27 June 2011


In the past week, I've been to Seoul, Baltimore, NYC, and places unknown. I've been a South Asian law student, Malcolm Gladwell, inner-city reporter, and an assassin. I've experienced congestion road pricing schemes, fence building, social network exclusivity, police corruption, race relations between South and East Asia in America, George Carlin as a bad driver, rejecting homosexual advances, and the running of a convenience store.

All of this is largely possible by dreaming. Or rather by sleeping. A friend experienced monsters eating people tossed into a hole in the floor and other strangeness. Evolutionary speaking, dreams seem more or less to be the result of humans having brains, brains which remain reasonably active while one is asleep and continue to conjure up ideas, facts, and images. They're generally meaningless sets of incoherent imagery assembled into loose stories. But I'd submit that there are a couple of meaningful similarities between a dream world and our real world. Principally, the first is that dreams are inhabited by fears or wonders (people/friends dying, sexual encounters, places you've never been, etc). None of these seem always particularly "deserved" in the sense that there's always a working just system at play. The same applies in life.

"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying." - A dream, the world asleep will begin to resemble more and more the world of the "living", awake, when one recognizes this "flaw", so to speak, of a belief in an ordered universe where justice is readily at hand. Our dreams possess no such system. Neither does reality. One should never worry that they are being punished for something they imagine they did wrong, and only the pangs of conscience that afflict them for things they did a wrong over, where a suffering is involved by their action (or inaction), should they begin to worry themselves. Imagined slights taken up by others, and in particular an imagined sense of balanced justice (say, an offence against "god") are not sufficient reasons for one to lose sleep and become fitful or insecure.

"It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream. It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this." - When the world resembles a dream for this reason, we can see more clearly what use we have for dreams. In expressing our fears and hopes, our aspirations and our paralysis, we're left free to make choices about which to follow in action. Asleep we are motionless, but travel widely and see great and fine works of others, perhaps even ourselves, and against this we see horrible things and will learn to accept them calmly or impassively as a manifest risk of our existence. We can get on a plane still having had a nightmare or a flicker of watching the plane explode, our bodies tumbling skyward and fatefully ground-ward to our unpleasant tinny of screams and eventual demise by acknowledging the likelihood of such things is more certain in a dream than in reality. Or we can witness pleasures possible only in fantastic realms and aspire to attain them.

In a dream we in effect control what is possible and select imagery, plots, or endings as we see fit in order to make a dream seem or appear coherent and meaningful. Our reality is little different. Some of our choices will be limited, imposed by conditions from others, but this is often because we choose to limit them ourselves. We have imagined far greater importance of ourselves and our actions upon others in still more of these cases of limitations. In the end however, what we're doing is settling upon things and activities that seem to appear coherent and meaningful.

War is hell

"The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion."

Except of course when you're fighting it in the "comfort" of an air conditioned tent in the middle of nowhere. I can see a use for temperature control so computers will work reliably, but you could just as easily put them in bunkers, buildings or mobile vehicles (with their own AC) instead of goddamned tents right? Whatever. If we can rack up this much of a utilities bill fighting a war, imagine what we've racked up for actually fighting. Or for medical bills.

Update: I actually think it is entirely reasonable that the US military uses air conditioning in tents, despite the profligate waste of energy this demonstrates against overall energy use globally, it certainly has practical uses when a military is deployed into a hostile territory that involves desert climates. The truly unreasonable part is what they are doing fighting there and in such numbers that billions would need to be expended on air conditioning (some) quarters and equipment. All of this in a country that lacks for air conditioning itself. Ie, isn't developed enough to possess even the hint of local demand for it because more basic social needs like clean water, basic medical care, schools/education, and roads don't properly exist. Air conditioning and other first world comfort concerns are one of the last problems you encounter as a country modernizes and develops a sort of democratic free market system. Heating systems and refrigeration come well in advance of this even. So the fact that we're spending more on A/C than we do on NASA in a failed state with no market system and no suitable infrastructure for electricity does raise some basic questions about missions and priorities.

25 June 2011

Turing tests

I was really fascinated by the reaction kicked up by a cultural writer attempting to write an article about a relatively famous libertarian philosopher (Nozick, and to another extent Hayek).

To put it mildly, the reaction among even some liberal or conservative writers/economists has been "what?". Or something along the lines of "this guy doesn't know what he's talking about". It came down eventually to something like a Turing Test for ideology. If you can explain the opposing views from their perspective to the point of being able to appear like one of them, that makes your rejection of such views more plausible and complete. Because you clearly would be able to understand such views but still find them ridiculous. The association with Mill's defence of free speech on these grounds is not by accident. Mill effectively says that if there is no substantial opposition to a view then we should find opposition and arm it with the strongest arguments available before we can safely conclude there shouldn't need to be opposition to such a view, and that for this among other reasons, we need absolute protections of free speech in a free society. There are lots of public positions which have shifted over time (drug legalisation or homosexuals and marriage laws for instance) in part because these views were permitted to be expressed, questions asked, and the strongest available arguments were aired against the strongest arguments available in defence of the status quo. And it is the status quo that is being found wanting and is abandoned.

The real effective problem is that most people take very little time to try to understand the strongest arguments of their political or ideological oppositions. People in relatively obscure political movements (like libertarians) have plenty of time to try to understand the mainstream positions on anything and everything. It's all around you in those circumstances. So understanding the straw men, the weakest arguments, the populist movements, and even up into the academic defences with their boring technical treatises and complex mathematical equations comes pretty naturally when you're surrounded on all sides by people who breathe in and out and the same things get spouted out of their mouths. Outside of academic circles, libertarianism as a philosophy isn't extremely popular (it isn't very popular there either, but its general view toward public policy positions are more so there than among the general public). Although some "normal" people claim to be such but when questioned about it, they either don't know what it is (usually some vague associations with it being "not-communist/socialist" will come up) or adhere strongly to some very curious political positions that appear wholly incompatible with almost any version of libertarian political philosophy from pragmatic utilitarianism to the anarcho-capitalistic sentiments of Ayn Rand. Ie, they're actually conservatives who heard a fun word for something like "get government off my back" and ignored the part about "and everyone else's too".

Similar problems emerge in other areas of thought. It's pretty clear that atheists are not well understood. Whereas Christianity is rather well understood by minor factions both related or unrelated within American society. Mormons, Jews and atheists all score very highly on general knowledge of religion or religious dogma of any kind, including Christianity, and much higher on non-Christian views than Christians do on say, those "filthy" Muslims or Hindus, much less Jews, Mormons or atheists, all much less common than Islam or Hindu worship globally speaking. I view this as certainly related to the general level of education possessed by the average atheist/secularist (true as well for Mormons and Jews). But it's also obvious that being part of an obscure minority tends to give a very different amount of perspective relating to the more popular positions held by most people, and a lot of time and attention to pay to such things, examine them, twist them around, and still end up rejecting them.

That is to say: that most people believe a lot of bullshit (not just their religious beliefs, not by a mile) and don't bother to defend it or consider it very carefully at all. The reason these arguments on things like free trade or anti-technological biases or concerns about inflation keep coming back up again and again is that most people have a set of beliefs... and those beliefs don't match the reasonable conclusions drawn from evidence nor the reasonable intuitions that would be predictable from even mainstream economic theories (much less some more radical libertarian ones). You end up having to explain opportunity costs and fixed costs as a hedge against inflation to people buying houses because there's this psychology surrounding debt, even financial debt incurred in a housing expense that can be offset by inflation and unreasonably large tax deductions, that demands that we feel we get rid of it. You end up having to explain that the pot of goods for most of us includes more than just the everyday prices on gasoline and milk that we can see readily moving up and down and also includes purchases that we may make every couple of years, or if we're very fortunate couple of decades, on appliances, automobiles, televisions, and computer parts (and even houses) and that this matters for inflation too. And so on down the line into minimum wage laws, rent controls, trade restrictions, rent seeking public policies, regulatory capture and so on.

It's a mad world out there and most people have never studied it. So to expect them to understand the parts they don't know anything about would be a little silly. But to expect them to write articles about it as though their thoughts warrant consideration, we should expect them to have done a little research. Enough that they know not just the flimsy material that the average person flings around regarding an obscure subject (like libertarians and atheists) but they can be armed with the strongest arguments and explain or examine them. Maybe they will still reject them in favor of their own.

But they should at least attempt to understand by speaking in the voice of their enemies and opponents on these ideological fault lines. And not by casting such views in the most unflattering lights (real or imagined) in order to dismiss them.

Random tidbits from the week

"energy independence, the idea that Americans should not buy from abroad what they can produce more expensively at home." - A lovely problem with comparative advantages. We used to produce oil pretty cheaply and even though we consumed quite a lot relative to the rest of the world, we were net exporters of energy. The reason was that we had considerable infrastructure available to find and drill wells, and a lot of space, where other countries lacked these. Now. Most of the oil exporters get to benefit from our infrastructure or expertise and have wells which are easier to find or run than American oil reserves are. This isn't that complicated a problem. Even opening up offshore drilling and/or various spots in Alaska and letting Shell or Texaco make up their own regulatory rules isn't really a "solution" to energy independence. It's the idea that somehow the oil that is within our borders is imbued with some magical qualities that make it cheaper.

It is not. This is to say nothing of other energy sources like nuclear (fraught with regulatory problems, not to mention populist opposition), the expense of developing high quality solar or wind power (or especially better battery technology), or especially the silliness of burning corn in order to make fuel. At least natural gas makes some sense economically, and is more environmentally sound than coal, and we have quite a lot of it. Though I cannot imagine how giving it the same sorts of subsidies that we already give to ethanol, not to mention coal or oil makes much sense.

Speaking of crappy economic policies. ... "So not only have we been subsidizing cotton farmers but we have been paying Brazil to allow us to keep subsidizing cotton farmers". Part of the Senate's attempt to cut subsidies got rid of the payments to Brazil as part of a WTO settlement for the US's improper trade subsidies for American cotton farmers. But they kept the improper trade subsidies themselves in the budget.

So we saved a couple hundred million dollars. That we will have to pay anyway because it was a fine. In order to keep spending billions of dollars that make no economic sense. Great job Congress. Keep up the good work.

And then there was another The gay marriage train marches on. I'm still of the opinion that the state really shouldn't have to promote contractual arrangements like marriages. Maybe we should have a default contractual set of spousal rights that come with a marriage and if you want something specific you go to a lawyer, but otherwise what's the state's interest in your private affairs? Some notes though: federal policy still creates problems with things like immigrating a spouse when that spouse is married through a homosexual arrangement. There isn't a citizenship path conferred for such things relative to heterosexual partnerships which does strike me as a serious problem. This was also noted in the now famous Vargas article in the NYT, as an illegal immigrant (brought here as a child from the Philippines) his problems would have been a lot easier to resolve if he were a straight male. No immigration benefits and protections, much less citizenship priorities, are provided for homosexual "partners". That much at least ought to be reasonably easy to fix assuming DoMA goes down in the courts as it should.

News at 11, the death penalty is really expensive. And I mean really expensive. Like a hundred million a pop. This is still to me the most salient objection to the problem of death penalty punishments. Most cops acknowledge it has little or no deterrent value as far as reducing crime. It has some value as leverage against an accused criminal, and especially convicted criminals, but this has little use in preventing new crime. There's some level of conferred justice demanded where some heinous crime is committed where the victims may wish for the most severe penalties imaginable. But prison for life (without parole) is no picnic either. And it's just not that expensive relative to the amount of due process required to just take life without parole and keep a prisoner in chains and behind bars for 40 or 50 years than to go through the trouble of proving that not only did they commit some terrible crime, a brutal murder or some such, a situation which is actually relatively difficult to the point of removing any doubt whatsoever (reasonable doubt standards apply but in a death penalty case, more reasons can be manufactured), but that they also deserve our social scorn to the point that we should execute them. All of that work is not cheap.

And our robot overlords prepare to strike.... Or at least Nevada has started to pave the way. I for one welcome this process. There's a ton of wasted productivity involved in actually driving a car. One can sleep, listen to music, converse (including on phones or computers), drink/eat, do paperwork, catch up on news and so on without having to pay attention to the road if a computer can do the driving. There's also less need to detail police to patrol for things like speeding, drunk driving, traffic accidents, etc. And there's the added bonus of reducing the impact of congestion (something which can be further decreased by using congestion pricing around cities and high traffic areas instead of making highways free as much as we do). It will be a while yet before the idea is made clear that such vehicles are safe enough to operate, but from what I understand the biggest problem is likely to be GPS navigation issues. Computers don't tend to understand construction and roadblocks, or weather issues like expected quality of road conditions from snow or ice storms, essentially anything that requires re-routing very well. They can run into waypoint locks and can refuse to improvise the way a human operator might, where they are familiar with the area for example. But this technology is also improving. So there's hope. It also occurs to me that if we're ever going to have flying cars, we'll need to have robot cars first. I don't think most humans are naturally skilled 3-dimensional thinkers the way a flying car might require. You would have to keep track not only of cars next to, in front of, and behind, but also above and below and at angles. We use complicated FAA schemes right now to keep skies around airports relative sane already. Imagine rush hour traffic resembling Coruscant in Star Wars. Perhaps, as with the improvement in hand-eye coordination from years of children growing up playing video games (more of them than were possible from sports anyway), we would see some comparable improvement in 3D thought emerge as a social conditioning effect from dealing with objects moving in space like traffic.

But I'm not holding my breath for that to be a very sudden development in our evolution either. It takes a lot of practice for reaction times and coordination to improve and it is being undertaken by children and teenagers playing sports or video games. I don't see us giving children keys to cars in order to play in... err practice 3D navigation in traffic.

21 June 2011

Nice one centurion, liked it, liked it.

"The Attorney-General's kind remarks are noted and appreciated. I've spoken to Ed Burns and we are prepared to go to work on season six of The Wire if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanising drug prohibition."

Holder really should not have opened the door on this one by demanding another season (or a movie) and hinting at his power when he also has equal power to end the entire basis for the show he called for. Indeed, that power is a far more important and sensible use of his office than to attempt to bully or shame someone into creating a TV show for his personal amusement.

17 June 2011


Random jots and pieces

1) On the list of not-surprising developments in popular culture: Green Lantern appears to be widely panned as terrible to mediocre. Check. JJ Abrams makes a movie that I probably won't/wouldn't like but appears to be getting modest to good reviews (Super 8).

Also check. That Cloverfield movie was just a disaster. No substance whatsoever and I was getting a headache and/or dizzy from all the camera work. If you're going to have a movie like that, at least make me CARE about the damn characters rather than root for their demise as swiftly as possible so the movie would be over. Having the entire premise of the film make sense would also be a nice idea. People (other people that is) seemed to like Lost and I'll admit Alias had its moments, particularly earlier in the series, but really? This is supposed to be brilliant work, not to mention "good" writing?

I'm a lot more impressed with Game of Thrones as a model for medieval lord scheming, the mutual disinterest between the powerful and the powerless, and public choice theory expressions (ie that most powerful people do not care much about ideological conflicts, nor do they need to).

2) I don't think MLB's realignment idea or expanding its playoffs by one or two teams are terrible ideas. If they expand the playoffs by more than that, they should shorten the regular season however, maybe back to the old 154. Moving Milwaukee makes the most historical sense as they used to be an American League team, but it sounds like they're trying to create new rivalries of some sort (Houston-Texas or or Tampa-Miami). As far as moving so there are 15 teams in each rather than the 16-14 current, this is fine. I don't see a problem with more inter-league play. Every other sport does this and in baseball it still is novel enough that it attracts fans.

3) I was pleased on some level that Miami did not win the NBA title. This is largely because I said they wouldn't and making accurate predictions tends to please people when they prognosticate (at least, the people who actually care about their predictions, which is not most prognosticators). It was not because I harbored the apparent hostile seething rage of other Ohioans toward LeBron James.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif Onion's headline detailing the Cleveland celebratory behavior as usual gets at the problem.

4) Koalas commonly suffer from STDs. Along with penguins. Which is a little more surprising.

5) Agricultural subsidies continue. Thanks US Senate for continuing to waste money that we've known has been a waste for 80 years and for doing so in a bipartisan fashion. Lovely work that.

16 June 2011

Conflicts in ethics

This is a fascinating point. Mostly because it has large implications on public policy decisions both for liberal and conservative policy decisions, not just for abortions. What we're actually seeing here is that legal shifts did not cause ethical or moral shifts. Law does not make people into moral beings, and that there are (or must be) other underlying factors that determine their moral views and behavior related to such. For liberals one of the salient debating points has been things like the passage of CRA in 1964. For me, having visited the South and with relatives that live there, there are parts of it that, lacking legal standing for segregation, do seem a lot more integrated, and much else that defies the legal backing by continuing blissfully along in attempting to create stratified segregation. Blacks and whites largely still go to different schools, live in different neighbourhoods, mostly don't intermarry, and so on. Some of this is to be expected. There are cultural differences and natural experiential differences from years of life that make it difficult for two people to get married who come from very different places and live in very different ways, as an example. But otherwise there must be some underlying social and customary means that persisted even in the absence of legal standing. Liberals have argued that somehow the law shifted these views. What the law did was prevent the law from being used to impose these views on all people. It did not destroy the underlying racism and embittered prejudices used to establish such views. A great moral shift was not created by the Civil Rights Act, and in fact I would argue that the great expression of any moral shift at all that occurred was the passage of the law in the first place. That is that many blacks, and some Southern whites, had had enough of the repression, oppression, and even violence, necessary to sustain a enforced segregationist society and rose up and declared that there should be no more through whatever means that they could employ to their political and legal advantage. You can sit at a lunch counter or drink from a water fountain now without being beaten up and arrested, and certainly few should argue that these things were necessary elements of a society to use its power to enforce and impose upon all people and all establishments. But your kids probably won't go to the same schools, by extension won't have the same opportunities, and so your generational poverty will generally continue forward. The moral force required to abolish these views demanding separate schools was not deployed everywhere equally and powerfully enough to work even with the backing of legal shifts and changes. We may be getting somewhere with school reforms and the expansion of charters or tax credits, but this is at the moment the cheapest means to continue a separate society and the one most likely to be observed as a result. Trying to continue to enforce total bans on interracial marriage at least has legal consequences (as in the Louisiana JoP who was forced to resign).

To other views, we see that abortion might be still seen as immoral, but most people still think it should be legal and/or available. One might also see similar views on narcotic drugs, where the attitudes between morality and legality are split somewhat. These have remained roughly true divisions even as laws have shifted to make abortions both more or less available (and legal) and as laws have shifted to make marijuana more or less available (and de facto legal in some parts of the country). The underlying views of the acceptability of a thing do not shift very much because a law was passed or revoked. We are told this is a pressing reason to preserve anti-drug laws or to impose anti-abortion laws, or that it was/is a pressing reason to pass anti-discrimination laws. But so far as I can see from this sort of data, the views of the acceptability of gay marriage, as an example, are actually well in advance of the actual legal status of gay marriage. As indeed is the moral tolerance of marijuana relative to its legal status with criminal penalties in particular. This should hardly be surprising, and indeed is not at all surprising to someone familiar with the works of Hayek or Adam Smith.

Apparently this is not very many Americans because this sort of reported gap perplexes and amazes most people.

12 June 2011

Human happiness

As a policy goal. Since I'm generally in favor of hedonist calculus or utilitarian ethics, this is certainly an appealing way to evaluate public policy

Unfortunately I see a couple problems with it instead of just the current proxy of unemployment + GDP growth
First I'm not convinced that "happiness" is an easily quantifiable or aggregated form. Basically this is the same objection most people have to raw utilitarianism, that you cannot easily quantify what is better in a refined enough way to make good choices into better ones. The best we can usually see here is that "bad" choices are not as good as good ones. Aggregating hundreds or even millions of those receptions, across many different experiences, is unlikely to give us a very meaningful statistic. Obviously where lots of people are unhappy, that would be useful. But where they're all just sort of meh (like the introvert-extrovert problem they discussed). Or what if by some miracle everyone is determined to be happy (on average). How do we improve on that?

Secondly, lots of happiness research indicates that human beings are not very good at expressing what it is that makes them happy. Sometimes this is related to status signaling problems (saying you like something because other people who you admire or respect say so also). But mostly this is because we do one thing and say others in life often enough in relation to what we feel that we probably just don't have a very good grasp of what is what and which is which. More pressing for political policy choices, not only are people woefully informed about politics and government action (or inaction), but they are also typically "happier" with policy choices that make them or others worse off. Most Americans, for instance, favor trade protectionism and many favor drug prohibition and criminal penalties. Neither of these are particularly beneficial to anyone, certainly not in the way that advocates of either claim. Yet when these policies are adopted, some people will claim to be happier than not. Assessing whether a political choice is a good option based on how people feel about it as opposed to whether that policy actually produces the outcomes they claim to want is a recipe for lots of useless pandering and symbolism in politics rather than effective governance.

One thing I do think is beneficial is that a focus on happiness creates by extension, a focus on human suffering to be alleviated. We're probably better off starting from a perspective where the public works to avoid harming lots of people, or to correct actions or inactions where harms are greater than not. It is also likely to put a much higher premium on personal liberty and freedom to allow individuals their choices as opposed to using public decisions to impose happier lives.

Thoughts to amuse and confuse

and by the way, religious/conservative parents: the story of Jim as countless other stories shows that you should educate your children about the world instead of trying to shield them from it. And that if you teach Creationism to a child with an IQ over 90, you’re just begging to turn him into an atheist.

That line amused me of course.

The more interesting commentary is where the argument advanced by an atheist is basically a modern deistic worldview, where "god" is not some supernatural force, much less one interacting actively and powerfully, but rather one which is expressed through the connections between people. Since I already look at religions as an evolutionary development caused by some quirks in the human brain and the necessity of social creatures to form cooperative units (which religions do very well at), this argument whereby "god" is that cooperative element, and not some independent unit. It's more interesting to see this argument being advanced, and accepted, by a Christian.

06 June 2011

Notes on the weekend

1) Wade is a beast. Bosh is not. LeBron's even odds on finals MVP looks pretty bleak right now, and I'd have taken Wade myself for the better odds simply because the matchups are more in Wade's favor than LeBron's. Dirk needs someone other than Marion and Kidd to show up (and Tyson, who can't score anyway). They should probably give up on Stevenson. He cannot seem to stop Wade anyway. They need more minutes for Terry and Barea. Still, not a good sign when Miami's bench, one of the worst in the league, outplays yours either.

2) New X-Men movie was actually very good. At least as good as the second one. Much superior to the goofy third one and insanely silly fourth. I wouldn't put it in the same class as the two new Batman films on the pantheon of comic superhero movies, but it's at least in the next lower class as a solid film along with probably the second X-Men movie and Iron Man, maybe the original Superman. Plus Watchmen and Vendetta depending on how one includes "graphic novels" along this genre line.

3) I don't care very much about Weinergate. I got the twitchy impression he was covering something up, no pun intended, and it turns out he was by his admission. But I also don't get the impression that he stakes his political life based upon living an upstanding "moral" life and commanding and exhorting others to do the same. The reason there's a different standard when a prominent GOP politician gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar (Gingrich, Sanford, etc) is that they've excoriated others for doing exactly what they are doing and broadly run on the issues of "family values", whatever that means, with the implied message of things like "honor family and spouse by not cheating on them or leaving them, etc". This doesn't mean that liberal politicians who cheat are not potentially very slimy characters (there are moral arguments and justifications that they may not be in all cases). It just means that they're being less hypocritical about it by not making it a political issue and demanding moral righteousness of others while not upholding it themselves on that very issue that they demand it of. We have, unfortunately, little evidence that this lack of moral upstanding character in one's personal life and relationships makes for bad political decision making (or that moral upstanding character itself leads to good political figures). So it seems rather futile to protest for this over and above protesting for people who seem to hold other potentially useful political virtues (ability to compromise, sensible rhetorical skills, openness to reason and contrarian opinion, temperate disposition, etc), or even who hold ideological convictions of note to ourselves as individual voters. Indeed, it seems even more fruitless to devote significant airspace in our media to matters such as these (as with the birth certificate "debate" a couple of months ago that Trump stirred back up) as opposed to real policy matters.

Still, seems a little on the stupid side to send lurid pictures of yourself, a public figure, to others via the internet. Seems dumber still to try to clumsily stonewall on it and deny it.

03 June 2011

Back to the locals

well, locals somewhere

I don't get this one. But it doesn't surprise me.

I don't see where a license should be required to operate a tree removal service. Sounds suspicious to me. Insurance should be enough. It can be dangerous to life and property (mostly to the workers themselves I'd imagine) so this seems like an economic necessity, and I'd imagine if you don't have much training or trained workers it would be harder to get insurance so you wouldn't have any ability to run your business. But leaving that aside, some sort of licensing SOMEWHERE should have been enough.

And never mind that it was volunteer work. That does not matter for the story. I could care less whether he was charging people or not. It still seems like a matter of the state (in this case, the city-state) being somewhere it doesn't need to be.

The dope problem

"For reasons that aren't entirely clear, they feel no complicity in the horrific consequences of prohibition."

As George Carlin used to say, "Definitely, I feel we have too many dopes, yes". And a lot of them are looking askance at this issue in order to feel high and mighty, but ignoring the painful consequences of those decisions. Decisions which adversely effect millions of lives in order to benefit a handful of middle class American parents (who don't want to have to go to the trouble of educating their children about narcotics or even responsible use versus abusive use as we should also do with alcohol) are not morally responsible nor effective public policies.

A proper discourse about the value of those emotional responses is here. The fact is that they're not very useful for legal purposes and only marginally useful to tell us what an appropriate moral standing should be. Disgust and dislike are everywhere in our personal views already and only a very few of those matters (mis)guide us to declare that an object is morally abhorrent. What it does instead is give us clearer personal choices. Things like: Avoid this, I don't like it, do this, I enjoy it. That's fine for guiding our own personal happiness and achievements. It's practically useless for making public policy choices. And yet we as Americans do it all the time. We ban smoking in restaurants because it disgusts us. We seek to ban rap albums because the lyrics offend us (nevermind their similarity with many classic rock or country songs), or pornography because "think of the children!". We restrict the rights of homosexuals and immigrants because they're "dirty, nasty, noisy people who have different habits and a vile culture", never mind that we have all manner of history with immigrants to show us otherwise and never mind that homosexuals are generally running the same gamut as heterosexuals as far as their personal lives. Some are flamboyant, others private. I've not seen much difference with heterosexuals and their often flippant attitudes toward sex, or with the puritanical streak that some have as well.

While this is all a "way" to run a country, it's not a very good way because it has high costs. And the drug war is only the most visible, one of the most expensive, and most obviously harmful way we've chosen to symbolically express our disgust at something.

It would be helpful if people began to look at the cost of what they demand. And then they can ask themselves if they still think it's worth it to spend all that treasure to spill blood (mostly of foreigners, 40k and counting in Mexico), use military style police raids to lock away socially harmless people, fund criminal and terrorist organisations, destablise foreign governments, and so on. It is to prohibition itself that we should look to find the moral repugnance that we apparently use to guide our public policy stances. Not the ugly world that it seeks to restrict and prevent, and where instead it extends the gutters of the world and fills them with blood.

02 June 2011

Signs of the times

Death to cheesecake!

Or at least: keep away our competition. We are businesses and don't like the free market dammit.

That there is not a more concerted effort by libertarians to point to BOTH major political parties and to see that BOTH (not just Republicans and not just Democrats) are in the pocket of major businesses and exist largely to generate rent seeking opportunities for their own collection of interests (including unions) and that there is not therefore a "free market" party or a party associated with the free market among them is disappointing.