31 May 2010

Speaking of things

That get people too tongue twisted to make any sense and declare facts of the matters involved with agreement:

Deaths as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid ship

Headline masks the underlying confusion of who killed who, and there's not much discussion of what's on the boats. If there are weapons, that's one thing, as that's more or less why Israel claims it needs to blockade the Gaza strip. (update: doesn't seem like the flotilla was carrying weapons, and the death toll right now stands at 19-0, Injured 60/70-2, which is pretty typical for these kinds of Israeli raids and attacks).

If it's carrying food and medicine, or really any non-military goods (such as apparently, cement and other building materials for reconstruction following the Gaza "war" in 2008), that's fucked up.

Despite all that, the big question is what this does with Israeli-Turkish relations, which are continuing to deteriorate after several very public disasters in foreign relations and now an attack on a ship with Turkish/Cypriot civilians on board. For that discussion, it really doesn't matter what the ship was carrying. Taking the one quasi-friend they have in the region and pissing them off does not seem like the actions of a friendly nation. It seems like the actions of a belligerent drunkard. All the more reason for us to start quietly backing away from the table. If this is what Israel wants to use as its messages to its friends and enemies alike, then by all means let it. We can just cease offering any support for doing so.

Because the real reason this matters, or should matter, to America is these pesky and fruitless foreign engagements with Muslim nations throughout that whole region, supposedly in pursuit of terrorists, who are often stirred up by a perception (which I think is largely accurate) of Israeli intransigence and aggression, which is further perceived, because of large amounts of military aid to Israel, as emanating from America in the first place. Attacking a humanitarian convoy as part of a stiff blockade mission is not likely to diminish this perception in the slightest. It will not matter how much we condemn such actions with words. It will only matter how much we continue to support actions like this in the future by deeds.

ugh, foosball

Such is the power of football that, during the height of its off-season (after the draft) and during the playoffs of two other big 4 sports and as the other is active and moving inexorably toward its stretch run, a man may fire his agent and this becomes important news.

I weep for the American landscape that we should treat this with such importance.

30 May 2010

as always

After any encounter with other people in a prolonged non-working setting, I have depressurized some elements of my persona

1) It takes a lot of energy to go do things, with other people at least. It still takes a lot of energy to go "do things" (go out in public) normally, but this is different.
2) It takes even more energy to go talk to other people about: anything about me, stories, work, habits, etc.
3) As a result, random interjections, usually forms of comedy, playing off of other people's stories are far more common
4) At some point, I end up feeling like I'm intruding and begin talking less and less. This is usually much before I see fit to leave of course and completely independent of whether other people are visibly expressing an interest that I do so (which seems to be less common than I remember).

5) Roasted animals are still tasty.
6) I think I survived in spite of myself.

29 May 2010

North Korea

Is war dead?

Or is it just not the first best option anymore and we'll pretend that further sanctions and favorable trade agreements with South Korea will solve the problem of continuous North Korean belligerence and hostility.

It seemed like the only practical thing to do from a FP perspective was to get China off of DPRK's side. If they start parking tanks and planes on the NORTHERN border to North Korea (the Yaloo River), they'd probably shape up a lot faster than the US or ROK parking tanks by Seoul, which the destruction of which by artillery or even nuclear bomb is really the main reason not to have a war. Unfortunately, given the succession issue within the DPRK and any likely Chinese influence in selecting a successor, there doesn't seem to be a way to separate between the two in the near future.

So you're left with a status quo that is favorable to everyone but the people of North Korea simply because the costs of shifting that status quo involve a dangerous military engagement (that the North would easily lose without Chinese intervention, deemed as far more unlikely than in the 1950s, when it was stated explicitly), followed by an expensive integration program that won't begin to pay for itself for many years as both the North and South would have to be largely rebuilt (and the North, mostly just built at all) and have to integrate and grow their economy from relative positions that are much, much smaller than those of the largely successful German reintegration program of the 90s, and involve flows of refugees that are potentially unwanted (by China or the RoK), and involve the integration of a peninsula on China's border under a traditionally American ally, possibly with some American troops and equipment still stationed in the region (as we, for some reason, still have in Germany).

And you studied history

So you must know what you're talking about.

One major caveat with that rant. All those segregationist Democrats from the 1960s, many, if not most, of them are Republicans now (including a number of political figures who deliberately switched parties over that span). One ought to wonder why that is if you are a Republican who claims to be concerned with civil rights and flagging polling among minorities (Latinos, blacks, Jews, etc). What Democrats did in the 1960s in the South is probably not likely to influence very many voters now today, particularly since most such Democrats are not any longer, in fact, Democrats. Just as what Rand Paul's position on the Civil Rights Act is unlikely to be very useful other than as a thought experiment for libertarians and private property rights relating to private discrimination (of any kind) and, crucially, state sanction and support for such actions. This would also be like saying that Abraham Lincoln's emancipation of slaves should influence black voters today, ignoring whatever it is that distances them from supporting Republican policies or candidates in today's atmosphere, almost 150 years and massive political shifts later.

Or we could just say that you are yourself more interested in playing a game to score political points (ie, blame the Democrats!) instead of educate people. Which is what any good cynic would do.

So this is how the Arizona law would be enforced

Notice that all he did is expound upon the rights that they (police/DHS) are not supposed to have (illegally detaining people without lawful purpose; ie probable cause). This is naturally something that can get you arrested and charged (if police/authorities can invent some charge on which to do so, disorderly conduct is popular for this). But I'm aware of no law or right of police (you are obstructing me from doing my job to the contrary...) that prevents citizens or anyone else from questioning US authorities and refusing to answer their questions on the grounds that they do not need to know the answers to those questions (without establishing probable cause. Indeed, you may still refuse to answer even if they have probable cause....). These are not only hard coded rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution but they have been spelled out by repeated federal and state court decisions. And yet we are to believe that in Arizona police will not adopt tactics very much like these in order to blur the distinction between legal and lawful contact between police and residents/travelers/immigrants (reasonable suspicion and probable cause) and illegal and unlawful contact, demanding documentation without prior conditions, as at a checkpoint like this (for example a DUI check point could be setup by local police to accomplish very much the same thing).

One other thing: a person should not have to vociferously and repeatedly ask to have their civil rights, in this case their freedom of travel, granted by an authority figure. The games being played here to pester and frighten people, who usually will not be so well versed on court rulings and Constitutional law, into ignoring or surrendering their basic rights, even for petty things like "are you a US citizen?" are somewhat frightening. But it sort of reminds me of the A/V analogy for airport security from here. "This is the overhead projector and nobody can touch it but me!" (around the 6 minute mark)


is wrong!

Or something like that.

1) "Forgetting that things were even worse in the past." - I would not say this is a principle limited to the "left". I encounter it constantly in terms of social and political freedoms for people who might be termed on the political right thinking we or some other country is about to get sucked into the 10th level of hell. See the right's convulsions over Holland and it's legalised marijuana markets, or the experience of most of Europe and Massachusetts or even Iowa after legalising gay marriages.

2) "Assuming that Dickensian conditions implies a country must be capitalist." - This would be hilarious, if it weren't also tragic. So by definition, the countries with greatest amounts of social inequality and widespread poverty (Haiti for example) are ardent capitalists... yes.

5) "Assuming neoliberal reforms are associated with authoritarian governments." - This is Naomi Klein's entire shtick, and her subsequent basis for attempting to discredit all or anything Milton Friedman ever wrote, thought, or did. I've read it. I was amused.

6) "Capitalism is based on greed." - Perhaps reading that crazy liberal Adam Smith would have corrected this presumption. Self-interest is not quite the same as greed, as it would include benefits that extend beyond yourself in an altruistic sense (for example building a road to facilitate your own trade). As noted at the bottom, it is markets and the capacity to meet the needs of others with your goods or services that make you "behave" far more so than laws will do (in most cases, at least for most people).

8) "European countries have more progressive tax systems than the US." The VAT is a national sales tax system. It's very efficient at gathering revenues. But it's also very regressive since it's a SALES TAX. This error also occurs on the right with great consistency when only the federal income tax is listed as a means of paying tax here in the US while excise, payroll, sales, corporate income taxes raising imputed tax, (all regressive), are ignored.

1) "Countries with big government tend to be poorer." - I've had this argument with people over whether Denmark or the UK are to be considered as "socialist" rather than "capitalist", because of their large public sector spending. Mixed economies tend to be socialist on some measures and capitalistic on others, the key thing would be the output of result that is produced. If it has a big but very efficient public sector (Nordic countries) rather than a big gluttonous state, like the Soviet Union, it's probably not much of a drag on real economic freedom and growth.

3) "Singapore and Hong Kong are not really capitalist." - most people who raise this are not raising the intelligent objections here that HK and Singapore mess with their real estate prices and force people to buy health insurance or something and that they're thus not pure capitalistic societies. They're raising less sophisticated nationalistic objections that they cannot believe that any place in the world is more decentralised in government and freer than we are. The entire rest of the world is peopled with radical socialists as far as they are concerned. The objection is based on deliberate ignorance of the manner and conduct of policies in other countries as though we might not find them instructive, at times. Even if only to learn what not to be doing.

4) "Europe/Canada/Australia, etc, are much more socialist than the US." - Europe, among other things, has a highly decentralised primary education system, with extraordinary levels of individual or private control relative to the US. Many regulatory agencies are also farmed out to private contracts in these places (for instance airport security). Maybe they have a more centrally controlled industrial policy (then again, how much does GM owe the taxpayers?, and how much are we paying oil and farming companies?), or maybe they have a more centrally controlled health care policy (again, how much does medicare/aid cost us? looks about the same scale and cost as most of Europe's universal health care systems). This objection may be sensible, but it does us no credit to operate from the assumption that we are in a free market paradise when we examine serious dysfunctions in our various industries (financial, health care, etc). All this does is allow more progressive left-wing economic theories to offer their own alternative explanations and have them taken with greater seriousness (such as fiscal stimulus over monetary or "more regulation" over sensible and enforceable rules and laws).

So long to that

HSA, not yet gone, but certainly forgotten

This sort of reform was overlooked very early in the process (Wyden-Bennett was basically a plan to force everybody to get a private HSA for example, more or less what Singapore does). The positive side is that final law didn't quite kill it. Yet. Which means that there are businesses and individuals still getting these types of plans. The negative side is that the door is wide open to kick them out of the marketplace as an option for consumers who seem to feel they need health insurance. If, or more likely when, catastrophic health coverage of the type aligned with health savings accounts is no longer considered as meeting the government's mandated level of coverage, then there won't be HSAs and their associated low-cost insurance plans. This is personally inconvenient for those of us who have them, but it's also significantly more expensive for the system as a whole. One reason people get them is that their health expenses are traditionally low enough that they can afford them out of pocket. This, in light of rules requiring (finally!) transparency of medical care prices but not for two years, would be pretty easy to take care of routine and preventive medical care then by essentially paying tax-free cash for most of it, reserving the insurance itself for true medical emergencies (serious injuries, dread diseases, major surgical procedures, etc).

If that's not an option, expect health care spending as a percentage of GDP to keep climbing and placing more burdens on taxpayers. People who have made these market choices and are pleased enough with them over their alternatives need to start (shudder) lobbying in order to keep the mandated forms of health insurance out of and away from the HSA market.

So now it's not just CRA

But they're making up other things about Rand Paul (and Ron for that matter, and the LP)...

"read the Libertarian Platform, the one adopted at the May 2008 convention in Denver that nominated Rand’s father, Ron, for president." -- That would have been nice (or okay I guess), except they nominated Bob Barr, whose record is a lot further off to the right on many civil liberties positions than Ron's, thus giving me a grave amount of mistrust that he would actually be somewhere to the left of most Republicans (and Democrats) on issues like civil liberties (PATRIOT act: voted yes), or the wars (supported Iraq), or the drug war (wrote some of the legislation), or abortion, gay rights (Ron Paul was one of the few Republicans who split off and voted to have the Pentagon repeal DADT in the House, kudos to him for listening to the military servicemen and women who explained the injustice to him).

"the fact that he is unambiguously pro-choice (“government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration”)" - the libertarian party and philosophy would indeed say this to be the case... but Rand Paul, and his dad for that matter, don't. Ron has said this should be left up to the states (with Roe repealed or nullified in some way), Rand, much further to the right, has said there should be a Constitutional amendment against abortion.

"pro-civil liberties (“we oppose reduction of constitutional safeguards of the rights of the criminally accused … the Bill of Rights provides no exceptions for a time of war”)" - Well yes, but Rand also still supposes that a prison with indefinite detention (like Guantanamo) can and should be kept open regardless of the fact that it fits neatly into those "exceptions" that we're not supposed to have.

"and pro-decriminalizing victimless crimes, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes." - I haven't actually seen Rand endorse this position openly, so nobody seems to know what he thinks about it. I thus heartily agree with the article that it would have been great to see some discussion on this topic.

"he and fellow libertarians also oppose the draft and the use of the U.S. military for any purpose other than “in defense of individual rights … The United States should both abandon its attempts to act as a policeman for the world and avoid entangling alliances.” For this reason Rand’s father, Ron, strongly opposed the Iraq war during the presidential campaign," - I'm pretty sure Rand opposes the draft (but I've not seen any evidence to that effect since nobody asks about the draft or, more properly, the NSS registration requirement for men over 18, it just keeps rolling right along like some awful machine), but I'm also pretty sure Rand (still) supports the Afghanistan war. Which Ron didn't, and doesn't, at least to the same extent.

The actual principles that he appears to have are much closer to paleoconservatism than libertarianism. That may still make him very useful to elect to high office, as there are very few paleoconservatives (and certainly few enough who are taken as anything other than as a raging racist like Pat Buchanan) to tackle the rampaging and insane neoconservatives, but it's not sensible for "us" to be forced to claim this man as our "man in the Congress". Ron may not be a strict "purity-tested" libertarian on a few social points (immigration being one, abortion another), but he's a lot closer than his kid is such that when people say he's a libertarian, it's not an insensible claim (I'd claim him more as a Constitutionalist, but close enough most of the time). It may be for political reasons that this gap emerges. It's harder to get into the Senate by being a "wacko", with very few ideologues of any variety than the centrist mainstream variety (which I regard as somewhat insane itself). Much less from Kentucky instead of a Texan Congressional district. Texas being the same place that put Charlie Wilson in Congress for example.

But even so, if these are the stated and available principles, they're not very libertarian. It isn't good enough to read off the Libertarian Party's platform and assume that's what he thinks anyway, just as it isn't good enough for a candidate to claim they are a Christian (which in this case, Rand has precisely stated he is not a libertarian) and assume to know what they think on everything. Where he departs from the stated orthodoxy, or in some way has formed his own opinion about what it means, it's kind of important to be aware of it. Where he has stated he is not something, and we must persist in tagging and cataloging as it nonetheless, it would do well to discern why he would protest our claims.

(I suppose it would be useful to explain the distinction. I see libertarians as being more trusting of individual or local decisions over institutional ones, conservatives the opposite, and as a result I see libertarian philosophy and principles as leading toward a tolerance of most social changes when they are governed by individual wants and demands over and above the conservative impulse to maintain the status quo; standing athwart history shouting "stop!". Certainly some of the paleoconservative intellectual responses to various programs and problems look a lot like libertarian or market solutions, on social welfare or race based policies like affirmative action, but these extensive freedoms are somewhat more limited when it comes to social policies like immigration, drugs, or gays for example because of the amount of social upheaval involved in institutions by these things)

random sequences

A list of laws or propositions that I'd support or oppose
1) Toll congestion pricing for controlled access roads like highways: great idea. Gets traffic moving to save time for commutes, saves energy, helps pay for the construction and maintenance of roads (and of course: can be privatized)
2) Hate crime laws: useless. Violent crimes (or really any sort of criminal act, fraud for example) with broad and impersonal motives like "I hate black people" can and should be considered as though these motives are serious enough to potentially incarcerate people for long stretches of prison time, on the basis that such motivations mean they are thus likely to commit such acts again with or without minimal provocation. I'm just not sure we need a law in order to tell us that people with very broad and particularly aggressive biases and bigotries and who act upon them by brutally murdering someone are like any other form of psychopathic murderer and need to be detained for doing it. If a crime is committed against another person, I don't particularly care that the reason for doing it was racially or religiously motivated (though establishing a motive is certainly useful, and such motivations should obviously be admissible in court as the formal legal argument for juries and judges to consider). What I care about is getting them convicted for the violation of another person's life and liberties.
3) Strict regulation of sex offender housing: bad idea (just don't let out dangerous sex offenders and don't charge everyone with a sex related offense as though they're a dangerous sex offender.
4) I'm still not sure about some of this:
15-1 leverage limits, and also the Volcker Rule, both of which seem a little too much like Glass Steagall to me to make a whole lot of systematic necessity, but seem like they'd at least contain things in the absence of getting rid of the federal guarantees for creditors and so on (ie, future bailouts).
5) Kill Frannie and Freddie (this I'm sure of, I just wish it had happened a while ago, like during the Vietnam War era)

Also: a list of topics about which people tend to get immediately hostile and emotional and being parsing very very small facts rather than asking meta-level questions first in order to disagree about...everything relating to that topic. The meta level disagreements would establish that these very, very small factual arguments will be totally pointless and fruitless and save the rest of us the trouble of watching people scream over them as though their yelling makes the actual facts clearer to us. And these are policy experts or field experts (ie, academics or policy wonks) who are arguing. Not mere simpletons.
1) Israel and Palestine
2) Global Warming potential policy solutions (not global warming itself, which has arguments, but they seem contained and meta-level by comparison to the bleating over prospective environmental policy interventions)
3) Abortion
4) International Terrorism and Torture
5) Definitions of socialism or libertarianism, ie, radical political philosophies which almost nobody actually adheres to but which everybody else immediately says are nuts
6) Immigration and the activities of immigrants.

I would include the Drug War here, except I'm not sure there are still policy experts who disagree with each other about it. Just the people running the policies and still supporting them from the general public versus...everybody else.

28 May 2010

These guys are always good fun

"Because it's owned by China"

Speaking of oil slicks...

Two justifications on the cause of liberties

"It will be said, that we do not now put to death the introducers of new opinions: we are not like our fathers who slew the prophets, we even build sepulchres to them. It is true we no longer put heretics to death; and the amount of penal infliction which modern feeling would probably tolerate, even against the most obnoxious opinions, is not sufficient to extirpate them. But let us not flatter ourselves that we are yet free from the stain even of legal persecution. Penalties for opinion, or at least for its expression, still exist by law; and their enforcement is not, even in these times, so unexampled as to make it at all incredible that they may some day be revived in full force. In the year 1857, at the summer assizes of the county of Cornwall, an unfortunate man, said to be of unexceptionable conduct in all relations of life, was sentenced to twenty-one months imprisonment, for uttering, and writing on a gate, some offensive words concerning Christianity. Within a month of the same time, at the Old Bailey, two persons, on two separate occasions, were rejected as jurymen, and one of them grossly insulted by the judge and one of the counsel, because they honestly declared that they had no theological belief; and a third, a foreigner, for the same reason, was denied justice against a thief. This refusal of redress took place in virtue of the legal doctrine, that no person can be allowed to give evidence in a court of justice, who does not profess belief in a God (any god is sufficient) and in a future state; which is equivalent to declaring such persons to be outlaws, excluded from the protection of the tribunals; who may not only be robbed or assaulted with impunity, if no one but themselves, or persons of similar opinions, be present, but any one else may be robbed or assaulted with impunity, if the proof of the fact depends on their evidence. The assumption on which this is grounded, is that the oath is worthless, of a person who does not believe in a future state; a proposition which betokens much ignorance of history in those who assent to it (since it is historically true that a large proportion of infidels in all ages have been persons of distinguished integrity and honor); and would be maintained by no one who had the smallest conception how many of the persons in greatest repute with the world, both for virtues and for attainments, are well known, at least to their intimates, to be unbelievers. The rule, besides, is suicidal, and cuts away its own foundation. Under pretence that atheists must be liars, it admits the testimony of all atheists who are willing to lie, and rejects only those who brave the obloquy of publicly confessing a detested creed rather than affirm a falsehood. A rule thus self-convicted of absurdity so far as regards its professed purpose, can be kept in force only as a badge of hatred, a relic of persecution; a persecution, too, having the peculiarity that the qualification for undergoing it is the being clearly proved not to deserve it. The rule, and the theory it implies, are hardly less insulting to believers than to infidels. For if he who does not believe in a future state necessarily lies, it follows that they who do believe are only prevented from lying, if prevented they are, by the fear of hell. We will not do the authors and abettors of the rule the injury of supposing, that the conception which they have formed of Christian virtue is drawn from their own consciousness."

This is supposed, rightly, as in part a serious defence of the rights of atheists against an intolerant Christian majority which disapproves of their unbelief or questioning positions. Yet it is likewise a defence of the rights of the religious themselves, where they are in the disreputable company of such people as are capable of unbelief, they are still protected by law and admissible evidence where no bias against the entry of facts pertinent to the case is made on the cause that they come from an unsavory character. If we are treat people, who have the misfortune to presume or act in privately effective means that we disapprove of, with separate and unequal legal codes, can we not expect that this will reflect poorly upon us when we have need of their action in a time of desperate need (as a time of war and conflict surely is). And if we in fact have no use for a person except in that time of desperate need, what good does that speak of ourselves in better times? I see no reason that we must and should associate freely and lovingly with people we find repellent, but if we cannot respect ourselves enough to admit the probabilities that these repellent people are perhaps more tolerable, are perhaps worthy of a grudging respect, then it is difficult for us to assume that they will extend to us the same courteousness and hence would conscientiously leap to serve our demands. If we come instead to respect a people only as savage, ignoble, and dishonest, then it should not surprise us should they seek to act on this if our treatment of them would reflect this.

Mill continued: "These, indeed, are but rags and remnants of persecution, and may be thought to be not so much an indication of the wish to persecute, as an example of that very frequent infirmity of English minds, which makes them take a preposterous pleasure in the assertion of a bad principle, when they are no longer bad enough to desire to carry it really into practice. But unhappily there is no security in the state of the public mind, that the suspension of worse forms of legal persecution, which has lasted for about the space of a generation, will continue. In this age the quiet surface of routine is as often ruffled by attempts to resuscitate past evils, as to introduce new benefits. What is boasted of at the present time as the revival of religion, is always, in narrow and uncultivated minds, at least as much the revival of bigotry; and where there is the strongest permanent leaven of intolerance in the feelings of a people, which at all times abides in the middle classes of this country, it needs but little to provoke them into actively persecuting those whom they have never ceased to think proper objects of persecution. For it is this--it is the opinions men entertain, and the feelings they cherish, respecting those who disown the beliefs they deem important, which makes this country not a place of mental freedom. For a long time past, the chief mischief of the legal penalties is that they strengthen the social stigma. It is that stigma which is really effective, and so effective is it, that the profession of opinions which are under the ban of society is much less common in England, than is, in many other countries, the avowal of those which incur risk of judicial punishment. In respect to all persons but those whose pecuniary circumstances make them independent of the good will of other people, opinion, on this subject, is as efficacious as law; men might as well be imprisoned, as excluded from the means of earning their bread. Those whose bread is already secured, and who desire no favors from men in power, or from bodies of men, or from the public, have nothing to fear from the open avowal of any opinions, but to be ill-thought of and ill-spoken of, and this it ought not to require a very heroic mould to enable them to bear. There is no room for any appeal ad misericordiam in behalf of such persons. But though we do not now inflict so much evil on those who think differently from us, as it was formerly our custom to do, it may be that we do ourselves as much evil as ever by our treatment of them. Socrates was put to death, but the Socratic philosophy rose like the sun in heaven, and spread its illumination over the whole intellectual firmament. Christians were cast to the lions, but the Christian Church grew up a stately and spreading tree, overtopping the older and less vigorous growths, and stifling them by its shade. Our merely social intolerance, kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion. With us, heretical opinions do not perceptibly gain or even lose, ground in each decade or generation; they never blaze out far and wide, but continue to smoulder in the narrow circles of thinking and studious persons among whom they originate, without ever lighting up the general affairs of mankind with either a true or a deceptive light. And thus is kept up a state of things very satisfactory to some minds, because, without the unpleasant process of fining or imprisoning anybody, it maintains all prevailing opinions outwardly undisturbed, while it does not absolutely interdict the exercise of reason by dissentients afflicted with the malady of thought. A convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world, and keeping all things going on therein very much as they do already. But the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind. A state of things in which a large portion of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep the genuine principles and grounds of their convictions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they address to the public, to fit as much as they can of their own conclusions to premises which they have internally renounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world. The sort of men who can be looked for under it, are either mere conformers to commonplace, or time-servers for truth whose arguments on all great subjects are meant for their hearers, and are not those which have convinced themselves. Those who avoid this alternative, do so by narrowing their thoughts and interests to things which can be spoken of without venturing within the region of principles, that is, to small practical matters, which would come right of themselves, if but the minds of mankind were strengthened and enlarged, and which will never be made effectually right until then; while that which would strengthen and enlarge men's minds, free and daring speculation on the highest subjects, is abandoned.

Those in whose eyes this reticence on the part of heretics is no evil, should consider in the first place, that in consequence of it there is never any fair and thorough discussion of heretical opinions; and that such of them as could not stand such a discussion, though they may be prevented from spreading, do not disappear. But it is not the minds of heretics that are deteriorated most, by the ban placed on all inquiry which does not end in the orthodox conclusions. The greatest harm done is to those who are not heretics, and whose whole mental development is cramped, and their reason cowed, by the fear of heresy. Who can compute what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought, lest it should land them in something which would admit of being considered irreligious or immoral? Among them we may occasionally see some man of deep conscientiousness, and subtile and refined understanding, who spends a life in sophisticating with an intellect which he cannot silence, and exhausts the resources of ingenuity in attempting to reconcile the promptings of his conscience and reason with orthodoxy, which yet he does not, perhaps, to the end succeed in doing. No one can be a great thinker who does not recognize, that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead. Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think. Not that it is solely, or chiefly, to form great thinkers, that freedom of thinking is required. On the contrary, it is as much, and even more indispensable, to enable average human beings to attain the mental stature which they are capable of. There have been, and may again be, great individual thinkers, in a general atmosphere of mental slavery. But there never has been, nor ever will be, in that atmosphere, an intellectually active people. Where any people has made a temporary approach to such a character, it has been because the dread of heterodox speculation was for a time suspended. Where there is a tacit convention that principles are not to be disputed; where the discussion of the greatest questions which can occupy humanity is considered to be closed, we cannot hope to find that generally high scale of mental activity which has made some periods of history so remarkable. Never when controversy avoided the subjects which are large and important enough to kindle enthusiasm, was the mind of a people stirred up from its foundations, and the impulse given which raised even persons of the most ordinary intellect to something of the dignity of thinking beings. Of such we have had an example in the condition of Europe during the times immediately following the Reformation; another, though limited to the Continent and to a more cultivated class, in the speculative movement of the latter half of the eighteenth century; and a third, of still briefer duration, in the intellectual fermentation of Germany during the Goethian and Fichtean period. These periods differed widely in the particular opinions which they developed; but were alike in this, that during all three the yoke of authority was broken. In each, an old mental despotism had been thrown off, and no new one had yet taken its place. The impulse given at these three periods has made Europe what it now is. Every single improvement which has taken place either in the human mind or in institutions, may be traced distinctly to one or other of them. Appearances have for some time indicated that all three impulses are well-nigh spent; and we can expect no fresh start, until we again assert our mental freedom. "

The critical debates of our days concern issues which are much confused, much debated, and substantially conflicted. It would be well if we were able to conduct these debates honestly and openly, and to do so by airing fully our sources of discord and the chains of reasoning that lead us astray or into this unhappy disunity. It does us no credit to silence and stifle controversy or to ignore disagreements because they cause us unhappy feeling and the accidental case to think and reflect on the possibility that we are, in fact, wrong. I fully admit that it is easy enough to engage with an average man of the street and come away with the presumption that he knows so little about anything that it is practically without merit to engage his attempts at reasoning and justifications for any conclusions such as he has reached. This is in large measure because it is rare that I should engage anyone on a subject that they themselves are well-schooled and I not, and I should be more reflective on this point, that any expertise I have on a subject is matched by their own specialties, and that, in many cases, what passes as expertise among the common man is scarcely intellectual when it is measured against the whole of human faculties and production in knowledge and wisdom. As such, it is appropriate that I must seek to ask more questions of my foes and quarries in these greater pursuits. I have seen, in some debates, a great multitude of poorly constructed arguments and differences in the world of opinion, or indeed, facts, and this has prepared me for a number of quick and ready assumptions when the paths these dark woods begin to tread. It has not prepared me for everything and on occasion I discover a training or a path that is rarely taken. I say with some disappointment that this is a vanishingly rarer and ever more precious thing when it should happen and this is not owing to want of trying on my part. I enjoy such surprises as they give me causes to research, to explore the intellectual firmament on which they are drawn, and occasionally, to adopt new methods of thought and conclusion, or at worst, to be prepared with a wider array of dismissals.

What startles me most is how rarely I am asked. I provide readily mirrors upon which people may reflect upon when they submit things for my amusement and these can be gazed upon in varying measures of horror or amusement, or in fact steadily, as is oftener the case, ignored. How certain are others in their conclusions that they need not seek out their oppositions and detractors, or is it merely that expounding upon the topics of greatest division have as their natural consequence finding a population which has already decided its mind and seeks out arguments only with the mission of refuting them rather than following their calculations? Are we that arrogant and dismissive, still, with many years to pass?

27 May 2010

John Adams echoes

So now they're going after the supposedly treasonable lawyers who tried to get us to uphold our values and Constitutional boundaries some more. These are the faults they supposedly had, this one in particular is worth pointing out and holding in contempt.

"a) interfered with the operations of the Department of Defense at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, relating to [non-citizens detained at Guantánamo]"

In so far as those operations were a legitimate detention program, I can see cause here. In so far as requesting information as to the beatings or torture or, more pressingly, the status and nature of their detentions go, which is more or less what lawyers do (summon vast reams of paper from bureaucracies like the federal government and the military detention programs), I'm not sure this is a legitimate complaint. A lawyer who wasn't interfering in that way was probably not doing their job.

Secondly, the issue is, like with the immigration law in Arizona, the principle of "reasonable suspicion" and its interpretation being somewhat different in a practical rather than a strictly legal sense. Lawyers performing the unpopular task of defending disreputable clients such as those accused (but not proven) of terrorist or hostile acts against the US government and its people will be easy enough to frame as performing some sort of interference in the national interest of safety or security, regardless of whether
1) the program of indefinite detention actually improves safety or security (indeed, it may be a source of propaganda and recruiting for our enemies owing to its hypocrisy within our legal framework, thus a potentially grave risk to long-term safety)
2) the opposition to that program through legally sanctioned channels, as conducting habeas status for detention is legally sanctioned by court rulings, is in some manner itself a form of interference.
3) "reasonable suspicion" is at all a grounds for launching investigations which might terminate or suspend the operations of legal counsel to the expense of their client, especially with this being often legal counsel appointed or approved by the government itself.

Lawyers who do in fact endanger some vital US interest might be something we could consider as treasonable, if such examples existed. But representing the Constitutional values and rights that we accord to people under our jurisdiction does not strike me as an onerous, terrible, and thus treasonable interference.

Speaking of the clients those lawyers represent... we don't seem to have the best track record in so far as finding guilty people to imprison without charges.

a curious set of values


I'll just go down the line
Doc assisted suicide: morally flawed. Not sure I'd say it's morally wrong per se for someone to assist a suicide, but a doctor has a different set of professional ethics to uphold that are distinct from "average person" who sees person/friend in pain.
Gay/lesbian relations: morally fine
Abortion: morally questionable, but often the lesser of two evils.
Having baby outside of marriage: morally fine
Pre-martial sex: morally fine
Animal fur clothes: morally fine (I see this as the same as killing animals to consume them).
Medical tests on animals: usually morally questionable (issues of consent may be considered valid where tests are harmful), but I'd say this is more or less fine since most animals are not sentient and pain or suffering can be avoided in many cases (in fact, in most cases, the tests are for medical treatments of pain or suffering).
Gambling: fine
Stem cells from human embryos: fine. Such embryos would be destroyed rather than used and are thus not potential sources of life. This is little different than a miscarriage in physical terms (as are most commonly performed abortions for that matter.)
Cloning animals: fine
Death penalty: technically I have no problem if the state can provide us with a justification and assurance that the person is in fact guilty of a heinous crime and thus worthy of social disposal, but the fact that we require this justification makes it rather more expensive than simply locking people up, and this justification, as with torture related moral questions, is unlikely to be adequately provided in all cases. Abuse of the system strikes me as a moral problem as well.
Divorce: fine. Contracts should be open to amendment and re-evaluation by participants.
Suicide: dumb, but fine
Cloning humans: fine
Polygamy: fine if all parties consent to the contractual arrangement, not fine in its usual practice (since most of the time not all parties consent). Polyandry is also acceptable under these terms, though it rarely comes up.
Married people having affairs: also fine if all parties consent/aware. Not fine if consent is not granted or harms (STD transmission). Under a typical marriage arrangement, or even a non-married exclusive relationship, this is presumably not acceptable behavior.

So basically I only have problems with 3 things that a wider swath of people think are morally acceptable (medical testing, doctor provided euthanasia, and the death penalty), and one case where I'm leaning toward, but not in agreement with the majority (abortion), and everything else I'm morally permissive of, irrespective of whether the majority is supportive or opposed. Being "morally permissive" is not however to be taken as an endorsement of all these things for all people. In some cases, I regard these as skeptical actions, in others, I find that they are rarely likely to be something that would increase utility and thus be morally or socially useful and in most cases, I find that these are things that are privately arranged and consented to with the private expectations that they may increase some utility (happiness, fun, pleasures, economic gain, etc). Presumably when they don't, as they often won't, people will learn not to do them or learn to be more careful about such things. For the most part I find that people who don't want to do these things won't or shouldn't, that they have little capacity to judge or assess the character of others who do, but that they are free to attempt to argue that they are right and others are wrong for indulging in these activities. For the most part, I suspect their actions will be persuasive for a modest few who are already leaning in the direction of avoiding such things, and will have little to no impact on people who find them enjoyable and harmless.

One somewhat surprising element: I'm mostly impressed that there isn't a significant gender gap for abortion (in fact, men are more supportive of it morally than women). Given the public figures who usually speak on this topic, one wouldn't think this to be the case. Perhaps the problem, such as it is, there is less that there are few powerful women and more that there are a lot of powerful men who happen to oppose this for some reason or another. I suppose this is sort of like the gap on men and women toward rape victims in its way (with women more likely to be less sympathetic toward the rape victim, usually another woman, than men). But it's still an interesting polling artifact.

I'm not sure we're at the cloning humans party to actually have to wrestle seriously with the topic, but I'm constantly amazed at the moral inconsistency that puts abortion as wrong and yet also condemns cloning, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, etc. It would seem to me that one of the vital and strongest anti-abortion arguments is the quality and special character of creating new life. And yet all of these actions would do the same thing and are rejected, often out of hand (as in the case of human cloning). This would seem weirder still to me except I know that for the most part most anti-abortion advocates only cynically advance that argument for the purposes of covering up less popular arguments (such as advancing traditional sexual roles of women or pre-marital sexual relationships and child raising). If they took it more seriously, then arguments like those against IVF or surrogate mothers would be harder to raise with a straight face.

the power of cheese

Twitter version:

"Why won't Obama scream and yell and take over the Gulf with his magic powers? Worst president EVER." - Amusing.

I do think there's argument that the government failed to enforce its regulatory framework prior to this situation (though I'm not sure for the most part it should have been regulating in the way it was either), but I don't see what it could have done differently once it happened. Did the US government have an emergency gigantic oil spill plan for capping deep underwater wells that it for some reason withheld from BP? I doubt it.

Should he be more annoyed at BP? Maybe. But here again, I don't see what that would accomplish. As I noted before, oil companies are not likely to want to be in the business of paying for cleaning up oil spills and environmental/economic damages thereof. The best the government can offer is to stay on top of the situation and ensure that the total damages are adequately cataloged so that people may make private or joint claims for restitution and then perhaps arbitrate the eventual disputed claims where BP claims damages were smaller or people claim damages that may or may not exist (or may exist but not to the economic value they request).

More Iran

Aptly titled

Since I can't sleep.

US foreign policy toward any particular nation is likely to possess a complex pile of favored actions that they take which serve our mutual interests, favored actions which serve our interest, favored actions which serve somebody's interest (presumably powerful political factions on one side or the other), and unfavored actions which either serve the other side's interest (presumably at our, or an ally's expense) or serve nobody's interest. This means that taking a uniformly friendly or hostile approach will probably not do very much good. This is also so because international relations often assume something of a zero sum battle, particularly between nations with a history of violence and mutual acrimony as the US and Iran has, that it will become necessary to both beat with the stick and the carrot at times, but also to maintain the carrot with the stick in full view. The catch is that the carrot must exist and be legitimately useful and one cannot expect that the penalties can only be inflicted by one side. The US has some leeway here, in part because the relative power is unbalanced so heavily in its favour, but especially with some of its allies because Iran has a history with some of them as well which is less than helpful to its interests, but it also disposed of some important leeway by invading a neighbouring country under similar (and ultimately false) pretenses as those we are now leveling at Iran.

So the downside as I see it in this whole affair is that it's unclear what it is we can offer Iran at the moment other than possibly taking away the beating stick (sanctions and threats of more sanctions that probably cannot be imposed anyway) for a second.

It would seem to me that a perfectly acceptable position would be to allow Iran to enrich uranium itself, under international inspections, for use in energy and medical applications and to purchase the equipment for doing so or the enriched fuel itself from other nations. I suspect one reason this is not acceptable to Iran is the false-equivalence this reaches in regards the position of Israel under the NPT agreements and inspections regimes, ie, that the US and its allies (or in this case, its co-signatories) get too much leeway to establish the rules as they see fit rather than apply them fairly and equally. If we're talking about the DPRK, then I think there's a strong case to be made that the rules are fairly useful and equally applied (but accomplished nothing since North Korea withdrew from the treaty without consequence). If we're talking about Pakistan or Israel, it's a big giant grey area that needs to be cleared out. International rules are kind of a voluntary club as it is, only enforced to the degree that countries want them to be, but some of them, like nuclear power and weaponization regimes, could have some hazardous consequences if they are violated at will.

I would state that it is certainly not in our best interest to allow Iran to enrich uranium for weapons manufacturing purposes, and definitely not in the interest of some of our regional allies (including Turkey, which helped put forward a reasonable first step treaty that doesn't actually address our concerns), but without a coherent idea of what influences we can bring to this situation, it is not clear what we can actually achieve that would prevent this outcome, if Iran's leaders merely wish to pursue it. Thus if our interest in this way is unattainable, it seems clear we need to pursue less ambitious interests, such as a steady approach that continues to present Iran as the unreasonable party which rejects sensible demands and agreements that can be quickly achieved (like the one Turkey helped with), rather than making us look like the bullies we can so often be caricatured as in places like Iran. Making overt and expansive demands might have been reasonable under different circumstances or in the past, and almost certainly would have been viewed as somewhat correct in light of a history of hostile rhetoric and action, even threatening actions like the embassy seizure during the Islamic revolution and a large full scale shooting war with Iraq in the 80s. It is not reasonable now, even regarding Iran's sponsorship of terrorist organisations abroad and possible training or supply of regional guerrilla networks in Iraq or Afghanistan opposing and killing American soldiers (again, because we have little capacity to stop either).

There was a long standing presentation that somehow democratic reforms would ameliorate this problem, both because it is assumed that democracies are less belligerent, (which seems an increasingly dubious notion given recent events), less likely to use atomic warfare than religious theocrats and consequently that somehow such democracies would not want to pursue aggressive military programs like nuclear bombs, and also that somehow democratic Iran would not see some nationalistic democratic interest in pursuing uranium enrichment for more peaceful ends and the problem of what to do about a nuclear Iran will just will itself out of existence if we wish into power Democratic leadership and reform. Ironically this seems like the one part of the Obama foreign policy position that has been consistent: that someone like Mousavi being in charge instead will make no significant difference on these points. Since that is more or less the crucial long-term problem in our relations with Iran, it's not reasonable to shift goals to something like "we will install a more favourable government more amenable to our demands", because such a government probably does not exist and our ability to install one doesn't either.

In truth, I lean more toward Walt's second explanation for why this hasn't shifted. I don't think most people in DC have much ability to shift gears on this subject because, like the health care debate (the actual one, not the media one) did, it requires some radically different thinking and open discussion and dialogue to find a new and more effective approach. It's pretty easy by contrast to stand around and look tough without actually doing anything about the problems. We can pretend for some time that Iran won't end up with a nuclear bomb if they want one (or ten) and pretend that we have policy actions and influences to bring to the table that will prevent it. But since we don't, I prefer not standing around with our thumbs up our butts for the next 5 years.

26 May 2010

You want us to fight your war?

What the fuck we fighting for?

25 May 2010


That's not helpful

Rondo finally had a bad game and Pierce went ice cold and started acting like Hero Pierce (ie, Anti-Hero Pierce) in the 4th quarter. At least until Allen showed up and nearly saved the day, both in regulation and overtime. All in all, I don't expect this will go further than 6 still and in all likelihood won't go past 5. But 4 would probably have been better.


Our own little piece of flotsam

It's only a matter of time before we accidentally create and unleash the killer rabbits that will overwhelm mankind.

I suggest stockpiling holy hand grenades and learning how to count to 3.

Week begins

SWAT team goes crazy.
But police chief does something sensible.

Get your vaccines! Or we will ban the quack who says you shouldn't from practicing medicine. Good riddance. Only a few hundred deaths too late.

One thing that occurs over and over again in the great CRA debate is the idea that private discrimination was and is immoral and would and should be protested. I think that's certainly clear now that many of us would delight in doing this. But sort of like Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game was supposedly attended by 100,000 people (there were a shade over 4000), and the original Woodstock had millions of people there, and so on, people like to think they would act up, speak up, and attach themselves to something meaningful. In practice there were indeed thousands of anonymous and well-known white Southerners who did stand up. Some were arrested right alongside Dr King or other anonymous black folks.

In reality though there would not be an outcry of millions of voices as there might be now to mock, shame, and defeat such an attempt at re-installing any private power to discriminate against black customers or business owners were we to park the same people who claim they would make a fuss in the atmosphere and culture of the 50s and 60s. (and as often noted, there usually isn't any private power to actually do so as it usually involves calling the police to remove people as trespassing without private security firms that say an average restaurant probably wouldn't be able to afford, making the whole idea sort of nonsensical anyway).

One reason the Nazis were able to prevail in power and control a nominally democratic country where they gathered only a plurality of voting support was that they had millions of silent dissenters whose main fear was association with any number of unpopular (even among normal non-Nazi Germans) oppositional groups. In the Jim Crow South, this too was at play, as you can see in that letter. People were not simply having to step up against hatred raised by KKK rallies and acts of terrorism. Or the official harassment and repression brought about by the instruments of the state through police and prosecutors and zoning boards. They had to stand up to their friends. Their own families. Their parents. Their spouses. Their children. And so on. Try to imagine crossing a loved one over a major political issue now, then imagine that you are on opposite sides of a protest; one holding signs and watching them hurl objects at you, degrade you, etc. I don't think most people would stand up and be counted under those conditions. Most people would stay home and maybe say how awful that was that protesters were beaten, arrested, had dogs attacking them, and rocks and bombs hurled at them or their properties and churches, as they saw these things on the news or in their daily paper in the comforts of their own homes, far removed from the scenes of the day. Or maybe they'd even say "that those niggers and nigger-lovers got what they deserved." As many must have done for decades in order for Jim Crow to last as it did.

Or worst of all they could have gone out and started moving within the faceless or nameless hordes who opposed the protesters and demonstrators themselves, as many throughout the country did to oppose busing routes, voting registration campaigns, integration and schools, and so on.

It's easy for us to stand up against any signs of systematic racism now, much less point and mock when it surfaces from the mouth and action of a private individual. When second-class citizenship for blacks and the institution of slavery is considered a forgotten blemish on the nation's history, it's not that hard to point out how pointless and immoral these things are to try to restore. What's harder to do is convince people just how hard achieving even that much really was for the people who lived through it.

Speaking of things that need standing up to... This is overdue. I think they say better late than never.

24 May 2010

In which I discuss being smug and arrogant

About not participating in the great water cooler show of the past decade
A list of tweets I've read on this:
"While back, got maybe 10m into Lost pilot & thought "y'know, I just don't have time for this shit". Feeling pretty good about that choice."
"Reading the Lost Wikipedia entry. You guys wasted six years on this?"
"Between this and Battlestar, I've lost all faith in television."
"Ron Moore is the happiest man in all Nerddom today" (Ron Moore wrote Battlestar)
"like Medicare, was a promise that was always doomed not to pay off."
"Thank you, Lost finale, for not only sucking harder than the gravity well of a neutron star, but also giving me horrible nightmares"
"Well, that was 6 years of my life I'll never get back."
And of course, the Onion

Considering the downturn in sense that Battlestar Galactica took as it progressed, I feel pretty safe skipping this one too.

Incidentally, Treme appears to be a mess (and Pacific wasn't all that either with maybe one really good episode toward the end that you could have skipped most of the others for). So it may be a while before I bother watching anything airing at all on TV. Supposedly Breaking Bad and Mad Men are good, but I haven't had the time to start a new show catchup program yet. Too many books and blogs (and NBA playoff games).

More fun

A bit late. Like a year

But not surprising

That'll probably help if they're looking to keep LeBron at least. I would not expect whoever picks up Brown (someone will, I'm not sure why though) to be on LeBron's list of prime free agent spots. The guy can coach defense, but couldn't set up a play to run on offense for 5 years other than the patented "LeBron-23 ft heave" and apparently couldn't figure out how to exploit game plan matchups by changing personnel.

In the news of teams still playing, Boston isn't really surprising me that they're having such an easy time with Orlando. The upset over Cleveland was a lot harder to see coming than this (I certainly didn't pick it, neither did anyone else that I can find). By contrast, no team with Vince Carter is going anywhere important. I'm not sure yet whether to root for LA to go 6 or 7 or get that one over and done with too.

And the Blackhawks are in the NHL finals. That's...weird. Other than the Bulls during the MJ era, I'm used to Chicago having crappy sports teams (excepting that one year with the Sox). So this is odd.

23 May 2010

I got my back against a brick wall, trapped in a circle

I feel like I'm doing battle with lemmings.

So Iran. I'm not sure what it is that people think we can do here to begin with. Sanctions aren't going to do much because, well, sanctions never do. Most of the people pushing for them have the "hidden" agenda that they know that they won't work but will justify something "stronger", like bombing nuclear facilities. Which will result in a war. That's not something that will be a step-back foreign policy object. Now I don't automatically object to wars, even wars of aggression, if they serve some vital national interest. But Iran is a flea for America, not a vital interest. And it's only a flea for us because
1) we have a bit of a history. And this kind too
2) They're actually a pretty big mean looking dog to a couple places out there (Israel and Saudi Arabia) that we seem to think we need to back up.
3) We've got a ton of troops deployed in two ill-advised wars right next to Iran.

Now, since we're supposedly leaving Iraq that leaves just Afghanistan as a local target. Israel already has nukes. Iran knows that (and probably knows that we'll bomb them too if somebody nukes Israel). I guess Iran could try to attack Saudi Arabia, but I'm not sure what good that would do them since it would probably antagonize most of their regional allies or neutral parties (like the Turks with whom they just signed a nuclear fuel processing deal). And well, that history isn't going anywhere, but Iran isn't getting much more powerful and assertive in that region or being pushed back from doing things that we don't want it to do (state-sponsored terrorism for instance, which it has been at the forefront for over two-three decades). In light of these factors, a nuclear Iran is not actually a "problem", if we can extract ourselves from these wars. Israel can handle itself, if we're worried about it, we can throw some foreign military aid at that problem like we already do in copious amounts for some reason. Iran however is not our problem or our fight.

That doesn't mean that I'm not constantly having to fend off this fearful idea that somehow Iran's going to get a nuke and blow us all up, or maybe just Tel Aviv. It gets tiresome to explain why state-actors get nuclear weapons. It's not to hand them over to terrorists, to one-way them off to take out another nation's cities, to start wars, etc. They're for preventing other people/nations from fucking with your agenda. In that respect, a nuclear Iran is a bigger annoyance than it is right now, with the idea that we might want to prevent them from doing something or other. Except it's not like we've had much influence and pressure to bring to the scene already against this perceived national interest of another country.

Still, to explain the problem so I don't have to over and over and over again. The main parties in Iran that appear to be backing the nukes are the Ayotollah and the Revolutionary Guards. The first, well he probably wants to stay in power over a country that isn't a glowing pile of goo, otherwise the supposed greatness of the Islamic Republic doesn't do much good for anybody. And the second is more or less a gangster operation, extracting massive economic rents. Gangsters like business to go without outside interferences. So a deterrent weapon is awesome for gangsters. Aside from those two power brokers, the general public in Iran seems divided, but I suspect pushing them around on this whole nuclear power/weapons question is not pushing people back toward what we might perceive as the rational response to a superpower pushing people around (cower in fear of our shock and awe!). Pushing people around is kind of likely to get them to rally around and do the things we don't want them to do.

In essence, I don't see what influence or power we can use, because most things would be too much for us to bite off (an open shooting war without forces to take the war to its conclusion or international support for doing so) or counterproductive (sanctions that piss people off and don't really prevent anything from happening). And also I don't see that it's really worth trying to use influence and power to begin with because we're not in any greater danger anyway.

So instead, I'll just go with this.

It's possible our options would look better in an alternative universe where we didn't commit hundreds of thousands of troops and their equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan. But that would be an alternative universe where the people advocating we attack Iran over this question didn't exist, or at least didn't hold nearly as much sway and control over mainstream political arguments and opinion-making forums, either. Because that was the same justification used to invade Iraq (and now quietly forgotten by "polite" journalistic commentary).

I'm left only with the response that we should honor those who died and suffered, on all sides, especially the innocent, for, basically nothing.

22 May 2010

A break, but here take some more insanity

Courtesy of your children.

I can think of occasions where having kids on a leash is useful. For the safety and convenience of people other than the children themselves.

I cannot think of a reason why someone would raise a child essentially on a leash.

Things I remember doing that are apparently so dangerous that you may as well feed your child razor blades.
1) Walking to school. Walking home from school. Alone.
2) Going out without having to call when I got there safely. Or really inform as to where I was going.

Now for the most part I don't remember playing with too many other kids. Or talking to too many strange adults. Or interacting much with the neighbourhoods. Part of this was not really growing up in an urban environment. Where this would be more likely. Most of it was the anti-social business end of my outlook became hardened pretty fast. I wasn't interested in the same things as other kids as I got older and strange adults, for the most part, often assumed I was. One consequence of this, in part, was that it was generally assumed that I wasn't going to go out very often and I wasn't going out to do something dangerous or illegal. For the most part. So checking up probably wasn't deemed as important anyway.

But here's the interesting part of that: that sort of checking up is designed not to keep me out of danger from other people, but to assure I'm not the one causing it. Of the two things, I'm far more likely to consider kids to do something to get themselves hurt or into trouble than some random person is to wander up to them and carry them off, stab them, give them something illegal, etc. We had a huge national scandal over somebody supposedly putting needles into Halloween candy. Never happened. We had/have a huge national push over random abductions of children. They're exceedingly rare. We had/have a huge national push, complete with TV sting operation shows, concerning sexual predators and paedophiles enticing kids over the internet or on the street. Most of the actual cases are parents, relatives, and trusted figures (teachers or priests). If you are a parent, I'd suggest looking in the mirror. Most of the problems your kid will get into are not going to come from the random people that you supposedly cannot protect them against. I suppose there are reasons to be wary of strangers. But most of them, such as I can remember from childhood, have more to do with the average person being tremendously boring and uninteresting than with the average person being a masked crusader of evil and vengeance preying upon the young and innocent. Most of the actual problems your kid is going to have, especially when they're younger, are things you can control and probably caused. Like over-sheltering them and preventing them from learning about other people or things in their curiosity, taking risks, and so on.

More and More and More

Piling on the CRA flap

I have a couple of my own thoughts that still rattled out from all this.

I come to a libertarian grounding out of a utilitarian calculus of sorts. I look for ways to maximize public or private utility and one way to achieve that is to give individual people a very large burden of personal autonomy and freedom. In the case of dealing with a systematic and institutional method of racism and bigotry enforcing a caste system unfairly and purposefully on others, it strikes me as an obvious conclusion that this does not maximize utility or personal liberties. It instead exploits the utility and liberties of others, even others who might seek to collaborate with disfavored groups for personal gain. Such as businesses. Plessy v Ferguson was not a case over schools with its now infamous "separate but equal" ruling. It was a train company that brought the case and wanted not to discriminate when operating trains in the South, especially for routes that went into the North.

So I admire that this law, and its related Civil Rights Era laws of the Voting Rights Act and the Poll Tax Amendment, extended the benefits of liberty to more people who were being denied it and exploited by society. If the cost of this was that over corrective government was used to deny the liberty of individuals to exercise some of their free association rights, by hiring or firing or having customers of a particular ethnicity, I'm reasonably comfortable with this cost measured against the prospective benefits.

What I don't admire is that many seem to have accepted that these gains, along with apparently affirmative action which carries its own highly dubious costs and benefits at times, are sufficient to correct issues of long standing historical effects and grievances. Laws may now be more colour blind (with a few notable recent exceptions for crack dealers and Arizona's Hispanic population), but institutions still are not as they are peopled with, well, people. The powers of police and the instruments of justice are still all too easily directed at disfavored groups. Homosexuals, immigrants, blacks, the poor, even sometimes still women, to the exclusion of more politically powerful or influential who the law still serves and will rarely exploit and target. The waging of the drug war and the imposition of things like "stop and frisk" searches make it all too easy to find such racially charged statistics. As do more functional and basic things like unemployment rates, educational attainment or school qualities, and poverty rates.

There are, as a result, some curious divides on this issue between intentions and the results of our institutional uses of power. Much of this, I suspect, stems from some curious political divides. For instance, many "liberals" favour pouring more money into flailing school districts. Guess who does not: minorities who might potentially receive those monies. They instead are one of a bizarre political alliance pushing for charter schools or public choices in primary education. Along with economic libertarians and religious conservatives, who I'm not sure actually favour school choice along these lines so much as they use the same sort of choice that they would offer homosexuals for marriage rights. "Everyone is free to send their child to get a religious education!", with no ideas on how to fix education for everybody who doesn't want to do so. The prospective beneficiaries of more money for schools are teachers and administrators, a reliable liberal voting bloc with more political influence and power than minorities possess. Of course, those same religious conservatives who are modestly aligned on the issue of schools also deployed and vigorously support anti-drug laws which essentially corner the violence and depredation of black market drug trade into poorer neighbourhoods (generally those inhabited by minorities) in order to "protect" middle class youth (who generally end up experimenting anyway with something or other that they're not supposed to be doing). Even to the point of subscribing to sterner and blatantly racist in their effect sentencing laws on crack vs cocaine/marijuana distribution and setting up policing initiatives that target and hassle minorities for the simple fact that they can without complaint (usually) and that it sometimes produces seizures of narcotics or finds a few outstanding arrest warrants. And of course libertarians aren't big fans of affirmative action, which like the Rand flap over CRA, gets us into some hot water when our political philosophy gets adopted by some less savory people in order to justify objectively racist ends.

It would be foolish for people to set out to repeal the Civil Rights Act and other 60s era rights and privileges like it, on the grounds that immense improvements of personal liberty were made possible and in a few critical ways, guaranteed an equal right of exercise. But it also looks foolish to pretend that it ushered in a new epoch of history and freedom. People are still people. If they want to be bigots and they have the power and means to do so, they will.

Here's a link tree of the fallout
More libertarians and the law
Where I am apparently an immature buffoon
Goldwater vs FDR or people are all idiots and monsters in some way or another
The Russians are coming, oh and Rand

21 May 2010

Wow, the UK is shaping up fast

Anarchy in the UK!

There's a lot to like here:

"end of the controversial ID cards scheme, the scrapping of universal DNA databases"
"use of CCTV cameras will also be reviewed."
"close down the ContactPoint children’s database."
"schools will not be able to take a child’s fingerprint without parental permission."
"ministers will review libel laws, while limits on peaceful protest will be removed."

"we’ll do something no government ever has: We will ask you which laws you think should go."
“Obsessive law-making simply makes criminals out of ordinary people."
"end the storage of internet and email regulations and email records without good reason."
“It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide. It has to stop.

“This will be a government that is proud when British citizens stand up against illegitimate advances of the state. That values debate, that is unafraid of dissent.”

So. When do we give up our sovereignty and go back to the Crown?

Well, it's not all great big fluffy pancakes filled with blueberries and topped with buttery syrup.

But dismantling a security and fortress mentality and replacing it with a civil society doesn't sound like such a bad idea, one we should probably look into. Especially given that we're busy constructing more security apparatus and stripping away more rights and making more criminal penalties and laws for consensual or other non-threatening activity.

If an unspoken progressive idea is to "make us more like Europe", then one way to accomplish that is to have Europe move toward us politically. Like this by abandoning strict controls in favour of decentralisation or totally surrendering some cultural and social aspects from government control and monitoring. There are a lot of favourable things on social and cultural aspects in Europe, tolerance or equality for homosexuals for example, not to mention the history and food and art and music is usually pretty good, but it comes with some nasty baggage like the above programs that are now going to face a mean axe (and unspoken up there is the Tory/Cameron plan to decentralise their educational system and make it more like Sweden's, where money follows students).

I'm at least cautiously wondering what a world where Europe looks more and more like a bastion of a classically liberal freedom would be like.

More libertarian watching

"he would not leave abortion to the states, he doesn't believe in legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine, he'd support federal drug laws, he'd vote to support Kentucky's coal interests and he'd be tough on national security." ....

"there was one thing he would not cut: Medicare physician payments." (Rand, like his dad, is a doctor).

Everybody got that? Just so we're clear, this is not libertarian at all. It's stock populism mixed with "bring home our pork" populism (the coal subsidies). Oh and a little personal business self-interest without an appropriate level of business detachment in his politics. If that's what Kentucky (and Tea Partiers) want, then fine, I guess.

But don't put shit on my plate and call it steak.

Noted: (It is a little funny that I'm seeing a lot of libertarians confused or openly outraged that this is "the guy", and that he himself seems to be trying to run away from the title).

More on CRA

Legal edition

It does seem pretty clear that the most significant problems with the Jim Crow era were not necessarily the fact that employers and business owners discriminated. It was the fact that they were legally required to do so. Social and cultural norms were powerful problems, but the fact that they were enforced by laws, or that laws were ignored in order to enforce these norms privately, poses a huge problem for the idea that this was a libertarian paradise. Only in a world where "libertarian" equates to "state's rights, southern edition" does the world of Jim Crow mean much for the ideas involved.

I suspect of course that there are many not only who are outside our little clique but within it that think that's precisely what libertarianism is for. It's not. It's a political philosophy that emphasizes decentralised governance as much as is possible but underlying that is an assumption that centralised authorities will attack and destroy individual rights and holds that a reason to use decentralisation as a weapon to wield against tyrannies seeking to repress rights. Rights like: the vote, to freely associate, to seek education, an impartial redress of grievances, freedom of speech, religion/worship/conscience, and so on. If decentralised authorities, authorities that subscribe to the central power of a federal authority in some way, decide they can also attack and destroy those individual rights, someone should step in and tell them they cannot (ie, the Constitution with its supremacy clause and enumerated powers and amendments). For decades, the government did not do this and allowed those rights to be trampled upon after they were explicitly protected and guaranteed. I suppose you could argue, particularly from this libertarian, states' rights perspective, that it then moved too far to trample them in another way. I suspect in a way this is probably true. I'm not so sure that it is a great loss to our society to try to tackle racism and defeat its effects within private arrangements, at least over purely economic affairs, but we also have no official rights not to be discriminated against in our private affairs. What is needed to object to these is a right of entry and exit to create and foster alternative engagements in a large and diverse society and thus penalize such overt bigotry. I'm not totally certain this was achieved, or that the CRA's passage was the best guarantor of it, but I'm reasonably certain that without some legal interventions on this front that private discrimination would not have been avoided. Cultural and social norms on this front were very strong and incited much outrage and even bloodshed when they were upset.

I'm however certain that it was no great loss to abandon the right of governments, any governments, to make these discriminatory claims and impose them with force and coercion of law and to hold those governments accountable, where possible, for the actions and bigotry of its officers, bureaucracies, and associated regulated enterprises (public transit or the post office for example). I find it strange that environments where governments have acted, and indeed have acted improperly, that we, as the philosophers who proclaim that governments should not act at all in such areas or should act very differently from how they have done so (ie, to protect rights rather than abolish them), that we are blamed. So far over the last two years we've been blamed for the Great Depression, the Great Recession, Separate but Equal, and the Great Oil Spill of 2010 in some way or another. I've yet to see what we did to cause any of these things or to exacerbate them. Usually we were shouting from the hills and being driven back before enacting anything like what we were calling for as a law.

For this case, it might of course be instructive to wonder how we can or should do that however in the legal realm, because it is clear that we have not with the stroke of a pen abolished the peculiar mindsets required to make it a functional reality that a man shall be assessed largely on the pigments in his skin and not the contents of his wallet or the skills in his hands or mind or the quality of our interactions with him. Perhaps, unlike the civil liberties that are enshrined in a series of laws and pamphlets and yet go ignored and abandoned with no one to speak up for them and occasionally get a reprieve on account of a legal technicality, we have to make this case individually and morally rather than legally. Or, perhaps, with enough time the law will become a moral and compelling force of its own in the opposite direction than its less noble historical aims.

20 May 2010

Related questions

That I'll be happy to answer

So now that the cat's out of the bag and the kookiness of libertarian skepticism toward government power comes up there's a bunch more questions

1) Can the federal government set the private sector's minimum wage? It shouldn't have this power, no. I would have thought that research on the effect this has on employment is pretty well established. I also don't see how the federal government has this power to begin with. State and local governments might, depending on local or state charters. But I don't think they should do it either. Market incentives to pay people work in both directions: up and down, according to supply and demand for labour and the skills required for jobs. A federal minimum wage is unnecessary as a result.

2) Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? I think the answer here is probably not. At least not under the current immigration schemes which don't adequately fulfill the labour market's demand/supply situations. It probably does have the power to monitor and regulate this, but I'm not sure this is a useful power for it to have. To avoid the problem of denying the ability of contracts and business/personal associations to be made is more or less why I would have supported something like CRA, so it doesn't seem like something I'd be all that worried about even when it evades other legal matters like proper entry into the country. The better question is what rights would the federal/state/local government be willing to accord to illegal immigrants or what method should the federal government use to increase (or decrease, if that's your flavour) immigration in its legal forms to ameliorate the problem of illegal "backdoor" entries in the first place.

3) Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? I don't think the government should tell the oil company what safety systems it needs. I think it should instead tell the oil company what might constitute an environmental hazard that it would be held liable for cleaning up (types of chemical or environmental damages, without limitations under tort law) and let the oil company figure out how to best and most effectively avoid and mitigate these damages. Telling it what to use may exclude more cost-benefit efficient or even safer methods that might be sussed out by market force. Oil companies probably don't want to be in the business of cleaning up major oil and chemical spills. I think the market incentives there are pretty clearly against doing irresponsible things. At least once you tell them what the irresponsible things are.

4) Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? I guess so. That's usually interstate commerce and might be a public safety hazard that consumers (ie, parents) would want to know about. I have some bugaboos with the law we wrote to handle this situation though, in that it kind of banned all sorts of things unrelated to this (sale of some old used children's books for example, which may have used lead based paints)

5) Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? I don't think the federal government should establish a drinking age and should leave this up to state or local governments. I disagree completely with the use and tying in of federal highway funding with the establishment of higher alcohol drinking ages, and I think the current age should be lowered to 18 from 21 anyway (with a phase-in that allows minors, of any reasonable age, to consume alcohol in the company of a responsible guardian in public but not to purchase it for themselves). So far as I know however most of the time it is not the federal government that establishes liquor licenses. It's usually the state or local that would police this. All the federal government does is require a higher age limit than I think is appropriate and requires other agencies to police the laws that it requires as a standard.

If this is considered a "kooky" idea to reject 4 out of 5 of these as sensible federal tasks, then wow, I need to get out more. I think much of the basis for objecting to the provision of Title II in the Civil Rights Act is mistaken and a kooky assessment of the facts on the ground during the Civil Rights Era, so that tracks, though I do have some philosophical reservations about the mechanisms we can use here for governing private arrangements, I think they are outweighed by some positive gains in combating counterproductive and coercive arrangements imposed on other parties (ie, the less racially/ethnically motivated). I'm not sure how any of these suggested laws relates to laws dealing with systematic and institutional racism, something I'm pretty sure we needed a law to help deal with in some fashion. In fact, I'm pretty sure the minimum wage law does the opposite here, and increases racial disparities of unemployment (historically anyway). So abolishing most of these laws doesn't seem like a problem I'm likely to be concerned about, nor does it actually seem like a problem other people should be getting hyperactive about if what they are actually concerned with is better policy outcomes and enforcement. If that's not what people are actually concerned with, then they should say so.

More on clothing

Nope, not my clothing

It occurred to me that one of the principle arguments against the burqa/niqab is that it prevents the disclosure of one's face to others. I however wear sunglasses near constantly during the daytime when in public. I don't take them off when I talk to random people. I do when I have to for business reasons or because I know the person and wish them to see more expressive non-verbal cues. Still, I suspect this is viewed, by some people, as rude or impolite or in some way disturbing, perhaps even intimidating at times. I don't see the difference between this and being cloaked in a wraith-like piece of cloth. It might be consuming a good deal of mental energy for people to get used to, to be annoyed with, or to put up with. But liberal societies aren't supposed to govern over our protection from feeling offended. Where there are actual rights being restricted or endangered, I can see reasons for seeking exceptions or workarounds for these impolite actors who have dared to seclude their flesh from our view.

I can also see religious reasons NOT to do so, even where the religious commands of Islam are interpreted as requiring such things, simply because it attracts so much attention and ire that it seems contrary to the principles behind the rules (as they are interpreted by strict fundamentalist Muslims). But despite the expected flawed reasoning of religious commandments to a people who are not expected, by their religious decrees, to live for long durations among "infidels", I don't see a reason to sacrifice the autonomy of people to choose what they should wear on their own bodies. Nor do I think it likely that such laws will in some way grant a new form of autonomy to the women who are deemed to be forced to wear burqas by their families or husbands. If this action was anything more than a symbolic attempt to reject Islamic society and its inroads into the French (and Belgian) countries and cultures, I might be a little more supportive of it. It fails utterly to do anything serious with the illiberal notions and chains of reasoning that lead to women being compelled to veil their faces and bodies (in essence anything which provides women with decreased autonomy and discriminatory access to public services, such as restaurant service) and imposes a very illiberal sense of reasoning that declares that they mustn't do so because we say so and know better than they their own wants.