26 September 2011

Questions of amusement

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
    How much does the ball cost?
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take
    100 machines to make 100 widgets?
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size.
    If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it
    take for the patch to cover half of  the lake?
If you don't get these right (I'll park the answers at the bottom somewhere). Don't fret. Most people don't get more than one and a half correct on average. Even MIT and Harvard kids don't get all of them right on average. I find this sad and pathetic, but that's only because I'm a heartless elitist who looks down on your stupidity.

What's of interest is that apparently there's a correlation between the number of incorrect answers and the professed strength of religious faith expressed. It's possible to correct for variations in IQ, religious upbringing etc between the very religious and the rest of us (including the non-religious). A result like this doesn't really surprise me. It continues the general impression I've formed from observing the highly religious. Counter-intuitive, complex interpretations (or answers) are often viewed much more skeptically than the simple and obvious "truth" (common sense?) by such people. More specifically it continues a general impression that most human beings, not merely the very religious among us, are in some sense primed to look for patterns and simple explanations in the events around us. Something ordinary happens at a particular time rather than at some other time, it gains extreme significance and meaning. Clouds have faces and bunny shapes. God makes it rain or windy or sent us a flood. A particular star alignment gives one person certain personality traits somehow distinct from others thus creating astrological charts. And so on.

These explanations will suffice until they are tested and shown to be useless. They exist because we're good at attempting to come up with "good explanations" for one. We're attempting to use reason (which has its own evolutionary purposes for a social animal like a human being). And two because in an evolutionary sense, it is more useful for survival purposes to look for hidden physical causation to some strange event (a tree moving, a shape in the distance, etc), than not. The caveman who didn't see the bear or lion out there got eaten. The one who saw a lion when there wasn't one did not. Essentially. Bad explanations will work perfectly well until they come into contact with better ones (or upon contradicting evidence).

So. Don't feel bad. The guy who gets all three of those right and looks a little funny at you for even thinking the answer to the third one was 24 or the second one was 100 or the first was 10 cents... that guy would probably be lunch 200,000 years ago and you would get to go home and steal his harem of women. Or something like this.

Speaking of which, the answers are 5 cents, 5 minutes, and 47 days.

(Also, that's one humongous lily pad patch and lake. Basically, go round up all the lakes on the planet. Reminds me of the folded paper problem. Ask someone how many times you would have to fold a piece of paper to get it to reach to moon, or conversely how big a piece of paper would be if you could fold it in half 40+times, and I guarantee you'll be amused by far off they will be. Logarithmic rates of increase are fun.)

Mixed bag

of Waste Fraud and Abuse!

I realize that getting rid of waste or fraud is pretty high on the list of things that needs to be done to government spending. And this is pretty bad. There's no reason the government could not cross reference these sorts of things to prevent such abuses as someone (else) receiving benefits for 30 years after an untimely demise. So yes. I agree. Absolutely. Fix it.

Here's the problem. Lots of people (including GOP candidates for high office, I'm looking at you Newt) seem convinced that eliminating waste fraud and abuse will magically fix our debt/deficit problems. 600 million over 5 years is no small sum. The federal debt is over 14 trillion. The federal budget deficit per year is over 1 trillion (plus states and cities each have their own deficits). 125 million vs 1 trillion is a very small number. 125 million out of 60 billion (the cost of the sorts of benefits discussed in the story) even is a small number (way less than 1%). Taken as a representative sample of fraud in government spending of all kinds and at all levels, we might get a couple hundred billion to save, being very generous (and this assumes that the "waste, fraud, abuse" is not put back in through lobbying, I'm looking at you defence contractors).

The public isn't really fully aware of this disparity. They think they are. But they are not. A large and princely sum of fraud will impress upon them the popular notion that none of their own cherished programmes need be cut or culled and no great sacrifices imposed in order to get the country's fiscal house in order. Only those evil fraudsters over there are wasting the taxpayers money. Certainly not me or my friends and family. None of my sacred cows (medicare, social security, defence, etc) need to be trimmed in the slightest and I damn to hell any politician who tries!

Bullshit. The sooner we wake up to it. The better. Government, at all levels, certainly needs to fix loopholes big enough to drive hundreds of millions of dollars through in their programmes. But that's not really going to solve the greater fiscal problem.You are going to have accept less, demand less, or pay more for what you get from government. Period. It's not a story of government spending all being full up with lies and crooks and scams.

The story is that you are scamming yourself by pretending to pay for (publicly provided) things and then pretending that they don't cost nearly as much as they really do. You are to blame. You. Not "them". You.

Line of the day

"If we really want the greatest happiness of the greatest number, we should be electing psychopathic, Machiavellian misanthropes."

I disagree with the story itself on one particular point.

The story suggests that a utilitarian might support torture under occasional or certain circumstances. I would argue that a utilitarian might support torture IF it can be found to be the most likely to produce a positive sum outcome (that is: prevent some attack or disaster), and since torture isn't likely to be the MOST likely to produce such outcomes, and has negative costs associated with it that other methods do not, then a utilitarian probably would not support torture under most circumstances. (Besides which, most people probably do support torture under such circumstances as never really exist outside of moral story problems and '24' storylines, which probably makes the utilitarian a little better off in moral terms than the average person).

But otherwise, yes. (we) Utilitarians do sort of seem like misanthropic assholes. And that's a good thing.

News and Notes

Mister Gary finally made an appearance. I was pleased. Still the only political figure I've considered voting FOR in a very long time. Ron Paul is fun, but has more of a "I'd rather vote against the other guy than for him" feel to him. Probably the pragmatic libertarian speaking.

 This popped up.

Now, I appreciate the simplicity of the argument. It runs parallel to a lot of very simple conservative base ploys and will obviously generate a lot of support within the progressive/liberal base. But I've seen this come up every time a liberal talks to a libertarian or anyone else favoring "limited governments". It's a softball for us by now.

First, a note. Supporting government interventions into public goods like law and order, private property protection, education, public health, and basic infrastructure, doesn't make somebody a socialist. And even Warren is no socialist. Sorry, Rush. Saying it doesn't make it so. I can see the difference between Marx and Obama just as clearly as I can see the difference between Friedman and Rockwell.

That said, supporting all those things does not imply that opposing higher tax rates on, say, factory owners makes someone into an anarchist. There are anarcho-capitalists (and anarchists generally), who oppose public interventions of any kind. But for the most part these are "nutters and cranks" that are ignored in polite politics. The Tea Party, for all its vigorous word salad protests, is hardly composed of the very small number of people who don't want the government to exist. It is composed of a much larger number of people who do want government to exist. They just have a particular version of government programmes they want to exist (namely the "conservative" ones, plus social security and medicare). This is not, unfortunately for me, a broader philosophical preference to an even further diminished state of government footprints. Because of this, supposing that it is in fact that preference, and further that it is in fact a preference for no government at all, is to argue a straw man. But it is important to argue what it is that government does. Because most of those idiots screaming about Medicare cuts clearly don't know what it is is that government does.

Most of those things can be argued over the proper amount of funding required, or the proper amount of interventions needed. Whether schools and roads for instance can or should have public funding involved is a settled question in economics because of free rider and positive externality problems. Whether they could also have private ownership, control, administration, etc is not. Whether schools or police should receive more funding, or implement particular new programmes is also not a settled debate. There are numerous laws for which enforcement (or certainly current enforcement strategies) can be demonstrated to be a waste of public resources (most vice laws, drug laws, etc). Likewise, there are numerous schools for which public attendance and continued administration can be demonstrated to be a similar problem. A proper debate would include whether more or less funding than we currently do for these things is appropriate. It would not start from the conclusion that some public funding is appropriate and work backwards to the assertion that we must not have enough.

Defending some public interventions does not likewise mean that all public interventions are thereby virtuous and good. That there are a lot of people out there that cheer when the department of education gets a notch on the execution block of proposed cuts is kind of noteworthy. I'm concerned that most of them want it gone so they can institute local controls rather than market controls of course, but I at least share an aversion to as much federalised control and funding as we have at present. There are public interventions that we can do without. Back when "we need more regulation" was a mantra, I often responded "we need smarter regulation". We could probably do just fine with a lot less regulation. A lot. Less.

Liberals to let them die too!

Undiscussed in the haste to declare all libertarians heartless bastards in the "let them die" debate was the whole "death panel" business of liberal health care plans. Now. I have no desire to declare something like health care efficacy on a cost-benefit analysis to be a "death panel". But it's perfectly reasonable to look at the numbers and decide that some treatments are (probably) not going to be worth it for long term care or for terminal care of the aged and very sick. If we are paying as much as we are in public dollars for health care, then it is likewise perfectly reasonable to say that we shouldn't spend that money unwisely on treatments that won't add much useful life to the patients, if any. And then perfectly humane from there to ask individuals to make this assessment privately in the company of their doctors and loved ones and write up living wills to make these decisions in a modestly informed capacity themselves rather than use the cold calculations of the state to impose only palliative care upon the masses of dying and infirm in a time of desperation. Or to allow people to pay of their own dollars (or insurance dollars) to permit such care rather than use the architecture of the state to pay. But the basic point is the same. If people don't wish to use their own resources to pay for extensive medical care, then it can be acceptable to "let them die". At least if they have substantive excess resources to use for that purpose. It would not be sensible for instance for us to expend all their private resources against their will for the purpose of extending their life.

Finally. All hail the robot overlords!

I await the price tag to fall. But we're finally getting rid of the pesky humans and the wasted time driving. Or most of us owning cars.

21 September 2011


where credit is due? DOJ investigating police departments

Seems reasonable. There are about a dozen other reasons I can think of for investigating police other than brutality or blatant racism against minorities, but that is a pretty good one on its own for a start.If for no other reason than Sheriff Joe may get a day in court instead of a day in the Senate (yes, Arizona really is that stupid).

To wit I recommend any of the following in addition to the announced premise:
Overuse/deployment of SWAT, especially for no-knock raids on non-violent offenses. In related story, increase training of police to deal with pets (dogs especially) in any way that does not include automatically shooting them. Sometimes, unfortunately, necessary, but not in most cases that it actually happens. The militarized mindset of some police has made it rather difficult to distinguish between hostiles and neutrals and even friendlies it seems.

Punishment of whistleblowers (eg, being fired or put on desk duty and ostracized) should cease. Of course, I wouldn't rely on the Obama administration to be putting this one very high on its list....

Increased power for civilian review boards, especially where violence or abuse of civil liberties are involved. Between this and the ACLU, reigning in some of the most egregious abuses should be possible at least.

Increased reliance on civilian transparency (video/audio recording of police committing possible infractions) or police transparency (self-recording of civilian infractions).

Decrease the reliance on drug war funding. Force cops to go back to real police work instead of engaging in an wasteful open war with some of the cities constituents. Investigating murders and violence and robberies and such is one thing, and a very decent thing to do even in territory of drug gangs. Contesting "their" control over such areas the way it is commonly done is liable to end up with more violence (see Jamaica, Brazil, etc).

20 September 2011

Remember this is for your safety

Probably a good idea to reach for your wallet when this phrase appears.

For example. Traffic laws often bear no resemblance to actual road safety needs. They do look a lot more like taxation for operating a car at a reasonable speed instead. My own state is routinely among the worst states for issuing traffic tickets (that is: that it writes a ton of them). Part of this is that we have a lot of people driving through to get to other states. Some of which have higher highway speed limits (Michigan, Pennsylvania). But a large portion is that the limits are deliberately too low in many places. Downtown areas especially routinely see limits of 50 or 55. The average speed is probably 65-70. Average speed is generally whatever people feel safe driving at, and in most cases, is about what the road will safely allow. There are plenty of side roads with limits around 35-40 that that's pretty much what people drive on them. Simply because it doesn't feel like it is safer to go much faster than that. But a relatively straight limited access road, even with lots of traffic, is perfectly safe. If there is too much traffic, well you just don't move at all anyway and the speed limits become moot. If there's just enough though, it's going to go whatever speed is deemed appropriate by drivers.

And so it's not surprising that when there's a lot of accidents on a road that has a speed limit well out of proportion to the average speed. The traffic law doesn't make you any safer, in fact it makes you worse off than before. Because now you're at a higher risk of accidents AND you can be fined for what in effect is driver safety (driving at volume of traffic speeds). Similar effects happen with red light cameras. They can (but not always) reduce deadly t-bone accidents. As a cost, they amplify greatly the rear-endings and fender benders that can cause some minor injuries and damage. And sometimes the local city decides to fiddle with the light timing settings to get some extra revenues. At the cost of even more accidents.

Politics as usual

So there's some scandals out there finally.

1) HPV vaccination mandates and Rick Perry. I don't think of this as a major issue. For starters, the vaccine mandate as written had an opt-out clause for conscientious objections (religious mostly, though presumably people who can't get vaccinated for medical reasons as well) . For another, it wasn't passed. That sounds to me like the proper processing, the system decided to reject some unilateral attempt to act. Finally, I while I have kind of mixed opinions on whether such a vaccine actually should be mandated in the first place, I'm not that concerned if its so strongly recommended that is "mandated" with an opt-out clause. Basically what the vaccine really prevents, or reduces the risk of anyway, is a type of cancer. If you can prevent cancer, even if it is treatable, that has all sorts of nasty side effects (such as infertility), and you can do it essentially by giving people a shot well before they would ever develop it, by all means. This is an entirely sensible approach to health care. Prevention is much cheaper than the cure.

What seems to rile people up is the idea that somehow this vaccination will encourage young people to have sex with each other. I think this is neglecting that young people (especially boys of course), have all sorts of already existing reasons to want to have sex with others, and have very poor assessments of long-term risk. Particularly when opportunities to have sex arise. In other words, we already have very scary diseases that are transmitted sexually (HIV), and some less scary but annoying ones (herpes), and our kids still go out in overwhelming numbers to have sex either a) before they are married or b) before they are 18. Whatever "encouragement" would exist from this medical procedure is therefore limited to a much smaller population of teens than people think it is; essentially teens who are good at long-term risk assessments. Good luck finding those.

More sensible objections to Rick Perry emerge for me in any of the following
a) his handling of death penalty processing in Texas. Particularly for personally quashing a review board into a case where it appears the conviction was based on faulty evidence. I'm not morally opposed to the death penalty (I am practically opposed because it costs too much). But people should not cheer killing others for one (thanks conservatives for looking like as big assholes as libertarians did for cheering letting sick people die), and they shouldn't appear to be so eager to kill people that due process is washed aside. His overall handling of civil liberties doesn't impress me here.
b) His jobs record is largely phony. He basically poaches jobs from other states. That's not going to work at the national level. Also one of the most effective reasons Texas didn't go into a tailspin is that it had a sensible (dumb) regulation concerning home mortgages (20% down rule) that for some reason had been largely abandoned elsewhere. This kept home prices more reasonable and construction from being a total boom-bust cycle. A GOP politician isn't going to run on "we should have more effective regulations" (note: not more regulations, smarter regulations) but that's kind of a nice part of the Texas jobs' story.
c) His budget record is pretty bad, or at least weak. Some of that is constrained by Texas having a pretty weak governor and very weak controls over some fiscal matters (taxes for instance)
d) if people are concerned about women's health issues (like the HPV vaccine), Perry just slashed the budget for such spending in a state that already had a pretty weak health care provision.
e) Presumably conservatives will be up in arms over his immigration record. I'm not.
f) Crony capitalism. While it's unlikely that that bill is a source of such things, much of what Perry did was effectively recruit companies to come to Texas by offering them all sorts of sweetheart deals. Some of that is sweetened more by Texas' business friendly regulatory and tax environments. But not all of it. Offering special breaks to specific companies is not a very free market idea.

2) Solyndra.
I think the most proper assessments here are as follows
a) Crony capitalism. Governments favoring specific businesses with special benefits is always a problem and always has costs. Not just when it blows up very publicly in that government's face by having the business they favor implode. (See also: the end result of the Kelo decision).
b) Generally opposing the effectiveness of the green jobs movement. I'm not sure that the "green jobs" movement is a fine place to set American hopes for job creation anyway. That said, I'm not opposed to use of cleaner energy. But I'd say we'd be better off starting by nixing all the subsidies we have to non-cleaner energy (coal, oil, ethanol) than by handing out even more money to clean energy folks. Basic R&D, sure. Picking companies or even whole industries like we often do, not a great idea.
c) Generally opposing the stimulus bill. There's a whole range of things that were in that bill that don't appear to have been all that stimulative. Or rather, what they were was palliative care to an economy that got very sick. We basically put a washcloth on our heads for a migraine headache. Or a stroke even. Passing out money to companies to do specific things might have kept some of those companies afloat. But guess what: banks are supposed to do that. So the appropriate response was from monetary policy (not banking bailouts, see Bank of America's continued floundering about). And not stimulative care. Most of the money actually went to help state governments stay afloat (see, Perry and Texas for this, as an example). Another big chunk went to tax cuts of various sorts (yes it did). Another to help the unemployed by passing them out money (which wasn't as helpful as passing out to companies wage insurance like the Germans did). And then some went for long-term infrastructure projects rather than simpler things like fixing roads and bridges or updating/fixing water and sewage lines. Long-term infrastructure projects like, say, putting a bunch of solar panels up (or attempting to build a bunch of high speed rail lines in places that it wouldn't be economically sustainable without a large set of reforms to pre-existing infrastructure subsidies in the form of eliminating HMI deductions and cutting new highway spending). While this might have been politically necessary to pass the bill to put these sorts of projects in, it's not exactly "stimulative" even in the Keynesian sense to spend a bunch of money down the road sometime to do something eventually. Spending a bunch of money now to have people do things now is the theory. The bill they passed a couple years was essentially an omnibus bill not a stimulus bill. It isn't a question of it not being big enough. It's a question of what was in it in the first place.

Update: Perry's comments on Israel-Palestine the other day give me a tremendous amount of proof that his foreign policy is liable to be more unpleasant even than the Obama administration (and that he's more than willing to pander to the Zionist voting bloc of Christian conservatives in this country rather than demonstrate what our foreign policy actually is already, which is pretty much what he says it should be). Great. No thanks. Have a seat sir.

Let them die!

And other assorted useless phrases

I noted especially the last paragraph. Which refers back to the same bugaboo I had. "Saving lives" is a meaningless term, particularly in the medical context. Or at least, whatever meaning it has has not a drop of relevance to public policy debates and medical spending vis a vis the state of health care in this country.

Other notes: the bystander problem is a serious framing problem. That is: we let all kinds of people die for various reasons. They weren't born here. They went skiing or swimming somewhere they shouldn't have. They couldn't afford persistent and effective legal representation in a death penalty case and its subsequent sentencing appeals. We tend not to let people die if they don't have health insurance. One basic reason, is that it is entirely possible for people to act in that circumstance. The money part then has to work itself out later. The reason there are problems at that stage, and not before, as I said before, is largely a story about governments.

1) Health insurers don't standardize rules in such a way that most any ordinary hospital or clinic people go to will take it. That's a relative dumb regulation that could be easy enough. What we have instead is a system where if you go to someone they don't cover, you're on your own. Sometimes that seems like a sensible precaution. But not most times because there is so rarely much substantive difference between medical providers at the quality and price levels.

2) Or where there is much disparity at the price level, then another dumb regulation would be requiring price transparency (listing prices for basic services, showing people who have the option the bill/estimate beforehand, etc). This would probably help get rid of a lot of that price indifference problem and insurers wouldn't be so concerned if people went out of network. I prefer dumb regulations if we must have them. They are harder to game.I suspect one reason we don't have regulations like this in effect (the price transparency one is actually in ARRA, and is about the only thing I liked in it) is that people don't actually want money to be associated morally with health care. Unfortunately for them, there's no way to apply it, research it, distribute it, and so on, without associating some amount of cost into the system. It has to be paid by someone somewhere. Most other developed countries get around this "unpleasant feeling" by passing some variety of universal health care delivery or universal insurance and making it seem like health care is thus "free", or at least mostly free and that there is no money involved. This just transfers the problem however. Passing the buck as it were. It should properly be OUR responsibility to decide how much health care we wish and how much we can afford. At a wider level, there is a societal responsibility to care for the sick, and to attend to their sufferings, and this certainly entails some measure of response where people are too poor to attend to their sufferings themselves. But we are abdicating a major responsibility by not learning about and making "informed" decisions on this topic and by refusing to acknowledge that there are monetary and governmental fiscal costs (most people do not associate Medicare with government health care for example, even though it is).

3) The use of health insurance itself is backwards because of government interference. There are rules preventing actual insurance in some states (New York for example). Or much more commonly, conflating pre-paid health care plans with minimal max limits of coverage with actual insurance and then distributing that through employers as a tax write-off. Or also commonly, requiring coverage of all sorts of medical cases. This could be better standardized into the purchase of insurance in a more transparent way (again, for basic medical care that most people would need, things like delivery of child, birth control, screenings for certain cancers after certain ages, etc).

4) The actual price of medical care is distorted by governments yet again by restricting access to the delivery of health care to certain licensed professionals. Dentists don't have to do all the things they do, they can have lesser agents do some of it. Same with doctors. Merely having this expensively trained person in the room shoots up the price considerably, even if they don't do very much more than their nurse or staff could have done. Having access to this expensively trained person if there's a real problem that shows up or is caused by inadequate care, that's eminently reasonable. But paying for doctors and dentists to do things that their secretary could probably do merely from being around and certainly assistants hired on staff to do precisely those things, not so much.

All this means the debate over "let them die" has serious problems. These stories however are far more important to the actual problem and imply very different solutions than simply passing some sort of universal government delivery of health care, or even some sort of universal government delivery of health "insurance" (disclaimer, I do actually favor some use of forced medical savings mandated by governments as in Singapore as well as some public provision of medical assistance, again, as in Singapore. But not for the purchase of largely useless prepaid health care disguised as "insurance" as under current laws and not for the vast majority of Americans. And I really don't favor getting these useless plans through one's employer, or using them as tax write-offs so that generally very wealthy people can effectively get health care for free). It would be useful if we talked instead about these things rather than letting a few wackos get to shout out "let them die!" and make libertarians look more and more like assholes. Because thanks dickhead.

It would also be useful if we dropped the "saving lives" context. The cost of health care is most properly discussed in a cost-benefit framework where its actual utility in terms of improving quality of life and occasionally extending life by healing injury and curing disease all matters a great deal. The question we haven't asked ourselves is how much this is actually worth. I guarantee insurers ask themselves this question, hell even the government asks this question (it ducks giving an answer by not passing a docfix amendment every year for medicare providers). The public does not ask it.

One wonders why the public thinks they're being fucked on this issue. I'd guess they're too busy worrying about "saving lives" and pretending doctors are some sort of wizards.

15 September 2011

More advice for Paul-ites

Things that need to be said instead. 

One of the problems with Paul's candidacy (and one of the advantages, when he does it right), is that it attracts a lot of oddball questions. The reason this is a difficulty isn't that these questions are terribly difficult to answer. It's that the actual solutions aren't the most obvious to the audience, or to the average "libertarian". Paul's effective mission is to popularize elements of a* libertarian philosophy, to essentially teach and maybe popularize. While some dramatic examples and thought experiments go along away (I thought the legalised heroin question from a debate some months ago was quite good), starting off with the idea that people who cannot afford, and thus do not purchase, medical insurance should be left to charity (or worse, left to rot) doesn't really have the impact of reaching and molding new minds unattached to the movement. It's an Overton window approach that won't have the effect of reaching and convincing people who disagree with stronger market based forms of health care delivery and insurance. And since there isn't really a median GOP type who actually supports more market based health care delivery and insurance, it is useless to try to stretch the gap out. The closest we tend to get in the US was a bill sponsored by a Democrat (Ron Wyden).

Paul's good about examining questions of "how" when it comes to foreign policy, particularly compared to his stage-mates in the GOP debate field. And he can be pretty good at attempting to explain "how" when media sorts start talking about the need to "protect" us against big corporations; essentially that part of the reason there are some of these big corporations is because they're allied with government already (crony capitalism). So starting off with the familiar "let them die!" trope (while not what Paul actually says is what the audience hears, either because it wants to say it itself or expects it in fear of us wacky folk) is a lot different than having a ready made "how" story to tell. Health care has massive distortions in price, and even availability because of large public sector spending. Which already accounts for roughly half of all medical spending. This is a feature that other Republicans tend to elide and ignore (see: keep your govn'mt hands off my Medicare). It's not surprising that the associated insurance would be already expensive for this reason. And it is made further pricey still because of large public sector meddling in so far as the types available, mandates inserted into them, etc. There's a great deal of standardizing or basic regulating that the government could do to help here perhaps (transparency, streamlining medical codes, etc), but the idea that the appropriate response to a government caused market failure is more government is kind of the most obvious philosophical retort for a libertarian to make to a question like that. It's not as complex a story as it could be, and maybe an example or two would help (for instance, NY state has banned HSAs, and it is thus one of the highest medical insurance cost states).

But it's better than giving the F-U mode response.

*- I would emphasize at this point that Paul's record and philosophy seems a lot more like "Constitutional conservatism" or paleo conservativism and he seems a lot more ethically motivated by things like objectivism (ie, the cult of Rand) rather than something akin to "classical liberalism". Nevertheless these things are, relative to the American political spectrum, very much closer to libertarianism than to modern conservatism or liberalism. Paul tends to annoy me with the Austrian economics tree and associated goldbug rants, and thus he does tend to say some silly things about half the time. But the other half he's at least saying interesting things. I just wish he would say them with a little more concern that most of his audience is always hostile and doesn't actually need to hear the most extreme reactions of even a quasi-libertarian mindset. The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good here. At some point we're going to need some pragmatic efforts to bring about at least some of these ideas into practice.

13 September 2011

Because why even bother to follow the rules

"The arrest was based on a field sobriety test after Westmoreland registered zeros twice on Breathalyzer exams."

The test in other words failed. Twice. And still they went ahead and arrested the guy on DUI charges. That makes.. no sense to me.

12 September 2011

Some things you shouldn't say

Or at least, a thing you shouldn't say.

At a funeral/viewing/wake.

Do not go up to a random grieving person and announce that they should be envious of the deceased.

Really for any reason.

But supposing further within your statement that said deceased person is "in heaven" is a really bad reason. Such announcements should be met with handcuffs or fisticuffs. This is a statement not calculated to make the other person feel better. It is calculated to make YOU, the person stating such things, feel better, by referring to whatever comforting metaphysical beliefs about the afterlife and its relative importance vis a vis our physical existence you have and which may or may not be shared by others. It is therefore an inherently selfish act.

Showing up, saying you will be available if anything is needed in their time of grief, and so on, these are non-selfish pronouncements that should be socially accepted by anyone receiving them. Expressing relief that a deceased person is no longer suffering from some long-standing physical (or perhaps even psychological) malady also seems eminently sensible, though is neither comforting to the recipient nor a reason to be envious.

Further, examining such a statement for its underlying belief, it is precisely the sort of belief that is strongly associated to religious extremism and thus religious terrorism. When the current, known, physical existence is believed to be at a severe discount rate in moral terms, then virtually any action that is believed to be of higher relevance to some supposed (ie invented) eternal post-physical existence is taken to be acceptable. Hence, suicide squads attack.

If you value so little "life" in its mortal terms that we should be envious of the dead, then I'm not entirely sure what possible reason you would have for living (this is the inversion of the supposed argument that without such beliefs, including beliefs in afterlives, being imparted through religious orders, actual physical life is rendered meaningless and thus someone like me has no reason to live... which I find absurd. Presumably a religious zealot will attempt to tell me soon enough why I am being absurd here. Except there are obvious examples of zealotry run amok to point to as examples of what I am referring to here that give me some firmness, and the obvious example that I, and most other atheists, find meaning perfectly viable enough without having it imparted and without need for a baseless association with a post-materialistic existence).

So it doesn't surprise me when zealots take other people with them when they shuffle off the mortal coil and become late persons. And it should be reason enough to see people who would state such things as this to be watched carefully for the likelihood is greater that bombs and bullets may follow such words than for various other assaults on the conscience.

11 September 2011

I would have some better thoughts

But I really don't. I'm have long tired of watching orgies of patriotic fervor that have little to do with advancing human compassion and social or societal concerns. Yay Flag. Yay New York. And so on. Nationalism, or its relative tribalism, is a poor substitute for humanity and decency.

I am reminded of things like hundreds of firefighters and even ordinary people running into a building that is on fire and helping others escape with their lives.

And not of a modest few maniacs who set the building ablaze through their indecent work.

The reason I'm reminded of those things is that they're a lot easier to remember. Maniacs are always out there, or at least naturally on the news. Kindness isn't as easy to find. The things that stick out as "different" about something are easier to remember. So. When a building is blown up. I remembered what was different. It was not that the building was blown up. It was not that people died. These were terrible things. But not memorable things. They're not stories you'd want to tell to people to inspire them and fill them with hope for the species. They're nightmares for the people who lived through them. What sustains those people, and what often sustains me, is other memories entirely.

Wisps of hope contained in a glowering cloud of smoke and chaos.

09 September 2011

So about that law..

What is it for again?

Remind me. Terrorists? Not so much.

While there is a plausible argument that (some) narcotics trafficking is at least related to (some) terrorist cell funding, the ratio of use suggests more bureaucratic mission creep. That is, we gave authorities various powers (and dubiously useful ones at that), and then haven't bothered publicly to assure that they are using them only for the missions that they said they would. It should not be surprising that they are using them for the sort of thing that is largely unrelated.

More here.

08 September 2011

Notes on a debate I don't care about

Since Gary isn't making any appearances, I could really care less who these people end up nominating. Nevertheless, some amusements occur.

"The audience claps at the idea that Texas has executed a lot of people. They would love China." I'm guessing the Perry kerfuffle over the execution of Willingham (a potentially innocent man) and the subsequent political crushing of an independent investigation into that execution by Perry is not going to effect him very much within the GOP. If at all.

What bothers me as a "small government" type is the notion that the power of the state to execute people is taken so glibly as to be an applause line for other people who claim to be small government types.
Speaking of small government types.

"One of the things I'll miss when this field is winnowed down is Rick Santorum's spittle-flecked hostility toward Ron Paul." - The sort of general hostility toward Paul by Republicans is fascinating to watch. Paul's close but not quite libertarian in his politics and philosophy is enough to get him all sorts of hatred from liberals and progressives (which I find strange on some points especially), and yet his paleoconservative foreign policy which gets him a lot of media attention (and semi-favorable liberal coverage) is precisely the thing that gets GOP types riled up to hate libertarian types. Reading over some points so far, I'd have to say that Huntsman and Johnson come out with more plausible and acceptable foreign policy views than Paul does for me personally, but Paul's views are still less toxic and dangerous than the views of the rest of the Republican field. This of course means that I've noted the two candidates doing the worst in that field and one candidate who isn't going to get more than 10-15% of the GOP electorate as acceptable to me (at least on this very important point, to say nothing of civil liberties defences that Paul-Johnson types do very well on and other GOP types are terrible, possibly even worse than Obama on).

Alas, something tells me that I'm not voting Republican for a while.

"The questions to Ron Paul embody the kind of thing non-libertarians think are devastating objections, but libertarian ideologues like Mr Paul hear and answer them so often they are in effect softballs." - Pretty much how we look at these silly questions yes.

01 September 2011

Family values and progressives, news at 11.

I've seen several of these sorts of posts lately

They lean heavily toward the notion that ideological, and especially political, opponents will tend to not recognize why or what causes their opposition to exist in the first place. Since I don't tend to play in political team-building exercises, this helps. And an issue like abortion rights is, admittedly, very hard to debate rationally. Some points are necessary.

1) Pro-lifers are fully aware that lots of people get abortions. This is kind of one of the reasons they're not very happy about abortions being legal and quasi-readily available (and pass laws attempting to restrict access). Pro-choice attempts to say that "everyone gets these", while modestly true in that there's a large minority of women who have had or will have had such a procedure in their lifetimes, aren't exactly helping this fear.

2) What they're not aware of is WHEN most of those abortions are conducted, a fact which most pro-choice advocates are much more aware. 99% are before the 3rd trimester and 98% are before the SECOND. And most of the last 1-2% there is for health reasons (either for the mother or the fetal development). In other words those disgusting pictures about how terrible an abortion is on a fetus, are mostly ignoring that what is being aborted is a collection of cells and is ignoring that the specific circumstances surrounding the most undesirable forms of abortion are precisely the sorts of excuses and exceptions that all but the most ardent anti-abortion advocates say are acceptable (health of the mother for example). More active consideration for WHY people have abortions as opposed to the HOW is kind of important if you want to oppose them effectively. Same arguments I have with anti-terrorism policies, ask why first. Understanding is not and does not have to be the same as condoning or agreeing with the ultimate actions being taken.

3) Metaphysics still enters into it. I've seen some blog posts and forum comments over the years attempting to declare that yes, a fetus is and will almost certainly become a human being so metaphysics doesn't matter. What I'm aware of is evidence that a) human fetal development is actually pretty hard and thus a large portion of pregnancies terminate for entirely natural reasons. Miscarriages and who they happen to and how common they can be are something that probably requires more popularization than abortions do. As this means that scientifically we're likely far more uncertain about the viability of a forming human being in a fetal state, particularly at earlier stages of development (like the first trimester, when abortions are far more common), than claims like these pretend to be. b) That a large portion of opposition to abortions comes from an idea about the dignity and importance of human life. Disagreement on this point has less to do about something like a "culture of death", as pro-life crowds tend to claim, and more to do with a more boring argument about the relative value of already existing human lives versus still forming human lives. That is still essentially a metaphysical question. It's not as exciting as "is this alive", to ask something like "does that matter?", or "does that matter as much as X", but it's still certainly an important philosophical question. If more uncomfortable.

4) A core selling point of the pro-life movement and its main line of effectiveness has been the argument that indeed it does matter. At least enough to say that we should probably want a lot fewer abortions to occur. There's however an unfortunate confluence within the anti-abortion movement with anti-birth control movements to make some of the easiest means to prevent abortions more difficult. We know a healthy percentage of abortions occur within situations where greater access to birth control would have likely prevented unwanted or difficult pregnancies and thus the abortions themselves (teens, poor single women, some who are already mothers, etc). If this concurrent train of thought were abandoned or receded into the background instead existing at the same volume of intensity as anti-abortion, we'd probably see more success on the goal of "have fewer abortions" and thus protection of human life by these arguments.

5) We do not see such decoupling because that is properly not the actual goal. Anti-abortion exists as a rhetorical cover for other sets of values underlying this general movement. Usually having to do with the relative value and role of women in society, and often implying a lack of basic human sexuality, as shown by opposition within these same groups to various forms of sex work (some of which has valid concerns, such as forms of sex slavery sometimes involved in prostitution) and disturbances at the sexualised nature of female pop stars or popular culture more generally. Certainly you can object to any of these things independently and find the "Hollywood" world abhorrent or offensive. I'm personally confused as to how birth control has much of anything to do with this however. Presumably the argument goes that its use encourages sex, but there is no evidence ever shown to demonstrate this and in fact the most comprehensive analysis available shows that societies which use birth control more frequently have roughly the same amount of sex, same level of promiscuity, and by roughly the same times and ages on average as a society like ours which doesn't embrace birth control. I'd have to say that the average beer commercial probably will do more to encourage sex than condoms and pills ever will. But maybe that's just me.

It would probably also do more to encourage more abortions than condoms and pills ever would too.

In other words, opposition to abortion occurs on several different levels, and many of these are entirely legitimate concerns about human life and its importance to... surprise!... other humans. But its most ardent and politically active forms seem to come more from a sort of revulsion to popular culture and sex. Same reason that varieties of religious fanaticism occur among largely the same group of people. Factual assessments of the population of people who actually get abortions aren't likely to be very helpful anymore than any other means of telling them who and what for until they themselves take interest in the question of "why". I'm not sure we should expect people who take to literal religious interpretations of everything to be very interested in asking deep questions of "why" for others. They're likely to tell us instead that it's a "satanic" punishment and that this (legal abortion) is why we get a hurricane or an earthquake.

Which is amusing. But in a sad, stupid kind of way.