30 December 2010

Domestic tranquility

Men as performance artists .. in the kitchen. And more or less everywhere else (taking out the garbage, doing homework, making speeches, and having sex). That actually makes a good deal of evolutionary sense, at least the male part of that. I'm not sure where it doesn't become a "sensual act from which to derive pleasure" either however. I mean, I prefer better cooking and tastes and so on, and if I must do it myself, I'd eventually figure out how.

Finally! Somebody learned how to actually do this properly. The article makes heavy use of these "manners" people who somehow presume that it is incumbent on us, the gift receiver, to pretend to like useless or hideous items, or to object to gift cards procured in their stead. The high rate of consumption for gift cards in the modern world (something like a third of all holiday dollars), would suggest that we're moving toward a more efficient transfer for gifts. An idea like this, maybe integrated with wish lists and other ideas, would greatly simplify getting ACTUAL gifts for the gift giver. Which to me, the problem is being a gift giver in the first place and having to ask yourself: what will this person not despise, truly need/enjoy, etc, and then coming up empty. Presuming that we will fail in that mission, merchants have savvily marketed gift cards (over simply gifting cash to one another). This is simply the next logical step to avoiding the "shopping" madness that is the day after Christmas. Known also as the day of return. Ideal gifts are things that the other person will use and enjoy, and that you won't. But unless you are very much more a people person than I am, I will find it pretty hard to presume to know very much about most people. Even family members and long-time friends, and their possessions, their private entertainments, and so on. Not to mention that in general people (sometimes secretly) prefer receiving experiential gifts to "stuff", and this is even harder to come by as a giving tree item.

Rated R . I'm not a big fan of government censorship, so the MPAA's rating system is a vital market alternative to this. It has a generally transparent system: show a lot of flesh and drop a few f-bombs and we'll stamp a hard R on the bottom of the screen. That's fine, so far as it goes, presuming we're all aware this is what we're getting as a value set. But in real terms, what we, as consumers, or really as parents of consumers, are opposed to is particular items (generally sex and language, and I guess depictions of smoking and drug use now too, but not so much worrying about drinking and violence). It would better and more useful, particularly in a technical age, if this information was far more transparently available. As noted, HBO (and other premium movie channels) put this sort of thing out there. You'll usually see when some movie or show is being shown on TV without as much censorship some wording which describes that you're about to see human blood and guts and people screaming "foul" language at each other, or some such.

I'm fine with that. We as consumers will tend to want to filter out what we're consuming as entertainment, and be prepared if we have more sensitive tastes to avoid certain products (as we might look at a list of ingredients on a menu to avoid certain dishes). I'm not fine with a universal set of "avoid this". In the same way that I/we wouldn't be fine if particular palate and taste sets for food were imposed writ large. Quite simply there are lots of things depicted in a movie universe, on a kids show, on the news, whatever, that I'm "opposed" to, or would prefer people not watch. I don't get to impose that demand on the rest of you. I don't quite see why this approach which defines certain words as out of bounds (for no apparent reason), or presumes that violence is more acceptable than sexuality, and so on, gets such preferential treatment either. A more efficient response would divide out these markers and give each their own market of "objectionable" content ratings, so to speak. That way people could consume more freely violence or sex or whatever without being encumbered by other relative value sets which object to certain words, or certain depictions (say, Islamic prohibitions on the prophet Mohammed, and so on). We in effect have this for premium movie channels (and to a lesser extent TV programmes en masse), but it's not caught on for movies so much, where we have much more of an open market as opposed to government censors working at the FCC to protect us all from the word "fuck".

Random bits of mostly new years

Wrestlers as sex offenders! Beware oh brave souls and protect ye children from this scourge upon them. I have some issue with the existence of these sex offender lists to begin with (along with lots of other useless lists the government keeps and updates, like no-fly lists), but basically it's because we end up putting people on them who don't belong there: college kids doing puerile pranks to each other, people who were drunk and urinated somewhere they weren't supposed to, teenage kids having sex with each other (consensually), and so on.

These are not people who are likely a danger to the public. And neither is a wrestler who uses the body's physical openings provided to their advantage during a match. But of course, that's not what the keepers of the mighty list would have us do and believe.

Be fruitful...

Taking that one a little literally are we, church goers?

I'm kind of with Bering here that "we" are being out-bred and that might be a problem, but Bering should also take some instructive habit that tolerance within a diverse civil society seems to be also, for now, evolutionarily advantageous. That is: that it produces a stable society that doesn't waste valuable resources killing and conducting purges and so on. Besides, somebody has to run the various machines and other elements of a modern technological society for these religious busy-bodies who don't understand magnets. We should also be consoled by the fact that the birth rate has declined across the globe anyway, particularly as it has grown richer, but even in rundown places like Togo it's dropped by almost half. There may still be more breeding going on within the ultra religious community, but even there it's still somewhat less than before.

Dispelling myths one at a time Water, water everywhere! Or at least, it would help if people were aware that yes, in fact, water IS everywhere. And therefore you don't need to dose your innards in it.

21 December 2010

One way out?

The power of juries?

I just got a questionnaire for the local US district court for possible jury duty summons later on. Since a good amount of federal laws are things I disagree with (and drug laws are among some of the biggest disagreements... ), I'm already planning on staging a similar revolt if they call me in. There's some of these laws I'm not particularly worried about, but I'm not convicting on a drug charge. Period.

And, for no particular reason, but in case people need to laugh about something legal. I found this funny.

20 December 2010

A note

"morality itself cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs."

"I’ve always regarded this as a bizarre and chilling sentiment that ought to make us seriously doubt the character of anyone who utters it. Because insofar as it tacitly makes a claim about people’s incentive to behave morally, it amounts to an admission that the speaker simply cannot fathom why someone would treat others with consideration and respect"

A recent debate has once again illuminated that this is a common thread, particularly within the evangelical religious community. Apparently it's impossible to sustain basic human decency once you abandon religious dogma, and the rejection of absolute religious certainty as the only source of truth leads people to... I guess start having sex with livestock and shooting the neighbours infants after tossing them skyward or something. I have no idea how one draws the conclusion that a pro-choice (or rather a pro-abortion) position follows from "believing" in evolution, rather than believing in creationism. Because this does not follow logically without a series of other assumptions. But apparently once that "dark path" is accepted, all sorts of things are suddenly made possible that are otherwise somehow closed (based apparently on the assumption that all religious belief has the same moral flavors wrapping them up)

Given that many of the people I've encountered in the born-again/evangelical type of Christian do seem to have rather sketchy pasts (bouts with abusive use of drugs, alcohol, violence, etc), it does seem more accurate to question the person who would make this statement, this idea that only through religion is morality made possible. Based on my understandings of anthropology, the chicken in this case came first anyway. Morality, in the sense of the organisation of human societies with a set of basic rules of conduct, precedes religion. Religion simply represents a set of codified rules, and often those of a particular region, and of a particular time (and based on that time's understanding of the world).

Stripping aside these contexts, and attempting to make these types rules universal doesn't work very well. With good reason: it's not universally "moral" not to eat pork, or shellfish, or drink alcohol, or engage in pre-marital sexual relations, and so on. These are cultural cues and mores. There are arguments for some of them, some better than others, but they're not applicable to everyone. Not everyone benefits under a society with these sorts of rules (not even the pigs and shellfish, which benefit from their utility to human beings as food by becoming more populous).

As a result, when I start seeing people claim that (their particular brand of) religious piety is the only source of moral conduct, I usually know to avoid meeting this person in a dark alley.

17 December 2010

In other news... the news is wrong

Which is not terribly surprising come to think of it..

Some of these are amusing. In the abstract way that stupidity can be funny. Here's what I've missed out on by avoiding Faux this year.
The beliefs of the stupid:

"Most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses" (12 points more likely)- I'd be willing to say it didn't help very much, certainly not as much as is being claimed, but CAUSED job losses? Wow. In a related problem: "The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts" (14 points) and this one too... "Their own income taxes have gone up" (14 points)

"Most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit" (31 points)- Not in the direct way. I think it hurts by using up a lot of deficit closing cuts (assuming they're actually used) to pay for health care rather than close the deficit. But that's not what the average Faux viewer would be claiming either.

Most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points) - Getting away from economics, where there are fewer empirical issues to be reported (and a lot of theory and conjecture), this is not a good sign.

When TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points)
The auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points)
It is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)

The most profound effects were with those people watching Faux everyday. Which isn't terribly surprising. Though I'm less sure this is a causation problem and more of a "I'm already an idiot, tell me what I already know or I'm changing the channel to someone crazier than you!" issue. In other words, I have full confidence in the American people's power for stupidity being somewhat innate and deliberate rather than grown and nurtured by a nefarious Roger Ailes. At least for a significant portion of the population to be incurious about complex issues. And that this is largely a bipartisan problem, but certainly appears alive and well for our right-wing nuttiest companions in this place on the most broad set of misbegotten fact sets (anything from the economy to the drug war, the actual wars, and so on).

But buried in there, I'm sort of curious what happened with people who weren't exposed to Faux. For instance, the study is supposedly partly targeting the impact of corporate spending on campaigns (in the wake of Citizens United).

But one element is that large percentages (90%) of people claimed to detect false or misleading claims in advertisements, most often frequently. What were these false claims that they discerned (which in some cases may even have been true, given these above issues as false beliefs of some voters)? And most importantly was this an increase? Did more people detect false and misleading information, and what did they do about it (usually the answer is: dismiss and ignore it rather than investigate the veracity of any borderline plausible claims)?

The study's answer: "While we do not have data to make a clear comparison to the past, this high level of misinformation and the fact that voters perceived a higher than usual level of false and misleading information, suggests that the increased flow of money into political advertising may have contributed to a higher level of misinformation." In other words, we have no idea, but people seem to think there's more bullshit, so they must be right. Even though about the bullshit itself they seem to be completely wrong. Also we have no idea what the causation was. It's possible that this was merely a peculiar election with lots of silly claims being made by the politicians themselves (consider the emotional rhetoric being lobbed about). My take: people are forgetting that EVERY election is surrounded by bizarre and erroneous claims and silly charges being leveled against opponents or to lobby for peculiar interests. Maybe they saw more of them. Or maybe they consumed more of them voluntarily this time around. Or maybe they just don't remember paying attention before. But there's isn't enough evidence to go from that to "well it must be caused by all this money!" And even if it is, large numbers of people detected at least some of it as silly nonsense, or claimed to. That would seem to suggest that money isn't a big issue so much as a public inoculated against misinformation (or at least what they perceive as such). And the solution to that is... well it appears to be greater polarization. That is, that people believe only those people on their team and ignore others. I suppose there's another longer term solution: that people consume more non-partisan sources of information and form informed opinions. But that's not why people vote (nor is it rational to assume that they ever will). So forget that ever happening.

One of the most damning problems: a lot of these questions had little impact and difference in response achieved through educational levels. Usually the beliefs of well-educated are marginally distinct from those of the rabble, particularly regarding complex policy issues and the established opinions of policy wonks and experts on those issues. We see this on the fact that troop levels went up in Afghanistan (with a typical and very wide gap between the educated and less-educated), but not so much on questions like the health care law, taxation levels, or TARP. It's possible that educational levels exposed people to the idea that it was the GOVERNMENT, or other official agencies creating misinformation (for instance the CBO's methodology for determining job growth caused by the stimulus has a lot of questionable assumptions). But I'm not sure how this would matter for a question about what experts think is the reality (since those are the questions being posed rather than what is actually happening or not).

I'm also a little skeptical that this poll is legit. The 64% GOP respondents that say it's not clear that Obama was born in the US is kind of an outlier, at least as I understand it (the number is certainly higher for Republicans than the rest of the population, but that seems about double what I've seen it as). The fact that misinformation was widely believed by voters of both parties however isn't terribly surprising.

Some of these are funny


"I can't recall ever seeing an athlete sneeze during competition, and neither can anyone I've asked. YouTube also offers no help. Is there any reason for this? I have trouble with the idea that people don't sneeze if they're intensely focused, given that for some athletes (even on the pro level) this isn't always the case."

I cannot recall sneezing while playing basketball either... This one is actually kind of interesting.

"Is it true, as is often rumored, that intoxicated people are less likely to suffer serious injury from a fall or other accident because they are less likely to "tense up"?"

Somebody missed the studies that indicated that trauma patients are far more likely to be intoxicated and suffer more severe injuries if they are... that was done about 20 years ago. My hunch is that they might suffer less shock and some kinds of injuries (some neck or back injuries caused by tension of muscles for instance), but that they're so more likely to be doing something utterly insane that they'll end up more hurt anyway. Serious injuries are not limited to just neck and back problems.

"I don't want to sound like I want to see this, but why are there no male "beauty pageants" like the Miss America pageant, and if so, why not on a large-scale basis like that pageant?"

That last one especially seems like the question ought to answer itself... If nobody wants to see it, it's probably not going to happen. Markets and especially market opportunities for attractive men exist, but not in the same way that the pursuit of attractive women exists and forms into things like beauty pageants. Men seem to form into: "leading Hollywood man", "pop star", "People magazine cover-er", the same way women do, but there's less public attention on how this forms. I think this is largely because there's not much physical difference between how boys and girls look for a while in their youth (in fact for a long time, we used the same attire for young children, go look up Hemingway's childhood photos), and when there is, the males aren't very physically interesting (ie, obvious changes like breast or curves) until much later than females are. The key aspect of "beauty" as a marketable commodity in a society seems to be "physically interesting", or "odd". Men don't tend to acquire these traits until they're a little older usually. So there's no way to lead into it for young-ish men who might wish to be competitively ranked on their beauty.

There also isn't a strong cultural interest in being recognized as a "pretty" male, Adonis isn't as well known as Helen of Troy, so to speak (and nobody launched an epic tale of war and privation over him either). There are plenty of outlets for men to compete, even physically, without overtly ranking their physical bodies (although things like draft combines for professional sports leagues are pretty close in their uselessness and manner of ranking on physique rather than utility). Since we've got these outlets, men use them to compete. Women, historically, did not have most of these outlets to exercise the ranks of meritocracy. So there's a traditional aspect to it that seems silly and outdated. Other than the fact that men place a lot of importance on women's physical attractiveness and that rankings for such beauty matter to some women. Because of silly cultural ideas mostly.

08 December 2010

The wisdom of crowds

has spoken! More money for foreign aid it is!

Apparently we're supposed to be spending ~10% of the budget on foreign aid! Heavens be praised! Billions of dollars in new foreign aid contracts to be signed!

I suppose one way to look at this would be that large portions of current federal outlays are considered illegitimate, but that would imply that entitlements and defense spending, among other uses, are unpopular. When they are clearly very popular. So we're left with the uncomfortable knowledge that the public desires more money to be spent on foreign aid than we are currently spending, roughly 15-20 times more, but thinks that we're spending at least twice as much as they desire we spend. In other words, we're left with the public thinking nonsense and getting away with it.

I suppose it might be instructive to ask these questions again after telling people the actual amount of federal outlays that went to foreign aid in the past year. Would they still think 10% is appropriate? Or, perhaps more frightening, would they still think we spend a quarter of the budget on it?

I am beginning to think that our public is not merely rationally ignorant of politics but is in fact deliberately and painfully stupid to the point of not being able to properly assess our political decisions. In other words, I think even if you told people explicitly the amounts we spend through the federal budget both in percentages and actual dollar amounts, they would persist in believing that we spend more than that. That they would reject an actual tangible fact in favor of a comfortable belief instead.

Human life

Measured in dollars

$20 million per life seem about right to you? And this amount is a generous one, operating on the assumption that the government's estimates of lives saved is an accurate one, an assumption I would be hesitant to make. Of course the estimate does not include the cost of maiming or serious injuries either, which are more numerous, but it's the deaths that attract the legislators.

Meanwhile, this is just one such policy....

I'm pretty sure that a couple hundred dollars per car could be put to better use to save (or improve) far more lives by the automobile companies themselves, through the design of the car or even by increasing fuel economy. If they feel that this safety feature is worthwhile, then they've already included it on the car, or charged consumers an extra fee for it such that they (consumers) feel it worthwhile. Regulatory compliance becomes superfluous next to the power of markets to assess costs and benefits.

DOT is already not high on my list of sensible cabinet positions (in fact it's one of several I'd consider abolishing entirely), but LaHood is pushing past the boundaries of sanity almost every time I've seen a policy emerge.

As for the annoying fact (some have called it psychotic) that we're putting a price on lives, if we're going to use government power to regulate products and services then there are economic trade-offs and measurable costs and benefits of such regulations involved such that we have to put a ceiling on lives somewhere. That amount is almost certainly less than $20 million dollars, no matter how invaluable we perceive the lives of those we care most about to be.

06 December 2010

And now on to more pressing business...

Because as we all know, college football games which result in upset victories (that fail to overturn the entrenched status quo in any meaningful way as a result) are of national importance and deserve minutes of solemn appreciation at some of the highest levels of public office.

But tax cuts, DADT repeal, ratification of START II, trade treaties with South Korea, not so much a big deal.

02 December 2010

Oh, right, THAT guy

Since I am a basketball nut, and it is Ohio, I suppose I should say a few things.

1) LeBron and Wade have had a much harder time adjusting to each other than I'd have thought
2) Heat have no center and no point guard (though the lack of point shouldn't matter, LeBron or Wade both did this before). This has been evident with Millsap's 46 point outburst, or any team with a good PG running rings around them (Boston, New Orleans, Utah, Dallas).
3) I think Boston has a much better shot of beating them in the playoffs than I did back in August. Same with LA if they somehow make it to the finals. Bosh is completely worthless against either of these two teams. Duncan would probably eat him up too if its the Spurs. Basically any team with a good PF will chew him up. Haslem getting hurt is going to be a big problem down the road.
4) Despite all this, other than getting crushed in Indiana and Dallas, all of their losses have been close, they're still a playoff team, and they're still #1 in the East in the computer rankings. Boston and Orlando are right behind them though. Still, reports of their imminent demise have been oversold I think. No realistic expectation should be considering this team a title contender. Nor should there have been realistic expectations of such in year one. They're missing too many pieces for that. I'd still expect LA and Boston, though San Antonio looks like they're making a run out West.

5) I don't expect the Cavs to make the playoffs. I might have at the outset of the season, but Indiana has been better than I expected (Hibbert and Dunleavy account for most of that surprise factor, and Collison's been terrible as expected), Toronto hasn't quite been as bad, though that's possibly a mirage, and Milwaukee and Charlotte have had injury problems so far. The biggest problem in Cleveland is, as it was with LeBron, that they have a tortured looking offense. Like they can't score at all. They're also still playing Anthony Parker. Which is a bad idea. Basically this is a team with one good NBA player (Varejao), and a couple decent ones (Mo Williams, Gibson, Jamison, and Powe who doesn't play). And a lot of playing time going to two guys who are terrible (Moon and Parker, and Hickson hasn't done much either yet). So far there are about 7 or 8 terrible NBA teams for the year and the Cavs look like one of them. They also look like one of the least promising moving forward. The Warriors, Clippers, Kings, Wolves, Nets, and even the Wizards all have some young up and coming stars. Basically they're in the same boat as Detroit, with a couple of reasonably good players (Gordon, Prince, Stuckey), not much in the way of good young players (Monroe maybe?) and a couple of over the hill stars (Hamilton/Wallace/McGrady). At least the Pistons won a title a few years ago.

01 December 2010


I'm not sure what the big deal one way or the other on Wikileaks is. Most of the information released in each data dump hasn't been that surprising to experts or people who follow these things. There are occasionally some new gleanings (like that the US pressured other governments not to prosecute against illegal activities taken by covert operatives in the name of "war on terror"), but it's usually bland stuff.

What is most strange is the people most willing to impose powerful tools of government surveillance on citizens are among the most willing to oppose broad releases of (usually banal) government activities. Because of course it would make no sense for us to have any checks and balances as the general public being made aware of what exactly the government thinks it should be up to.

I can't say I'm surprised that the general, mainstream press thinks this is a bad thing either. But then, they still think blogging, in the form of blog entries of journalism, is a bad thing.

Alongside the actual fake wars, there's this actual fake war on meth. I've seen some more measured ideas on how to handle drug abuse and legalisation, but the more this issue comes up, the more the costs of prohibition seem to mount up as obvious and easily avoidable relative to the costs of social drug use and addiction. We can assume that there might be some additional costs of drug abuse in a world with legalised narcotics, but we already know for certain there are quite substantial costs for making them illegal to trade and produce. Meanwhile we have various experiments with decriminalisation and legalisation around the globe that have not resulted in sputtering societies of potheads (in much the same way that scare mongering school children about drugs has not produced the same outcome of millions of addicts and shiftless losers), to suggest that if there are costs to such a policy, these are manageable and far more easily controlled under existing laws (like those against violence or reckless vehicular use or the physical abuse of other family members) than the costs of interdiction and prohibition policies. Which seem to serve far from defeating and weakening our foes (drug dealers, etc) to enrich them instead.

I'd rather see a policy that doesn't have a giant profit margin that has to be defended with public violence in impoverished communities not only in America but across the globe (Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, Colombia, Afghanistan, etc) personally.


"The good lord tripped me up behind the line of scrimmage"

The usual rejoinder to that is that Jesus is undefeated while these assholes are in last place..

In this case, they are in last place.

And they're still boring as hell to watch even if there will be a funny twitter feed after they lose.