29 April 2010

And now Utah goes off the deep end too

Down with Bennett!

Remember, socialist means even being marginally supportive of "liberals" or "Democrats", regardless of what it is that they are trying to accomplish.

So by that logic it does mean: co-sponsoring a radical but market driven alternative to health care reform that was promptly buried and forgotten by conservatives, the self-styled "friends" of the free market, when the time came to pony up an idea (Tort Reform!, really...that's what you got? Yet another state intervention is what that looks like to me at this point). Even though, strangely enough, this idea was a MARKET BASED ALTERNATIVE. Much more so than the present. For example under Wyden-Bennett, Medicare and Medicaid were abolished. Not cut. Gone. Kaput. The guys who came up with that are a Democrat from Oregon and a Republican from Utah. Their idea successfully killed one of the biggest and most socialistic enterprises of the federal and state governments of the US over the last 50 years by replacing it with something cheaper and more market friendly. Both of them are potentially losing their Senate seats this term. Why?

Obviously they must be Socialists. One because he's a Democrat and the other because he decided to cooperate with a Democrat.

I'm sure there are local considerations and reasons to vote against Bennett for Utah (apparently his TARP vote?, which... considering many of the GOP leadership voted for, is kind of an odd choice. Updated: he voted down the stimulus like almost everyone else with an R after their name. So it's really just TARP. Which was broadly popular among R-branded peoples until it actually took place and they realized how unpopular it was). Ezra's a health care wonk (who isn't by now of those who actually followed the thing to passage from its inception during the primary campaign at least, if not back in the mid-90s or mid 70s or mid 60s...) and this alternative bill was a pet project that didn't get off the ground for those of us who were indifferent to the outcome of the actual political process (preferring the theoretical approaches of better designed policies). But the fact that Bennett had to clam up over it and could not even trot this out as an alternative to the plan as written in Congress seems absurd at the least. Wyden at least had the luxury of taking out NYT op-eds and fighting with his own party for some shreds of his cost-control ideas and so on from his original bill.

random old hits on immigration laws

I really should stop

paying attention

Because eventually I find something like this:
A. It is unlawful for a person to:

1. Transport or move or attempt to transport or move an alien in this state, in furtherance of the illegal presence of the alien in the United States, in a means of transportation if the person knows or recklessly disregards the fact that the alien has come to, has entered or remains in the United States in violation of law. [...]

B. A means of transportation that is used in the commission of a violation of this section is subject to mandatory vehicle immobilization or impoundment pursuant to section 28-3511.


Note the second part. They can (and will, this is mandatory) seize your property. For transporting a human being. It was bad enough that we have civil forfeiture laws that police can seize property and force people to prove that the property is innocent, much less themselves, of a crime in order to retrieve it, or that we, in the name of "fighting drugs" can do so. Now we will seize property to fight illegal immigration.

Speaking of which, isn't Sheriff Joe's department under investigation for misappropriating those very same civil forfeiture funds? Doesn't seem like the best idea to give them control over more property.

28 April 2010

a summary of pragmatism

"Here are the key market failures:

1. Inequality—The solution is redistributive taxes.

2. Externalities (and second-hand smoke is not an externality)—The solution is Pigou taxes.

3. Monopoly—The solution is antitrust laws. And with free entry the only plausible problem is price-fixing cartels. Even anti-merger laws are of dubious value.

4. Public goods—only a few goods such as lighthouses and medical research meet the criteria, and even lighthouses are a dubious example."


That's buried toward the bottom, but described directly above it is the utilitarian process used to arrive first at something like left-liberalism, and then the process used to arrive at solutions to the major problems illuminated by such views through public policy. By people who actually care if the solutions work.

Another note on immigration

A disagreement!

I think I follow where my disagreement comes from: the latter explanation given. I think the immigration laws we have at present are illogical and without merit or function. I suppose that a significant democratic polity which wants immigration restricted should have this wish respected. If they can come up with a way to do it that doesn't potentially impose upon the civil liberties of citizens or risk being used, as it has been by police in Arizona BEFORE it was passed, to racially profile and otherwise harass people who are, in some probability but without any certainty and certainly not uniformly, here illegally (but have committed no other more serious violations), ie, to target an unfavored group simply because they are unfavored and not because they represent any actual or potential harms to anyone.

My disagreement as summed up is that I am fairly sure that our present immigration laws are either:
1) unenforceable because they are incoherent and need reform anyway
2) not desired to be enforced anyway by political and business elites, despite considerable public disaffection (which I think is misplaced and often exploited by other authority figures to seize powers unrelated to the problem, as in the case of this most recent bill's rhetorical supports. But does not mean it does not exist). And therefore, are irrelevant laws suggesting some other reforms should take precedence (civil service reforms or campaign finance as examples). Any attempt to enforce meaningful law reform on this topic appears liable to end up in much the same place as the health care "reform": right where we started.

The other problem is this: the vague and unspecific objection that liberals or (some) libertarians seem to have with the law is that they don't think immigration should be restricted to begin with (I don't at least). But left unanswered is why conservatives seem to think it should be. Their responses for this more specific question are just as unspecific and illogical as conservatives seem to think liberal objections to Arizona and federal laws on immigration are.

"They're causing crimes!" - without acknowledging that (violent) crime is way down and most of it is still caused by native-born Americans or residents, and not immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Or that immigrants are disproportionately likely to be the more law-abiding resident, not wanting to attract attention is a powerful motivator to follow laws. "They're living off the welfare teat!" Without acknowledging that the vast majority of our welfare dollars go to older white people who've lived here for decades and the vast majority of social welfare programs we employ are not used by immigrants, illegal or otherwise, without some sort of fraud being committed (an actual crime worth investigating). Or that the vast majority of such immigrants are working at jobs, and probably paying their taxes (if they aren't being paid under the table by their employers, which is a problem worth taking up with their employers, not the illegals). The "precise" objection seems to focus mostly around the notion that they are not "American". If forced to choose only between the strict arguments of "rule of law needs to be enforced" and "we need to keep outsiders out", I'm pretty sure I would come down on the former as correct. But this is, by and large, not the best solution to our immigration problem: to construct harsher legal regimes. Figure on why they are coming here as a root issue and base that on the empirical data of what immigrants actually do when they arrive, legally or illegally. Anecdotal stories will make for wonderful campfires, but they are not sufficient to establish that the cause of crime rates (which have been going down) or the expansive welfare state (which has been going up) is a bunch of people from South of the Rio Grande (otherwise known in America as "Mexicans", even if they are from Argentina). I think we do quite enough to be worthy of praise or blame on those two subjects on our own without needing to spread it around.

This is also a pretty good summary of the issue. Obviously I am not a Christian and therefore did not suffer such a conundrum myself, but there are some Christian sentiments I find quite agreeable. That was one such notion. I think it was roughly encapsulated in the "cosmopolitan egalitarian" sentiment, but occasionally "cosmopolitan egalitarians" get a lot of pushback from the religious folks. On this issue, I think, for the most part, religious authorities have had a pretty good notion to cooperate not with the state authorities in enforcing a silly law (when they actually want to enforce it), but with the immigrants in sheltering them against often very real external harm.

Another political-economy perspective here (Caplan returning to his usual form after a couple weeks in exile from his bizarre defence of restricted women's political, social, and economic rights or opportunities during the 19th century).

Running scams

So...

If you saw Wall Street and wanted to become a investment and finance guy... I am reminded of the story that Palin read Animal Farm and viewed the pigs as the heroes.

This explains a lot of how finance has become a sort of scummy profession if the people in its den looked approvingly on the people who wanted to scam off a few billion dollars from the system without regard to the penalty on the markets themselves, the institutions they worked for or traded with, and the investors whose money was involved. Here's the tricky part: it wasn't illegal. I'm in the camp that doesn't quite buy that Goldman Sachs did something that was illegal either. Almost certainly there was an ethical question however.

There's a line in Rounders that is closer to how the ethics of business might work better (not ideally, but better): "You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin it once." There's another line that seems to describe how they actually work: "If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker." Ideally you want business to be not zero-sum games, but positive sum trades. People purchase something they want, you provide it for something you want (usually money). Maybe you would work it so they give up more than they thought they would, but they still get something in return. In practice, a lot of high finance seems to be more of the zero-sum angle where everybody is trying not to be the sucker in the room. And they're too busy skinning the sheep to worry about the wool they could get over the long haul. If you can get in and get the money, fuck the long term is the way to play the game right now.

I'm not sure how that attitude gets regulated or restricted, even by the market.

Socialist!

Ahh the amusement of attempting, and failing, to talk to conservatives these days. I don't presume to be on the level of a Mr Manzi (that would be crazy, and besides, I disagree about the viability of a theoretical carbon tax with him anyway), but dealing with the trenches is apparently little different than dealing with the top dogs.

Let's summarize briefly:
Socialists are opposed to the ownership of private property
I am of the opinion that the defence of private property rights is one of, if not the central function of, governments (after assuring that governments do not violate our civil rights).
Socialists support a centrally planned agricultural system. Such as the price controls or subsidies that we use as a form of such planning, though this functions in real life more as a form of corporatism/fascism than pure socialism.
I oppose farm subsidies, not merely for ethanol and fuel production, but for regular crops as well.
Socialists support a publicly run and controlled education system.
The only interferences I support for education are that there should be a tax levied on taxpayers/property owners that they could then spend at their leisure or choice on education (or surrender to the state). I don't support public schools or the present distinctions between public and private schooling. I also don't support subsidies for college education, certainly in the manner we presently maintain them.
It goes on from there: I oppose centrally planned industrial policies, we subsidize all sorts of industrial production through tariffs and tax incentives, I'm no fan of the excise tax levied on inheritances, mostly because I think it's a waste of energy to get rich people to give their money to the state. I even oppose the housing tax subsidies and cheap money loans that have allowed Americans to pursue living in the suburbs and exurbs, yet another measure proposed by Marxism (to distribute the population over the land more equitably from the cities).

On the actual economic and political measures of socialism versus capitalistic notes, I am pretty sure I would pass with flying colours relative to the average American citizen, particularly since only one of these is even relatively popular among the average American citizenry (private property rights) and none of the other planks on Marx's famous manifesto are greatly opposed by public supports as expressed in votes. (Okay fine, I do support a central banking system over some other method of currency (specie standards for example) but I have a much more limited view of what, if anything, that central bank is empowered to do other than distribute money at a fixed rate of growth based on low inflation or modest NGDP targets.)

And yet, because I have the nerve to think that the health care bill is anything other than a retrenchment of the status quo and not some bold path to socialism worthy of repeal as a symbol of its un-American-ness (and took the time to outline a market-based alternative to it rather than simply say we must repeal it immediately with no plan like an idiot, on the apparent belief that the system already was market based and was working fine, both horrible errors in my view), and thus disagree with conservatives on this point, or because I think that deficit reduction is important enough for our long-term economic prosperity and the likelihood of real budget cuts being made is so low (for political reasons, the two things that need cut are untouchable, Medicare and Social Security) that I might support measures to raise government revenues as a stop-gap until such hard cuts and choices are made, such as a VAT or a carbon tax, I am a socialist.

Now if the definition of "epistemic closure" is not including something like "everyone who disagrees with me must be a socialist", much as for Mr. Manzi it means that his global warming policy skepticism makes him a "global warming fanatic" when he demonstrates the stunning ignorance of a popular conservative icon on that topic, then I'm not sure what it does mean. It's funny for a while. And then eventually you just end up pretending that these people don't exist and don't matter. Except they still end up voting and reproducing and passing on their use of logic to the next generation.

I could put up with being labeled a "liberal", because on most matters of discussion, I think my opinions and political beliefs have been framed in that way by people and political philosophers who are famous "liberals" (JS Mill, Thoreau, Kant, Adam Smith, and so on). One of the most common definitions often applied to a libertarian is "a liberal who likes markets". So "liberal" doesn't strike me as an insult or even an attempt at one sometimes. When I'm in discussion over civil liberties or war or authoritarian state actions, I'm easily taken in by those "evil liberals" as one of their own, and thus when they think I am a liberal, it's not a shocking development or even a problem for either of us (at least until Citizens United comes up for debate). But when my economic views have in large part been shaped by Chicago school economics or some derivation thereof (Friedman, Hayek, etc) and I've actually read Marx (and with Mill and Russell a smattering of ambivalent or even positive views on socialism as an economic system, though not as a viable political imposition), the "insult" of calling someone a socialist eventually gets so annoying that further discussion is pointless. I may as well talk to a wall instead. Because it becomes clear that you are talking to an idiot when this happens.

This happens to be appropriate. Except that it's not clear that I am engaged in talking to intelligent people. "The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him." - Tolstoy.

On the list of things that should not have happened

A police force was featured on a show pitting "warriors" against each other in a mock computerized battle. (actually two of them, SWAT and the GSG9).

1) Police forces are trained in lethal force and this is a sad necessity, but the primary use of SWAT teams was intended to be, and doesn't appear to be in reality, peculiar tactical situations that may or may not require lethal force. They are not supposed to representative of the armies, special forces, or rampaging barbarians, who might be more commonly featured on a show like this.

2) GSG9 routinely wins at the international competitions for this one (there are apparently such things). I don't see why they bothered doing a show for it as a result (they don't win every year?). Except that the test/competition is probably something more like the actual mission of a SWAT team (hostage scenarios for example, maybe riot control at worst) and not fighting a running battle against a heavily armed and trained paramilitary organisation. In other words, American style SWAT teams are better at killing people (according to a "computer model" made for TV purposes). Wonder how that happened.

3) They have a taser that shoots out multiple rounds at once? Who thought that was even necessary?

4) In case you missed it, NPR had a brief bit over the weekend about the SWAT team guy who decided that the middle of high school field trip was a great place to set off a flashbang grenade. Deliberately. As a prank.

These are the people we send off to serve "high-risk warrants" all over the country?

27 April 2010

things to be uncertain about

Korean edition

"This is particularly true because not only could a war do a lot of damage to South Korea, but any kind of conflict would always come with the risk that the South would win and find itself responsible for taking over the North Korean basketcase."

-More or less my take on the provocations of the DPRK is that they would lose a war but that the other countries involved (Japan, US and the ROK, plus probably China) don't want one. They all know this. So every few months to a couple years, Kim Jung-Il fires up the annoyance machine and extracts some money to prop up his tottering dictatorship since it is cheaper to simply pay the blackmail than to actually execute the war and put the clamps down on this guy's regime. The reason is not so much the expense of a shooting war on the Korean peninsula, but the cost of rebuilding a country and economy that is in ruins from 50-60 years of communist rule. Germany could manage because it was one of the largest economies in the world at the time and Europe, as it always does, still mattered whether Germany was unified or not (plus East Germany wasn't in nearly as bad of shape. Its people were not starving racist dwarfs for example). South Korea, while it has a booming and productive economy, is no West Germany circa 1990.

I suspect that removing the threat of North Korean aggressions would reduce the relative importance of East Asian politics to American concerns. This is something "we" don't want and possibly (though not certainly) that the Koreans don't seem to mind either (on either side of the border). Long term, it makes far more sense for China and Japan and Korea to get along than it does for the US to have incredible amounts of influence over the policies of East Asian countries with whom we have tremendous, and increasingly mutually beneficial, international trade flows. But we're not there yet because the status quo of buying off the regional gangster continues to be the cheaper game in town than reform.

Of course, it's also possible that, as with re-unified post-Cold War Germany, the US will simply keep numbers of troops forward deployed in bases in Japan and Korea. For no apparent reason.

As usual

A law written broadly to respond to a single event, generally turns out...badly.

I presume there are other motivations involved (xenophobia, trade/jobs, "American" cultural heritage being lost, etc), but in general fear of crime is a powerful one to get people out and vote and active in politics. One well-publicized incident might have been "prevented" by a law like this, but this was hardly the best way to go about it.

This explains much...

Wait, no it doesn't.

In the usual case, I find it is best to simply ignore any health and food related story in the media. But whenever the cocoa bean comes up, it is time for some amusement at the behest of the vast legions of chocolate lovers out there.



Like so.

26 April 2010

Two more reasons why

I'm leery of ever moving out to the DC/Maryland area. (as I recall Maryland ranks dead last in protected civil liberties anyway).

And a major reason I wanted a camera on my damn cell phone. You'd think all I need a phone for is to make phone calls. The whole texting, browsing the internet, and watching movies elements seem a bit dumb still (Don't foresee ever linking my cell to facebook or twitter for example). But the fact that a little bitty camera that can very quickly and surreptitiously send video or photos off to an email for storage, and that this sort of thing seems increasingly necessary for the average citizen to possess, that gets annoying.

For all you coffee freaks

Here's to your recovery

I think this was the turning point in my own head as I decided not to bother with caffeine (and concluded my aversion to taking pills had some sort of bizarre merit). When I heard this:


"George Carlin: I was on a talk show recently and the host asked me, said ‘what do you think about the dope problem?’ And I said, ‘definitely, I feel we have too many dopes.’ No question about it. That’s why we had a drug problem, I really feel. Because, like, everybody has access to drugs and we’re all kind of just dopey.

We’re just human beings, little protoplasm walking around, shaking hands -- ‘How are you, Phil? Gimme a piece of lettuce.’ You know, no real big thing, we’re just kind of dopey folks and we have all these DRUGS available to us. You know, that’s why there’s a DRUG problem. There’s all of those DRUG stores. Every three of four blocks there’s a big sign: DRUGS. Open all night, DRUGS. Free Delivery, DRUGS. Cut rate, DRUGS. It’s the biggest thing on their sign, cosmetics, sundries, DRUGS. And the pharmacist is always stoned, ever noticed that? Check his eyes. He’s experimenting with something. How come he can never fill a prescription right away? You know, he always gives you that ‘better come back in about an hour. I can’t even read the bastard.’

It’s no accident that we’re drug oriented, really. Big drug companies got us that way and they’d like to keep us that way and that’s a simple thing. They start you early with the oral habit. Little orange flavored Aspirin for children, two in the mouth, son. Something wrong with your head? Two in the mouth, remember that, head, mouth.

These are orange, they’ll be other colors later on. Even named it after a saint to throw you off, you know. It’s all right, son. Two in the mouth. Saint Joseph. Remember Pop-a-chox? Guy goes to the dance when he’s thirteen. ‘How’s your head?’ ‘Two in the mouth, man, you know.’ Mom’s got her fix. Coffee freaks running around.
......

When they talk about drugs they don’t talk about all of them, that’s the problem. They don’t mention coffee -- the low end of the speed spectrum, I grant you. But there are coffee freaks. And they’re walking around, nobody worried about it or anything. Mrs. Olsen never tells you about that mild speed lift, you know, because she’s shooting freeze-dried Folger’s.

You've seen the coffee freak in the office haven't you? The guy who drops 8 or 9 cups every morning. Always in a good mood. Hi how are you, warm that up for you, okay. Always in a nice mood until the coffee urn breaks. Then he's the first cat going, what do you mean broken man, turn it over man, plug it in, nevermind put some water in it, holy shit turn the power on. Then he goes out and scores because he's the one who's hooking. I know it's just a dopey example, but that's the beginning of it.

(the second half on the link is the birth control routine from the 70s as well. "Oh that's what you're doing at home...Well, we're keeping a record of it here in the store...late at night I read them).

things I pondered today

1) Why are chipset fans so hard to remove and thus replace? We need to use pliers for computer repair/upgrades? Really?
2) What do nose-piercings signal? I think I get that jewelry generally signals the capacity to waste resources and time on collecting and displaying shiny rocks and pebbles rather than important survival things like food or shelter. I think I get that earrings do this. I suppose I will grant that a tongue ring signifies its supposed sexual elements. I don't know what the nose piercing is for though. Why not just another hole in the ear? (tossed in with this may be eyebrow piercings, but the nose is generally more obvious to quick observation)

amusing sentence for the week

Every time someone buys from Disney.com, they have porn sites to thank for developing internet commerce.

oh yeah

I was sort of busy over the weekend, which is where the pace of posting comes down.

Amongst other things, I am officially an uncle. I approve of the name, if that matters. I have my own reasons, good comparable peers who share the name in particular. For some reason I've noticed I have a peculiar partiality to similar names and seem to ascribe attributes to people on this basis much too often (for example I think I have far too many facebook friends with 'A' names, and probably 'J' names as well). Thus far I haven't been exposed to the wailing noises. I assume anyone will view that as a positive development. It will be a while until I have much of anything else to note on this or even any semblance of a relationship with the tiny creature, but I suppose we should all live and tolerate one another admirably despite this tremendous failing in communicative abilities.

Secretly my plot shall be to teach the child some other language which no other peer of ours is likely to know off-handedly (this unfortunately would exclude Japanese, which I had a considerable interest in learning at some point. Perhaps Korean or Russian however will suffice). This will aid my ability to perform my "corrupting elder" role.

Random other things: I'm surprised Utah is up 3-1. Not really surprised OKC beat LA twice at home. Let me know if they win a road game, then the "series starts" as they say. Despite LA's weaknesses being glaring this series (in particular Fisher and the lack of effective bench play other than Odom), I'm still not sure anybody else out West is setup to beat them in a 7 game series. Other than maybe the San Antonio-Dallas winner, mostly just the Spurs though. Kidd isn't much of a problem for LA the way Parker/Hill would be and the way Westbrook has been. I don't think Utah can beat them without their big guys being healthy (Okur and Kirilenko) and I don't think Denver can either (Kenyon's not 100%), and Phoenix is just a weird match-up all around. Still don't see Orlando or Cleveland losing in the Finals though. Maybe even Boston could beat LA (Hawks could get trounced).

Apparently the NHL is continuing its tradition of having home-ice mean next to nothing during the playoffs. 20 games won by the home team. Out of 44. Naturally the ratio is far better during the regular season.

25 April 2010

a morally squishy rumination

Be forewarned, moral approbation or disgust may occur. You may wish to skip this one if you're especially prone to getting angered over ethical discourse, particularly concerning some of its more peculiar cases. I will try to warn you off once it starts going down that path. The linked video doesn't warn you at all. There are some other topics discussed in there that may be interesting besides these questions over moral assumptions, for example the evolutionary psychology aspects of religious belief. But I'm setting those aside for the moment.

Several things occurred to me here.
First, I have a highly sympathetic view toward hedonistic valuations of morals already. I have a fairly expansive view of what constitutes "pleasure" and what constitutes "pain/suffering", such that for example, someone who somehow extracts mental or even physical pleasures from their own pain or suffering can be deemed to be on the "pleasure" side of the equation (provided that their pain or suffering as inflicted is not causing considerable pain and suffering on whoever does the infliction). This was, generally speaking, one of the weak points to the so-called Golden Rule basis of morality as opposed to say a Kantian principle of universality or a hedonic calculus as employed by utilitarianism. There are some flaws with this approach, namely that it is incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to quantify pain and pleasure and to do so in even roughly comparable ways, and particularly in a universal way. Some people emphasize the pursuit of pleasure well above the avoidance of pain for example (most people try to avoid pain far more than to pursue their pleasures). Still, as methods go, I find that a far more reliable way to assess moral behavior or the possibility of some objective level of "moral truth", as it applies to the organisation and success of human societies than categorical declarations (other than issues like mutual consent and probably survival where it still exists as a problem).

Second, the primary reason I have such a sympathetic view is that I find the usual manner of creating morals is very much the more or less emotional process of feeling revolted or disgusted at something making it therefore bad. As I've noted before, I am personally "disgusted" with country music or onions. I have not noted this directly but I am personally disgusted by alcohol or by consumption of tobacco or with the possibility of personally engaging in homosexual acts with another man (I suppose I have some "odd" notions about monogamy or human sexuality more generally, but here I'm not sure if these are personally held convictions or simply tolerance of alternative relationships and I don't consider my relatively brief lifetime or reclusive lifestyle apt to give me an internal consensus on this question). I don't perceive that my disgust gives me the capacity to condemn people who might derive some utility (or otherwise known as "pleasure") from these activities or objects. Billions of people around the world find the consumption of pigs "disgusting" through some means or another and thus condemn the practice (or, when "polite" or "tolerant", at least do not engage in it personally). This can put them in considerable disagreement with the hundreds of millions of people who love bacon or pork chops (as I do). Presumably one such group would be making a categorical error in moral reasoning while our moral theories rely on such methods to discern morality (as they often claim to do before we realize they usually just rely on personal disgust and approbations). More reliably it is enough to start with the premise that some people enjoy eating bacon and derive some positive hedonistic effect from doing so and that many people do not enjoy eating bacon, for whatever reason, and derive some sort of pain or suffering if they were to do so (or think they would, if their reason were for example a religious dogma). We might, in mixed company, come up with ways of tolerating each other's preferences on this matter, such as by consuming something else when eating together for example. But we would not be capable of necessarily condemning the activity of consuming pig meats on this basis alone. Some other pressing or disconcerting elements, such as the cheap and ready availability and the agricultural effects on land or the general environment caused by wide-scale industrial farming or the methods used to raise pigs, perhaps inhumanely, may be at issue further in the discussion, but not at the "don't eat bacon, ever" level.

This is basically how the ethical problems arrive. We are confusing morality with social deviancy and/or private consensual conduct with public information by emphasizing our feelings of disgust and repulsion over the feelings of the people involved in the event itself. "We" may be fully justified not to wish to associate with people who conduct themselves in a particular way, for instance if their actions were things liable to cause us discomfort and suffering, but we don't necessarily get to condemn those actions when they don't involve us and don't involve the infliction of discomfort and suffering (unwillingly, non-consensually, or otherwise without some element of compensating pleasures/utility) upon other interested parties. I could condemn in theory animal cruelty because of an assumption of some level basic level of consent that we may accord to animals or a view of the trade-offs involved (that such actions dehumanize the person doing it or deriving some pleasure from it in a potentially dangerous way and that typically the net effect of the animal's utility to us, for example economically as meat or transportation, is limited by the destruction of it in a wantonly cruel way). I could not condemn two men having sex with one another consensually.

In the actual discussion above, very much uglier discourse comes up to make this point more strikingly (at this point you may wish to bail).







The position discussed of having sex with animals I regard as a considerably hypothetical scenario because I a) find the issues of mutual consent rather lacking and b) we cannot properly ascertain whether the animal receives an appropriate level of utility by being engaged in a sexual act with a human being. And that was an already very hypothetical scenario which did not involve considerable risk of injury to one or both parties or the transmission of disease, both aspects which I assume are quite present in the real world possibility of someone who wishes to have sex with an animal. These risks even before approaching the moral questions should help to mitigate the possibility of having to even question the morality for most of us (along with the probability that we would ordinarily be quite satisfied with sexual attractions and intercourse within our own species). The somewhat less revolting premise was consuming the remains of a family dog (or other pet) upon its death. I'm guessing most people would not take up such a cause, owing to the attachment and level of feeling they present to a family pet over months and years of interaction, just as they probably would not take too well to consuming the remains of their deceased human relatives. But consuming the otherwise healthy remains of an animal is hardly something we don't do (many of us anyway). We deliberately raise and slaughter animals for our consumption in fact. And many people involved in such things seek modestly humane accommodations for the price of our meals which, while not on the level of care for a family pet, do present the possibility of emotional attachment to the main course at dinner. For my purposes, it is meat. The reasons not to do so are more that we have plenty of other, potentially more viable and healthy meat readily available in a developed society (such as bacon) and it does raise the somewhat realistic possibility of people running around stealing animals from families who might not wish their dog or cat roasted and consumed (selling the remains to someone who expresses a desire to eat them is a somewhat thornier question than the theft of living animals or even their carcasses).

The last "emotional" discourse was over incest. I recall walking through that one in an ethics class. I think I was the only person in class that did not give a clear and obvious "no way" to this question as a universal moral. My ultimate reasoning that I settled on was that it was so unlikely to come up, either because of a cultural effect (taboo) or some strong biological/evolutionary response to the species/family/clan need for some genetic drift that I did not regard the occasional event as a moral problem but rather as a form of social deviancy (the evolutionary response was indicated by the relative lack of incest in nature, particularly in mammals or birds, with some exceptions for direct human interferences in such practices as animal husbandry. If our studies show, as they have with homosexuality, that this is more common naturally than is presently believed, I/we may have to adjust our thinking here). Again, simply because I was disgusted or horrified at the possibilities of such things did not mean I had much cause to do anything about it. The example studied in the podcast up there was far more specific than the general practice as it specifically removes the possibility of reproductive behaviors. I suspect here we have some modest reasons to dissuade people from doing this through social and cultural effects (perhaps even laws punishing such things) simply because there are always some possibilities that pleasurable sexual encounters, even with appropriate precautions against reproduction, would produce some offspring. If such a practice becomes widespread, it is possible that we could weaken our genetic resiliency as a species by having a sufficient number of incestuous offspring. This is pretty similar to my justification for government/public intervention for the application of vaccines really or, more practically and legally speaking, for the necessity of investigating and potentially penalizing murders (to dissuade people from randomly or purposefully killing others without direct social consent). The weakness of that argument however is that it also suggests still another moral repulsion most people have: eugenics. I'm not as persuaded as many that for example the harm is great for aborting unborn fetuses that contain significant, and often very painful or debilitating, genetic defections (some of which are fatal at young ages as it is), but that's about as far as I am comfortable with the subject. Selective abortions for racial or gender biases or for physical attributes seems a bit too far to travel for now, certainly on a systematic basis (though here again, I'm not so sure that we have much cause to oppose individual determinations as to why an abortion might be necessary, particularly at point early in the development of a fetus). I think therefore you could get around the eugenics issue by making it clear that the harm being prevented by opposing morally incestuous relationships is a harm potentially imposed upon any offspring from widespread practice. Presumably you could also weigh in the social or cultural castigation suffered by the practitioners themselves as harms to be avoided at least in the immediate term (where there is a cultural taboo against it), assuming their actions to be publicly known to others as is likely if they were to have any children together. (the trouble with both of these arguments is that they are suspiciously similar to the miscegenation arguments made in the Jim Crow era and beyond. I'd rather people were just comfortable with some basic forum to discuss eugenics ethically than have to recycle these).

24 April 2010

Horrors! Rich people getting high!

I say rich people because it's in the WSJ

And it's about football prospects. I'd say we should be a bit confused. The selected players listed as users were: 1) a heisman trophy winning running back, 2) a pair of former all-pro linemen (plus a top prospect lineman), 3) two wide receivers, one a Super Bowl MVP and the other one was one of the best incoming rookies last year.

So either this is a performance enhancing drug of some sort or it's probably not worth the fuss. (Or they need other examples of guys who somehow wash out because of their weed problems. I do see some examples of this in the NBA, either alcoholism or drug use that seems to impact play and effort levels).

Point I would have is that I don't particularly care whether the NFL wants to test and ban people for marijuana use at all, even if the government gets around to effective or open legalisation. They are a private organisation and are able to make up their own rules through collective bargaining between the workers and the owners. What is of note is that alcohol is completely unmentioned here. I think it's safe to say that there are plenty of players getting drunk on a semi-to-regular basis (if the alcohol use rate is anything like the marijuana use rate compared to the general population). That's not terribly surprising given all the beer and alcohol related advertising pulled in by the NFL that this topic is skipped over by the league.

The second note is that they have people pushing to use medical exceptions (a prescription), something the league at present does not have.

That second point looks more and more what I think the professional sports leagues standards not just on marijuana should be, but also things like HGH or steroids, on the theory that they should only be used under proper medical supervision as a prescription for things like injury recovery or pain management (assuming that they work for either). The problem many people have is that they seem to think this trickles down to high school athletes or students in general. If, in particular steroids or HGH, are controlled substances limited to doctor's supervision, it's going to be fairly difficult to allow access and use by human bodies who are still developing and may be at risk of injury or permanent damage, much less that they would abuse the substance. I'm not quite sure what the risk of teenagers using pot is as distinguished from the risks of adults, but given the choice between teenagers getting high on pot or getting drunk on the basis that their athletic heroes can do it, I'd probably go with the first one. Given the more likely and pressing problem that teenagers get high (or drunk) because other teenagers do (and no I'm not talking about "peer pressure"), I'm not that worried about what NFL players do.

23 April 2010

I could do this

with one arm tied behind my back! We hear that one from time to time.

What we don't hear as often is what these people are doing with the other arm.

While this is hardly news that people often misuse office computers to browse for porn or sexually related materials(it happens quite frequently in the private sector as well), it is at least sort of funny. At least until the fact that these were supposed to be people looking at fraud violations and misconduct on the part of other people comes back up.

Programming note

I am, so it seems, supposed to be an uncle at some point in the next day. Assuming that all goes to form and plan.

I am not looking forward to assuming the required post as a corruptor of the youth and am largely ambivalent about the whole process. I will hope the favor of this level of low involvement and attention is returned. At least until I have anything to contribute. Kind of hard for me to do any corrupting when they can't talk or walk and feed, clothe, or even relieve bodily waste without outside assistance for example.

But I will presume this will further relieve me of any feeling or impetus to produce a next generational spawn of my own. A new sister I can see and talk to without obstruction, and that I was fine with (that would be the sister-in-law). A tiny being possessed of still fleshy bones and odd and unpredictable wailing noises and incessant demands of attention and care, not my speed.

Better you than me.

poll came back

Here's the original

The Raw

Couple surprises. The church going rate was lower than I anticipated. I'm guessing that this is because I'm not sure how many people still go to church nationally. This did skew a bunch of the social conservative elements down further than I expected (gay marriage is not popular, but civil unions were, and abortion was not significantly higher than where the national average is, and lower than the overall "Republican" voter on all three issues). I'm not sure what the difference between a bunch of poor Mexican workers seeking jobs and a bunch of poor Chinese workers taking them is either, but there's a big gap between people pissed about immigration and people not pissed about Chinese competition (or outsourcing). Seems like you should be either pissed about both or pretty ambivalent about both. If there's some other non-xenophobic reason to be afraid of Mexico but not China, do tell (if it's drugs or crime, then my response is stock Libertarian: legalise it and end the ruinous interdiction policies). The distance factor seems relevant, since we can in theory see the person who "stole our jobs", whatever that means. I suppose the psychology of that matters for purposes of opinion forming, but it's not very informative (and in the real world, doesn't matter anyway).

The primary thing I took away here though was that there are ton of Bush-McCain voters (plus Palin supporters, basically the same thing) who are identifying as "Independent" for some reason. I suspect this means two things
1) Anti-incumbent feeling will cut against Republicans as much as Democrats. This will not help at the mid-terms, especially in the Senate. It's fairly possible that Republicans could win back the House at this point, but I'm pretty confident they've got no shot at the Senate. The lady talking about trading chickens for medical care in Nevada may still win. But that's because she'd be running against Harry Reid. The chickens could probably win that one at this point.
2) The Republican brand is still perceived as an embarrassment or as somehow abandoning some critical issue. Since most of the issues that are expressed as significant and meaningful to these folks haven't changed in a decade, my guess is that few of them were informed of these events as they unfolded over the course of that decade and became activated when Team Red lost the election(s) in 2006 and 2008. But since team Red had lost, it was deemed that there must be some reason to appear to be something else, such as "Independent". There are still a healthy percentage of what I perceive as the original core for the Tea Party movement (Ron Paul supporters). But I don't think this more disciplined group (that was protesting Bush activities and deficits) has swelled up to encompass many thousands of angry demonstrators without some other cause.

One other critical point was "leadership in my state government" didn't seem to annoy people. My observation here is that this would have one of two major causes.
1) People are ignorant of the activities of their state and local governments and perceive those intrusions as federal, and in particular as emanating from the President (this happens a lot).
2) People moved or voted their way to more pleasant circumstances such that they could "safely" ignore state and local government. With this group, a mostly affluent and well educated demographic without significant racial pressures, it's pretty likely more the second answer than the first. Note: the second answer does not preclude ignorance of local and state activity, it just means that these are less meaningful, justifying the lack of knowledge and attention as more rational.

22 April 2010

scotus

It's pretty bad when a law putatively banning only the distribution and production of a disturbing sexual fetish that involves the deliberate harm of animals is struck down 8 to 1. It could be that since the government decided to argue some expansive view of why and how it could ban such production and distribution, rather than simply arguing the necessary violations and animal cruelty involved supersedes speech restrictions, made the court rather mad.

Moreover, this law, with a supposedly narrow interpretation banning a specific format of a disgusting and harmful practice, was used to prosecute and ban distribution of unrelated video and documentaries, such as those of dog-fighting or hunting. As I recall, the case was brought by an agency seeking to educate people AGAINST dog fighting, by highlighting the brutality of the "sport". This is a classic example to me of the problem I noted earlier, where we apportion a power to the state, and the state promptly abuses that power to do something else unrelated to our well-intentioned and stated reasoning.

I'm not sure what the arguments will be as the nomination process proceeds to replace Justice Stevens, but this line of argument, that we'd be appointing a relative incompetent to the court, is fairly persuasive. Every case I've seen Kagan present as Solicitor General has been rather disappointing. Since there is a great deal of sophistry involved in the legal process, it's not necessarily clear that she is using her own deeper philosophical arguments to make these cases. But the choices she is making to attempt to argue them are deliberately assaulting the 1st amendment (both here and in Citizens United) and are rejecting much lesser reaching arguments which might have been more favorable to moderate counsel (ie, could have won narrower and stricter readings of the law, such as the one suggested by Alito for this decision). This was, in the circumstance of trying to win a case, obviously a mistake, but it also suggests that there is little internal fear of appointing power over and above what is deemed to be Constitutionally approved, not merely by the mostly conservative court, but by its liberal wing as well (Indeed, it was only Alito who dissented here on a very narrow grounding, hardly the most liberal member of the court).

Of course, since the Obama administration already botched the handling of her apparent sexual orientation "question", rather badly at that, it is unlikely she'll be moved up from SG to the Court anyway. Which moves us back into the analysis of "who shall replace this supposed liberal activist judge". I don't see any reason why it would or should not be someone who is perceived, at least some key points like abortion rights, as yet another "liberal activist" judge. No major balance is altered by doing so and no balance should be expected to be shifted with a Democratic and putatively liberal President in office (and a Democratic Congress to boot).

We are told that appointing some gay judge will sway the ruling on gay marriage which may be sure to come up at some point (because of the Federal Defense of Marriage clauses). But I find that hard to believe given that there are still a bunch of judges whose opinions are either unknown or may be presumed hostile and will at "worst" seek to overturn only the federal definition using a federalism grounds to restore power to the states. Replacing Stevens, even with someone more favorable still to gay rights as we might assume a homosexual Justice to be, isn't likely to change this logic on its own. Basically it just seems strange that the objection could be raised to replace THE "liberal" (whatever that means) with...horrors, another "liberal".

21 April 2010

More good sentences for the week

One view is that a book is just another consumer product, and if people want to buy jalapeno-and-oyster flavored ice cream, then companies will sell it to them.

This is from a writer at the National Review, a well known right-wing blog/magazine. Criticizing another such writer for writing a sloppy and close-minded book which was "acclaimed", by which we mean that it sold lots of copies to other close-minded people and more or less the rest of us rightly ignored it as ignorant ranting. All of this started a couple weeks ago with this brilliant post on the behavior of the right (and at times the left, Joe Romm is a popular example there on the same topic of climate change) and its politics. And then a few bright people on the right went looking for examples, and cited the booting of people like David Frum from polite conservative talking heads circulation and now find that the behavior of the people doing the booting resembles so much as a chicken with no head running about flailing at, well, something.

Except there are apparently a whole bunch of these chickens all moving in the same circle and expecting all of them to stay in line. It's kind of amusing from the outside naturally when someone like Palin speaks and people bark and squeal to appease her contorted winks and contort her speech of madlibs into something like English, but apparently the exercise internally is like a siege mentality. Rather than an insistence on finding someone who can break the siege, to an extent the way Reagan did but which Bush and Palin are and were incapable of, it's more amusing to lob rocks down and pretend they are smashing and crushing their enemies when really "we" can see them coming and are sitting out in the hills laughing as they throw them blindly around. Basically like any of the Monty Python castle sequences.

So they are apparently the folks who speak with the French accents while in England and fart in your general direction. Only with a bit more competent knights outside who aren't banging coconuts together.

So as you can imagine, one right-winger crosses another coming through the rye and a fist fight breaks out. The ideological fealty where the principle is agreement within mutually exclusive thoughts and opinions gets really annoying. It gets more annoying still when people who pay attention notice that these opinions change every 5 minutes as the next newsmaker opens their mouth to say something incoherent and everyone moves back behind their new and fresh perspective. Even if it was diametrically opposite of where they stood just weeks, if not months and years earlier (for example in the case of health care, both with the eventual bill and the subsequent defence of medicare, and even over the "death panel" idea).

And all with no obvious or apparent explanation for the change (other than that either "prominent conservative A" said so or prominent target Barack said the opposite).

20 April 2010

This is why you don't give too much power to

Governments

Uh yeah. What exactly is this school doing with all those pictures? Why it appears to be having amusing bit of fun with them.

As it is said there, if this can happen on accident...., it reminds me of a question that should always come up when you want to apportion new powers to some authority: what is the worst possible person to wield that authority that I can imagine and what will they do with it? It may not always be instructive, it may not always give us pause when discussing power and its abuses, but when we give a little too much because we trust the people behind that power now, it should definitely give us some food for thought. Those people won't always be there to delegate that power in the way that you see fit (if you are a progressive of some sort, this would be Obama that you trust a little too much and Bush that was reviled, rightly in my opinion, if it was Bush you trusted, well then I don't know what to tell you, but you're probably a conservative).

But still, even with all that invasive behavior, and schools what with the random drug searches aren't big on all the privacy rights anyway, this is probably worse. It's one thing to be spied upon. It's another to be spied upon and then suspected and treated as a criminal. Naturally given the politics of the crime being investigated, and the era that it occurred, it's hard to say that this is unusual behavior for police and federal investigators.

The disturbing part is that it is more or less usual behavior anymore to treat people like criminals and violate due process or at least that police give every intention of acting this way and projecting themselves in that manner. When, of all people, Daryl Gates (the brainchild behind those "brilliant" DARE and SWAT programs. Plus an illegal investigative unit) is saying that you're not doing a very good job policing a crime, this is not a good sign.

bits and pieces

I'm often taken to be some sort of radical pacifist by people who support(ed) the Iraq or Afghani wars. So it is occasionally necessary to define the reasons I didn't.

1) I think attacks against the Taliban and especially Al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan may be justifiable. It's not clear that they were necessarily productive in the way that attacking an organised nation-state with armies in the field may have been, but a lot of international relations is a sort of signaling effect. To demonstrate seriousness of taking certain international actions, it is sometimes necessary to respond to those actions when they are harmful with harmful effects, in order to dissuade other like-minded groups from fulfilling the same actions.
2) I don't think the subsequent occupation and installation of a "favorable" government and in particular the democratization of Afghanistan was useful, productive, or in our national interests. There are a number of problems with this idea, not least of which being that we have no historical model for installing suddenly the cultivation of western-style democratic values in a place that has little to no history of such values or the institutions necessary to help bring them about. Both Germany and Japan, held out as the historical examples flop on their faces, both had a lot of the necessary institutions (sense of national identity, middle class, industrialised economies, Germany even had used free elections to select its fascist rulers) available and much more organised governments and/or societies which were defeated in their will and capacity to resist in a way that Afghani tribesmen have not been for centuries. We cultivated no regional allies for useful ends to help us in this process. Pakistan had a vested interest in the utility of the Taliban itself in its regional problems with India, thus removing India, a large modestly democratic state with improving relations during both the Bush and now Obama administrations, as a potential player. Iran had the misfortune of being Iran. And most of the southern ex-Soviet republics had versions of the now installed Kabul government, co-opted by Western (ie, American) ends and very little interest played to local and national concerns. We further disregarded the likely feeling of local concerns by occupying the country with soldiers on a mass scale prior to those "free elections" that we are so fond of when they produce approved results in weaker states (and subsequently ignore when democratic repression occurs in modestly powerful allies like Thailand or Egypt)
3) I see no justification for the assault on Iraq. A few Afghani warlords may have armed or harbored some international criminals. Maybe that makes lobbing some missiles and bombs and sending in some special operations raids justified. There's at least an argument there that some national interest was defended by attacking the people and organisations who attacked us. There wasn't an equivalent national interest at stake in Iraq. We were, however, informed at great length that there was. At least until we were there and that great and powerful reason never materialized (as any half-witted person observing the Middle East could have told you from the beginning). I will admit to not shedding tears for Saddam Hussein's hastened departure from the mortal coil. But occupying a country to kill one man whose power and armies pose no substantive threat either to us or even to key regional allies has hardly been a good enough reason for the US to send in the Marines in the past. We have claimed it was, in Somalia, or in Kosovo. But it actually was a mess. And those were far less messy situations than collapsing a despotic Iraq and then imposing "democratic" self-rule according to our designs. Distributing food aid or kicking out Serbian forces to play World Supercop are not trivial assignments and they cost us some well-trained personnel to prove it, but they're also not things that require tens of thousands of troops in some faraway place for decades.
4) The real questions are not "do you support the troops?" and "do you love America?" but "what is the national interest of the United States of America in the Middle East?" The answer is, in part, oil. But we can still buy oil from Venezuela or Iran even if they are hostile and vocal opponents of our nation, because they have little else to sell and that is a valuable source of income for them. In fact, even though we are hostile and belligerent with each other now, we already do, even if not directly, simply because oil has no sticker on it that declares where it came from. There are no "Made in China" or "Made in America" campaigns to be had. So oil is not a significant reason on its own because we don't really care where it comes from and in truth we buy most of our oil from other countries who aren't in the Middle East, such as Mexico or Canada or that aforementioned Venezuela (Japan has a much better case for oil being a compelling national interest in its dealings with the Gulf states). What we end up with, in large part, is Israel. Here again the real questions are not "do you want Israel to be destroyed" or "do you support Israel", but rather "what does Israel do that we should support?". It has a rudimentary democratic state with a relatively free economy, much as many of our other allies around the globe do. We have a vested historical interest in defending the Jewish peoples who live there and migrated over generations from Europe, where they were systematically persecuted and exterminated. What it does also however is engage in a systematic method of partitioning its state into first and second class citizens, much as South Africa did during apartheid, stripping away the property and lifeblood of thousands of Palestinians, providing it to Israeli settlers, fortifying them into effective ghettos and blockading these against the outside world. This is hardly a behavior we should wish to ally ourselves with. We can (and indeed, should) defend Israel against external and even vicious terrorist attacks without supporting such ridiculous policies as settlement expansions and militant blockades of refugee populations.

Why does this come down to Israel at all? Well for starters, outside of the first Gulf War we don't have a lot of real allies in the region (other than Turkey). We have some favorable governments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but these are even worse off than Israel in the abuse of human rights and exercise no democratic rights whatsoever for their own citizens. For another, there's a broad coalition of American fundamentalists who seem to think that Israel matters because they read their bibles, but don't actually care about Israel itself (self-interest for that whole rapture thing looks like). And mostly its because the terrorists in the region care about it. Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, and others all use some aspect of the Palestinian question as a recruiting tool, as a display both of American power and intrusive dictation in the affairs of these putatively Muslim nations and as a display of our hypocrisy in the statement of our support for things like human rights. That these organisations themselves often are (extremely) radical and hostile toward those inviolable human rights is a matter of significant notice, but so long as our actions are perceived as the cause of these abuses it fosters growth and support rather than metaphysical questioning of the righteousness of their cause. In effect, "the terrorists win" by doing nothing at all and letting us do as we have been doing. They lose when they blow something up.

At least until we react to the explosions.

The reality is that wars are sometimes inevitable and necessary. Violence is to be avoided in international relations when it can be because of the scars it leaves on the citizens and soldiers of all nations and the destructive power that it can swirl up. When it is unnecessary and avoidable therefore, war is a tragedy and maybe even a criminally stupid action that does not serve our national interests to advance it. It's impossible to say that we have followed this maxim with any great consistency throughout our history, but that is no excuse for continuing to ignore it and charge forth into battles that served no purpose and perhaps even endangered the realm. It isn't even necessary to examine the manner of the war's conduct, our own ignorance of our enemies and their will or object in fighting, or the progress, such as can be claimed after the fact. None of these were factors in our decision(s) to fight but were instead tactical points that came along as those decisions were put to practice. That we failed on many of them, even on the subjective scales of neo-conservatives on some of these points, ought to be galling to more people because of the blood and treasure that they cost America and some of her allies. But they are not so bloodcurdling to the nationalist fervor of a nation as the assertion that it was for naught to begin with.

Give me a war and cause worth fighting for and I will throw myself into the fight. Give us a worthless cause and you will receive a worthless fight.

"If man does find the solution for world peace it will be the most revolutionary reversal of his record we have ever known." - George C Marshall. US General/Secretary of State.

Odds and ends

I recently discovered that Twitter has... some utility. I'm not sure yet what that utility is. But it does give my information addicted brain another source of possible links and stories to pass through. What I have discovered is that using it, primarily to link to this blog or to my reading list of the day, results in a motley group of people who will try to link to you. Perhaps some of them are spambots, maybe most. And some are more or less link repositories themselves. A few however are actual human beings somewhere (I think). I've mostly been getting people who appear to think "libertarian" means something like "quasi-conservative", and then blocking or otherwise removing their attentions while they post links to the Corner or complain about immigration. But yesterday I finally encountered the dark side of the Ron Paul-esque corridor of political support that libertarians are supposedly occupying: Neo-Nazis and racists. It is rather discomforting. I had no illusions back during his insurgent campaign in '08 or during the various media defamation over the Tea Party folks that there were somehow all good decent Americans here. I've seen my share of racists right here in Ohio who magically became involved in politics more because "that black guy from Kenya was about to take over the country". Still it gets annoying that a political philosophy which has its roots in classical liberalism and the extension of freedom in as many ways as possible to as many people as possible gets tied up with these nutcases who think the Jews are behind everything and health care is a secret reparations bill or whatever. I have...some interest in listening to the rantings of the elderly who are afraid the government is going to take away their Medicare (that they subtly ignore was provided by that same government) or the confused philosophy of conservative and religious fundamentalists who think Christianity involved a doctrine of free market capitalism (which wasn't my reading on Jesus. I'm pretty close to a "biblical free marketeer" as far as Americans are concerned, I'd think having the religious cover would be a useful deception and I don't see one to be had), but I have no time whatsoever to listen to modern forms of Nazi propaganda and racist sentiments. There is not much as it is to learn from the previous two groups. There is nothing to be gained except a rising sense of rage and anger that there are human beings who have trained themselves to believe such things in dealing with the last group. The only recourse is to repel oneself away as quickly as possible and not to be drawn in by the attraction-repulsion dynamics of hideous things (sort of like torture porn type movies).

The trouble is that these are the same folks who surface publicly and in the media whenever there's an apparent resurgence in "anti-government" or "libertarian" leanings in the general public. We get the Wacos and the McVeighs and the Stormfronts and this then tars the "don't tread on me" flag with some sort of radical and racist language. Free speech absolutism I have, a tolerance for the existence of these people I have. But a tolerance for proscribing active and violent hatred of others I don't. We don't need to put up with it. Cultural and social pressures have conspired to put racial epithets in the place of reviled language once occupied solely by the infamous "7 words you can't say on Television", with a special sort of penalty held in reserve beyond that still for people who cross racial boundaries to say them in public, a form of social and public suicide. This must be continued and extended. No daylight should be held up for these antiquated notions of racial supremacy and hate.

There are lots of strategic and political problems within the cohesion and messages of those Tea Party people. I guess they figured out that teabaggers was a "profane" reference. That was progress. They still haven't figured out what needs to be cut from the budget and told us how they would do it. They still seem to like anti-intellectualism from Palin and Bush. And they, despite a great deal of self-assessment bias, still have some racially motivated assholes in the mix. Now there's not much I think can be done about the folks who claim to want fiscal discipline and somehow think Palin or Bush provided such things. I guess eventually someone will have to come up with a platform of policies informing us of what they want to cut in order to save us from fiscal oblivion, but that won't happen if they continue to operate as an independent wing of the Republican party anyway. What they can do is tell the racists to shut the fuck up and stay home so that it does not allow a narrative to form which tars their politics as potentially harboring racist motivations. Ron Paul has not done this affirmatively enough which, along with his fetish for the gold standard, is pretty much why I was looking for anybody else resembling a libertarian to vote for back in '08 (there wasn't much out there since the LP nominated a guy who had voted for the Iraq War and was still basically a conservative Republican even after leaving Congress and that party) and why I'm rather settled on "somebody else" for '12. Among other factors (two I listed above, and the fact they're still much too supportive of Republicans/Conservativism rather than a true third party like the Perot vote was reflective of), it's a big reason why I'm not all that impressed with the Tea Party as a meaningful movement.

An amusing conversation gone awry after many minutes of analysis

Somehow the topic of our glorious former President Clinton's infidelities arises. Which gives the opportunity to apply the wisdom of Dave Chappelle: "That's a hard thing to be famous for.... He is a famous man. I never understand how famous a President was but imagine being so famous that someone could suck your dick and they'd be famous. That's crazy"

It occurs to me now that we've had a line of dozens of minor to major scandals involving sex, or prostitution or mistresses and affairs in the past few years. And despite these being some relatively famous people (Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer, Gov Sanford, Sens Ensign and Edwards, etc), I noticed something. I don't know who they're running around with. The names just don't come out. I am vaguely aware at times who their wronged wives are, and certainly afterward the new versions of Hillary Clinton (Jenny Sanford, Elin Woods, Elizabeth Edwards) become household names, but I could not name anybody who their husbands had affairs with since the Clintonian episode. This, I decided, was curious that aside from probably learning far more than I will ever need or want to know about the world of high priced mistresses or prostitutes, I learned next nothing about the actual people involved. Not even names and faces.

There was a flip side to this. For the most part I only learn the names and faces of famous women's husbands when they run around (with the possible exception of Brad Pitt). I follow mostly sports and politics, so I'm vaguely aware that Jennie Finch is married to a baseball player, I have some idea that Mia Hamm was married to Nomar, but I cannot recall the last prominent female politician that I could tell you who they were married to (Sarah Palin does not count. I think she's an "entertainer" and not a meaningful political figure). It's an odd sort of dichotomy that women can manage the private lives of their spouses in a very public profession with a lot more dignity and privacy and that this seems to carry over into other industries such as movies. I couldn't have told you who Sandra Bullock was married to until David Brooks took it upon himself to declare that winning an Oscar was practically meaningless next to sticking out a marriage with someone who appears to be a scumbag attached to his penis. I suppose if I followed entertainment this might have been more well known. But it's not like he was some big star and they were in a very public situation of overexposure as a couple so far as I could tell. Looked like she kept making a series of relatively quick buck silly films centered around a formula of light comedy romances and that was pretty much all I knew. That's pretty much all we needed to know really. Much as I see the craving for information and saturation concerning the private lives of famous people, those are, so far as I can see, private lives.

So what explains this series of random thoughts
1) Women are, so far as we know, less likely to have ridiculous stories like "hiking on the Appalachian trail". When they are famous and their husbands aren't, we won't hear about their husbands much as a result. This is probably why the Pitt-Jolie-Aniston triangle was news for way too long because it sort of went around this paradigm.
2) Men are, when famous and powerful, still liable to have ridiculous stories. I suppose they are just as likely to have ridiculous stories when they aren't famous and powerful, but nobody cares then (unless they are attached to a woman of some power and fame).
3) It seems like media saturation from the Clinton years may have inured me against identifying the prime suspects in these cases and caring much of anything about them.
4) I still live in a world that pretends that people's private lives should probably be private if they wish to do so. I can understand the process of "acting" or politics and the desire by people in those industries to close off portions of their lives. I expect there are lots of introverted people who do share this sentiment and who are frustrated with these extroverted busybodies who want to know everything.
5) Actual sex-related scandals began to occur and be reported on where the parties involved, that is the people who some powerful male had sex with, were genuinely harmed by the experience. Church abuses by clergy or Roman Polanski's "arrest" for example. These pretty much took care of the interest in affairs where the only parties harmed were private parties who were not privy to all of their partner's private consorts, probably on the assumption that they were the only one. I suppose I should state these are horrible, unpleasant and genuinely unhappy occasions for the people involved. But if nobody was molested or forced to have sex against their will, I'm not sure what our nosing around is accomplishing other than to provide a few punchlines.

On the plus side, it doesn't look like these mistresses and consorts get as famous anymore. That or I became very, very, bored with the people who think they should be. Either way, I win. I guess.

19 April 2010

The politics of failure have failed

We need to make them work again!

I particularly like the last paragraph. It seems to me, much like with the post 9-11 period, that most of the requested rules and systems were already in place before the problem blew up in our faces. What happened is that people, the very people now requesting new rules and systems, did not use them effectively to diminish the pains or even prevent the crisis from appearing. In other words, they failed to do their jobs. And expect us to believe now that they require new authority to better do their jobs even though most of the things they are asking for are things they had already in play. I think the incentives, such as they are, are to ask for more authority because it insures that the bureaucracy in charge of enforcing rules will have a budget and a mission statement.

But that's not an incentive for it to do its job.

why hospital visitation was meaningless

Contracts don't mean a thing

At least when the state can just decide to ignore them rather than respect and enforce them.

"wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other" - None of these are things that require you to name someone who you are legally married to or even related to. You can name whoever you want, with some limitations mostly relating to your own mental status. So instead of abiding by these contractual arrangements made in good faith, the state decides to ignore them, because...why? That isn't even necessarily a problem merely limited to homosexual couples at the point where governments decide to do as they please and bypass our private arrangements without due process.

excellent sentences for the day

So suppose you accept that politicians and bureaucrats rarely act in the public interest and that the business of politics is dominated by concentrated-benefit/diffuse-cost interest group rent-seeking. And now suppose we’re approaching a fiscal crisis. What does that add up to? We’re screwed is what.

All arguments in politics when you study the issues involved eventually boil down to something like this: "The public sucks. Fuck hope."

In reality all this attention I pay manages to do very little except to distill a few dribbles of what is actually going on. And I would be better off if I returned to my previous disdain for voting AND just stopped paying attention to boot. I'm not sure that other people would be well served by this.

18 April 2010

nba playoffs picks

Western Conference
Lakers in 5
Nuggets in 6 (updated after Okur is out for the year and Kirilenko is out for that series)
Spurs in 5. Mostly because the Mavs refuse to start Haywood.
Suns in 5

Second Round
Lakers in 5. I don't think Denver is a good matchup there. A healthy Jazz team would probably win this series.
Suns in 7. I don't think the Spurs have it for this matchup. They may be the only team well setup to handle LA out West though (now that Utah...and Portland are too banged up). Mavs could probably do it if they fixed their rotation, but they'll have to beat both San Antonio and Phoenix to even get that far.

West Finals
Lakers in 6. Suns aren't that good really, but they can score in bunches

East (is pretty dull)
Cavs in 4
Celts in 7. KG suspension probably pushes this one out to 7, though it may have been anyway.
Magic in 4
Hawks in 4

Second Round
Cavs in 5
Magic in 5

East Finals
Cavs in 7. I can't bet on a team with Vince Carter on it to make the Finals, but I don't see this one getting settled quickly either.

Finals
Cavs in 6.
1) Both LA and Cleveland are not quite as good as last year.
2) Orlando is technically "better" than both teams, but I don't think they matchup as well as they did last year with Cleveland with Carter instead of Turkoglu.
3) Shaq doesn't help the Cavs with anybody other than LA and Orlando. They almost may as well give him the first two rounds off.
4) Jackson is a much superior coach to Brown. It's possible this may swing the series.
5) LeBron is much better than Kobe though. It's possible this may swing the series back.
6) Cleveland has nobody to matchup with Odom. LA doesn't really have an answer to Bad Andy though (still not sold on Gasol being tough enough).
7) Both teams have weak PG play. Orlando of this year could probably win this series in 5 (Jameer is pretty solid, especially relative to a washed up Derek Fisher).
8) If the Cavs match-up with about anybody else out West I think they win in 5. Maybe the Spurs could take it 7.
9) Lakers won't be playing anybody they can beat. Orlando and Cleveland should be the only options for winning the East.

Tax them!

How strange. Two of the biggest things on my hit list: HMI and employer benefits for health care, are costing us hundreds of billions of dollars in public revenues alone (no calculation is enclosed for the increased costs of housing or health insurance/health care caused by favorable tax treatment).

I wonder how I arrived at the conclusion these were bad ideas that are causing massive economic distortions? Surely I must be mistaking home mortgage interest deductions with other wealth transfers like the welfare state. There's certainly no way that Americans would put up with a system that transfers vast sums of money to wealthy people through public policy when it has so much trouble over the vast (but lesser) sums of money it transfers to poor people through the same mechanics of government taxation.

Notes from the life examined

Carved a piece out tonight
Left to drift in a murky river
Babbles a little, or gurgles
No rhythms, no pace, no spaces
Won't need a watch here
Occupies a place, but no time
Every sentiment misplaced
Seconds pass, words are spoken
Yet no stories to relate
A hole would notice
Its own depths
But a shadow does not exist

16 April 2010

things to do today

It appears I have succeeded in my lifelong goal of boring someone to death! Along with working in a random old movie quote into conversation for no apparent reason, I have now crossed off two things from my life list.

Still no threesome with Japanese twins (you should all survive a random Austin Powers reference). But at least I'm getting somewhere finally. And no, that was not the old movie quote. Much older than my own youth. More like a grandparent's youth.

(note: I am, as before, mildly curious who was bored and why. I've already figured out why people don't comment when they're "interested", but criticism and debate is more interesting to me than agreement and support anyway)

random things guaranteed to piss off right-wingers more

than actually grant anything for the rest of us.

For the first story, the benefit is non-exclusive to gay couples. Anybody can declare who they want to be admitted in an hour of need or suffering at a hospital to visit. I'd even want the capacity to deny people entrance as well at whims, but primarily the benefit is believed to be extended to homosexual couples. I guess that's a good thing, a humane thing to do, but it's hardly the same as extending the same legal privileges accorded to married couples to homosexuals. Tax benefits, inheritance, etc, all the default contractual advantages of marriage are well beyond something as basic as visiting "a friend" in the hospital. Wake me when they repeal the federal DoMA restrictions and DADT. This is a yawn that will annoy the zealots but not actually accomplish much (some hospitals already had policies like this).

For the second, I feel a bit like how the post-OJ African-American celebration is depicted by Chris Rock: "what the fuck did we win? I ain't seen no OJ prize in the mail". First, Obama is going to keep doing it anyway. Whether it's considered constitutional or not is considered irrelevant to the executive branch and its proclamations (perhaps an executive order could be vacated, but not a speech calling for such a thing). Second, I don't see what the problem with it was. It was not required or commanded to pray or do whatever it is one's faith proscribed, nor to find a means of worship. Much like Christmas, it seemed like a totally optional thing with an optional level of involvement or participation. There wasn't even a national holiday and day off associated with this one to make it harder to find a decent place to eat out if one chose to do so (ie, had no party to attend that would supply a substantial feast and perhaps some non-spiritually concerned company).

On the one hand, I agree this is sort of more like the "under God" phrase that was slipped into a meaningless pledge in the 1950s to emphasize our apparent superiority against godless communists than the secular adoption of Christmas as a commercial venture. So I suppose getting rid of the national recognition from Congress is a "win". I'm just not so sure what it won for those of us who want to be "free from religion". I'd rather get rid of "under God", or the pledge entirely, and have fewer employers care what church I do or do not attend than worry about meaningless national proclamations. Freakonomics' podcast just had the guy in Texas who fakes his story about attending some random Baptist mega-church so he can get by without harassment and annoyance at work. That's more of a problem to me that other human beings cannot accept at face value a simple statement of a lack of faith and a lack of interest in faith without casting vile aspersions of one's moral character than that the government declares a single day a day for those faithful people to do...something (something they will probably do anyway on their own time).

Update: I'd like to thank Gov Palin for being so predictable as to issue a rambling sequence of madlibs that somehow tied this ruling in.

15 April 2010

Since I'm not being polled

And this appears to be an attempt to sample the Tea Party lets see what happens when the results come back to compare how "tea party am I?" I suspect the answer is probably something like "not very much, but sometimes". Especially based on this poll. Who the hell still thinks Bush was okay or that Obama wasn't born in America? I do agree that deficit reduction is more important than "creating jobs", but this is mostly because I know the government can do very little, if anything, to "create jobs" and less because I would (actually would not) agree that "tax cuts" are an effective means to reduce the deficit. I'm rather big on the whole "we need to cut spending" part of the equation. In rather nasty and unpopular ways like farm subsidies/department of agriculture, department of education, department of transportation, national security apparatus, defence, medicare, social security....

The fact that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are wildly popular amongst these folks tells me all I need to know that I should stay the hell away. Anti-intellectualism and ranting idiocy disguised as political wisdom works if you are a satirist (Colbert), but not if you're supposedly an influential member of a political movement.

Random demographic stuff
Male
25-34
White
College
Never
Something else
Someone else
Someone else

Options of stuff
1st one: 1st option "government doing too much"
2nd one: 2nd option "government should not promote any particular values"
priority: cut taxes and spending
all that apply:
want to send message to both parties (and... nothing else on that list).

Neither party

Who is the tea party politician?
Maybe Ron Paul. He's a lot more "conservative" than I am, so that's probably accurate since I perceive the average Tea Partier as much more conservative than I am, particularly on social and/or foreign policy issues.

How angry 1-5 (1 being meh and 5 being THOR ANGRY!)
National debt: 4 (this should be about where most of the county would poll though..)
Growth of govt: 3. It's been this big for a while. It's hard to get really annoyed at things that happened before you were born. Kind of like getting annoyed about the Crusades or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (or the book for that matter).
Govt intrusion in personal lives: 5 (this should obvious)
Current tax levels: 2. Seems pretty low overall by our historical standards. Particularly with two wars. Some of the taxes are too high, others probably too low. I'd quit bitching about this if I were a Tea Partier and focus on the tax base and complexity issues instead of the amounts of taxation.
Moral direction of country (whatever that means): 1. I hate Paris Hilton or Britney Spears or whoever this Justin Bieber character is too, but there's always been a "Paris Hilton" in any society because the old hates whatever the young likes. They hated rap music when I was a kid, and rock music when they were kids, and jazz music when their grandparents were kids. When we don't have legalized slavery and systematic discrimination and women can vote and buy birth control instead being brood mares, seems like "moral direction" is kind of ambiguous but somewhat progressive. Move on, nothing to see here.
Terrorists in civilian courts: 1 (actually I am a "4-5" but angry that they are not being tried in civilian courts already rather than angry at the suggestion that we might or should)
Obama handling Afghanistan/Iraq: 3. Can't get too upset since he promised to send troops to Afghanistan even though I think/thought this was a stupid idea. Leaving Iraq (assuming that goes to plan) sort of cancels out the Afghanistan stuff for me. For now.
DC politicians: 3. No better or worse than any other politicians
Special interests influence: 4. They kind of cancel each other out, but occasionally get what they want despite popular or practical objections
Earmarks: 3 Annoying, but not a big deal. There's plenty of stuff we spend more money on that takes the form of earmarks in everything but the manner it is passed (farm subsidies for example).
Govt bailouts of private industry: 5
China: 1
Outsourcing: 1
Legal status to illegals: 1
Same sex marriage from courts: 2 I'd prefer to see this more from democratic support, but I realize we have some bigoted majorities still. The annoyance here is probably more that we don't have MORE courts or majorities that permit it. And baring that, that we have a default set of rules and privileges for marriage contracts anyway as set down by the STATE through courts or democratic majorities.
Abortions per year: 1. It's been going down for decades now anyway, certainly by rate. Even if this was a concern, its a diminishing one.
Restrictions on guns: 1. These seem to be getting nixed by court decisions anyway.
Stimulus bill: 3. I am more annoyed at the name and the distortions involved in it than the stuff they spent money on.
State govt, political leaders: 4. I live in a repressed state and should really consider moving to Colorado (or NH) it seems.
Environmentalists blocking oil: 1. Jeb Bush and state or local government does more to block oil exploration than environmentalists. Grow up.
Frivolous lawsuits: 3 Maybe would be more annoyed if I were more likely to get sued (ie, I was rich).
Most angry at: govt intrusion into private lives
Least angry at: anything with a 1 is very low on my ire scale. I guess China competition or outsourcing.
If elections today who would you vote for (includes a tea party candidate)
None of the above or don't know (I'm a strong "it depends" sort of person).
How well do these parties represent the views of Tea Party
Democrats: not at all
Republicans: very well rhetorically. Not so well literally
Libertarians: not so well rhetorically. Fairly well literally (sometimes unfortunately from my perspective).

Back in 2012?
Obama: maybe, leaning no. Not so much with the civil liberties campaign stuff that fell through almost immediately. And the whole protectionism and trade stuff.
Barbour: absolutely not
Cheney: I'd consider trying him for treason or high crimes. Does that count?
Daniels: leaning no
DeMint: No
Gingrich: NO
Huckabee: No
Palin: ahh, ha. NOOOO WAY
Paul: leaning no
Pawlenty: No
Perry: uh...NO
Romney: NO
Thune: no (I read politics all the time and even I don't have a fucking clue who this guy is other than that he's from the Dakotas... good sign or not?)

Who would you vote for, one choice only
Someone else: Johnson, Gary. Second choices might be: Paul Ryan or even Ron Wyden. Sadly I like a bunch of policy wonks who have no shot (and will probably never even run). Maybe better to keep them in the Senate or at the State level.

Obama is pursuing socialist agenda 1-5
2-3. Pretty much the same level of socialism as Bush. Corporatism mostly. Nothing to get in a fuss over all of the sudden.

Zip code: redacted
Income: redacted