30 November 2010

A history lesson

"Unlike so many of their predecessors and contemporaries, the first liberals treated disagreement and discord about the highest good as a given and then proposed that civil peace in a deeply divided society could best be established and maintained by excluding as much as possible the most divisive questions – metaphysical questions – from political life. Citizens would still have strongly held views about the highest good, but they would no longer presume that their neighbors or the political community as a whole would collectively endorse those views."

A curious notion. I wonder who proposed that concept.

Ahh yes...

Again, it's no wonder that religious zealots with a revisionist history of the founding of this country revile Jefferson with a passion. I have yet to see a proof that other Constitutional positions were explicitly evangelical as is often claimed either, but Jefferson's free exercise and establishment positions from the Virginia Constitution is poorly regarded for more obvious reasons. Namely that it stands in direct contrast to that vision of American history.

There are few things that really should be regarded as public sphere debates to be had out in political disputes. And there are any number of foolish regulations and laws considered by "well-meaning" conservatives or liberals that meddle with powers they couldn't possibly understand. But the idea that religious belief should alone inform those meddlings and command the same of others is especially pernicious because it is decidedly illiberal and dysfunctional. It is entirely unworkable in a democratic society with considerably different views on what even very similar religious perspectives (the vast number of Christian sects present, with some minor metaphysical perspectives like those of Jews, Muslims, even atheists to consider as well) would demand in the political and public sphere of life.

No sane reading of history would conclude then that a society of free men who often escaped various forms of religious persecution that extended for generations would have set up a theocratic enclave of their own trappings to command the peculiar religious beliefs that they themselves did not even share completely and fully of all in their dominion, but this is apparently what we're supposed to believe is the case with America.

29 November 2010

Random bits of strangeness

Lather, rinse, repeat Radley Balko recently blogged that the media is neither liberal or conservatively slanted, but that it is "statist" in its slant, pursuing or defending positions which advance government and state powers. So essentially, when a citizen decides that they do not like government and state power, and object to it visibly and publicly, as Mr Tyner did, there are methods of disabusing the general public from accepting these objections at face value. Depending on the source of those objections, we will often see nefarious claims of left or right wing orchestrated conspiracies backing these developments.

I really don't see how "libertarian" or "Koch" has very much to do with making these claims less valid or the demand for personal liberties any less pressing and important, or at least that these personal liberties should not be so meekly surrendered without the government having to offer far more considerable levels of proof of need for these scanners, searches, along with our generally invasive police powers. In other words, we should demand that we are receiving something far more valuable than the illusion of safety. We should be receiving ACTUAL safety and security, since that's putatively what we're paying the government for here. I seriously doubt we're receiving even the illusion of safety, given that many people are, at each new invasive search procedure, annoyed enough to give up flying and take to the road or trains (and all the attending hazards therein). But I'd be willing to entertain the idea that somehow a particular power makes us safer, if ANYONE was willing to actually demonstrate it with an empirical basis. I haven't seen such attempts, all appeals are short-circuited with a "suppose some terrorist does X, or suppose some terrorist did X, what should we do".

True, this logic is compelling when terrorist incidents are ongoing and occur, as in the wake of 9-11 when many expansive powers were granted with overwhelming public support rather than overwhelming public objection (I, of course, objected). But what we're really doing is submitting that in any activity X, there is a risk of danger Y. That danger may include risks like "some crazy fool will try to light his shoe/underwear/hair on fire and blow up a plane!". I think we're better off simply admitting that yes, there's always a risk of some crazy event Y. That risk is infinitely smaller than almost all people seem to think it is. Just as the risk of being killed by a shark is for example, or the risk of a plane crashing for any reason at all, much less being successfully brought down by a bomb contained in a shoe. If we accept that these risks exist, but that they are rare and small, we should then be able to craft an appropriate level of security or security theater to compensate. A level which is far less invasive and expensive than we currently delegate.

This is the reason that no officials are willing to demonstrate an empirical need for such powers. They can show an empirical need, but that need is much diminished in their bureaucratic authority and in the latitude granted to act against perceived and imagined threats to that authority. But not against actual and possible security threats, which act to INCREASE that authority.

In other news, I was kind of waiting to see how this one panned out. It does not surprise me in the slightest that it's basically a prank carried out by extremists who don't understand the opposing view. I'm aware there are women who get multiple abortions. I'm aware there are women who get them when they probably "don't need" one. But these are, by and large, minority actors. The extensive focus on late-term abortions, partial birth abortions, and other rare procedures does the same obscuring of the reasons and rationales being used by the prevailing population of abortion-seeking women that this stunt does. Namely, that it paints a portrait of such people as those who prefer death to life, "the culture of death". All while blithely ignoring the social conservative's staunch support for the death penalty (which I at best support very marginally, and now usually oppose on cost-benefit grounds) or for needless hawkish and interventionist wars which kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians (which I generally oppose). In general, American and European women who have abortions
a) have children, either already or go on to do so
b) have health complications, either themselves or in the developing fetus
c) are of a younger age and feel themselves incapable of properly supporting this new life were it carried to term responsibly.

I'm not sure how this is a view which somehow worships death. It seems like it places a high enough premium on life that it demands that we carry out pregnancies with an eye toward enhancing and even maximizing that future life's probable success. This looks to me like valuing life, rather than valuing and preferring death. In general, there is an at-odds view between the pro-choice and anti-choice camps which is basically stated as follows
1) Pro-choice wishes to enhance life value by having fewer unwanted pregnancies (by advancing issues like birth control use with abortion usually held as an extreme last resort measure resulting from failures or inappropriate decisions prior to it)
2) anti-choice wishes to enhance life value by having more wanted pregnancies (by essentially having the link between sex and reproduction being stronger, and generally rejecting birth control use).
Somehow or another these two goals are seen as being at odds with each other. I'm not sure that they are (it would seem like having more planned pregnancies would result in a higher percentage of "wanted" pregnancies, and even if it reduced the net amount of pregnancy in society it might increase the raw amount of "wanted" over present levels). Still though the central issue of abortion does really seem to be "birth control" or something akin to "a woman's role in society" (as free individuals or only as mothers producing offspring) and not the caricature of "death". Anti-abortion advocates who cartoon their opposition as being pleased and excited by the prospect of having an abortion procedure done because they come from a "culture of death" are doing a grave disservice to themselves as a result because they are effectively ceding valuable rhetorical territory in the middle ground. They're much better off understanding that very, very few people, possibly almost nobody at all, actually wants to end up having an abortion ever in their lives, and in many cases even having to consider doing so, and looking at ways to alleviate that as the issue. That may mean considering birth control as a legal alternative, even if they don't want it considered as the primary option. But primarily it means trying to understand why women have abortions in the first place. It is plain that very few anti-abortion advocates have ever entertained this as a serious thought. Meanwhile it is plain that pro-choice advocates have not done likewise; we do have to engage with the merit behind producing new life being an important value for example (one of the strongest anti-choice arguments). This is done by ascribing slightly different values for existing (human) life over potential (fetal) life as opposed to seeing these as equal values. There are biological and philosophical reasons to do so, and even here, most people who are pro-choice make some arbitrary assessment that at some point prior to birth (~14-24 weeks), that potential life gains some actual value demanding some very serious objections if it were to be extinguished voluntarily (usually serious health risks to the mother or fetus). These are arguments which have to be taken seriously because the margin for certainty is very low. We don't know "when life begins" with any empirical value, and it might be entirely sensible to err toward "as soon as possible" as a result. Where pro-choice advocates differ is that they will also tend to place a great deal of value on the existing life and limited/scarce resources available to attend to it and will extinguish voluntarily life that could not be attended to "properly". Infanticide for these reasons has a long historical and anthropological precedent. Few pro-choice advocates are willing to embrace these as the battlefield positions justifying their arguments. But in the end, what it comes down to is that pro-choice advocates feel that society and the human condition/species is stronger for allowing women to reproduce voluntarily, and in general less frequently is the voluntary wish of women everywhere, rather than as a consequence of any and all sexual contact risking reproduction "involuntarily" and also that producing healthy offspring (or fewer unhealthy) without risking the health of the mother in the process is a net good as well. This leads to examining and debating birth control rather than abortion largely because technology of contraception is advanced enough to make most abortions unnecessary anyway.

It also leads in that direction simply because sex is pretty consistent across cultures. Teens and adults have it for, hopefully, mutual enjoyment. Empirically speaking we're not having any impact on this basic human desire by attempting to suppress it with abstinence only demands alone. So we might want to start talking about what the consequences of these behaviors are anyway.

25 November 2010

An ancient curiosity

"....we are not half so anxious that our friends should adopt our friendships, as that they should enter into our resentments. We can forgive them thought they seem to be little affected with the favours which we may have received, but lose all patience if they seem indifferent about the injuries which may have been done to us.....They can easily avoid being friends to our friends, but can hardly avoid being enemies to those with whom we are at variance."

This one has always fascinated me. The negative of having positive relationships with our enemies is certainly worthy of our attention, but why is not the positive aspect of our friendships themselves taken as seriously and earnestly? At worst, these represent zero sums, and that we should be able to better armor ourselves against our inevitable social and psychological injuries by strengthening our wonder and joy and gratitude along side strengthening our fortifications against hardships themselves. Is it somehow impossible to advance without defences capable of deflecting all but the most massive bombardments?

24 November 2010

Summary of the ongoing

QE II: Good. Overdue. Kind of an odd admission that monetary policy should have been tried at the outset however instead of a massive fiscal stimulus that was used to expand government programmes without the usual justifications. I don't buy the Austrian Business Cycle approach, primarily because the nations that have more monetary stimulus in response to this seem to be pretty stable and still kicking and especially because monetary policy looks like it caused and extended the Depression, several previous "panics", and the early 80s recession (deliberately in that case). This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Federal Reserve's ability to carry out its primary charge of course, but it is an endorsement of its ability to do something. Just a question of whether it wants to.

START ratification, not happening: Bad. Pointless political posturing involving an old adversary that apparently the Republican base is still easily afraid of (Russians are coming!, those evil Commies!). I don't think that ratification particularly improves or degrades our national security. Nuclear arms don't get used and we'd have enough either way to deter attacks of that kind by nuclear nation-states. What would help is that we'd be spending less money on maintaining and securing our nuclear arsenals and that would free up resources for other, probably wiser, uses of the money. Considering the deficit and the continued ability of the US to field military forces for conventional uses is kind of a big deal for national security, I'd say reducing that deficit by getting rid of useless stuff in the budget is a lot smarter even if it somehow magically makes us less safe in the minds of Mitt Romney and others. Mainly because it provides a diplomatic "victory" to Obama and Clinton.

Korea (War 2?): This I need to keep an eye on. I'm not an expert on the DPRK's inner power workings, but I'd guess that, like the torpedoing of the destroyer last year, there were some deliberate internal power struggles shaking out in the form of belligerent acts. The questions are how does the ROK respond (the sinking of the destroyer went through international channels to try to line up China against the action, I think this was marginally useful), and do these belligerent acts continue and even escalate?

The ongoing saga of to be groped or not: I don't understand how this sudden belligerence by civil liberties advocates is written off as personal inconvenience. We who give a shit have been complaining since the outset. When body scanners were shown to be an ineffectual giveaway to a corporate lobby, when we had to take off our shoes for no apparent reason, when people were detained without explanation at border crossings or for bordering planes and some of them tortured and/or detained for years despite no evidence of wrong-doing ever being presented (and usually, eventually released, without any compensation for the state's behavior), when no fly lists could be gone around by people who know to do so (ie, terrorists or spies) and couldn't be gotten off of by the many thousands of innocents who were targeted by them, when we passed the PATRIOT act and then again when we reauthorized its powers despite their documented abuses, when we've expanded and militarized the drug war at home, and so on.... We don't stop complaining about abuses of power and line crossing simply because the public's line keeps moving inexplicably further toward "MORE SECURITY!" Or because the administration changes and says "Trust us, we're not those other guys".

Personally, the track record of Obama on this, an issue that libertarians might expect at least some sympathetic ideas and actions from liberals (civil liberties), is so bad that I'm ready to write him off finally. I already didn't care for the rhetoric of protectionism or the Keynesian approach rather than the monetarist approach to the economy (even a mixed system would have been palatable coming as it does from a modern American version of liberalism), and the focus on health care rather than education was redeemable, but not for a health care bill that didn't fix anything important (long-term deficit and health care inflation are still out there). So far I'm not seeing a litany of accomplishments, but of woe here. Therefore, I don't particularly care if he loses in 2012 as long as it's not to some completely batshit insane Republican (Romney, Palin, Gingrich, probably Pawlenty). Give me one of the governors (or ex) who sounds like they actually care about governing (Daniels, Christie, Johnson) and I might consider them passable. I'm not sure that this will be the case, sadly. I'm actually fairly convinced that the GOP and in particular its membership of conservatives and social conservatives in particular is rather deranged at present and will do something to guarantee another 4 years of Obama.

I might say this is fine if there were issues that Obama has supported or championed that I cared about. But I'm mostly seeing yet another vile politician whose supporters ignore failings because it's "their guy". Look its bad enough when people do this when there's some asshole on their favourite sports team that they overlook because he's got the right colour jersey on. Do we really need to extend this us-them dynamic of thought to politics? Are we that lazy? I guess so. I think it's kind of pathetic to parrot out platitudes because someone says so and never bother to check that they actually know what they're talking about. Never mind the facts, I KNOW this guy is evil and this one is not because they're on my team!

22 November 2010

Politics as impossible, edition #1005

"Of course, it would be a major innovation for US government to stop subsidizing the very activities we are trying to regulate….but I digress."

I'm skeptical that a carbon tax would get any greener lights than a cap-trade bill would, but it's at least economically more efficient and makes a lot more sense for fiscal reasons (it's less complex to administer). The trouble being that like with food, we subsidize the hell out of energy. Including the very energy we would ultimately be taxing (fossil fuels). A simpler first step might be to focus on ending these subsidies along with corn ethanol and possibly even other alternative energy projects, which ultimately receive a pittance relative to oil and coal. This would have the effect of already ending a lot of gaming and rent seeking and reducing some wasteful spending. I'm pretty sure we could still use a carbon tax to deal with the externality effects of pollution alone, much less any global warming impacts, and to start to close the deficit (a straight gasoline tax hike is on the table for this reason too, though the government uses that revenue on infrastructure, especially roads, thus raising the amount of gasoline used in a strange cyclical process).

But one crucial point seems to be that there are massive subsidies on oil and coal around the globe and instead of focusing on ending these government price distortions, many activists are busy trying to tax them instead. I'm not sure what benefit is to be had to extract part of the economic rents being extracted already from the system for your own peculiar special interests (solar or wind power generation or natural gas even). It would seem like a better idea would be to try to level the playing field first off instead. Maybe the idea is that energy overall should just be more expensive. But I'm pretty sure that's a non-starter.

17 November 2010

Filed under expected news of the world

Greg Oden, out for the season

Eva Longoria-Parker - getting a divorce.

This is getting encouraging

I was kind of wondering where we'd finally draw the line on the security theater methods. It was bad enough months ago when these body scanners even were being kicked around as an option and it was apparent that they don't work (as their claimed intent would suggest at least) and were essentially a government kickback to a prominent lobbyist (in one of the more obvious naked behaviors of special interest benefits over public goods).

But now that these are becoming a prominent method of "security", implemented mostly by morons who are destined to abuse their authority and responsibility, seems like there might finally be a push back against government "security" demands and resulting overreaches into our privacy constraints. Or more properly the rights of the individual to assert such a domain over their own body (that is, who and how others may look upon that body in a more revealing situation).

I'm a little confused about Americans' general squeamishness concerning sex, sexuality, or their own bodies being a point of "public" observation, but it's at least a predictable and reliable point of annoyance. I'm glad to see it might have a positive benefit once in a while.

12 November 2010

Airport security

"But the poor dog, a genius of premature inductive inference, just won't believe me. I find this a little annoying, but he's a dog, it only takes a second, and he doesn't fondle my upper thigh."

I'm a little tired of this thing.

But I do think the call to instead of meekly submit to being scanned, demanding that we waste their time with invasive physical searches is a good start.

The point of the security isn't to debase us, and waste our time, it's putatively to improve the safety of the aircraft against hijackings and explosives. Well mostly what does that is alert passengers.

If instead we want to give us embarrassing moments and call it security, we may as well start issuing hospital robes to the passengers to get on the planes.

It's not cost effective to do it this way. I will submit that it seems like Al Qaeda is uniquely fixated like this poor dog on blowing up airplanes instead of actually committing terrorist actions. So focusing security on those airplanes is probably sound. But it'd have to actually be effective security. Those silly body scanners, not so much useful at detecting explosives or even weapons. Maybe we'll catch some drug smugglers, but I doubt we're deterring people by making us take off our shoes and run through imaging systems.

The reason being: nobody else on the fucking planet, countries with much higher risks of terrorist incidents (Israel for instance), don't do this. It's a waste of effort and dignity and time. Grow up and demand we be treated like adults instead of being strip searched to get on the plane.

09 November 2010

A contrast of colour

A contrast of colours.
Speeches in languages
long forgotten.
Made impassive, carried
in a breeze of eve'
the ancient tear of happiness
Frozen a time or two
In a glance in the folds

The words unrecorded
in unread tomes
ancient and folly given
veneer dipped in silence
reverence to a natural word

A world without voices
Still has something to say.

Oldie but a goodie

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Prescott Financial - Gold, Women & Sheep<a>
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

I'm really amused that gold is going back up in its bubblicious economic state again (or still). Supposedly this is because of inflation fears... except we don't have inflation at the moment, so it's kind of silly.

The logic of gold is much like that of real estate: "It never goes down, except when it does". The difference being that real estate is a tad more useful and is far more price supported by government policies (inefficient and silly as they may be). Both suffer from supply and demand shocks and it's not that hard to crash the price of either by watching monetary policy.

Really, these are better investments: guns, medicine, food. If you're really worried about some sort of inflationary disaster like the Weimar Republic that is. I'm not. We have lots of tools to squelch inflation at the moment available to us just as we had during the early 80s under Volcker's iron fisted rule over double digit inflation. We don't seem to be using the tools that actually create it. Certainly not to even those heady days of the Carter malaise much less the heady days of the Germans papering their walls with money and carrying wheelbarrows of it to buy their bread. Hence I'm not that concerned.

If I were, I wouldn't be buying gold. I'd be planning for a Fallout-style universe of blood thirsty raiders banded against the fractured remnants of society.

Update: Apparently the High Priestess Palin has decreed that there was significant inflation over the last year. Nevermind that we've had some of the lowest inflation on, to use her example food prices, in recent history. Nope, damn the inconvenient facts. It is decreed, therefore it must be so. I should go take all my money and buy gold instead starting to horde guns and food stocks also against the barbarian scum who will attempt to raid my little cave and campfires, according to her decrees.

08 November 2010

An old take on an old problem

"A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side"

- Aristotle.

06 November 2010

A problem of logic

Parents are not even preferring the policy which (necessarily) best protects their kids. Parents are preferring the policy which gives them a slightly better feeling of being in control of their kids, whether or not they are.

This is the biggest problem with most of our most paternalistic policies and opposition to a few which actually do have some positive effects but which surrender that illusion of control that parents want to maintain.

So the following things are made illegal or are restricted to discourage children's use
1) Narcotic drugs
2) Alcohol
3) Tobacco
4) various contraceptive devices or prescriptions

Some of these are dangerous, or at least mildly so for children and teens. 3 of them are potentially habit forming and carry at least modest to severe health risks for adults (though the order in which they carry those risks is not related to their legal status). The last carries the stigma of ameliorating an apparently undesirable act (sexual activity).

Of these, the last resembles something else which (some) parents resist
1) Vaccinations.

Basically proven and safe vaccinations over many decades of use and contraception resemble seat belts in that their use reduces, sometimes dramatically, the risks of normal human life and behavior. We get sick, and it would be best not to get sick and transmit that illness to others. Strangling those diseases from having many sources of incubation so that they can spread is a huge positive externality effect. The only trouble is that the only point of contact parents see is a needle going into their child. They do not see invasive biological agents that are potentially far more lethal and dangerous and hence they wish to exercise control over what they can see. The same logic applies to sexual acts and condoms or birth control, or to the use of mind-altering substances. We presume that if these things are banned and rendered invisible, like bacteria or viruses, they will not exist and we won't have to deal with our children potentially using them or engaging in such activities.

The trouble is that the reality is that we have children who in fact do deal with these "invisible" dangers. On average they are having sex by 17, well before we think they would if our home rules against sex, laws of sexual consent, and under-age access to sexual devices like condoms or birth control would apply. It is of course absurd then to pretend that they will avoid sexual contacts simply because they can't get to a condom or to a pill or a shot or anything at all which might give us some measure of actual control over the results of those encounters. But the illusion of control allows us to pretend otherwise. They are experimenting with mind-altering substances, only it's easier to come by if there are no legal regulations governing sale to minors. If it's a black market only as with narcotics, there are no legal regulations. If our object was really to keep drugs out of the hands of our children, we wouldn't be sitting around making them completely illegal. But the illusion of control tells us that if they were legal for adults, more kids would use them or want to and it would be harder to discourage them from using, and so they remain illegal.

What we should ask is what it is we actually want. What we should want is not "more control for parents" over... other people's kids, conceived by passing laws. I'm pretty sure what we actually should want as "parents" is fewer kids using narcotics or drinking or smoking or having sex, at least without responsibly dealing with the consequences of any of those behaviors. And presumably we want fewer kids getting preventable dread diseases (from STDs to polio to MMR). Since the reality is that kids will be kids, and many of them will do some, if not all of these risky behaviors, and that this happens despite our "well-intended" laws, we should probably look into changing how we approach these subjects with laws. Ideally we would act to counsel them actively on how to do these things responsibly, just as we might teach our teens how to drive a car. Our object is at best to put seat belts there in case they do silly things as young people, just as they will speed or drive recklessly.


This is the absurdity of many government policies. We will push something that we now also want to tax.

Perhaps we should stop using government money to be pushing things we want to tax or view as negative before considering whether or not we need to tax them to actively discourage them. And this essentially all the department of agriculture does.

We do note that the push for dairy products is partly funded through mandated fees on dairy production (taxes in effect), but it would seem like dairy producers could just as easily compete to push their own products without giving the money over to government agencies. The reason they don't want to is that the government guarantees a level of profit, rent seeking behaviors take over. When government agencies are described as "willing to make bets on behalf of" anything in regarding a specific industry, we of the general public should be very concerned.

Besides which it gets worse than simply taking fees to advertise products that aren't healthy. There are price controls from paying farmers to slaughter their dairy cows. And this is considered at least a marginal improvement from buying up excess supplies of milk products (and other farming production) as we did for decades.

And all of this is going on while the rest of the DoA is advocating that we eat less cheese and fatty food. This would be very confusing if it wasn't such an expected result of the public's amazing and persistent concern for "the rural farmer", a mythical hardy and independent figure in our history who, for the most part, no longer exists in a meaningful way to providing our food supplies. The belief of the public is still that we must pay farmers so that they will grow enough food. But we're in fact paying them NOT to grow foods or, as we used to, paying them for growing TOO MUCH food. When the public believes one thing is going on and the exact opposite is in fact, it's not that hard to sell them on the idea that instead of ridding ourselves of these troublesome price controls from pre-Depression era (and this one is clearly all Hoover's fault, not FDR's), we should apply punitive taxes to discourage our consumption. All while the government will, on with its other less visible hand, continue encouraging that consumption.

We see the same logic applied in tobacco (which we subsidize and), in coal and oil (which we subsidize and tax), in corn syrup (which we subsidize and wish to tax) and so on.

05 November 2010

Buffet style

A la carte TV

I've been pushing for this for a long time. I basically only use ESPN at this point (Comedy central is watched online). Even the History or Discovery Channels serve no purpose anymore. And I might pay for several HBO shows or a couple on AMC, but not for the movie channels themselves.

Basically what seems to be the argument here is that bundling allows for higher quality programming. Except that it doesn't. The actual source of what are considered higher quality shows tends to be not the cable networks, but the premium networks (HBO/Showtime). Every once in a while SyFy does something considered good (Battlestar was actually pretty lame, especially the ending). And AMC seems to be having a pretty good run (they've even a zombie show now that got its highest ratings ever). So if the argument is that bundling will kill the quality, maybe it'll kill a couple shows, but those shows might have ended up on a premium channel instead of a cable channel. The actual source of a high quality show as a perception tends to be that it hits a good niche in the market of entertainment and gathers a devoted following, and not that it tries to appeal to the broader, casual, person seeking explosions and full frontal nudity on television.

Ideally you'd be paying for the show itself, as often happens with people buying or renting the DVDs now, or paying for the channels that have the shows you wanted to watch. In my opinion what that actually means is that if a show isn't very good, and nobody wants to pay, say, $2 an episode to watch it, it's going to die off anyway. The actual impact is that fewer crappy shows get made, not fewer good ones, or alternatively, that more shows which have a strong niche appeal are made and which develop strong followings. It's true that there would be less revenue involved. This model does seem to have hurt music labels, but I'm not very concerned if media moguls profit margins are hurt. It concerns me more that we get to pay less money to those media moguls, or alternatively, that we only pay them more money if they give us a product that we actually wanted in the first place. There's another problem too at the other end. I'm not willing to pay $40 a month or so just to watch basketball games on cable right now. I don't participate in the market at all that way if I don't pay for their product. If they instead let me buy just the channel(s) I wanted, at a rate I feel was fair for those channels, or the shows I wanted (when there are shows I'd want to watch), then I'd be spending money on this. Instead I can just buy DVDs, go to the movies, or browse the internet (essentially watching TV for free on the last part). There will be an increasing number of people doing this last part and it would seem like the appropriate response is to make a flexible approach to selling something to them. This is the model adopted by iTunes and its clones in the music market. It hasn't stopped piracy or free riding completely, but it's a lot better than having to pay $15 for a new CD that has only some songs you might have wanted in the first place. There's a market there now that didn't exist and which could be captured in television as well. Shifting to it, in my opinion, would look a lot more like indie rock scenes with lots of niches with their own tastes for high quality rather than a plummeting cliff of entertainment quality.

04 November 2010

This.. would explain a lot

This your brain, if you're a libertarian brain

"Typically, conservatives scored lower than liberals on the Harm and Fairness scales and much higher on Ingroup, Authority, and Purity scales. In this case, libertarians scored low on all five surveyed moral dimensions. Libertarians share with liberals a distaste for the morality of Ingroup, Authority, and Purity characteristic of social conservatives, particularly those on the religious right" - There's a good reason why we're not conservatives. And there's a good reason why there's a group of Americans who consider themselves "libertarian" who are really just conservatives. They'd still score pretty high on things like authority or ingroup dimensions or morality.

"are therefore likely to be less responsive than liberals to moral appeals from groups who claim to be victimized, oppressed, or treated unfairly." - I suppose this is true. If the claim is valid, I'm willing to entertain it. But when people just start screaming I tend to want to know what the hell is going on first rather than start taking sides.

"Libertarians put higher value on Hedonism, Self-Direction, and Stimulation than either liberals or conservatives and they put less value than either on Benevolence, Conformity, Security, and Tradition." - Hedonistic calculus is definitely a big factor in all this. If it's pleasant to someone else, I don't particularly care as long as it's not correspondingly unpleasant to someone else who is directly involved. Conformity and security and tradition are certainly bleh. Benevolence I find goes a long way, but without some self-direction, you're still not going very far with it I should think.

"Like liberals, libertarians put less value on Power, but like conservatives they value Universalism less. Universalism is defined as “understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection of the welfare of all people and nature.” All three put high value on Achievement. Taking these results into account, Haidt concludes that “libertarians appear to live in a world where traditional moral concerns (e.g., respect for authority, personal sanctity) are not assigned much importance.”" - This is basically correct. Respect is earned, and personal sanctity is up to the individual, and not really up to the overall function of society. If someone does not wish to conform, it seems pretty pointless to make them unless they're actually doing something dreadfully wrong to others.

"Haidt and his colleagues eventually recognized that their Moral Foundations Questionnaire was blinkered by liberal academic bias by failing to include a sixth moral foundation, Liberty..... And guess what? The researchers found that libertarians dramatically outscored liberals and conservatives when it came to putting a high value on both economic and lifestyle liberty. Most dishearteningly, liberals scored two full standard deviations below libertarians on economic liberty." - That last part is a big problem. I constantly have to argue over economics and free markets. Even with so-called free market conservatives, but much more so with liberals on which I tend to have very high correlations valuing social liberties.

"libertarians scored lower than conservatives and liberals on Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Extraversion." - Definitely true. I score very low on agreeableness and extraversion. Conscientiousness is mixed. "low scores on Agreeableness indicate a lack of compassion and a proud, competitive, and skeptical nature" - ahh skepticism. My good friend... "....libertarians are not generally Neurotic, tending to be more secure, hardy, and generally relaxed even under stressful conditions. And like liberals, libertarians scored high on Openness to New Experiences, indicating that they have broad interests and are very imaginative." - Right.

"The low level of disgust sensitivity found in libertarians could help explain why they disagree with conservatives on so many social issues, particularly those related to sexuality. Libertarians may not experience the flash of revulsion that drives moral condemnation in many cases of victimless offenses." - It's really hard to disgust me. I do experience it. But it's largely accompanied by a "to each his own" reaction, or some appreciation for nature's curious diversities, even if I don't care for everything in nature. As was asked by Bailey "What wisdom does the reflex of repugnance offer?" I mean, it might tell us not to drink spoilt milk or eat rancid meats, which is probably wise for our health, but why would assigning a value to disgusting things that we have no interest in consuming and hence placing a moral basis in that disgust matter at all?

Here's the kickers for me.
"The scale measures the tendency to empathize, defined as "the drive to identify another person's emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion," and to systemize, or "the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system." Libertarians are the only group that scored higher on systemizing than on empathizing—and they scored a lot higher." - I am a huge systems person. It's not that I don't experience empathetic responses. I do. But if I'm left to my own devices, I'll take a system for understanding something or someone over emotional connections to it 9 times out of 10.

"In fact, the researchers find that libertarians are more likely to resolve moral dilemmas by applying this utilitarian calculus than are either liberals or conservatives." - And this is basically why we arrive at libertarianism in the first place. Utilitarian calculus seems like a huge motivating feature for saying "live and let live" most of the time and for removing most governmental interferences, particularly those which reduce individual mobility and freedoms with no corresponding freedoms being gained (controlling criminal acts designed to commit harms against other individuals or their property, be they murder or fraud, for instance gains us freedom to conduct our affairs in relative peace and prosperity).

"On the Different Types of Love scale, it turns out that libertarian independence from others is associated with weaker feelings of love than liberals or conservatives have for friends, family, romantic partners, and generic others. The authors note that libertarians also report slightly less satisfaction with life than do liberals and conservatives. The researchers report that libertarians “score high individualism, low on collectivism, and low on all other traits that involved bonding with, loving, or feeling a sense of common identity with others.”" - This one is hard sometimes. I tend to get the feeling "we" prefer to be understood and perceived as useful (as part of that utilitarian calculus). But being introverts, don't like to venture out much to get too attached to someone, and vice versa is really scary. I can speak to being relatively indifferent to various types of this. I'm not that close with family, I'm not very motivated by the idea of children, and most people, strangers, I'm completely indifferent to at best. Even most friendships tend to be really strange by comparison.

"Libertarian morality, by rising above and rejecting primitive moralities embodied in the universalist collectivism of left-liberals and the tribalist collectivism of conservatives, made the rule of law, freedom of speech, religious tolerance, and modern prosperity possible" - I would not go so far as this perhaps, but I would say that it does lend itself to a very peculiar set of moral foundations that are uniquely valuable for a culture of diverse individuals. Indeed, it's hardly likely that a culture of diverse individuals could exist at all without these values being shared and enforced and practiced by enough of them because the natural diversity of humanity is so bizarre and so frequently gives rise to these wise digressions of disgust or disdain and hatred.

03 November 2010

A good turn of phrase

"Some people are voting Tuesday for calorie-free chocolate cake, and some are voting for fat-free ice cream. Neither option is actually available."


"The patriot never, under any circumstances, boasts of the largeness of his country, but always, and of necessity, boasts of its smallness." - GK Chesterton

The former smacks of idolatry, the latter of a desire to seek improvements.

It is the former that has possessed many people and perverted the term to meaning now an incapacity to see weaknesses, flaws, and errors or sins in our national history or our national agenda, or at least that of certain portions of our national agenda (that dominated by your favourite political persuasion). All such notions are a "tearing down of America" or represent a lack of faith in some unique special character of Americanism (American exceptionalism in other words as coming not from some unique concepts of liberty or democratic ideals that we must struggle to continue uphold but from the character of its people itself, diluted by liberals or communists or uberconservatives or Muslims or immigrants or pacifists or warmongers, whichever your villain de jour).

It is the latter which demands that we speak instead of the smaller things that we do well, the things which are overlooked, and also of the things which we would do well to do better, or differently, or not at all. And without this duty, we have not patriotism, but worship of a nation in nationalism. A far more vile and dangerous notion than a desire to see one's country fare well is the pernicious belief that it is already doing the best in all its endeavours. It smacks of doublespeak and propaganda campaigns than of honest assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of a culture and the nation and systems and institutions that nurture it.

political musing

Something that strikes me as strange about both parties, and really all sides of the political arena, is this tendency to conceive of one's enemies as being navigated and orchestrated by shadowy and nefarious forces in the background. It was apparently impossible for far-left progressives to believe that Tea Party types existed and had internal and personal motivations, however ridiculous, irrational or out-of-step those might have been, they were internal and individual. They were not founded and funded and bought by shadowy corporate monies. Indeed, those shadowy corporate monies probably broke relatively even, at least considering who won and where and rarely have much influence to begin with. And the open corporate monies, represented by someone like Meg Whitman, lost. The same of course holds true for critics of progressives, believing its all an evil union plot or socialist or communist plot orchestrated by the Soviet Union in the old days, or something of the like.

It's apparently impossible for people of distinctly different political strains to believe really that their opponents can hold their views out of some deeply held ideological constraints. However misguided those beliefs are, they must be representative of a nefarious plot to take down America by corporate masters or communist oppressors or whatever. It makes for amusing rally cries and chants and makes elections seem like important decisions between two radically different choices, when they very rarely in fact represent significant choices that can be enacted into our legal shifts in the zeitgeist. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy describes a democratic planet ruled by lizards who hate the people, and the people who hate the lizards but when confronted on why people vote, it's naturally because if you don't the wrong lizard might win. It usually doesn't make any difference that the political class has a disdain for us and we for them, we pick our teams and go to war for them at election time and convince ourselves that we are really deciding more important matters or that much larger forces are at work than voting machines to make our quest feel noble and heroic.

What's more amusing still is how rarely those distinct divisions actually matter. Very few real progressives or far-right conservatives serve in high public offices. Even with the Republican party's swing farther to the right, there are still only 6 or 7 Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn types instead of 3 or 4 in the Senate. Several of them lost, quite badly in some cases. And probably only 20-25 such people in the House (and this includes Ron Paul, who's almost reasonable on some issues). It's a vocal and significant minority that will stir up some craziness now and then, but it's little different than counting up all the Kucinich/Pete Stark/Bernie Sanders types on the liberal aisle. The vast majority of political candidates are quite safely in a moderate position along the usual American political spectrum (that is, roughly center-right or center-left, depending on what part of the country you're in). To be sure there's evolution deniers and global warming science deniers and people who claim to have seen aliens. It makes for fun at mocking it all, especially when some unpolished rubes are running like Paladino or O'Donnell or Angle or Alvin Greene.

But it doesn't paint much of a picture of the dreary realities of our political choices.


In other news, all people from both (all) parties are stupid.

Read signs carefully....

And of course, yeah. Cognitive dissonance much.

I like Stewart/Colbert for a good laugh as much as the next classical liberal, but just wow.

These are my fellow space travelers. It baffles me sometimes that I haven't taken over a small island nation yet. (Maybe though they're more sane than these people?)

Prop 19

I guess we're not Portugal

".....the Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding...."

In my discussions, it seems pretty clear there's a question about "when is it appropriate for government to act". One step I'd suggest is that when government has established a regulation which has significant negative externalities, that regulation should be abolished by the people or the government. In this case, the drug war policies have had significant negative externalities (harms to individuals, foreign policy ripples, etc) and should be abolished. In cases like our regulations and controls on contraceptives, again, negative externalities abound in STD transmission rates and rates of teens seeking abortions (teen pregnancy itself is probably a less clear negative externality and more a potential individual harm).

I have some support when there's a significant negative externality that can be averted through collective government action, say with pollution or crimes violating individuals and their property rights, or a positive externality that can be captured like with some infrastructure or with education, but there are often some flaws in the implementation. Schools for instance I'm comfortable forcing people to pay for education because of free rider problems and a significant positive externality. But not for whatever school the government says their money should go to. I'm comfortable paying for roads, but I think that controlled access roads can be built or maintained privately or paid for with congestion priced tolls to reduce pollution and congestion as the natural and undesirable outcomes of having more roads. In other words, we tax things we want, income as a method of wealth creation or jobs, and we subsidize things we don't, bad and failing school systems, corn syrup, coal and oil. This is an idiotic system of governance as a consequence. We get too much stuff we don't want (fattening foods, congested roads, gas guzzling cars spewing pollutants), and less of what we might want (income mobility, educational opportunities and innovations)

There's a lot of public choice theory problems explaining why we're getting these inefficient government policy outcomes and some proposed solutions to the problem of having to have a government in the first place that might make it a little less silly. But basically anytime it invades homes and businesses for no apparent reason and violates private property rights and private associations, it better have a damn good reason (like a warrant), and not a counter-productive one like "we're looking for consensual adults selling or producing or consuming narcotic substances".

things that happened last night

When I wasn't paying attention.

Angle losing to Reid. Somewhat surprising given how the polls were going out there, but really, the GOP had no business losing that seat. And Angle was the one thing Reid really had going for him.

O'Donnell got 40% of the vote (lost by 16). I'm thinking that's a little shockingly high, but it should start a bit of thinking against Palin's viability too. Alvin Greene getting 28% is also a bit of a strange outlier.

Feingold lost. Ugh. I didn't like the campaign-finance law either, but otherwise the guy was a rock for civil liberties at a time we need somebody who would be.

Looks like Murkowski probably won in Alaska. That jackass arresting reporters didn't deserve to win.

Rand Paul won. Pretty comfortably. Make of that what you will. Thanks to Conway for running a lame campaign attempting to paint a conservative as a libertarian. Or to the libertarian for running away from it.

Doesn't look like Rossi or Buck won, but they're both really close. Either way, with West Virginia and California and Delaware pretty much safe in the pocket and Nevada more or less a toss up that broke badly for them because of a poor candidate, there wasn't anyway for Republicans to win the Senate. 6 or 7 was the best they were getting. House was a little higher overall than I expected. 60 was definitely more than around 45 or so. But it looked to have been trending that way over the last couple weeks. Any number above 39 was enough. Doesn't matter whether it was 100 or 60 to me. It wasn't going to budge DC politics and simply puts an orange guy in charge of the House. Woo-hoo. Or something. I'm not convinced that the tea party is going to be very happy with their "achievement" in about 6 months, but we'll see.

Governor's races were probably the only thing out this election that will actually matter, simply because it's a redistricting election and Republicans can cement some districts for themselves (hello gerry's mander). I don't expect the control of the House to actually help Republicans very much. I kind of wish more national attention had been focused on this. Seemed like an afterthought in the political horse race coverage. I'm not sure that it would have swung many of those mansions one way or the other to cover them more, but there's a couple close ones still laying out there. More to my thinking, it's the one area of the election that most resembles "politics as usual", with some scraping of the plate by politicians for their own benefit.

Oh and Prop 19 lost out in California, so we don't get much fun seeing how that would play out in the courts. In fact, there's a chance that the medical dispensaries are going to start getting raided by the state itself too, depending on who won the AG's slot and whether the Governor lets them run with it.

02 November 2010

The problem of perspective taking

One should admit the possibility of error in their assessments. But to expect apples to one day fall the direction we perceive as up instead of that which we perceive as down would make no sense.

Some perspectives are invalidated by their implausibility or by their utter failure to account for what seems to be the objective reality we're all jointly encountering. Perhaps the person who says the apple is really falling upward instead of downward has a point, as sometimes the emperor really does have no clothes. But sometimes the emperor is fully clothed and does not even appear to be naked in the first place. At that point raising such objections would seem to be quite silly and utterly pointless. We might even say it is crazy.

That objection may persist, because it admits the probability of error and serves that useful end to make us evaluate more carefully an argument being advanced. But it does not make it a valid objection worthy of being considered as true simply because the objection exists. There should be a method of evaluating these alternative claims and where they are found lacking, they should be rejected.

If these are not alternative claims of reality but rather alternative policy choices about how to achieve certain ends, then we're stuck with somewhat less empirical evaluational tools, because we don't tend to have control groups to run experiments with and repeat the results in all policy choices. Still when we see the same sorts of results over and over with the same policies, even in somewhat distinct cultures, we should expect the same result if those policies or, more usefully, a set of cultural norms are adopted. At that point our objections are more that the eventual goals of those norms or policies are less desirable (to us, as private individuals or representatives of alternative views held by small or large groups of such individuals) and not that the reality and function of those norms is in some way invalidated and does not work as specified. Arguments at that level take on moral-political significance about priors or assumptions of worldviews rather than mere debates between this is what A does and this is what B does and A is either better than or less than B in terms of producing some mutually desired outcome. Without a willing full throated defence of what those views and perspectives actually are, what those desired outcomes would be, they become useless debates that go nowhere.

It is as though we schedule an argument between people who see the emperor wearing clothes and people who seem to think he is not and one or both sides do not even bother to attend to proving their point and explaining what "wearing clothes" means or whether this is or is not some desirable feature of the emperor's daily life among his people. When two sides do not agree to concede that they should have the same set of facts before them on which to draw and base their conclusions, then no argument is possible.

the war on drugs

Not warring on the most dangerous animal of all, man!... err boozed man! Hiccup.

Some of these factors seem more relevant than others, and giving some credit to alcohol for being a legal substance when others are not gives it a lot of (subjective) externality effects that aren't quite as existent in the case of say, heroin or meth, which deservedly score highly on some of these themselves, but not as high as booze. And some of the scoring in these models still seems about as arbitrary as that applied by governments (though I suppose we can give credit for there being an actual model with an outputted score rather than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down method).

Nevertheless, alcohol addiction and its chemical composition and effects are not exactly middling problems. And its ready availability in most communities does pose some very high externality costs that aren't being captured or dealt with in very effective ways. In addition, as noted in the link, some of the externality costs like violence or crime are not accounted for as causes of the drug itself relative to costs of their prohibition. Even focusing on what scores would seem based in more empirically valid measures (addiction rates, drug related or drug caused mortality, etc), alcohol comes out far in advance of some of these other drugs and competes with some of the worst (heroin or meth even). So it's still quite possible when you account for things like this that alcohol (and tobacco for that matter), despite their legal use in most developed societies, are certainly more dangerous and have far higher personal and social costs than most of the substances that governments have outlawed even on a per use/per capita consumption basis.

One shouldn't be surprised that alcohol producers have banded together to keep it that way by opposing Prop 19 in California. Because it seems to me that revenues from one particular substance being legal is a perfect sort of captured regulatory state. It's exactly why you get casinos pushing back against internet gambling. It has nothing to do with paternalism and more to do with rent seeking behaviors at a certain point in the system.

01 November 2010

A question

What family values?

Since we're apparently the "family" country. I'd have to wonder, if we're not comfortable with the idea of our teens having sex (and drinking for that matter), even under what might be supervised conditions, if we're probably not also talking to these teens, even about our supposedly optimal abstaining options. To my mind, we're actually the uber-individualist country where we let our teens do as they wish and pretend that they're well-behaved instead. Until there are obvious areas of concern like teen pregnancy, STDs, and serious drunk driving incidents. It would be best if we did not pretend that we had a great deal of interest in family values since we clearly don't value the lives of our children if we're so busy making them too afraid to talk to trusted adults (within their families) about often critical decisions in their lives. To the point that they are making them without appropriately evaluating negative consequences and costs of those decisions.

The birth control disparity has other cultural effects (religiosity rates are very different), but these others should not. It appears we're basically going to end up with a population that has sex mostly by 17 anyway without seriously invasive and pointless laws, so we may as well talk to the kids about the options before they go about their business. Raising kids within a moderation environment and letting them make choices seems far more reasonable, largely in terms of producing good outcomes (ie, fewer teen pregnancies and fewer STD infections), both here in our attitudes toward their sexual relationships and in the question of alcohol use. (this also throws cold water on the notion that encouraging condom use is somehow about encouraging promiscuous sexual teens. This seems far more like a cultural fear we have rather than an empirical result, and has more in common with parts of East Africa than the developed world. Where condom use is similarly discouraged as a shaming or through creating a perception that the users are unclean, as opposed to condom use being considered a sensible responsible precaution.)

One of the most interesting conclusions of that comparison is that both sexes of American teens wish they had waited longer (while very few Dutch teens did). I'm pretty sure given that much of our comedy relating to virginal experiences is on how bad it is/was, this should tell us something about the choices we're making leading up to that. Ie, the who, the what, etc, isn't actually well conceived of, not discussed, and ends up being a pretty poor experience for both young women and young men. This is not, to me, an indictment of sex itself. It's an indictment of having sex with the wrong people. The reason this is obvious is that most European teens are going through the careful process of thinking about the consequences of those actions and getting condoms or prescribed birth control pills/shots, etc, which would be things I'd think that people interested in committed sexual relationships as adults would seek out. They're not just going at it like wild animals as is our conception of teenage hormones. And they seem pretty happy with the results. Meanwhile, here, both sexes don't seem too happy with the results of those encounters. Which strikes me as flying in the face of our "theories" about teenage male sexuality.

And we're also dealing with the consequences by having to pay for all these teenagers with pregnancies, abortions, or various sexual infections. It's the very essence of a corner solution utterly failing to produce even its desired outcomes and it carries with it these persistent notions into adulthood that sex is somehow unclean and has no recreational aspects to it within relationships, even when we sanctify it with the rituals of marriages. I'd suspect we'd probably have healthier relationships (and lower divorce rates) if more people saw their sex lives as simply another aspect of expression within their relationships. As something to have some fun with rather than something of a unfortunate duty to each other. If Dutch teens can figure this out, then why can't American adults?