30 December 2011

So trembled the Austrians

"In 2009, the Riksbank -- Sweden’s central bank -- was the first bank to experiment with a negative interest rate. And it had assets on its balance sheet equal to a stunning 25 percent of GDP, a sign of how much cash it was injecting into the economy, compared with just 15 percent for the Federal Reserve. The bold moves worked: Sweden has been growing at a decent clip."

But of course, Sweden is just a bunch of "socialists"*! We certainly shouldn't be doing what they're doing! Much less encouraging a vigorous, but less interventionist, monetary policy choice that actually discourages banks from hording money instead of the policy choices we currently have that encourages big banks and big banks to horde at that.

*Sweden is not just a bunch of "socialists". The existence in Sweden or Norway or Denmark or Finland or the Netherlands of generous welfare states and relatively high tax burdens is balanced by access to better quality school systems, often competitive schools, very high GDP per capita rates on a rough par with the US if not higher, LESS progressive tax systems, and relatively little business regulation. Particularly concerning small businesses. But nevermind that it is easier to start a business or attain middle class human capital ratios, they're Europeans and Europe is run by socialists. Or something. If that's the price of socialism, I might take that over our own rampant use of corporatism any day of the week. I'd rather have Singapore style market capitalism with less social tinkering (something like the Dutch or Australians) personally, but this would still be an improvement over the current structure.

29 December 2011

Rick Perry keeps on giving

I have more or less written him off, so I tend to ignore his statements. But this was hilarious. 

“Every barrel of oil that comes out of those sands in Canada is a barrel of oil that we don’t have to buy from a foreign source,” Mr. Perry said in Clarinda, earning a loud round of enthusiastic applause.

Yes. Because, since we get so much oil from Canada and Mexico already, clearly they must not be "foreign sources". I look forward to receiving the future Congress members from Ontario and Chihuahua.Wait, we didn't annex Mexico and Canada? Hmm. I think one of us must be confused about the meaning of "foreign" and the sources of American oil generally.

And I'm guessing it's those people cheering. Rick Perry is just their zeitgeist made manifest. Stupidity about common factual elements. Check. Blind assessments of things going on with no idea what is actually going on, check. And so on.

Speaking of which, on the other topics.
A balanced budget amendment. 1) won't pass the Congress and will never happen in our lifetimes. Even with a major GOP takeover of both houses it's still incredibly unlikely to ever occur. 2) won't be useful without some notion of what will be cut/gutted in spending to get us there. If a candidate of any political stripe advocates a balanced budget amendment, I know this is code for "I don't want to pick any item that should or could be cut from the budget and am pretending that you are all morons who assume that there are lots of things that could be cut without affecting your entitlements and government tax handouts". In other words, I view such advocacy as cowardice, not the sort of straight talk bravery that Perry claims that it is. There's a reason it draws cheers. If it draws cheers from the people, it very likely isn't bravery or bravado to say it. It is pandering. Actual political courage might be to say and do things that are necessary but are unpopular. You know, like advocating the substantial cuts and reforms to entitlements and defence spending in order to achieve a balanced budget in the first place.

Immigration. I'm still confused as to what "they" think is possible. I get what they think is necessary (walls and moats and soldiers on patrol). I don't think they understand what will be actually done in their name (checkpoints, illegal detentions, abuse of civil liberties for anyone non-white). Or more importantly, I don't think they care. This anti-immigrant stance, among other features, is a big reason I break with Ron Paul for that matter.

Cutting Congress down to half time. This will mean that a lot of bills don't get passed, and hooray for that. However it also means that Congress cannot reduce the size and influence of the government (or the political lobbying class). It primarily means that it consolidates further power in the executive regulatory arms of the government where many laws are actually created and enacted today. Kudos to Rick Perry for identifying a way he can pander to voters AND establish and consolidate greater kingly powers over the country. Too bad for him a President doesn't actually have much power over whether Congress is in session or how much they are paid. They can call for a session to occur, but cannot mandate what happens in it, nor dismiss a session in progress and certainly cannot establish their pay rates. The Constitution doesn't establish this power for him. Too bad also that many Congressmen are already "part time". They spend much of their time fund-raising instead of legislating. Legislating they leave to lobbyists.

Israel. I am usually unsurprised this gets lots of cheers. I'm disturbed by it. But I'm not surprised.

Essentially what I note is that on the supposed issues of importance to Tea Party Republican types, most Republicans fail miserably to actually DO or say any of it. They make platitudes and panders but no serious moves to trim the size and scope of government ever occur. This is counter-balanced by enthusiastic reactions to social conservative issues like abortion, defiant rejection of the country's generally shifting values on gays and drugs, and an absolutist level of support for Israel (a foreign country by the way), none of which is characterized by a reduced scope of government roles or size. As I've generally observed, the Tea Party isn't about libertarianism. It is about re-branding radical social conservativism. This is fun for social conservatives apparently (complete with costumes and chants!), and fun for media types who like to wail about people who want to radically cut liberal programmes, but it's not very much use to someone like me.

Where are all the bright interested people of conscience

We don't have people like that in this country. 

I found listening to these callers-in that none of them were raising really interesting and coherent questions. One would think that watchers of CSPAN, and worse, people calling into a CSPAN show, might possibly be modestly astute political observers. Instead I heard several calls that amounted to "I don't think I like the direction of the country", with no concept of a) what direction the country should be going in, and b) no idea what direction the country is going in. If this was a representative sampling of the sorts of people watching CSPAN, then it's possible that informed rational voters are going somewhere else for such things as information on politics. In which case, what's the point of CSPAN again?

I appreciate being reminded of the zeitgeist. I get it. You people don't like things. I have a pretty good idea that much of this is because many of you have no jobs or were fired, have trouble paying mortgages or health care. I'd like you to phrase this discontent in a way that says "this is what I want from x", x presumably being the state or some other entity to which you are aggrieved. But you're not capable of doing that and instead we get things like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.

Gillespie did duck one astute question about public choice problems relating to regulatory capture or rent seeking behaviors. But it was phrased more as something akin to "why don't we just abolish private property so we can have a functioning democracy". I'm not sure I can think of many places where that has worked either as a democracy or as an economic model. In fact I can think of none, particularly at a massive nation-state level like the US. So ducking that question made sense because that part is absurd. I'm also not convinced necessarily that "democracy" is a better model for sorting out most public choice problems than is "markets" or "social pressure in the absence of legal penalties and state involvement". So arguing for "democracy" instead of one of the bulwarks of a free society, private property, seems a little overdone. But so does the idea that these two things must be in conflict and that one must chose between democracy and private property. One reason they might end up that way is that the state often presumes to take private property by force and coercion and the public forms methods of fighting back against these takings. Very effectively I might add. When the state has less cause and method to seize property for whatever ends it views appropriate, generally people will have less desire to resist it (this is one reason why lowering taxes allows governments to increase spending as they often do, because the public has less concern what happens to fewer tax dollars).

Besides, based on these sorts of callers and their comments, I should think encouraging more "democracy" isn't a very encouraging thought anyway.

28 December 2011

A cultural note

Given that it's about the end of the year.

I have seen exactly two movies from this year that I liked at all, and only one of them was even approaching a good-to-great level.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That's it. Largely because Rooney was playing a compelling character. Daniel Craig often disappeared in the film because of her. The score was excellent and feel of the film was pretty cold, which was, I assume, what they were going for. I approve the intro with the Zeppelin cover also.

Adjustment Bureau was interesting, but not particularly great as a film or deep as a thought experiment. I think it made far too much of the "fate written by some one else" and not enough of the "fate written by genetics" argument. Binding the "I want to determine my own fate" and "my genetics will limit some of my choices" is a much harsher line to cross than "god/fate/some external power attempts to limit my choices". Maybe it's not as interesting a movie, but I find the whole "god/fate" metaphysical construct to give us purpose and meaning from some external source incredibly tedious and so this sitting through an entire movie just to get the to the punchline that those things ultimately don't matter.

The X-Men prequel was noteworthy for being a prequel that was not terrible. But it doesn't stand up very well on re-watching it as well as, say, the second X-Men movie might. I think it lacks some of the humor of the former version. Or it was too obviously trying to be funny when it was "funny" and maybe too obviously about gay rights when it could have been otherwise. A comic book about a bunch of mutants, to be fair, has obvious useful parallels, and I am sympathetic to a vision of tolerance and acceptance for all kinds of people that are currently rejected by societies around the globe. But setting it in the 60s and completely ignoring things like Jim Crow?, seemed a bit too much of a stretch there. The second and first movies could get away with this because tolerance, while not extensive and expanded as much as it could be, is vastly better off than in the 60s. And so when setting the film in the modern era, gay rights are the primary civil rights issue, or if not "the", then certainly among the most pressing. Not so throughout human history. It comes off a bit off putting and sloppy as a result, too callous or unconcerned.

I found the Apes decent, and certainly our treatment of animals is a topic worth examining. But I don't think it stepped out enough from humanity to do so. All it did was anthropomorphize an ape so it might as well have been a kids movie with talking insects or fish.

Otherwise, this was a year of disappointing popcorn fare. To be fair, last year wasn't that impressive either. But I at least really liked Black Swan and Inception. And parts of Social Network or Kings Speech were interesting.

PS. I'm not bothering to note the Transformers movie or Captain America/Thor. All were typical summer blockbuster fare and raised no great philosophical or social questions. But were fun to watch things exploding in and/or for killing Nazis. The favored American pastime of nostalgia for both, with a little god worship thrown in. Note also, I'd say both Captain America and Thor were the same movie plot (guy meets girl, becomes superman, has to sacrifice his love life to save planet) and thus didn't have as good a tie in with any social or political issues as the first Iron Man film did (as tenuous as that one was to begin with). That makes them entertaining films, but kind of absurd if any thought goes into it beyond the comic book mentality necessary to want to go see them in the first place.

PPS. I haven't seen Tree of Life (though I might skip it, it sounds like every other Malick movie and probably not as good as Thin Red Line), Melancholia, or Moneyball yet. I expect these to be more interesting but none of them are/were big screen material.

27 December 2011

Trouble in Paul-ville

I find that the furor kicked up over Paul is probably not worth the effort. It is unlikely that a neo-isolationist, anti-drug war, pro civil liberties Congressman can win either party's primary in the first place. But I would guess that one reason this has become a major issue is that he's running for the Republican nomination. Where a debate over any one of those topics would constitute a minor earthquake in the rhetorical and actual positions of the party as a whole. Foreign policy in particular would constitute a huge revolt, given that neo-cons have been a hard plank in the party for a couple decades now and Paul comes from the paleo-con wing that has always had a strong undertow, but no policy influence since the Reagan era consensus. So more or less why this comes up is to justify a hasty campaign by conservatives to discredit paleoconservatives and a dogpile move by liberals to discredit libertarians.

Personally, I would have preferred if Paul didn't have the baggage he does from the paleo-con days hanging out with Rothbard and Rockwell, or if Huntsman actually had some realist IR spine to him, or if Gary Johnson had been more popular. As is, Johnson will probably run Libertarian. So I get to vote. That's always fun. Maybe it would be more amusing, or rather frightening, if things like this were on the ballot. (I would vote no, by the way. That should be up to studios and performers and "certifications" should concern things like the spread of disease in a largely isolated community, the use or non-use of condoms is hardly the only means available to do so and carries its own set of risks and dangers within that community). 

What particularly annoys me is the liberal attempt to discredit libertarians. Yes, the Rothbard wing is/was nuts for associating with the dredges of middle class society (racists and white supremacists and anti-Semites, and so on). And so yes, there's a certain level of popular support for a Paul-like candidacy that is radical to the point of being unsavory. This does not mean that all libertarians are in thrall with such opinions and behaviors, that they overlook them, or that they genuinely don't care at all about social issues like race relations and racism. As it is, it was libertarian publications which first reported on Paul's newsletters and associations, and numerous libertarian publications, libertarian leaning writers and bloggers have opposed or been squeamish about Paul for precisely this reason. Myself included (though I have other policy disagreements with Paul that I generally don't have with Gary). And it is libertarians (including people like Ron Paul) who have a long history of pointing out racial disparities with things like immigration and drug enforcement laws, along with many other civil liberties issues (stop and frisks for example). So I find myself annoyed at the public reception we get when we do get national attention. I can't say I'm surprised. But when the official character of the Libertarian party platform and various libertarian publications (like Cato or Reason) is classical liberalism, one would think that the liberalism part would get a fairer hearing from professed liberals. Apparently not.

It is easy to blame the Rothbard wing for flirting with paranoid and radical assertions about race and religion for that. (Note also, this isn't the Rand wing, nor the Hayek one). I suspect however that some blame belongs with libertarian/Libertarian thinkers for not pushing forward their more progressive dispositions more publicly and, more importantly, with libertarian type voters for adhering to some of these illiberal ideas, for ignoring them, and for continuing to vote, somewhat impressively, for people like McCain even after a near decade of disastrous behavior by his compatriots in office. The critique and assertion of racism is disgusting. The critique of being modestly illiberal or unconcerned about the advance of a liberal political philosophy centered on the individual (and not the state) is not because there appears to be a wide swath of the libertarian landscape that is in fact these things.

22 December 2011

Paulite roundup

I must admit I had a passing familiarity with the Ron Paul newsletter controversy prior to all this renewed fuss over it. It has, indeed, given me some reservations about him. Some qualifiers.

1) I do not think he is an avowed racist. I think it likely he is personally uncomfortable with homosexuals, but this too hasn't coloured his recent political stances. Which is to his credit. I am pretty sure he's not anti-Semitic too for the record. Given the history of Rothbard and Mises, it's extremely unlikely anyway. The reason this comes up is that anyone in politics who isn't "pro-Israel" to the hilt of anything goes is labeled as "anti-Semitic" by Christian Zionists. Ranting about bankers doesn't help much here, but I'm sure this is from his Austrian economics roots and not a bias against Jews. I wish he would give up some of the Austrian-Randian tendencies personally, but that's hardly his biggest problem in the Republican field. I also think his opposition to the Civil Rights Act (at least a portion of it) can be shown in a strict libertarian objection to be a principled rather than racist sentiment. It can be explained away in some sense because Paul often has adopted a perfect over the good sentiment in his voting. I look at CRA and say that it completely ended a lot of bad government policies and replaced them with a few much less bad government policies, rendered somewhat necessary by cultural and societal issues that are still strained, but improved somewhat. So I see a win. Paul doesn't. That makes it a fishy element for people looking for racist sentiments. He should be aware of the tone as a politician.

2) I am pretty sure Lew Rockwell wrote most of the offending materials. This was what was reported on back in 2008 at least.

3) I'm not sure if Lew is racist or not, and I really don't care if he is (I haven't read more of his material, nor do I care to. Rothbard and Mises are the go-to sources for that wing of the libertarian thought, and lack most of the distinguishing features that are disturbing here). In general I'd say that race-baiting is a time-honored tradition in some portions of the conservative (and yes, liberal) political circles for purposes of elections. A radical newsletter circulating even tenuously racist generalisations is likely to have been generating some additional income that wasn't likely to be the case without them, as sick as that is. I am not sure it would today, given that it would and has pissed off a solid number of Paul-ish types like me who would take their business elsewhere, but in the late 80s and early 90s, when hip-hop was in its infancy to the public and race riots were still at the forefront of American possibility (Rodney King wasn't so long ago keep in mind), maybe it would have. Whether or not these attitudes were thus true, they are repugnant and draw far too easy comparisons to Governor Wallace of Alabama during the Civil Rights Era itself, who traded NAACP support for KKK support in the pursuit of power. The also racy tie-in to Stormfront and other racist supporters of a Paul candidacy, however misguided they are in their perceptions of what a freer state under Paul might allow for themselves, hasn't come up yet, but I'd expect it to do so. Especially if he wins Iowa.

4) Paul's adamant stance against the drug war is probably one of the most un-racist things we could do in this country. In the sense that it would allow some restorative balance to the way we police and punish minority communities of blacks and Latinos (and immigrants) in this country. Also helpful would be not unilaterally bombing or engaging in wars in places with Arabs and Africans (without some core national interest, none of which was demonstrated in any location save possibly Afghanistan). A better Paul might have sought to demonstrate actively how a libertarian world might benefit people of a non-Caucasian appearance and disposition.

What seems to me to be the issue is that, while it is true that Paul addressed this history recently, during the 2008 campaign, he wasn't perceived as even a longshot to win a Presidential election or nomination and the amount of attention and scrutiny he received was modest and low. He is now a frontrunner or at least top tier candidate for a major political party. This issue will come up again and again until he deals with it assertively and decisively (and it will continue even then among his most fervent objectors) because a) this is politics and b) most people don't know very much about Ron Paul. Ron Paul's bubble of supporters certainly do, as evidenced from watching comment threads climb steadily and rapidly upward whenever this issue is raised is certainly interesting to note the level of internet fandom he has received. Political observers like me also know about it. But the average voter does not. And the average voter deserves to know what political opinions and behaviors a Ron Paul candidacy could or would involve, just as Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich's despicable anti-Muslim rants deserve to be properly aired, and in their cases serve as much keener examples of bias and prejudice coming from their own mouths, repeatedly and in the very recent past in pursuit of power and attention.

Now, of course, it would have been useful if a Ron Paul objector like Borger on CNN had also introduced some of Paul's more radical political positions he has espoused in the most recent and immediate past. Things like opposition to the Federal Reserve and actually abolishing numerous government bureaucracies (though I support the latter in some cases too, I admit this is a non-popular and radical position outside of GOP talking points, but not actual GOP behavior, and many economics departments), ending US participation in the UN and global trade organisations (radical and stupid, but popular), or even less radical or even mainstream (but ignored) positions like legalisation of marijuana or internet gambling or ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and abolishing most war on terror footings and government invasions of privacy and property. Voters do deserve to know things about the temperament and disposition of their candidates. They also need to know potential stances.

I'm not sure that I would vote for a Ron Paul candidacy. I would definitely vote for a Gary Johnson candidacy because there are fewer of these skeletons for me to worry about and fewer crankish issues come up as often like Paul's goldbug fascination and polished anti-Fed stance. But I'm not every voter. Every potential voter should decide how to weigh Paul's past misdeeds and missteps in his choice of associates and political association, along with his potential for positive development. If they assess that they do not care for his politics, that is their choice (and in such a case, it doesn't matter what his skeletons are). If they assess that they might be pleased with his politics, but are uncomfortable with his skeletons, that also is their choice. And if they assess that they might enjoy his politics and decide that whatever discomfort they have of his skeletons, that the world is better off even with a possible racist who would end many more pressing considerations and injustices, including some which offer some balm to the fires of racism stirred up over human history, then that too is their choice. It would be the duty of a media to inform, as broadly and capably as possible, the facts of these cases. It certainly has not done so to date on a mainstream level. Reason and the New Republic certainly covered this particular issue 4 years ago. He has made frequent mostly genial appearances on the Daily Show (Stewart indeed plugs for him where the media has constantly overlooked and pointedly ignored him). Libertarians or libertarian leaners are generally quite full up on Ron Paul coverage from some outlet or another (Mises, Reason, Cato, Atlantic, etc). And there are plenty of Paul-related blogs, both pro and con, to consult. Particularly now after he has been in the national eye for several years running for President and campaigning actively with grassroots support. So it's not like he's been ignored entirely. But until today nothing in a major newspaper or TV news outlet has really scrutinized him and/or his ideas. That is an abject failure to consider the likelihood that the other "mainstream" Republican candidates, sans Mitt Romney, would sputter and flounder for their much more prominent instabilities and failings and that we would be left with Ron Paul and Mitt, and maybe Jon Huntsman if more Republicans were smarter than they currently are. And this was obvious months ago before Rick Perry or Herman Cain even entered the race and left it (wait, Perry is still out there? Oh right, my mistake...). The media could have vetted this months ago.

That said. It is also the duty of a candidate like Ron Paul to assuage, as capably as he can do so, concerns about his temperament and attitudes expressed and espoused with his name attached to them in the semi-recent past by an adult. He has so far failed to do so on a mainstream level. Obama had to come up with a defusing speech about his faith and his pastor because of far overblown concerns about his attachment to a radical church. Paul should have less incentive given the distance in time involved, but no less of a political duty to do the same to broadly explain to as many people as possible, what his views, sentiments, and influences are on the matter of race. It would not require a speech. A polished answer would suffice. Even an answer about free speech could be helpful.

A man in his 40s (Obama) or 50s (Paul when his newsletter circulated these repugnant opinions) is not someone who can be excused a youthful indiscretion in the manner of a masters thesis or a teenage experimentation. Particularly when that man seeks considerable power at our behest.

We must ask. And they must answer.

19 December 2011

Busy week

Apparently Hitchens' death was just the appetizer for a grisly weekend of world famous people dying. Personally, of the trio I know of so far, Vaclev Havel is by far the favorite. Hitchens certainly had a knack for pointing out the foibles and follies of many other revered people at the time of their deaths (Mother Teresa and Jerry Falwell most famously, among many others), and I appreciated his brutal rudeness for things that concerned others (interrupting the "Darwin inspired Hitler!" trope that keeps popping up is a good sign, as is responding to police with indifferent rudeness rather than polite deference), but on a key point in assessing his standing; whether he supported and/or attempted to suppress and impose extreme suffering on other human beings, he's in the wrong camp here (with Kim Jung Il). Havel isn't. Supporting, and indeed insistently supporting even after the mistakes were obvious and the propaganda false or unnecessary, the Iraq War made no sense to me. Certainly there's a strain of "I hate religions, including Islam" involved, and a strain of "I hate tyrants". But "I hate tyrants" is not a sufficient justification for a) demanding action deposing them with maximum force (to be undertaken by others), b) supporting other forms of tyranny and oppression. Gleefully at that. No person that we undertake to build monuments to, even if the statues are in our minds and hearts rather than in marble, is ever devoid of vices and contradictions that confound our ability to fully celebrate their achievements and virtues. Jefferson is a prominent example. As is Lee or Washington or Lincoln or King. And it is pretty easy to find people who have a passionate disdain for Andrew Jackson (me), Woodrow Wilson (me), and FDR (modern conservatives). So I am not saying that we cannot ever recognize some element, some filament of greatness in achievement and accomplishment in a person. But we should never blind ourselves in our haste to do this that we forget the person behind such brilliance was ultimately a person and not a monument or a symbol.

As far as the death of Kim Jung Il, a recently active tyrant rather than an active critic or former leader and revolutionary, I would say whatever opportunities are claimed there are small and that we are best suited to play a waiting game and see what leverage and compromise we can reach with the Chinese (not the North Koreans) surrounding regional security and stability. Assessments that this represents a possible uprising for freedom are as absurd as assessments that it now endangers the Republic of Korea to the south. A power struggle over the reigns left behind will happen and will be ugly, but I don't see how it results in a war, without Chinese support which won't happen, or a modestly less tyrannical state in the near term. Since I haven't written about it, the series of diplomatic arrangements in the Pacific Rim were impressive. I'm not sure that basing troops in more countries (Australia) really serves a core national interest, but combined with the rest, it doesn't look half bad at constraining China's ability to play as a more global-regional hegemon with a modest set of alliances and new friendships in the region.

Anyway. In better news. Rick Perry has managed to embroil himself in further controversy by double dipping in the state pension funds while on salary, so good riddance (even though that is perfectly legal under Texas' laws, it is absurd and likely infuriating to some conservative types). And Newt Gingrich has dropped like a rock in the polls over the last week thanks to some aggressive campaigning by his opponents (Paul's ads have been devastating and Michelle Bachmann of all people has made some rather lethal jabs at his insider-y history) and a refusal of the majority of the Republican establishment to accept him as a legitimate candidate, much less as someone they would support if he were the nominee, again, thanks for playing. I still haven't gotten a good response as to why he jumped up and became popular to begin with, but that we're back on track to have a campaign that largely ignores Ron Paul and some other yahoo wins the primary that isn't widely perceived to be crazy (ie, not Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann or Cain, but that other guy they've all been associated with as the "anti-" vote, Romney). Maybe there will be a Huntsman bounce now, but I doubt it.

16 December 2011

While I am on the subject

The famous atheist and writer Christopher Hitchens died last night from complications with a particularly lethal form of cancer (esophageal). Among the debates leading up to his demise was the related premises of whether a) one should pray for an atheist or b) whether such prayers would matter. 
I think an atheist would conclude that b is clearly false. There is no evidence that your prayers matter to other people's health and well-being. Where they would matter is to the prayee. Not the subject of their prayers. It makes them feel like they are involved and concerned about the fate of another human being. Perhaps that is a good thing in and of itself, but it does nothing to actually help. It is a symbolic act. Given my stances on symbolic actions (particularly in politics where such symbolic actions cost taxpayers real money), I find it bordering on repulsive selfishness to do this. I would much rather people instead of praying would donate money or goods to an appropriate cause or volunteer their time to a cause they feel they could contribute to. You know, things that might actually help others instead of demonstrate their concern without actually helping anyone. It costs the prayee nothing to pray really. Presumably they would do that anyway. But it benefits only themselves.

I suppose therefore the answer to a) is something more like, go ahead but don't bother bringing it up. I'm not sure it actually harms anything to do this in either direction really. There's a possible positive benefit in that it shows the dying person that you are at least modestly concerned with their suffering and present plight, though there are far better ways to express this. If you are expending your time praying for something other than their health and well-being, it most certainly does not help anyone but you. I would find people praying for my soul or some other metaphysical invention of their religion, or worse for my deathbed conversion to their chosen religious team, to be completely offensive under such circumstances. And so ultimately my preference would be that you do something else for the dying atheist in your world. Send flowers or a book, or a card. Bring ice cream or pie. Bring vodka or other stiff drinks if they are medically able to imbibe them. Bring laughter. Bring comfort and friendship, and be supportive for their friends and family through a difficult time (both before and after the actual death). For my part, bring discomforting events so that I would know the world continues to be troubled and that suffering is not limited to my own plight. Bring interesting discussions from which we could each learn something. Don't bother bringing your piety and presenting it as a gift. It's kind of like buying other people (whom you hardly know) clothing; it's not even worth the trouble of attempting to return the gift for the gift is so thoughtless and worthless to the receiver of it. I'm not that generous to extend a good deal of courtesy to fake politeness and custom that has no actual real world benefit attached to it. Keep that to yourself along with your "god bless you" when I sneeze. I'm not about to be very moved to thank such expressions and what acknowledgements you would get would likely be unpleasant. Thanks in advance.

(Just to clarify, I find I have few points of political rhetorical agreement with Hitchens. I do not share a need to militantly oppose Islam for instance. At least not over and above any other belief structure centered on metaphysical inventions. Where I do have agreements is that the man seems a hedonist and shares a concern for the value of freedom of the individual. But how these seem to have informed his views on things like economics often baffles me.)

Good news and bad news

First the good. Sheriff Joe is finally in some hotter water than he has been over the last 20 years.

The highlights
1) Cost $5 Million in lawsuits, with hundreds of millions more still in progress. Including the infamous Steven Seagal tank/cockfighting incident.
2) Misappropriated almost $100 million in funds for prison funding for use paying officers and staff.
3) Ignoring rising crime rate in his jurisdiction (even as it declines in the rest of the state and most of the country) by not even investigating various crimes; sexual assault being among the foremost ignored. Thanks for being a misogynist on top of a racist?
4) Over 2/5s of detained persons on immigration charges turn out to be legal citizens. I'd say that's a pretty poor track record suggesting that he's not doing the sort of investigative work needed to properly identify illegal immigrants in a community. A supposition which is borne out by a) the treatment of immigrants once detained, often bordering on torture if not outright, and b) the incredible frequency with which immigrant-looking folks (ie, Latinos) are stopped for no apparent reason at all in violation of the requirements that immigration status can be checked when an actual offense has been committed. 20% of all stops have no overriding violation?

I'll be happy when this guy joins Patrick Sullivan Jr in a jail named after himself (Sullivan was arrested on drug trafficking and trading drugs for sex, after a lifetime spent railing against drug dealers). No person should be so brazenly permitted to violate the rights of human beings, much less citizens and taxpayers of the region of a state entrusted to their care to oversee the rule of law. If this were a Monopoly game, I'd just keep playing the "go directly to jail, do not pass go" card on him. All that said, the man was, last I checked, potentially a US SENATE candidate in his state. That's frightening.

The bad. SOPA is still kicking around. I'm on the Wyden list in case of a filibuster in the Senate and I've written all 3 Ohio Reps available in order to remonstrate my concerns here. But really the problems are legion, starting with the one highlighted there; that the internet uses a sort of spontaneous ordering in order to address problems like internet security protocols. And that sort of spontaneous order needs to be carefully approached, if at all, with legal strictures. It would seem to me that a) we already possess a device for copyrights violations (DCMA) and b) that the most available studies I have seen on internet piracy suggest that whatever threat it poses to these industries is minimal and c) there are already available distribution methods on the web for these industries to attempt to co-opt or to participate in through licensing deals that would allow them to continue to exist. Personally, I'm not sure why any musician would attempt to sign with a record label anymore and at some point in the future, it might be possible to produce higher quality films privately as well to avoid that as a distribution node as well. Perhaps this is what such industries are really worried about, but it seems like they worry about something that isn't actually costing them very much by attempting to impose MASSIVE costs on everyone else. Usually industries, and unions for that matter, can get away with this by imposing very small marginal costs on everyone else in the pursuit of rent-seeking behaviors with legislative support and embrace. In this case, the costs are potentially very large. I suspect this will play into whether any bill actually passes.

Some weird. I'm kind of fascinated watching what the GOP does with Ron Paul's modest surge in polls. He's basically had a cap of around 10-12% of the GOP electorate (plus some moderates and independents outside that electorate). But he's now polling at rates approaching 20%. The consequence has been a hasty campaign to declare the actual winner of the Iowa caucuses as someone else if Paul should win, as insulation against the idea that somehow, someone, somewhere has decided that being anti-war, anti-government spending, pro-free market/anti-crony capitalism is a platform that Republicans should embrace instead of their usual pro-war, pro-government spending, anti-free market/pro-crony capitalism platform that mostly resembles the Democratic campaigns as well. My best guess is that Republicans are unlikely to win the 2012 Presidency anyway, and so it would be most useful for them to nominate someone interesting and where there are actual debates to be had between the two parties. Gary Johnson has long been favored by me over Paul because he has much more favorable social liberal views (pro-choice, pro-immigration, nominally more pro-gay marriage than Paul, though not by much, and both are anti-drug war), and doesn't openly douse his views in that novel religion known as Austrian economics (I say this because it constructs itself in a non-falsifiable way, the same way religions do). That said, a Paul-Obama debate where Paul can credibly run to LEFT of Obama on immigration (Obama is heavy on deportations), the drug war (Obama DOJ is heavy on arresting legal pot producers and dispensers), foreign policy (see Libya, assassinations of American citizens by robotic drones), and civil liberties (war on terror policies and drug war policies to boot), would be amusing. Of course, Paul's history and general perception as a crank would guarantee that he wouldn't be elected, but so far as I can tell, only the ill-fated Mitt Romney is widely perceived as a plausible upset for the incumbent. At least give me a reason to watch the debates?

15 December 2011

I liked the other Paul trade better

The one that New Orleans got back Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and a combo guard backup, plus a 1st round draft pick.

Now they get Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, a second year backup forward out of Wake Forest (Aminu is solid but I can't see him being David West or Odom/Scola level player) and a couple of second round picks.

I'm not sure what message the league wanted to send other than "we won't send Chris Paul to the Lakers" (even if it meant the Lakers were giving up Odom AND Gasol to get him).

Other moves. I like the Clippers pick up of Butler. Didn't like the pickup of Billups (and Paul). Little weird. I guess they can move Billups to shooting to replace some of Gordon's lost production.
Bulls needed a shooter, got Hamilton. I'm not sure he's what they needed per se, but it'll help.
Denver has been really busy. Getting back Andre Miller and picking up Corey Brewer were both smart moves. Though I'd rather have had Felton than Miller over the next couple years. I'm guessing they really wanted Hamilton. Rudy Fernandez was also a good pickup.
Dallas getting Odom doesn't quite make sense since they lost Tyson Chandler. But I guess they can go unconventional and try to score more again. Speaking of which I would like the Tyson to New York move except that they still have D'Antoni as their coach.
Indiana picking up West is smart. I like their front line (West, Hibbert, and Granger)
Miami picking up Battier, smart. Picking up Curry raises some eyebrows though. 

Not sure the Celtics did much. I do like getting rid of Big Baby and Shaq retired. But they didn't get back much for Davis and they kept Jeff Green. And Pavlovic is pretty weak. I should think they need the two Purdue kids to be pretty good. About the only good news there is that I'm not sure that the Knicks, now having no point guard at all (Bibby was washed up 3 years ago), will be any good. I'd be more concerned about the 76ers within the division. The Heat/Bulls though are both scary looking teams.

So far, I expect Toronto, Cleveland, and Detroit to all be very bad teams in the East. And Orlando once they trade Howard. Also I have no idea what to make of Washington. John Wall is worth at least 10 wins right? And then... the next best players are JaVale McGee and Jordan Crawford? Really I only expect Miami, Chicago, Boston, and Indiana to be any good at all in the East, with Atlanta, New York, New Jersey (I expect another couple weird free agent moves there) maybe Orlando (if they don't trade Howard), and Milwaukee all hovering around 30-35 wins.

Out West, I'd expect New Orleans to be pretty bad. Wolves and Kings to be bad, Jazz to be bad, and other than the Clippers and Thunder, nobody to really stand out. Maybe Memphis will be pretty good. I think the Lakers, Spurs, Suns, and Mavs are all older and not much better, if not worse (Leonard to the Spurs was however a great pickup). I'm not sure yet what to make of the Blazers and Nuggets. Probably both will be solid 40 win range, more for the Blazers if they give up on trying to play Roy. Rockets and maybe even the Warriors should be decent (it would help if the Warriors would trade Ellis).

14 December 2011

This is Newt

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Blofeld! Sounds about right for the guy who wants to build a moon base, a system of mirror lights in space, worries about EMPs (when no national security experts do), wants to execute pot dealers.

I also liked the "grappling baby", the logical conclusion to the stupidity of the anchor baby mythology. On average, the babies involved are the illegal immigrant mother's SECOND child born here and they've already lived here for several years. If that's supposed to be the anchor, then I don't understand nautical engineering.


13 December 2011

Debunk the debunking bunkers!

"Once people receive misinformation, it’s quite difficult to remove its influence. This was demonstrated in a 1994 experiment where people were exposed to misinformation about a fictitious warehouse fire, then given a correction clarifying the parts of the story that were incorrect. Despite remembering and accepting the correction, people still showed a lingering effect, referring to the misinformation when answering questions about the story."

There are a lot of psychology gems in there. But that one stood out because it is a common media method to hype a new story, which later turns out to be utterly false. Issuing corrections is important for this reason, that information that was wrong must be corrected. Where I think we run into problems is that the correction isn't exactly covered with the same diligence as the superhyped falsehood. Medical information and science reporting in particular are especially prone to such behavior in news cycles. So it would seem better if instead of reporting every new study in ten foot headlines that we wait for more confirmations to trickle in first.

The various debunking tips
1) Avoid backfiring. We tend to remember things in networks by relating things to what we already "know to be". If we already "know" a myth to be true, then associating new information with it, even if it is demonstrating the falseness of the myth is liable to be trouble.

2) Overkill, don't do it. I do this a lot. Power driving people with mountains of disclaiming information to their weak thesis is a common response to seeing someone as wrong. Stick to the best facts and arguments and move on from there as needed. Only among the most "informed" and dedicated followers of a myth will one need to amass copious amounts of information to combat it. Most people believe very vague and poorly thought out straw man positions on most issues, mostly because they don't care about those issues very much. Pile driving them with information demonstrates your passion for it, but doesn't really convince them to do likewise or to alter a preconceived opinion with these new facts challenging it. This is probably why news media tends to cater to those preconceived opinions rather than to chart new courses following new and surprising facts that overturn the old ways.

3) Don't challenge worldviews. This comes up frequently in debates over evolution. Apparently men and apes sharing common ancestries destroys a lot of comfortable assumptions about man's special place in the universe for some religious people and hence Darwin was wrong. Or something. However changing the topic to something like geological time scales or raw genetics, while complicated subjects in and of themselves, is likely enough to push some headway into the Darwin was wrong crowd. Some of it at least.

4) Alternative explanations. This feature of the human brain for completeness of schema is a powerful force behind mythology. Explaining complex phenomenon like weather or evolution of species or the occasion for "bad things to happen to good people" requires generally complicated reflection on these topics for a concise and thorough understanding of the topic. People don't like doing that very much (nor do they have the time to make such inquiries on all manner of subject matter). So they fill in the gaps so they feel like they know what they are talking about. A devastating social effect for anyone to admit is that they do not know what they are talking about in a public setting. Such a response of honest ignorance is rare, and is greeted with derision and scorn. It should be greeted with acceptance and conversation, if such ignorance is honest (Rick Perry's oops moment for instance was not, as he was forgetting talking points that were intended to be bonafides of his conservative intentions to govern). Experts often do not know the answers to everything going on in their circle, much less in fields broad and outside their sphere of expertise. They will ask questions and express fascination or curiosity in new developments, and if they are good enough at it, they will also help to try to poke holes in new theories and discoveries. This is not the common response of the layman on any field for which they are not intimately acquainted. Deference to expertise, to group acceptance, to ideological biases, and so on is much more likely where knowledge bases are poor.

09 December 2011

So it goes

Rick Perry doesn't seem to have any other speed than "I hate X". This seems to be the only way he can campaign is to be on the attack dog stance. Only he possesses about the intellect of an attack dog. Perhaps a trained one to be generous. As annoying and stupid as his new campaign ad was, really the most disconcerting thing to happen this week was this.

93 to 7? I thought al Qaeda, based on information available was defeated. So we still need (more) panic mode governmental powers?

Jon was wrong about which amendment this violates. It's a habeas right that isn't an amendment at all but listed in the articles, article 1 for that matter. The 4th amendment and perhaps the 8th are indeed implicated, but they're less essential in governance terms than rights listed in the articles that haven't been amended. Also, I'd say the 6th and 7th are more at play as well. It's certainly possible people, even American citizens, could and should be detained on suspicion of terrorism charges, but that they should also have due process available to challenge such designations and suspicions in civilian trials with evidence presented against them. We already have  available protections for evidence gathered through secret intelligence methods so neo-conservatives shall now quit whining.

It gets worse. The final bill needs to go to a Congressional committee because there are two versions from each house of Congress. Rather than have open hearings, Congress will debate this violation of civil liberties in secret. And that decision for secrecy was about as close as the Senate vote on this bill. On the plus side the amount of ire stirred up over the Piracy/Copyright bills that were equally egregious and stupid seems likely to kill them both.

But this is getting ugly and downright unacceptable.

06 December 2011

Things of notice

1) Cain dropped out. Finally. I'm still waiting for the moment I can also ignore Newt or Perry or Bachmann again. That day will come however. The thing that bothers me most about the Cain mutiny is that it took a supposed affair to sink him. Apparently payouts for sexual harassment, accusations thereof, and an accusation of sexual assault to boot are non-issues to conservatives. Cain's media and public defences were so ill-handled that this itself should have been judged as a basis for dismissal from the field of "candidates sane persons will support". Either I've over-estimated the number of remaining sane conservatives or there's a much greater insular tendency of conservatives to live in the world pre-determined for them by their faith and their faith in Faux News media worlds. Actually, given Cain's so implausibly stupid policy proscriptions, combined with powerful allergies to declaring a working knowledge of anything at all,, even the most basic facts available, I suspect both are true possibilities. Presumably he is much smarter than he was made to look by all of this, but I doubt the media bubble he has lived in and was working within that insulated him from having to think hard about issues was doing him any favours. 

In related election cycle news, it's starting to sound like Gary Johnson may end up mounting a Libertarian candidacy because Republicans as a party haven't had his back in these debate exclusions. If so, I'll at least have someone to vote for for once. Which is a lot more fun than choosing between candidates whose policies I actively despise. I'd be happier if Huntsman was higher in the polls than Romney. But I'm not a conservative or a Republican either. Huntsman's non-foreign policy (with the crucial exception of Iranian policies), non-entitlement/defence cut related policies don't exactly enamor me to him either (everyone since Reagan, maybe even since Roosevelt, has said they would cut agricultural subsidies, I'll believe it when I see it. And running away from NCLB would be a whole lot nicer if he also backed tax credits for education to create educational markets. Turning it over to local and state boards terrifies me just as much as the intrusions of federal controls that Gingrich, for instance, wants). I'd prefer cutting and abolishing corporate income taxes instead of capital gains and dividends for instance. Income inequality being what it is after all. But he's otherwise the most solid candidate they have over there. I'm assuming his tone is why liberals aren't running terrified at his stances on social conservative issues (where he's more conservative than most) and also is why conservatives hate him (for the: he doesn't piss off liberals!, He must not be a conservative! logic). And hence why I don't have to think too much about him until 2016. This has been the post about Jon Huntsman for the year of 2011 in other words.

2) Georgia should not even be up for discussion as included in NATO. The fact that Rubio has been trying to bring that back up as a topic indicates that the neo-conservative base is still alive and well and strong. A puny disorganised country that picks a fight with a much larger and powerful nation on its borders under the logic that it has received assurances of support from distant and vaguely aligned nations (but who have no treaty obligations to fulfill and no actual national interests at stake) is not a nation-state that belongs in a mutual defence treaty of any kind. Much less a complex (and mostly defunct) arrangement like NATO. I don't care if the much larger powerful nation is Russia. In fact. That's probably an even better reason to ignore Georgia than it is to ally with it. The historical impetus to oppose Russian affairs diplomatically and militarily (for whatever military force projection Russia has anymore outside of regional affairs), is already strong enough without needing alliances with participants in actual shooting wars with Russia in the recent past. Particularly those who STARTED said wars. We should regard anyone who does that, that isn't us or China, as criminally insane.

3) I really liked the recycling toxic waste part. But then I'm already a nuclear power hawk. Personally I'd rather we have a use for the stuff we don't want relating to the already running nuclear power plants than have to figure out how to store the shit for 20000 years. Somehow this doesn't seem like a compelling argument to nuclear power doves. I guess I understand why people fear invisible neutrons bombarding their bodies, but when I look at the death tolls annually from coal and oil and even hydroelectric power, and I look at the cost of solar technology and the present utility of wind (and batteries), I have to say, nuclear looks a lot safer, cleaner than the carbon fuels, and it's at least cheaper than solar. And if we can expand it to include using military grade depleted fuel stocks, so much the better.

4) This is fascinating. Essentially justice and vengeance are viewed as the same by people who find apologies and forgiveness unappealing. Coincidentally, I would expect that these are exactly the sort of people whose main role model was putatively based around the concept of forgiveness. The self-esteem model makes intuitive sense. I'm surprised that people are that surprised that "justice" is viewed in conflict with "contrition" though. Considering the views many people have on crime and criminal penalties (death penalty for drug smugglers!), I would be surprised if people were able to hold these two concepts simultaneously.

02 December 2011

A note on foosball

I guess there's some sort of furor over the Denver Broncos' quarterback because he's a religious fundamentalist of some variety. Or because he's not a very good quarterback in terms of the stock position skill set (ie, throwing a ball in the general direction of his teammates, or even human beings generally).

I'm not sure that there should be aside from one or two qualifiers. Here's what I would say
1) The success of most football teams is predicated on having a solid offensive and defensive line. Denver seems to have both of these in good standing. Quarterbacks merely exploit poor defensive lines/good offensive lines (by having more time to make a play). They deserve credit and attention, but not as much as they receive. Outsized credit and attention tends to come from the general charisma involved in playing the positions successfully. Tebow, for whatever his faults are, seems to be more or less charismatic in some way.
2) The second predictor of success would be whether a team plays a hard or easy schedule. There are in the NFL about 8 teams that are very good, potential title contenders, and then 4 or 5 good solid teams (Chicago would have been in the former group as a dark horse until their quarterback was injured, it's now in the latter. Detroit looks to be joining it soon perhaps). And the rest of the league is average or worse. Denver has played two very good teams and was demolished both times (Green Bay and Detroit). They did beat two solid teams (Jets and Bengals). So essentially Denver is 1 and 1 since Tebow began starting. Like in the NCAA I don't count wins against meaningless teams in the schedule. So. If they beat both New England and Chicago, count me as suitably impressed. Beating Chicago won't really impress me. Beating New England will. I expect them to lose by two touchdowns in that game. Even at home.
3) The one qualifier I would have is that he appears (by anecdotal evidence) to be in huddles with his religiosity at stake. God this and god that and so forth. I will admit such things are annoying. Even for the religious among us. Particularly given the amount of times there are huddles in football games. Chemistry is important to winning such games and annoying your teammates won't help that. That said, the real problem I would have with it as a teammate isn't so much the religion. It's that religion is not a substitute for strategy or play calling. So long as he calls plays sufficiently well, I would think a player would be fine with it. They seem to be doing okay as far as that goes. I'm not sure it's a sound long term strategy, but I'm not a football player. And football doesn't have very complicated strategic components nor operate with human lives at stake at least.

The reason I would worry is that this appears to be the level of strategic thought put into the Iraq War by Rumsfeld and some of the top generals. "Onward Christian soldiers" and so forth. As opposed to actually acknowledging difficulties and realities on the ground. I'd thought these were sentiments best left in the 15th century after the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the end of the Crusades. But apparently not.

I get why we don't do this

But I also get why it gets informally done anyway. The sad part is the amount of information dispersed through by the students themselves however. Or maybe that's the silver lining. I'm not sure yet (depends on the quality of information from faculty and schools and parents).

That is. Sex ed. Of, shall we say, a positive variety. Ie. How it works, or more often doesn't work, in a mutually beneficial pleasurable experience rather than just the bits and pieces and how they go together.

I find it sort of sad that there are men who had to have it explained to them what a clitoris was and where it was. (Or at least, sexually active teenagers/college students who had to have it explained.) Or that there are perpetually men asking where a woman's G-spot is. I'd have thought most of this was sorted out during the great feminist shift 40 years ago. I get the feeling that most people take sex ed to be largely necessary for women because of the risks of pregnancy. But I'd say, given the state of continuous running gags referring to the complete lack of pleasure provided by males from sex, that men need to pick up some slack. And they aren't learning how from other men. And they're not talking to their partner(s) to figure it out. It's just kind of assumed.

Some things I'd put on the list for inclusion if I were to teach something like this.
1) Most women don't orgasm with ordinary missionary position sex. 70% is the usual figure quoted. Religious types often expect this through their version of sex ed (this is changing, finally to a more accepting attitude toward sex within the marriage at least). I would surmise that this figure is unhelpful for a lot of otherwise acceptable human pair bonding (ie, unsatisfying sex life leads someone to stray or to be annoyed with other arenas of the relationship). Some of this is psychological. Most women can learn to orgasm this way, along with many others. But a good portion of it is biology. Ie, they could learn to do so, but it's a lot easier some other way. Hence

2) Explain where the clitoris is. And why it matters for women. Don't bother with the G-spot. If a man can't tell where and what that is, he is not bothering to do things other than sex and get blowjobs anyway. Also, because of the angles involved (curvature of penis, hip angles), women do tend to like non-missionary positions. At least once in a while. Depending on the woman.

3) Explain that porn is entertainment. This is a big one for modern teens especially because of the easier access to this sort of adult commodity. It's pervasive relative to even something like alcohol or tobacco because all it requires is a computer. Or a phone/Ipad, etc.

For comparisons to draw, in real life, people go down a lot faster after being punched. There aren't dramatic soundtracks when the two love story characters meet. The plucky sports team of loveable losers doesn't win the championship (most of the time). Pornography is a show. It's not reality. Yes there are real life women who like to do some of the things on there. Some of the time. And yes there are positions on there that are humanly possible that most of us haven't attempted. Most of them are uncomfortable however without much preparation. And discomfort isn't exactly pleasant for most people. And yes there are combinations and exhibitions of sex that most people don't do. There are reasons for that though. Having sex with multiple partners is something humans might do serially in their lives but most people aren't as comfortable with multiple casual sex partners or simultaneously having sex with said partners. And we've pretty much made having sex in public places illegal. In some states to the point of making it some sort of sex offense (although taking a piss in a public space is still treated far worse in most places. I guess there's some logic to treating it harshly but registering such people as sex offenders is pretty hardcore). So. In summary, those are professionals performing such feats. Don't try everything you see at home. At least not without discussing it with a partner (or two).

4) Explain that sex tends to be a lot better as you get older and more experienced with the same partner. That might justify waiting for someone who you might want to have sex with over that time for example. But that it also will tend to get boring, in a way. This isn't because (the) sex gets worse. Just that people don't work as hard at their general relationships (and physical health) as said relationships progress. Sexual health of the relationship deteriorates along with everything else. Experimentation (and discussion) happens in good relationships. Sometimes really freaky things happen as a result. Few can say at 14 or even 20 or 25 what they will enjoy over the course of their lives sexually.

5) Do explain condoms. Including for non-vaginal sex. Don't approach this as disaster control. Just do it. We should a) not regard pre-marital sex as a "disaster" but rather as a choice... that lots of students are already making and b) should be relatively concerned that if they are exercising this choice, that they should do so in the least harmful manner available. Telling kids that sex (outside of marriage) is so horrible and dangerous that they will die is infamous mostly for its absurdity. And its parallels to anti-drug stories spun and woven by adults as well. The risks need to be communicated accurately; not blown up into easily disproved scenarios.

6) Do teach people to talk about sex frankly with their partners, if no one else. Teach them to communicate both desires and to listen. We seem to spend a ton of time talking about sex among our peer groups (based on popular culture). Why we couldn't expend most of that talking on the actual sexual parties involved is beyond my comprehension. If we're going to have sex, you might as well make it worth the time and energy involved.

Based on what appears to be the difference in places like the Netherlands versus America, teens there have roughly the same amount of sex and by roughly the same age (by 17 is the usual age in both countries). But they report being a lot happier with their choices of sexual partners and sexual experiences. I'd wonder if they do something like this a little more formally, but it seems more broadly that they have a much more accepting culture.

28 November 2011

Very incisive.

I like it. Especially the part about the more things stay the same.

I'd like to break down some points a little more.

1) ObamaCare. I've pretty well covered this back when it was an ongoing "debate". But basically my read on this is that
a) not much of importance actually changed under the bill. Either in terms of controlling health care costs or improving health care per dollar outcomes, or much of anything really.
b) repealing it would be fun. If, and only if, there were some actual intentions to seriously debate and reform health care systems in this country in order to better achieve either of those two goals.
Since it is pointed out that Republicans, both politicians and the conservative base, have long since caved on the points about providing medical care to people who cannot afford it, and also on a related point about pre-existing conditions, I think it is pretty clear that we are not actually interested in reforming health care systems or having space cleared out for intelligent debates in order to consider such debates. The in-the-weeds arguments that accepted both the need for some form of mandate and some form of public goods provision of health are a lot more interesting than the bullshit behavior that pretends that we don't need a public goods provision while overwhelmingly backing said public goods provision (and then refusing to fully fund it, or otherwise pretending that it doesn't cost money). Things like "France versus Singapore" models of health care present far more discussions and options, and at this point I would quite simply argue that both models are superior to ours. Either because health care outcomes are improved (there are sound arguments that there are diet and cultural reasons involved here too, but it's hard to argue that France or Singapore has a terrible health care delivery system either. The difference is largely in methods of financing) or because both models (will) cost less public money. Considerably less in the case of Singapore.

2/3. I'd agree that trade is a dead letter. There's still some residual anti-trade constituencies in the form of some protectionist displacement funding in "free" trade agreements, but overall we're far more accepting, finally, of (mostly) free trade. At least at the elite level. Early-post-NAFTA years were ugly and I've no wish to relive them. And I'm also in agreement that higher taxes are coming. But not so soon. If a super majority of Democratic Senators, Democratic House control, and Obama couldn't get the "Bush tax cuts" removed, at least on the rich, then I'd have to say they were never interested in doing so. All the rhetoric in the world about soaking the rich, by either side, doesn't make a lick of difference.

4) Immigration is very much an interesting topic, but I'd agree not much is happening on it. Unlike abortion, there are constituencies on both sides of the aisle that align their interests for or against immigration which prevent action. Note that I said for or against immigration, not just for or against "illegal immigration". I meant what I said. We have plenty of xenophobes who don't care if their silly and sloppy attempts to physically deport millions of people also oppresses, harasses, and defames millions more who have the misfortune to look like relatives (in many cases because they are), or who have the misfortune to live and work as Americans, legally, but look like Mexicans. Or Arabs. Or whoever. This suggests to me that these are people who are not merely anti-illegal immigrant, but anti-immigrant period. They do not want to share their states and towns with "non-Americans". Whatever that means. It's not a new story for our history. But it's always been a pathetic and sad one. Every. single. time. Since Franklin was railing about Germans, and the Prohibitionists were railing about Italians, and New Yorkers about the Irish, Californians about the Chinese (and later the Japanese or Koreans), and so on. It's gotten boring and tedious over the last 200+ years. If it weren't for human nature being what it is, good at forming in-group/out-group associations, I'd really wish we'd have grown out of our tiresome teenage spites against those people who have the temerity to listen to different music and eat or drink strange things and speak in some foreign tongue among themselves.

5) This line was the most incisive in the whole post. "A reversal of Roe vs. Wade, in my estimation, would destroy the pro-life movement. The chipping away strategy can work, but will happen regardless of who is in office." It points out several things at once. First. That liberals and in particular Democrats in office and in elite opinion circles are not defending abortion rights. Indeed, because the average person has a vague supposition that abortions are bad and to be avoided, the average voter has thus concluded that almost any restrictions designed to limit access to such actions are somehow innocuous and sensible. These two things do not automatically follow each logically, but the average voter is not presented with very many voices suggesting as much. With the exception of very extreme attempts to completely shut down access to abortions (as in South Dakota with explicit anti-abortion laws and with Mississippi and it's silly personhood amendment), most people do not get riled up enough to back Roe vs Wade. In either direction really. The second point is also extremely useful to consider. Let's say that Roe v Wade was somehow overturned (it won't be with this court, but suppose Kennedy were to retire, let's say, and was somehow replaced with a staunch conservative instead of a squishy quasi-libertarian conservative). What would be the result? A few hardline states would ban abortions through legislative initiatives. And most would not. This would be a confusing legal scenario and difficult to enforce. But the major point is that it would immediately defuse the primary rallying cry of pro-life groups (activist judges making legal abortions) and would confront them with the much larger task of convincing the general public that such actions should be made illegal more broadly. Without having a central flag to wave in order to curry favor and support (the federal court rulings). I'd agree this is a very unhappy result because it would not much advance the debate around abortions and birth control and other related topics, especially in states that seek to ban it. But it does have the delicious irony of resembling a dog chasing a car. If the dog succeeds, then what? The best pro-life groups can achieve by this is to ban abortions in their own states. They're not going to successfully ban it in most states. And definitely not in all states. Such a movement would deflate without a central point to organise around, with the comfortable successes of having established conservative enclaves. That sucks. But it's not the end of the world and it very likely ends up with abortion legal everywhere some generations hence as the argument turns back toward back alley illegal abortions and the costs born by teenage moms.

7) I disagree rather strongly I should think on whether the right in particular has learned any humbling lessons about its foreign policy adventurism. Indeed, I'm not even sure one could say that the Democrats have learned those lessons (given Libya as exhibit A, but older examples like Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan, would also do). One should hardly expect Republicans to have learned much if their opposition has advanced many of its arguments surrounding executive power and foreign policy, or surrounding arbitrary foreign adventures in regime change. And a cursory glance at the GOP foreign policy debates suggests that elite opinion must not have shifted much either. Hawkishness on Iran, from suggesting physical attacks on nuclear facilities (even my FP homeboy up there Huntsman did this, much to my chagrin) to suggesting that we should have encouraged "regime change" or interacted more strongly during the "Persian spring" (again, thanks for nothing Jon), do not impress upon me the idea that Republicans have been disabused from the notion that neoconservative policies do not work very well in practice. The advocacy surrounding torture isn't very promising either (at least he got this one right). Despite that. The conclusive point to draw would be that not much would likely change on foreign policy. And on that point I would agree. I'm just doubtful that "not much would change" would mean that we're going to be fighting fewer wars.

8) This point also was excellent. Reform of entitlements is a popular talking point. But it has no real constituencies. People my age are not agitating for it, and if anything want to see them continue to their own time of retirement. People our grandparents age are the closest to actually opposing current policies as unsustainable. At best we will be nibbling on the edges here for some time. Actual reforms will not be happening. Consider, as a related problem, the amount of fuss and annoyance that surrounds medical evidence suggesting lots of pre-cancerous screening to be at best counterproductive and worrying, or at worst, actively harmful to the general public. People still insist on these screens and tests even in the face of evidence that they are mostly just expensive ways to waste money and to generate useless worrying. If the general public is this ignorant of sound medical practices, it is not about to spend a lot of time fussing that it's public provisions of health care are actually delivering sound medical practices either. It is far more important to appear to be concerned than to actually improve people's lives. Far more.

10) "No one cares about the deficit". Correct. If they did, they would have been agitated about it under Bush. Or Reagan. And be more excited about Clinton in historical terms. More exercised about entitlements (see point 8). More interested in what the federal (or state) budget actually looks like... and so on.

11) Just depressing. I indeed find it unpleasant. And I indeed recognize it won't matter. Ron Paul or Gary Johnson aren't going to be candidates for President. Dennis Kucinich isn't either. Russ Feingold won't be. And this isn't because there aren't elites agitating against civil liberties abuses. It is because the general public so rarely cares about such issues. It needs more pepper spray it seems. Government agents fondling unwilling people at airports aside, this isn't a dog most people want to bark. They want the security theater. They want puppets telling them that they are vigilant against attacks and that the latest youtube video of a cop beating/tasing/pepper spraying a suspect, or shooting a dog, or of a TSA agent groping a woman or leaving "hilarious" notes about her, shall we say, personal effects contained in luggage, are either aberrations to be dealt with rather than systemic errors (as they are more likely) or were necessary for our safety and security. All while offering no evidence to this effect because they will not be required to produce said evidence. Let's just move on. I feel like I need to throw up.

12-13) Probably a little too optimistic on marijuana decriminalisation. Probably not optimistic enough about gay marriage. Demographic trends on that are highly favorable to be almost every state in 10 years though. Marijuana is a 50% issue over the longer term. It will need to be much higher to actually shift elite opinion, but it is getting there. Most likely a state will attempt (and pass) a law legalising pot within the next 2 election cycles. And that will force a court battle with the federal courts which eventually the feds will cave in from as more states pile on. That would make it de facto legal in a few states (as it already is in a few more). The sky won't fall, and then most will follow in some form. I don't see a path where large majorities of lots of states pass decriminalisation or legalisation reforms. Not yet anyway. If California couldn't pass one, we're not getting it through in most any other place.

22 November 2011


In lieu of my confusion over the pepper spray photo meme, in which I haven't decided whether or not to like the attempt to popularize police brutality for the use of 2 million scoville unit pepper spray onto the faces of peaceful protestors or not, I've also come across this.

I appreciate a nerdy joke as much as any. It is rather plainly written by a very left-leaning fellow from team "Blue" (particularly given the relatively positive approach taken to Ron Paul, other than the shot about his professional work, and the sort of annoyances taken toward Obama). Still, I saw nothing appreciably wrong with some of these depictions. Certainly the bulk of the GOP field is little more than a set of rolling punchlines (Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, and Perry in particular).

But I'd have to say the Koch brothers would hardly be impressed with Herman Cain, nor would they form some sort of deity to which he responds. He doesn't have their politics, nor does he articulate whatever politics he does have very well at all. If I were them, I would demand a better spokesperson for my views than Cain as a result. Of course, I find the sort of liberal-Democrat froth surrounding the Koch brothers befuddling already. Also there's a funny chart showing the political split over Godfather's Pizza since Cain joined the race. Democrats are suddenly not all that fond of it anymore. I couldn't remember the last time I had any to provide my own opinion, but my opinion of pizza chains generally is already rather low. I wouldn't have required Cain's candidacy to form a low opinion.

Regardless of whether the general public wants polyamory and homosexuality to be on the same moral and legal plane, they actually are more or less on the same moral plane. I happen to think this means both should be legal and tolerated because both mostly have to do with contract law and consenting adults' private sexual behaviors. There are good reasons in practice why polyamory should have a few sensible additional legal and moral elements associated with it that aren't necessary with ordinary monogamous heterosexual or homosexual partnerships, but conceptually it's perfectly fine. Naturally when someone brings up this comparison as though it is an absolute negative, I find it disturbing (I even found it necessary to write into a moral values survey about this distinction some months back. I wasn't terribly impressed with their reply either. They had several sloppily written questions like that).

Overall, I would agree Santorum is a highly bigoted buffoon too, and he flat out lacks the charisma to stake out the Huckabee type candidacy that he appears to be trying to do. But the sort of attitude taken to him here does reduce the comedic value. As in, it's not really that clever or funny to call someone a shitpile. Perhaps it is emotionally satisfying to the person doing the calling, if one doesn't particularly care for the target of such ill humors. But successful comedy isn't just about making yourself feel better. Your audience has to relate to the humor. Humor where objects are seen askew, funny. Humor where the objects become pitiful or enraging, not so much.

The government doesn't kill people, it neutralizes them.

Or depopulates the area.

This is a useful way to look at the impact of public policies, by looking at the consequences of their implementation. If a policy designed supposedly for safety's sake is instead resulting in hundreds of deaths then chances are excellent that it is a bad policy. Perhaps there are safety related regulations or rules that could have been imposed relating to air travel post 9-11 that actually would make people safer.

a) most of them were adopted almost immediately by either airlines, travelers, or the government as things like secured cockpits, more attentive passengers, and better (but not necessarily very good) filters over screening one-way visa travel.
b) we have no official mechanisms in place for determining the actual efficacy of things like harassing passengers at the gate, random searches, nude body scanners, and so on. Studies that are available suggest that either it's an extremely overboard system that wastes of a lot of energy and time and requires too much manpower to be effective, or that even the technical aspects involved (body scanners for instance) are inadequate to the supposed goals of detecting explosives or weapons.

So for right now, it looks like we're more interested in appearing to be safe but in fact letting more people die. They are likely to let us leave our shoes on soon. Maybe we should be thankful for that much at least. I think it's more like we call it "security" so we feel like we did something meaningful, maybe even patriotic. When it's really "take off your damn shoes you pathetic plebeian scum!". People being screwed with just because they can be arbitrary and petty with the application of power.


I'd be curious to know what's so nostalgic about an era where the teen birth rate is almost triple what it currently is.

But I'm a little more interested to see what's caused the decline. I would expect that broader understanding and use of birth control, especially the pill or various shot forms, and legal access to abortions help. Though not as much as the major cultural shifts associated with the pill and feminism. That's a huge drop-off starting in the 60s. Pre-Roe in other words. So it's not abortion that's causing it (which incidentally, abortion rates have been dropping anyway).

Also interesting why we're apparently not interested in decreasing it further (ie, by seeing fewer teens getting pregnant as in the Netherlands). I should think most Americans would be a little worried when they see a statistical comparison to Bulgaria coming up. It has been decreasing though. And that's presumably a good thing.

In a related topic, I've had a minor debate over feminism and gay rights, particularly relating to the military and the use there of. I'm quite happy to acknowledge that feminism has had a slow and steady contribution to the increasing pacific nature of the world and to egalitarian notions like tolerance and cooperation for which gay rights movements have much to owe. But I'm entirely unconvinced that it acts as a guarantee of tolerance and cooperation or as a measure granting pacific qualities to a society that lacks them. I think it can help. I don't think we'd live in an ever more peaceful world if it were run by women instead of men. Or that men and testosterone generally are a subsequent guarantee of violence and conflict and strife. Perhaps these conclusions are little more than assumptions. But there are contradictory pieces of evidence (Switzerland's FP since Napoleon for instance) that shoot these theories down to much weaker contributions than stronger claims that are often advanced in jest or by people misinterpreting theories and human biology. I'm equally unconvinced that feminism is alone in helping form broad and diverse cooperative societies. I think you'd have to also blame classical liberalism for both the ability to govern large and intellectually diverse populations, to provide legal protections leaning toward tolerance rather than hatred, and to both of these trends as means lessening violence in societies and between them. A generally pacific society that accepts division and differences, and debates them openly and freely, certainly seems like a healthy ideal. And I'm happy to accept anything that will help get us there.

I'm not so happy with arguments that we should have to somehow exclude men or women from the process. Or that arguments, however silly and hypocritical, relating to sexuality more broadly, are going to be won over by better abstract arguments. I see the average person as being very poor at "far" thinking, of the sort that governs broad diverse societies in codified laws. Especially those relating to tolerance. This is not necessarily their fault, but it is something that has to be contended with when attempting to advance arguments. Abstract "far" thinking isn't going to help very much in the long run. What will, it seems, is direct engagement. People who know a gay man or lesbian woman or a transgendered person, or someone who has had a sex change, or someone from an obscure faith/atheist, will tend to become more tolerant and accepting of such distinctions. Most people have the unfortunate tendency to construct complex schema based on personal experiences, and to protect those schema by isolating themselves from challenging experiences and discussions, or in particular by rejecting the ideas involved. I'm pretty sure this explains a large portion of religious belief and participation (social isolationism of a sort). I'm also pretty sure that this will be less and less possible in future. The rapid change of the world and interconnectedness means that hiding from uncomfortable notions and experiences will be less possible. Confrontation however need not be violent and unpleasant. It is not, strangely enough, the likelihood that merely meeting and talking with a gay man is going to turn a straight person gay. For example. The same logic behind confronting communism with capitalism, however flawed either were in practice, and coming away from discourse with outright socialists not converted to their cause, to tolerate the right of opinion and expression, is not quite analogous to private homosexual preferences. But I see no

Foreign policy is wacked out.

This is important.

One of the things often glazed over in the haste of politicians hacking away at foreign aid in their speeches and debates is how much of that aid is actually little more than military funding. We give a ton of such funding to Afghanistan and Iraq, for the obvious reason that we are occupying those countries and presumably "training" and arming their armed forces. But beyond that, we also give large sums to Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, and lesser amounts to other nations. Over half of our total foreign aid budget is consumed by these sorts of programmes. I doubt very much this is the sort of thing the average voter, when they are telling anyone in sight that foreign aid should be cut (to an amount more than we currently spend no less, because they don't actually know how much we spend on it and have no idea how big the federal budget is), has in mind as "foreign aid" for one. And second it is precisely the sort of aid programmes that neoconservative hacks who say they want to cut the foreign aid budget want to keep because it advances their silly nation-building/Christian Zionist foreign policy agendas. And as noted, it is thus precisely these kinds of foreign aid that aren't being cut. Indeed, they're precisely the sort that has been greatly expanded over the last decade.

Since I'd say neither of those are laudable goals for our foreign policy and national interests (helping a first world nation fund its military, Israel, or building for unstable third world countries larger and more capable armed forces without sound civilian institutions for stability of control, meaning the armed forces have outsized levels of control over the society and economy as in Pakistan), I'd be perfectly fine if this was the sort of foreign aid that gets gutted. I find no problem if the US wants to commit itself to helping defend Israel or leases out forces and equipment to provide a stable environment for the sale and transport of oil reserves in the Middle East (along with other goods). I have a much bigger problem if we're wasting money investing in pointless schemes that don't help accomplish those goals. We do little to help "defend" Israel if by providing it with money and technical expertise and equipment they feel emboldened to mistreat and abuse large portions of their residents and kick around their neighbours. And we do little to advance regional stability by attempting to build a nation-state out of Afghanistan and attempting to bribe Pakistan's military into helping us to do that when they have very real national interests in not doing so. So stuff like this is probably precisely the sort of waste, fraud, and abuse that people claim occupies huge portions of the federal budget.

Stuff like vaccines and AIDs funding in Africa, not so much really.

Everything is everything

I realize I haven't been very sympathetic to the complaints of these Occupy protesters. I share some of the diagnosis (crony capitalism is a real problem), but I disagree much on the potential solutions they offer (regulatory capture and public choice theory suggest that simply passing more rules in order to do something is stupid and bound to produce more problems than it would solve). For example, a protest in DC seized an abandoned school in the misguided notion that selling the school property to a private developer who wants to build a luxury hotel on the grounds would be less beneficial than building a homeless shelter on the same grounds. This would be true only if the city could not benefit from additional tax revenues from tourists and hotel fees (plus the cost of buying or leasing the property from the city) and use them to park a homeless shelter somewhere else (somewhere a private developer doesn't wish to buy the valuable land for hotel use). Or from the potential jobs created when the hotel opens meaning that there could be fewer homeless people in the first place. And so on. It can be an effective use of citizens to register and complain about developments in their neighbourhoods and cities, though I'd say we have much bigger fish to fry than the state selling off unused property and land to private owners (for instance eminent domain cases where the state SEIZES private property and then provides it to new private owners, as in Kelo or Brooklyn most famously).

All that said, this business has repeatedly cropped back up over and over in my attention and indeed the general public's not necessarily because they have a catchy message applicable to the nation or society as a whole, but because the authorities keep sending in the dogs. Keep sending in force to clear away peaceful demonstrations. They have some justification for wishing to clear these occupations and protests out because of time, place, and manner restrictions on the first amendment, so that's fine. But how is important. And so they keep trying to keep out the cameras when they do it. Precisely because they know very well what is liable to be on those cameras doesn't look very good and justified (pepper spray and tear gas on people sitting down).

This force has highlighted something which is tangentially related to the occupation's general complaints. Namely, the lack of accountability for authorities, especially on the issues relating to the use of force, and especially on the use of "non-lethal" force (tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, flashbang grenades, sound cannons etc). To date, the use of these has largely come up in dispersing more riotous crowds (at the WTO riots in Seattle or Pittsburgh, there was at least some violent demonstrators to justify use of force to disperse and arrest such) and more commonly in small organised raids on private property, usually against suspected drug dealers, or against single individuals, such as for non-compliance at traffic stops. Sometimes these make news. Tasing a grandmother isn't exactly the intended likely best use of a taser. Most of the time these incidents are explained away much as the statement after the now infamous UC-Davis scenario was. Police explain that they "feared for their safety", code words for "violent force was thereby justified", whether or not it actually was. For most people, these sorts of statements are sufficient justification without any further investigation warranted. I'd say that whenever the state and its agents decide to apply force against citizens, it should be clearly warranted. And when it is not, someone should pay an actual consequence (loss of job, arrest and criminal penalties, civil lawsuits, etc). Sometimes these uses of force do have legitimate causes and sometimes the legitimate purposes are less clear and the use of force justifications more vague. Some amount of leeway is appropriate because it can be difficult to assess complex situations in seconds as police often must. But the petty examples of casual puppycides, or even shootings of people during drug raids suggest that we've allowed a great deal of both militarization and callousness to infect the way we are policing entire neighbourhoods or for specific purposes. That these events are generally happening in tech-savvy student areas like campuses is really the only difference from what has happened for years in many neglected urban areas. We should be more than willing to ask why that is tolerated. Why if we appoint agents to use force on our behalf, for public safety or order, that we don't check up on how they're doing with that force and whether the public safety or order is being improved or endangered by these agents.