims of wisdom and knowledge. This flaw is no less true of American philosophers like Jefferson and Madison. We would do well to remember this, to understand the limitations of their time and the scope of the land, what wonders they did not and could not yet imagine that have overturned the world many times over since that day. But we would also do well to remember that those same problems existed, even with all that upheaval. Questions of how to organise a civil society in a democratic or fair way, how to protect property and life so that each person may maximize their potential to their own manner and preference and apply their own conscience without fear of retribution and intolerance, how to punish terrible acts and adjudicate disputes, and so on did not die simply because we wrote down some of the answers a long time ago. Those questions must be ceaselessly argued and understood to be placed into what we might think of as "right action", or some civic virtues.

We have wrestled with them every time a stranger appears on our shores, and how we might adopt that stranger into our already strange family. This will persist even after we have adopted Muslims as we have adopted Catholics and Italians and Irish and Germans and Koreans and so on. Our biases do not die, they simply take on new names. And so this too shall pass.

randomly turning the pages

"Make it illegal to protest at military funerals!" - This popped up as a matter of course on facebook.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that people who use military funerals to protest the way Fred Phelps does are assholes, certainly. But I'm not sympathetic to shuttering their ability to spew hatred in a public forum. They will simply find some other more offensive method of spewing their point of view. Or more violent, failing that. Besides which, protesting at military events does not need to be limited to a programme undertaken by bigots who hate homosexuals and perceive DADT as somehow "pro-gay". It is an easy enough forum for use for protesting wars, to point out other foreign policy positions that are disagreeable (torture or rendition for example), or military policies and rules of conduct, etc. What if, rather than protesting against DADT as a "pro-gay" policy, there were discharged homosexuals protesting the same policy which now prevents their desire to perform a national service? What then? What if it were anti-war folks or pacifists? Or Islamophobes? I don't see how this is a free speech exclusion zone necessarily simply because we have found a particular strain of speech which has strained our tolerance beyond measure.

I'm not completely unsympathetic to the idea that this may be perceived as a private event, especially for the families or friends of a fallen comrade in arms. So I wouldn't shed many tears for free speech if we carved out an exclusion zone of some sort, but people should be aware all this will do is move the protests somewhere else that will still be modestly offensive and annoying. We do not get protections against being modestly annoyed and offended, to our credit, and there are not laws against the commission of "being an asshole", again to our credit. I would caution against demanding such a precedent for this, and if it were to be carved out, it should be explicitly and carefully done.

health care meme, dead on arrival

Considering it's actually far more common for Americans to go abroad to get dental surgery (to India or Eastern Europe) than it is Canadians to come here to get health care.... I was kind of wondering when this would come up as a proven myth. I don't think I've ever bought this hype, simply because it was easy enough to see Americans trying to buy pills from Canada or Australia or England and being foiled by our protectionism of American pharmaceutical firms and wonder what else was wrong with this direction of the flow perspective that people have for American health care. The real appeal of this as hype was to continue to convince people that America was exceptional because obviously we must have wonderful health care if people were coming here to use it instead of their silly socialistic systems.

I still think those socialistic systems are silly myself, but I'm not convinced that our system is so wonderful that it wouldn't have been potentially improved by adopting some manner of their operations. I prefer something a little more like a free market, which, contrary to popular belief, we haven't really tried in the modern era for a whole litany of reasons. But that would require blowing up a lot of sacred cows to the American way of life (employer provided health benefits, first dollar health insurance/prepaid health care in my view, most medical licensing laws, etc). And obviously the American people were not prepared to do these things over the last year, much less the last several decades where they installed and perpetuated these things as the cornerstones of the health care system that we desired rather than as the fundamentally flawed aspects of a system that cannot sustain itself that they really are. If we really wanted Canadians to come here instead for competitive world-class medical care, we'd have fixed this stuff, or abandoned it in favor of the direction that it more obviously heads (ie, that silly socialistic stuff).

11 October 2010

A concept

It comes to light that they're now considering "internet addiction" as a bonafide condition now.

Naturally I have some opinions.

1) I probably would have it under the operating definition, given the necessity that people use it in relatively "unproductive" ways that do not enhance their life or well-being. I'm somewhat skeptical that my trolling for philosophical and political debates and information on obscure monetary policy readings is necessarily useless and unproductive, but it's far from clear to me how I might obviously translate everything I do of that sort online into an economic or personal benefit to me. Most people do not want to talk about negative interest rates on banking reserves as a means of stimulating economic growth through increasing incentives for lending, just as most people who think themselves versed in fiscal policy matters do not want to actually talk about what policies should be cut and culled from the federal budget, or most religious people engage in serious ethical debates, and so on. These are boring systematic topics without a catchy personal story problem in them for people to mull over and experience some emotional response to.

In my defence, I've always been interested in these things. Internet or no. I also don't seem to be completely boring in person in spite of this flaw, and I've tended toward ignoring the narcissism of social networks and can pretty easily put those away and down if I'm actually around the few people from those networks that I'd like to spend real world time with. This might be because I've avoided buying a smart phone, or it could just be that I still prefer actual human beings. Sometimes.

2) I think the main reason it would exist is that it allows relatively antisocial people a safe medium to interact within a far more dangerous addiction, namely, PEOPLE. People are way more addicting than any drug or habit. Anti-social people are very unlikely to want to risk much personal contact and exposure of self, probably aren't as skilled at reading body language or empathizing with others (I get to empathy through kind of a back door myself, body language I can handle), but they're pretty comfortable in neutral settings like the Internet, and that often lets the genie out of the bottle. So to speak.

3) Use of the internet as a medium for diverse investigation of various subjects is a lot easier than our previous models of distributing information and entertainment (books, newspapers, TV, etc), and it leads to a lot easier means of being exposed, sometimes involuntarily, to things you didn't want than someone who frequented a bookstore and selects what books they want or who selects a TV show and watches it, and so on. In effect, I think it's more like a second brain that you can tap into more than an addictive problem. The real question is whether or not that second brain created by the Internet is an additive or a subtraction problem for the end user, much as it is for any other social drug like alcohol as a social lubricant or marijuana for much the same premise, and so on. If people are hooked to the point of being unproductive citizens, maybe that's a problem. I'm not sure how or why to cure them of it so much as to give them something productive to do with the net instead of whatever it is they're doing that we think is wasting their lives away. But then... the same problem could be posed of video games and television and movies and other forms of media.

08 October 2010

Imagine that

So after a summer last year of fear and billions of dollars of supposed needs for security costs... we now have some of those mutant strains of terrible terrorists on trial in NYC.

Just in case you missed it. Because it's pretty much a non-story, not just in the rest of the country but in New York as well. Okay they shut down the street in front of the courthouse... to cars, but not to pedestrians. Seems a bit much, but it's cautious enough. And it's hardly hundreds of millions in security and economic cost to the city to put these people on trial.

Perhaps KSM may have some unique Magneto superpowers that we've not been told about or will, through the force of his rhetoric, inspire everyone to take a nap while he escapes, but this is ridiculous.

More on voting

I get the feeling that there many voters think this is an important or momentous election, distinct from other elections. Instead of feeling empowered by this process, I feel greatly disillusioned. I'm watching one party descend into madness and the other sort of fumble around like they have no idea what they are doing (and no idea how this dastardly attempt at confusing themselves into believing they're accomplishing things is interpreted as somehow a heinous shift toward world socialism by the madness crowd). And besides that, I'm not that interested when people start telling me a story about how if X happens, it will be the end of history as we know it, so we must do Y, and exhort others to do Y as well. Without explaining how Y would be any better, or how they know that X is happening, will happen, or is actually bad in the first place. It's all a very convenient packaging, but it's really kind of boring and I tune out to wait for the gotcha part of the commercial.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that, while people are busy blaming the government for.. whatever it is they think the government should or should not be doing relating to the economy, it looks like it's still a monetary policy problem that ought to be at the heart of the city on this whole deal. Just like it almost always is. Meaning it doesn't matter very much who is in charge, other than that they can appoint and confirm some people to sit on the board of people who makes those policies.

So, I could be more disturbed into voting if I had any idea what the right's or these tea party people's position on monetary stimulus or negative interest on excess reserves was. My guess is there's a faction of silly and outdated goldbugs, given all the gold commercials on Faux. But I haven't heard them talking as much as Ron Paul was during the campaigns. They seem to be confused into thinking that they're going to solve both the short and long term debt and deficit problems by simply nixing that troublesome less than 5% of federal outlays that we spend on foreign aid and pork spending. Or something like this. I like magic tricks too, but only because I like to figure out how they're done.

And not because I'm wowed by the magician.

since this always comes up

how to use food stamps?

Apparently not on soda, if you're in New York. But then all kinds of other "crap" is perfectly fine to purchase, why not ban that stuff too?

Since I favor a negative income tax and letting people spend those resources on food (and by extension, health care) as they see fit, I don't see what the problem is if people knowingly and wantonly "waste" money on what amounts to far more expensive sugary drinks and fattening foods. There is some heuristic value to buying food that tastes good and delivers to us some desired pleasure after all, even if it comes at a particular price to our health. What concerns me is that they're not aware of the actual cost of those items and unpersuaded that they could make do with some cans or bags of frozen beans or peas once in a while or some such instead of a bag of chips. Far simpler than banning food stamp use on soda would be things like this

1) Soda taxes or some other "junk food tax" to factor in the social cost of providing additional health care to over-consumed goods of some sort. New York has already been moving on that one. The trouble with this is that I'm sometimes skeptical that most of these goods are actually causing a great deal of unpaid social costs. What they're actually doing is translating wages into health insurance. Which is no fun for healthy people, but healthy people don't seem to account for a majority of the population. There's actually another problem with this though...

2) Price in things like water rights at market rates rather than through food subsidies and price controls. If water is expensive rather than too cheap as it often is in parts of the country, things won't be grown that are less efficient with more water, and things such as industrial scale meat production might be curtailed. And if corn isn't subsidized, and sugar isn't price controlled, fewer things might include "corn sugar", as they want it to be known as now. What we'd end up doing is taxing something we were already spending money on anyway through the subsidies or price controls. It might be, as a matter of public choice theory, harder to end the subsidies than it is to tax, but the most efficient result possible, in so far as making cheap crappy food "less available" to poor people, is likely to do neither. If there's still a demand for cheap crappy food at that point, there are other more persuasive steps that can be taken in a less invasive or less powerful sense than mandated responses through the authority of the state and its social safety nets.


"I keep wondering whether the existence of homosexuality is proof that God hates Fred Phelps"

There's an interesting free speech case working its way through on Phelps' rather disgusting tactic of protesting DADT (as in he thinks it a pro-gay policy) by showing up at soldiers funerals and having signs and so on. Finally someone sued over this and so far has won a judgment as a private citizen who was offended by these protests. I'd have to agree that's a legitimate use of free speech, and a lawsuit does not seem appropriate there, because there are no protections against being offended (only being lied about deliberately as a private figure, as in slander or libel laws), but as with lots of other protected free speech acts, it also seems important that we not abuse that liberty to say ridiculous and harmful things. There are some considerations over whether the Supreme Court will carve out some sort of free speech exclusion zone surrounding military funerals, in the same way that you can't yell fire in a theater or hold a public demonstration at 4am in many jurisdictions, which I might be okay with if they do. Though not really, because there are many, many reasons someone might choose to protest at a military event, no merely stupid ones like this.

But this is overall an annoying problem to have that people use their basic liberty of speech to communicate bigoted nonsense on a public forum. The most appropriate public response we can give is to ignore it and wait for them to go away when they realize there aren't any cameras following them around. Maybe mocking it is funny a couple times, but this shit gets old really fast.

06 October 2010

so what do they put in their water?

Anybody see anything wrong with that?

No. Got it. Good.

(and no, there's no reason to check out their ID, they've been hanging out protesting for about an hour, I doubt an escaped prisoner would be wandering around with a sign protesting something and hanging out in the same place waiting to be found, don't you?).

05 October 2010

Where do they come from?

Something tells me that if you're running a campaign, this isn't the first thing you want voters to think of when you run an ad...

"What do you burn apart from witches?"

I'm.... speechless. Where do these people come from...and how did anyone take them seriously enough to let them run for public office?

I'd rather vote for Sir Bedevere. At least we'd have sheeps bladders that could prevent earthquakes instead of crackpots who think only they have found secret Chinese plans to conquer America. (I have a modest suggestion, stop learning your foreign policy advice by playing Fallout)....

voting... here?

Since this was right around the corner, I figured I'd better check out my options.

Only to discover that my options were genuinely terrible and I may as well stay home. There aren't any issues on the ballot except local ones like property tax rates for schools. And other than maybe the judges on the state ballot (who I may have to look at some decisions for), there aren't candidates that I was at all excited by any of their ideas in order to vote for them. Indeed, I would be quite satisfied to vote against almost everyone running, from both parties and from the generally laughable Libertarian Party to boot. In fact, there, most of them were on the do not disturb list. The straight jacket wing of the party seems to be taking over.

I'm debating either staying home or casting a ballot randomly. It was that bad.

What brought this on was seeing some campaign literature being put out listing a number of issues, most of which I do not care about. Since the literature was generated by a right-wing Evangelical group, most of it I'd probably be on the other side politically anyway even if I did care about it. But I concluded that since it was October, I should probably do some research and that was my "starting point".

Given that the election is supposedly about budgets, and given that nobody running has announced any ideas how to do anything with that, they simply claim magical budget balancing or running abilities without a firm plan to stand on and evaluate their claims, that's a problem. Next, given that the Ohio election seems strangely and considerably structured on repealing or not enforcing the health care law as passed, I'd like to hear an alternative before we start blowing it up. Not that I'd mind if it was repealed in part or in full, but it didn't actually do anything either to the status quo that demands a repeal from me (I also think that repeal is so marginal a possibility through the legislature that it's not even worth talking about). I'd guess there's the ongoing issues of immigration reform and civil liberties abuses/counter-terrorism abuses, err.. policies, but given that nobody running in the liberal side of the equation in this state for a national office was willing to give any of that a whirl, it's not even an issue. Because everyone was busy trying to out tough each other. Even on immigration, everyone wanted a damned fence or some such. I think I saw one guy running for Congress who had a decent sounding anti-terrorism look see, though it wasn't exactly fleshed out with civil liberties protections so much as a plan for dealing with the foreign policy angles that looked almost sensible. Maybe there's some people running who are modestly pro-gay rights (repeal DADT, extension of state benefits to domestic partners, nobody here appears to be running with gay marriage as legally equal), but that's not enough for me to overlook greater flaws in their economic or other social policies.

So overall, ugh. And fuck it.

04 October 2010

Quotes for the day

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much."

"it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone."

"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness."

"Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?"

"I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he's wrong. Than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil."

News of the world

So...That's interesting.

I don't have much to say on that yet. The interesting part is still what happens if it passes, what does the Federal government do, sue, keep raiding California pot growers and distributers, etc. The Republicans probably don't want near this issue with a 10 foot pole anymore than the Democrats do because it distracts from their "message" of "fiscal responsibility" (I laugh every time I hear that from either party), but it surprises me with an issue being at or near 50% support, and with very high levels of support among the Democratic base of younger voters who are extremely annoyed with Republican policies on precisely issues like drug war policies, that there are not more Democratic politicians making this a campaign issue or talking about it in a noteworthy way.

I pretty much know of Gary Johnson on the Republican side, and that's about it. Maybe Barney Frank and Steve Cohen on the Democrat side. Would be nice to get more establishment voices calling for an end, same way we need more voices calling to end agricultural subsidies or stop funding NASA or to trim the defence and entitlement budgets. Paul Ryan's got to be kind of lonely on the entitlement reform island right now. Would also be nice if there were more civil liberties nuts like Feingold out there to oppose ridiculous ideas like the demand for a backdoor into encrypted or peer to peer software transmissions (essentially removing Internet privacy writ large). Maybe it takes time for people in power and governing over powerful institutions to shift their ideas and public mindset to match that of the people they govern over. Even in a democracy. Perhaps.

But one thing that does seem different is that when Republicans go on a tirade about "trimming the size of government" and so on, their supporters lap that up and ask for seconds without sitting and asking the obvious follow ups (how? or what exactly are we trimming? Would that actually close the deficits? Didn't you guys just expand the size of some of our biggest programmes?). Meanwhile, when someone offers the same platitudes about making us "safer" or talking about extralegal assassination or torture programmes or policies, the people who really care about civil liberties will crucify you if you don't follow up on it. Obama has consistently walked back most of his promises on these issues, many of which did not require Congressional support or approval, or if they did, he could have fought for public opinion more vigorously to make it more costly to those who opposed changing policies. There's a large swath of Obama supporters who are practically beside themselves on these issues, not to mention those people who assumed his positions on gay rights, the drug war, or Afghanistan were somehow shared with their own (despite significant evidence to the contrary certainly on gay rights and Afghanistan from his own campaign).

In any case, something is wrong with this difference that budget hawks don't actually seem to exist in nature the way that the ACLU does (they do, but only amongst the policy wonk variety, whereas almost any civil liberties person was created out of things like anti-terrorism or anti-drug legislation and actually knows the issues, this is also true of issues like gay rights or freedom of speech and religion nuts). It shouldn't be that hard to get people to really care about both things and actually know at least enough to ask a hard question and demand a satisfied, informed answer from the people they've elected to make tough choices and compromises and decisions for them.

03 October 2010


Some thoughts.

The good.

I like the fact there's no slider for money and science (or anything else). If you run out of money, you start running out of units or eat into your tech (which is basically all the slider did before).

Building maintenance is far more appropriate than city maintenance based on size (or distance from capital).

Happiness from buildings or luxuries/wonders gives golden ages, and provides combat penalties if it gets down far enough and removes the micromanagement of unhappy citizens in a city and "war weariness" by abstracting it to the civilization level.

Combat without the stack of doom methods seems improved (if the AI was up to the challenge at least). Feels more like army groups moving around the continent and a little less city centered, but only a little less. Could do with being able to stack two units in a square, but otherwise, fine.

Abstracted research agreements rather than simply trading techs seems better. Diplomacy over all is a little more interesting conceptually than in Civ4.

Bombardment from ships and cities onto enemy units.

Civic tree is a lot more interesting than in 4. More choices as the game progresses than simple Free Speech, Representation, Emancipation, Free Markets, Free Religion/Organised Religion (depending on wonders you got).

Also receiving these choices mostly through culture based on empire size is an interesting twist. You can accumulate culture faster with a bigger empire, but you need more of it to win the game that way. Kind of points the way toward blasting everyone else to dust or the tech victories once the empire gets big. The changes might be too permanent between the 5 different trees to choose from for long enough game play, but in general there's a good enough advantage to one over another to stick with it. I'm not sure I'd have effectively excluded a bigger empire from using a culture victory, but there it is.

Cities tend to be more required to specialize, both through tile specific buildings (mints, stables, etc) and the general lack of production forcing you to economize on which cities are factories and which are banks or scientific.

The meh.

Not having to build and escort transports seems a little too abstracted, but manageable.

Got rid of religions and corporations? Corporations I could see (they could be a bit overpowered). But religion? Interesting...

Hexes instead of the old tiles is a change. But it's kind of a boring one.

Units per strategic resource limitation should decrease the mass cavalry/tank stacks and mass air forces.

City-states could have been executed better. Trade routes with them or some such. Maritime city-states are way overpowered I think and military ones seem relatively useless (with the possible exception that it was by design there be no production so you'd have to rely on free units).

Graphics are meh. Trading posts and rivers seem to draw the most ire. Hard to tell which tiles are being worked. An animation for Civ4 may be too much CPU, but a hut on the farm or some other object to indicate which is active and which is not would be useful.

Roads and railroads cost maintenance. This can be annoying if you want to have a network of roads and causes some of the micromanagement problems for moving "stacks" of units around.

Civilizations do not have unique leader traits, but instead have civ specific bonuses and a couple units or a building and a unit. These bonuses are often unbalanced completely. While the Civ4 traits were sometimes unbalanced, they were at least all useful.

Strategic view is pretty undetailed graphically. What exactly am I looking at here? Does have more filtering options, though, plus versus minus.

AI is generally pretty lame to terrible. This was only addressed in Civ4 for me with a mod however rather than with the original game, so it's pretty hard to complain about it. As an example, the AI has always had issues doing an intercontinental war. In Civ4 with the mod, I did occasionally see them drop a hammer down with carriers and stacks of transports and boats on me or others and back it up with follow up invasions or pick up dozens of stranded units that captured some puny island and move them to the mainland. As of right now, this AI seems pretty tame and unable to win the game.

The Argh.
Flanking enemy units bonus is too easy to get. Should have to attack from the rear rather than the side front.

Game feels unpolished (aka, not like a Civ release). Lots of minor features unrelated to game play are unimplemented (no autonamed save games, civilopaedia errors are plentiful and annoying) and some ingame play features appeared broken (no rush buying things in progress versus buying it straight up, some wonders did not match their descriptions in actual impacts).

Very little information on some game concepts (railroads/roads speed, unit bombard range, etc)

Can be hard to get some of the mid-to-late national wonders within normal game play (ie, conquests). The old system of needing to build a set number seemed adequate, especially with the production issues this game has. Either decrease their bonuses and make them easier to build or make other things easier to build so the national wonders are worth getting.

Diplomacy agreements when they expire should open the menu to renew them.

Culture warfare doesn't exist. Tiles once taken over, don't get switched back until you use a culture bomb. Being able to pick which tile you want to expand to next would be nice also.

I can't tell very easily if a city has a wonder in it when you capture it before razing it to the ground to build one of your own (or not). Given that I more or less burn them all to the ground with the happiness penalties that are imposed, I'd at least like to keep something useful around. Also, how strong is the city's HP value so I can tell if I can capture it with an attack?

Buildings are not balanced. Some are largely useless.

Units do not move through very well with stack limitations, wastes micromanagement moving them around if all a unit is doing is passing through to another hex. If not this, add a "wait" command or a "formation move".

Production seems for most of the game to be very slow, and then by the late game, to be faster (by contrast) relative to technologies. Units and buildings can be rendered obsolete by the time they are completed. Adding an additional resource to hills/mines or pastures (or to specials from either) could be useful to keep the game well paced. Or alternatively, decrease the cost to produce some less useful buildings significantly, or to production increasing buildings.

Most bonus resource tiles (non-luxury/non-strategic) are basically useless, they should add some more significant food, production, culture, scientific, or money bonus to make them worth having in a city radius or techs that should make them more productive squares if not automatically. Luxuries and strategic resources are only useful for the civilization bonuses in most cases (gold/silver can be okay, with a mint in the city).

Happiness could probably scale with map size with only a fixed number of luxury resources available in the game and larger empires in play, or happiness penalties for numbers of citizens or especially numbers of cities should alternatively scale downward with larger maps.

Great people are pretty lame strategically, not because they are underpowered but because they do not offer choices as they did in Civ4 that are meaningful. There's no reason to create an academy or a citadel instead of spam a tech or follow around the army and offer a combat bonus, etc.

No espionage? Sun Tzu is not amused.

And that's the way it is.

"Lunch with lovers, past, present, or possible, enjoys an anarchy, a severing of our connections to life’s duties, rather like the sea voyages of former days, when self-limiting flirtations flourished and responsibility dropped from one’s shoulders"