29 June 2010

more heads, not blogging

The connection between awe and evil

Or something like that. I could definitely see "awe", described in this way, as a terrible burden that brings major downside risks and costs with it. Also the downside of entry fees on scientific examination versus religious "transcendentalism" are kind of curious to be aware of.

Benign masochism

Eating hot spices is apparently "masochism". Awesome. But the more general prospect is that it's supposed to be an evolutionary adaptation that prepares and tests us against actual pain. So is "do you want to see something disgusting?"

Those were probably the most interesting aspects. The idea that I should (and would) pay more to enjoy Perrier instead of water, not so much. I have a hard time constructing an idea that I value many things because of the associations they might have with them. But perhaps this is more because I don't value many things to begin with.

28 June 2010

complexity of people

Two faces. Presented by the same person on the same person.

Face of counsel and caution Which, had we some sense of national conscience willing to look back upon our error, could have been attended to with greater wisdom at the time and saved us much blood, treasure, and toil in needless consequences.

But it had the misfortune to come from this face too. The former KKK member who opposed civil rights and the purchaser of many monuments to his own perceived grand influence through the largess of the taxpayer. Including, of all things, a coast guard station in the middle of a mountainous state with no significant waterways or beachfront to speak of.

I guess some mysteries are better left confusing.

get to the point please

say what about women?

Sexually that is. I'm not sure he really offered much clarity to the idea that women are distinct from each other in some way (other than the obvious individual particularities), in so far as how their sex drives and response to them works. Somewhere in there that was the gist that he wanted to communicate but wandering off to get to the point that a high female sex drive correlates (some) with complex attractions and group/same-sex sexual encounters doesn't seem to explain the rest of the female population's complex responses.

Other than to contrast it with the remarkable simplicity of almost any male response (which we are happy to oblige I guess), it's apparently really hard to explain why one woman responds to this, but not that, and vice versa, and then some other woman responds to both, another to neither. I suppose as long as you're an eager young male who likes figuring these things out in a partner, and she's willing to play along, it's not a problem (presumably the same issue if it's a woman and another woman, only doubled). What's amusing about this "mystery" is that we're still wasting time trying to solve the issue with a pill. My guess is that the sex drive chemical response would work a lot better by simply talking back and forth openly. Including about sex. The reason being that it doesn't appear that the mind is always listening to the body on this one and the communication clears up when the mind should listen to the body (or when it shouldn't). With men it's usually pretty obvious when the genitals are in the drivers seat. Women are better at ignoring them or don't know what it is saying, probably for cultural reasons more than anything else.

Back to the anthropology, there's some fudging going on here to fix this to the hypothetical based on behavior I think, but basically the idea is that smart people can adapt more readily to changes in norms from biological or evolutionary norms. The problem of course is that it's not just idiots running around having affairs. In fact, smarter men, and especially smarter women, have more. It would seem in part that smarter people are better at concealing their infidelities, and thus better at executing some "hypocrisy" between their actions and their behaviors, but I'd also agree that in large part the problem is that intelligent people on average tend to have more options. They're more successful, they tend to be taller and more attractive (by adopting, if not establishing and manipulating, the norms of beauty standards) and these things tend toward having more sexual options in modern society. Having more options could simply be taken to mean escape routes from bad, failing, or dysfunctional relationships. And in truth, probably more understanding couples that would tolerate straying off once in a while with some intellectual defences and explanations. I'm not sure this is ideal, but it's more or less how I'd approach the situation of dealing with a wandering mating pair choice. It's probably superior than a response of abuse and/or control anyway.

remind me

to ask my cousin about this

Don't know where he was, but rural China, or at least a part of it, looks to be crazy developed by our standards. Skyscrapers for farmers?

27 June 2010

fluff from the days

This was apparently a big deal

I don't see what the issue was. The bigger deal seems to have emerged out of the supposed lack of journalistic ethics. Part of me is sympathetic. People often will bitch and gripe about their boss in a way that doesn't bode well when taken out of context or as commentary. And in some cases, particularly complaints about Biden and Holbrooke, I'm not sure what the problem was anyway. Biden IS a blowhard who often says idiotic things. Holbrooke IS pretty much a giant pain in the ass for any possibility of that mission working. But a large portion of the problem is that complaints like these are made in front of a reporter instead of in the casual circle of trusted confidants, which suggests either poor judgment or that journalism is perceived as so depleted in its understanding of how to report a story that it often covers up things that might be of interest to its duties to report stories to the benefit of the person behind that story. Like the fact that the (now-former) commanding general in Afghanistan's staff seems to be a collection of whiny bastards who don't know to shut up around a reporter.

In a similar vein, a blogger I occasionally followed was axed for comments made public from an online closed forum. Since the online closed forum was consisting of...other journalists/bloggers, I don't see how those comments should have been interpreted as anything other than possibly made public some day. Some poor judgment is in order. Weigel also publicly aired his disdain for the tea party folks a couple of months ago and in particular the people who oppose gay marriage were called out as bigots. I think for the most part they are, but it does little good to say so. Still, it's not like some "red flags" didn't exist in public already before this latest incident.

In any case, I'm pretty sure that covering the strangeness that is the conservative political world right now is bound to get aggravating. It's not quite as broad a tent as it used to be (particularly since it's busy trying to excommunicate members) and its not as broad and incoherent as the Democratic voter base can be (with everything from environmentalist extremes to unions, farm lobbies, and even pro-life AND pro-choice voters). But it's still consisting of a tent that includes people like Ron Paul to Sarah Palin, and has an overarching series of ranting and uninformed blowhards (Rush, Hannity, Beck, Levin) who communicate to the flock at the cost of demanding absolute piety to their word (which often fails to maintain a logical consistency of principle from one month to the next, or even one day to the next). I'm not sure how you're going to somebody who would be perceived as capable of covering it fairly and still actually conduct... I don't know...I think they call it journalism. When prominent right-wing commentator X says something ridiculous Y that, in effect, cannot be fact checked, it's going to be a long day at the office. I'm sure a similar effect exists on the left, for example when Obama gives a speech about civil liberties or counter-terrorism measures and people take it for granted that he's actually doing or pushing to do the things he claimed he would. Somebody needs to exist to backstop the claims of prominent figures against the facts on the ground. Perhaps someone who bitches about Drudge and Ron Paul's acolytes is not the best choice, or perhaps someone who mounted a partial defence of Rand Paul in the fallout over his immediate press gaffes is likewise perceived as an ill-favored choice to do so. But still somebody has to do more than simply report "right wing commentator X says Y!, Must be true!"

people are better

When they're not terrified.

We seem to have a limited amount of such energy to spread around. Being pissed off or afraid takes resources. Best to preserve it for things that we actually need it for.

The usual culprit stealing this away is some random stranger. The creepy old man on the internet.

The far more usual culprits: other teenagers. And family members or other adults with high levels of accessibility to a child (teachers, priests, coaches, etc). And basically, if you or your spouse isn't planning on doing anything to the kid (physical abuse included), it's probably safe to let them run around on the internet with little more than a quick lesson on the decorum of the net. Or lack thereof. And the same basic instilled fear of strangers that our culture seems to want to foster in its generations (although given the random likelihood of tolerance I have for new people, I'm guessing that this might be a useful thing to instill in people, if for no other reason than that it filters out a lot of crap and makes it easier to pay attention to decency and interesting finds).

Next complaint though was really funny. Shared their email. Shared their first name. Posted photos of themselves (already a fairly low percentage of teens overall doing this, of all things), and then giving out a phone number. Of these things, I'd say only the phone number is even mildly disturbing. An email can be changed or abandoned. People can be blocked and filtered out as spam. A name. Well you're supposed to be polite and introduce yourself. This doesn't say your full name was given. Photos, that's pretty much what most people (not me) use the book of faces for. And that includes teens that get on it. Basically the phone number could be a raw deal but unless it's a listed number, I still don't see how creepy guy X is going to do something terrible with it. All of these things, a name, a photo, an email, and a phone number are very commonly already known to the most common person likely to do something terrible to a child. They're given out freely or sometimes even controlled by the person committing the acts. Maybe a little caution is advisable toward strangers. But we don't need to go overboard. People, despite their somewhat rampant scum-baggery toward one another in most fields of life, aren't really running around abducting and abusing other people's kids (people and kids they don't know). Save the resources worrying about people who might go cruising the city and internet for children to molest and put them toward the kids who are actually at risk for such things (ie, kids who are raised in abusive or degenerative environments) to give them some extra resistance and help.

It's kind of like this fear. Which I remember from my youth when I attempted to trick or treat a couple of times. One guy has been charged in decades (and that long after I had given up the tradition of dressing up as some random creature once per year. I should probably consider dressing up more often as some random superhero or creature just to mess with people). Yet we were truly terrified all the same.

26 June 2010

news from the front

"Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests, not for ours. They say, 'We are your friends, we want democracy, we want to help.' But they are lying."

"But we do not have the strength to control our own destiny - our fate is always determined by our neighbours. Next, it will be China. This is the last days of the Americans." - Quite prescient. China's already snapped up a huge copper mine.

"The troops promised the villagers full compensation, and were allowed to burn the crops; but the money never turned up. Before the planting season, the villagers again went to Jalalabad and asked the government if they could be provided with assistance to grow other crops. Promises were made; again nothing was delivered. They planted poppy, informing the local authorities that if they again tried to burn the crop, the village would have no option but to resist." - If you have to wage a war on drugs, at least have the decency to do what you say you're going to do.

"Last month," he said, "some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, 'Why do you hate us?' I replied, 'Because you blow down our doors, enter our houses, pull our women by the hair and kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and when your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time.'"

What did he say to that? “He turned to his friend and said, 'If the old men are like this, what will the younger ones be like?' In truth, all the Americans here know that their game is over. It is just their politicians who deny this." - Hatred here doesn't sound very much like a voice of god commanding and willing the violence. It sounds a lot more like this.

what are we?

It is plain, that almost in every species of creatures, but especially of the nobler kind, there are many evident marks of pride and humility. The very port and gait of a swan, or turkey, or peacock show the high idea he has entertained of himself, and his contempt of all others. This is the more remarkable, that in the two last species of animals, the pride always attends the beauty, and is discovered in the male only. The vanity and emulation of nightingales in singing have been commonly remarked; as likewise that of horses in swiftness, of hounds in sagacity and smell, of the bull and cock in strength, and of every other animal in his particular excellency. Add to this, that every species of creatures, which approach so often to man, as to familiarize themselves with him, show an evident pride in his approbation, and are pleased with his praises and caresses, independent of every other consideration. Nor are they the caresses of every one without distinction, which give them this vanity, but those principally of the persons they know and love; in the same manner as that passion is excited in mankind. All these are evident proofs, that pride and humility are not merely human passions, but extend themselves over the whole animal creation.

- David Hume.

A lot of these excellencies aren't signals of pride and vanities at all, but rather the things we as humans find remarkable and useful about a creature.

But strutting about with a great fan of feathers behind you, there's not much getting around that. That's a sports car and a fancy piece of jewels (or whatever) waiting to happen.

25 June 2010

and we're back

It is necessary to explain the world of conflicts in a background of history.

Going back to the beginnings of the industrial/capitalistic age, there was developing a compelling narrative about the lack of concerns and dehumanising aspects of industrial and urban life. These new mechanised, high intensity, worlds were worlds apart from those of the agrarian planter and his own private clan (or often, his slaves), and the adjustment was jarring for most. Against that change spawned a series of explanations for this new social condition of humanity and waves of revolutionary fervor. Marxism, Anarchism, and eventually these narratives culminated in the seizure of power in Russia and some of the worst excesses of power in imagination: Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, and the world spent decades trembling only minutes of nuclear annihilation as this narrative set itself against that of a narrative of individual freedom and liberties that were loosened and increased by the powers of markets, trade, and the impetus of an enlightened self-interest given by the "invisible hand".

The reason that conflict was "won", was that a compelling counter narrative developed, and system continued to operate which seemed to work better at answering the problems of human suffering and privation.

The modern conflict is based around the same questions of human suffering. A story is told and weaved which explains why you hate your job, why you don't have one, why your wife is somehow inadequate or acts in ways you find inappropriate, why your children are threatened by your neighbours, and so on. That story is in part weaved in with larger and less threatening stories like those of the troubles in far away places and settles on finding a convincing villain in the powerful elites of countries who are clients to Western powers. That is an ideological story. There's some religion tossed in there to make it sound more cosmic and mystical. And after all, who would want to go to war over an idea if it were not for service of their God? But the real problem is that the counter narrative lacks its credibility. We had to evolve out of many problems over the 20th century in the same manner. Marxism made much propaganda out of the division of races in the West. We eventually applied some remedies to the matter. Not simply because we were told to do so by Marxists (I suspect we sort of figured out it was pointless and costly to do in the systematic way we had conjured up) but perhaps in part because that shit was just aggravating to be lorded over on by them. Giving your enemy something they can use in their story is not useful to building a better one for yourself.

This is more or less what the enemy can tell itself.
We have tortured, maimed, and imprisoned people against their will and, crucially, against our own values. That makes us hypocrites when we talk about freedom and tolerance for diversity.

We have invaded various nations with minimal or even no aggressive actions taken by those nations. And propped up various corrupt and repressive regimes when it (supposedly) serves our interests in places like Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, (to say nothing of what has become of Iraq and Afghanistan, and to a far lesser extent Israel's control over the West Bank and Gaza). While suppressing democratic results in Palestine and reacting supportively of non-democratic reactions in places like Iran, and almost any of the former Soviet Republics (Georgia and the -Stans in particular). And reacting with hostility toward impressions of free diplomatic action on the part of nominal allies like Turkey, Japan, or Brazil. This again, makes us hypocrites who don't follow our values.

I think we need to start telling a story of our own. Part of that story will and must include the brutality of the people we oppose. Islamists have perpetrated grave damage and destruction upon other Muslims to a far, far, far greater extent than they have upon their selected bogeyman in the West. Much of the killing in Afghanistan or Iraq or Pakistan, Chechnya, or the Sudan is predicated on this. I think also most of this story won't be ours to make. Islam itself must wage war between its extremes and its historical center. There always will be, as there appears to be always in Christendom, a boiling fragment that looks down upon its titular allies with disgust at their presumed impieties and impurities, but if this fragment is marginalised by louder and calmer voices, it will lack much of the capacity to tell a story that weaves faith and holy crusades into the stream of data coming back at people.

Most of what we can do with this story is try living up to some of these ideals we have and let more people alone around the globe. That cuts a fine path through the mess and leaves us out of the bogeyman stories more often.

meanwhile, speaking of things are generally amusing...

Sex, or at least part of it

Kind of graphic. Scientists can be that way of course. And it contains more complaints about the internet changing our brains. I haven't noticed. More over I think this is more or less the same problem that could be leveled relative to movies as compared to books. Imagination and recalling of imagery can still be leveraged to good effect even if there's actual images in mind (or right in front of us).

drug policy

Question: To ban alcohol sales, we passed a Constitutional amendment (which we then repealed when it obviously failed to achieve any meaningful effect other than to enrich criminals), shouldn't we also have had to pass a similar amendment to ban narcotic drugs?

Answer: I served in Iraq. The surge worked.

Huh? (it gets worse, basic argument is that we can and should do whatever we want to achieve this supposedly worthy goal).

now with more


Even a foreign policy element.

24 June 2010

arguments that are less offending

In general, I seem from the outside to hold a bizarre set of moral opinions on the behavior of others.

In practice this is because I think happiness and a general sense of contentment is a very fragile thing. People, within reason, ought to be able to practice the things that give them that sense of meaning and value that happiness seems to bring. In the modern world this has resulted in a wide set of niche fetishes and pornography markets that in an earlier time would be banished to the quiet corners of the mind and never opened. As an example. I'm not about to do most any of that either. But as long as there are consenting parties (and no obvious abuse, cruelty, and/or malice involved, such as "crush videos"), I'm not about to argue with it either. Whatever floats your boat.

Just don't expect me to be on the boat the whole time. Or in some cases, any of the time.

For me it seems more like reasoning through things like that and explaining them the best I can are a valued time. I don't know why. I'm not sure I should care. I'm not sure that anybody was ever harmed by an idea or a concept. Maybe they can be offended or annoyed by it. But they're not harmed by it.

and...that's amusing

I've spent half the day defending polygamy in an "idealized" ethical construct. For the most part the arguments against are very similar to those raised by people opposed to homosexuals marrying or, before that interracial marriages. "It's for the children!" Think of the children. To quote an old now dead comedian, "Fuck the children". We don't require people to prove they're having kids when they get married, or to be married to have and raise their children (or even anybody's at all). Don't see the point in arguing against this on this basis. More over, practically anybody can adopt. And then enter into any kind of private sexual relationships with other people that they want and still retain custody of the child. I don't see why they should have to lie and say, yes, this is my (husband/wife) to get that out of the way either and still be capable of raising a child.

There are a couple very important caveats of course that I raised before when this comes up in the war over ethics and law between oddballs like me who tolerate a lot of random behavior and traditionalists who don't.
1) Polyamory is typically practiced in its non-idealized fashions. That is: by men asserting dominion over women for selfish ends and sexual exclusivity with many women

2), often without consent or even knowledge from each individual party to these sexual congresses. (it is not required that such things involve multiple marriages, though in practice, that'd probably be more convenient for people who want to do carry it out).

I'd have to say I agree this reflects rather poorly on the practice in modern times. It should really only be ethically permitted where all parties have agreement and consent and there's a level of transparency and accountability as in any sexual relationship, and, ideally, there's an equal access such that the practice is not simply used to effectively own women but that women could have multiple partners themselves if they wish (polyandry). Since that doesn't typically happen either, it's probably a dead issue but for the fact that we have many examples of marital infidelities to deal with in some manner.

I'd say we might benefit if such people who had these demands were open about it and perhaps did not get married or only married people who were "okay" with such things. I also don't think the population of people who would find this acceptable behavior, certainly during these supposedly essential child-rearing years, would be very high at all. But without permitting such a population to exist openly at all, we're essentially fostering a cynical violation of the supposed value of monogamy by entreating people to abuse it privately and illicitly rather than privately allowing people to discriminate with full knowledge of the consequences of entering into relationships with such people. (Ie: they could avoid some potential damage).

a return to CRA

Back about a month ago, there was this terrible "libertarian" flap over the Civil Rights Act's private discrimination clause. Since I circled back around to private contracts as being a basis for legal enforcement on some issues, it occurred to me that this was a weird outlier that I needed to explain some more.

Basically it comes down to this: private discrimination happens (based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, liking France or rap music, whatever), we may find it deplorable, certainly true now in many cases, but there may be little that we can do legally to redress the issue by force. What was actually at issue during the Civil Rights era was that private discrimination was mandated by law (in certain unnamed parts of the country), whether individuals wanted to use it or not in their private affairs and especially in their businesses. This was a ridiculous and non-market based position. Somehow or another, it got painted that being against getting rid of all private discrimination meant supporting it in the first place. In the 1960s, this was, to some extent, probably true. The architecture that allowed for private "market" discrimination was state supported both through legal and extralegal force (ie, local law enforcement and courts would ignore property or personal damage and threats of damage to people who did not comply or who suggested they would not). That architecture had to be destroyed. There were several options available.

1) You could legalise private discrimination of any kind, but not mandate it by the state. Ie, blacks could open a business and discriminate against whites or people could open a business and not discriminate against anybody. Under some ordinary market condition, businesses that complied with local wishes and provided quality products or services the best would thrive, and those that did not would suffer economic penalties, over time leading to a status quo with less overall discrimination. The problem with this is the extralegal support given to discrimination by state authorities. That means you could do:
2) Federalize local authorities to prevent and crackdown upon local extralegal banditry. Ike did this in the 50s with school integration by sending in the 101st Airborne. LBJ occasionally federalized control over some state National Guard units during race riots and marches in the 60s. And obviously Reconstruction was almost entirely based on this method (particularly true when you observe Grant's capacity to crush the early KKK terrorism rings with detachments of federal troops armed with military powers of law and order). You can plainly see from how our history books are written almost 125 years later how that worked out. It's looked upon rather...poorly by the targets of this "meddling". I tend to believe this would have been the most effective immediate term solution but the most expensive long term, amounting to an occupation of states while generations of resentment build instead of any internal reforms toward "best market practices".
3) What we did instead. Pass a law outlawing private discrimination and enforce it with the threat of federal authority through a signed piece of paper rather than the actual presentation of it through military occupation.

The primary interest I had here is in allowing for people NOT to discriminate when they do not wish to, in other words to allow people to make "contracts" (essentially the default arrangement of consumer and business, regardless of whether anything is signed to that effect) at their own pleasure in the first place. We probably took the least "effective" means of doing so, since we do not in fact permit people to do so under certain conditions (even though such arrangements might not be marketable any longer), but it was probably the least painful and socially upheaving method at that to improve some basic liberties. Perhaps, it would have been better had we considered the privileges and immunities clauses of the 14th Amendment under greater legal standing and thus had a very wide latitude of freedom of contract laws, but that was not the situation we were dealing with. We were instead down to a very bad set of options of how best to enforce that clause and its promise by imposing fewer choices on the least number of people (ie, those who actively wanted to discriminate against others in business arrangements).

uhm. That's a lot

of tennis. 70-68 final set? 11 hours five minutes? Seriously?

How are they still standing?

good times, thanks Supremes

So speech is political. But political speech is not secret. There's some elements to this that might be concerning to some Americans who think their views should be private. In that regard, I'd say their views should be private.

What concerns me is that somehow people would believe that political activism be private and non-transparent, non-verifiable, etc. So long as political activism, even of deeply minority views that may be widely considered abhorrent (as some of mine no doubt are to many people), is peaceful and Constitutionally and legally protected against reprisal and detention, individuals should have no need to fear the government being aware of it. The general public may be another story, but here again, the government may protect the minority against aggressive private reprisals (but perhaps not any economic disadvantages of publicly stating views of an unpleasant nature). Certainly if people begin to harass and protest against the affirmative views of an otherwise private person, that might be deeply upsetting, particularly given that most of us may hold some deeply private views that we may find, sometimes to our surprise, upset others. And certainly there is much lacking in the quality and context of debates in the world and political environment (though whether this is a modern development or not is an open question). But I find it hard to see how we could form a debate where the parties are not disclosed to one another and find it much more likely that people would participate in an informed and passionate manner where their views are combated in a healthy fashion. Or they may refrain from such participation and maintain their views as privately held. Given voice only through the modest activism of the ballot rather than the demonstrator.

However, in this case, where it is the laws themselves being debated, it is not merely their views being combated. It is the laws and the conduct required of others in upholding those laws. We should have every right to challenge each others' views over the laws before they are put in place because following such laws is incumbent on all of us under their jurisdiction. Laws which are harmful, hard to overturn, and often counterproductive should be combated even after they are put in place and, indeed, laws which we merely have a personal disagreement with may be combated in like manner through demonstration and further political actions (such as peaceful assembly to demand a redress of such grievances).

It is indeed disturbing that such disagreements cannot be disagreed agreeably and without undue harassment, and on that front we have legal channels that may be made available. Certainly people should not be free to protest (and potentially cause damage) on private property for example. And while engagement with individuals is, at times, an effective means of challenging perspectives, it does those of us who would seek to challenge those minds no credit to do so rudely and without invitation.

A person willing to sign a petition for referendum has, in effect, offered a public invitation by commanding a vote over the extended rights and privileges of themselves and others. That should be understood when signing it for a variety of reasons. It should be understood for example that such votes should not be a casual affair and that the highest and best arguments should be marshaled in its support if it is indeed worthy of our collected legal action. This will not happen in an environment of non-engagement. Likewise it must be understood what those arguments are such that they may be engaged by the best and highest arguments against it, and not a descent in madness and proclamations of bigotry or fascism or whatever the political insult de jour that may be ill-placed (or may be entirely accurate, but are often unpersuasive arguments against all the same to those who hold such views). To me, the greater chilling effect is that persons should seek to conceal their views and yet still command them into legal action and not that persons should be compelled to make public their views when they command them into legal force. We have a secret ballot still (or rather, now, it wasn't always so). And so our final judgments and assessments on issues may remain secret and private, counted and levied into laws all the same. But if we are so motivated as to want a law to exist, we should have to be open to the possibility that others will seek out our motivations.

As a libertarian, it comes up consistently that my views on the role of the state governing (or rather, not governing) subjects such as personal consumption of narcotics or the private contractual arrangements of marriages/civil unions (including those of adult homosexuals) and the accessibility of abortions underlie some suspicious or somehow nefarious personal motivations. It does not shock me any longer that this is so, even though it is still greatly aggravating to have to explain each time that my support of homosexual rights to marriage is not based upon some personal gain I might receive from a victory on the issue or that legalisation of marijuana (to say nothing of cocaine or heroin) is not because I want legally accessible dope for my own use. I can hold these views as things I would not do personally without requiring like minded actions as binding on others, others who might gain enjoyment and happiness from their pursuit. When I do require some like minded action of others, I feel I have to summon strong arguments (public goods, externalities, social cohesion from collective protections against crime or war, etc) rather than my private and personal apprehensions. Perhaps those personal apprehensions are more valid than I give them credit, but if they are all that is called upon to compel me to share in them by law, I am skeptical that someone has raised the best possible case in support of their desired (moral) arrangements.

23 June 2010

things to do

Went to see Phantom of the Opera while it was still around. "Local" culture apparently still exists, when appropriate levels of snobbery are enforced ahead of time.

I lack an appropriate level of snobbery to comment and critique greatly the performance itself sadly. I was never a big theatre person as that would have involved doing things instead of thinking them, and singing is among the list of things I know I cannot/should not do.

Still, singing and music/musicals are good things, even if it does seem absurd to communicate everything in song form in the abstract part of the brain. Story's pretty well known. At least, it's well known enough that I see no reason to summarize for the uninitiated. I consider it a good one. Kind of a toned down version of V for Vendetta with more singing instead of more dancing and hangings and mishaps of mayhem instead of knives and bombs and terrorism. And I think less politics to get in the way of the mushy stuff. So really, other than the mask, the romance plot line, and the killing (with elements of vengeance), it's not like V at all. But whatever.

And speaking of culture: movies have clearly gotten worse this year. Why? I don't know. But possibly aging has something to do with it. Some of those comic book movies were good (both of the new Batman films, the first Iron Man and V/Watchmen, and the second X-Men movie), but by and large this has been an overcapitalized demographic for my tastes. All of the Spider Man movies were terrible for example and yet they're rebooting it anyway. Why, well it made hundreds of millions of dollars somehow. I'd have to agree there's no reason to blame Spielberg for that, anymore than there was reason to blame Hitchcock or De Mille or Wells before that. There's always been popular stuff that was genuinely terrible in a critical sense. And movies aren't exceptions to that.

But it does still make sense to blame Spielberg for that War of the Worlds movie though, just as it does to blame Lucas for the second trilogy of Star Wars and the non-existent 4th Indiana Jones movie.

A series of random objects

Terrorists still want to be warriors

Why let them get that distinction by trying them as soldiers in a war?

Ideas that don't stick

Are usually ideas that are really, really complicated. Deficit reduction, the supposed rallying cry of many a tea partier, happens to be really, really complicated. I still want to see SOMEBODY associated with it start articulating how to do it before I take it seriously (Paul Ryan doesn't count because he immediately became persona non grata when he did it, and I'm not sure how popular he is among tea partiers anyway. Ron Paul might count here, though the anti-imperial republic rhetoric only goes so far among such people, hence Palin's equally popular presence). I have no problem sitting down and gutting the budget piece by piece. The absurdity of a people who seem not to actually want to cut perceived essential services (to themselves) and then claim to want the budget deficit closed or reduced is only a good joke for so long. But in any case, it does seem clear that somehow the election was seen as a momentous event that shifted popular opinion and responses to ongoing trends. The expanse of executive power and privilege, state authoritarianism, expansive government welfare or intrusion into market activities, etc. All of that did not start in late 2008. But apparently lots of people needed some dividing line to become aware of it. Sad really.

Speaking of heavy mouth breathing fun seekers

Glenn Beck. That is all. I put Woodrow Wilson pretty far down on my list of successful Presidencies myself and I think FDR is way overrated (TR by contrast is in my personal top 2 or 3). But seriously. Get a fucking grip dude. Equally true, Obama is not the second coming of Lenin either. He's basically the same as Bush 2.0, for reasons that ought to be obvious (power of the Presidency is only sometimes an independent power that exists outside of other political forces).

ACLU continues to be on my friend list

Doesn't understand the continued and vociferous objection to corporate speech, or rather, to little guy speech that is not considered acceptable speech. Corporate power exists either way. Transparency is a nice idea that I'd support, but really, how many people actually pay attention to political campaign ads in a way that would spur them to pay attention to who funded them or who backs who?


I should really get back into Jeopardy mode sometime.

and of course, social networking

Can foster divorce. Or successful relationships. One could also assume that this might help explain the sort of spiral that people raised in "unsuccessful" relationship environments can go through as well. I'm probably a lot less susceptible to peer groups, but I do observe modestly successful and apparently pleasant relationships among those peers (I don't attend to them myself, as an outsider, and for the most part don't think people expect me to do so). I suppose I could take that as a positive sign. If I were so inclined to want to look for such things. I'm still built as too much of a skeptic I think.

End it

Already. There isn't an empirical set to support these claims. The excuses get tedious and ever more entrenched rather than seeking to actually explain behavior.

Speaking of defence, and things we should gut

How about that military budget getting a thorough comb some time. How bout it tea party? If you won't take social security and medicare/aid off the table while intoning on your endless mantras of "socialism", how about grabbing some low hanging fruit off the military budget?

Oh yeah, and this guy was fired after all His Monty Python enjoyment to the contrary, I'm not sure he was the best choice in retrospect. Of course, 1) I didn't support him getting fired (or at least, I was ambivalent) and 2) I didn't support the situation he was put in charge of in the first place, which was more the cause of my disagreement anyway.

I see now

that I am considered useful

At times.

Couple random points though. I don't consider "shyness" a position of lack of strength or courage. I consider it more an extremely high demand for privacy. Nor do I demand that I was not "shy", I accept this as a feature not a bug. For example, on most topics, I am less inclined not to clasp a hand over my mouth if I've something to say or a thought/question to voice.

Only on a few, I am. Which would usually include myself, which would also tend to mean that conversation which draws additional attention to myself is, well, embarrassing or at least uncomfortable. I typically find the random things I come across in the day far more interesting conversationally (and they're typically things I understand far more and have thought out far more than the simple and innocent questions that people ask when they greet each other for a day anyway).

I'm not sure that everyone else agrees with that assessment. And I'm not sure what to think of that either. It's usually annoying. Still deciding what it is when it isn't annoying.


A form once hideous
A monster, a brute, a beast
Now regarded at least
not unfavorably.
In action, how like a devil
of horrors mysteriously,
of terrible disdain
now at least a hopeless mind
casually brushed aside
And what has changed?
No thing. Only the wind has spoke
The sun and the stars still shine

22 June 2010


We are all now dumber for having listened to that.

This makes no sense. "frees up other resources within the organization that may be put to violent ends"... uh yes. But it also potentially streamlines the probability that they won't be employing those violent ends. Many terrorist organisations do indeed deploy non-violent means, perhaps in large part to cement their social ties to the pool of recruitment for activity. But they also benefit when they do so by...cementing social ties to the local population in such a way that they can become a legitimate political player. The IRA and the PLO are merely two of the most well-known such examples.

I might agree that funneling aid and resources does help terrorist organisations achieve their goals. The question mark is whether it can help them achieve those goals with less harm and violence. It seems like we have historical evidence that it can, at least where the "offending" nation-states or powers in conflict become willing to conduct real and meaningful negotiation, not the "sham negotiations" which are claimed as the probable event. Somebody like Hamas isn't going anywhere, and sooner or later we're going to have to deal with them (or risk having somebody worse replace them). This is the nature of international diplomacy in that it often involves unsavory actors who are empowered to make deals (sometimes even legitimately and democratically, as it unfortunately appears Hamas is). Even the actions of a nation-state can take on such a character, as in the case of the DPRK running around launching rockets into the Sea of Japan and sinking RoK ships. So what this is saying, in general, is that we may as well forget about sending them humanitarian aid or food. Because that would obviously free up resources from growing crops to spend more time exhorting the suffering peoples to rise up against their foreign oppressors.

The distinction as I see it is that some terrorist cells have legitimate political goals. Something like al Qaeda doesn't as much, it's a lot of cosmic huff and puff. And indeed, simply talking to Hamas is perhaps not yet a productive discussion either, as they're still on the "death to Israel" campaign rather than a purer and western-sanctified "two state solution". But one thing that can be done is present achievable and tangible missions to such organisations that they can present to others for consideration. Maybe Hamas doesn't want such things. But I'd imagine that something like "end the blockade" would go over pretty well with the Gazan population, especially if it were something they could take some partial credit for doing. I don't see how that calculation cannot be made by someone somewhere. Apparently the Supreme Court doesn't see it that way.

21 June 2010

meanwhile back in the real world

When we're busy trying to tax soda, there's this other thing out there that is taxed, is accepted as a taxable excise product already, and we could probably tax more. It's not income or sugar.

It's booze. Sorry. It doesn't seem like it actually cuts back on people consuming adult beverages for the good news. Ireland and Germany and France are notorious for drinking. They all have higher taxes on it. Probably with good reason given the externality effects (fights/assaults/domestic abuses, additional costs for police and criminal detention, late night phone incoherent calls, and car accidents).

But the big one is DUIs and injuries or deaths related to alcohol involved crashes. And it's clear that a tax on alcohol is not necessarily going to banish that problem (or be politically possible to pass a tax high enough to account for it in the first place). Smart cars are my bet to resolve that problem. But of course, we have to get there first.

Do try looking up the actual article and the prospect of capturing public externality harms and costs through taxation, and the probability of doing so instead of taxing something genuinely useful like, I don't know, income or food.

I've considered that it's unlikely we'll reduce less useful taxation and this will therefore be simply another tax levied. But I would also like the deficit to close and I don't think spending cuts on social welfare are very likely at all under any administration, this one or a GOP one, at any time soon enough to make such cuts useful and less painful. Even though I fully support very drastic cuts to much government spending and many useless programs, the reality is that taxes are going to have to go up somewhere. People like me are going to lose the debate over cutting spending in a sane manner. A fallback position is needed to prevent catastrophe or at least more drastic and structurally hazardous methods.

May as well be taxing some things that capture externality costs and cover harms: alcohol, tobacco, carbon/gasoline, traffic congestion, pot, etc, instead of just hiking the marginal income tax rates in order to push the conversation in a direction that does less harm overall and helps achieve a sensible public policy goal (marginal reduction in harms caused by alcohol abuse and a marginal decrease in federal or state government deficits).

some parts are mixed better than others

But this sounds familiar

Other than that I didn't come up with calculus on my own. I came up with what amounts to utilitarianism and a pile of complex ethical pondering or ruminations on the use of force in foreign policy.

Living in a world that's richer and more interesting than the memories you get out of the actual world was (sometimes still is) a bit of a problem. As a kid you aren't expected to challenge adults (teachers) with things and thoughts. As an adult, you're permitted a bit of that eccentricity, if it hasn't been pounded out of you yet.

I think it works better if we can do it the other way around.

Things that could improve the situation
1) Flexible grade levels. Students can cover subject matter at their own pace or whimsy much easier that way.
2) Flexible curriculum and the ability to throw things at students who need the work on one thing while everyone else is working on another.
3) Easier to skip grades in both situations without breaking up valuable social bonds that somehow formed anyway.
4) It's MUCH easier to form social bonds with other kids who have the same elemental drive to learn something. Schools tend to be cruel atmospheres to the people who have freakish elements to them, like being wicked smaht. Among others.

The downside of setting aside such kids is that they're isolated from the rest. But the upside is that they're isolated from the rest.


Are any laws actually written to deal with a general problem or do they all just capitalize on a well-publicized violation of some other law?

In this case there are two: prostitution and underage sex (possibly custodial abuse as well), that are potentially at issue instead of attacking strip clubs and probably biting some state revenues in the ass at the same time (sex and alcohol means money for the state). I don't understand the need for people to go to these places in the first place, but I also don't understand the need to paternalise how they are run and set up. If you want to police drug use or prostitution in relation to a strip joint, go right ahead (I think both of those efforts are almost a complete waste of time and state resources too, but those are losing battles with most of the general public). You don't need to govern the operating hours or the behaviors that can be engaged in in order to achieve that end.

In the meantime, while we are busily appointing more powers and controls to the state, this is what they're doing with it: preventing citizen monitoring and reporting on the behaviors of police in the use of those powers, and preventing blacks from serving on juries (in places that are often demographically dominated by blacks).

Good stuff America. Way to be.

I needed a good laugh

Well, at least until it's less obvious that he's not joking

Wait, what's that, he's not just playing a character like Colbert does? And thus people won't get the jokes? In fact, that the audience for such things is precisely the sort that doesn't get that Colbert isn't playing a complicated joke already. Like so: "Then again, a whole lot of Republicans believe Stephen Colbert’s fake persona is for real."...

So... we're left with a lot of people who will now believe, more probably continue to believe and are reinforced in that (false) belief, that it is necessary to use draconian and intrusive police powers of the state to control crack addicts because they are violent and dangerous people. And of course as we all know, all people who use/used/will ever use cocaine are crack heads. Depressing.

Cocaine and heroin are generally on the list that most people aren't comfortable legalising alongside marijuana (which many people are quite comfortable with making legal in one form or another). But it shouldn't be necessary to spread blatant falsehoods about the nature of drug use, the nature of drug abuse, and the nature of the people involved in order to maintain the illegality of the substance. It should also be possible to look at the situation abstractly and look for ways that would most efficiently, and without intrusive state powers, reduce such drug abuse and perhaps even use (if desired) on the assumption that it is drug consumption that is supposedly the problem and not drug trafficking, which exists merely to feed the demand. But, of course, sadly we live in a world where the corner solutions are the only answers and the only way to respond is to make a satirical show mocking the people who force us to live that way.

It's almost enough to make one take up a drug habit to deal with it.

20 June 2010

Pair bonds, pros and cons. Also free will

Pair bonding is harder than it seems.

So opposites attract. But sameness bonds productively (at least in relation to self-control/efficacy). Doesn't really surprise.

That whole debate was, as usual, interesting. I'm leaning more toward a materialistic/deterministic world where a lot of decisions are kind of fixed or automatic. But it does seem obvious that we have mental processes that can counter-act and pull back from some pure impulsive drive world. Whether that's "free will" or some social response mechanism that comes with having a social part of the human brain, I don't know. I suspect it's something like a decision making engine and it requires a lot of different features to operate it. Like self-control.

The other "odd" feature is the limitations on self-control. Stressing out over one thing tends to drain the battery too much to make sensible decisions in another. Interestingly, those two levers seem connected. Having to make decisions limits our abilities for self-control, and using self-control limits our ability to make decisions.

Crucially, I don't think this means that people shouldn't be accountable for their actions, or that people should necessarily conform to a particular set of actions. What I think it means is that much diversity of mental states, opinions, and even behaviors is built into the species and it becomes necessary to have social institutions and functions that accommodate this buffet of humanity. It doesn't become necessary to sample from it so much as it behooves us to tolerate it on the notion that we are ourselves perhaps only a few misfiring neurons or a few formative memories and experiences away from others.

19 June 2010


For most of "civilized" society, there was an accorded right of privilege and power to being powerful and having status in ways that a commoner did not possess. An average person was essentially disposable, meanwhile a powerful person would enjoy great leisure to do as they pleased, to hunt, to cavort, to war, to trade, and so on. This is still an accorded right and privilege in modern society, but powerful people tend to isolate and encapsulate themselves away from common people such that the subject does not come up so blatantly. American societies have long imprinted the idea(l) that a person's value is not a titular affair, but rather a meritocratic one. This isn't quite true, since we provide all manner of wealth and privilege to titular people, but the mythology is too powerful for powerful people to ignore and indeed, not to emulate in sometimes socially useful ways (such as bestowing some of their wealth for positive ends: libraries, university endowments, medical research, etc). But not everyone is so ennobled.

When their power has been abused and exercised improperly (in the eyes of other elites/aristocrats competing for their power or, more commonly, competing for the favor of higher elites) people care. So then when a CEO decides to go yachting or use a private jet, it becomes a story. I'm not sure why it should, but it does. If there was a famine in the middle ages, and the lord decided to hold a fox hunt instead of distribute some bread, did anybody care (obviously besides the starving peasants)? There's a couple weird points here.
1) The CEO is, like Obama/Presidents, a symbolic agent of the attention and effort and energy used to accomplish things done by "little people", who generally have actual practical skills and are running around actually doing things.
2) The modern world makes it virtually impossible for a person to be disconnected from events. As such if he was supposed to make decisions, he could do them from anywhere. A rich and powerful person almost certainly would have such resources at their command.
3) This particular CEO, as to a lesser extent the one at AIG or perhaps Citi et al last year, is already designated for a chopping block. I don't understand what difference it makes what he does over the last few months of his tenure. The probable reason a CEO would be able to go yachting during the worst stretch of his company's PR and economic stature in recent history is that he's not actually making decisions anyway. Someone else is. As such, it is irrelevant what he does.

I guess people want to see powerful people making concerned expressions and gestures. I want powerful people to make decisions that influence the actual events that are causes of great consternation. I could give a fuck about the framing effects.

17 June 2010

One last quick hit #3

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Respect My Authoritah
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

So. How's that civil liberties stuff going again. Glad to see somebody (important) noticed that it's not just GOP obstructionism that's defeating this, not merely the Obama administration itself that's not merely ignoring the issue but that they are actively opposing reforms and simply keeping the many abhorrent (to our values) policies and standards of the Bush-Cheney regime. And indeed expanding some of them by arresting whistle blowers and assassination programs, of American citizens. Should explain why people who actually like civil liberties (those of us that are left...), are probably annoyed.

quick, or not so quick hit #2

Meanwhile, oil continues to gush.

This naturally pisses people off. Man-made disasters have that effect, and rightly so. I continue to be confounded as to what people expect the President to about resolving the on-going issue, since there isn't much technical skill and material that we don't already have to bring to bear. And that situation of "leadership frustration", aka: the cult of the President as a national Father who has omnipotent powers to fix everything, was apparently not much resolved by the President's address from the oval office the other night.

What doesn't confound me is that people then take to complaining about BP as a breakdown of "capitalism". That does not surprise me as the bias against markets and capitalism is pretty strong among the masses. What should be stressed is how little this resembles a market failure however.

Put it this way. If you have a rational actor who you know to be a flagrant possibility of disregarding the rules, and you set up rules, then don't use them, enforce them, and otherwise impose credible and swift penalties for violating them, I don't see how that's going to work. In a market environment, an oil company has large public relations and legal incentives not to spill oil. It tends to annoy people when their fish taste like Quaker State for one, but also oil companies naturally want to be in the business of finding and selling oil. Not cleaning up oil from suffering and dying pelicans. Credible legal penalties can exist for people who are harmed by a reckless oil company. This is before considering any governmental regulatory positions that an oil company may be subject to following, and which it subsequently hasn't followed.

What concerns me is how a situation existed where those regulatory positions were not obeyed. Obviously little credible threat existed that those positions would cause costs and harms to the business operations of the company. A sensible analogy here would be to examine putting people on probation in the criminal justice system. In exchange for "good" behavior, people stay out of prison. If there is "bad" behavior, they may end up in prison or jail and suffer otherwise unwanted penalties. When this system works, people tend not to violate the conditions of their probation and we get the benefits of not having them commit further criminal acts (as well as not having to impose costly penalties like incarceration). When it does not, people violate the terms and not much of consequence happens as a result. In a case like BP, this was a company which had an oil refinery fire not long ago (2005 I think), and a list of serious and severe compliance violations going back several years that lapped the field of their competitors. This was, in other words, a company that should have been operating on probation long before this latest atrocity was put in motion. The question becomes: why weren't they? My answer to that is regulatory capture and corporatism. Apparently the "liberal" answer to that is something like "greed/profit caused negligence". If that were so, then why don't other oil companies have disastrous records of regulatory compliance? Are they apparently less greedy or less profitable? I think the appropriate response to the cause of the problem isn't "BP's greed did it" nor is it "the government did it". I think the appropriate response is that both are at fault. This has the capacity of being a very boring and unsatisfying reply however since it implies that a) there's not much we can do right now about the continuing oil spill, which is really the only reason we/most of us care in the first place and b) it implies that there are very few new policy solutions needed. It seems more like the policies that were already in place needed to be properly and credibly enforced against a bad actor instead of looking the other way because there are billions of dollars involved.

quick, or not so quick hit #1

I've been following the "revelation" that apparently Afghanistan is a gold mine of random and strategically/commercially useful minerals. That this has been known for decades was apparently overlooked in the reporting of that fact. The actual problem was getting those minerals to world markets, not finding them, just as it was for a long time in the interior core of Africa (the Congo basin for example).

There are several major questions that result
1) Was the US interest in Afghanistan sparked more by resources than by terrorism?
2) How does this affect Afghanistan's internal political situation?
3) What's the end game (for US involvement, the exploitation of resources, and the economy/political situation of Afghanistan)?

I'd have to say that I'm skeptical that ATTACKING Afghanistan under the Taliban was motivated by resource exploitation and controls. But I'm not surprised that occupying it could have been motivated by such a situation. The main reason this is a flawed case though is that the US typically deploys multi-national corporations and not soldiers to do this, just as China is effectively doing by buying up a huge copper mine in Afghanistan. Those minerals and resources find their way to markets and are consumed not so much by nations as by market participants. The days of mercantile hording of most things are over (maybe military grade resources work this way, like uranium), but not so much lithium or niobium or copper. So it's useless to go physically occupy territory for the purpose of extracting resources from it for a nation to do it. There are of course interested non-national parties, like corporations, that might benefit from such a strategy. But in general, the status quo of bribing a corrupt foreign government, like Afghanistan's is and has been, isn't dramatically altered by installing a government ourselves (because that includes costs of installing and supporting that government) or by simply leaving the previous one in place.

What about internally? Well, if Afghanistan had a reasonably strong central government or a history of reasonably unified cultures, then I'd say the potential development and exploitation of resources would be a good thing. Since it has neither, it's likelier to look more like a West or Central African rotating dictatorship than say, Australia. I suppose it's possible that extreme mineral wealth and industrial or infrastructure development would be a boon that somehow develops unifying forces in Afghanistan and helps resolve a sense of pervasive corruption and histories of tribalism, but I'm much too cynical to believe this as anything other than magical thinking.

So what does that mean for us? Well it sounds like so far the prevailing sentiment is that this means we can/will stay to get at the good stuff and somehow deny it to China. Which, as I said up there, I don't see why that's necessary (or possible). And it means the situation internally will probably get worse, not better. Rampant corruption over the opium trade already existed and has been well-documented. Rampant corruption over legal trade in metals and minerals is probably inevitable. That will not help the situation on the ground in the strategic sense of dealing with a counter-insurgency problem. If we're prepared to live with that in order to try to extract rents from resource controls (at the cost of bribing public officials in another country), I guess that's what we're going to do. I already didn't see a strategic justification for occupying the country before when it was just part of some sort of broad anti-terrorism plan. Economic and social development of Afghanistan is a decades long plan to top that off.

Good luck with that empire I guess.

16 June 2010

careful what you wish for

So that was a fun trip down memory lane.

Last night, I saw a line of storms coming in. I essentially knew the power was going out by looking at the radar screen. And zap it goes. No game six and back to candle light reading efforts for you sir. Power restored after the debacle and in the midst of sleep disrupted. Naturally.

15 June 2010

There's an idea

I'd like to see the $25 million bounty on Bin Laden raised to say $500 million. We could have avoided several wars at that price.

Other than that the reward is 50 million, that's something I'd have had no problem with.

I'm kind of amused that some guy wandered off into Pakistan looking for him on his own, but the guy is clearly a bit of a kook. 25 million is clearly not enough to get high end bounty work.

Also: no self-respecting ninja would wander around with a sword/dagger in modern Afghanistan.

Peoples are petrol

They're fuel or they're combustible and easy to light on fire.

Or both. Hard for me to tell sometimes.

Most people are not fuel, but they're definitely fuel for the fire in the way that a fire consumes things.

On reflection, I suppose there are some people that I can be around and actually feel like I'm holding a charge from being around instead of draining down the batteries and fuming all the while.

DUToE #5

good times roll

Again with the teleological stuff. I think I understand that a person is a person is a person and you can cover them with whatever you want, in whatever colour, and while it may be strange or weird at times to see the first bald person or someone of some other racial characteristic, or to hear someone talking in another language, it's pretty much the same ingredients. Same with water. I pretty much consider water to be water and the labels are irrelevant. This is also the same with clothing, labels are not so much important as comfort, practical utility, etc.

I guess my kicks are harder to come by as a result. That's not terribly surprising to me to figure out. It did however take a long time to understand the signaling games involved in making these trivial essential associations in order to draw pleasure out of something that isn't "there", ie, it only exists because we've been told it does.

a better sentiment

What marriage may be in the case of two persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and purposes, between whom there exists that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in them — so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and of being led in the path of development — I will not attempt to describe. To those who can conceive it, there is no need; to those who cannot, it would appear the dream of an enthusiast.

-John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women

So yea, screw your "til death do us part" stuff with its implications of possession. THAT'S a good damned idea of how this is supposed to work.

what's it good for


"Although the GED establishes cognitive equivalence on one measure of scholastic aptitude, recipients still face limited opportunity due to deficits in noncognitive skills such as persistence, motivation and reliability. The literature finds that the GED testing program distorts social statistics on high school completion rates, minority graduation gaps, and sources of wage growth. Recent work demonstrates that, through its availability and low cost, the GED also induces some students to drop out of school."

That would seem to indicate that the attainment of a set of skills and common knowledge base is less relevant than the method of attainment of those skill sets (and the knowledge can be thrown away at the earliest opportunity anyway). Which means we probably don't do a very good job educating for a set of skills and knowledge.

More here.
The bloggingheads segment, as usual, has some interesting discussion. The highlight is the discussion of the mandating of students taking algebra II in high schools all across the country. Followed by the fact that less than 10% of jobs actually use anything at all from algebra II coursework. I use some of it for my statistical normalizing, I think. But it's more the logical framework of algebraic formulas that I use than conducting log functions and so on.

That naturally brings forward that we probably should be educating people with more practical skill sets and letting people with a genuine interest in something somewhat esoteric like higher end algebra and mathematics pursue those interests on their own initiative. Forcing people to study things that they intuit that they probably won't ever use or need, and that they don't take to either is probably not a very good way to get people to complete a rudimentary high school education. I agree that sounds like "dumbing it down" to take it out as a requirement. But I'd argue that if it's not useful even for a supposedly growing technical economy like ours, what difference would it make? And if it seems like basic socialising, real job skills, and the non-mandated subjects but potentially equally interesting like history or civics are abandoned to set a standard of "everyone takes this course and must master it's skill sets" it is probably self-defeating standard and should be abandoned. We have only limited resources to provide a primary education as it is. It might be better if we tried to understand student perspectives and occupational incentives than to continue using a rigorous liberal arts set top-down imposed by educators. I certainly like rhetoric and history and so on, but that doesn't mean everyone else does.

If we are going to use the educational system to standardise the educational materials, then we should really have to argue over the standards being used to decide what material gets used. If that material doesn't actually conform to a perceived goal of imparting necessary skills, then what good is it actually serving and for whom?

speaking of paying more attention to


That seemed like a gigantic waste of money and effort as it was. I'm sure people who followed commandments against idolatry will take more meaning into this. I pretty much don't care either way of course. A lightning strike during a heavy storm of a gigantic statue doesn't surprise me.

But it does mean that only the anatomically correct horse sign and the building for testing elevators (as I call it) are on that route as sources of amusement to see on the side of the highway now in addition to mocking the silly statue.

14 June 2010

walk through the mind

of a madman!

Or at least a fellow crazy civil libertarian.

Q1: Already on it. Was marginally more supportive of Obama in part because of extensive civil liberties rhetoric. Almost an epic fail on that issue in actual power. Feels good occasionally to be too cynical and be proven right. Except when you hate being right about it because it means something terrible is happening instead. Oh well. I can continue to throw my votes away on third party candidates all the same. Unless they're Wayne Root.

Q2: Cheney and now Bush as well have basically admitted to ordering torture procedures. Why aren't they being prosecuted for violating statutes against torture?

Q3: "A significant minority of my readership has always been libertarians and other non-progressives who viewed Bush radicalism with serious alarm." - check. I'm sort of progressive (in that I oppose the drug war, have no problem with homosexuality, and have some other obscure views), just not a progressive progressive like Glenn who looks for universal health care systems for example. It amuses me that people look to tribalism still in politics and that things which were okay so long as Bush had control over them are now subject to a mantra of "government takeovers" or some such, and vice versa. The consistent view is that civil liberties are either "good" (which has been my view for a very long time) or they are "bad" (which is an argument I find very difficult to raise, but I'm sure someone could try it). They are not party dependent.

speaking of capture

Regulate what?

"On the House Agriculture Committee, which holds sway over farm policies and subsidies, members had farming and agribusiness investments worth five times on average the amount held by other colleagues in the House. Many of the committee members' holdings were in family farms. Nothing prevents those members from also receiving farm subsidies, and in the past, some have.

Likewise, House Energy and Commerce Committee members, who routinely hold hearings about telecommunications and computer issues, had heavier than average investments in companies such as Oracle, Nokia, AT&T and Verizon."

It's to be expected that people have investments and portfolios. What's a little fishy is when they essentially game those portfolios by changing the rules to favor themselves. At our expense. The tricky part is more that one would expect that a person with "real world" experience in, say, technology management or the defence industry would be rather useful to have on a committee to oversee such an industry. At the same time, they're also more likely to be heavily invested in it if they have investments simply because it's something they likely understand or have received stock in from their private sector experiences. Those are probably not "problems" in the sense that we should draw outrage from them. But if they're getting on a committee precisely to favor the policies that will produce positive gains on their private company holdings, that's something we should be on the lookout for.

And it would, as with the financial and health care "reforms", explain why the status quo is not going anywhere. Such interests aren't just entrenched through competitive lobbying. They are the lawmakers and, indeed as MMS has shown, sometimes the law enforcers too.


You lose, I lose

I wondered why people don't do this. In Soviet Russia, the lifeline uses you!

Better gaming theories were on penalty kicks for soccer. People should, if the goal is to score, kick the ball straight down the middle because that's more or less the best move-move strategy is to expect the goalie to dive one way or the other and thus politely get out of the way as you score. They don't do this. Because the goal is not to score but not to look like a chump and kicking it straight at the goalie in the rare event he decides to stand there instead of do a calculated guess dive in hopes of making a spectacular play, well it looks pretty bad. Other incentives do need to be properly factored into the game in order to understand it.

10 June 2010

more borrowed wisdom

Diogenes was asked, "What is the difference between life and death?

"No difference."

"Well then, why do you remain in this life?"

"Because there is no difference."

09 June 2010

other bad news

Celtics lost.

And were a cause of much grumbling and yelling at the screen. Ray Allen in particular was terribly vexing. 0-13. Really? Best shooter in the game goes 0-13? How often is that going to happen?

I don't/didn't suspect that they were going to win the title anyway. LA is a lot better than Orlando for example: better coach, better best player, better second best player, better 6th man, post player who has actual moves (two of them actually), somebody who can actually score in the clutch, better match-up defensively on Pierce, etc.

But they've played pretty ugly so far to be down 2-1. That makes it frustrating.

what news

This would be sad news.

I have a fairly large extended family. On it, there's a side that I visit with, shall we say infrequently. For example, I've cousins I've not seen since they were small children and several I've never met at all. One such cousin I'd seen last in his teen days. He seemed to like playing Civilization, which was about all I got out of that meeting. Prior to that, it'd been a while (I think I remember seeing him at the diaper stage).

I gathered that his being half-Korean was occasionally difficult (living in the south seems like it mostly sucks, but it probably does more so when you're the odd man out). I gathered that his mother was totally absent and his father was mostly so, so he was stuck/left with grandparents and great-aunts/aunts a lot. For the most part, I was not driven to inquire about the comings and goings of this side of the family. Actually I'm not typically driven to inquire about the comings and goings of either side, but I find out more about the side that lives in neighbouring states and towns with minimal effort. So I don't know a whole lot about the cousins or uncles and aunts out that way. I hear some stuff now and then about the grandparents building beehives and getting replacement joints and other various scourges of age and retirement, and not much else. And they of course were at the brother's wedding not long ago and seemed in good spirits and health. So things that I know little or nothing about seem to work out sometimes.

So to push the spider into the story a little quicker, this teenage kid that liked playing Civilization ended up with an aggressive form of leukemia, had it treated for a few months and died yesterday. Only a few weeks out from attending his prom. Somebody who knows more will have to be a proper eulogizer. That's the quick version.

I'm sure lots of people will question why. I have some fortune, or given my views on life and death maybe they do, not to be the one who will get this question asked. I suppose this is tragic, in the sense that young people do not tend to get dread diseases and die. I don't know enough to say that with definition that it was indeed tragic. But it seemed to me like he lived quite well as he could in his last year from what I had gathered (other than the misfortunes of being quite sick and dying parts of it). So far as I would say, that's all you could ask for as a human being.

As far as why he died, well he acquired or developed a dread disease. There's not much getting aside that point. I'm not the person to ask questions of when/if people seek consolation and comfort about death, that's all I can tell you.

This is pretty much the view of things that I'd take:

"There's a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse... and everybody in the village says, "how wonderful. The boy got a horse" And the Zen master says, "we'll see." Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, "How terrible." And the Zen master says, "We'll see." Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight... except the boy can't cause his legs all messed up. and everybody in the village says, "How wonderful." ... We'll see".

Life has a very long storyline to it. When it ends, you can maybe see how it all played out. Ideally you yourself look back on it toward it's end with some joy or wonder, maybe some questions, a few regrets, and then that's it. Whatever you brought with you is whatever you're getting out of it. Everything else is just decoration and flourish and maybe, hopefully, a flavourful sauce to pour over everything you've got. That makes a life "meaningful" to the person who lived it.

But there's not a whole lot somebody else can do to find meaning in a death. Only some unanswered questions and maybe some regrets to look back on themselves some day.

08 June 2010

Nature knows best.. erh so I guess we're idiots then?

"We live in a world where modern, educated women are choosing to have their babies at home, feed their children unpasteurized milk and then fail to get them immunized against potentially fatal diseases because a bimbo like Jenny McCarthy has convinced them that immunizations cause autism (They Don’t!). A common consequence of NIB as it plays out in society is that it can lead unwitting individuals to believe ridiculous things that, ironically, could not be further removed from true nature."

I'm mostly fine with the raw milk movement. Because that strikes me more as a right of contract issue (and a means of breaking a public milk moonopoly). Many of the improvements are things like the processing, moving, and storage of milk as well as the health of the cows themselves in addition to pasteurization. If that's a consumer choice, even if it doesn't offer any advantage, in that case, let them play with their stupidity. And I think I agree with the home delivery caveat as well. As long as people are prepared to turn over the situation when it goes awry to medical expertise, in the interest of saving lives, go right ahead and try if that's so important to you. The difference for these is that for the most part, people who buy raw milk are not harming anyone but themselves (just as someone should legally be able consume cigarettes or alcohol or anything else that could be harmful). And with the child birth as long as any we can use health care services to deal with obvious risks to the infant during birth, we don't really care how it gets delivered because it's not much of a harms issue. Vaccines are a public externalities and public harms issue. You don't get your kid vaccinated, that's not just a "you" problem. That's especially a risk to people whose kids cannot get vaccinated (too young or have current health problems), and a risk to, well everyone else even the people who have been vaccinated. It's a terrible free rider problem in that it has not only costs on everyone else, in that they have to pay for you to sit around and be relatively protected health wise by their herd immunity, but potentially inflicts grievous harms on them as well in the event you end up sick.

But the big point linking all those things is that they're scientific or modernizing. It's becoming one of the times where we've got the unusual problem as libertarians of being, at times (especially on the milk or home delivery, not so much on vaccines), useful idiots for the real idiots.

(We've also got global warming on this boat. At least there there's a debate over how best to resolve it, but not so much among the rabble though)

So yeah, usually

Jonah Goldberg is an idiot

In what way did it "work". This is like saying the Iraq War "worked". In that we can redefine the political objective that it supposedly achieved repeatedly after the fact to claim success. What are/were the supposed objectives of sanctions and blockades? In the Gaza blockade, the supposed objective was the prevention of weapons reaching Hamas and other radical organisations (which seems like a perfectly legitimate gripe, at least until you start wondering why they want those weapons or why they have a capacity for radical followers of a largely political message), and the supposed objective that punitive sanctions against the Gazan people would discourage them from continued support for Hamas, which they had just selected to be in power in a democratic and free election (far more free than those of Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter). To be sure, Hamas is no model saint for opposing oppressive rule. But any country which decides that some of its jurisdiction should not even have legal access to cement and water purification systems, much less cilantro and fresh meat kind of has to be seen on the oppressive side.

Meanwhile, we're supposed to believe that the critics of such actions do not likewise oppose harsh economic sanctions like those directed at Cuba, North Korea, or potentially (and actually already) Iran. I admit that some SUPPORTERS of such sanctions are inconsistent about who they should be applied to, and for what reasons. I think largely the support logic is based on several unrelated factors to the efficacy of the end policy, or namely that it represents a desire by a government to signal a desire to another government that it should change its leadership to be more accommodating toward the rest of the world (or usually, American demands). In that light, the most effective policy prescription isn't a blockade or sanctions. It's targeted assassination programs, international arrest warrants for human rights violations, or, simply and cleanly, full-fledged and full throated calls for invasions since all those pretty quickly change the views of leaders in other countries.

Naturally those choices have very high negative costs in long-term strategy (particularly if a war or assassination is seen as unprovoked, as much of the world views the second Iraqi invasion and the subsequent and continuing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the Muslim world in particular), but they have the benefit of having generally predictable effects on the targeted country itself (which were ignored in Iraq especially by war planners and their political masters), and they represent usually an attempt to zero sum the game. I don't necessarily and automatically think these are always useless approaches, but generally they can have unpredictable or at least very considerable costs that may make them less practical for resolving the problem of an uncooperative or pariah regime.

Economic sanctions on the other hand are entirely a negative sum approach. They're like reverse mercantilism only without responsive markets because of nationalistic effects. All they do is punish the local populations of both the country which enacts them (by cutting them off from trade goods that they must substitute or acquire on the black market), and especially the people of the target country. The hated leaders themselves suffer not at all and, indeed, gain advantages which they can then use to further manipulate and control the population to their delight. I recognized the folly of economic sanctions on Cuba in an essay written in high school. It's not like this is rocket science to notice what they do. They work, but only the context that the desired outcome is, usually, to make other people suffer the consequences of other people's decisions. Not only are they ineffective, but they seem highly dubious morally.

I suppose what is attempting to be said is that people who are comparing and complaining about Israeli blockade measures against Gaza are thus comparing that government and that country to other pariah regimes. To the extent that this is true, it is very much viewed that way in other countries, other than the US and, up until recently, a few others. Turkey for instance, the very country which helped organise the blockade running convoy(s). North Korea is a fair parallel internationally. Even though we hate it, it has erstwhile alliances with China and Myanmar and Zimbabwe, other marginally hated state actors with somewhat similar political systems. The list of strong Israeli supporters who back each action is probably similarly short at this point, but with a Great Power to ingratiate itself with, there is little the international community can do to resolve the troubles that are caused. We cannot simply attack North Korea in response to its belligerence just as other Middle Eastern countries (including the Palestinians) can do little to attack and defeat Israel. I am much more sympathetic to the country and peoples of Israel than the leadership regime of the DPRK, but that does not mean that I would hold back any criticisms I might have of its sometimes belligerent and aggressive actions. Especially where they intersect with American foreign policy entanglements as this blockade and general relations with Palestinians most certainly do. And very especially where they appear to be ill-thought out strategically, as a policy of broad sanctions most certainly is.

Also, observe Jonah's work here is eliding a crucial factor: Hamas had to seize power in a coup after an election it WON power in. When popular perceptions of the same sort of stolen elections occurred in Iran, many such pundits were quick to paint those elections as fraudulent and a scam whilst proclaiming popular support for Iranian revolutionaries and demonstrations. It is true that Hamas is a much less cuddly movement than the Greens in Iran (though on many basic points, they are hardly distinguishable), but it seems like the fundamental point of introducing "democracy" in the Middle East is to let it be practiced. Except when it produces unfavorable results in its popular elections. That fundamental hypocrisy leads us to discard those results as invalidated and proclaim some perfectly reasonable subsequent actions (toward American interests) as acts of hostility and aggression. (See for instance, Jonah and other pundits claiming Turkey's acts of "hostility" lately).

The realism is to ask what can be done to separate Hamas' policies of radical action from their ability to carry them out. That is, so far as I can tell, a question not much different from that of asking why an American citizen would travel to Pakistan and come back and attempt to blow up a bomb in Times Square. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that realism, which would include the recognition that other actors have specific motivations which can be blocked or achieved for victorious or mutual ends, is being ignored in order to support a view that there are no legitimate contentions and complaints underlying a violent and aggressive reaction that includes state-sponsored or sanctioned terrorist and terrorizing activity and that those contentions and complaints could and should be combated where they are impossible to alleviate, but where they can be accommodated, they can be diplomatically gamed and seized upon. Hamas isn't going anywhere. Sooner or later we're going to have to come to grips with that just as people have apparently accepted that Ahmadinejad isn't either. At that point maybe something constructive will get done and Israel won't have to send its commandos into hostile riotous crowds in order to do something.

Alternatively, realism would ask why a policy remains in place for years or even decades without denting the control of an ill-favored regime (indeed, often increasing its base of support and methods of internal control) if that is the supposed end for which a policy exists. One would think that a realistic approach to state interests would be to seek methods that actually serve those interests rather than methods which do not work.