Wednesday, March 31

The broken window fallacy

Quote of the day

"The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this."

John Stewart Mill, On Liberty

Drill, baby, drill!

The Obama administration is onboard.

FiveThirtyEight looks at the politics.

Where's my tinfoil hat?!

Magnets can alter a person's sense of morality

(via)

Taxes per person

Greg Mankiw compares the U.S. to other countries.

Yglesias is not impressed.

Tuesday, March 30

Art of the steal

Via the League, an amazing story on the exploits of an international art thief. The intro:
The plane slowed and leveled out about a mile above ground. Up ahead, the Viennese castle glowed like a fairy tale palace. When the pilot gave the thumbs-up, Gerald Blanchard looked down, checked his parachute straps, and jumped into the darkness. He plummeted for a second, then pulled his cord, slowing to a nice descent toward the tiled roof. It was early June 1998, and the evening wind was warm. If it kept cooperating, Blanchard would touch down directly above the room that held the Koechert Diamond Pearl. He steered his parachute toward his target.

Notes from a high school civics class

My teachers were never this awesome.

Intelligent biblical literalism

There are odd fish in the sea:
Yesterday I had lunch with my philosophy professor... again (follow-up to this post)

Once again formalities were exchanged. This time a little more time was spent on “catching up.”

After all the pleasantries, I brought up the Catholic Church sex scandal and asked him his opinion. He replied that it is ignorant to view any church leader, from the ushers to the Pope himself as a moral authority. He reiterated his position that all human being were “flawed” and that none could be considered any more moral than the next. I quickly moved to the subject of the Bible.

My question concerned the book itself and how it was written and assembled. He told me of his theory that the Bible was “an evolution of revelation” and how god decided to reveal himself a bit at a time, as our “frail minds” began to seek more answers, thus the assemblage of the New Testament some 300 to 400 years after the founding of Christianity. We discussed the ecumenical councils and how, with divine guidance, god did not allow that which is not “true” to be admitted into the final works. We also discussed the various ancient writing that were included in the Torah and the catholic bible, but omitted from the Christian bible. He insisted that these other religions had been corrupted and god had excused himself from continuing to guide the editors of other holy books. I asked how he was able to obtain this information, and his reply was the simple fact that the bible is absolutely consistent throughout while the others were not was proof enough. He was able to name specific dates, locations and even the names and titles of the people involved in everything from the various books of the bible, to ecumenical councils, and even the names, dates of reign and age at the time of death of each and every catholic Pope.

At this point, I decided to throw out some biblical stories that showed inconsistencies. No matter which one I mentioned, he was able to twist words and definitions (claiming that the ‘original text’ is much clearer, and these inconsistencies were only because of misinterpretation errors) using the 4 Greek words for “love” as an example. I then mentioned the story of Jacob in Genesis, this being the one absurd story that I studied prior to our meeting. (Jacob wrestles with god and almost wins until god dislocates Jacob’s leg) I though if my professor claims the bible is “literally rue” then he, too would find this story absurd. Alas, he had a defense for this story also. Using the several parts of the bible in which god refers to himself as “we”, he insisted it was the “angel of the lord” who did the actual wrestling, and that the whole story literally happen. He said he could see how most people would find this story absurd, but that most people would not know the context, and if they did, they would understand that it was literally true.

At every turn he seemed to be enjoying my objections. He is the best biblical apologist I have ever met. Sometimes he says that those who are truly in search of truth will understand the bible, and at other times he says that errors and inconsistencies are non-existent in the original Hebrew and Greek text. Regardless, he had a detailed and well though-out answer to every question I presented to him.

When I claim god is barbaric, he would often agree and claim that morality is relative and god is moral, even when do not understand his actions. When I questioned god’s requirement of blood sacrifices, he told me it was necessary. When I asked why the rule-maker couldn’t come up with better rules for himself, he said the rules were made so that humans could understand, and that just goes to show the infinite wisdom of god.

He told me he has seen each and every Penn and Teller “bullshit” episode and has read every book by Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. He made it clear that this is his life’s work and his passion.

I had previously told him that I was a devout Christian in my youth, and he said that because of this I had won a place in heaven, despite my current (lack of) beliefs.

Finally, I asked him if it were not for the Bible, would he still hold to his beliefs. He basically dismissed this question, citing that the assembly of the bible was always part of “god’s plan”, and that without it, god knew human kind would never know his character. It is a necessary part of the eternal plan for mankind.

As we were leaving, he informed me that from this point forward, he would refer to me as his “atheist brother.”

Something about him makes me want to call him my friend.

How will health-care reform affect me?

The FAQ

Mental health break

Monday, March 29

Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! Thundercats, ho!



Sword of Omens, give me sight beyond sight.

(original here, more here)

One gaming machine per child

The punchline writes itself.

Taylor Swift - You Belong With Me (Metal Version)



Sure beats the original.

I half wonder how well it'd go with that same sex parody.

Sunday, March 28

Comments on unregulated capitalism

A redditor writes:
[..] unlike what seems like the entire [libertarian] reddit, I'm in no way a right-libertarian and have seen many comments which I think need some discussing.

Many of you would agree with me when I say that we need to reduce state influence in our lives. I've seen many people post about how if the government just stayed out of business and didn't place any regulations on the market the world would be such a better place (exemplified most by 'anarcho'-Capitalism). I've always wondered if any proponents of this form of society have ever read a book about history.

There was a time in history when there was practically no regulation on how people ran their companies, it was the Industrial revolution. As I would hope most of you know life wasn't so great for people during this time (unless of course you were the one exploiting workers). This is how your utopia would look, with most of society working extreme hours for barely livable wages. People won't just leave because of how they are treated by their employers, because everyone else will treat them the same.

I would love to discuss this, and pretty much any topic concerning Libertarianism/Anarchism. I'm, as some would call it, a recovering statist. I used to be a Trotskyist (communist for those who don't know) and am still having some trouble figuring out how a small/non-existent state could deal with certain issues.
To which another responds:
Nobody here ever said life was easy. All we said was brutality doesn't make it easier.

Per the Non-Aggression Principle, the burden of proof is on you to explain your stance that the government should regulate the market.

You bring up the Industrial Revolution. And I laugh at you. When you think of the Industrial Revolution, what do you think of? Do you think of young girls, barely old enough to leave home, working the mechanical loom in a noisy factory? Do you think of unskilled and uneducated men slaving away for pennies an hour to build railroads, mine coal, refine oil, and cast steel?

Good. Now you want to change that. How? Impose child labor laws - great, now children can't work anymore, so their families won't have money for food if their parents don't (or can't) take good care of them. Impose an eight-hour workday. Awesome, now their pitiful wages won't be enough to pay the rent anymore. Impose a minimum wage. Fucking fantastic - now unemployment is soaring. Impose cleanliness and safety standards. Icing on the cake - now start-up companies can't compete with the established corporations who can afford to get their capital approved by the government, thus removing all competition and ensuring that you really can't quit your job, because there aren't any other companies out there to work for.

Life is hard. Resources are scarce while demand is infinite. Everyone always wants more. The question is not "Are we going to give people everything they want?" because we can't. The question is "Are we going to use violent force to obstruct consensual transactions?"

When you think of the Industrial Revolution, what you are thinking of is a huge improvement over what we had before. And it wasn't as much of an improvement as it could have been - but the government chartered monopolies in certain industries, making it illegal for other companies to compete with the dominant corporations. And, surprise! It turns out the industries in which that was true - oil and rail, mostly - are the industries that are most excoriated for having "tycoons" and "robber barons". Well, I'm fucking astonished.

Photo of the day



Constructing the Statue of Liberty, 1883

Saturday, March 27

Lady Gaga - Telephone (Chatroulette version)



Win.

Provocation of the day

"Celebrate Human Achievement", says Cato:
Environmentalist groups and celebrities are celebrating “Earth Hour” tonight. They ask that you turn your lights out for an hour, to call attention to global warming.  Folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute suggest that “this sends the wrong message — to plunge us all into darkness as a rejection of technology and human achievement.” In fact, they point out that it’s Earth Hour every night in North Korea, where people lack basic freedoms, as well as affordable, reliable access to many human achievements, such as electricity. Check out this famous photo of environmentally conscious North Koreans observing Earth Hour all night, every night:


CEI rejects the rejection of technology. They have declared the hour between 8:30 and 9:30 tonight to be “Human Achievement Hour.” To join the celebration, just turn your lights on tonight and enjoy the human achievement of light when we want it. And watch CEI’s short video history of human achievement here.
Wilco.

Quote of the day

"Anime is a prime example of why two nukes wasn’t enough." —NH State Rep Nick Levasseur (D-Concord)

wtf.

Public service announcement

This photo sequence of a hawk attacking a seagull is not for the faint of heart.

Text 2.0



Interesting. If you're thinking of getting an iPad, wait till they come with a built-in camera.

This man is clearly ready for the zombie apocalypse.

Friday, March 26

Greenest election ever

NORML opines:
This coming November’s mid-term election is going to have major implications for cannabis law reform.

In South Dakota, election officials last week certified Measure 13, the South Dakota Safe Access Act, for the November ballot.

If approved by voters, Measure 13 would exempt state criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or six plants by authorized patients — making South Dakota the fifteenth state to legalize medicinal cannabis use. Proponents of the measure, the grassroots South Dakota Coalition for Compassion, collected over twice the number of signatures necessary to place the proposal on the 2010 ballot — a feat that they believe is indicative of medical marijuana’s growing support in the Great Plains. In 2006, voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal – marking the only time that citizens have rejected a statewide medical marijuana legalization proposal.

The stakes are arguably even higher in California, where election officials last night confirmed that the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 will appear on the November ballot.

If approved, the measure will allow adults 21 years or older to possess, share or transport up to one ounce of cannabis for personal consumption, and/or cultivate the plant in an area of not more than twenty-five square feet per private residence. It will also permit local governments the option to authorize the retail sale of marijuana and/or commercial cultivation of cannabis to adults and to impose taxes on such sales. Personal marijuana cultivation or not-for-profit sales of marijuana would not be taxed under the measure.

The measure will not alter or amend any aspect of the California Health and Safety code pertaining to the use of marijuana for medical purposes, when such use is authorized by a physician.

You can read more about this proposal here.

According to an April 2009 California Field Poll, 56 percent of state voters back legalizing and regulating the adult use and sale of cannabis.

Other states are in play as well. Ballot drives in Washington and Oregon are ongoing, and numerous municipal measures are also pending. Meanwhile, in the nation’s Capitol, DC council members are discussing allowing authorized patients to grow their own marijuana legally — despite the federal ban.

No matter how you look at it, this November is shaping up to be the most important month for marijuana law reform ever.

Let the battles begin.

Equality shoes



(via MR — the woman on the right doesn't have hers on yet)

What do today's philosophers believe?

The Economist's Intelligent Life magazine takes a look.

Thursday, March 25

Quote of the Day

"[Conservative and Republican critics of Obama] cannot point to any decrease in Obama’s actual support for Israel, because there has been no decrease of any kind, so they are reduced to talking about “subtle shifts in perception,” feelings, moods, and changes in style. These shifts are so subtle that they can only be seen by the trained eye of the ideologically-motivated pundit. As I have said before, Obama’s critics were once obsessed with his supposed superficiality, and now it is they who cannot stop talking about purely superficial things when criticizing him," —Daniel Larison

(via the Dish, bears repeating)

Iraq's election result

With 95% reporting:




Read 538 for the numbers behind this, but here's their conclusion:
With results this close, it is likely that the negotiations for the new government will be quite extensive. Reports of multiple high level meetings between various party and coalition leaders have been made, with only a few parties completely incompatible in terms of building a governing coalition. The Sadr faction of the National Iraqi Alliance has ruled out working with an Allawi government, but State of Law, the Kurds and Iraqiya are in close negotiations.

In the near term, these negotiations may be hampered by the accusations of fraud that have flown in all directions. Early on, members of Allawi’s coalition accused the electoral commission and local officials in Baghdad of engaging in fraud to help Maliki’s State of Law Coalition. Similar accusations were made by the Iraqi National Alliance and State of Law at one another in the south. In turn, now that Allawi's returns have improved, State of Law has accused him of fraud and demanded a national recount.

As a result, the electoral and governing situation remains in flux, particularly as the United States endeavors to play an increasingly low profile role in the country. The Obama administration and military officials are looking for a resolved and stable government to emerge from this election, securing the way forward for a phased withdrawal through 2011.

On the other hand, further accusations of fraud, a failure to build a governing coalition or the unhinging of various extreme elements of the Sunni Arab and Shia communities could together prompt much of the progress of the last several years come undone. As such, much rides on this election, based on peaceful negotiation and principled transfer of power.

Chinese-American comedy

Google in China, ctd.


Of course I agree with the creator that it's over the top... but remember, this is what Chinese search used to be:


Now that same .cn link was changed to a redirect. Everything looks fine outside China, but:
From inside of China things are not so clean cut
  • As before, go to www.google.cn and you are redirected to www.google.com.hk
  • Innocuous searches in Chinese seem fine as before
  • However, do a more "interesting" search, such as 天安门广场事件 (Tiananmen Square Incident), and no page is able to load. A standard error message is displayed instead (in this case "The connection was reset...")
  • The same results are also found at www.google.com.tw (the site for Taiwan), www.google.de (the site for Germany), etc. 
So...
  • Who knows if these same results will hold tomorrow but...  this sure isn't an accident.  China was clearly prepared in advance for Google's recent actions.
  • China's response is not limited to Google's sites in "Greater China" and appears to be an actual extension of its censorship.
  • The World Expo opens in Shanghai in just over 40 days. Will be interesting to see if the Google events and those related complicate China's desire to use the World Expo to present a positive image of China to the world (although projections seem to be that the vast majority of visitors will be Chinese).
Some additional points 
  • The results from inside of China for Google's Hong Kong site also hold true for Google's sites in Spain & Israel (which should be noted have different domain name structures: www.google.es andwww.google.co.il).  China is being rather thorough.  When it comes to Google, China is breaking the mold of letting more eager Chinese internet users find holes in the wall.
  • While 天安门广场事件 (Tiananmen Square Incident) is "blocked", 天安门广场 (Tiananmen Square) is not.
  • 天安门广场事件 is not a blocked search on Microsoft Bing in China nor Baidu.  However, the search results do appear to be mostly missing any links, images, etc. that one would expect to be censored."

Brief history of health-care reform

Brilliant

Wednesday, March 24

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (Clarke's 3rd law)



Skip to 2:50 if you're pressed for time, because the second half is even more amazing.

This is how people who don't understand Photoshop thought the program worked... and now it actually will. (reddit)

2010 Senate update

Nate Silver:
Democrats now project to hold an average of 54.0 seats when the Senate convenes in January, 2011, according to our latest forecast, and Republicans 46.0. This reflects a roughly one-seat improvement for Republicans since our previous forecast [2 weeks ago].
I'm following the Kentucky race most closely. Today Grayson, Rand Paul's primary opponent, won the coveted Dick Cheney endorsement, aka the neocon-rightist establishment's stamp of approval.

Wah, wah.

(Paul was endorsed by Sarah Palin back in February, but of course she's anti-establishment—and not so much malicious as clueless)

Anyhow, Nate's numbers for Paul are getting comfortable:
Odds Rand Paul wins primary: 75%
If victorious in primary, Paul wins general: 80%

Combined odds, broken down:

Paul elected: 57%
Grayson elected: 21%
A Democrat elected: 22%

Monday, March 22

Update on Google's new approach to China

They're now redirecting to Hong Kong. From the official Google blog:
On January 12, we announced on this blog that Google and more than twenty other U.S. companies had been the victims of a sophisticated cyber attack originating from China, and that during our investigation into these attacks we had uncovered evidence to suggest that the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China were being routinely accessed by third parties, most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on their computers. We also made clear that these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered—combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger—had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn.

So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.

Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced—it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services. We will therefore be carefully monitoring access issues, and have created this new web page, which we will update regularly each day, so that everyone can see which Google services are available in China.

In terms of Google's wider business operations, we intend to continue R&D work in China and also to maintain a sales presence there, though the size of the sales team will obviously be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk. Finally, we would like to make clear that all these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them. Despite all the uncertainty and difficulties they have faced since we made our announcement in January, they have continued to focus on serving our Chinese users and customers. We are immensely proud of them.

Healthcare, tradeoffs, and the road ahead

Writes Mankiw:
Well, it appears certain that the healthcare reform bill will become law. One thing I have been struck by in watching this debate is how strident it has been, among both proponents and opponents of the legislation. As a weak-willed eclectic, I can see arguments on both sides. Life is full of tradeoffs, and so most issues strike me as involving shades of grey rather than being black and white. As a result, I find it hard to envision the people I disagree with as demons.

Arthur Okun said the big tradeoff in economics is between equality and efficiency. The health reform bill offers more equality (expanded insurance, more redistribution) and less efficiency (higher marginal tax rates). Whether you think this is a good or bad choice to make, it should not be hard to see the other point of view.

I like to think of the big tradeoff as being between community and liberty. From this perspective, the health reform bill offers more community (all Americans get health insurance, regulated by a centralized authority) and less liberty (insurance mandates, higher taxes). Once again, regardless of whether you are more communitarian or libertarian, a reasonable person should be able to understand the opposite vantagepoint.

In the end, while I understood the arguments in favor of the bill, I could not support it. In part, that is because I am generally more of a libertarian than a communitarian. In addition, I could not help but fear that the legislation will add to the fiscal burden we are leaving to future generations. Some economists (such as my Harvard colleague David Cutler) think there are great cost savings in the bill. I hope he is right, but I am skeptical. Some people say the Congressional Budget Office gave the legislation a clean bill of health regarding its fiscal impact. I believe that is completely wrong, for several reasons (click here, here, and here). My judgment is that this health bill adds significantly to our long-term fiscal problems.

The Obama administration's political philosophy is more egalitarian and more communitarian than mine. Their spending programs require much higher taxes than we have now and, indeed, much higher taxes than they have had the temerity to propose. Here is the question I have been wondering about: How long can the President wait before he comes clean with the American people and explains how high taxes needs to rise to pay for his vision of government?
I venture: until November 7th, 2012.

Some links via Radley

If you don't already read The Agitator, you're missing out...

Sunday, March 21

What the bill does

from the "You-mean-it's-over?-I-can-come-out-now?" dept.

Now that the Grand Health Care Bill Passage Debate Debacle of 2008-2010 is finally over (thank $DEITY), let's look at what's been accomplished.

I've taken this Reuters summary listing what happens when, and highlighted what I think of each provision (red means bad, green is good)

WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR

*Insurance companies will be barred from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. Lifetime coverage limits will be eliminated and annual limits are to be restricted.

*Insurers will be barred from excluding children for coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

*Young adults will be able to stay on their parents' health plans until the age of 26. Many health plans currently drop dependents from coverage when they turn 19 or finish college. [This should have remained as it was]

*Uninsured adults with a pre-existing conditions will be able to obtain health coverage through a new program that will expire once new insurance exchanges begin operating in 2014. [would be better if the exchanges themselves opened sooner]

*A temporary reinsurance program is created to help companies maintain health coverage for early retirees between the ages of 55 and 64. This also expires in 2014.

*Medicare drug beneficiaries who fall into the "doughnut hole" coverage gap will get a $250 rebate. The bill eventually closes that gap which currently begins after $2,700 is spent on drugs. Coverage starts again after $6,154 is spent. [Beneficiaries should be paying more for their drugs, not less. Rather than doing away with the hole like this, coverage should have been reduced and smoothed out so that it remains an equal, mostly-fixed percent for any level of spending]

*A tax credit becomes available for some small businesses to help provide coverage for workers. [eh, more details needed]

*A 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services that use ultraviolet lamps goes into effect on July 1. [Yay, I feel better already...]

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2011

*Medicare provides 10 percent bonus payments to primary care physicians and general surgeons. [meh]

*Medicare beneficiaries will be able to get a free annual wellness visit and personalized prevention plan service. New health plans will be required to cover preventive services with little or no cost to patients. [Depending on which "preventative services" are required, this may provide some net benefit.  I fear it's more likely to make things worse by covering things that aren't cost-effective.]

*A new program under the Medicaid plan for the poor goes into effect in October that allows states to offer home and community based care for the disabled that might otherwise require institutional care. [okay, I guess]

*Payments to insurers offering Medicare Advantage services are frozen at 2010 levels. These payments are to be gradually reduced to bring them more in line with traditional Medicare. [This provision essentially outlaws Medicare Advantage, as insurers will abandon the program.  But I suppose the provision is okay if patients are still able to purchase Advantage-like supplements to traditional Medicare.]


*Employers are required to disclose the value of health benefits on employees' W-2 tax forms. [Yay! I had no idea this was in there. Breaking it down on each paycheck would be even better, but this is a good start.]

*An annual fee is imposed on pharmaceutical companies according to market share. The fee does not apply to companies with sales of $5 million or less. [uhm, no idea what the logic is behind this.]

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2012

*Physician payment reforms are implemented in Medicare to enhance primary care services and encourage doctors to form "accountable care organizations" to improve quality and efficiency of care. [description vague, but I'll give it a tentative green]

*An incentive program is established in Medicare for acute care hospitals to improve quality outcomes. [description vague, but I'll give it a tentative green]

*The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the government programs, begin tracking hospital readmission rates and puts in place financial incentives to reduce preventable readmissions.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2013

*A national pilot program is established for Medicare on payment bundling to encourage doctors, hospitals and other care providers to better coordinate patient care.

*The threshold for claiming medical expenses on itemized tax returns is raised to 10 percent from 7.5 percent of income. The threshold remains at 7.5 percent for the elderly through 2016.

*The Medicare payroll tax is raised to 2.35 percent from 1.45 percent for individuals earning more than $200,000 and married couples with incomes over $250,000. The tax is imposed on some investment income for that income group.

*A 2.9 percent excise tax in imposed on the sale of medical devices. Anything generally purchased at the retail level by the public is excluded from the tax.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2014

*State health insurance exchanges for small businesses and individuals open. [should happen earlier, preferably by 2012]

*Most people will be required to obtain health insurance coverage or pay a fine if they don't. Healthcare tax credits become available to help people with incomes up to 400 percent of poverty purchase coverage on the exchange.

*Health plans no longer can exclude people from coverage due to pre-existing conditions. [This sounds nice but goes hand in hand with requiring people to purchase coverage, which I've redded out above. Without a strong requirement, this provision would enable people to game the system and only sign up for health plans once they get sick.  Offhand, the best compromise I can think of would be requiring everyone to purchase catastrophic coverage, and removing this from exclusions. Yet allow insurance companies to keep excluding people from coverage of pre-existing, non-catastrophic conditions.

E.g. you couldn't sign up for a health plan the day you find out you're going to have a $5,000 bill coming up.  But you could sign up at any time to cover a significant portion of, say, a $50,000 bill.  Meanwhile, you and everyone else going without catastrophic coverage for any length of time would pay some reasonable fine, perhaps equal to ~50% of what a catastrophic coverage plan would cost]

*Employers with 50 or more workers who do not offer coverage face a fine of $2,000 for each employee if any worker receives subsidized insurance on the exchange. The first 30 employees aren't counted for the fine. [No! Fuck employer-based coverage. We ought to eliminate incentives for it, not create more of them.]

*Health insurance companies begin paying a fee based on their market share. [what? why?]

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2015

*Medicare creates a physician payment program aimed at rewarding quality of care rather than volume of services. [I'm of the opinion that the only workable fix for Medicare is going to involve significant service cuts and/or raising the retirement age. But if the Left has ideas to fix its money sink without significantly affecting service quality, why are they waiting until 2015 to implement them? Whatever this program intends to do should start within a year or two, or it's a vapid idea.]

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2018

*An excise tax on high cost employer-provided plans is imposed. The first $27,500 of a family plan and $10,200 for individual coverage is exempt from the tax. Higher levels are set for plans covering retirees and people in high risk professions[2018?! This is a joke. Rolling back subsidies to employer-based coverage is central to workable reform and ought to happen much sooner than 2018.]

Liberals and libertarians

Via Douthat:
I think that liberals view the market as a somewhat barbaric and unfair mechanism for allocating resources. They view government as a mechanism for restoring fairness and justice. To a libertarian, the market mechanism is civilized. When people buy and sell in the market, they are making voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges. In contrast, government is an arena where one side wins and the other side loses. When I shop for a coat, if I do not like the way a coat fits or how it looks, or how much the seller wants me to pay, I do not buy that coat. I buy a different coat, perhaps in a different store. The shopping process leads to peaceful, mutually satisfying trade. On the other hand, look at how the issue of health care reform is going to be resolved. It is like gang warfare, where the Democrats and Republicans are going to rumble, and at least one side is going to be very unhappy with the outcome. For me, it is the democratic process that is barbaric, and it is the market process that is comparatively peaceful and civilized.

—Arnold Kling, “Liberals and Markets”

Friday, March 19

Anti-capitalism ten years after Seattle

from the know-thy-enemy dept.

Some on the left take stock.

Buckingham palace guard tips hat to famous sci-fi series



(reddit) Even more awesome, a couple years ago they played Imperial March for the arrival of Saudi Sheik's King Abdullah.

The irrational barrier of faith

Via the Dish today, a thought experiment:
Imagine I discovered there was a paedophile ring running our crèche, and the Editor issued a stern order that it should be investigated internally with "the strictest secrecy". Imagine he merely shuffled the paedophiles to work in another crèche at another newspaper, and I agreed, and made the kids sign a pledge of secrecy. We would both – rightly – go to prison. Yet because the word "religion" is whispered, the rules change. Suddenly, otherwise good people who wouldn't dream of covering up a paedophile ring in their workplace think it would be an insult to them to follow one wherever it leads in their Church. They would find this behaviour unthinkable without the irrational barrier of faith standing between them and reality.

Yes, I understand some people feel sad when they see a figure they were taught as a child to revere – whether Prophet or Pope – being subjected to rational examination, or mockery, or criminal investigation. But everyone has ideas they hold precious. Only you, the religious, demand to be protected from debate or scrutiny that might discomfort you. The fact you believe an invisible supernatural being approves of – or even commands – your behaviour doesn't mean it deserves more respect, or sensitive handling. It means it deserves less. If you base your behaviour on such a preposterous fantasy, you should expect to be checked by criticism and mockery. You need it.

Books that have influenced me the most

Adding my part to the meme that has been going around, though my list surely pales in comparison. Anyhow...

Gertrude Chandler Warner, The Boxcar Children - First "real" book, age 5
Holy Bible (NIV) - Literal fundamentalism shaped fifteen years of my life, especially Corinthians and Ephesians.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring - First "adult" book, age 8
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game - Of the vast amounts of young adult science fiction I devoured as a kid, this always stood out the most. I generally cite it as my favorite single work of fiction.
Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - Revealed there were people in the world with a disposition much like mine.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World - Had to read this for school and still muse about it fairly often.
Linus Torvalds, Just for Fun - I picked this up as an anti-Microsoft fanboy. Oddly, the first chapter's banter on the theory of life is what sparked my interest in philosophy.
Simon Blackburn, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy
John Stewart Mill, On Liberty and Utilitarianism - JSM was amazingly right about so many important things

Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers 
Robert Wright, The Moral Animal, Nonzero, and The Evolution of God - Wright's three works have crystallized my world view with incisive detail. If you're going to read anything on this list, read him.

Reflections of an Agnostic Christian

A friend posted this as a Facebook note, and I think it worth sharing.
Reflections of an Agnostic Christian

The Truth is out there but as we now see through a mirror darkly, "we grope for it"1. As lovely, inspiring and helpful as the Biblical text is, we go astray when approaching it as the definitive word of God.

While it is understandable and even desirable that there be a revelatory solution to man’s epistemological groping; in fact, a judicious assessment of biblical revelation warns that the flight to revelation advised by Christian authors and apologists2 is unjustified, unwise and often significantly hinders the very pursuit of truth which first engaged one’s interest in revelation.

Although science is no substitute for religion, the scientific method—i.e. the testing of hypothesis by repeated experiment and subjecting these to critical review etc.—offers a more profitable way of evaluating truth claims than a religious appeal to some ultimate authority, such as the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church etc.

Many persons eager in the pursuit of religious truth, from the likes of Hegel, Spinoza, Paine and Bultmann to the reflective layperson, have felt truly compelled by the facts (and this often only have decades of struggle) to adopt some sort of critical approach3 to biblical revelation. Personally, it was only after some thirty years of resisting with all my heart, soul and mind, that I eventually adopted, in broad terms, the general paradigm of critical scholarship. Like most paradigm shifts, this shift in my thinking resulted from a whole host of facts and religious quandaries. Of course, now that I’m on the other side of this paradigm shift, I find the landscape much more pleasant than I had feared and, best of all, a great deal more congruent with my experience of reality. In short, I no longer feel at war with the truth, but rather surrendered to it.

For Protestants, the adoption of some sort critical approach to biblical revelation very often involves a concomitant loss of dogmatic confidence. For Catholics (& the Orthodox) the situation is a bit more complex in that Catholics while they, after many years of struggle, have both officially and on the popular level accepted the critical shift in biblical scholarship they continue to have recourse to another ultimate authority for truth—i.e. the teaching Magisterium. As they say, Catholics are not primarily people of the Book.

Personally, while studying at an evangelical seminary, and feeling the foundations of biblical authority give way under my feet, I myself found this recourse to another ultimate source of authority (i.e. the Church), a refuge (albeit, temporary), a resting place of traditional dogma as I continued my resistance to the onslaughts of the modern world, critical scholarship etc. And while I continue to find worship in this community very satisfying, my historical studies in Christian dogma have resulted in losing my confidence in dogma along the same lines that my biblical fundamentalism4, after much bumping up against reality, gave way to a more critical approach to the sacred text.

If not biblical authority nor church dogmatics, then what, relativism, atheism, what? While the new atheists would have us believe that atheism is the only alternative to biblical or dogmatic fundamentalism, there are other solutions. Hegel, Emerson and that god intoxicated man Spinoza, to name but a few, saw alternatives to Christian fundamentalism on the one hand and evangelical atheism on the other.

There are many alternatives to biblical or dogmatic fundamentalism and, while understandable and often a deeply ethical choice, atheism is but one among many. There are theists of every sort—from Pantheists and Deists to faith filled but liberally minded Protestants and Catholics. Some remain confident in more, others in less of the historic creeds of Christendom. You have some like Newton, Jefferson and Franklin who, while venerating Jesus Christ, believing in life after death, prayer etc, were or are quite doubtful about the manner in which Christology developed, and others who generally assent to the divinity of Christ, the Trinity etc. In short, a loss (or, as some prefer, a maturing out) of a Biblicism or dogmatism does not necessitate a loss of a faith—indeed, many report a strengthening of faith, hope and love—of feeling set free by the truth.

What is the role of reason in evaluating the role of the Bible or the various alternatives to biblical or dogmatic fundamentalism? Is reason, as attributed to Luther, really that [unfaithful] Whore?

First, nothing must be admitted that is contrary to reason. Reason is the one thing we have every reason to believe we have from God and the surest way for one to go astray is to admit things contrary to reason. Moreover, it is by one’s reason that one must stand before God—did I do what I knew to be right in my reason.

Second, many things exceed reason’s capacity. If God is a Spirit, we must worship him in Spirit in Truth. If God is ineffable, it makes perfect since that the natural man cannot comprehend the things of God. To quote Pascal, Reasons last step is to acknowledge that an infinite number of things lie beyond its grasp.

Third, since step one does not permit us to make claims about revelation that are untrue or highly improbable, proper responses to step two, while excluding any fidestic flight5 to the Koran, the Bible, the book of Mormon etc, may include certain forms of mysticism, agnosticism, prayer, faith or an agnostic faith life of prayer.

Yesterday I listened to a Muslim extremist and the Reverend Moon6 both justify their positions by appeals to revelations. And what of the revelations of Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Hindus, etc? Reason must evaluate such claims if one is not to live in their own little religious bubble of delusion7.

I have a revelation from God—the truth. And while not every truth is presently self evident to me, there are compelling reasons for believing that the common natural reason shared by all persons as opposed to special revelations given to particular people is man’s proper mode for discerning truth.

What role then for the Bible? While an impartial assessment of the facts requires one to reject fundamentalist understandings of revelation, one may nonetheless find in the sacred text a place of inspiration, truth and beauty. Not being a definitive revelation, a final word on every subject, nonetheless leaves ample room for other options. Books of poetry are not worthless simply because reason doesn’t permit one to read them as history or science.

The critical approach to the Bible is not so radical after all. Most Christians already, perhaps subconsciously, approach at least a good portion of the Bible through critical lenses. With little effort we can all think of various Old Testament passages or even books that we have found various justifications for not taking all that seriously and without really troubling ourselves about it. Then there are other passages, such as the wisdom books or sayings of Christ in parables, that while, we find them very edifying reading, we don’t approach them as literal history etc. In some manner, the critical reader is simply extending this approach to the whole text. The critical reader of the sacred text may daily interact with the text on a devotional and inspirational level without being entangled in the errors that bedevil his more literalist co-religionists.

The Unsettling & Liberating Nature of Truth

Last evening we had dinner with some good friends, a married couple, who, religiously, might be described as evangelical Catholics. The dinner conversation centered on the religious doubts the husband and I discovered we shared in common. After much discussion the wife expressed concern that my evolving religious outlook might leave me without any foundation for morality. These and other similar questions are unsettling to people. If your life has largely been constructed around a belief that I have this special source, be it a book or religious leader like the reverend Moon or the Pope etc, that contains all, in one neat place, everything I need pertaining to life and godliness, it can be unsettling to contemplate the loss of this conviction.

I responded to the woman’s query by saying I didn’t think this was the right approach to choosing what to believe. I shouldn’t decide for or against believing something because I do or do not like the implications of doing so. Nothing is surer to deceive than the need to believe a particular outcome from the outset. This lack of faith in approaching the truth needs to be replaced with a firm confidence that the truth doesn’t deceive but rather sets one free. While giving up a single source approach to discovering truth may be unsettling at first, a general confidence in truth can become a very suitable replacement. Man sees through a mirror darkly and he generally discovers the truth about things only gradually and with much effort. Man’s discovery of what is right and moral is not dissimilar to his scientific discoveries—he makes gains with much trial and error. By way of example, think of how long it has taken society to largely embrace our present ideals of democracy, of human rights, of peaceful coexistence- to shed notions of slavery, of woman being men’s property, etc.

In reality an honest appraisal of history and of contemporary fundamentalist religious communities indicates a strong correlation between fundamentalist beliefs in revelation and resistance to moral and scientific advancement. In short, strong revelatory based beliefs frequently prejudice persons and communities against new perspectives and realities.

There is every reason to believe that we are indeed in need of another religious reformation—one in which a strong confidence in the discoverability of truth through reflection replaces slavish and childish single source revelatory beliefs. A reformation in which fear gives way to faith, in which religious servitude to the past gives way to the freedom to discover whatever truths the universe is prepared to unveil at this moment in humankind’s history. Yes we see through a mirror dimly but the Truth is out there and it bids us come, to hearken to its voice wherever and through whomever it can be heard—through art, philosophy, science, religious literature, people, events, history etc.—in short the logos or reason of God is to be sought and welcomed everywhere it can be heard.

Choosing the Right (ideal) Path for Me, or The Importance of Particularity.


Being open to the logos or truth wherever it is found needn’t mean being endlessly adrift. Or to draw upon your reflections, loving the Universal should take on some Particularity. Acknowledging that my spouse is not the only suitable mate in the world doesn’t prevent me from saying she’s perfect for me, from making a lifelong commitment to her. Holding pluralistic views of religions needn’t prevent me from living out my life in a particular religious community. Rejecting fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible, while perhaps complicating things, needn’t prevent me from hearing God speak through the sacred text—from hearing Christ bid me to give up my fears and get out of my boat, from hearing God speak as the good shepherd and guardian of my soul. Intellectually a person may find it difficult to have many convictions/certainties beyond a general theism and yet practically still choose a particular community to live out this general theism. I suspect there are lots of persons sitting beside me at Sunday Mass, particularly middle aged men, who, while having lost their previously held certitudes about the creeds of Christendom, nonetheless find the liturgy to be a beautiful expression of their religious sentiments. Perhaps in their youth they found such inconsistencies as unworthy of their commitment but with experience one learns the truth of Emerson’s adage:

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

While the practical desire to live, to worship and to critically evaluate in an integral fashion may result in a practicing Christian (albeit my agnostic Christian), a just evaluation of the limitations of religious knowledge makes going beyond this pragmatic commitment to an all in sort of exclusive commitment to a definitive revelation seem, to such a person, rash and disproportionate to what can be known by him with any certainty. The desire to live shouldn’t mean a definitive ending to ones questions, a sort of fidestic commitment to one revelation or set of dogmas. Truth is not an item on one’s checklist, which one day is complete and now we move on. Religious truth, like every other human endeavor, must be subject to constant review and assimilation of facts and experiences. As tempting as it may be to see religion as somehow in an epistemological category of its own, not subject to the limitations and revisions of other fields of human inquiry, the facts and history of religion (i.e. including the evolution of Christianity out of Old Testament/ near eastern religion) demonstrate otherwise.

Even if Truth is Eternal and therefore, at least in some sense, absolute, our perception of it is provisional and therefore in many ways relative. Given our epistemological limitations, any once for all commitment to particular views, religious or scientific, seems foolish. Nor are such commitments essential to finding real meaning and stability in life. One needn’t live in denial of our limitations in order to make stable commitments. It is enough to commit oneself to the larger commitments of loving and serving the truth wherever one finds it and to whatever degree I can perceive some aspect of it at the present. I needn’t make exaggerated claims about what can be known with certainty. In a profound sense, our situation calls for a larger surrender, a deeper trust to the Universe, an acceptance to life as we find it rather than as we would have it.

Endnotes:

1. He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us. For 'In him we live and move and have our being,' Acts 17:26

2. For example, how Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, argues that because we are blind epistemologically God has given us the spectacles of His Word.

3. From Wikipedia: Biblical criticism is "the study and investigation of biblical writings that seeks to make discerning and discriminating judgments about these writings." It asks when and where a particular text originated; how, why, by whom, for whom, and in what circumstances it was produced; what influences were at work in its production; what sources were used in its composition and the message it was intended to convey.

It also addresses the physical text, including the meaning of the words and the way in which they are used, its preservation, history and integrity. Biblical criticism draws upon a wide range of scholarly disciplines including archeology, anthropology, folklore, linguistics, oral tradition studies, and historical and religious studies.

4. Wikipedia: For religious fundamentalists, sacred scripture is considered the authentic and authoritative word of their religion's god or gods. This does not necessarily require that all portions of scripture be interpreted literally rather than allegorically or metaphorically - for example, see the distinction in Christian thought between Biblical infallibility, Biblical inerrancy and Biblical literalism. Fundamentalist beliefs depend on the twin doctrines that their god or gods articulated their will clearly to prophets, and that followers also have an accurate and reliable record of that revelation.

Since a religion's scripture is considered the word of its god or gods, fundamentalists believe that no person is right to change it or disagree with it. Within that though, there are many differences between different fundamentalists.

5. Wikipedia: Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths (see natural theology). The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means "faith-ism."

Theologians and philosophers have responded in various ways to the place of faith and reason in determining the truth of metaphysical ideas, morality, and religious beliefs. The term fideist, one who argues for fideism, is very rarely self applied. Support of fideism is most commonly ascribed to four philosophers: Pascal, Kierkegaard, William James, and Wittgenstein; with fideism being a label applied in a negative sense by their opponents, but which is not supported by their own ideas and works. There are a number of different forms of fideism.

6. From Moon’s Website: At Easter time in 1935, Jesus appeared to the young Sun Myung Moon as he was praying in the Korean mountains. In that vision, Jesus asked him to continue the work which he had begun on earth nearly 2,000 years before. Jesus asked him to complete the task of establishing God's kingdom on earth and bringing His peace to humankind.

The young Korean was stunned by this encounter, and especially by the request that had been made of him, and at first he refused. However, after deep reflection, meditation and prayer, he pledged his life to that overwhelming mission.

After personally accepting Jesus' call, the young man set out to discover its very meaning. If Jesus called him to complete his mission, it meant that Jesus' mission was incomplete. Was not salvation through the cross all that man needs? What was it that Jesus had left undone on earth? If sin is not completely solved, then what is the actual root of sin?

Sun Myung Moon studied the Bible and many other religious teachings in order to unravel these mysteries of life and human history. During this time, he went into ever deeper communion with God and entered the vast battlefield of the spirit and flesh. Through denying his personal desires he overcame temptations of knowledge, wealth and physical pleasure. He came to understand God's own suffering and His longing to be reunited with His children. He learned the difficult steps that humankind would have to take in order to return to God and establish true peace on earth.

By 1945, he had organized the teachings which came to be known as the Divine Principle, and he began his public ministry

7. My son Jake showed me this YouTube video on the religious bubble of delusion.

Thursday, March 18

Quote of the day

Even the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (we Jews have so many “major” organizations that the organizations themselves need an organization)—not a group known for its even-handedness when it comes to Israel and its neighbors—called on “all parties” to “act in a manner that does not undercut” peace talks.

Peter Beinart

NASA Space Flight Awareness

Always glad to see our tax dollars put to fabulous use ...

Enjoy the orange/blue contrast

(via reddit)

Laughs





Haha, yay caricature!
Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously.

Og Mandino

Tuesday, March 16

What of the Senate's new financial regulation bill?

Writes Edmund L. Andrews at Capital Gains and Games:
I’ve been plowing through Senator Chris Dodd’s 1,300-page bill to overhaul financial regulation, and I’m surprised. At first glance, it is tougher and better than I had expected.

Readers beware: it’s not a pretty piece of work. Kids! Do not read this at home. It makes the prospectus for a subprime mortgage-backed security look like a model of clarity.

The bill is full of murky exclusions, exceptions and hair-splitting -- usually a red flag that our elected representatives have capitulated to big-money interests and disguised the bombshells behind eye-glazing boilerplate.

But there are a lot of genuinely tough changes, and the bill is a lot less ugly than it first appears. (continued)

Yale law student wants government to have everybody's DNA

Slashdot:
Michael Seringhaus, a Yale Law School student, writes in the NY Times: 'To Stop Crime, Share Your Genes.' In order to prevent discrimination when it comes to collecting DNA samples from criminals (and even people who are simply arrested), he proposes that the government collect a DNA profile from everybody, perhaps at birth (yes, you heard that right).

Regarding the obvious issue of genetic privacy, Seringhaus makes this argument: "Your sensitive genetic information would be safe. A DNA profile distills a person’s complex genomic information down to a set of 26 numerical values, each characterizing the length of a certain repeated sequence of 'junk' DNA that differs from person to person. Although these genetic differences are biologically meaningless — they don’t correlate with any observable characteristics — tabulating the number of repeats creates a unique identifier, a DNA 'fingerprint.' The genetic privacy risk from such profiling is virtually nil, because these records include none of the health and biological data present in one’s genome as a whole."
The sound you just heard was a massive Overton window shift towards statism.

A quote from the op-ed:
As a practical matter, universal DNA collection is fairly easy: it could be done alongside blood tests on newborns, or through painless cheek swabs as a prerequisite to obtaining a driver's license or Social Security card. Once a biological sample was obtained, its use must be limited to generating a DNA profile only, and afterward the sample would be destroyed. Access to the DNA database would remain limited to law enforcement officers investigating serious crimes.

Since every American would have a stake in keeping the data private and ensuring that only the limited content vital to law enforcement was recorded, there would be far less likelihood of government misuse than in the case of a more selective database.

A /.er responds:
This guy reminds me of a cute little 5 year old. His heart is in the right place and he just wants everything fair and nice. However, those are some BIG ASSUMPTIONS he is making:

1) A sample will be destroyed after it is used to create a DNA profile.
2) Only law enforcement will have access
3) Since more Americans are in the database there is a less likelihood of government misuse.

Actually, I am not sure we can call those assumptions. More like hypothetical requirements for an argument, like, the Sun will be Purple tomorrow.

All 3 of those assumptions have been proven to be false, time and time and time and time again. Wasn't it just recently that we found out Texas A&M was participating in collecting blood and tissue samples from newborns without the parents knowledge and consent? Were they not also used for purposes the parents were unaware of and could object to?

Are we really to believe that only law enforcement would have access when any PI with a few bucks can currently gain access to supposedly proteced information that only law enforcement officials should be accessing?

Has not the goverment been caught time and time and time again abusing databases by using them for purposes well outside of the justifications and reasons for their initial creation? Doesn't the goverment quite frequently change their minds about what they will do with resources after the fact?

Sure, if all of those assumptions are held to be true, I would agree with him about making a DNA database. However, it is not my cynicism and disillusionment in goverment that causes me to be skeptical of those assumptions. It's COLD HARD REALITY, FACTS, AND PRECENDENTS. If you want to ignore that, and let them move on with a clean slate, that's your choice. I choose to remember how often the government lies to me and abuses me.

Sunday, March 14

Drones as war porn


An airman checks a Hellfire missile mounted on a MQ-1B Predator drone.


A ground control station for a MQ-9 Reaper drone. From here, the aircraft is flown by a pilot and a sensor operator.
SPIEGEL - Until recently, people looked at this as something abnormal. But drones and robotic warfare in general are actually the new normal now. We've gone from using a handful of these systems to now having around 7,000 in the air. And the US is not the only country flying them. There are drones from 43 other countries, including Great Britain, Germany and Pakistan.

[..] There are parallels to other historical moments when there was no turning back. The automobile in 1909. Computers before 1980. The nuclear bomb in 1940s. This is much beyond an evolution, it's a revolution. This happens very rarely in history. These developments force us to ask questions of right and wrong we never had to think about before.

[..] For example the question of the public's relationship to war. The drone war is documented, downloaded, accessible for everyone. You can see the videos on YouTube. It's turning war for some into a form of entertainment. The soldiers call that "war porn." We can see more but experience less.

P.W. Singer, Brookings Institution
A sample video from Iraq:



And here's video of controllers doing a training exercise.

Friday, March 12

Women on the pill live longer

Why am I not surprised?

Petraeus to New Hampshire

Interesting, to say the least.

Yes I am wary of how this country glorifies military service, but that doesn't mean I'd be willing to take the opposite position and regard his service with distaste. I think that sort of prejudice is uncalled for, even if many of his supporters (unfortunately) over-value it.

What does interest me is he seems like a thoughtful, intelligent man without the malice of Cheney, and who could bring the party of Bush-Palin some much-needed gravitas.

Ezra interviews Sen. Bayh (D-IN)

A somewhat long wall of text, but worth reading if you care about the Senate, filibuster, and associated political and governmental issues.

Jeremy Clarkson makes a lot of sense

In UK's Times. A quote:
I have a solution to the problem, a way that normal human behaviour can be preserved. It’s simple. We must start to accept that 5% of the population at any given time is bonkers. There are no steps to be taken to stamp this out and no lessons to be learnt when a man with a beard boards a plane with an exploding dog.

If xkcd wrote a song...



Without loss of generality I will assume that you feel the same way.

Thursday, March 11

Reverse graffiti


Inhabitat:
Graffiti is one of the most controversial art forms out there since it defaces public property – but what if graffiti artists actually cleaned up the walls they tagged up by etching their sketches into the grime that already exists on them? The delightful process, called reverse graffiti or “scrubbing” isn’t new – we’ve written about it here and here before – but awesome examples of it keep popping up. Case in point: one band of students in Durban, South Africa who’ve been gracing spaces with works of the subversive street art form in their area.

Coming soon to a theater near you


...a generic movie based on the movie they've been releasing every week since the 1980s.

(via)

Table of birth control method effectiveness

(reddit) The more you know...

It's interesting that condoms are only twice as effective as withdrawal.

They're quite a bit more effective at preventing STDs, though.

Evolution and entropy

A fair explanation via reddit:
I just had an epiphany on evolution - and understanding where I used to falter. It may help you when you explain it to other people formerly like me.

When most people think of evolution and "survival of the fittest" we tend to think that positive mutations are what makes a species change. Therefore any change that takes place must be positive or it won't take, right?

For example, if a human has no body hair, we must have been aquatic apes at one point and the lack of hair must have been a positive force on our survival for the change to take place?

Possibly for this specific example, but this understanding overlooks one crucial piece of information that can be summed up in one word: Entropy.

This word is missing from many, many people's understanding of exactly how and why evolution (through natural selection) occurs. Simply put, all things in the universe, including the DNA in organisms, have a fundamental tendency to break down over time (or in the case of organisms, over generations through copying errors).

An organisms' makeup, given enough lineal generations, will tend to move down to the bare minimum needed for a survival advantage. This means if a bird does not need to fly to have a survival advantage, after enough generations it will no longer be able to fly (even if the lack of flight does not confer any kind of benefit on it either).

Richard Dawkins explains this example well in The Greatest Show on Earth using the phenomenon we see in cave dwelling animals that are born blind. They obviously have no benefit in being blind. Their eyes do not lose functionality because it helps their survival, since it obviously doesn't. So what gives?

The answer is that their eyes lose their functionality because they have no bearing on their survival at all. Natural mutations pile up and without a force in the environment to make eyes useful, there will not be any difference in the survival rates of the organisms that lose their sight to genetic error and those whose eyes do still work. Natural selection (survival of the fittest) being removed from the equation means that entropy will prevail and the functionality will simply disappear over time. Sooner or later the mistaken code, not being pruned against by environmental factors, will be prevalent in a gene pool.

This is why modern birds lost visible claws on their hands, whales and snakes lost their legs, and why humans lost their body hair. Once we adopted wearing clothing, there was no survival advantage conferred in the form of body hair and it was free to mutate away into oblivion over time.

I hope this made sense. It helped me to write it.

Wednesday, March 10

Marc Thiessen: full interview

Marc got a good say, speaking a minute more than Jon in the Part 1 that aired on TV. So his complaints near the end about being talked over are baseless. (I suppose it's easy to get disoriented and feel cheated about time in a debate like this.)

Overall I certainly side with Jon, but Marc sheds some light on these issues in a way that the usual right-neocon histrionics obviously don't. It's worth watching in full.

Tuesday, March 9

Quote of the day



"There was a time, after court-ordered integration, when readers complained about front-page photos of blacks mixing with whites. Today, photo images of same-sex couples capture the same reality of societal change."

Andrew Alexander, Washington Post ombudsman. Last week, D.C. began accepting same-sex marriage license applications.

What if everybody in Canada flushed at once?


Up to 80% of Canadians watched last week's hockey medal game.

Why are Scandanavian welfare states so successful?

Reason protests:
For those of us who place more trust in free markets than state-directed economies, we must inevitably (and repeatedly) confront the skeptical interlocutor who details the "successes" of Swedish social democracy. "If state intervention into the economy is so bad, high taxes so destructive, then why is Sweden such a success?" It's an irritatingly simple question with a incredibly complicated answer, though I do recommend pointing out, when the conversation turns to health care and secondary education, that nothing, in a state the confiscates a massive portion of your income, is "free." But as many have pointed out, during its boom years, Sweden was a pretty free market place; from the 1970s through the 1990s—when taxes and regulation dramatically increased—the economy slowed until it spun out in the early 1990s.

There isn't enough time in the day to respond to the ceaseless stream of Sweden hagiographers, though I took a crack at it a few years back, when a liberal blogger at The American Prospect, in an error-laden piece of Google scholarship, told readers that "everything they knew about Sweden was wrong."

[..] My favorite Sweden-know-it-all, incidentally, is lefty blogger Matthew Yglesias, who never misses an opportunity to correct American "misconceptions" about the land of Ace of Base and early retirement (you see, he went on a junket to Stockholm last year). "Americans often find this a bit confusing but Scandinavia," he recently wrote, "strictly speaking, only refers to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway." Or this classic bit of pompous pedantry, correcting the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on whether, when he served as prime minister, he was technically the "head of state": "I don’t necessarily expect Americans to grasp the distinction, since our President is both head of state and head of government, but Sweden’s prime minister is not a head of state."

Elsewhere, Yglesias claims that former conservative party leader Bo Lundgren is the "architect" of the Swedish model. As Lundgren, author of the 1989 book Sänk skatten för alla (Lower Taxes for All), recently explained to the Telegraph, "I am a market liberal. I was even called the nearest Sweden had every (sic) come to having a party one could call libertarian." Picayune details, I suppose.

But the nitpicky often segues into the bizarre generalization: "My bottom line: Visit the Nordic countries and you’ll be impressed that their civilian public agencies are much more effective than ours." Well. How one determines that Sweden's "civilian public agencies" are better functioning than those in the United States during a few days in Stockholm (Did he try to post a letter? Start a business?), is left unsaid. But I have dealt with all manner of public agencies in Sweden and the results were, at best, mixed (try changing doctors in Stockholm).

So here is my bottom line: When some American pundit, with expertise is everything, explains why some European welfare state "works," or how everything you know is wrong about taxing income at 75 percent, do a little digging, make use of Google Translate, and don't trust that, because Swedes and Danes tell researchers that they are happy, the United States should introduce "daddy leave" and provide subsidies to syndicalist newspapers.

The best English-language explication of the Swedish model comes from my pal Johan Norberg, who wrote this brilliant piece for The National Interest a few years back. And watch my interview with Norberg on Swedish welfare politics here and on Naomi Klein here.

One commenter:
My sample size is relatively small, but all of the Norwegians and Swedes I ever met:

1. Had a fanatical work ethic.
2. Believed that the state ought to ensure a minimum standard of living.
3. Were honest to the point of annoyance.
4. Had no desire for wealth.
5. Believed ostentatious displays of wealth were either seriously tacky or outright immoral.

Mix this culture with nearly immeasurably low crime and easy access to world markets for import and export, and you've probably got a successful society, 66% tax rate or no.

But for the love of God, don't let them cook for you.
Another:
Well myself am a Norwegian, and i must say that the so called welfare states are a joke. The only ones who earn on it is the immigrants who refuses to work and still get enough to live and more. Its pure exploitation of the welfare system where everyone who actully needs help dont get any and those who exploit the system get all they want. Try to send a letter to the public services and you will most likely never hear anything from them because they "didnt get it" or such. Many Norwegians are now asking our government "What will we live with after the oil dissapears?". And we dont get any answers. Where is the Norwegian Industri? Its not there at all, they have been chased out of the country because Sosialistisk Venstreparti(Socialist Left Party) have declared a open war against those who are rich. Today UN and other will write Norway is "World greatest country" in 40 years we will not even get mentioned because we wont have anything more to live with. Because of our Welfare system and because we are a socialist anti cooperation country.

Im sorry if my English isnt to good but i am a Norwegian so bare with me.
More:
The economic system is not the whole culture, only part of it. If we didn't have [formerly enslaved] racial minorities, huge immigration issues, lots of crime, etc. we would be as well off or better than the Swedes. The question is whether less welfare state and more free markets will make Sweden even better, and the answer is yes.

Compared to Sweden, we bare many more evils.
Matt Yglesias himself (my favorite progressive blogger) engages in comments here. I enjoyed the thread.

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